thinking at the cursor 2

Saturday, January 15th, 2005

Let’s say we have a problem in front of us. It’s a simple problem. We’re standing before two closed doors, both mysteries.

This situation is, of course, bunk. It doesn’t “contain” a few requirements. Context, intent, and memory. Let’s adjust the problem.

You’re standing before two doors, both of which are open. One opens into a room hot with fire. Through the other is a room with a still pond in the floor, reflecting the moon, and a table. On the table are greentea cups, bamboo place mats, and chop sticks.

Most people confronted with these two options would choose the latter. The first isn’t all that inviting because we know that it would surely kill or maim. It would hurt; it would blind; it would seer the lungs and boil the eyeballs. The second, however, invites with its mooncalm and its impression of conversation, relaxation, and pause. If the reader can see these two options then the description works. Memory comes rushing in to help solve the problem. I know fire and I know calm. The situation here rounds out with experience.

But I must have come to this fork with some intention, some reason for ebeing here. This question may be resolved by “how” I got to the fork and what lies beyond the fork, some goal, perhaps, or an escape.

The scenario lacks one thing that I may have brought with me (although this is in many ways a programming issue): an orientation. In order to pass into either room I follow a direction, following some orientation. In IF the standard is cardinal orientation: north, northwest, and so forth. In the typical IF environment, I may type nw at the cursor and pass into flame or moonlight, but am I really moving northwest? In IF I move with a dual orientation: nw and through the door, but which one orients the traveler with more coherence or context?

>nw
You are in the moon lit room.

>enter
What room do you wish to enter?

Is nw good enough? This is a rhetorical question because I’m not just moving into the moonlit room, I’m supposed to be entering that room for a reason. But what is the reason? Perhaps in this IF the right room to pass into the hot one?


2 responses to “thinking at the cursor 2”

  1. Christopher says:

    In this, IF has one flaw. The player for some reason has to think in cardinal directions when most people usually don’t.

    You could change the wording and have the system respond to left or right but then how do you know you’re always facing the same direction when you walk into a room? If there are doors in “north, south, east and west” when you enter from the south, west is your left. If you enter from the north, east is your left.

    In my own work I tried to explain it by saying that the player was chosen due to his innate Direction Sense but that still feels kludged to me.

    Also, back to the issue at hand, One room gets two nicely detailed sentences, the other is very terse. The fact that one is more detailed in it’s initial description would lure me. Then again I’d probably save the game and then walk into the fire.

  2. steve says:

    I think you make an important point given the cardinal directions. Most people in their regular awareness of the world don’t generally go this or that way via north and south, especially in urbanized areas, where street signs and lefts and rights matter more. North and west don’t matter all that much. In IF therefore we have this duality of spatial image: seeing the space forward and from above. It can be an interesting challenge, but this doesn’t mean that a concept can’t be powerful in TADS or Inform if the regularization of navigation can be made to disappear, or in architectural design terms “move to the perifery.”