Home > Inform 7, Interactive Fiction, Interface Design > Interface versus Intimidation: IF for Non-Readers

Interface versus Intimidation: IF for Non-Readers

For those (relatively few) of us familiar with Interactive Fiction, the simple presentation of text on screen with a single prompt awaiting text input is a welcoming and comfortable thing. Unfortunately, many of today’s game players are “intimidated” by a text-heavy computer screen, and the idea that they must issue a text-based command (rather than move a joystick, press a button, or shake a controller) is almost an insurmountable obstacle to stepping into game play. This situation is problematic when considering how to engage more (and younger) players in the IF genre.

While it is possible to add graphic elements to the IF structure (indeed, this has been done before), too much change in the IF interface results in a transformation away from IF and toward graphic adventure gaming. However, with the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative, I am very interested in broadening the potential audience. I think that a few additions to the basic IF interface can increase appeal while remaining true to the IF experience. Consider the following possible interface for the project.

The reasoning behind this interface is to keep everything text-based, provide a few buttons so that IF neophytes can “jump in” by clicking rather than thinking about what to type, and to organize the screen into a few areas: description/command and navigation/inventory. This is something that I’m able to develop using a tool other than Inform 7, and that actually turns out to be a positive thing for me: rolling my own code allows me build specific functionality into the game, and I will have especially good “control” over the NPC interactions throughout the game–a fairly significant consideration.
At this point I’m looking for thoughts and feedback, both on the idea of going a bit non traditional with the interface as well as critiques of the interface itself. This design in only a prototype, but I’d like to know if anyone thinks it is worth developing further. Drop me a note!

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  1. Arthur
    August 6, 2012 at 6:22 pm | #1

    For the record: bleagh. That “interface” is just adding some basic Windows widgets to a big text box. Widgets aren’t the important thing; what’s important is the actual interface and how it affects the game. For example: In this interface, the big “compass rose” of buttons suggests that those eight directions are going to be very important… which seems a little old-school; do even modern dungeon-crawl games still rely heavily on northeast/southwest/etc., or have we moved past that “gimmick” to settle on a smaller set of directions? Contrariwise, what about UP and DOWN, or IN and OUT? Those seem pretty important, especially in a game that might wind up revolving largely around the POV of a household servant.

    The interface also suggests that the player’s inventory will be visible on-screen at all times. What are the gameplay implications of this, as opposed to in a traditional IF interface where you have to explicitly stop and TAKE INVENTORY every so often?

    A graphical interface might allow us to do really useful things, though; for example, imagine if that compass rose were replaced with an actual scale map of Williamsburg, so that in addition to reading “William Warren’s wheatfield is to your north”, the player could actually *see* the bounds of that wheatfield marked on a little surveyor’s map. Of course this could get gimmicky too…

    Or have a button that, when clicked, brings up a survey map of Williamsburg, showing the places the player has visited and fading to parchment at the edges of the visited area. The more the player explores, the more of this primary document he reveals.

    A lot of modern games are experimenting with clickable nouns (and other parts of speech) in the text descriptions themselves. This seems to work pretty well, although maybe it’s best suited to small games where it’s okay to feel like you’re on rails a bit. Here’s one example I played recently: http://www.allthingsjacq.com/coverstemp/Home%20Sweetie-Bot%20Home%20v1/Home%20Sweetie-Bot%20Home%20v1.html

  2. August 7, 2012 at 9:16 am | #2

    Reblogged this on you find yourself in a room and commented:
    But the joy of the game is in the worlds the words create behind your eyes– the comfort of nestling into your own imagination like no graphics or animation can…

  3. August 7, 2012 at 1:18 pm | #3


    Thanks for the comments–thorough as always!

    My thinking behind the interface tweaks was to provide a very slight set of “training wheels” for the game without changing too much of the text-heavy flavor of IF. I wanted something that experienced IF gamers would be able to ignore and play in the traditional manner, yet, the addition of just a few buttons to click would provide a starting point (and a level of comfort) that non-IF gamers could lean on, especially just starting out.

    I gave some thought to including or not including UP/DOWN and IN/OUT buttons, and I was conflicted. Would that be too much? The basic compass directions is a good place to draw the line, but I might consider the other directional commands, though I might substitute the OPEN/CLOSE pair for IN/OUT. While not simply directional, OPEN/CLOSE would be used for doors during movement.. Regarding any use of map graphics, I just ruled that out as not at all in the spirit of text-based IF. As far as the persistent inventory goes, I reasoned that most people tend to know what they are carrying or wearing without having to think much about it (i.e., “take inventory”), so I thought to include a window listing there.

    I do find the link you provided quite interesting. While not in the scope of the current game, there might be some good use of technique in some of the future work I do, especially related to education. Playing on the rails might be nicely appropriate for curriculum.


  4. Scureuil
    August 8, 2012 at 3:30 pm | #4

    I’m mostly concerned about the lack of compatibility it would bring. A z-machine adventure is playable on anything: smart phones, game consoles, previous generations computers, all current computers, and likely any future computer system. Adding javascript-based interpreters, the compatible system selection is huge. The risk here is to limit yourself to a couple of platforms, without guarantee that the game will even be playable in a few years. Most Mac OSX users can even use applications written for the earlier OSX version, thanks to the shift both in libraries and CPU done by Apple. I’m not sure that XP games will run forever on Windows, and games written for 98/Me aren’t usable at all on modern systems. And that the main platforms, what about Linux and Android compatibility?

    There is already a number of IF system with a graphical interface (Adrift, RAGS), but they have a limited system deployment. For z-machine games, some interpreters are more user-friendly and offers auto-complete and more shortcuts.

    But both in Inform and TADS, you should be able to display additional data along with room description, like the inventory, the exits, etc. without relying on interpreter capabilities. It’s possible to have emphasis on specific words with bold or italics, to cue differences between the scenery of the more detailed parts. I’m not sure an interface would bring anything more that the current systems already allows.

    • August 15, 2012 at 1:21 am | #5

      Compatibility is a very important consideration; if I do use an environment other than Inform 7, I will certainly compile executables to run on PCs, Macs, and smart devices. While z-machine code is portable as long as the appropriate interpreter is available and installed, the need to install an interpreter represents an obstacle to use. I’m balancing the pros and cons of that issue.

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