A shortcut is a desirable feature in some works of interactive fiction which allows the player to accomplish a task with less commands than it might normally take. In short, it replaces a tedious task with a simpler one. Shortcuts reduce busywork.
Most shortcuts are related to the player character navigation, where the initial route from place A to B is long, requires puzzle solving, or both. If the PC is likely to travel that route several times during the course of the game, it would be to the player's advantage if there was a shorter route or a single command that can be used instead on subsequent traversals.
Teleportation or Transportation
Perhaps the simplest shortcut is the use of a magic word, such as "xyzzy", which teleports the player magically from one place to another. And if one magic word is simple, perhaps twenty magic words are almost as simple -- why not allow the player to type POST OFFICE or GO TO POST OFFICE and teleport the player there, as long the post office has been visited before and there's no reason to prevent the player from going there directly.
The in-game explanation for the teleport can be that the PC actually travelled through all the intervening rooms in a normal mundane fashion; it's a mistake to think that a teleportation technique can only work in games set in the fantasy or science fiction genres. For example, Infocom's Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels let its PC, Dr Watson, whistle for a hansom cab which could transport Sherlock and himself to any landmark in London. It should be emphasized that Watson can laboriously walk everywhere, but the cab is a welcome shortcut.
Sometimes a shortcut is just opening up a new connection from a hard-to-reach location back to a location visited earlier in the adventure. The connection will likely be foreshadowed as a locked door which can only be unlocked from the other side. Or maybe there's an out-of-order elevator which can be turned back on after the PC finds another way to the floor where the elevator car is. Perhaps there's a raised drawbridge that can be lowered once the PC manages to cross the moat and get into the castle by some other method.
Of course, the new connection might not be foreshadowed at all. The player might discover a secret or hidden door that leads back to a former location. Or there might be some way to smash through a solid wall, so the PC can now pass through the newly-made hole between the two rooms.
By "auto-action", we mean an implicit action that the program does on its own so the player doesn't have to type in an explicit command to get that action to occur, or the appearance that such an action was handled automatically. For example, it is customary for a command like EAT APPLE to generate an automatic TAKE APPLE action if the apple is nearby but not held by the player character.
It is becoming more fashionable to encode doors to act as unintrusively and as intelligently as possible. For example, an author could code very clever doors as follows:
- ENTER DOOR or GO [direction] will try an OPEN DOOR action first, if the door is closed.
- OPEN DOOR will, in turn, try to UNLOCK DOOR if the door is locked.
- UNLOCK DOOR will try to use the appropriate key for the door, if the game has previously demonstrated that the PC knows which key is the appropriate key and that key is nearby.
- UNLOCK DOOR WITH BRONZE KEY will first try to TAKE BRONZE KEY if the bronze key is nearby but not held.
- UNLOCK DOOR will also try to use every untested key in the PC's inventory, if the PC doesn't yet know which key unlocks the door.
This is obviously more work for the author, but the idea is to reduce the need for the player to type the same sets of commands over and over in either common or tedious tasks.
For example, in A Flustered Duck (Jim Aikin; 2009; Glulx), the need to examine objects explicitly is reduced slightly, since the game auto-examines an unexamined item whenever the PC takes it. In The Isle of the Cult (Rune Berg; 2004; TADS 2), the complicated procedure required to climb a particular statue only needs to be performed once. Afterwards, the player can simply type CLIMB STATUE or UP and succeed, and the game summarizes paranthetically that the PC did all the complicated procedure required once again, changing the game world appropriately.