The tedium of annoyingly similar items

8 views
Skip to first unread message

sharvey

unread,
Mar 2, 1997, 3:00:00 AM3/2/97
to

Allow me to preface this /rant/ by confessing that my gripe comes of a
graphic adventure, not "pure IF", but I've seen it parsed as well as
rendered, so...

Why do designers insist upon heaping players' inventories with dozens of
items that are annoyingly similar? I'm playing, as a diversion, Sierra's
fairly-decent "Rama", mainly because I like Arthur C. Clarke. But I
digress.

In the game, I've found maybe only 5 "classes" of items: symbol plaques,
design plaques, crystals, tuning forks, and lenses. The problem, however,
is that I've lugged around literally DOZENS of items, many of which are
virtually identical to each other. The problem is that the symbol plaques
function mainly as keys to doors, fitting the appropriate one according to
a pattern you must decipher. However, since you're carrying 17 different
plaques, it's more a case of scrolling through an inventory than solving
the puzzle.

Infocom's contribution to this truly annoying phenomenon were the rods in
Starcross. A black rod, a white rod, a chartruce rod, a silver rod, a
burnt umber rod, and so on. Or keys: a copper key, a brass key, a bronze
key... (yawn).

For example, if you wanted to implement picking a lock, would you make the
player go through ten or twelve different picks to find the one that
opened the door?

> PICK LOCK WITH RIFFLE PICK
You fiddle with the lock, but cannot get it to set.

> PICK LOCK WITH HOOK PICK
You fiddle with the lock, but the pins keep slipping.

> PICK LOCK WITH BALL PICK
You fiddle with the lock, but the pick is too stiff.

> PICK LOCK WITH RAKE PICK
You fiddle with the lock, and the rake pops each pin and the lock clicks
open.

[Your score has just gone up by 4,000 points]

-- or --

> PICK LOCK WITH LOCK TOOLS
You insert a weirdly but precisely-shaped bit of metal into the keyhole
and twiddle it about. Impressing even yourself, the lock springs open.

[Your score has just gone up by 4,000 points]

-----------------

I know that one method is difficult, challenging, and maybe even more
realistic. However, we can never forget that these are games, meant to be
fun.

</rant>


Scott

ps: yes, I have a set of picks and, yes, I can open things. No, they're
not legal and no, I won't share.


--
+--------------------------------------------------------------------+
| reply-to header hacked | official version a falsified story |
| to prevent spam | the truth lies buried in a shroud |
| sharvey at enteract dot com | of glory -KMFDM, Glory |
+--------------------------------------------------------------------+

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Mar 2, 1997, 3:00:00 AM3/2/97
to

sharvey (sha...@enteract.com) wrote:
> Allow me to preface this /rant/ by confessing that my gripe comes of a
> graphic adventure, not "pure IF", but I've seen it parsed as well as
> rendered, so...

The difference is not totally transparent. Many graphic games use
inventory-management schemes which are a pain in the butt; it can take
significant time to scroll through all the items you have, and sometimes
you have to do this every time you want to use an object. In text IF the
"inventory" command is almost always very quick. And you *don't* have to
use it every time you need a different crystal rod.

> Why do designers insist upon heaping players' inventories with dozens of
> items that are annoyingly similar?

I have seven keys, two dozen coins, a wallet containing several dozen
cards, and a billfold containing eight bills and fifteen business cards
in my pockets. That's life.

> In the game, I've found maybe only 5 "classes" of items: symbol plaques,
> design plaques, crystals, tuning forks, and lenses. The problem, however,
> is that I've lugged around literally DOZENS of items, many of which are
> virtually identical to each other. The problem is that the symbol plaques
> function mainly as keys to doors, fitting the appropriate one according to
> a pattern you must decipher. However, since you're carrying 17 different
> plaques, it's more a case of scrolling through an inventory than solving
> the puzzle.

Not my interface.

> Infocom's contribution to this truly annoying phenomenon were the rods in
> Starcross. A black rod, a white rod, a chartruce rod, a silver rod, a
> burnt umber rod, and so on.

And so what? It made sense, in context. A computer room is going to have
dozens of differently-labelled floppy disks. The Starcross technology
used lots of colored rods.

If I have a building with locked doors, I'm going to have to strain
awfully hard to explain why the first one is opened by a key, the second
by a pencil, the third by a frog, the fourth by a brass lantaern... keys
open doors.

> For example, if you wanted to implement picking a lock, would you make the
> player go through ten or twelve different picks to find the one that
> opened the door?

That entirely depends on what I wanted the effect to be. If the
protagonist is picking this lock for the first time in his life, or if
it's a sudden, strange, unexpected experience, I'll make the player try
several picks. Ditto if the lockpicks are unfamiliar to him. *Definitely*
if any of these are true *and* there are guards closing in, so that the
player is under time pressure.

But if the protagonist picks locks every day, and is using his own set of
picks, or if it's near the end of the game and he's done it a dozen
times, I'd make it a one-command thing.

> I know that one method is difficult, challenging, and maybe even more
> realistic. However, we can never forget that these are games, meant to be
> fun.

Sometimes I want a scene where the player does something difficult.
Sometimes I don't. The decision is not made at random, and it's certainly
not determined by what I feel like programming.

--Z

--

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the
borogoves..."

FReDRiK RaMSBeRG (WILdcARD)

unread,
Mar 3, 1997, 3:00:00 AM3/3/97
to

erky...@netcom.com (Andrew Plotkin) writes:

>sharvey (sha...@enteract.com) wrote:
>> Why do designers insist upon heaping players' inventories with dozens of
>> items that are annoyingly similar?

>> Infocom's contribution to this truly annoying phenomenon were the rods in


>> Starcross. A black rod, a white rod, a chartruce rod, a silver rod, a
>> burnt umber rod, and so on.

>And so what? It made sense, in context. A computer room is going to have
>dozens of differently-labelled floppy disks. The Starcross technology
>used lots of colored rods.

Can anyone who played Starcross say that the rods scattered about made sense.
How often do you need 10 or so different keys to open all doors in a building?
And how often are they all lying around in various places in the building, or
even better, stuck in objects that are not made to contain keys (those who
have played Starcross know what I'm talking about here)?

Leaving that aside, it's true that you have many similar objects in real life.
IF is a way to get away from real life for a while, so it doesn't have to
model boring things unless it's necessary for the credibility of the plot or
the environment. We have, thank god, seen a great decrease in the number of
games that make you hungry and tired. (Odd that those games don't urge you
to go to the loo as well...)


/Fredrik
--
Fredrik Ramsberg, d91f...@und.ida.liu.se, http://www-und.ida.liu.se/~d91frera
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I want to make it perfectly clear that I can't say I don't think people who
aren't avoiding using too many negations aren't putting things clearly enough.

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Mar 3, 1997, 3:00:00 AM3/3/97
to

FReDRiK RaMSBeRG (WILdcARD) (d91f...@ida.liu.se) wrote:
> erky...@netcom.com (Andrew Plotkin) writes:

> >sharvey (sha...@enteract.com) wrote:
> >> Why do designers insist upon heaping players' inventories with dozens of
> >> items that are annoyingly similar?

> >> Infocom's contribution to this truly annoying phenomenon were the rods in
> >> Starcross. A black rod, a white rod, a chartruce rod, a silver rod, a
> >> burnt umber rod, and so on.

> >And so what? It made sense, in context. A computer room is going to have
> >dozens of differently-labelled floppy disks. The Starcross technology
> >used lots of colored rods.

> Can anyone who played Starcross say that the rods scattered about made sense.

To a certain extent. It was supposed to be an intelligence test, and
furthermore one which a lot of beings had failed already, so all the toys
had been picked up and played with and thrown away and gnawed on by
rat-ants.

> How often do you need 10 or so different keys to open all doors in a building?

Sometimes this is silly. But it's often a *high-security* building, or
lab, or control center, or whatever. Just because genre writing tends to
such places. The complex in Planetfall was very plausible to me, for
example; lots of different keycards and keys for various areas, most of
which had valuable or dangerous equipment in them.

> Leaving that aside, it's true that you have many similar objects in real life.
> IF is a way to get away from real life for a while, so it doesn't have to
> model boring things unless it's necessary for the credibility of the plot or
> the environment.

Anyway, were the rods in Starcross really boring? I mean, you didn't just
sit around and juggle them; their manner of use was pretty obvious once
you figured it out, so there was no need to try every rod in every
possible usage. The interesting part of the game was the situations you
found them in.

sharvey

unread,
Mar 3, 1997, 3:00:00 AM3/3/97
to

FReDRiK RaMSBeRG (WILdcARD) (d91f...@ida.liu.se) wrote:
: Leaving that aside, it's true that you have many similar objects in real life.

: IF is a way to get away from real life for a while, so it doesn't have to
: model boring things unless it's necessary for the credibility of the plot or
: the environment. We have, thank god, seen a great decrease in the number of

: games that make you hungry and tired. (Odd that those games don't urge you
: to go to the loo as well...)

Drat! You stole my idea! (sub GoPee)

I did, however, toy with the idea of a player who was a hardcore smoker,
and contiunally fought the urge for a smoke. I eventually gave it up as
gimmicky and "no fun", which is in my mind the downfall of all of these
relentlessly realistic games.

As for the "too-many similar items issue" - it's perfectly fine, when it's
in context and in moderation. If I've got run around the known universe
looking for keys to a building, that's pretty dopey. If I have to find a
file in the massive company file room, that's another story.

Scott

--
+--------------------------------------------------------------------+
| reply-to header hacked | war and slavery, explotation |
| to prevent spam | the common basis of a western nation |
| sharvey at enteract dot com | -KMFDM, Glory |
+--------------------------------------------------------------------+

Michael Graham

unread,
Mar 6, 1997, 3:00:00 AM3/6/97
to

In article <5ffanl$4...@eve.enteract.com>, sharvey <sha...@enteract.com>
writes

>I did, however, toy with the idea of a player who was a hardcore
smoker,
>and contiunally fought the urge for a smoke. I eventually gave it up
as
>gimmicky and "no fun", which is in my mind the downfall of all of these
>relentlessly realistic games.
>

At one point I was toying with "QUIT!" which would be a short little
experiment game. In it, most of your time would be spent hiding your
cigarettes from yourself, finding things to distract yourself with, and
arguing with the parser:

======
The velvet bag is still tantalizingly out of reach of your outstretched
fingers. You feel the ladder rock dangerously under the ball of your
right foot, but your left knee is pretty firmly wedged in the crook of
the heating duct, so you figure you're safe for the moment. You feel
your spine pop as you stretch another half-inch. Sweat streaming into
your eyes, blood pounding in your ears, you hardly feel the ladder
slipping out from beneath you or hear it clatter down on the floor below
a moment later. Desperately, you tease the loop of the bag with the tip
of your middle finger, until -- success! You hook your finger around the
string, and the bag is yours! A moment later you feel the duct groan and
give way. Twisting and grappling vainly, you fall...


QUIT!
An Interactive Tale of Will and Desperation
by Michael Graham


You land on the remains of your comfortable couch, in a slowly settling
cloud of plaster and dust. The velvet bag lies at your feet.

Living room (on the remains of the couch)
Light streams in from the south windows, revealing the sad extent of
your earlier frenzy. The room is a disaster area: magazines and
paperbacks are strewn all over the floor, the bookshelves and racks long
toppled and dismantled. A trail of dirty laundry leads east into your
bedroom, and a trail of broken dishes leads northwest into the kitchen.
The small bathroom ignores you silently to the north, and the the front
door stands bolted and insufferable to the west.

Luckily your earlier "search" of the couch resulted in this soft
pile of stuffing and cushions that broke your fall.

> get bag
Taken, taken, taken! (Oh, how it is taken!)

> north
You'll have to extricate yourself from the couch first.

> get up
Your body screams in protest, but it has been doing that all day, and
you try not to notice. Pain shoots up your leg as you stand, muttering
something about a twisted ankle. You figure that it's doing it
deliberately, and so ignore it.

> north
You limp into the bathroom, pulling open the velvet bag as you go.
There's a carton of cigarettes inside!

[Your score has just gone down by one point]

Bathroom
It's not surprising that the bathroom is ignoring you, considering how
long you have neglected it. In fact the only attention you have paid it
in the last three weeks was to rifle its cabinets and drawers this
afternoon, searching for hidden cigarettes.

You pull out the carton of cigarettes, tossing aside the velvet
bag. A whole carton! What a find!

> put cigarettes in toilet
(first opening the toilet)
You lift up the seat. It's times like this that you're thankful for your
dulled sense of smell.

(first opening the carton of cigarettes)
Gingerly, you tug on the tab, salivating at the crisp sound the plastic
strip makes as it rends the foil-backed paper. You draw out the first
packet and with a fluid motion, strip it of celophane, thumb open the
top, and pull out the foil paper.

With trembling fingers, you draw out a cigarette, and place it between
your lips.

> again

Diligently, you let fall one packet, and watch as it floats lazily on
the surface of the murky water. Absently, you root around in your
pockets for a light. Now where are those matches?

> flush toilet

The water swirls hungrily around the cardboard packet, but fails to get
a grip. Good thing those cigarettes are packed in celophane. You might
need those later. Ah! There's that lighter!

> drop cigarette
Which cigarette do you mean? The cigarette in your mouth, the
cigarettes in the open pack, the packet of cigarettes floating in the
toilet bowl, or the packets of cigarettes in the open carton?

> all
I'm sorry, but you can't use multiple direct objects when referring to
cigarettes.

> drop the cigarette in my mouth.

You the cigarette fall from your mouth. It bounces off the rim of
the toilet and rolls across the floor, wedging itself into a crack
beneath the bathtub.

> step on it
You can't reach it while it's wedged into the crack.

> score
It's been 3 hours, 53 minutes since your last smoke. Statistically, you
still have a greater chance of heart-disease than getting run over by a
bus.

> wait
You tried that all afternoon. It didn't work.

> diagnose
You're absolutely dying for a smoke. What else is new?

> imperial
Imperial mode.

> diagnose
You're absolutely dying for a fag. What else is new?

> south
You stagger out into the living room, pulling out another cigarette on
the way.

Living Room

> examine window
The windows are vintage 1930's workmanship, and are likely to remain so
for the duration of your tenancy. Something to do with the National
Trust, apparently. You make a mental note to write another angry letter.

You light the fag quickly, and take a long, satisfying pull on it.

[Your score has just gone down by one point]

> open window
The window creaks open, admitting a stale gust of wind from the
street. Exhaling with a sigh, you watch as the smoke curls lazily
around, in exuberent defience of the breeze.

> quit
Putting out that cigarette would be a good start.

> throw cigarette out window
(the lit cigarette)
What a waste! You've only taken one drag!

> throw cigarette out window
(the lit cigarette)
After taking one final drag, you flick the lit cigarette out the
window. A moment later, you hear a curse from down below.

> destroy cigarettes
You'll have to be more specific than that...

======

And so on. Quite aside from being annoying to play, it would be an
absolute nightmare to code. So it remains on the cutting room floor with
all my other bright ideas.


--
Michael Graham mailto:mgr...@cega.demon.co.uk
Cega Ltd. Web Design Consultants http://www.cega.co.uk
London (Stratford), UK
Tel/Fax: +44-(0)181-221-2417

Kenneth Albanowski

unread,
Mar 9, 1997, 3:00:00 AM3/9/97
to

In article <5fcr59$r...@eve.enteract.com>,

sharvey <NoJunkmai...@enteract.com> wrote:
>Why do designers insist upon heaping players' inventories with dozens of
>items that are annoyingly similar? I'm playing, as a diversion, Sierra's
>fairly-decent "Rama", mainly because I like Arthur C. Clarke. But I
>digress.
[...]

>Infocom's contribution to this truly annoying phenomenon were the rods in
>Starcross. A black rod, a white rod, a chartruce rod, a silver rod, a
>burnt umber rod, and so on. Or keys: a copper key, a brass key, a bronze

I'll chime in with my own graphical examples: Ultima 7 and 7.5. There you
not only have a multitude of almost identical keys, but they actually
_look_ like keys, and you manipulate them (and the rest of your inventory)
by dragging it in and out of on-screen bags. Not inventory lists, but actual
bags, with the same degree of organizational capability, and with the same
propensity for juggling their contents about when you aren't looking.

Of course, it becomes extremely difficult to keep track of keys, given that
you might collect two dozen (also not helped by a bug in Ultima 7 whereby
some keys disappeared overnight). Two solutions were present: lockpicks,
that gave a possibility of opening "generic" doors, (but not most doors were
part of the plot) at the possible cost of breaking the pick and, only
introduced in 7.5, a "keyring" that you could place any number of keys onto,
and then _automatically_ use the correct key for a given lock, assuming it
was on the ring. (This keyring was both a magic item and a bonus item.)
Neither lockpicks nor keyrings were needed for the plot.

There are two interesting conclusions here: Ultima 7 did an excellent job of
making inventory management about equal in complexity to the real world --
it's hard to tell identical keys apart, but if you put them in separate
bags, it becomes easier. Secondly, this just isn't easy enough -- you'll go
spare trying to find the right key, quite possibly laying the lot of them
down in a row on the ground so you can be sure of trying each once.

Assuming we want to give in to the many-key problem (as the real world does)
then there are some obvious features you can use for I-F:

1. Categorize the inventory. Instead of saying:

You have a blue key, a red key, a green key, a mauve key, and a
brown key.

just say:

You have five keys (blue, red, green, mauve, and brown).

Much as you would want to contract lists of coins, etc. This slightly
reduces the reality quotient (if there is such a phrase) by collecting
objects together without a physical basis (such as a containing bag),
but then again, humans are quite good at telling keys apart from other
things.

2. Allow the keys to be labelled. Either use the Beyond Zork (I hope it
was B-Z) approach of letting you label anything (call pteradactly
"terry") or add specific objects, such as gummy labels, a piece of
string and a label, a permanent marker, a burin (!), or a more
restricted object such as a key "wallet" that contains a pocket with
label for each key. Once a key has been labelled, refer to it as such
in the inventory.

If we want to avoid the many-key problem altogether, then there are several
different options. The simplest is a sci-fi gadget that given a feel of any
key can instantly duplicate it in future. Or avoid directly-usable keys
altogether, and load computer chips into a key "wand" that you wave at doors
to open them. This would immediately solve both the categorization and
possibly labelling problems as well.

The lockpick approach is possible, but I doubt the Ultima RPC style of a
random probability of it working vs. breaking would go over well. You could
go around collecting different types of lockpicks, but then we've just come
full circle.

Of course, you can do all of this, and then short-circuit the entire affair
by given the PC a high-level spell called "open" that simply does. That could
give the player the frustration of key-management for a bit, and then
the pleasure of chucking the lot away when they get the spell.

--
Kenneth Albanowski (kja...@kjahds.com)


Joe Mason

unread,
Mar 13, 1997, 3:00:00 AM3/13/97
to

"Re: The tedium of annoyin", declared Kenneth Albanowski from the Vogon
ship:

KA> 2. Allow the keys to be labelled. Either use the Beyond Zork (I
KA> hope it was B-Z) approach of letting you label anything (call
KA> pteradactly "terry") or add specific objects, such as gummy

It was indeed BZ. And the pterodactyl was always "Zem" to me - I
haven't got a clue why.

Joe

ş CMPQwk 1.42 9550 şThe gene pool has no lifeguard

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages