two-star says, “Well, novels are capable of conveying widely different scales of passing time. Parser IF considers time at the pace of individual actions. Choice IF can do time at different scales pretty well though.”
— from the last meeting of the IF discussion group.
This is the contention that we’re going to be discussing at our next meeting (April 5).
Parser IF pieces, for the most part, involve actions that take roughly uniform amounts of time. There are a few exceptions to this approach, for instance games that make EXAMINE or REMEMBER or THINK ABOUT instant, or that assign different durations to all of the game’s possible actions. Eric Eve wrote an Inform extension, Variable Time Control, to provide this functionality (though I don’t know whether there are any games that actually make use of it). And some parser games do include significant scene breaks where the action jumps to a new location in time and space, sometimes (as in Photopia) moving backward as well as forward to narrate scenes out of temporal order.
But with vanishingly few exceptions, the player’s actions are usually small in scope (moving objects, choosing individual lines of dialogue, traveling short distances) rather than large (pursuing a job, having a full-length conversation with someone, moving house, etc.).
To what degree is that an inevitable feature of parser games? How much does it constrain their expressive ability? Are there stories that aren’t possible to tell this way? Are there aspects of current time modeling methods in IF that could be extended? Conversely, what (if anything) is lost in CYOA pieces when actions don’t represent consistent amounts of time?
One of the things we concluded at the end of our last meeting is that it would help to have some common ground for discussion set up in advance. This isn’t mandatory, so please don’t feel like you can’t join in if you haven’t looked at the reading, but on the club page, I’ve linked some things I think it might be relevant to know about before the discussion. I reproduce them here:
- Thread started by Jan Thorsby on pacing and the way that common parser game behavior interferes with it.
- (Added late) Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home, a parser-based game that takes place over vast expanses of space and time.
- Choice of Broadsides, a Choice of Games piece in which the scope of player action varies significantly from one node to the next. Even playing the first fifteen or twenty minutes of the game will demonstrate this variety, though you may enjoy trying out the whole thing.
- David Welbourn’s collection of time modeling examples, which provide a number of useful samples of how parser IF games currently communicate the passage of time to the player.
- If you really want to dig deep: Past RAIF threads on the passage of time in IF.
Many thanks to David Welbourn for collating the examples for us.