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 Post subject: Non-compass navigation
PostPosted: Sat Apr 29, 2017 10:05 am 
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tldr; I argue that compass-based navigation in parser IF is mostly an unintended accident of the earliest adventure games, that--in most circumstances--compass-based navigation spoils the illusion, and I mull whether it's worth experimenting with landmark-based navigation.

The original Crowther and Woods Adventure was not nearly as dependent on the points of the compass as many ports would have you believe. In fact, for many areas, I'd argue that it was never intended to be the primary method of moving about.

Don't believe me? Please step into my time machine as we head back to the 1970s to understand how virgin players first experienced Colassal Cave...

After connecting their acoustic coupler modem to their ADM-3A dumb terminal, dialing in, signing in, and uttering the correct incantation to start the program, the player would find themself at the end of a road. Specifically, the description went like this:

Quote:
YOU ARE STANDING AT THE END OF A ROAD BEFORE A SMALL BRICK BUILDING. AROUND YOU IS A FOREST. A SMALL STREAM FLOWS OUT OF THE BUILDING AND DOWN A GULLY.

Take note that there's not one compass direction in that description. You don't know which way the road goes nor which direction the stream flows.

Now, prompted to enter ... something, the user immediately regrets their earlier decision to skip the introductory text and hopes that entering HELP now will give them a second chance. They are rewarded with a wall of text that begins like this:

Quote:
I KNOW OF PLACES, ACTIONS, AND THINGS. MOST OF MY VOCABULARY DESCRIBES PLACES AND IS USED TO MOVE YOU THERE.

"Most"?! "Places"?!

What if I told you that Advent has approximately 75 unique "motion verbs"? Yes, you'll find NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, and WEST among them, along with abbreviations of the in-between compass directions. But the compass directions account for about 11% of the travel commands. You'll also find UP and DOWN as well as ENTER and EXIT, but those aren't really the same as compass directions, as they are relative to the player rather than some absolute system imposed on the simulated world that the player's character can intuit regardless of their condition and environment.

So what are the rest of these travel commands? Places.

Let's continue reading the help text:

Quote:
TO MOVE, TRY WORDS LIKE FOREST, BUILDING, DOWNSTREAM, ENTER, EAST, WEST, NORTH, SOUTH, UP, OR DOWN.

Sure, 40% of the example travel words are compass directions, but do the others--especially the first three--surprise you?

Skipping ahead, we read:

Quote:
TO SPEED THE GAME YOU CAN SOMETIMES MOVE LONG DISTANCES WITH A SINGLE WORD. FOR EXAMPLE, "BUILDING" USUALLY GETS YOU TO THE BUILDING FROM ANYWHERE ABOVE GROUND EXCEPT WHEN LOST IN THE FOREST.

So let's re-read that opening description again:

Quote:
YOU ARE STANDING AT THE END OF A ROAD BEFORE A SMALL BRICK BUILDING. AROUND YOU IS A FOREST. A SMALL STREAM FLOWS OUT OF THE BUILDING AND DOWN A GULLY.

There are no indications of compass directions, because, in this part of the world, there is no need for them. The expectation was that, if the player wanted to learn where the stream went, they would say "GO DOWNSTREAM."

A modern player, faced with this opening description, would (after cursing the "lazy" author for not giving direction cues) pick a direction and start mapping, which is a lot less magical than "FOLLOW ROAD." It'll also likely take longer to stumble upon the cave and get hooked by what the story is about. (I recently saw a map of the game and realized that I never even knew the stream flowed south from the building. My earliest maps just say "DS" for "DOWNSTREAM", and in my imagination it was always west.)

Some of the modern ports require compass directions. Sure, it's cool that the Informese version lets you use adjectives and other modern niceties ("X WICKER CAGE"), but it lost most of the non-compass navigation. (I'm not picking on anyone here. I know the Inform version is mostly a demonstration of Inform and not intended to be a strict adaptation.)

Sure, you say, that's all fine and good above ground. Once you're beneath the grate, it's nothing but the compass anyway.

I believed that, too. But a sojourn into the travel table of the Fortran sources proves this isn't strictly true. Travel verbs like ONWARD work a short way inside the cave, as do ENTER/EXIT. It's only as you get deeper that the game suggests:

Quote:
I DON'T KNOW IN FROM OUT HERE. USE COMPASS POINTS OR NAME SOMETHING IN THE GENERAL DIRECTION YOU WANT TO GO.

We all remember the part about the compass before the "OR" but forget about the landmark navigation in the rest of the sentence. Naming landmarks remains a legitimate way to navigate, even underground. Indeed, there are landmark rooms throughout the cave (e.g., BEDQUILT), and uttering their names from an adjacent room can take you there. You can also CROSS bridges.

Yes, compass directions are eventually required underground, and the game eases you into that by using compass points in the room descriptions:

Quote:
YOU ARE AT A COMPLEX JUNCTION. A LOW HANDS AND KNEES PASSAGE FROM THE NORTH JOINS A HIGHER CRAWL FROM THE EAST TO MAKE A WALKING PASSAGE GOING WEST. THERE IS ALSO A LARGE ROOM ABOVE. THE AIR IS DAMP HERE.

In a cave, it's a reasonable conceit to navigate by compass. If the original adventure had been set on an ocean liner, then it would have been reasonable to use PORT/STARBOARD and FORE/AFT. On a small island, maybe you'd go WINDWARD/LEEWARD. On a train, perhaps you'd just name the car to you want to go to: CABOOSE/DINING CAR/etc. I doubt that second generation of adventure games would have used PORT/STARBOARD to have a character explore a haunted castle or a deserted island. But somehow they all latched onto the compass almost to the complete exclusion of anything else.

If a game begins with the player waking up in their own bedroom, surely they should be able to say "GO TO THE KITCHEN" rather than "NORTH" (to hallway), "WEST" (welcome to the bathroom, oops), "EAST" (back in the hallway), "EAST" (living room), "NORTH" (at last, the kitchen)! Having to navigate your own home by compass spoils the illusion that it's your own home. It might also require the designer to model an otherwise useless location, like the hallway, to try to maintain the illusion of spatial coherence even if the room is completely unimportant to the story.

If, on the other hand, the player awakes in an unfamiliar apartment, it would make sense to stumble around a bit as they seek the kitchen. But it still seems extremely odd that we expect players to do so by using compass directions. If it's a strange apartment, how do they now their orientation relative to north? Wouldn't you expect to "GO THROUGH THE DOOR" or "CLIMB OUT THE WINDOW"?

Given how we've trained players to use the compass, it's probably impractical to eliminate it completely. In my current WIP, I'm hoping to make it merely one option--a fallback that's available to those who want to use it. But my hope is to make the parser smart enough to understand most efforts a newbie might try to navigate by landmark at least within the realm where the player's character should be familiar with the territory ("GO TO THE BARN", "FOLLOW THE DRIVEWAY", "CROSS THE HIGHWAY", "TAKE THE OFFRAMP", etc.).

I've also imagined a portion of a game where navigating by compass requires literally (literarily?) having a compass. If the player isn't carrying the compass, then "guess" which way is north and interpret all of the player's compass commands relative to that guess rather than "true" north. Later they could find an actual compass and have to figure out that their earlier understanding of north was incorrect in order to interpret the maps they may have made.

I'm curious who else has experimented with landmark navigation (or other non-compass navigation) and what results they've had. Are there games that have done this that I should play? Or should I just accept that, while unrealistic, compass-based navigation is a conceit the players have accepted and will always expect?


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 29, 2017 11:08 am 
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aidtopia wrote:
If, on the other hand, the player awakes in an unfamiliar apartment, it would make sense to stumble around a bit as they seek the kitchen. But it still seems extremely odd that we expect players to do so by using compass directions. If it's a strange apartment, how do they now their orientation relative to north?


The protagonist is always Kuuk Thaayorre. No, but seriously...

Quote:
Given how we've trained players to use the compass, it's probably impractical to eliminate it completely. In my current WIP, I'm hoping to make it merely one option--a fallback that's available to those who want to use it. But my hope is to make the parser smart enough to understand most efforts a newbie might try to navigate by landmark at least within the realm where the player's character should be familiar with the territory ("GO TO THE BARN", "FOLLOW THE DRIVEWAY", "CROSS THE HIGHWAY", "TAKE THE OFFRAMP", etc.).

I've also imagined a portion of a game where navigating by compass requires literally (literarily?) having a compass. If the player isn't carrying the compass, then "guess" which way is north and interpret all of the player's compass commands relative to that guess rather than "true" north. Later they could find an actual compass and have to figure out that their earlier understanding of north was incorrect in order to interpret the maps they may have made.

I'm curious who else has experimented with landmark navigation (or other non-compass navigation) and what results they've had. Are there games that have done this that I should play? Or should I just accept that, while unrealistic, compass-based navigation is a conceit the players have accepted and will always expect?


Totally agree! You should try Blue Lacuna, which (IIRC) literally does the thing you suggest with the compass--there are highlighted keywords for navigation (and almost everything else), and you can find a compass which lets you switch to directions. (I should confess that I haven't played that much of this.) Also check out the works of C.E.J. Pacian, which have a lot of experiments in doing away with the compass; for instance, in Rogue of the Multiverse a lot of the game navigates by forward/back/left/right (which is disorienting, deliberately so).

And there's the compassless tag on IFDB.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 29, 2017 11:13 am 
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Quote:
The original Crowther and Woods Adventure was not nearly as dependent on the points of the compass as many ports would have you believe.


Well, that's the thing, right? Compass directions *weren't* an accident of the founding Crowther game. They were a minor feature which took over the primary navigation role because *everybody liked them better*.

You are not the first (or tenth) person to suggest that compass directions are artificial and break the illusion of place, but no alternative has ever hung on for more than one game in a row.

I don't have a canonical list of non-compass-rose games. (I see matt has linked to an IFDB tag.) My own experiments are _Hunter in Darkness_ (left/right/forward/back movement, but not "relative to facing") and the hyperlink navigation in Seltani. Seltani isn't all that successful -- even I feel lost all the time. _Hunter_ more or less works because it's tiny and you're *supposed* to feel lost and heavily constrained.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 29, 2017 12:26 pm 
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I find reading these comments as very helpful due that I am always intrigued and compelled to try something new other then same ole same ole.... Like GO NORTH, N, UP, etc. However my only gripe is not only the compass thing, which isn't always a bad thing, it's usually someone who likes to play a lot of IF (ie me) and try a title and are used to the compass directions, uses it on a scene, but yet gets NOWHERE. It's either one of three things (maybe more then those, but this is just the obvious), the player (ie ME) has not read the instructions, 2) there is a lack of documentation if not instructions of said title created by the author (and possibly bad play testing to see if directions do work with scene with in the source code of story file of said title of game) or 3) Familiarity of use of more common concepts of the compass directions causes the player to assume that it's going use those directions if any is used at all. So for a mental note I am going to play test (beta test) the hell out of my game, have others test it, and notify me of certain gripes and bad coding functions, etc so I can fix it, and also document the instructions to the detail (at least the more important if not relevant commands used in my title). But parting from the compass command is pretty sweet. Like you can say GO INTO HOUSE instead of NORTH when the scene opens with a house, and it doesn't have to say it is north of you. In fact one would think it would take little coding to do that command. Yes it is some lines more then ZIL/F (NORTH TO HOUSE) bit, but at least it would be interesting.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 29, 2017 1:27 pm 
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I did an experiment where I made directions that were place names. The player could type GO TO BOARDWALK and as long as that was an adjacent room, it worked like a direction. What you end up doing is giving your rooms placeholder names like "BW" with the printed name "Boardwalk".

What I found tricky is making opposites of the direction that clash with the original. If BEACH is the opposite of BOARDWALK, you can't use the BOARDWALK direction to the Boardwalk coming from "Carnival" in the opposite direction and make it work.

I think it's possible to not set an opposite of a direction (or possibly make it "nothing" or "nowhere".)

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 30, 2017 8:21 pm 
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I completely agree that games would have to respond appropriately if the user starts using compass directions. But I'm interested in whether it's feasible to have compass directions be entirely optional and have the alternative seem so natural and obvious that a new player could successfully navigate without falling back to the compass.

Anyway, thanks everyone for the sanity check. I'm actually glad I'm not the first to wander down this path. I'll definitely check out some of the compass-less games.


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PostPosted: Mon May 01, 2017 12:24 pm 
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As a minor point, you might be amused to find that in Ryan Veeder's Winter Storm Draco, you have to build a compass.


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PostPosted: Mon May 01, 2017 8:55 pm 
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that is some cool stuff! Build a compass to move to other places? It's like Myst puzzle cool!


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PostPosted: Tue May 02, 2017 11:01 am 
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I think the ideal pipe-dream is when the player finds/builds a compass in the game, a new window pops up with a clickable compass that navigates automatically.

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PostPosted: Tue May 02, 2017 3:54 pm 
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Interesting discussion.

I would probably approach this from the other direction--that is, having compass directions as standard but understanding commands like "out," "in," "cross bridge," etc. as well. I guess this is just personal preference, but I find compass directions easier. Unless the purpose of the game is to challenge my expectations in that regard, or to deliberately create a disorienting experience, I'm not sure I would like having compass directions being secondary.

aidtopia wrote:
I completely agree that games would have to respond appropriately if the user starts using compass directions. But I'm interested in whether it's feasible to have compass directions be entirely optional and have the alternative seem so natural and obvious that a new player could successfully navigate without falling back to the compass.


One question I do have on this: How would you have compass directions be entirely optional yet still available? I am assuming that you would not list any compass directions in initial room descriptions, in order to encourage the use of other navigational commands. Would you then flip a toggle if the player types a compass direction, so that from that point room descriptions would print with compass directions embedded? I suppose it would be possible to do this, but it just seems like the concept might be a little unwieldy in practice.

Then again, as I mentioned above, I am pretty biased toward compass directions. :D


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