Typo by Peter Seebach and Kevin Lynn [Comp04]

IFDB page: Typo!
Final placement: 19th place (of 36) in the 2004 Interactive Fiction Competition

The heart of Typo is the Frobozz Magic– er, Flavorplex Psychic Typo Error Correction System, which in turn is apparently a jazzed-up name for Cedric Knight’s mistype.h library extension. This innovation provides an extra level of player-friendliness by trying to catch unparseable misspellings and typographical errors and making a reasonable guess as to what the player intended, like so:

>push apadiing
[Flavorplex Psychic Typo Correction has divined that you want to "push padding"].
Your entire hand disappears momentarily into the padding. Now THAT'S soft!

This works, I’m guessing, by comparing the player’s input to a list of dictionary words, then using some set of algorithms to decide what in its list is the closest match to whatever the player typed. This is a cool idea, and frequently it works very well indeed. However, a utility like this is only as good as the dictionary it’s using, and if the game is underimplemented, typo correction can suddenly start wildly misinterpreting commands. Pushed further, its responses veer into the comical:

>x skyline
As you look out at the cityscape, your attention is drawn to a funny little pizza delivery car as it cruises slowly along the street.

>x car
[Flavorplex Psychic Typo Correction has divined that you want to "x cart"].
You can't see any such thing.

>[boy that can get irritating fast]
[Flavorplex Psychic Typo Correction has divined that you want to "buy that an get irritating east"].
You can't see any such thing.

The goofier moments reminded me of that Simpsons episode where Dolph makes a note on his Apple Newton to beat up Martin, which the PDA translates as “eat up Martha.” More seriously, the whole enterprise reminded me that everyone who writes software, including IF, must make decisions about interface. There’s been a trend in the last ten years or so, particularly noticeable (to me) in Microsoft products, towards interfaces that take a paternalistic attitude towards the user. “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about anything complicated,” they say, “I know what you really meant to do.” The problem, of course, is that at least half the time the “friendly” interface guesses wrong about what the user wants, and thus ends up thwarting good work rather than facilitating it.

I’ve no doubt that these sorts of interfaces arise due to a great deal of feedback from people who want their computers to be simpler to operate. However, for both naive and sophisticated users, it’s very frustrating when the computer thinks it knows better than you do. That’s why it’s critical that when you introduce a feature that overrides or embellishes literal user input, you provide a way to turn it off. In addition, such features are usually much better if they are customizable. A perfect example is the spell-checker whose dictionary can be expanded by the user — if I can teach the software more about what I want to do with it, I can better enable it to help correct only actual errors. So if anybody is thinking of using this system in another game, remember to implement every noun you mention and to give me some control over how and whether the typo system operates.

As for the game itself, it’s nothing too remarkable. Typo deploys the old reliable IF trick of literalizing some aspect of the medium, in this case the typo correction system. The PC is cast as a tester working for Flavorplex to iron out the bugs in its typo corrector. There’s one substantial puzzle, a Rube Goldberg device for which the PC receives a set of instructions, but which is constructed so straightforwardly that I never needed to consult them. There’s also one big plot twist, which in a more substantial game would move the action from prologue into the story proper, but which in this game serves only as an odd, abrupt, and unsatisfying ending. But Typo isn’t too interested in telling a story — instead, it just wants us to think about the implications of machines that make decisions on behalf of their users. For me, the game accomplished that goal.

Rating: 7.2