The Cranston Manor Adventure: On BRIEF   12 comments

Version 9 of Emily Short’s game Counterfeit Monkey was released last week, and it (and many other modern parser games) includes a legacy feature I think very few people use.

> brief
Counterfeit Monkey is now in its “brief” printing mode, which gives long descriptions of places never before visited and short descriptions otherwise.

For example, one of the first locations, Sigil Street, is first described this way:

The buildings here are two and three stories, with shops at ground level and elderly apartments above. The shops are closed for the holiday: a typographer’s office, tourist boutiques of colorful skirts and ethnic bodices (rarely if ever worn by natives) and t-shirts covered with font designs.

The reflective window of a closed shop reflects our synthesized self.

A narrow alley runs between buildings to the south, while the street continues east.

On a revisit with BRIEF mode on:

A narrow alley runs between buildings to the south, while the street continues east.

In old Infocom games, BRIEF mode would just give the room name and any objects. From Sorceror:

Rooms lie to the east and west from this north-south corridor. A heavy wooden door, currently closed, leads north.
Tacked to the doorframe of your room is a note, hurriedly scribbled on parchment.

On a revisit:

Tacked to the doorframe of your room is a note, hurriedly scribbled on parchment.

From the manual for Sorcerer. SUPERBRIEF makes it so the game never shows long room descriptions, which I assume is only for if you’ve beaten a game and are trying to mess around. It’s very disconcerting to use, like reading a book with alternating pages left blank.

Most modern games use VERBOSE mode (also from Infocom games) which simply displays the full room description each time. I know I always used it as my first command when I played through the Infocom library; I found it too easy to get confused and miss details. Inform now compiles games with VERBOSE as default. Although it is possible, still, to make them start in BRIEF mode, I’m wagering the last game to do so was a long time ago.

The idea of long-initial-description, shorter-revisit-description dates all the way back to original Adventure (Crowther, before even Woods).


No doubt, the fact the game could require being played off a printer was part of the desire to save space; there’s also a bit of narrative finesse in recognizing that a particular scene doesn’t need to be repeated. Every four times a room description is repeated the game gives the long version.

All that long preface is to say The Cranston Manor Adventure uses the Original-Adventure-style brief description behavior, and it’s messing me up in a novel way.

The problem is with making a map — yep, I’m still map-making, it’s a lot of rooms — it isn’t obvious what I should call a particular room.

Paneling is falling off the walls in this room. Immediately to the north is a large hole in the floor. There are doors to the east and west and a large hole in the wall to the south. Standing in one corner is a large black suit of armor.

Later I returned to the room

I’m in the room with the hole in the wall. Standings in one corner is a large black suit of armor.

and my original room title didn’t seem to work anymore. (I’m not even referring to the fact the hole in the floor is no longer mentioned — I called it “falling panels”.) Since The Cranston Manor Adventure has both
a.) a mismatch between long and short descriptions
b.) a lot of cases where you re-visit a place from another direction
I had a number of circumstances where I was remapping the same location without realizing I had been there! I started making the habit of leaving a room and coming back to get the “short name” designation before putting it on, but this messed with my mental clue-looking where I would occasionally miss some detail in the long description this way. Another example:

This is a tiny room with stairs winding down on one side. There are windows on all sides. The one to the north has a large hole in it. There is a long, heavy GOLD SPYGLASS lying here.

I’m standing in the lookout. There is a long, heavy GOLD SPYGLASS lying here.

It’s possible after the fact to see the first description and say, yes, that’s a lookout, but that’s not necessarily the word I would pick to initially write on my map.

Admittedly, this is in the scheme of things a trivial complaint, but it struck me as a prime example of interface choices having unintended effects, so I’d thought I’d share.

Just to ring out on a positive note, two things:

1.) You know that large black suit of armor in the earlier room description? They show up in nearly every room in the manor I’ve been to so far.

I’m standing in a long room with tall stained glass windows on the west wall. Hard looking wood pews line each side. There are exits to the north and east. Standing in one corner is a large black suit of armor.

They don’t do anything, at least not yet. It didn’t even hit me at first, but as I came across Black Armor #32, the atmospheric effect was quite strong. I don’t know if there’s going to be a payoff, but it comes off as cinematic, like something ominous building in the background of a scene.

2.) I did find an underground part with a cave, and a lovely way to die.

I look forward to tangling with these guys later.

Posted August 22, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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12 responses to “The Cranston Manor Adventure: On BRIEF

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  1. Personally, I play in VERBOSE mode almost all the time, even with all the replaying I do for constructing my walkthroughs. BRIEF has been handy a few times in ClubFloyd sessions when we’re trying to replay through a section quickly. And although I certainly remember that SUPERBRIEF exists, I don’t think I *ever* use that one.

  2. I love BRIEF, personally. And probably that originally comes from playing MUDs, where you’re often going through rooms you’ve seen many times before, but you’re often doing that in IF as well.

    • Interesting!

      I think a lot of the VERBOSE tendency has to do with searching for clues — modern games are more likely to be “denser” with their rooms, and not require as much traipsing back and forth over a large map — but there’s good reason the feature is still in there.

  3. The hole didn’t switch from the wall to the floor — the verbose description lists *two* holes, and the brief description only mentions one of them!

    • It even looks like the floor hole isn’t in the room, but just out of the room to the north.

      • I meant “from the floor to the wall”; but yeah, there’s the other one technically mentioned too, so I was just getting confused in general.

      • It is sort of consistent though!

        Verbose: Hole just outside of room to north; hole in south wall.

        Brief: The room with the hole in the (south) wall.

  4. You mentioned SUPERBRIEF… I wonder how many used that mode at all. Because I’ve found bugs in some Infocom games that could only be triggered in SUPERBRIEF mode.

    For instance, near the beginning of Cutthroats someone will enter and search your room if you’re not nearby. If you enter your room while he’s doing that, he will kill you. But if you enter in SUPERBRIEF mode, he won’t notice you and you can just wait for him to leave. (Though if you type “VERBOSE” while he’s in the room with you, he will notice you and kill you.)

    As for BRIEF vs VERBOSE, I always used VERBOSE mode myself. But I guess can see the appeal of BRIEF mode if I had played the games on a small screen (the screenshots I’ve seen of Seastalker for the TRS-80 CoCo suggest that it had a 32×16 character screen, all upper case) or over a slow modem.

    Torbjörn Andersson
    • That’s s neat bug. I hope there’s a speedrun scene for interactive fiction. To look for known bugs in classic games, select the most convenient version and win those as quick as possible.

  5. To be fair, the handle of brief in standard inform is homogeneous, so you always get the same location title, no matter in what mode you are.

    Also, you can always type “look”and get the long description. All this lookspaining is to ask: this early games with brief configuration, can look to retrieve the long description?


    • Yes, LOOK works.

      Honestly, they come up in reverse order to how I want — I want to see the short one first to get the name and the important objects, and then the long one to look for clues. With the Infocom standard “short description” that gets taken care of.

      Adventure had the long and short descriptions match enough I never found myself having to re-do room names, even if they didn’t correspond exactly.

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