IF for the hard-casual gamer?

Lately I’ve run across the term “hardcasual” or “hard-casual” to mean a game that appeals to a gamer’s sensibilities (rich and original game-play, not just another match-3 or time management clone) but offers the accessibility and limited commitment of a casual game. [1] [2] [3] [4].

In the original context, this referred to the idea of a game made to AAA production values, but paced for a busier lifestyle. In practice, what I’m seeing is something less dramatic: increased attention to ambitious indie games that are promoted on some casual game review sites but that go beyond the average/obvious.

This is a gaming audience ideal for IF to target. (This is not to say that IF shouldn’t also target readers, students, and other niches that we’ve sometimes identified. But in the gaming landscape, I think there’s more of an identifiable market than there has been for a long time.) Consider:

  • Hardcasual gamers expect their games to be free to play, or supported by advertising or pay only after an initial demonstration. The fact that the game isn’t charging $60 isn’t a sign of amateurishness; it’s a sign that the game is in a different bracket. ($19.99 is a typical price in the download casual game market, with steep discounts for repeat buyers, but there are lots of games that are available entirely for free.)
  • Hardcasual gamers expect the game to be available online, not in a box. The absence of storefront is not a problem.
  • Hardcasual gamers want to be able to save at any time and come back later. Almost all IF offers this by default.
  • Gamers who might be used to trying indie and experimental games are likely to have fewer built-in expectations about the interface of the game.

Jay Is Games reaches part of this audience, I think, and their responses to the kinds of IF posted so far are fairly instructive about what we need to do to reach this audience. Some of these things are things we’ve speculated about on RAIF for years and years, but it’s useful to have some actual data about the reactions of a specific kind of audience, so:

  • Online play, including an online save option, is important. Many HC players will only try IF if it is not a bother to do so, and they perceive a download of any kind as a bother; these players may be gaming at work, on a lunch break, etc. Jay Is Games itself offers a Flash Z-machine interpreter, but if we want to attract this audience more, we as a community need to be able to offer more of our IF in this form. Parchment and Flaxo are really encouraging developments, but we will also need interpreters that handle Glulx and TADS 3. (I know there’s Jetty for TADS 2, but TADS 2 seems not to be used nearly as much in developing new material.) Edited to add: apparently zarf is working on Glk/Glulx as well. Yay!
  • Built-in instructions are important. HC players are often not familiar with IF, and do not want to have to go outside the game to look for manuals on how to play.
  • Built-in hints are important. HC players do not want to get stuck. They’re not looking for the month-long immersion of banging their heads against a hard game; they’re looking to play, enjoy, and win, all in a relatively small space of time.
  • Parser and world-model responsiveness is valued. Guess-the-verb should be minimized — as, in fact, it is in most quality modern IF. But this goes further: the more juicy a game is, in the sense of having lots and lots of unique responses to unusual input, the better it seems to go over.
  • Humor goes over well. Not a requirement, but games on the lighter side seem to be especially popular.

Things that, on the other hand, do not seem to matter too much:

  • Lack of graphics.
  • Lack of audio.
  • Lack of hyperlink doodads.
  • The failure of the parser to recognize full English sentences, as long as the correct grammar is explained.
  • Mild injokiness: as long as the references to Infocom et al. aren’t overwhelming, they seem not to ruin the value of a game.

I don’t think this profile describes our only possible target audience, and doubtless there are other things that we would need to do to win over other audiences; and in any case it’s not worth casting aside the characteristics of the game we want to write in order to appeal to some hypothetical marketing contingent. (Or we should go into the industry commercially.) With all those caveats, though, maybe this is worth thinking about when planning new work.

53 thoughts on “IF for the hard-casual gamer?

  1. I think accessibility is the real sticking point for IF’s acceptance by a larger audience. You’re totally right about the necessity of online play (which I read as ‘in a Web browser’) — whenever I tried to tell friends about my own IF, I lost them as soon as I said the word ‘interpreter.’

    I worry that IF by its nature is not discoverable. That is, how many people would think to type INVENTORY without being prompted to? And without that, you’re stuck having to explain the basics at the start of every game. I know there were some efforts to create a standard set of docs that could be included with an IF work, but the best casual games explain how to play them as the user plays, not through a separate set of instructions.

    Obviously, The Dreamhold comes to mind… and I really do think it was well-done as an intro, but I can’t imagine having to sweat those kinds of details every time I wrote an IF work.

  2. Yes, “in a web browser” is what I meant.

    I worry that IF by its nature is not discoverable. That is, how many people would think to type INVENTORY without being prompted to? And without that, you’re stuck having to explain the basics at the start of every game.

    This may not be statistically significant, but what I’m seeing from the people posting on Jay Is Games is that they can and will get into a game, even without a tutorial mode. What they seem to require is some description of the commands they need to use (perhaps as a response to typing HELP, which should then be recommended at the start of the game) and then that the game be sufficiently entertaining and responsive that their initial experimentation is fun, rather than annoying. So I’m not sure it’s necessary to have a full-on Tutorial Voice for every game, at least for this audience.

    On the other hand, there are also ways to implement a kind of faux Tutorial Voice that doesn’t require so much work at every stage. Bronze and Floatpoint have a mode that suggests plausible commands each turn until the player turns this off, for instance, which I’ve gotten some positive feedback about.

    So I think there are some options.

    Getting the stuff into an online format in the first place — and an online format where the game can be saved and resumed later — appears to be an important preliminary step in attracting more of this kind of player.

  3. Hmm, I like the thinking here. This is something I’ve been tracking for a while, but hadn’t consciously recognized that the market had ripened.

    Are the Flash terps allowing now for saving games?

  4. I hadn’t heard the term “hard-casual” but it describes me pretty well when I play arcade games. Arcade games are a five minute distraction from work, rather than something I’ll play all weekend. On the other hand, when I play IF, it’s usually for at least an hour or two. Dipping into a game for five minutes would just be confusing.

    “Many HC players will only try IF if it is not a bother to do so, and they perceive a download of any kind as a bother…”

    I don’t know what the situation is like on other operating systems, but I find that many of the Linux interpreters don’t work out of the box. Many of them haven’t been updated for a while and need to be recompiled for modern systems. Of course for most people this is a non-starter, and they will give up trying to play the game. As you say, though, Parchment could solve this problem.

    “Lack of hyperlink doodads.”

    Presumably this is addressed to me specifically. ;-)

    Looking at the comments for Enlightenment, it seems as though people are having problems with the user interface. There is a post at the top giving common commands, which people weren’t able to work out for themselves.

    Then joye said, “I’m thinking about getting into interactive fiction, but there seem to be a lot of unwritten rules about what commands do what…”

    Dsrtrosy said, “I’m with Joye. I want to like these games, but I found them ridiculously exclusive in the 80s and quit playing them then.”

    ThemePark said, “I thought my inventory WAS the contents of my bag.”

    Ginger said, “How do you load a saved game? I have tried: ‘load saved game’ …”

    It seems to me that the command-line interface is putting these people off. I thought it would be interesting to try an alternative, and after a certain amount of thought I hit on the idea of using hyperlinks with pop-up menus. I’m sure it’s not the only alternative, though.

  5. It seems to me that the command-line interface is putting these people off.

    Hm — it doesn’t read that way to me; it reads to me as “I don’t mind typing, but I don’t know *what* to type.” Dsrtrosy had liked Galatea, e.g., and joye comes back later to say that she(?) found the Brass Lantern instructions useful.

    I mean, I could be misunderstanding the implication of these comments, but from what was said here and about Lost Pig and Suveh Nux did not read to me as a wholesale rejection of the parser — just a desire to have more instructions about how to use it.

  6. Are the Flash terps allowing now for saving games?

    Flaxo, I believe, does not yet do this but the JIG one does. (Assuming I understand right.) And Parchment has some way of dealing with this as well. (I haven’t delved into the particulars very much.) But it feels at the moment as though we have several near-solutions to this problem — if only Flaxo did saving and scrollback properly, or if only Parchment ran smoothly on a greater range of browsers… Of course, they’re very new projects, and I’m not at all complaining about the work that’s been done so far. On the contrary, I think it looks promising.

  7. One final further remark: I think the “hard-casual” name can apply to people who spend an hour gaming; it doesn’t have to be playing in five-minute chunks. But it’s also to be distinguished from major, multi-evenings-for-weeks sorts of time commitment, and it assumes that the game can be interrupted at any time (for work, by one’s small children, etc).

  8. Hmm, yes I see what you mean. I suppose it depends how much effort people are willing to put in. If they hear about IF and the concept seems like a dream come true, they will make the effort to master the command line. On the other hand, if they’re just looking for a five minute distraction, they won’t bother.

    It’s interesting that people liked Suveh Nux. It’s probably quite approachable for a total beginner, because the point of the game is learning how to use its rather special command line! Most other games take use of the command line for granted, and build other puzzles on top of that. (I really enjoyed Suveh Nux myself, too. The fact that it’s a good game is no doubt another reason why people liked it. :-) )

    BTW, I meant to thank you again for the list of games. I’ve now played them all, and you’re right, it was useful to see what they’d done with hyperlinks.

  9. Pingback: » Interactive Fiction for the Hard-Casual Crowd [Interactive Fiction]

  10. BTW, I meant to thank you again for the list of games. I’ve now played them all, and you’re right, it was useful to see what they’d done with hyperlinks.

    You’re welcome!

    I don’t at all mean to suggest that there’s no point in hyperlinks for any audience, incidentally — just making some comments on what I’ve observed so far about this one.

  11. IF is essentially inaccessible to neophytes for several reasons:

    First, it involves reading, a lot of it. A lot of people don’t want long cut-scenes in any games, or even have them read to them, so better games have an escape button and then easy access to a “just the facts” summary. If you take the reading out of IF, there’s nothing left. A large portion of the potential audience is gone there.

    Second, there’s A LOT of weird genre gimmicks that IF fans love that would alienate anybody else. I’m talking about having say “Darn it!” in Ballyhoo, the item the protagonist refuses to see until you protest three times, etc. It’s like it has it’s own take on camp that is not just acceptable, but expected in IF. None of it plays to anyone who hasn’t either played a ton of IF, or tried to write some IF. The advanced case of this the super-experimental IF, about half of what’s out there, that either has no puzzles at all, or puzzles so obscure, you essentially have to know the author to get them.

    Third, even in the heyday of professional IF, the puzzles were hard and often non-intuitive. This problem is compounded by the hobbyist IF which is riddled with in-jokes, alternate takes on puzzles IF players have already seen and no difficulty standards whatsoever.

    Some people actually want to play games to relax. I think the hard casual player wants to relax, but a whole lot for a long time. Most people don’t find learning, the nuances of a text parser, trying to psychoanalyze an unseen author and reading lots and lots of words about a fantasy world before getting any entertainment payoff terribly relaxing.

    Try pinball,

    Pinbot

  12. IF is essentially inaccessible to neophytes for several reasons:

    The JiG threads quoted disprove the conclusion, which means the rest of your argument is cute but irrelevant.

  13. Twenty or so text-based games on Jay Is Games constitutes proof of what exactly? You don’t even have any stats. on how many people play them, as opposed to the latest match three or hidden picture hunt.

    Seriously, I thought the IF crowd thrived on it’s elite status. The tone of most of the competition IF is strictly “By Us For Us.”

    The heyday of IF was at a point where not much else was technically possible on a computer, and computers themselves were a luxury item for a small minority, with an even smaller group of people playing computer games at all.

    My conclusion is simply that IF is not popular and cannot be very popular in the post-literate world we live in. I wish the world was different too, but I’m not going to pretend there’s some huge masses of IF-ready gamers out there waiting to discover it. It’s just not true.

  14. I never said that IF was likely to become widely popular, in the way that AAA titles or reality TV are popular. I said that I thought there was a potential audience beyond the present one, and that it is reachable; and I identified some ways in which we might target it.

    You, on the other hand, stated categorically that IF is inaccessible to new players. This is trivially falsifiable.

    If you want to have an argument, then it would be useful for you to address the point I actually made, and (in turn) say what you actually mean. If you’re just savoring the dubious pleasure of being simultaneously condescending to (a) the self-absorbed snobs that enjoy IF and (b) the illiterate swine that don’t– well, you’ve now accomplished that aim. I’m afraid I don’t find it a compelling bit of rhetoric, though.

  15. Emily, it’s not quite correct to say zarf is working on a Glulx web interpreter. He’s begun working on a glk web browser client, which is quite a different thing.

  16. Well, okay (and I’ve slightly changed the wording of the post) — but as he introduced it as “the HTML/CSS/Javascript half of a web-based Glulx interpreter”, it didn’t seem too farfetched to assume that in the long run a web-based Glulx interpreter might be forthcoming.

  17. I believe pinbot makes some valid points for IF, but I don’t think they are relevant for many modern IF’s I’ve played. Well designed IF’s are generally concise, inviting and intuitive as a requirement. Things like “reading the author’s mind” are a sign of a the IF author’s bad game design rather than a flaw with IF.

    I both agree and disagree with the “By Us for Us” mentality. For me, the better and more satisfying IF’s are ones that innovate and build on existing ideas. I like IF’s that put a new spin on your expectations or IF conventions, pushing the boundaries of IF.

    But a player who has never played IF before doesn’t have these expectations or knowledge of IF conventions. As far as he/she can tell, these kind of IF are the norm. The impact of things like; a twist on a narrative style, or an unusual plot design etc. would all be lost on such a player as they have no previous experience to compare to in order to be surprised. Furthermore IF that push the boundaries would alienate an uninitiated player. For this reason, the simpler and more conventional IF’s are probably more suited (but lack the coolness factor). This was touched on by pinbot with the Ballyhoo gimmick idea, but that was a bad example that is exaggerated. I think the point he is making there is true, but in a more subtle way.

    I too believe IF has potential to reach more players, but I think it depends alot on the type of IF games players are initiated with as this forms their view of ALL IF games. Playing the wrong kind of IF game would probably turn a player off the IF genre. I’m really glad I wasn’t one of them, they’re missing out on a lot of great games.

  18. But a player who has never played IF before doesn’t have these expectations or knowledge of IF conventions. As far as he/she can tell, these kind of IF are the norm. [...] Furthermore IF that push the boundaries would alienate an uninitiated player.

    Well, no, it wouldn’t. As you say yourself, uninitiated players do not have expectations about IF, and will not see that boundary-pushing IF is boundary-pushing IF. But by the same logic, it will not alienate them; unless the work is inherently alienating, in which case will still alienate them less than IF players with a lot of expectations.

    Works like Galatea and The Space under the Window were probably a lot less alienating for players unaccustomed to IF than they were to their original IF-literate audiences.

    Of course, nowadays, expectations are not as strong even among those IF-literates, because we have seen a lot more experiments over the past decade. There is a sense in which you cannot be an avid player of modern IF without at same time belonging to the IF avant garde–hose who want “genre” IF and those who want “experimental” IF are members of the same community, and cannot help to see each other’s work. This spirit of experimentation means that people have come to expect some surprises, and are not as easily alienated.

    I don’t know if novice players should stick to “simpler and more conventional IF”. First, I think it very much depends on the player in question. If they enjoy devious puzzles more than literary experiments, then conventional IF might be a better choice–but perhaps only then. Second, I don’t think there is a clear link between conventional and simple IF. It is certainly easier for a novice player to get to the end of The Baron than it is to get to the end of Zork, or even a contemporary non-cruel puzzler that comes with hints, like The Elysium Enigma, or even the winner of the recent OFBeginnersComp, Mrs. Pepper’s Nasty Secret Band. (All right, without the “Band”, but a title so easily improved is hard to leave unaltered. :) ) Puzzleless IF is simpler, at least in the sense that you can get to the end with less of a hassle.

    So, I’m not so sure whether there is any one type of IF that beginners should start out with. It ought to be good IF, certainly, but whether it ought to be puzzleless or puzzle-filled, humorous or serious, short or long, experimental or traditional–I don’t think there is a general answer to that.

  19. Is there an in-browser interpreter for inform?

    Inform produces both Z-machine and Glulx files; the Z-machine (as I said earlier in the post) is better served in this respect than Glulx. (There is a java Glulx interpreter, but it requires a fair amount of cooperation on the part of the user and doesn’t really provide the seamless online experience people are looking for.)

  20. (Sorry if this post appears twice, but something seems to have interfered with my first attempt to post.)

    But a player who has never played IF before doesn’t have these expectations or knowledge of IF conventions. As far as he/she can tell, these kind of IF are the norm. [...] Furthermore IF that push the boundaries would alienate an uninitiated player.

    Well, no, it wouldn’t. As you say yourself, uninitiated players do not have expectations about IF, and will not see that boundary-pushing IF is boundary-pushing IF. But by the same logic, it will not alienate them; unless the work is inherently alienating, in which case will still alienate them less than IF players with a lot of expectations.

    Works like Galatea and The Space under the Window were probably a lot less alienating for players unaccustomed to IF than they were to their original IF-literate audiences.

    Of course, nowadays, expectations are not as strong even among those IF-literates, because we have seen a lot more experiments over the past decade. There is a sense in which you cannot be an avid player of modern IF without at same time belonging to the IF avant garde–hose who want “genre” IF and those who want “experimental” IF are members of the same community, and cannot help to see each other’s work. This spirit of experimentation means that people have come to expect some surprises, and are not as easily alienated.

    I don’t know if novice players should stick to “simpler and more conventional IF”. First, I think it very much depends on the player in question. If they enjoy devious puzzles more than literary experiments, then conventional IF might be a better choice–but perhaps only then. Second, I don’t think there is a clear link between conventional and simple IF. It is certainly easier for a novice player to get to the end of The Baron than it is to get to the end of Zork, or even a contemporary non-cruel puzzler that comes with hints, like The Elysium Enigma, or even the winner of the recent OFBeginnersComp, Mrs. Pepper’s Nasty Secret Band. (All right, without the “Band”, but a title so easily improved is hard to leave unaltered. :) ) Puzzleless IF is simpler, at least in the sense that you can get to the end with less of a hassle.

    So, I’m not so sure whether there is any one type of IF that beginners should start out with. It ought to be good IF, certainly, but whether it ought to be puzzleless or puzzle-filled, humorous or serious, short or long, experimental or traditional–I don’t think there is a general answer to that.

  21. On the nature of IF-in-a-web-browser:

    There are two ways to do this. You can have an entire interpreter written in Javascript (or Flash), while loads the game file in and plays directly in the user’s browser. Parchment does this (for Z-code). Plus: requires no resources on the server side; you can stick the files anywhere. Minus: can be slow. (Parchment is slow on some games. I worry that a Glulx interpreter done this way might be very slow.) Also minus: somebody has to write an interpreter in Javascript or Flash.

    The other way is a typical web application: a Javascript (or Flash) front end which throws AJAX calls at an interpreter running on the web server. Plus: game execution can be very fast. Minus: requires an interpreter instance running on your web server. (If your game is slashdotted, it may stop working.) Another minus: the round-trip delay for each command. (Not necessarily a big deal.)

    What I have started writing is a Javascript library for displaying IF windows and accepting input. It could therefore be used for *either* of the above cases. In case 1, the library is plugged into a Javascript IF interpreter. In case 2, it’s plugged into a routine which makes AJAX calls and returns the result. I intend to work on case 2 next, but somebody else could try case 1.

    My library is based on the Glk display model. This means it’s good for Glulx games. But it could be used for Z-code as well, as long as the Z-code game doesn’t try to push the IF interface too much. (Photopia’s colors would be lost, and don’t expect real-time input a la Border Zone.)

  22. Don’t get me wrong. I have a great deal of respect for IF and used to follow the competitions closely. On a lark, I decided to check out the 2007 winners and found that IF community was pretty much the same as it ever was. Given the amount of IF released in a year, there sure are a lot of standards. From the IF Comp site:

    Most of the interpreters you will need are available from the IF Archive. You will need interpreters for TADS 2 and 3, Z-code, ADRIFT (for Windows or Mac), Glulx, and Quest (for Windows).

    It would be really nice if there was some reasonable way to shorten that list. Easier said than done, I know. If there was one good illustrated interpreter and one good text only one, it would make it a lot easier for people to get into. Another nice idea might be to actually build a really good IF tutorial into the interpreter itself.

    Personally, I think the best IF is text only with no font and/or color changes – just the words and the puzzles. A few IFs include graphics in the way you might include illustrations of clues in a mystery book. But look at how few books have printed illustrations that are essential to the story. Besides, if it looks like a word processor, it increases your ability to play it at work without catching flak.

    Once you start going graphical, you move the game to a different genre, and honest questions about whether the game would be better as point-and-click come up. Some of you must be old enough to remember what a big deal it was when Sierra pioneered the point-and-click, 3-D adventure game. It wasn’t really 3-D, but they called it that. It really brought a lot of people into gaming that weren’t compelled by Infocom games, even with all the feelies.

    There’s another paradox in IF that has to give IF developers fits. Since it’s story based, most IF has very limited replay value. But, if you want to make an IF masterpiece, you need to flesh out all those little details so players feel like they are part of a dynamic world. So, how much of your development efforts go into things the average player will never see? Or do you just design for the experience IF player so that you put your development efforts into the stuff that gets you the acclaim of your peers? I guess the time honored list of “Have You Tried?” items at the end of an IF walkthru is as close as you can come to having it both ways.

  23. One of Emily’s first comments in this thread:

    “This may not be statistically significant, but what I’m seeing from the people posting on Jay Is Games is that they can and will get into a game, even without a tutorial mode. What they seem to require is some description of the commands they need to use [...]”

    Which reminds me to add something to the remdemo test page: a “how to play this game” link at the top of the window. A “help” link is commonplace on web apps — it isn’t visual clutter, I mean. I bet it would help a lot in the jayisgames context.

    You’d usually want to tailor the help file to the game, but even a generic one would be useful.

  24. It would be really nice if there was some reasonable way to shorten that list.

    Well, there is: for the Mac, at least, most of those formats can be handled with the single interpreter Zoom, which removes the burden of keeping track of which story file format is which. Gargoyle does roughly the same for Windows, but it isn’t maintained very well at the moment, which is a serious pity. But the idea isn’t impossible by any means.

    Another nice idea might be to actually build a really good IF tutorial into the interpreter itself.

    I recall people kicking this idea around at some point, but the thing is that different games have different command sets and expectations; creating a tutorial that is a good lead-in to all of them would be impossible. (It’s not common by any means, but there are even games that disallow LOOK and EXAMINE, or turn off standard compass directions, so even what you might consider the most basic and essential commands are susceptible to adjustment.)

    The graphical/pure text question is a whole other debate; there are a small handful of games that really benefit from and essentially require their graphics, and then some for which it’s an elegant but unnecessary side feature, and some for which it’s a distraction — but there are a lot more possible ways of deploying graphics than simply by depicting the location the player is in (which I think is what critics have in mind when they complain that IF is becoming too much like a point-and-click). Other uses include graphics as diagrams (Lock & Key; Jigsaw, in a limited ASCII way), or as isolated views of specific objects (Six Stories), or as abstract mood-setting illustrations (City of Secrets), or images of characters being spoken to (Words of Power).

    So, how much of your development efforts go into things the average player will never see? Or do you just design for the experience IF player so that you put your development efforts into the stuff that gets you the acclaim of your peers?

    That depends a lot on who the author wants to target. There have been quite a few games written to and for the novice player in recent years (Dreamhold, Bronze, Mrs Pepper’s Nasty Secret) or with settings or modes designed to help a novice (Floatpoint, Blue Lacuna, Whom the Telling Changed, etc). There have been games written for specific audiences who are *not* IF aficionados but who might have other interests in common (1893, Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom, various games written for educational purposes). There is a pretty strong sense in the community these days that we do need to be more accessible, that we can’t write games only for each other all the time, and this has changed the shape of the output a bit.

    That said: part of the reason to add those compulsive little details is that you know that players will share their discoveries, so if one player finds and enjoys an easter egg feature, there’s a reasonable chance that word will get around.

  25. You make a good point Victor, however I was coming more from the angle that a large part of “boundary-pushing-IF’s” appeal comes from it’s context within IF. IF’s keep building on each other until you end up with IF’s that are far removed to the beginning IF’s. It is easy for an IF veteran to get into it but I see this as a barrier for newbies, this is the alienation I was talking about. Because the IF genre has largely developed underground, alot of people would associate IF with the most easily accessible image (which is the more conventional older IFs)

    As with many creative endeavor, be it, movies, paintings, music or fiction, I see IF too as an iterative art, that builds upon itself. For example, If you traveled back in time and played a popular movie or piece of music from today, you’d find that pretty much everyone from that time would be alienated from it, they wouldn’t be able to enjoy or appreciate it because they haven’t had those 30 years of cultural development to get to that point. I’m not talking alienation from future issues or some special effects brought up in the movie/music you played (let’s just say for the sake of argument that movie is a period piece). What I mean is, an alienation from film-making/music-making techniques that we use today that are totally different from back then. Rules we have developed over the years and subsequently transcended and broken (via experimental works). It’s an exaggerated analogy but I see it mimics the state of IF at the moment. The 30 year gap I mentioned is analogous to the fact that IF has been developing behind the scenes. So people are stuck with old notions (and old preferences/biases) of what IF is.

    I agree with you that novice players may or may not necessarily like conventional IF, I agree there is no one game as everyone has different tastes. since they would have no knowledge of UN-conventional IF, what exists to entice these player’s to try it out? I don’t have a solution I’m just saying, in my opinion, this is what turns a lot of people off (as opposed to the lack of graphics/command line input etc). They need to know how rewarding an IF game can be, because it’s hard to see this on the surface.

  26. I see what you mean, Chris, but I’m not sure I entirely agree. Let’s take the movies example. Sure, movies probably wouldn’t be what they are today if directors like Fritz Lang and Sergei Eisenstein hadn’t done the work they did. And, as certainly, people in the 20s and 30s would have had a lot of trouble understanding a Tarantino movie. But it doesn’t follow from that that you have become acquainted with the entire history of film in order to understand movies. Quite the opposite: people today find it easier to understand Kill Bill than to understand Metropolis or Battleship Potemkin. Current movies don’t just fit into the history of film; they also fit into contemporary culture as a whole. And it is knowledge of contemporary culture, rather than acquaintance with movies made between the 30s and now, that allows people to dive right into modern films and enjoy them.

    With interactive fiction, I think the case that people can just dive into cutting-edge works made right now is even stronger: people do not have any expectations specific to the genre at all. Sure, there are some people who have played an Infocom game or some other text adventure back in the day, but that is a tiny minority of people potentially interested in computer games and electronic literature right now. I don’t have the statistics, but the number of people that owns a computer has exploded in the past fifteen years; and if you weren’t playing games fifteen years ago, you have probably never played an interactive fiction. So there are no expectations.

    Secondly, interactive fiction contains two kinds of rules: those specific to parser-based interaction, and those we share (or could share) with other genres like static fiction and computer games. The first kind of rule has changed little over the past decades. What you could in type in Zork, you can also type in pieces written right now. The biggest change is that “examine” can now be abbreviated to “x”. This is no harder to get into now than it ever was.

    The second kind of rule is where most of the experiments are being done, I think: we are playing with kinds of interactivity, with ways of telling stories, with content, and so on. But all of that is immediately accessible to people who have some acquaintance with contemporary computer games and literature. You don’t need to have played Zork to know that The Baron is different from other stuff; in fact, it’s more important that you are acquainted with the standard tropes of either roleplaying games or quest literature–which means that it’s accessible to people who played D&D, or played Final Fantasy, or read Tolkien, or read Thomas Malory, or basically just to anyone who has even the faintest knowledge of Western culture.

    There are a couple of exceptions, a couple of games that really play with things very specific to interactive fiction. 9:05 is one, and so is +=3. Newcomers won’t really be able to appreciate the point of those games. But I think these games are the exception.

  27. So people are stuck with old notions (and old preferences/biases) of what IF is.

    Do you have any evidence or data about people looking for old-style text adventures and being disappointed to encounter modern IF?

    My data is all anecdotal, but this isn’t what I’m seeing. More typically the comments I see about IF from outside the community suggest that, yes, lots of people still think of IF as the old-style text adventure, but that that is precisely what turns them off. People who state categorically that they dislike interactive fiction most often cite guess-the-verb problems, mazes, repetitive or illogical puzzles, the need for reading the author’s mind, lack of help or instructions, and genre narrowness (i.e., that they think all IF is D&D-derivative) as the reasons. Some modern IF does still suffer from some of these problems, but by and large our design expectations have changed, and we tend to write to avoid those problems.

    The “IF nowadays is so pretentious/avant-garde” complaint, by contrast, tends to come from disaffected people who have been hanging around the community but who feel it’s going in a direction they don’t like. (I tend to think their concerns are a little exaggerated: while we try to avoid old-school design flaws, there are still a number of games being produced that cater to the adventuring audience rather than to a literary one. But I’m obviously biased.)

    Anyway, as to

    since they would have no knowledge of UN-conventional IF, what exists to entice these player’s to try it out?

    …we return to the combination of accessibility (making our work easy to try) and publicity (getting specific IF profiled in places where it will reach people who might like it).

  28. I don’t know if IF leads itself well to casual playing, which is really all about gaming at its core: few simple rules, objectives and lots of replay value. Replay value is not something IF is well-known for, let alone few simple rules. And certainly reading is not the number 1 activity a casual game player is expecting to do in its little free time. This is not the same situation as a “hardcore” fan of, say, console RPGs are into, with plenty of time in their hands to dedicate to the story-based game (though mostly graphical).

    IF at its core is essentially about an environment simulation and a story attached, with a few obstacles put between “chapters” to force the player to exercise his brain before further progressing. It’s not about score (which I always read as “there’s about n pages to the end of this story”) and there’s no replay value except for finding more treasures in primitive underground treasure hunts or reach the few alternative endings an author previously came up with.

    Also, if more story-based IF is put up for casual gamers they may be confused returning to it after a while. Saving is essential, sure, but how will she know what she was doing previously? Perhaps a transcript? Would she read it all before feeling bored?

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t try targeting new audiences, but I’m afraid dumbing down IF games to be even shorter than ifcomp games and with less and less of a story, and much more jokes, just so that a few illiterate, short-attention-span game players can taste it, is not the right way to do so.

    Perhaps IF could have a better fate by targeting literate people rather than fans of old-fashioned pre-VGA computer games. It’s actually been doing just that for a few years, but mostly relying on humor, plain fantastic settings coming up from nowhere and pretty linear plots. Not to say they are not any good, given current technology, but they are seen with suspicion, as another dumbed down, immature pastiche of literature.

    Perhaps to reach such an audience we have to go beyond the old compass-based connected rooms, the many mechanical little steps to achieve something and truly produce an infrastructure AI advanced enough to automatically narrate events the author didn’t expect to happen in the first place as results of the player actions, including dramatic situations and NPCs with emotional state and awareness of the virtual world. Who knows, perhaps even providing a game parser akin to the parser in I7 so that the player herself can truly co-author the game and create new things and situations in the game world.

    Anyway, the best news in the IF camp these days, besides an ever maturing I7, is web-based terps. Parchment, using pure javascript, is working (almost) like a dream right now, for most games, and Zarf’s beginning project is an eye opener. I really hope HTML TADS lives up to its name eventually.

    Hope this wasn’t too long. :)

  29. Completely agree with Pinbot on graphical IF games: makes the textual room description redundant, since the picture grabs your attention first and it describes the room the same way.

    Indeed, illustrations in books are not in every page, except in comics and alphabetizing children books.

  30. Hmm, I disagree that replay value is a necessary component for the ‘casual’ demographic. It’s certainly not present in (say) escape-the-locked-room flash games, which are a staple of JiG.

    As for the ‘few simple rules’, I think that many (if not most?) of the most highly regarded puzzles in IF are indeed all about discovering a few simple rules and then applying them to accomplish a task. A quick perusal of http://ifwiki.org/index.php/XYZZY_Awards_(Best_Individual_Puzzle) would seem to underscore this point. Understanding, then mastery.

    You could argue that someone’s first exposure to IF involves a similar understanding->mastery process as they eventually work out what sort of input the parser accepts, and then what input will produce satisfying results (i.e. new text). That’s the biggest hurdle IF faces (at least traditionally), so that’s what you need the ‘help’ menu and helpful parsers for.

    As far as objectives, it’s long been known that clear objectives from the get-go are just good design in general for IF, even if they’re subverted later in the piece.

  31. You make a good point victor, perhaps film isn’t a good analogy could you say the same thing for music? The film examples you’ve given are mostly experimental in my opinion. They are usually the exception and tend to have niche appeal anyway, As movie making develops we take what works with each movie and assimilate it to form our mainstream popular movies which is what I meant in my previous post. Things like the way we cut and compose shots as opposed to longer shots and wider cameras we used to use. But yea, that aside, you’re correct that it’s not an impassable barrier, but I still think it plays a small part.

    Emily, No I don’t have any hard facts or data, I can only give my opinion based on what I’ve observed. The problems that you have stated, guess-the-verb, illogical read-author-mind puzzles and mazes is exactly what I mean by “old notions of IF”. I think newbies who have any preconception of what IF is, will have these negative images. Yes, we have learned our mistakes and we now avoid these things as part of our consensus of what good design is. For me, people may not necessarily know how IF has evolved beyond these problems because it has been mostly underground.

    In my opinion the biggest barrier of entry comes from the lack of graphics. I’m not saying lack of graphics is the problem, but because graphics give instant appeal, IF requires a bit more investment. A casual player will need to be assured he/she will be rewarded because his/her investment is larger than usual and because of the “old notions of IF” I have mentioned, many would be turned off.

    The exception to this is total newbies, who have absolutely NO idea what IF is. Their curiousity should be enough to cross the barrier and give it a go, but I think these would be the minority (again my opinion).

  32. “In my opinion the biggest barrier of entry comes from the lack of graphics. I’m not saying lack of graphics is the problem, but because graphics give instant appeal, IF requires a bit more investment. A casual player will need to be assured he/she will be rewarded because his/her investment is larger than usual”

    In my opinion, this is exactly why IF should stress itself as an interactive literary medium rather than as a game: because videogames are a graphical medium at heart and lots of quality text will never change that to this audience. Besides, I’m not sure simple static illustrations for rooms or dramatic scenes will make much difference to a generation used to flashy animated stuff on-screen and photorealistic 3D graphics.

    I’ve been putting some links in some general webforums to some quality IF to be played on parchment for a few days by now. I’ve received just one response so far: “oh! sh!t”, when the guy reached the first ending in 9:05. Oh, and another one gave up after “rape the gondolier with rock” didn’t work out in Metamorphoses.

    So, even being able to play online some of the most intriguing, humorous, light and well-done modern IF today is seemingly not compelling enough to these folks. I say we should let the addicts have their crack rather than trying to read them poetry. It’s hopeless.

  33. In my opinion the biggest barrier of entry comes from the lack of graphics. I’m not saying lack of graphics is the problem, but because graphics give instant appeal, IF requires a bit more investment.

    There’s certainly some truth in that, although it is perhaps partly alleviated by good cover art. (I never really thought of that until the Cover Art Drive, but it’s probably true that good cover art seduces people to start playing a game.)

    That said, I think lack of graphics might actually be a strength of IF. Graphical games which are not made by huge teams necessarily have graphics that are incredibly inferior to contemporary mainstream games. If I see someone’s latest Flash project, I dont go “Oh! Graphics!”, I go “Damn, that’s ugly compared to how Crysis and The Witcher look on my new GeForce 9600″. Since IF doesn’t compete in the arena of graphics, we don’t get our ass handed to us by the big commercial projects in this way. It’s a lot more viable to compete in the arena of story and writing and new forms interactivity.

    There will of course be a lot of people who don’t want to play text games because they don’t like reading text. But that’s just not our audience. :)

  34. The lukewarm response to this proposal makes me sad. I was excited to think that IF was enjoying a quiet renaissance, ready to be rediscovered by a larger audience. Some of the commentary here (IF for the “elite”, having to dumb down games to make it appeal, casual-hard gamers as illiterate, being compared to a crack addict) does not make me feel welcome as return player after a decade hiatus.

    IF is an incredible game format, that allows interaction to the created world greater than any digital game that comes to mind. It allows for a unique involvement with prose that can make you feel like your living the story. And the commands and grammar that has evolved as common are unfamiliar to a new player. Still, there’s no reason why a neophyte can’t just jump in and try the good stuff. It’s not like your writing Latin koans in binary underwater: IF is still a game format: you look at stuff, you get stuff, you walk around, you talk to people, you interact, you solve puzzles.

    IF is not as inaccessible as I would think reading these comments. Maybe you’ve been recruiting in the wrong places. The player singled out in the post doesn’t care about flashy graphics, like old school games, likes Indy games with unique formats, and prefers their games cheap to free. Those kind of players are not in the majority, but there are more than are currently involved in IF. If the troubles about IF players and commands were minimized as suggested, and the games are advertised where these gamers congregate (like jayisgames), then I think you will be pleasantly surprised with how many people respond.

  35. Delzoup, I think that part of the problem here is just the name “hard-casual”. “Casual” really sounds like people don’t want to make an investment in terms of time, emotion or intellect, and I think some people here react to that image. That’s obviously not the kind of gamer that Emily means to describe, but it’s the kind of gamer that people think of when they hear the word “casual”. So there is just some misunderstanding here.

    I must admit that this doesn’t helpm though: “Humor goes over well. Not a requirement, but games on the lighter side seem to be especially popular.” That does sound a bit like people who don’t want to make an emotional investment.

  36. delzoup: Some of the commentary here (IF for the “elite”, having to dumb down games to make it appeal, casual-hard gamers as illiterate, being compared to a crack addict) does not make me feel welcome as return player after a decade hiatus.

    I don’t think you should take that thread of comment as representative of the whole community, by any means.

    The response from JiG is not hypothetical: recent IF posts there have led to a fair amount of positive feedback and requests for more IF recommendations, especially if the games are hosted online and accompanied by hints.

    namekuseijin: I’ve been putting some links in some general webforums to some quality IF to be played on parchment for a few days by now. I’ve received just one response so far: “oh! sh!t”, when the guy reached the first ending in 9:05. Oh, and another one gave up after “rape the gondolier with rock” didn’t work out in Metamorphoses.

    What counts as a “general webforum”? It sounds like “general” means “not specializing in any particular interest” — which makes it harder to pick IF that might particularly appeal to these players. If you combine that with a lack of instructions (as I recall, Metamorphoses — written as my second game in 2000, does not try to introduce IF at all) then I can easily see why people might be only vaguely interested.

    The kinds of command you describe are what you get when people are bored/don’t see why they’re here, and are experimenting with breaking the game rather than with playing it. (I do *not* think, as sometimes claimed, that it’s evidence the general public is too dumb to play games that don’t accept full English sentences at all times.)

    Anyway, I do think that if we try to get a community (whether it be a casual gaming community or a literary community) interested in IF, we need to think a little bit about what’s going to appeal to them there, pick a few (not a glut) of appealing games, and present them accessibly and with a description that shows why they should want to play.

    The recent Strange Horizons article on IF seems to have attracted at least a little bit of attention — admittedly, these are just the three people I could easily find commenting recently, so it’s not clear how many other people responded positively and/or for the first time. But my point is:

    It IS possible to get other people interested. Really. There is an audience beyond ourselves. It may never be large on a scale that would interest EA, but it’s more than we have now. What’s more important to me, engaging these players and authors would bring in new expectations and tastes, and broaden the range of IF being written, perhaps to include more of other genres. (Maybe I should be actively recruiting among writers of historical fiction, a genre for which I think IF is brilliantly suited but which is relatively under-served.)

    These people are not all in one place. Some of them are probably hard-casual gamers — not the ones playing their 27th Zuma clone, but the ones who seek out and play wacky Japanese flash games, escape the room trinkets, and JiG game contest entries, who are open to lots of new stuff and have patience to play for an hour or two at a time. (So no, we’re really not talking about shrinking games down below the current typical comp size — on the contrary I’d say the majority of modern IF already fits a size that these players would find accessible.)

    Other possible audiences include

    – readers of various fiction types; I think they’d need to be lured in with material from their own preferred genre. They might also be more interested in games that could be presented on an e-reader or otherwise made as book-like as possible. I’m not sure about this, because there’s been relatively little experimentation and feedback to work with here.

    writers of various fiction types. Jeff Nyman has been working on this, and has lots of feedback on it; I am not in command of all his data, but he posts regularly about this to rec.arts.int-fiction.

    – students and teachers: IF is being used for educational purposes in a number of places. (My Teaching IF page has a list of the ones I know of.) This is not something I know a lot about yet, but it’s wholly possible that we could offer more resources to support this kind of thing; it’s probably never going to overlap exactly with the existing game community, but it also doesn’t hurt us to have new people being introduced to the form and taught the basics of writing in it. Some of them may convert into long-time players and authors. (The student IF projects I’ve tried have mostly been small or a bit unfinished — among other things, the amount of time one has in a typical class is not really enough to learn the conventions of a new medium and a programming language to implement it in; design a full-sized game; implement, test, and release. But I still find it encouraging that this is being done.)

    In order to approach any of these groups, we need to identify some places where the target audience comes for information; find a way to submit an article or review there, or host games for them; select carefully for works that they seem likely to be interested in; watch the feedback, and use that as a guide to future selections. (It helps if one posts in a place that by its nature encourages lots of feedback — this is one of the really nice things about Jay is Games, because it allows comments and people tend to leave lots of them, alongside star ratings. The ratings help gauge whether this sort of game is in general interesting to the players there; the comments identify further issues.)

    But this is absolutely not going to be something where we just have to post a couple links in a well-chosen place and then wait smugly while untold millions head our way. (To be fair, we couldn’t cope if they did.) It’ll be a slow process. But worthwhile, I think.

  37. This is a fascinating topic, and something that I’ve been thinking about since being accidentally introduced to the IF genre last year. Why isn’t IF more popular? Is it because IF only appeals to its niche market of students, academics and avid readers? Judging from my experience – being from a non-academic, casual reader background – I’d say absolutely not. The biggest problem I can see is letting people know that the IF genre actually exists, and allowing easy accessibility to some of its finest works.

    My own introduction to IF started with last year’s Guardian wikigame experiment, which was probably the first time since the 80′s that I’d even thought about playing any text-adventures. Wanting to learn more, I began by playing the BBC’s online Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – which, interestingly, ticks many of the requirement boxes of the hardcasual gamer : great online play, funny, easily accessible hints etc.
    Then I hit some difficulty. Where do I go next? What do I play next? Instinctively, I started googling, and encountered online versions of Anchorhead, Slouching Towards Bedlam, and a few other games. This is where I started to lose a little enthusiasm for my exploration of the genre. Not only were those java applets pretty horrible to look at, but saving your game was also impossible, which at the time seemed ridiculous. Yes, I can look back now, laugh, and think why didn’t I just use a beautiful interpreter like Gargoyle, but at the time it just seemed like too much effort.

    Anyway, eventually, with a little more perseverance and googling, I found my favourite interpreter, discovered Baf’s guide, and started playing IF games properly, sticking with titles by the more celebrated IF authors, like yourself Emily, Andy Plotkin, Graham Nelson, and Adam Cadre. By the time I’d worked my way through to the end of Varicella – which is my favourite IF game to date – my introduction was complete, and I became a big fan of the medium.

    So, what’s the point of this post? Basically just to provide some anecdotal evidence that there is a larger untapped market for IF out there than its current niche audience. You just need to work harder in raising the profile of IF so that a more mainstream audience know that it’s actually there, and also provide easier access to the quality games themselves.

    Additionally, I completely agree with your views on what a hardcasual – which is sort of the bracket I fit into – gamer wants and doesn’t want. Online play, and built-in hints were important to me in the beginning, and you’ve pretty much listed everything that was unimportant to me i.e graphics, audio, hyperlink doodads, and full sentence grammar. Mild injokiness is ok, but personally I’d try and use games with very little, or no injokiness in trying to attract new players.

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  39. delzoup: The lukewarm response to this proposal makes me sad. I was excited to think that IF was enjoying a quiet renaissance, ready to be rediscovered by a larger audience. Some of the commentary here (IF for the “elite”, having to dumb down games to make it appeal, casual-hard gamers as illiterate, being compared to a crack addict) does not make me feel welcome as return player after a decade hiatus.

    Well, IF certainly has been enjoying a quiet renaissance for quite some time and I have nothing against people rediscovering or, better yet, discovering IF for the first time. I’m just weary of dumbing it down to please casual tastes.

    I don’t think it is elitism to want to preserve, say, 19 century poetry in its original form rather than modernizing its language to today’s standards and putting comments in parentheses explaining what each rhyme means (like is so common today with jokes in emails, since we’re clearly all stupid to get it by ourselves).

    There are 2 thing I like about JiG’s take on IF, though: online play and a comments section with spoiler tags. The guy goes playing and if stuck or if he really enjoys it, he can posts comments, exchange ideas with others that enjoyed it too etc. Basically, they centralized raif/rgif and the ifarchive in a single, welcoming place. I think these 2 features are something that should be in every IF site out there: they are much better for forming a community around than news posts or archives pointing to interpreters and games.

    OTOH, some of the comments in the “Lost Pig” recommendation sound like immature stuff as laughing out of out-of-context phrases like “eat Grunk” and the reply from the game. That’s casuality: you play for a while and try things that don’t fit the work just for a good laughs. Is this the public we’re really going after?

    Victor Gijsbers: That does sound a bit like people who don’t want to make an emotional investment.

    Yes, that sure is true.

    Emily: What counts as a “general webforum”?

    Sorry, I should have added “gaming” in between those two. I was talking about Slashdot games section, whenever comes up some article about adventure games, like here:
    http://games.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/06/03/1448241

    Yes, I’m namekuseijin in Slashdot too.

    Or more recently in:
    http://games.meiobit.com/o-secret-aacute-rio-falou#comment-12572

    Brazilian site. Got 3 responses, only one positively impressed but expecting games like these in portuguese. Maybe I’ll change that someday.

    Emily: Metamorphoses — written as my second game in 2000, does not try to introduce IF at all

    It still is a very good beginner game, regardless. Very smooth going, simple to learn, juicy indeed. :)

    Besides, when I posted, I said I would welcome any questions about the games. Those who played them did not seem to have any particular troubles with them. And obviously “rape gondolier with rock” is a joke of a typical casual gamer not really all that interested in the first place.

    Emily: The kinds of command you describe are what you get when people are bored/don’t see why they’re here, and are experimenting with breaking the game rather than with playing it. (I do *not* think, as sometimes claimed, that it’s evidence the general public is too dumb to play games that don’t accept full English sentences at all times.)

    Precisely. Yes, I don’t think that’s the case at all.

    Emily: It IS possible to get other people interested. Really. There is an audience beyond ourselves. It may never be large on a scale that would interest EA, but it’s more than we have now.

    Yes, certainly. How about opening an Orkut or Facebook community around IF? No, I don’t like “social networks” as I’m an antisocial geek in the basement, but I heard many people from the so-called “real world” populate those virtual areas like worms in corpses. Something like “I love interactive-fiction” that should cater to an even wider audience, hopefully some more literate than gamers.

    I know your blog is one of the best things in IF in years. We should perhaps drop old stinkies like ASCII newsgroups and embrace beautifully crafted CSSed and RSSed blogs, which are the new thing everyone loves.

    Please, I’m not being sarcastic, just humorous.

    readers of various fiction types; I think they’d need to be lured in with material from their own preferred genre. They might also be more interested in games that could be presented on an e-reader or otherwise made as book-like as possible.

    I completely agree. This should be the main target audience for IF, IMO.

    Pepisolo: The biggest problem I can see is letting people know that the IF genre actually exists, and allowing easy accessibility to some of its finest works.

    This is a good suggestion, of course, and I feel I have to say I’m not against JiG’s take on IF, just that I fear the dumbing down for the sake of pleasing low life-forms as hard-casual gamers, that’s all.

    Pepisolo: with a little more perseverance and googling, I found my favourite interpreter, discovered Baf’s guide, and started playing IF games properly, sticking with titles by the more celebrated IF authors, like yourself Emily, Andy Plotkin, Graham Nelson, and Adam Cadre. By the time I’d worked my way through to the end of Varicella – which is my favourite IF game to date – my introduction was complete, and I became a big fan of the medium.

    This is good to hear.

  40. “I’m just weary of dumbing it down to please casual tastes.”
    “I fear the dumbing down for the sake of pleasing low life-forms as hard-casual gamers”

    I think this thread needs some sort of automatic censor on the phrase ‘dumbing down’. I really don’t see this in the original post. If anything, the suggestions for appealing to hard-casual gamers to me simply sound like good design practice.

    Also, please read the articles linked in the original post above. A hard-casual gamer is looking for a compelling story, setting and characters, but needs to fit their gaming around a busy adult life. I’m interested to know which part of this description seems to say ‘stupid’ to you.

  41. I think this thread needs some sort of automatic censor on the phrase ‘dumbing down’. I really don’t see this in the original post. If anything, the suggestions for appealing to hard-casual gamers to me simply sound like good design practice.

    Yes, I agree. Well– with the caveat that there are audiences for which the ideal presentation format might not be a browser-based interpreter. Peter Nepstad’s done well getting 1893 out to players in a physical CD form, because he’s aiming to sell in gift shops and museums, to people who might not have been looking for a game to start with at all.

    But no, I certainly didn’t think I was suggesting that games be written *down* to anyone.

    Some people seem to have recoiled at the suggestion that the hard-casual audience is particularly receptive to humor. And possibly I’m overreading; my observation is simply that the JiG crowd seems to particularly respond well to the funnier games, which may represent the preferences of this audience or just of the vocal readers of this one website.

    But I don’t think that preference necessarily means that they’re opposed to making an emotional investment in the work; just that humor tends to offer something immediately rewarding about the play experience, even if the player hasn’t yet learned to play well enough to be making any progress with the puzzles.

    I would also say that humor doesn’t always mean the game is a comedy. Some of the world’s great tragedies have very funny moments — or take something like Little Blue Men, where every laugh is based around something a little bit appalling, and the humor accumulates into horror.

  42. “hard-casual gamer is looking for a compelling story, setting and characters, but needs to fit their gaming around a busy adult life.”

    You know, what a busy adult life really means is that “War and Peace” will continue gathering dust in your library while you read short novels and comic books. This is what I mean by d*mbing d*wn something: your expectations are lowered by your busy life, there’s no turning back. Wait for retirement and/or children growing up.

    Besides, I’ve proposed a genuine question that still goes unanswered: how would such people with so few time in their hands cope with complicated plots in some of the more ambitious IF works? They can save and restore, but will they be able to situate themselves again into the storyline? Will transcripts do the trick? Of course, this is not a problem with “lighter” — is it ok to call them that? — IF works. Who cares about plot when it’s so much more fun playing with phrases and getting out of context just to see what funny responses the author come up with?

    Other than that, I was joking about the low life-forms, which are still human after all and deserving of love and care.

  43. I have a busy adult life, and although “War and Peace” is admittedly still gathering dust on my bookshelves, I did recently read “Anna Karenina” and am currently reading “Underworld”. What having a busy adult life means is not that you have no time to embark on time-consuming projects; it just means that you want to have some good evidence that such a project will be worth your time.

    Seen from that perspective, a failure of people with a busy adult life to read interactive fiction is a failure of “marketing”, not of those people. We just haven’t been able to convince them that it is worth their time.

    Emily wrote: would also say that humor doesn’t always mean the game is a comedy. Some of the world’s great tragedies have very funny moments

    Of course–but you didn’t just write the word “humor”, you equated that to “games on the lighter side”. And while I agree with you that profound tragedies like “Gravity’s Rainbow” (in literature) and “Doctor Strangelove” (in film) are also incredibly funny, I wouldn’t say that are works “on the lighter side”. ;)

    But I’m assuming from your comments that we should strike through that part of the characterisation of the “hard-casual” gamer.

  44. Besides, I’ve proposed a genuine question that still goes unanswered: how would such people with so few time in their hands cope with complicated plots in some of the more ambitious IF works? They can save and restore, but will they be able to situate themselves again into the storyline? Will transcripts do the trick?

    I can think of a couple of answers to this.

    One is that it’s possible to get through a novel in spurts of an hour or two and still retain the sense of the plot. IF generally has considerably less plot than a novel and the majority of what’s released these days takes less than eight hours to play, which suggests to me that this may not be as big a problem as you imply.

    That said, there are alternative structuring possibilities if this proved to be a genuine problem. One would be to build the story as a series of episodes rather than as a continuous whole, complete with short “the story so far” summations at the beginning of each new one. The player would still be able to save the game in the middle of an episode, of course, but the story presentation would now be more like that of a TV show.

  45. But I’m assuming from your comments that we should strike through that part of the characterisation of the “hard-casual” gamer.

    …possibly. :) I’m trying to figure this out as I go along myself.

    I do see JiG players seeming to like the funny games in particular — but on the other hand, I don’t know that we’ve really tried a lot of unfunny/serious games on them. And there was some positive feedback to Floatpoint back in the day.

    So possibly “funny” is just one possible strength among many, for this audience. Which would make sense.

  46. Delzoup, I think that part of the problem here is just the name “hard-casual”. “Casual” really sounds like people don’t want to make an investment in terms of time, emotion or intellect, and I think some people here react to that image. That’s obviously not the kind of gamer that Emily means to describe, but it’s the kind of gamer that people think of when they hear the word “casual”. So there is just some misunderstanding here.

    I think you might be correct about the confusion. Let me offer some definitions. A hardcore (video) gamer is consistently playing studio produced games on this gen. gaming system (or equivalently buffed up computer). A casual gamer is a catch-all term for anyone who plays video games, but does not think of themselves as a hardcore gamer. The original articles identify hard casual as people who identify hardcore who are now forced by time to play more casually. I think there is yet another segment: casual gamer who plays games more seriously but fails to identify as hardcore. I personally think the latter is the target that Ms. Short is describing.

    One more quick note on the hardcore/casual/hard-casual targeting is that these labels are in no way indicative of their literary interests. Serious casual gamers make a better target because they’re more open to experimentation then their hardcore counterparts. However audience that’s open to experimentation in literature or gaming will be easy to win over.

    I don’t think it is elitism to want to preserve, say, 19 century poetry in its original form rather than modernizing its language to today’s standards and putting comments in parentheses explaining what each rhyme means (like is so common today with jokes in emails, since we’re clearly all stupid to get it by ourselves).

    I think this is where I respectfully disagree. I don’t think you should have to modernize 19th century poetry (it is actually pretty recent), but footnoting a few key words/ideas/names that are unfamiliar to a modern audience allows the genuine article to be accessible to someone who hasn’t studied history or poetry extensively.

    I also think you’re over worried about the people who delighted in the pig/gnome responses to the off-the-wall actions. I think they were admiring a finely crafted world that reacted to all sorts of stimuli, not trying to break the world like the rock-rapist on that other forum. Sometimes it’s the little details that make experience.

    Also, now I’m curious—what is War and Peace of IF?

    I don’t think you should take that thread of comment as representative of the whole community, by any means.

    I know it’s not everyone, but it was a little shocking to find it present. However most of the IF people seem to be inclusive and kind to novices.

  47. The original articles identify hard casual as people who identify hardcore who are now forced by time to play more casually. I think there is yet another segment: casual gamer who plays games more seriously but fails to identify as hardcore. I personally think the latter is the target that Ms. Short is describing… Serious casual gamers make a better target because they’re more open to experimentation then their hardcore counterparts. However audience that’s open to experimentation in literature or gaming will be easy to win over.

    That’s an interesting distinction — not one I thought of making, but you may well be right.

    Also, now I’m curious—what is War and Peace of IF?

    IF’s equivalent of the 19th-century novel is probably the range of games I think of as “middle-school IF”, ca. 1996-8: Christminster, Jigsaw, So Far, Losing Your Grip, Anchorhead, et al. There’re usually a number of plot events, large worlds, and many hours of game-play; there’s lots to read, but the puzzles also remain hard (sometimes very hard — there’s a puzzle in Jigsaw I’ve played through from a walkthrough repeatedly but never understood even in hindsight).

    Of these, if we’re looking for a measure of pure quality, the majority opinion is probably that Anchorhead is the best of these. It’s extraordinarily balanced; the puzzles, though sometimes tricky, are generally quite fair; and the story coheres and offers a great deal of emotional punch.

  48. Emily you have a great blog here and I agree with a lot of what you’ve said in this article. Creating a simplified and convenient interface for the casual user is absolutely key to increasing IF’s awareness IMHO.

    With this in mind, has anyone had any success with Peter Rogers’ Flashonate? I’m impressed with the way it lets you convert .z5 files into .swf code that can be run directly from a web page.

    I had a fiddle with Flashonate last night but couldn’t work out how to create the SWF files using Openlaszlo. Unfortunately the accompanying documentation is minimal so I’ve fired an email off to Peter asking for an “idiot’s guide” to creating my own Flash IF using Flashonate. I have a limited understanding of stuff like HTML and Visual Basic, but this is a bit beyond me.

    Fingers crossed I’ll get a sympathetic response. :)

  49. Flashonate, another nice addition to the latest wave of web-based interpreters. It doesn’t convert zcode games to flash format, just interprets them. It’s based, it seems, on an older javascript zcode interpreter.

    There’s also parchment, a pure javascript-based interpreter based on the older Gnusto javascript interpreter solely for Firefox. Parchment is running pretty much in all modern browsers.

    Technically, they are really javascript terps, since Flash also uses javascript, only accessing an API different from the browser. Flash, in this case, is just another layer of indirection. You see, you’re running a game running inside a zcode terp running inside a javascript terp running inside a Flash plugin running inside the browser. Whew! And the amazing thing is that it even runs faster than in terps of the early days!

    There’re lots of exciting things in the horizon for popularizing IF. I hope the IF wiki and reviews sites take notice of these achievments…

  50. Pingback: Gimcrack’d: Dross: You can shout into this empty room as much as you like

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