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Click if you have NO IDEA how to play a parser IF game

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Click if you have NO IDEA how to play a parser IF game

Postby Lumin » Sun Jun 07, 2020 6:04 pm

I wrote this as giant text wall before Daza's game jam, specifically for a handful of noobs I was introducing to ADRIFT. And then I pinned it in the Discord so I'd never have to type it again and immediately forgot about it.

I am now cleaning it up and transferring it to the forum for the benefit of future newbies who might like to admire the shape of the sentences and paragraphs.

So first of all, ADRIFT is extremely flexible and quite honestly if you're interested in writing, you're free to make your own text game however you want to. Literally the only limitation is text on a screen and presenting it all in a way that makes it clear to the player what they're supposed to type to progress. IF games have been a thing for like 40 years now however and there are a lot of standard things just intuitively understood and expected by many players. Many of these are reflected in the design of ADRIFT itself and may need to be worked around if you're doing something differently. At any rate it's good to be familiar with the basics before setting off to do your own thing, even if only so you don't wind up reinventing the wheel and replacing it with a triangle.


THE BASICS


Basically the first and most important thing to wrap your mind around for playing old school interactive fiction games is that the game world is made up of "rooms" that are just text descriptions. In fact, everything in the games is just text descriptions. There are objects placed in the rooms, all with more descriptions tied to them, some you can carry around in your inventory. Interacting with these will usually be involved in puzzle solving.

The player character can really be thought of as a kind of object itself. The game engine moves it around from place to place on command (traditionally compass directions like N, S, E, W) and in most situations a check is run so that you can only access descriptions or interact with things when the player character is in the same room with them.

Everything you do is by typed commands in simple verb noun format like on the picture below.

So you might

get key
unlock chest with key
x crown
get crown
wear crown

with the game returning descriptions for all these things as you do them. IF as opposed to MUDS (if you're old or blind enough to be aware of those...) are all single player and time doesn't advance until you enter a command. The amount of focus on traditional story elements like characters and plot can vary game to game, but traditionally the idea is to progress by exploring and solving puzzles. Games mostly revolve around exploring and puzzle solving by object manipulation.


Image
(this isn't mine)

I know this is probably still too old a reference for many readers, but if you've ever heard of the Monkey Island games, that whole genre of point and click adventure where you collect objects and combine them with other objects to solve puzzles, all that evolved from the original IF games. The point and click stuff just added graphics and well, clicking. But the simple ‘apply verb to object’ format was still there.

Image
(No, this is not a deliberately retro indie game. Yes, this is what cutting edge graphics used to look like.)


Or if you want a really effort-free way to see the basic structure of a traditional IF game, you can try Inepta Academy or
The Tower of Rowena. Everything with these is just reading and clicking links, but the location/object/inventory stuff is the same and it's easy to play in your browser or on mobile.


UNDER THE HOOD


Anyway, as I said, in IF games by default the rooms are linked up by compass directions and you travel between them on the map by typing n, s, e, w. The plot itself won’t advance without a task being triggered, pretty much always in response to something specific you do. If you were going to write a game, you'd see everything divided by tasks, locations, objects, characters, and events. Tasks do most of the 'active' things in any ADRIFT game while locations, objects, and even NPCs can be thought of as more passive. They only change when a task tells them to. Tasks control custom commands and respond (or are restricted from responding) to the things you type based on various triggers the author set. They check for variables and run scripts and basically control everything that happens in the game that isn’t the player walking around and picking things up. (They also can start events, although one of the main purposes of events is to silently check for game states and trigger more tasks based on this at set times...)

So anyway: tasks important. They got an entire paragraph to themselves and everything.


HOW TO PLAY


Now as to actually playing, room descriptions will usually give you some idea of what's in each direction, but there will often be obstacles to figure out. Locked doors and secret rooms are popular and IF because in a traditionally structured game, gating what areas the player has access to, and when, are one of the few ways to control pacing. Players can otherwise do anything in any order and will without fail ignore the things the author meant as obvious and important and spend twenty minutes trying to interact with individual blades of grass.

Commands every game uses over and over will have abbreviations, like n for north, i for inventory, l for look, x for examine. (You look to get a room description re-displayed, and x object for a more detailed description of specific things in the room. Players of traditional style IF are absolutely anal about being able to examine every noun in a room so there will probably be descriptions of floor tiles and grass and the sky that some suffering author had to put in, as well as the important stuff. All to increase your I M M E R S I O N.

And sometimes the important stuff is hidden somewhere that doesn’t seem important. Like, examining the street may inform you there’s a loose cobblestone. It's up to you to infer from that you can pick it up and then throw it at window, which lets a parrot out and the parrot drops a feather and the feather is VITALLY important to tickle a dragon awake in the last section of the game. Like all good adventurers you’re expected to pick up any and all random junk you find and carry it around until it’s needed.

Taking your time to really get your head in the game, and above all paying attention to what the words are saying is the most important thing for enjoying these. Most of them are not things to do casually while only half paying attention.

Uh, I guess just actually playing a games would’ve been a simpler way to figure all this out.

Skybreak!

Anno 1700

Skybreak isn't a typical example at all btw, but I wanted to make my point again that ADRIFT is really flexible and you can ignore convention completely and just do your own thing if you're good enough. Skybreak is played mostly with CYOA-style choice selection, and doing that at a basic level isn't difficult. (Although the open world and RPG stuff are a bit more complicated and that will take some familiarity with variables and text arrays and the like....all of which is completely unnecessary for just jumping in and making a basic game of course.)



SETTING UP THE RUNNER


One thing to note with ADRIFT is that after downloading the file, you need to either right click and tell it to open the game with the ADRIFT Runner, or open the Runner and from there File > Open Adventure. If you just double click the game it’ll launch the developer tool, which is a separate thing for....some reason that made sense at the time, I guess.

Before you play, go to Edit and made sure Autocomplete is turned off, because it's the worst and most annoying 'feature' the Runner possesses, and then View > Options will let you change text and background colors. Which in all likelihood you will want to do once you see the default.

The forum community here is tiny but friendly and pretty knowledgeable about all this stuff if you have any other questions. Although I get that it's currently a little difficult for newbies to access. (If you are trying to register here but can't, the answer to the question it asks is 'Campbell'. And if you don't get your email to activate the account, let us know in the Discord so that Po Prune can do it for you manually.)


OTHER PLACES TO FIND GAMES


If you're looking for more games to play, there's a backup archive of ADRIFT games at http://www.delron.org.uk/adrift-games.htm. Some prefer the formatting of that one over browsing the Games section here on the main site. (Just stay away from the ones that say "AIF", or you will go to Hell.)

The IFDB is the big archive for allllll IF made with various programs in various formats. There are many many classics and gems here that I'd consider must plays for anyone who seriously enjoys this genre, but there's a whole lot of dreck to wade through as well. (Including countless tiny, artsy Twine toys that hardly count as either 'interactive' or 'fiction'...) I find it easier these days to go in there pre-armed with the titles or authors of the games I want already. (Mandatory recommendation of Anchorhead for those who like Lovecraft-inspired things.)

But the beginning of Anno 1700 (no relation to the chill city builder series) is what I used to demonstrate some of the basics of an IF game.
Obviously, this will contain spoilers for a couple of early puzzles.


[[BRACE FOR SCREENSHOT DUMP, CAPTAIN!!!]]


I'll be skipping the intro that explains what you're doing there and why, because it's long and there's nothing to interact with. But keep in mind: sometimes, when playing a text game, you might be required to read things. :shock:


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Thank you for reading, the two of you who made it this far.
Last edited by Lumin on Thu Jun 11, 2020 12:00 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Click if you have NO IDEA how to play a parser IF game

Postby David Whyld » Sun Jun 07, 2020 7:39 pm

Holy wall of text, Batman!

I started reading that but partway down I'm afraid my eyes started to glaze over and I just scrolled down the rest of the way until... 20 screens later!... I got a message thanking me for reading it. You're welcome, by the way.

I suppose having a newbie guide is a good idea and we should probably have had one years ago, but I'm not sure most newbies will want to read anything that long, or would take it all in if they did. That guide of Andrew Plotkin's gets the necessary info across in a much more concise manner and is short enough that even a total noob shouldn't have trouble reading through it.
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Re: Click if you have NO IDEA how to play a parser IF game

Postby Lumin » Sun Jun 07, 2020 8:18 pm

David Whyld wrote:That guide of Andrew Plotkin's gets the necessary info across in a much more concise manner and is short enough that even a total noob shouldn't have trouble reading through it.


Yes, that is why I put it near the top.

I might go back and break it up more into sections with headings or do some other edits. (e: done) And of course there were some things like the section on tasks that would be unnecessary strictly for playing, but I've had people do better once they knew the basics of the location/object/task etc breakdown and what the games are and what they aren't.

I still think just opening a normal game with nothing fancy up in the developer is the easiest way to figure this stuff out, you see how simply all the pieces go together then and aren't making wild fantastical assumptions that veteran authors and players just can't plan for or understand.

And there are things like simply launching a game in the runner that people continually trip up on, because it doesn't really make sense in the first place that the developer opens and demands a password when you double click on a game file.
Last edited by Lumin on Sun Jun 07, 2020 8:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Click if you have NO IDEA how to play a parser IF game

Postby Lumin » Sun Jun 07, 2020 8:18 pm

Reserving this space for a CYOA tutorial!
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Re: Click if you have NO IDEA how to play a parser IF game

Postby P/o Prune » Tue Jun 09, 2020 11:02 am

Job well done, Lumin. :yeah:
D-Day in progress 86Kb (Slowly drifting)
Just a Fairy Tale: 138Kb
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Re: Click if you have NO IDEA how to play a parser IF game

Postby Lumin » Wed Jun 10, 2020 1:22 am

Got a little snarky with the screenshots, but I was writing for an audience that appreciates snark. :whistle:

Anno is one of those games I think that can perfectly illustrate the different mindsets between veteran players and newbies which is part of why I used it to demonstrate the mindset you need to have to play traditional IF. For me that weird branch may as well have been specifically called out in flashing red letters with neon arrows pointing at it, and literally the first thing I did when I played was start poking around to get that key out of the squirrel's nest. But new players apparently just read this stuff with no idea what's supposed to be significant or why. 'Pay really close attention to scenery details' is not the primary plot delivery vehicle in any other type of game, and not especially significant even in regular fiction, it really does require some amount of training your brain to get how this all works.
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Re: Click if you have NO IDEA how to play a parser IF game

Postby rotter » Wed Jun 10, 2020 8:51 pm

Lumin wrote:If you're looking for more games to play, there's a backup archive of ADRIFT games at http://www.delron.org.uk/adrift-games.htm that some prefer the formatting of for browsing over he Games section here the main site. (Just stay away from the ones that say "AIF", or you will go to Hell.)


Thanks for the plug about my site. I do my best to keep it updated, it will be the last resting place of some games.

Well done, this is a great piece of work.
Currently working on "The Blank Wall" in ADRIFT 5 and "Again and Again" in Inform 7.
Delron, the home of Otter Interactive Fiction.
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Re: Click if you have NO IDEA how to play a parser IF game

Postby Lumin » Thu Jun 11, 2020 12:02 am

Thank you for bringing to my attention the fact that that sentence was very near to being gibberish. Fixed now.
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