What if …

What if an Interactive Fiction game had a suggestion mechanic?

Say, you start typing “Look out the” and as you type, the parser gives you the most probable options to use. In this case “Look out the window” would be the only option available. Simple huh? I know it can get a little complicated, so let’s look at another example:

You start typing “look at the” and the parser, instead of showing you all the possible options it shows you the 5 most probable ones: Nail, Painting, Poodle, Hammer and Broken glass. Let’s suppose that you weren’t going to look at any of these things, so you keep writing “look at the c”. Then, the parser refreshes his suggestions to: Cobweb, Chair, Chainsaw, Cat and Controller.

See where I’m getting at? One of the most glaring faults of any IF game is the steep learning curve that brings the use of a parser. Because, at least at first, we all try to discover the limitations of the parser with wacky combinations of words or convoluted sentences, only to discover that none of it is recognized. “I don’t understand”, “What?”, “I don’t know how to “kill the clown” ” are the typical responses an IF game blurts out when someone tries to get creative with the commands.

Sure, it’s a simple idea, but think of the ramifications this mechanic might have: First and foremost, it’s going to make IF games easier to play, to get used to, to let the player explore the limits of the parser almost without having to resort to trial and error, to avoid the “I can’t do that” line. That’s the obvious part, think of the other interesting things: Now we can hint more directly at the player by manipulating the suggestions. That’s awesome and all, but I can’t stop thinking about the potential to screw with the player’s head.

You know, something like a game based around a teletubbie world where all the characters are happy and every object has a smiling face. When you start typing “look at”, you get suggestions like: Own Wasted Life, Dog’s Headless Body and Own Hemorrhaging Torso. But when the player selects one of these things, they change to words like Puppy, Flower and Sunshine. Then, at the end, it turns out that the protagonist was having a near death experience and all the objects in the happy world were actually the things around him in the hospital.

Now, why nobody has ever done something like this before? My guess is that making parsers is already hard enough to do. To integrate a suggestion system would probably make things a lot harder for the programmer and for the writer. Primarily because the nature of an IF game fundamentally changes with such an invasive mechanic. Or maybe not, I don’t know.

If you ask me, it’s worth a try.

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