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Gameplay: Text adventure vs Graphical adventure

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I always get blasted for mentioning my impressions, but I do get the feeling that text adventures are ignored (how many people here haven’t played one?) because they lack the pretty pictures, and this is absurdly unjust of adventure fans. But I can’t criticise taste, and yet I do think text adventures have a number of advantages over purely graphical games in the gameplay department. 

I realise there’s not a clear cut division between the two - the early Legend games, the early Sierra Quests had graphics with text. But I’ll count games with a parser purely as text gameplay even if they have graphics.

Essentially, the argument is there are more ways to interact with things in text adventure. In a graphical adventure all you have is usually the eye icon, the hand and maybe some other. The later Space Quests also had the “smell”, “taste” icons etc, which was a nice touch and expanded the range of interactions but most of the time in a graphical game it’s just the eye and the hand. In a text based game such as, say, Gateway, there’s over 50 actions you can do. Most of these when used yield no result but the option is there, and that’s what is important. It makes me think about what I can do with what I’m given, which is what I’d do in the real world. When I see an item in front of me I don’t think “I’m going to use my hands on this”, I need to decide whether I’m going to take or push or lift it or punch it.

 
Graphical adventures reduce the player to an eye and a pair of hands. When you click the hand on the tree you often have no idea what will happen - will I climb it, pick a leaf, or maybe look behind the tree for a hidden object? That is the protagonist’s decision and not mine. So you have less control in a graphical adventure. In a text game you can choose to do all of those things, and more. Examining has the same problem - if it is not a huge object, you have to look at the whole item upon clicking the eye on it, whereas text can break down the object into parts to be examined further. Maybe in the future when we have virtual reality there will be better ways to make more interactive graphical adventures, but at the moment when compared to text adventures, they suffer a severe handicap.

So I’m going to say text adventures always had better gameplay, and probably always will unless graphical adventures find a way to step it up a few notches. That’s not to say text adventures are more enjoyable, deeper or more artistic in any way, because that’s a matter of game design and creative skill. But the potential for a deeper experience is inherently greater in a text adventure, while graphics and a cursor minus a keyboard simplifies an adventure game, perhaps too much.

What do you think?

     
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Having started out my Adventure gaming in the text adventure age and having played through and loved all the Level 9, Magnetic Scrolls and Infocom games. I would still have to disagree with you.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

There is the illusion of more ways to interact with text adventures because you have a blank slate and your imagination to rely on. However that is still limited by the designer/programmer and it’s parser.

——————————————————
You are in a small round room with a table in the middle. Light streams in through a far window illuminating the apple perched on the edge of the table.

You see a Door to the north and east.

>
———————————————————

Your interaction in this scene is probably identical to how a Graphical adventure would do it except that all you would get is the image.

Sure I could type in
> Jump on Table
> I don’t understand Jump
> Get onto of table
> I don’t see a table
> Lie on Table
> You lie down on table and have a nap for 40 winks.

But it usually highlighted the limitation of the parser. Text adventures were the original masters in the psychologly of NO.

I do understand your point that the interface has been streamlined from limited by the english language and it’s parser to, 50 action words,to 9 Scumm words,to 4 action coin cursors to the two button does everything mentality of most games these days.

However, even if it has gone too far in the simplification it still takes away the frustration and guesswork of text adventures which boiled down in the end to guess the exact phrase that the developer wanted me to type.

It’s not that graphical adventures couldn’t do everthing that text adventure did, and probably more user friendly. It’s more that they choose not to, to make they games more accessible.

Most games try to be context sensitive so that clicking on a lever automatically pulls it because that is the logical choice, but there is nothing stopping developers adding in a pop up box that highlighted available actions (i.e pull/Push/lick/punch lever) however like parsers of old they would have to design responses for every action, but unlike parsers of old it would still limit it so that you don’t see the seams of the game design.

     

An adventure game is nothing more than a good story set with engaging puzzles that fit seamlessly in with the story and the characters, and looks and sounds beautiful.
Roberta Williams

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Exactly Lucien. That is the most frustrating about text adventures:

You are in a cave. There’s a lamp here.
> Get lamp
- I don’t understand.
> Take lamp
- You pick up the lamp.
> Look lamp
- I don’t understand
> Examine lamp
- I don’t understand
> Inspect lamp
- The lamp is battered and bruised. It has no oil and no wick in it.

And so it takes forever to play. It’s true that graphical adventure games take some of the POSSIBLE level of interaction away compared to text adventures but this is a trade-off that is worth making.

     
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Lucien21 - 03 August 2012 02:45 AM

Having started out my Adventure gaming in the text adventure age and having played through and loved all the Level 9, Magnetic Scrolls and Infocom games. I would still have to disagree with you.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

There is the illusion of more ways to interact with text adventures because you have a blank slate and your imagination to rely on. However that is still limited by the designer/programmer and it’s parser.

——————————————————
You are in a small round room with a table in the middle. Light streams in through a far window illuminating the apple perched on the edge of the table.

You see a Door to the north and east.

>
———————————————————

Your interaction in this scene is probably identical to how a Graphical adventure would do it except that all you would get is the image.

Sure I could type in
> Jump on Table
> I don’t understand Jump
> Get onto of table
> I don’t see a table
> Lie on Table
> You lie down on table and have a nap for 40 winks.

But it usually highlighted the limitation of the parser. Text adventures were the original masters in the psychologly of NO.

But it is a logical no. The ‘limitations’ of the parser is usually an excuse for lazy or inexperienced adventuring. Smile

There’s also the fact that graphic adventures have not only built upon the foundation of text adventures, but they have had twice as long to do it - the text adventure probably peaked about a decade after its invention. If you still play new releases in the genre, they are very different from the Infocom days. Accessibility is something that new developers think about a lot more, and it shows. There have been some great games in the last two decades, out of the limelight of popularity.

I do understand your point that the interface has been streamlined from limited by the english language and it’s parser to, 50 action words,to 9 Scumm words,to 4 action coin cursors to the two button does everything mentality of most games these days.

However, even if it has gone too far in the simplification it still takes away the frustration and guesswork of text adventures which boiled down in the end to guess the exact phrase that the developer wanted me to type.

It’s not that graphical adventures couldn’t do everthing that text adventure did, and probably more user friendly. It’s more that they choose not to, to make they games more accessible.

I understand that, and it’s a good goal to aim for. However I find Legend games extremely accessible, and some other full graphical games very inaccessible. In Anchorhead I rarely had a “I don’t understand” because it was so well made.

On the topic of guesswork - it’s become a common criticism for IF but I don’t experience it often. When I think about the number of text adventure puzzles I’ve struggled with, by far the most common reason is not seeing the solution rather than not typing the correct combination of words to execute what I want to do.

Most games try to be context sensitive so that clicking on a lever automatically pulls it because that is the logical choice, but there is nothing stopping developers adding in a pop up box that highlighted available actions (i.e pull/Push/lick/punch lever) however like parsers of old they would have to design responses for every action, but unlike parsers of old it would still limit it so that you don’t see the seams of the game design.

Yes, I forgot about this. I think the Dynamix games like Heart of China did this, and they did it quite well. But I haven’t seen it in action for a LONG time. Most modern games I seem to play have a dual use/look or even a single click function. The other thing is to add more icons like Space Quest did, or Resonance did by the short term/long term memory mechanism.

 

     
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Lucien21 - 03 August 2012 02:45 AM

But it usually highlighted the limitation of the parser. Text adventures were the original masters in the psychologly of NO.

1.i really like the second sentence…... Thumbs Up
2.i have played only a couple of interactive fiction and a bit from Zork.not so much experience.i’m also contemplating making a personal project a text or a graphical adventure(the dilemma is because i can’t do graphics,i can’t paint,zilch) but i can see some things that can be problematic.

first of all the first sentence of the quote.you need a very good parser.that takes time and work and you must implement extreme ammounts of combinations between actions and items or actions with actions,the list is endless.Too much work.i think this is one of the reasons developers nowadays have abandoned this extremely rich style of gameplay.Also in pure text adventures they didn’t have graphics and all you needed was programmers and could start programming whenever and do just that.it was mostly just work to be done i imagine.(if i’m mistaken plz correct me)

another thing,i recently read in a blog about writing for games and i read one sentence which backs this up.it said “It had the feeling you were battling against the developer”.the reason for this was that in some story you had to do a weird combination of items and if you couldn’t you couldn’t go forward.the same feeling applies here.there are so many actions to take and combinations to make it kind feels like battling the developers.of course this has to do with the writing.there should be hints cleverly put in the writing so that you don’t get overwhelmed from the set of possible actions you can take.

i don’t have a problem with text adventures and i think they should remain but if you want the genre to get out of a publishing slump then it needs to gain audience each time.new audience.i can’t imagine how it could do it with text adventures.

     
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Shameless plug, I know, but you might enjoy this article that I wrote for Adventure-Treff:

http://www.adventure-treff.de/artikel/features/gastkolumne.php?id=2&lang=eng

There’s a section that precisely deals with the possibilities that were offered by text adventures Smile

     

Senscape // Founder // Designer | Working on: Asylum | Twitter: @AgustinCordes

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Agustín Cordes - 03 August 2012 08:07 AM

Shameless plug, I know, but you might enjoy this article that I wrote for Adventure-Treff:

http://www.adventure-treff.de/artikel/features/gastkolumne.php?id=2&lang=eng

There’s a section that precisely deals with the possibilities that were offered by text adventures Smile

Awesome! This is almost exactly what I was getting at.

Again, IF games have a clear advantage: you can never discern your exact options, so you have liberty to approach a character in several ways: greet them, ask about anything you want, order them to do a task, even get physical and so on. Now I’m not going to pretend like there were that many rich characters in the IF universe (there practically weren’t) but the concept behind this is exactly what modern characters need: since you will never know all the available options, it will feel as if there’s always something else the character has to say, one step further behind the apparent limit.

This is a good point, and not just for NPCs. In a graphic adventure it has become a player’s methodology to unthinkingly click on everything when you get to a new screen so as to exhaust all the possibilities and hotspots. Doesn’t matter what the object is, you have to look at it to see what my character says. Otherwise you might miss something. 

But I’m not at all confident about getting more dynamic games like Maupiti Island in the future. I think we gamers just like predictability. Playing an adventure is like cheating at life - you get to save and restore in case you make a mistake, you get endless time and chances to solve a problem without failing, and in-game hints and clues plus a walkthrough if you get stuck. We like to feel smart and capable, and games with problems that have simplified solutions give us what we can’t have in real life.

     
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But adventure games are also a means to escape real life. Therefore they should not confront you with as many problems as real life throws at you. They have to be enjoyable and thus they are simpler than real life.

     
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tsa - 03 August 2012 04:49 AM

Exactly Lucien. That is the most frustrating about text adventures:

You are in a cave. There’s a lamp here.
> Get lamp
- I don’t understand.
> Take lamp
- You pick up the lamp.
> Look lamp
- I don’t understand
> Examine lamp
- I don’t understand
> Inspect lamp
- The lamp is battered and bruised. It has no oil and no wick in it.

And so it takes forever to play. It’s true that graphical adventure games take some of the POSSIBLE level of interaction away compared to text adventures but this is a trade-off that is worth making.

Modern text adventures never behave like you described. Already the engines themselves (e.g the newest versions of Inform) deal automatically with synonyms and other logistics of language and grammar.

For example, I recommend the freeware text adventure game The Lost Pig for a barrel of tremendously-interactive fun. You’ll experience interactivity you can never have in a graphic adventure.

As for why such “I don’t understand” responses were so prominent in the old Infocom games etc. - well, usually it had nothing to do with the authors’ laziness, but rather the need to limit the number of in-game text to fit the game on a reasonable number of diskettes, or cassettes! Yeah, you read that right - in those times text weighted quite a bit.

However, I agree about text adventures being slower paced compared to graphic adventures limited to, say, only 2 types of interaction. Which doesn’t make the former worse.

     

www.hardydev.com - blogging about indie and underground adventures

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I admit i havent played a text adventure since the early 1990s.  Reading this thread makes me interested in playing a text adventure. Are there any for the iPhone/iPad that you know of? I will be in the hospital for quite a while and using a laptop here is just not handy.

     
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Download Frotz for iOS - that’s a whole database of (I think only Inform compatible) text adventures, with some creme de la creme titles already cherry-picked for new players to try.

Like I said, I personally recommend Lost Pig. That is - if the concept of playing a slow-witted orc searching for a pig he lost in a cavern complex does appeal to you.

     

www.hardydev.com - blogging about indie and underground adventures

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Wow thanks! I’ll try to find it tomorrow.

     
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Ascovel - 03 August 2012 01:51 PM
tsa - 03 August 2012 04:49 AM

Exactly Lucien. That is the most frustrating about text adventures:

You are in a cave. There’s a lamp here.
> Get lamp
- I don’t understand.
> Take lamp
- You pick up the lamp.
> Look lamp
- I don’t understand
> Examine lamp
- I don’t understand
> Inspect lamp
- The lamp is battered and bruised. It has no oil and no wick in it.

And so it takes forever to play. It’s true that graphical adventure games take some of the POSSIBLE level of interaction away compared to text adventures but this is a trade-off that is worth making.

Modern text adventures never behave like you described. Already the engines themselves (e.g the newest versions of Inform) deal automatically with synonyms and other logistics of language and grammar.

Ancient text adventures didn’t behave like tsa’s ludicrous example either! Totally fabricated. Angry All parsers, including the early ones, understood the verb “examine”, which was standard and by 1985 it was generally abbreviated to X. “Get” and “take” were treated as synonyms almost from the start. You could also use lots of prepositions: look in, look under, look behind.

And just consider the marvellous text adventures produced by Legend Entertainment. In between Infocom c.s. and the vague category “modern” IF. You can compose commands by clicking on words in lists appropriate to the location. Time-saving. If you like, you can still type your own commands the old way.

For example, I recommend the freeware text adventure game The Lost Pig for a barrel of tremendously-interactive fun. You’ll experience interactivity you can never have in a graphic adventure.

I played The Lost Pig a couple of years ago, when AFGNCAAP recommended it. Enjoyable but forgettable.

     

Now playing: ——-
Recently finished: don’t remember
Up next:  Eh…
Looking forward to:
Ithaka of the Clouds; The Last Crown; all the kickstarter adventure games I supported

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In my experience (which I will admit is YEARS out of date) text adventures only gave me an ILLUSION of greater freedom. I might have been able to phrase things in several different ways, but in the end there was only a very limited number of things that I could actually DO. This is in fact comparable to graphic adventures, but I found it more frustrating because that illusion of greater freedom made the eventual realization that I couldn’t REALLY solve problems however I wanted, but was limited to certain forseen interactions, all the more annoying. Providing “greater freedom” that doesn’t actually allow you DO things differently is not a plus, in my book.

     
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Mister Ed - 03 August 2012 06:48 PM

In my experience (which I will admit is YEARS out of date) text adventures only gave me an ILLUSION of greater freedom. I might have been able to phrase things in several different ways, but in the end there was only a very limited number of things that I could actually DO. This is in fact comparable to graphic adventures, but I found it more frustrating because that illusion of greater freedom made the eventual realization that I couldn’t REALLY solve problems however I wanted, but was limited to certain forseen interactions, all the more annoying. Providing “greater freedom” that doesn’t actually allow you DO things differently is not a plus, in my book.

Play Lost Pig. It gives a great amount of freedom - that’s why I keep recommending it. But that freedom really comes in part with the interactive fiction format already.

So if you try creating a text adventure in something like Inform, you’ll quickly realize that simply by defining an interactive object as a box, or a door etc. you automatically add a whole range of functionality with specific responses to manipulating that object. You can of course later customize everything, as well as create your own “kinds” of things the player can encounter, but the important thing is that you can add a whole range of interactivity, with a few simple commands, without worrying about graphics and animations that would need to illustrate what’s happening. That makes it much easier for the designer to program a big number of possibilities for the player.

For example: If the player is wearing a hat and is taking something out of a box (understood as a kind of object), make the hat fall inside the box.

A description like that is almost entirely sufficient to program this rule into the game.

     

www.hardydev.com - blogging about indie and underground adventures

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Grunk have 6 out of 7 that time.

http://iplayif.com/?story=http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/LostPig.z8

I can see how there is a range of stuff that can be done in the game because the author obviously has put in a lot of funny comments to cover the weirdest inout from the player. Try taking off your pants and see the pig run the other way.

However, Can’t say I was that impressed with it and if that is the shining light of text adventures these days then they have fallen a hell of a long way.

I remember playing some cracking text games growing up that was ruled by Magnetic Scrolls, Infocom, Level 9 and Scott Adams. Games like Zork, Planetfall, Mind forever Voyaging, Wonderland, Hitchhikers Guide (damn Bablefish puzzle), etc etc.

     

An adventure game is nothing more than a good story set with engaging puzzles that fit seamlessly in with the story and the characters, and looks and sounds beautiful.
Roberta Williams

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