Re: Quest

So far, the response has been underwhelming. I post a couple of thinking-out-loud pieces about how a 21st century interface and authoring system for interactive fiction might be developed. I drop links to those posts on the IF forum. And … nothing. On the forum itself, a couple of brief discussions ensue, but if there’s a groundswell of people saying, “Holy crap! You’re right!”, I blinked and missed it.

Alex Warren chimed in, noting that his Quest authoring system produces games that run in a Web browser and is extensively customizable. Alex is always keen to remind people about Quest, and very polite about it. So I had a quick look at Quest. I want to emphasize the word “quick,” because I may well have missed something important. But after an hour or so poking away at it, I’m moving on to look at other things.

The promise of Quest is, “You can write text adventures without programming!” And indeed, you can. To this end, the authoring system makes extensive use of mouse-clicking and little boxes where you enter snippets of this and that. This approach is bound to appeal to aspiring authors who are intimidated by programming — but if you have a bit of programming experience under your belt, having to grab the mouse over and over and over in order to create objects and define their behavior becomes fairly annoying.

This may be a matter of personal taste. If you like the mouse and hate typing, you may respond differently.

Within, or behind, the Quest authoring interface is a powerful scripting feature, with which you can customize your games.  But to get at the power, you have to drill down through the newbie-friendly mousing environment. And the online wiki in which the scripting is documented is rather sparse. Scripting is not, one is bound to feel, the thing that most Quest authors most urgently want help with.

The default interface for Quest games is — let’s be frank — ugly. Ditto for the default text output, which prefaces the name of the player character’s current location with “You are in” and then lists the nearby objects with “You can see”, said list being positioned immediately after the room name and before the author’s room description. I’m sure you can override this behavior — but if you’re going to go to the extra trouble, why not just switch to Inform 7?

As a result of these design choices, Quest’s primary appeal seems to be to authors who don’t know any better. Quest games, generally speaking and naming no specific games, are primitive and poorly written. There’s a negative feedback cycle here: If you’re interested in Quest, you’ll probably try playing a couple of Quest games — and if you then have the desire to go on to learn Quest authoring, it’s because you don’t aspire to anything better. It’s clear that good games can be written in Quest, but it’s also clear that Alex has a tough job convincing people of that fact.

The best thing Alex could do to promote Quest would be to write a brilliant, inspired game that makes generous use of its deeper features. He seems not to have written any games at all (or at least, none that are listed on the IFDB, which catalogs pretty nearly everything). That may be part of the problem.

I have no idea how customizable the Quest in-browser play experience might be. It might be brilliant; I’m sure Alex Warren is a sharper programmer than I am. But I have no incentive to explore it.

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2 Responses to Re: Quest

  1. Conrad Cook says:

    I largely agree, Jim. I mean you have justified the surface impressions I also formed. –But, also: let’s face it: No highly skilled author will do anything with Quest, preferring instead to use a mature system they know well, and no new author will be able to do much with it, being new.

    So there is inherently a high bar to a new IF system like Quest. I’m glad Quest has been made. If new authors are introduced to the form and find the medium unsatisfactory, they’re liable to migrate into other systems like TADS or Inform. In other words, it can’t hurt. And until we see a mature Quest, with writers who are interested enough to put in a concerted effort, we can’t judge.

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