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Syntax guessing, also known as guess-the-verb, guess-the-noun and the syntax quest, is a problem sometimes encountered in text-based video games, such as interactive fiction games and MUDs. For various reasons - including a limited vocabulary, or a simple VERB-NOUN parser - the command syntax necessary to carry out an action may be obscure, such as with a button where the player must type PRESS BUTTON, while PUSH BUTTON does not work (a "guess-the-verb" problem), an item described as a pillow that can only be obtained by typing GET CUSHION rather than GET PILLOW (a "guess-the-noun" problem), or a situation where the command TURN THE DIAL works but TURN DIAL does not (a generalized syntax guessing problem). If syntax guessing is necessary at a critical step, the game may appear unwinnable, with the player stuck until the right phrasing is guessed or is supplied by a walkthrough. A quest that requires syntax guessing to complete is a "syntax quest", especially if it consists of little to no content other than syntax guessing.
People whose native language is not English are particularly affected by syntax guessing. TADS games supply a fair list of verbs commonly used in their documentation; if the game designer uses new actions not covered in this list, and which cannot easily be inferred by the purpose and context of the object, the player will probably encounter this problem.
A similar problem can occur when attempting to accomplish a game goal using a certain combination of actions, locations and objects, which may appear rational and legitimate to the player, and are accepted by the game, only to be incorrectly handled and resulting in a gameplay error or game crash.[clarification needed]
- Ashman, Alex (2007-05-10). "How to Make a Text-Based Adventure: Commands and Parser". h2g2. BBC. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- Hastings, Dan. "Natural Command Handling". Imaginary Realities. Archived from the original on 2001-02-05.
All possible commands can be made known to the players, eliminating the frustrating 'syntax quest' to guess the command that does what you want in this particular room.
- Roberts, Michael J. (2002-01-05). "Chapter Ten: Advanced TADS Techniques". TADS 2 Author’s Manual. tads.org. Retrieved 2011-07-03.