The 500 Meter Hurdles In Being Wrong About Something
February 15th, 2011 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Aric did the heavy lifting
here. The original interview was on PC Gamer, here.

PC Gamer interviewed game developer Jonathan Blow about his upcoming game, and this came to light:

Adventure games are all confusion. If it’s text, it’s “Why doesn’t the parser understand me still?” So the core gameplay of adventure games is actually fumbling through something, right? And that’s true with modern [versions]. All the episodic stuff that’s coming out. And there’s a whole community that makes modern interactive fiction games and all this stuff. And it’s true for all these games.

This is inane and offensive.

There’s something about text adventures that makes everyone feel like a expert historian. You can be given a backpack full of weapons in a first person shooter and be unable to get past a locked door — everyone is OK with that. Reduce the entirety of NFL football to a rating for foot speed and the same three offensive players, and millions of people will buy it at $60, every year.

But type “WIN THE GAME” as your first move in a text adventure, and people can’t keen loudly enough that the illusion is broken. Ha ha ha, look at these idiots! While giving more possibilities for meaningful interaction than all other genres of game and entertainment combined, text game authors haven’t finished the job and created parsers that can pass the Turing Test! Morons!!

But no, the modern day text adventure isn’t about struggling with fucking parser confusion. This would be immediately obvious to anyone who has played a decent modern-day game. I am obligated at this point to prove it, so here’s Narcolepsy. That is the most immersive game of all-time, which maintained mimesis successfully until the last move. It was developed by a wizard of his craft who hated the I CAN’T SEE THE YOU shit that everyone else did. There’s at least two dozen people as talented as Adam who have made similar strides, but Adam basically wrote two complete text adventures depending on the player’s actions at the beginning, thus taking the issue of reacting to player decisions and rocking its world.

I’ve probably read 90% of the reviews and comments on GET LAMP. I miss a few that would appear in Google Alerts because not everyone can spell “lamp.” I would like to note that while people are constantly referencing the limitations of text games, as they pertained to 1979’s Zork, another group of people whine about all the “new guys” in the documentary, and how unwelcome they are. The people that are advancing the art form far beyond what the forefathers ever did, to help stop text games from being a punchline have their work ignored and visages unwelcome. I don’t make text games for the fame and recognition, but good grief.

I was going to write more, but the ‘painting on the ledge’ puzzle in Braid is worse than almost anything I can think of in the whole history of text adventures. There were absolutely no clues that a completely new mechanic was necessary, and the game mechanic involved wasn’t used anywhere else in the game. The thought of anyone seriously discussing what’s wrong with other genres and then brightening at the inclusion of “amnesia” is hilarious, and we all should have known the guy wasn’t speaking with any authority on text games when it was announced that he’s naming his new game The Witness. Jesus Christ, dude.

Anyway, I figured out how to save platformers, gameplay is going to center around rings coming out of people, and I shall call it Major Havoc.

6 Responses  
  • matt w writes:
    February 15th, 201110:27 pmat

    “There’s something about text adventures that makes everyone feel like a expert historian.”

    I’ll say — can I vent about something basically off-topic? Cool.

    So there was this review on Play This Thing of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy graphic adventure remake, which contains the following two sentences:

    “Text adventures are designed to be difficult and puzzling because, gameplay-wise, that’s all they’ve got. The joy of unraveling a text adventure comes not just from moments of insight arrived at by clever reasoning and deduction, but from the simultaneously rewarding, humorous, and annoying experience of exhausting every logical action, getting stumped, feeling like you’ve hit a dead end, and typing in something completely absurd that turns out to be the solution.”

    Which is fine, whatever, guy doesn’t know about anything that’s happened in IF since, well, probably Bureaucracy. Same old same old, right? Except he’s writing on a site where one of the posters is Emily fucking Short. There’s a “text adventure” tag on the review! And if you click it you get a whole bunch of games that don’t remotely fit that description, and also the Gostak! It’s like talking about RPGs as if they were still all about killing monsters while Greg Costikyan is posting on your site.

    Adding grumble to grumble, the first comment is “btw This review was a nice primer to IF, Greg.”

  • Jonathan Blow writes:
    February 17th, 20118:26 pmat

    Hey man, I don’t get it. My naming a game “The Witness” implies that I’m ignorant of a previous adventure game by that name? I don’t know how it possibly makes sense to come to that conclusion, unless one’s thought process is driven by too much Haterade. [Exclusive never-before-announced piece of trivia: There is a substantial contribution to The Witness (mine, not the Infocom one) by an ex-Implementor that I am very grateful to have in the game.]

    I have played a number of modern IF games, and I have different opinions about them than you do. I would suggest that incompetence is not required for this kind of situation to arise.

    I will just say that in my view the limitations of text games have not fundamentally changed. Things are a bit better these days, yes, but the basic nature of the interactivity is still the same.

  • Ice Cream Jonsey writes:
    February 17th, 201110:30 pmat

    (There was a stretch, a while ago, where a string of games in development were announced that took the names of earlier games I rather liked. Breach, APB, Amnesia and Trinity were four of them, and for some reason I thought there were more, but now I am drawing a blank. I have since become aware that nobody else seems to particularly mind when a game title is resurrected like that, especially the – as far as I can tell – people who made the original Breach, APB, Amnesia and Trinity. I still believe it’s a little weird to title a game something that has been “used,” like if an artist in 2011 were to create a work of marble and name it David. I also understand that such an opinion can easily be disregarded if the same person thinks the police lights on the arcade version of APB could be compared, in any circumstances, to Michelangelo’s David. No sweat there.)

    A few IF developers wrote posts like the one above. I can only speak in my case, but what prompted it was reading an opinion that modern text games have the same problems they did 30 years ago, by someone who clearly knows what it is like to create on the fringe. Riccitello or Kotick could say something about how the medium has stagnated and who cares, they can each split a gallon of lye with a straw. If someone had said that there haven’t been any advances in platformers, that the same frustrations from the 80s were there in modern examples like VVVVVV and Braid, well, I would also argue how that isn’t right.

    And I *get* that text games are asking the most of any player through the interface, and that they can become almost instantly frustrating. It’s easier to get a stranger’s social security number than it is to convince them to play interactive fiction. I get that. It’s just that I really do think they are objectively easier to play these days. It used to drive me crazy when the exits of a room weren’t instantly available – but any author can now drop in code to fix that. Mapping on paper is awful, but the Inform 7 extensions page has dynamic automapping that any author can use. Modern text games also don’t bother with mazes, hunger puzzles and trying to fix obtuse machines. I think those decisions are improvements that are just as valid as the modern-day platformers that no longer give you just three lives, or make you replay huge sections of a game due to dying. It’s my belief that IF has done as much to make gameplay less of a pain in the neck over the last two decades as other genres. You can still wreck the experience by typing >take the air, but (to me) that’s like playing a console action game and attempting to reason with an enemy sniper, or even more unlikely, someone on the Baltimore Ravens.

    (I don’t wish to characterize your experiences with the IF you tried as being that trite. There are PLENTY of ways to get pissed at a text game without referencing objects that weren’t implemented. I guess I am just saying that my colleagues and I work as hard to improve the genre as every other dev working today who truly loves theirs.)

    That being said, I think that the system of blogging, commenting and follow-up posts frequently leads to unintentional escalation and the blog’s author acting like he’s running a bad late-night talk radio show. I apologize for the smarmy tone I copped in my initial post. Not a conditional apology, or anything, but a genuine and sincere one.

  • Jonathan Blow writes:
    February 18th, 20117:10 pmat

    Well, I never said that there haven’t been advances. I just said that the problems are still there — the advances have not been big enough to evolve the genre in the way other genres have been evolved. If the entire interview had been about text adventures, I think there would have been a lot more clarification about points like that. But it was really just a subject we briefly passed by.

    I do actually like IF games! But I do think the genre has fundamental problems, and I think it’s okay to speak openly about that, even though I like them.

  • Worm writes:
    February 25th, 20117:10 pmat

    hey jon braid u suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuk

  • pc repair writes:
    October 6th, 201111:28 amat

    Thanks for expaining…I think.

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