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do we categorize it as interactive fiction?

Pseudo_Intellectual (64556) on Dec 26, 2008


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My conception and use of the term is as per the conventions of the text adventuring revivalists over at the rec.arts.interactive-fiction newsgroup, IF being there considered games, often with a textmode interface, primarily concerned with exploring a certain story or plot beyond crude and repetitive game conventions such as "shoot all the guys", "jump over the pits", "get the high score" or even the classic (and it ought to darned well stay in antiquity) "collect all the treasures". The implication is that IF means something with a different texture than just "a text adventure game" and especially from "a game with a text interface", with its concerns for narrative. (By these criteria, many classic text adventures, especially of the Scott Adams ilk, fail the IF test.)

I bring this up because I was browsing our IF offerings through the game browser today and found a lot that I didn't think belonged. In the old days, many sorts of simulators were interacted with through a text interface without any care for a story beyond number-crunching -- simulators for things like piloting vessels (for which input was restricted to options such as allocating crew and assigning ship speed), managing baseball teams (for which input was restricted to options such as putting specific players in specific outfield positions), investing on the stock market (for which input was restricted to options such as buying low and selling high), governing a medieval kingdom (for which input was limited to options such as how much grain to buy and sell each season), and commanding Napoleonic battles (for which input was restricted to issuing troop movement commands). These were text games but not text /adventure/ games and a far cry from interactive fiction, the only tales they could tell being woefully soporific ones about bean-counting.

But we encounter early cases when the genres are still hashing each other out, where what the game is may best be described, as it is in a couple of places here, as a fantasy roguelike RPG hackenslash with a text adventure interface. I think that fundamentally these can be considered more "fantasy dungeon crawl simulators" (for which input is restricted to improving arms and armour and slaying foul bugaboos) than IF, which confusingly also rules out some genre canon such as ADVENTURE and maybe even Zork which, as it turns out, aren't really about the story at all. (Subsequent games like Suspect and A Mind Forever Voyaging use the same technology, but are realms away in terms of what they're up to storytelling-wise.)

Can we get on the same page about the use of this jargon? It's a prestige term with claims to an especial attachment to storytelling, different from "text adventure" in the same way that "graphic novel" is intended, narratively, to be distinguished from "comic book" (and not in the "trade paperback format comics shovelware" context it usually is bandied about as) (... or, if you prefer, as "film"s are to "movie"s.)

(Alternately, its intended connotations here may actually be "text adventure game". In which case... could the non-sports genre be changed to that phrase?)

Re: do we categorize it as interactive fiction?

mrpretzel (72) on Dec 26, 2008


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I wouldn't support drawing too hard of a line between those two categories, both because there isn't really a clear-cut border or even a rather blurred border and because I wouldn't say requiring that level of detail is appropriate for a community whose scope is all games that run on computers. In a context like that, one term is enough -- and of the two likely choices, I prefer 'interactive fiction'. Text adventure games are all interactive and can be read as fiction (even though not all of them are very interactive or of any great (or any) literary worth), while not all interactive fiction can be called 'adventure games', of which one of the strongest marks is the chains of puzzles that much of IF lacks, or even 'games', considering that Galatea and Aisle, for example, are both pretty difficult to call 'games' -- 'toys' would be more fitting. So, having one term skips the problem of unilaterally calling for a hard distinction when it would be needlessly in-depth and quite often iffy, and having 'IF' as that term skips the problem of classifying clearly or even fuzzily non-adventure-game pieces as 'adventure games'. Of course, using this distinction as well as other terms and uses of terms from the IF community in the descriptions and reviews for appropriate games would be perfectly fine.

(Edited by mrpretzel (72), Dec 26, 2008)

Re: do we categorize it as interactive fiction?

Indra was here (20848) on Dec 26, 2008


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mrpretzel Wrote:
I wouldn't support drawing too hard of a line between those two categories, both because there isn't really a clear-cut border or even a rather blurred border and because I wouldn't say requiring that level of detail is appropriate for a community whose scope is all games that run on computers.

Gamers don't need it, but this dang database does. Pseudo may limit his options to IF, but we have issues regarding the whole genre categorization...simply where historical definition of a genre and common interpretation of a genre name...all have whole different meanings.

Once upon a time, adventures were IF, then it was Sierra, then came the RPGs, then came 3rd person action adventures. Gah. Sometimes I can't tell the difference between an adventure game, RPGs and simulation games...with all those dang hybrids floating around.

Personally, gamers cannot be trusted when defining games. They suck. :p

(Edited by Indra was here (20848), Dec 26, 2008)

Re: do we categorize it as interactive fiction?

Pseudo_Intellectual (64556) on Dec 26, 2008


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of the two likely choices, I prefer 'interactive fiction'

While there are easy exceptions on both sides of the debate, I think that generally speaking IF, as the modern descendent, could be more considered a subset of text adventures than the other way around. They may not have the puzzle chains but they are damned well building on (or consciously refuting) the conventions established by the text adventure genre, though they may not be adventures in and of themselves... informing my belief that Galatea, outlyer though it is, is more "text adventure" than Pirate Adventure is "interactive fiction" 8)

Re: do we categorize it as interactive fiction?

St. Martyne (3649) on Dec 26, 2008


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Are you just making a suggestion to rename the genre, or you want the games currently under IF flag to be split between "IF" and a newly created "text adventure"?

Regardless of that, I am sure the effort should be made to remove "games with a text interface" from the genre. In particular cases they also should be excluded from the adventure genre altogether.

Re: do we categorize it as interactive fiction?

Pseudo_Intellectual (64556) on Dec 26, 2008


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Mostly what I'm calling for is the removal of text games that are neither text adventures nor IF from the IF genre, (I think I've committed the sin myself with titles like Barneysplat) but doing a bit of thinking out loud about further improvements that are possible 8)

Re: do we categorize it as interactive fiction?

St. Martyne (3649) on Dec 26, 2008


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How about renaming the IF genre into something like "Text interface"?

That way we can leave it as it is, while tandems like "action+text Interface", "adventure+text interface" and "strategy+text interface" will take care of themselves on their own. And "adventure+text interface+puzzle solving" will include those games not elitist enough to be granted the IF moniker.

Of course, all of that will be of use, under the condition of better browser arriving as soon as possible.

(Edited by St. Martyne (3649), Dec 26, 2008)

Re: do we categorize it as interactive fiction?

Pseudo_Intellectual (64556) on Dec 26, 2008


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How about renaming the IF genre into something like "Text interface"?

The problem I see here (vs. browsing the "textmode" tech spec) is that "text interface" isn't a genre -- as per my litany of examples, it's a whole lot of genres, and arguably, for the first couple decades of computer game development, the genre in which most games fell 8)

Re: do we categorize it as interactive fiction?

St. Martyne (3649) on Dec 26, 2008


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Pseudo_Intellectual Wrote:
How about renaming the IF genre into something like "Text interface"?

The problem I see here (vs. browsing the "textmode" tech spec) is that "text interface" isn't a genre -- as per my litany of examples, it's a whole lot of genres, and arguably, for the first couple decades of computer game development, the genre in which most games fell 8)



I have a trouble understanding you. Yet again. ;-)

Bear with me. The games and your examples already has a certain "basic genre". Interactive fiction it is not. It's called "theme" here, which is perhaps even more inappropriate. But the point is that the basic genre of IF is the adventure. You reasonably say that Interactive Fiction by its definiton can not appear in conjuncture with other "basic" genres like Action or Strategy.

Alright, I say, let's rename this "theme" into "text interface" ("textmode" tech spec is absolutely worthless for this cause, because its platform specific) or something, so that it will sort it out automatically in combination with the basic genres I mentioned earlier. How is the fact that it's not genre (neither is IF in our classification system) a problem?

(Edited by St. Martyne (3649), Dec 26, 2008)

do we categorize it as IF with graphics?

Pseudo_Intellectual (64556) on Dec 27, 2008


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And another thing! I was auditing the "interactive fiction with graphics" genre list this evening and in different time periods this genre appears to describe two or even three entirely different kinds of games -- initially "Mystery House" type games which are text adventures with occasional illustrations (and later Legend's graphical text adventures with every location illustrated) these games lose commercial viability and a series of Myst clones emerge claiming to be a member of the same genre, though they are patently something very different. Then they die off and it becomes almost exclusively used by h-game "digital novels". Only as amateur text adventure creators begin incorporating multimedia content into their games does the genre end up with games looking anything similar to the ones that started it.

The first case (mystery house) has I think a good claim on the genre, though really I don't think much would be lost if they were folded into the main IF genre; as a /genre/, the games are much the same, and in some cases, /they are the same games/, only illustrated on some platforms 8) The myst clones I can rule out with a wave of my hand; the digital novels seem to in some sense fit with what came before, though they clearly are somewhat of a separate breed, and I don't think it's just the lack of a text parser that distinguishes them. Definitely the (console-inspired presumably) multiple-choice narrative-advancement is a salient quality of the visual novels, though they do have precursors going back to the early days of IF. Maybe it is just the dating sim elements and unusual preoccupations that set them apart? Radical Dreamers and Dragon's Keep don't actually seem that different, but I think they're the small Venn diagram overlap in what are essentially two separate groups of games we're lumping in together here.