Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

14 October, 2006

Weekend Design Challenge: Text over Graphics
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 2:08 AM

Finally, a moment to post on here!

Text don’t get as much press as the graphical games, but they are still going strong. Simutronic’s GemStone IV claims the title of the longest continuously running online game, with a healthy population paying between $15 to $50 (yes, fifty dollars per month for a text game) to enjoy the game. And, of course, Iron Realms is doing well as one of the few western games with a robust pay-for-perks business model supporting them.

So, your task this weekend is simple: Think of things that text games do better than graphical games. Now, look at how you could possibly bring that to a graphical game, if at all. One brief example from me after the break.

One of the best things that text games do better than graphical games is descriptions. In a text game I can add a lot of personalization and description to my character, and I’m not limited by the game’s rendering engine or art assets. If I want to be impossibly tall, I don’t have to ask an admin for an adjustment or hope that no one else picks a character as tall as mine. I just have to put “Psychochild seems impossibly tall” in my character description. Only a game like Second Life can share this flexibility. Unfortunately, you are still restricted to the game’s limitations, even though you can upload textures and add things like tails or wings to your character. In a more traditional type of game, allowing uploads can damage consistency. The nice thing about text is that if you don’t agree with it, it doesn’t impact you. You can still imagine Psychochild as an average-sized person in your own perception of the game world, even if I see him as impossibly tall.

So, what’s your thoughts?


  1. Extensibility.

    The Object Oriented MUDs (MOOs) of yesteryear realised in some ways the impossible dream of virtual worlds. Infinite expandability. Easily crafted by players at runtime, a new zone description was a room, a ship or even a planet. Advances in lexical parsing allowed inventive scriptors to augment the game in directions that may never have been envisioned by its creators.

    Game mods are theoretically extensions of specific games or worlds, yet they hardly realise the wonder of extending a world in realtime. Even Second Life allows a myriad of ways for players to build upon the world, but again, this is an activity that lay outside of the gameworld itself (and into other applications like Photoshop and 3DS Max).

    So, the challenges of translating the spirit of a MOO’s extensibility into an extravagant shrink-wrapped world are astronomical, of course. So how would it be done?

    If we can describe the goal here is to allow graphical worlds an extensibility in similar scope to MOOs, then I’d have to cite the upcoming game, Spore. Hybridized procedural systems, largely pioneered by Spore’s creators, features creature models that are glued together procedurally from anatomical atomics.

    In my imagination, I see instant application of such a system towards the realisation of realtime extensibility in graphical worlds. Once some of these procedural fundamentals, if you will, are popularized, I’d say we wouldn’t stop at characters or creatures. We’d extend those ideas out into the world and playspaces themselves. In essence, a broad step in making content creation a core aspect of the gameplay. Much like the MOO of yesterday.

    Comment by covert.c. — 14 October, 2006 @ 11:37 AM

  2. Instead of using the term “text”, use “verbal” intead, because…

    “The future is… not plastics… but text-to-speech.”

    I know it sucks now, but when Battlezone came out in the 1980′s, 3d graphics sucked too. (They suck now, but you’ve become so accustomed to 3d-graphics cards rendering/animation flaws that you don’t notice the flaws.)

    Why is this important? Simultaneously reading text and watching pictures is nigh impossible. However, listening to speech and watching pictures is very easy for the brain to do.

    Comment by Mike Rozak — 14 October, 2006 @ 2:22 PM

  3. To add to Mike’s comment: right now, the big graphical games are showing a trend of having tonnes of pre-recorded voice content. When we reach the point where we can synthesize realistic voices in near-realtime, we will be able to replace all that pre-recorded content with a script of stuff to read and emotional cues to read it with.

    Why is this valuable? Well.. you’ll be able to record an emotional speech *once* and then play it back using 12 different voices for different characters. You’ll be able to generate lots of mundane conversations from templates, rather than having to pre-record every variation of them. You’ll be able to inject character-specific mannerisms into a pre-canned speech (Eh?). Most importantly, you’ll be able to inject PLAYER NAMES into pre-canned speech! Wouldn’t it be great if you picked a name for your character, the character generator produced a small number (6) of potential pronounciations and you picked one, and then *you and other players* could hear NPCs speak your name as part of their dialog? The in-game voice chat client could pick it up automatically for status announcements too.

    Comment by moo — 14 October, 2006 @ 7:33 PM

  4. Good-quality synthesized voices exist in a couple of professional text to speech products, but they are resource-intensive and I don’t think you can customize the voice very much. I wish I believed this would be a solved problem 5 years from now, but… we’ve had voice synthesis stuff for 15+ years and it doesn’t seem to advance very fast. Maybe big game companies should pay for the research! =)

    Comment by moo — 15 October, 2006 @ 10:14 AM

  5. Oops… Seemed to have derailed the conversation.

    The reason I brought up TTS is because at the moment, text and graphics are like oil and water, which means that the description, “Psychochild seems impossibly tall” just doesn’t work.

    With TTS, some (but not all) of these problems go away. Your particular example is still problematical because unless the character is drawn taller, saying “Psychochild seems impossibly tall” is contradictory. I suspect there will always be a split between verbal and graphical/animated worlds, but I don’t think it will be as severe as it is now.

    As for problems with TTS: The main problem with TTS is that it has no emotional range whatsoever, and probably won’t for a long long time. The second biggest issue is that even if TTS is speaking unemotionally, it still soundsa bit wierd.

    The whole voice variability thing is a non-issue; Recording a new TTS voice relqtively easy, although incredibly boring. You just need to record 1000-5000 sentences into a headset microphone, about 10-50 hours of work. If enthusiasts are willing to spend 100′s of hours creating a game mod, I’m sure at least a few thousand people in the world will be will to spend 10-50 hours of their time for verbal fame (and no forutune). (I have the tools on my website if you’re interested.)

    Comment by Mike Rozak — 15 October, 2006 @ 2:11 PM

  6. Jeff Freeman wrote:
    Hey, you cheated and didn’t do the part two: How to bring that to a graphical game.

    Oops. :) One revision of my post said that I didn’t think it was possible to bring it to a graphical game. I still talked about some of the reasons why in the post, though. So, it I implied it in my post. :)

    Various commenters wrote about:
    Text to speech

    While interesting, I think we’re still a ways off from this. So, I don’t know if it’s really practical to talk about. Yeah, I’m sure we’ll eventually get around to decent voice synthesis. But, I think it’ll take a lot of effort to get there. Most people don’t understand the emotional impact of voices, even if they can respond to emotional cues correctly.

    I think a good comparison from the graphical side of things would be water rendering. We understand the physics, and we know what real water looks like, but it has taken an amazing amount of work to get something that approaches a realistic look in our games. I think it will take at least as much effort to determine this, then it’ll take some pretty specialized knowledge to actually use these tools.

    In the mean time, pre-recorded voice will work okay.

    Efate Blue wrote:
    I disagree that ‘being impossibly tall’ is a positive aspect that could be brought in. To start with how could any game have some kind of balance when there are giants running arround.

    You’ve stumbled upon one of the beauty of text here: the ambiguity. I never said Psychochild was a giant, just that he was “impossibly tall” in this description. Maybe he’s a 5′ tall Dwarf. Or, maybe he’s of average height but simply too thin for someone that tall. Or, maybe he’s infinitely tall. Text allows you to fill in some details in your own mind. This is what Alayla talks about in the post above.

    Most of your other points are similar, and I agree with them.

    Comment by Psychochild — 21 October, 2006 @ 12:04 PM

  7. Weekend Design Challenge: Graphics over Text…

    Last week we looked at Text over Graphics ( This week we’ll do the reverse: let’s talk about what graphical games have over text games.
    Focus on tangible items. Yes, graphical games are more popular than text game…

    Trackback by Psychochild's Blog — 21 October, 2006 @ 12:22 PM

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