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PostPosted: Fri Aug 02, 2013 1:08 am 
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I'm in a totally different boat from Peter; I do play IF to read. I'm ready to forgive a game many things for the sake of a well-turned sentence. But I'll still find myself skimming paragraphs if I'm given the impression that none of it is really important, unless the prose is absolutely master-class. (Or very brief. But very-brief prose + no scenery puts you perilously close to the Bad Old Days of Scott Adams.)
Lumin wrote:
Playing IF is a pretty leisurely activity. It's hard for me to imagine anyone in such a rush that they're already skimming text the first time through a room...and if so it seems like that would be more of a barrier to getting properly immersed in a game than any of the other issues we've discussed.

If people wanted to read blocks of text and then not interact with them, they'd be reading a novel instead - there are a lot more novels to choose from. If they're playing IF, it's safe to assume that they want to interact with the text. So IF writing will generally fail unless it's paired with mechanics that foster engagement with that writing. People are not going to pay much attention to descriptive writing if you've signaled to them that it doesn't allow interaction.

Looking at stuff is a huge part of the standard play pattern of IF. It's cool if you want to do something instead of that pattern!
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And I've heard the 'might as well make a CYOA' comment a couple of times now, which I honestly don't follow. IF and CYOAs are about as apples and oranges as you can get. And getting a generic message when you examine certain objects doesn't exactly invalidate everything else you can do with the parser.

I didn't say that you might as well make CYOA. I said that this puts you in the position of having to provide some good reason why you're not making CYOA. That answer might be 'big puzzles', for instance, which are harder to do in CYOA. It might be 'complicated NPC interaction'.

What I'm getting at is - okay, here's a sketch of what I'm going to call, for the sake of argument, 'easy story IF'. The player walks around a map. They look at scenery objects and poke at them a bit with likely verbs; this gives responses but doesn't seriously impact the course of the plot. At certain points, there are plot-significant interactions, at which the player does the obvious thing, or does one of a set of obvious-ish things. These plot-significant interactions might change the world a bit, and together they drive the plot forward one way or another.

Take the scenery interactions out of that model and what you have is something that really should be CYOA; if all you're doing is walking around and doing the obvious thing, then you don't really need an object-based world-model or a parser to support that; in fact, they rather get in the way.

So! If you don't want scenery, and you don't want CYOA, then we need to get rid of the 'obvious thing' part. You need puzzles, in other words, or puzzle-like complex interaction. But you need a kind of puzzle that doesn't motivate the player to scrutinise their surroundings. That eliminates quite a lot of traditional IF fare. And that's what I mean by 'providing some good reason'.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 02, 2013 4:40 am 
Neil wrote:
Geeze, I didn't expect anyone to get angry at my opinion. I'm not attacking you.


I apologise, then. I am aware that I'm sometimes a bit too quick to take offence, and this seems to have been one of those occasions. WHat you said probably just rubbed me off the wrong way at the wrong time, but through no fault of yours. My comments stand, but ignore the attitude, sorry.

Also, please do not stop posting your thoughts, dissenting opinions is what keeps the community growing. I took it the wrong way, you made it clear in your post that you didn't mean it that way, and I'm putting it behind me. I think that's way more constructive than you not posting your opinion again. :)

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I don't know why new schoolers are wrong for wanting to read and write a story. They write what they nlike. And some players like it, too. And some don't. Sure, not many of it is done well, but you can say that about most IF. That's not a problem with the technique, it's a problem with writers not doing it well.


Indeed, if done well, one can get away with everything - "Rameses" could easily have been a piss-poor work. Or "Exhibition". Or "All Alone".

My biggest problem with extreme newschoolers is that some of them don't really know or care about IF. I'm not talking about the newschoolers we see here, but the ones we see on the Quest forums, or on the Adrift forums, places where creativity took a slightly different direction. Places where, for instance, because of an engine that had some issues for a number of years, people focused on slightly different things than, say, polished gameplay. Which is why I struggle so with many Adrift games. They seem to demand something from me I can't give - a leap of logic in puzzle-solving; an eye-closing towards certain gameplay irregularities; all sprung from a system that has always been flexible in accepting new, arcane commands, but rather hard and standardising them and making them work for every situation until recently.

I cringe when some "newschoolers" say things like "I tried Christminster, but I couldn't get into it. After ten turns I noticed I was going to have to do something unmotivated and slightly surreal to get the key so I quit". This feels like missing the point entirely, and it's clear that these people want something else from IF that this game did not give them. That is of course fine, the whole POINT of this and other communities is that there is space for everyone. But I cringe whenever a "newschooler" shows himself incapable of appreciating what for many of us used to be the charm of IF in the first place.

I get the feeling we've been bombarded by people who want to read novels in IF rather than playing. I'm starting to resent the whole literary angle, and the whole "It's a book! In interactive form!" selling point. Do you know Nelson's definition of IF, "a crossword at war with a narrative"? Too much crossword isn't a good thing, but neither is too much narrative.

Maybe this is all par for the course. A natural backlash against old-school that's in full force now because we have a lot of systems that allow newcomers to make their own games very easily, without fuss, and often without knowing what the hell IF is (and, I suspect, in many cases, CYOA. You can't really claim to know CYOA without having played a CYOA, or Fighting Fantasy, or whatever yourself. That's why so many CYOAs I see in Twine are just linear stories where you click a link instead of turning a page to proceed. Bleh. Some stories are pretty good, and well-written, but I've got other books to read, and if I want to passively read, I will). Which makes me the grumbling old man at the corner saying things like "These young'uns don't have a clue, mumble grumble toil and trouble. In my days we, we, we solved them, mmm, puzzles, and, and, where's my damn medication..." :) Maybe I'm just too passionate about what I perceive as IF, and it bothers me to realise that many "newschoolers" don't really know or care about all the polish that make IF great; they just found a way to tell a story that's more fun to use than Notepad.

I should make it clear that the people I'm talking about are not the sort to come to this forum, AFAIK. They have other forums, other communities. So it's natural, I suppose, for them to have entirely different views. But it still makes me cringe, because it leads to games like "Cypher" being sold where the author couldn't give a damn about playability.

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I wonder how many players feel that way. Is it really that hard to ignore highlighted text?


Yes. That's why it's highlighted.

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Full disclosure: I actually can't see, so I don't know how hard it is to ignore. I figured it would be like reading a textbook. The important words are boldface, but they don't distract from the text.


Ok, that actually makes a difference. Imagine that your screen-reader shouts every highlighted word in a room description, or says it very slowly and clearly like when some people want to emphasize something discreetely. And imagine that when you try to interact with something that wasn't highlighted, you found that it didn't exist. I would presume you'd pretty soon be scanning the descriptions for highlighted things, because in the end, this is INTERACTIVE fiction, and if you don't type the right command, the story won't proceed.

Cheers!


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 02, 2013 8:14 am 
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Hi,

Okay. If you're in Ontario, Canada, give me a call, and I'll buy you a bbeer. I know where your view is coming from, but I may fall into the "new schoolers" camp. I do value a good story over just about everything else (I couldn't get involved in either Zork or A Change in the Weather for this reason). But I also have some classic style leanings. To me, IF should spark cerebral activity and not involve just flipping pages. I certainly could not write a game without puzzles, but it would be, and my wip is, more verbose than pre-Millennium IF.

I do get a bit of a taste of what trying to read highlighted text is like when I playe game with hyperlinks, eg games made wih Twine. I obviously don't know how the screen appears, but my reader announces each link on its own line. This can be annoying, especially with many links, which interrupts the flow of sentences. I can easily skip to the next line, but if it too has a link, it too is truncated. It can be a very choppy experience. I can read the whole "page" at once, but then I need to go back to hunt for the links.

If game writers want to highlight important objects in the text, consider adding an option that will mark the words with, say, an asterisk. It is the only way that I can think of to ensure visually-impaired players, regardless of what screen reader they use, will pick it up without the need to press shortcut keys on individual words to find out if the font has changed. This may be distracting, in a different way than is highlighted text to sighted people, but I think players would get used to it pretty quickly. I know for Inform 7 at least that adding such an option isn't tough to do.

Neil


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 02, 2013 8:41 pm 
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That's such a great idea that I'm going to do exactly that.


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 04, 2013 2:01 pm 
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I'm using Aaron Reed's Keyword Interface extension for Inform7 and I think it does a good job. It enables me to highlight objects that are important as well as locations or directions in different colors. I think this makes the game a bit more approachable for newcomers. (I also use the Player Experience Upgrade extension which provides a number of nice conveniences.) The player can change the emphasis from color to bold, italics or turn it off completely. (Though it might be easier if there was a Help Menu setting to disable it instead.) That said, I try to implement responses for other nouns that are referenced in the text. And I can see how people might not like this style of highlighted text.
--Zack


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 04, 2013 2:16 pm 
Again, if well done, I'm sure it's great. Thing is, I've only seen it well done once. Badly done it either exposes the non-implemented items, making the player feel implementation is shoddy, or the whole text becomes a potpourri of scattered highlights.

More directly:

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Though it might be easier if there was a Help Menu setting to disable it instead


Surely this can be arranged? Create your own Help Menu, or Options, or whatever, to do as you suggest? I believe Blue Lacuna did it that way.


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 04, 2013 3:31 pm 
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Ok, I was being lazy. Now I have implemented KEYWORDS ON and KEYWORDS OFF commands which enable or disable the use of Keyword highlighting. The command KEYWORDS lets you cycle through different fonts/colors as appropriate for a given interpreter.
--Zack


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 04, 2013 5:53 pm 
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All the talk of bolds and highlights reminds me of some of the graphics/text hybrid adventures such as Eric the Unready. There, the objects of each room (or at least the more important ones) were conducted into a list, and there was a column of screen space devoted to printing that out. You also had an adjacent column devoted to the many verbs. I'm sure this was done primarily to make the games mouse-accessible, but lists can be very enticing in much the same way as emphasized words. To those without as much patience, they can be an excuse not to read the room description so thoroughly, if at all.

I think it comes down to this: the more visual aides you're going to have, the more important the regular text has to be to balance things out. Like others have said, good writing can encourage the player to keep reading beyond the emphasized bits. Making the plain portions of a description just as crucial to the player's goals can also help.

As for the topic of how room descriptions and objects ought to be handled, I have no strong opinion one way or another. Acceptable practices vary greatly based on a lot of factors. Yet as a player, I do prefer that room descriptions be on the smaller side and give more of a general impression. Descriptive hints about the areas of interest in the location then give me starting points to explore at my own pace. It requires more effort for everyone involved, though.

I'm not a big fan of the whole "object revealed by object revealed by object" thing, myself. I tend to get frustrated if it starts getting more than a few levels deep, unless it's done in way that is fun and/or engaging.


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 04, 2013 5:59 pm 
Going off-topic, and just so I can say something in this thread without sounding like a lecture, all this talk reminds me of a French game called simply "Escape". It was *all* about examining parts of an item - a photograph. That would trigger "memories", and the entire game revolves in remembering things from your memories, and examining every detail of the photograph.

That's a very specific example, of course. Only goes to show that, again, however you do it, if it's awesome, it's awesome.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 05, 2013 11:02 pm 
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Neil wrote:
If game writers want to highlight important objects in the text, consider adding an option that will mark the words with, say, an asterisk. It is the only way that I can think of to ensure visually-impaired players, regardless of what screen reader they use, will pick it up without the need to press shortcut keys on individual words to find out if the font has changed.


I care a lot about accessibility, and so, though I've never done much with text highlighting, this is particularly interesting to me. Are there any other conventions that we could adopt to make IF more screen-reader friendly?

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