What am I missing?

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quic...@quickfur.ath.cx

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Sep 23, 2006, 2:53:48 AM9/23/06
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OK, the following may raise some heckles (judging from archives of
similar threads in the past), but I genuinely want to know so I'll take
the risk.

Recently, in an effort to expand my experience of newer IF (before this
I've played mostly the original Infocom stuff and not very much else), I
started looking through various reviews to find some good, "modern"
games to play. I started out looking for more light-hearted,
tongue-in-cheek games, so I really enjoyed such games as Winter
Wonderland and Return to Ditch Day. Afterwards, I wanted to try some
more serious games, and I noticed that Spider & Web seems to be getting
rave reviews so I gave it a try.

Unfortunately, I felt quite disappointed by it. The writing was good,
and the plot seems potentially very interesting (I never made it to the
end), but I found very little to keep my interest. I felt like I was
tackling not a guess-the-verb puzzle nor a guess-the-noun puzzle, but a
guess-the-story puzzle. It seems that I have to get every small detail
exactly right in order to go on, and after spending 2-3 hours just to
get to the lab door, I felt so frustrated that I gave up. At that point,
I had finally figured out what was going on, and felt I could probably
get through the game if I tried, but I just didn't have any interest
anymore. Apparently people found the interrogator/flashback device
interesting, but for me, it was beyond annoying. So it was clever to not
kill off the player but have the interrogator verbally abuse him, but to
my mind, it's no different from a "*** YOU HAVE FAILED ***" message. And
(practically) forcing the player to guess every last detail of a
predetermined plot---I really felt like it would've worked better as a
novel than as IF (where's the interaction?).

I would've given up much earlier had it not been for the rave reviews,
so I kept pressing on, hoping that there would be some pleasant
surprises waiting. Unfortunately the game failed to keep my attention
long enough for that pleasant surprise (if there is one).

So my question is, what exactly am I missing? Since so many people
apparently likes this game so much, there must be some redeeming quality
about it that I totally fail to see. Maybe I just don't have the
patience for that type of game. Or maybe I'm missing something obvious?

But here's the kicker: after my bad experience, I was a bit bitter about
what I perceived to be "modern IF" (as opposed to the adventurous romps
of, say, the Zork series), but decided to give it one more shot. So I
browsed the reviews and for whatever reason picked up Worlds Apart. Now,
first of all, I found that the subject matter is rather distasteful for
me---it seemed too New-Agey, what with crystals and dreamworlds, and
psychic healing for goodness' sake. But the surprising thing is, the
story was presented in such a way that continues to pique my interest,
and I kept *wanting* to explore further and discover more, even if I had
to cringe at the New Age stuff that was going on in the game. The game
world was incredibly detailed, and the story was so captivating, and the
plot so teasingly revealed in ambiguous bits, that I just *had* to see
the end to find out what exactly was going on. At the end, I felt so
much a part of the game world that a lot of the New Age stuff didn't
bother me as much anymore, and I felt I could really identify with the
characters in the game. I even felt that the game should've gone much
longer so that the plot could be more fully resolved.

So now I am faced with this (perhaps unfair) comparison: here's this
really hyped game featuring a spy with cool gadgets, which is a genre I
*liked* (if there is anything that interested me in Spider & Web, it's
the very cleverly designed gadgets---but unfortunately that wasn't
enough to keep me), and here's this search-your-inner-self, dream world
story which I don't really have a taste for. The first one failed to
keep my interest for more than 2 hours even though I *should've* liked
it. The second one managed to keep me for *14 hours* and drooling for
more, even though I dislike its choice of genre! Now I've no choice but
to wonder, why? Could it be that Worlds Apart is simply more effective
as IF than Spider & Web?

My intention is not to start another anti-Andrew-Plotkin flamewar; I
have not played any of his other games, and I respect his cleverness in
such things as the gadgets and the way they can be combined, from what
little of the game I saw. But I'm really curious, what exactly is it
about Spider & Web that makes people like it so much? For whatever
reason, it simply stirs no interest in me in spite of the promise of
clever puzzles, which I like. Worlds Apart, OTOH, kept my interest all
the way to the end, even though I dislike its choice of genre. Maybe I
have the wrong expectations from Spider & Web---but then again, I did
glance a bit at the reviews of Worlds Apart, and was quite ready to
write it off as soon as the New Age stuff starts getting out of hand.
But somehow, the story managed to keep me all the way.

So now I'm really curious about other people's experiences with these
two games, and especially if they have played both. What draws you to
the story and keeps your interest, and what turns you off?

(I apologize if this has already been hashed to death long ago---I'm a
latecomer to the scene.)


QF

--
"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always
so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." --
Bertrand Russell. "How come he didn't put 'I think' at the end of it?"
-- Anonymous

Michael Martin

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Sep 23, 2006, 3:34:35 AM9/23/06
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quic...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
> My intention is not to start another anti-Andrew-Plotkin flamewar; I
> have not played any of his other games, and I respect his cleverness in
> such things as the gadgets and the way they can be combined, from what
> little of the game I saw. But I'm really curious, what exactly is it
> about Spider & Web that makes people like it so much? For whatever
> reason, it simply stirs no interest in me in spite of the promise of
> clever puzzles, which I like. Worlds Apart, OTOH, kept my interest all
> the way to the end, even though I dislike its choice of genre. Maybe I
> have the wrong expectations from Spider & Web---but then again, I did
> glance a bit at the reviews of Worlds Apart, and was quite ready to
> write it off as soon as the New Age stuff starts getting out of hand.
> But somehow, the story managed to keep me all the way.
>
> So now I'm really curious about other people's experiences with these
> two games, and especially if they have played both. What draws you to
> the story and keeps your interest, and what turns you off?

Worlds Apart is on my List; haven't actually gotten a chance to attack
it properly yet. My if/pending directory is so very, very large.

Spider and Web, however, what blew us away is a point you almost
certainly haven't yet reached. In the about text, it warns that you're
basically safe and can not have to worry about getting killed or making
the game unwinnable until a certain point which you will know when you
see -- and that, after that point, every second counts.

The part of the game after that point kind of irritated me, in large
part because I tend to think of taking inventory as an instantaneous
action and it's not, and that locked me out of victory once.

However, the part immediately before the transition -- and the puzzle
whose solution triggers that transition -- is the primary reason it
holds the high regard it does.

I'm being vague, yes. Even this might be considered an unacceptable
spoiler by some standards, but since it's in the ABOUT text, I think
I'm safe.

--Michael

Emily Short

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Sep 23, 2006, 5:30:56 AM9/23/06
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quic...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
> So now I'm really curious about other people's experiences with these
> two games [Spider and Web, Worlds Apart],

> and especially if they have played both. What draws you to
> the story and keeps your interest, and what turns you off?

I played and very much liked both of them; I think WA is a bit
underrated and underdiscussed, but I can think of some reasons why that
might be.

I think part of what you're identifying is just a difference in play
style. Some people enjoy the fiddly aspects of puzzle solving more than
others; S&W had more of this than Worlds Apart did. It also rewarded
that work at a certain point in the game which, as Michael Martin says,
you may not have reached. I also enjoyed it because of the feeling that
I was engaged in a personal struggle with the interrogator, and it's
rare that an IF NPC becomes that vivid for me. And the gadgets were, as
you say, brilliant. There were a few points where I thought the puzzles
were a bit too tough or underclued. I got past these with a
walkthrough. Still, it had in its favor a compact and self-assured
design, strong interaction with the major NPC, and a fantastic puzzle
as centerpiece.

Worlds Apart is a much easier and more exploration-based game. Few
other games offer such a deep and involving setting; certainly S&W does
not, with its sketchy implied communist country. On the other hand, WA
is a bit weakened by a lack of focus: there are a lot of different
things to do and a lot of pieces to the story. When you finish the game
they don't make an entirely coherent narrative. I had the feeling that
the author had a lot of really wonderful ideas in her game, but that
she didn't quite have a clear vision of how it all fit together.

Anyway -- both good pieces of work, though Worlds Apart has been
considerably less discussed than I think it deserves. It does also have
a different set of strengths and weaknesses than Spider and Web, and I
can see how for some players it would be a lot more appealing.

Michael Lonc

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Sep 23, 2006, 10:56:20 AM9/23/06
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Emily Short

[...]

> It does also have
> a different set of strengths and weaknesses than Spider and Web, and I
> can see how for some players it would be a lot more appealing.

What you're saying here is that different people like different kinds of
games. Most people have a banality filter, a silicon chip inside their
brains that says "Stop!" when the discourse reaches a certain level. You
don't have that. You speak even when you have nothing to say.


Zonk the Troll Questioner

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Sep 23, 2006, 11:14:45 AM9/23/06
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Speaking of banal, "jacek.jacek@jacek", your little jabs these days are
strikingly dull and colorless. Has Breslin really stolen all your
flash and fire?

-- ZtTQ

Stuart Moore

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Sep 23, 2006, 11:31:51 AM9/23/06
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Perhaps multiple personalities are more draining than they seem?

--
Stuart "Sslaxx" Moore
http://sslaxx.livejournal.com/

quic...@quickfur.ath.cx

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Sep 23, 2006, 12:14:57 PM9/23/06
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[...]

Well, I've read reviews alluding to "the puzzle", which apparently is a
great stroke of genius. Perhaps I should give S&W another chance by
slogging through just to see that part of the game---but then this makes
me wonder if the initial game could've been done in a better way that
draws in the player more?

At least w.r.t. drawing the player into the game, Worlds Apart was much
more successful than S&W to me. The thing is, when I first started
playing these games, I was still tentative in deciding whether or not it
was worth my time to get into them. Worlds Apart convinced me it was
worthwhile, but S&W didn't. (And this is in spite of the fact that, if
all things else were equal, I would've chosen S&W due to its genre.)
That doesn't really speak very much of the genius behind S&W, which I
assume is there, but the point is that it failed to keep my attention
until that point when it could've won me over.


QF

--
People tell me that I'm skeptical, but I don't believe it.

Andrew Plotkin

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Sep 23, 2006, 12:15:44 PM9/23/06
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Here, quic...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
>
> Recently, in an effort to expand my experience of newer IF (before this
> I've played mostly the original Infocom stuff and not very much else), I
> started looking through various reviews to find some good, "modern"
> games to play. I started out looking for more light-hearted,
> tongue-in-cheek games, so I really enjoyed such games as Winter
> Wonderland and Return to Ditch Day. Afterwards, I wanted to try some
> more serious games, and I noticed that Spider & Web seems to be getting
> rave reviews so I gave it a try.
>
> Unfortunately, I felt quite disappointed by it. The writing was good,
> and the plot seems potentially very interesting (I never made it to the
> end), but I found very little to keep my interest. I felt like I was
> tackling not a guess-the-verb puzzle nor a guess-the-noun puzzle, but a
> guess-the-story puzzle.

An author who defends his work in public is generally an idiot (you
heard that Amazon is now allowing comments on their reader-contributed
reviews, right? That'll go well) but I think I can safely say that
this is not an accident. I woke up one morning and said, okay, how can
I design a game where the primary puzzle is figuring out what the
story is?

The idea I came up with (which, as others have said, is more than what
you've seen) required a particular structure. Ideally, that structure
should be engaging right from the beginning. I tried to achieve this,
and I regret that it didn't work for you.

I cannot answer the question of what kept other people hooked in the
early parts of the game. (The other replies I've seen so far have
talked about the ending.) I would be as interested as you to see
discussion of that.

Note that this was an idea for one game, not representative of "modern
IF". (Or even of my work overall. I'd say, from a foreshortened view,
that I am partial to the structure where a layer of the story is
revealed over the course of the game. But S&W is the only thing I've
done where that dominates the gameplay.) So I certainly hope that you
look at other IF from the past ten years. There is no shortage of
variety.

(As an aside, I thought _Worlds Apart_ was terrific.)

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
"Bush has kept America safe from terrorism since 9/11." Too bad his
job was to keep America safe *on* 9/11.

Poster

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Sep 23, 2006, 12:41:56 PM9/23/06
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quic...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:

> So now I am faced with this (perhaps unfair) comparison: here's this
> really hyped game featuring a spy with cool gadgets, which is a genre I
> *liked* (if there is anything that interested me in Spider & Web, it's
> the very cleverly designed gadgets---but unfortunately that wasn't
> enough to keep me), and here's this search-your-inner-self, dream world
> story which I don't really have a taste for. The first one failed to
> keep my interest for more than 2 hours even though I *should've* liked
> it. The second one managed to keep me for *14 hours* and drooling for
> more, even though I dislike its choice of genre! Now I've no choice but
> to wonder, why? Could it be that Worlds Apart is simply more effective
> as IF than Spider & Web?

You're not missing anything, as far as I can tell. I too gave up on
Spider & Web long before reaching any point of reward. The game simply
exchanges one bash-the-player device for another and as a result, is
quite tiresome and boring.

As for why you enjoyed WA as opposed to S&W, I think it hinges around
player freedom. S&W is very constrictive, and there's only one right
path. You must get things exactly right for any bit of reward. Judging
from Baf's blurb, WA allows you to explore the world, going from place
to place, doing different things, and trying things out. The NPCS sound
multi-dimensional rather than one-dimensional.

I myself vastly prefer games where you get to explore. It has always
surprised me that people don't rank this as some metric when reviewing a
game. For me, it makes the difference in whether I finish the game or not.

-- Poster

www.intaligo.com Building, INFORM, Seasons (upcoming!)

quic...@quickfur.ath.cx

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Sep 23, 2006, 12:56:51 PM9/23/06
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On Sat, Sep 23, 2006 at 02:30:56AM -0700, Emily Short wrote:
>
> quic...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
> > So now I'm really curious about other people's experiences with these
> > two games [Spider and Web, Worlds Apart],
> > and especially if they have played both. What draws you to
> > the story and keeps your interest, and what turns you off?
>
> I played and very much liked both of them; I think WA is a bit
> underrated and underdiscussed, but I can think of some reasons why
> that might be.

Mind elaborating on that?


[...]


> I think part of what you're identifying is just a difference in play
> style. Some people enjoy the fiddly aspects of puzzle solving more
> than others; S&W had more of this than Worlds Apart did.

But the thing is, I *like* fiddly aspects to puzzles in general, but in
S&W, I got so frustrated by needing to get every last detail right even
when there was no apparent reason for it (at least at that point), that
I just couldn't bring myself to going on. For example, having to throw
the exact object to distract the patrol: I'm sure there's a clever
reason behind the choice of object, but at the time, I saw no reason for
it besides nitpick.


> It also rewarded that work at a certain point in the game which, as
> Michael Martin says, you may not have reached. I also enjoyed it
> because of the feeling that I was engaged in a personal struggle with
> the interrogator, and it's rare that an IF NPC becomes that vivid for
> me.

This is interesting, because I never felt the interrogator was that
vivid at all. For example, in WA, characters such as Lyric were a *lot*
more vivid to me even though my interaction with her is at least an
order of magnitude shorter than in S&W. And definitely much more
memorable: there aren't many works of IF that causes me to wonder about
the fate of an NPC as much as I did about Lyric.


> And the gadgets were, as you say, brilliant. There were a few points
> where I thought the puzzles were a bit too tough or underclued. I got
> past these with a walkthrough. Still, it had in its favor a compact
> and self-assured design, strong interaction with the major NPC, and a
> fantastic puzzle as centerpiece.

Maybe our standards differ, but to me, if I needed a walkthrough just to
get to a juicy part of the game, then it has failed at least on the
point of drawing the player into the story.

Granted, I never got to the oft-alluded to fantastic puzzle, so perhaps
it could've offset all the frustration before that. But IMHO this is a
rather risky approach, since you could lose the player's interest (and
S&W did, for me) long before they see the one thing that would've
convinced them of the genius behind the story.


> Worlds Apart is a much easier and more exploration-based game. Few
> other games offer such a deep and involving setting; certainly S&W
> does not, with its sketchy implied communist country.

Maybe that was it, the involvement in the setting, which kept me all the
way to the end, in spite of whatever objections I may have had with
regard to its choice of theme. I do tend to like exploration-based games
(and stories, for that matter) more.


> On the other hand, WA is a bit weakened by a lack of focus: there are
> a lot of different things to do and a lot of pieces to the story. When
> you finish the game they don't make an entirely coherent narrative. I
> had the feeling that the author had a lot of really wonderful ideas in
> her game, but that she didn't quite have a clear vision of how it all
> fit together.

Hmm, that's strange. I felt on the contrary that the ideas fit together
really well. The sequence in which the story unfolded was, I think, an
absolute stroke of genius, since even the gender of the PC is not
revealed for a while, and when it is, the player has seen enough of the
setting to feel quite comfortable with it, whether the player is male or
female. Then there is the suspense about the fate of the mother, which
is not immediately obvious until almost the end of the game. The
wondering about whether you will actually get to meet some of the NPC's
in the flashbacks, the hope that perhaps things might turn in a better
direction, the ambiguity about the future (or even the present, since
you do not recall everything basically until the end). And the list goes
on. It seems that at every point, the player is deliberately left
guessing at what the plot will turn out to be, and this was done with
such skill that it neither felt contrived, nor so obvious that there's
little reason to discover more. The result is that it completely
captivates the player to learn more about the story world.

The one weakness you identify: an ending that left too much unanswered,
seems forgivable given the incredible detail of the game. Having tried
(and failed) to write even just a short work of IF for CreatureComp, I
appreciate how much work it takes to flesh out a story; so it's not
surprising that the author of WA had to end the game where she did. I
admit I *was* a bit disappointed at the inconclusiveness of the
epilogue, but it had been *14 hours* of completely immersive gameplay,
and she did promise a continuation of the story (speaking of which, has
anything materialised yet?---you see how much the story has captivated
me, in a way S&W never did), which seemed reasonable to me though I
wished she had persevered for perhaps just one more morning in the
story.


> Anyway -- both good pieces of work, though Worlds Apart has been
> considerably less discussed than I think it deserves. It does also
> have a different set of strengths and weaknesses than Spider and Web,
> and I can see how for some players it would be a lot more appealing.

What are some of the strengths of S&W, aside from the one amazing puzzle
so often alluded to? I still wonder if it's worth the effort for me to
try to get to that point.


QF

--
The easy way is the wrong way, and the hard way is the stupid way. Pick one.

Emily Short

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Sep 23, 2006, 1:37:54 PM9/23/06
to

quick...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
> On Sat, Sep 23, 2006 at 02:30:56AM -0700, Emily Short wrote:
> >
> > quic...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
> > > So now I'm really curious about other people's experiences with these
> > > two games [Spider and Web, Worlds Apart],
> > > and especially if they have played both. What draws you to
> > > the story and keeps your interest, and what turns you off?
> >
> > I played and very much liked both of them; I think WA is a bit
> > underrated and underdiscussed, but I can think of some reasons why
> > that might be.
>
> Mind elaborating on that?

Two things, mainly:

1. It's a fairly long game, and long games -- especially ones released
after the mid-90s -- tend to be less played and less discussed than
shorter ones. There has been a lot of talk in the community about why
that is (people having less time to devote to playing IF, people having
less inclination to review long IF), but it does seem to be a trend.

2. I suspect that the genre was not to everyone's taste, for exactly
the reasons you cited in your first post.

3. Games that can be solved without much newsgroup discussion tend to
get less discussion than those that require people to ask for hints.
Again, this penalizes the author for her hard work in providing a
smooth play experience and built-in hints -- but it's true.

I do recall that Suzanne started a thread, long long ago, with some
things about WA that she thought people might want to discuss. You
might want to search back for it (probably on rec.games.int-fiction),
if you're looking for more insights into the game.

> > I think part of what you're identifying is just a difference in play
> > style. Some people enjoy the fiddly aspects of puzzle solving more
> > than others; S&W had more of this than Worlds Apart did.
>
> But the thing is, I *like* fiddly aspects to puzzles in general, but in
> S&W, I got so frustrated by needing to get every last detail right even
> when there was no apparent reason for it (at least at that point), that
> I just couldn't bring myself to going on. For example, having to throw
> the exact object to distract the patrol: I'm sure there's a clever
> reason behind the choice of object, but at the time, I saw no reason for
> it besides nitpick.

I'd have to replay: it's been years since I've been through this
sequence. But I recall the puzzles being somewhat on the harsh side.

On the other hand, the player is reconstructing a specific narrative
for the interrogator, and there are reasons why the game refuses to let
you do certain things, even if those reasons aren't apparent until
later. The fact that they *did* become apparent made me forgive a
certain amount of frustration earlier.

> > It also rewarded that work at a certain point in the game which, as
> > Michael Martin says, you may not have reached. I also enjoyed it
> > because of the feeling that I was engaged in a personal struggle with
> > the interrogator, and it's rare that an IF NPC becomes that vivid for
> > me.
>
> This is interesting, because I never felt the interrogator was that
> vivid at all. For example, in WA, characters such as Lyric were a *lot*
> more vivid to me even though my interaction with her is at least an
> order of magnitude shorter than in S&W.

My favorite moment with the interrogator were, again, past the points
you reached in the game. (Sorry.) I'm not really saying that I had a
strong sense of the interrogator's personality, though; it was more
that I felt as though the struggle to solve the game, including some of
the nitpicky bits you complain about, had become a personal struggle
between me and this character. There are a few (but not many) other
games in which I felt as though an NPC became a real opponent for the
duration of play. (Gourmet, Lock and Key; I can't think of many others
offhand right now.)

> And definitely much more
> memorable: there aren't many works of IF that causes me to wonder about
> the fate of an NPC as much as I did about Lyric.

Yes, I know what you mean.

> > And the gadgets were, as you say, brilliant. There were a few points
> > where I thought the puzzles were a bit too tough or underclued. I got
> > past these with a walkthrough. Still, it had in its favor a compact
> > and self-assured design, strong interaction with the major NPC, and a
> > fantastic puzzle as centerpiece.
>
> Maybe our standards differ, but to me, if I needed a walkthrough just to
> get to a juicy part of the game, then it has failed at least on the
> point of drawing the player into the story.

This isn't a style of play I aim for in my own games, no: the player
turning to a walkthrough is basically a failure case. But there are a
few pieces of IF where I wanted so badly to find out what happened, or
at least to get an explanation of what was going on, that I kept
playing even with a walkthrough and still managed to enjoy the game.
Spider and Web was one such; another was Jigsaw.

> Granted, I never got to the oft-alluded to fantastic puzzle, so perhaps
> it could've offset all the frustration before that. But IMHO this is a
> rather risky approach, since you could lose the player's interest (and
> S&W did, for me) long before they see the one thing that would've
> convinced them of the genius behind the story.

For me there were two important hooks that kept me going: one, that
something was happening that I didn't quite understand, and I wanted to
find out what it was; two, that the gadgets were neat to play with, and
even when I was frustrated with the gameplay I enjoyed using them.

> > On the other hand, WA is a bit weakened by a lack of focus: there are
> > a lot of different things to do and a lot of pieces to the story. When
> > you finish the game they don't make an entirely coherent narrative. I
> > had the feeling that the author had a lot of really wonderful ideas in
> > her game, but that she didn't quite have a clear vision of how it all
> > fit together.
>
> Hmm, that's strange. I felt on the contrary that the ideas fit together
> really well. The sequence in which the story unfolded was, I think, an
> absolute stroke of genius, since even the gender of the PC is not
> revealed for a while, and when it is, the player has seen enough of the
> setting to feel quite comfortable with it, whether the player is male or
> female.

Again, I'm at a little bit of a disadvantage because I played this
shortly after it was released and haven't looked at it again since. But
my recollection is that there were quite a few points where it wasn't
clear what I was supposed to be doing: sometimes I looked at the hints
just to get some direction.

I also thought the Lyric subplot didn't fit entirely cleanly into the
rest of the plot.

Finally -- this is the most difficult complaint to articulate because
it really needs a detailed analysis, and it's several years too late
for me to do that from memory -- but the *interaction* felt unfocused
at times. The player was required to try a lot of different kinds of
things at different points in the game, and (according to my
recollection, anyway) this could feel a bit lumpy and uneven. By
contrast,S&W is extremely thorough about introducing all the commands
the player is going to need later, teaching how interaction works
within this universe, and maintaining a fairly consistent pace about
how much story is doled out relative to a given amount of player
action.

All that said, I did think that WA had a great deal going for it: some
neat imagery, interesting sub-stories, and so on. It was hugely
ambitious, too, and sometimes it is neat to play a really ambitious
game, even if it doesn't quite succeed on every front.

kroc...@sociologist.com

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Sep 23, 2006, 3:02:27 PM9/23/06
to
<quic...@quickfur.ath.cx>

> My intention is not to start another anti-Andrew-Plotkin flamewar; I
> have not played any of his other games,

Then you've missed _Shade_, a game about a non-descript individual living in
a non-descript apartment trying to fill a glass with water, only to find out
that s/he's not a non-descript individual living in a non-descript apartment
but a non-descript individual dying of dehydration in a non-descript desert.
Then there's _So Far_. It's about a guy who finds a wooden box and goes
places with it and... hmmm... has anyone actually figured out what the
*story* of _So Far_ is about? And then there's _The Dreamhold_, a game about
a faceless, genderless, amnesiac wizard who wanders around his "memory
palace" (read: "excuse for contrived puzzles") gazing into his navel,
finding little except navel lint.

Emily Short

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Sep 23, 2006, 4:12:09 PM9/23/06
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Emily Short wrote:
> quick...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
> > On Sat, Sep 23, 2006 at 02:30:56AM -0700, Emily Short wrote:
> > >
> > > quic...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
> > > > So now I'm really curious about other people's experiences with these
> > > > two games [Spider and Web, Worlds Apart],
> > > > and especially if they have played both. What draws you to
> > > > the story and keeps your interest, and what turns you off?
> > >
> > > I played and very much liked both of them; I think WA is a bit
> > > underrated and underdiscussed, but I can think of some reasons why
> > > that might be.
> >
> > Mind elaborating on that?
>
> Two things, mainly:

(Only then I thought of a third. Oh well.)

Dan Shiovitz

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Sep 23, 2006, 6:20:30 PM9/23/06
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In article <et-dnRhdJLxN_ojY...@giganews.com>,
Poster <poster!nospam!@aurora.cotse.net> wrote:
>quic...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
[..]

>> it. The second one managed to keep me for *14 hours* and drooling for
>> more, even though I dislike its choice of genre! Now I've no choice but
>> to wonder, why? Could it be that Worlds Apart is simply more effective
>> as IF than Spider & Web?
>
[..]

>As for why you enjoyed WA as opposed to S&W, I think it hinges around
>player freedom. S&W is very constrictive, and there's only one right
>path. You must get things exactly right for any bit of reward. Judging

Note that S&W actually has two kinds of scenes -- there are scenes
where "success" for the scene is very strictly defined, but the player
has a lot of freedom to mess around within the scene in the process of
reaching success, and those alternate with scenes where the player has
only limited ways of interacting but "success" is quite broadly
defined.

>from Baf's blurb, WA allows you to explore the world, going from place
>to place, doing different things, and trying things out. The NPCS sound
>multi-dimensional rather than one-dimensional.
>
>I myself vastly prefer games where you get to explore. It has always
>surprised me that people don't rank this as some metric when reviewing a
>game. For me, it makes the difference in whether I finish the game or not.

People do consider exploration to be an important metric in evaluating
a game, or at least I do. But that's not the same as saying it's
required for every game! I like big games that have a lot of cool
stuff to poke around with and lots of freedom of movement, but I'm
also interested in small, tight games that are focused on plot or
character interaction or what have you.

It seems to me like it's a pity to write off all non-exploration-heavy
IF games, but I do the same thing with, say, horror movies -- outside
of the Evil Dead series they don't do much for me and there are enough
good movies in other genres that I'm not missing them much. But I try
not to make the mistake of thinking this means horror movies are *bad*
when they're just doing a thing that I'm not interested in.

>-- Poster
--
Dan Shiovitz :: d...@cs.wisc.edu :: http://www.drizzle.com/~dans
"He settled down to dictate a letter to the Consolidated Nailfile and
Eyebrow Tweezer Corporation of Scranton, Pa., which would make them
realize that life is stern and earnest and Nailfile and Eyebrow Tweezer
Corporations are not put in this world for pleasure alone." -PGW

Dan Shiovitz

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Sep 23, 2006, 6:23:02 PM9/23/06
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In article <20060923161654.GA32032@crystal>, <quic...@quickfur.ath.cx> wrote:
[..]

>Well, I've read reviews alluding to "the puzzle", which apparently is a
>great stroke of genius. Perhaps I should give S&W another chance by
>slogging through just to see that part of the game---but then this makes
>me wonder if the initial game could've been done in a better way that
>draws in the player more?

Hunh, that's interesting. I thought the intro to S&W was *great* --
starting out in the alley and gradually moving into something deeper
in a way that exactly reflected how the rest of the game was going to
go.

This is an interesting question, though. If the main part of the game
is going to be a certain way, how do you teach the player how to play
it? You don't want to have the beginning be unreflective of the main
game, or people will enter it under false pretenses, but you don't
want it to scare away people who would get into it if they can be
eased into the right mindset.

>QF

Michael Martin

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Sep 23, 2006, 9:38:54 PM9/23/06
to
quic...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
> What are some of the strengths of S&W, aside from the one amazing puzzle
> so often alluded to? I still wonder if it's worth the effort for me to
> try to get to that point.

I tended to explore the edges of what I could get away with in the
simulation sequences. That made me like the interrogator quite a bit
more. I think my favorite was:

>flip switch
You flip the purple switch on. Crack! The blast tab goes off in the
toolcase in your hand. You feel no pain; just the white tide of shock
and cold that rolls across you, and washes the blood away.

*** You have died ***

-- glaring light...

[Hit any key.]


Interrogation Chamber (imprisoned in the chair)
You blink away memory. The dim room comes again into focus, and the man
behind the desk.

The man is staring at you as if at a joke he doesn't, quite,
understand. "And then you died."

>no
"No, you, let's see, you just grew a new hand, cleaned up all the
blood, reassured the guards that the 'bang' was all in their heads..."
The man shakes his head in disgust.

...glaring light --

Adam Thornton

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Sep 23, 2006, 11:11:14 PM9/23/06
to
In article <7xfRg.17542$E02....@newsb.telia.net>,

<kroc...@sociologist.com> wrote:
> has anyone actually figured out what the *story* of _So Far_ is about?

As I said when it first came out: "Miss, near."

Adam

Adam Thornton

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Sep 23, 2006, 11:14:10 PM9/23/06
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In article <20060923165849.GB32032@crystal>, quic...@quickfur.ath.cx
> For example, having to throw
> the exact object to distract the patrol: I'm sure there's a clever
> reason behind the choice of object, but at the time, I saw no reason for
> it besides nitpick.

Well, sure:

SPOILER

The interrogator knows quite well what object you threw, because it was
brought to him or is at least in his report.

Adam

quic...@quickfur.ath.cx

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Sep 24, 2006, 1:00:15 AM9/24/06
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[Sorry if anyone gets this message twice; my newsreader crashed in the
middle of posting and I don't know if it ever made it to the news
server. I haven't seen it appear in the newsgroup yet so I'm assuming
not and resending.]

On Sat, Sep 23, 2006 at 10:37:54AM -0700, Emily Short wrote:
>
> quick...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
> > On Sat, Sep 23, 2006 at 02:30:56AM -0700, Emily Short wrote:
> > >
> > > quic...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
> > > > So now I'm really curious about other people's experiences with these
> > > > two games [Spider and Web, Worlds Apart],
> > > > and especially if they have played both. What draws you to
> > > > the story and keeps your interest, and what turns you off?
> > >
> > > I played and very much liked both of them; I think WA is a bit
> > > underrated and underdiscussed, but I can think of some reasons why
> > > that might be.
> >
> > Mind elaborating on that?
>
> Two things, mainly:
>
> 1. It's a fairly long game, and long games -- especially ones released
> after the mid-90s -- tend to be less played and less discussed than
> shorter ones. There has been a lot of talk in the community about why
> that is (people having less time to devote to playing IF, people
> having less inclination to review long IF), but it does seem to be a
> trend.

That is sad, given that there's definitely a wish in the community,
paradoxical as it may be, for longer IF.


> 2. I suspect that the genre was not to everyone's taste, for exactly
> the reasons you cited in your first post.

That's true. I did see reviews that essentially amounted to "Oh, it's
magic crystals and psychic New Age stuff. Plonk."

I would probably have done the same, except that the actual experience
of gameplay, especially the way the story was presented, made the
difference.


> 3. Games that can be solved without much newsgroup discussion tend to
> get less discussion than those that require people to ask for hints.
> Again, this penalizes the author for her hard work in providing a
> smooth play experience and built-in hints -- but it's true.

Understandable, I suppose. I myself didn't feel very much motivation to
talk about such games that I've completed on the newsgroup (e.g., Return
to Ditch Day, which is another excellent game). The only reason World
Apart even came up this time was 'cos I had a bad experience with S&W.
:-)


> I do recall that Suzanne started a thread, long long ago, with some
> things about WA that she thought people might want to discuss. You
> might want to search back for it (probably on rec.games.int-fiction),
> if you're looking for more insights into the game.

I found it after I finished WA. Some of the things in the thread did
prompt at the existence of much greater depths than I had fathomed (and
I'm generally an obsessive examine-everything and push-everything-to-
the-limit kind of player). However, the points she raised as possible
subjects for further discussion didn't interest me as much ('winning'
vs. discovering the truth behind the story; scoring vs. reward via
revealing more of the plot---to me, they amount to the same thing).


[...]


> > But the thing is, I *like* fiddly aspects to puzzles in general, but
> > in S&W, I got so frustrated by needing to get every last detail
> > right even when there was no apparent reason for it (at least at
> > that point), that I just couldn't bring myself to going on. For
> > example, having to throw the exact object to distract the patrol:
> > I'm sure there's a clever reason behind the choice of object, but at
> > the time, I saw no reason for it besides nitpick.
>
> I'd have to replay: it's been years since I've been through this
> sequence. But I recall the puzzles being somewhat on the harsh side.

I wouldn't have minded harsh puzzles had there been a gentler lead in to
them. Being confronted with puzzles where you essentially have to guess
what the author had in mind, when you haven't yet been convinced that
the game is worth your while, is a big frustration for me.

But I don't mean that critically, since my current WIP suffers from this
as well, and it's not a trivial problem to fix.


> On the other hand, the player is reconstructing a specific narrative
> for the interrogator, and there are reasons why the game refuses to
> let you do certain things, even if those reasons aren't apparent until
> later. The fact that they *did* become apparent made me forgive a
> certain amount of frustration earlier.

Right, I did realize that there must have been some rationale behind it.
The thing is, the game failed to convince me in time that it's
worthwhile to find out what the rationale might be.


[...]


> > This is interesting, because I never felt the interrogator was that
> > vivid at all. For example, in WA, characters such as Lyric were a
> > *lot* more vivid to me even though my interaction with her is at
> > least an order of magnitude shorter than in S&W.
>
> My favorite moment with the interrogator were, again, past the points
> you reached in the game. (Sorry.) I'm not really saying that I had a
> strong sense of the interrogator's personality, though; it was more
> that I felt as though the struggle to solve the game, including some
> of the nitpicky bits you complain about, had become a personal
> struggle between me and this character. There are a few (but not many)
> other games in which I felt as though an NPC became a real opponent
> for the duration of play. (Gourmet, Lock and Key; I can't think of
> many others offhand right now.)

Ah, I see. I guess I was still trying to decide if the game was worth my
time, and didn't find enough to keep me going to the point I feel like I
identified with the PC in his struggle against the interrogator. In
fact, the game didn't give me enough hints that my struggle wouldn't be
in vain---the way the story was so constricted right from the start made
me feel that the PC's fate has already been sealed, and I'm just a
puppet to help him reconstruct the events that led to his demise.


[...]


> > Maybe our standards differ, but to me, if I needed a walkthrough
> > just to get to a juicy part of the game, then it has failed at least
> > on the point of drawing the player into the story.
>
> This isn't a style of play I aim for in my own games, no: the player
> turning to a walkthrough is basically a failure case.

Right.


> But there are a few pieces of IF where I wanted so badly to find out
> what happened, or at least to get an explanation of what was going on,
> that I kept playing even with a walkthrough and still managed to enjoy
> the game. Spider and Web was one such; another was Jigsaw.

Interestingly enough, this was what happened to me in Worlds Apart---I
wanted to get past the guardian to see what's inside the shelter, I
wanted to learn who the PC was, and later on I wanted to learn more to
find out about the mother's fate (which was cleverly hidden at first).
The dying tree, the broken crystal, the chip in the wood---all these
loose ends kept me hooked even though I was cringing at a lot of the
psychic stuff. How did the crystal get there? Why was it broken? Does it
have anything to do with the tree? Etc.. The incredible detail of the
game world also promised, in an indirect way, that the answers will turn
out to be very interesting, as is indeed the case.

With S&W, however, I think what happened was that the game failed to win
my confidence early enough to make me want to find out how the story
will turn out. Bare corridors and an interrogator that (as far as I
could tell from the little that I've seen) knew nothing except to
verbally (and psychologically) abuse the PC didn't give me the sense
that the story would turn out to be much more intriguing. Of course,
judging from people's comments, the story does become much more
interesting later on, but the keyword here is 'early enough'.


> > Granted, I never got to the oft-alluded to fantastic puzzle, so
> > perhaps it could've offset all the frustration before that. But IMHO
> > this is a rather risky approach, since you could lose the player's
> > interest (and S&W did, for me) long before they see the one thing
> > that would've convinced them of the genius behind the story.
>
> For me there were two important hooks that kept me going: one, that
> something was happening that I didn't quite understand, and I wanted
> to find out what it was; two, that the gadgets were neat to play with,
> and even when I was frustrated with the gameplay I enjoyed using them.

Yes, the gadgets were very creatively designed. The way they interacted
with each other was simply ingenious.

Oddly enough, I never got the sense that I didn't quite understand what
was happening---true, I don't know what exactly the PC did that made him
end up tied to a chair with a cruel interrogator, but the impression I
got was that it was simply a botched espionage attempt and I'm just
there to fill in the details. I don't know if this is truly the case,
but it's the impression I got. I felt that my time would have been more
productively spent if the story simply told me what happened rather than
make me guess its every detail.


[... about WA]


> > > I had the feeling that the author had a lot of really wonderful
> > > ideas in her game, but that she didn't quite have a clear vision
> > > of how it all fit together.
> >
> > Hmm, that's strange. I felt on the contrary that the ideas fit
> > together really well. The sequence in which the story unfolded was,
> > I think, an absolute stroke of genius, since even the gender of the
> > PC is not revealed for a while, and when it is, the player has seen
> > enough of the setting to feel quite comfortable with it, whether the
> > player is male or female.
>
> Again, I'm at a little bit of a disadvantage because I played this
> shortly after it was released and haven't looked at it again since.
> But my recollection is that there were quite a few points where it
> wasn't clear what I was supposed to be doing: sometimes I looked at
> the hints just to get some direction.

That's true, I've to admit I did that too, on more occasions than I'd
like to admit. :-) The redeeming quality, though, is that the
storytelling was very effective, and so there was a lot of motivation
for me to find out what's coming next. I never felt this urge in S&W.


> I also thought the Lyric subplot didn't fit entirely cleanly into the
> rest of the plot.

I thought it fitted perfectly, since it reveals the reason for the
reaction and later actions of one of the antagonists. (I hope that
wasn't too spoily for people who haven't played/finished the game.)

A lot of the backstory necessary to understand this, though, isn't
immediately obvious; one has to basically explore every nook and cranny
of the game world to pick up the little bits sprinkled throughout in
order to have some idea of what's going on. I suspect there's still a
lot more to it than I've discovered, but based on what I did find, this
particular subplot seemed to make perfect sense.


> Finally -- this is the most difficult complaint to articulate because
> it really needs a detailed analysis, and it's several years too late
> for me to do that from memory -- but the *interaction* felt unfocused
> at times. The player was required to try a lot of different kinds of
> things at different points in the game, and (according to my
> recollection, anyway) this could feel a bit lumpy and uneven. By
> contrast,S&W is extremely thorough about introducing all the commands
> the player is going to need later, teaching how interaction works
> within this universe, and maintaining a fairly consistent pace about
> how much story is doled out relative to a given amount of player
> action.

Hmm. Since I didn't get very far with S&W, I can't make a meaningful
comparison; but I did feel that WA does explain enough about how
interaction works in that universe. The recollection of the mother in
the Haven certainly was an effective way to do this, IMO. As for the
story, I felt it was perfectly paced so that the player was both getting
a good amount of story revealed for her efforts, and not getting just
enough so that curiosity is maintained. The part with Saal was perhaps
unusual in this respect in the sheer amount of information it provides,
but, in retrospect, this was the closest to a rewarding climax in the
story, which is otherwise too unresolved by the end.


> All that said, I did think that WA had a great deal going for it: some
> neat imagery, interesting sub-stories, and so on. It was hugely
> ambitious, too, and sometimes it is neat to play a really ambitious
> game, even if it doesn't quite succeed on every front.

Yeah, I was completely blown away by the sheer amount of text that it
contains. There is so much optional stuff that one can discover---and
I'm sure I've hardly exhausted it---almost all of which contains
non-trivial lengths of text, that I simply have to admire the sheer
amount of effort that went into the game.

One example, hopefully not too spoily, is the poisonous berries: a hint
given later on in the game actually alludes to the PC attempting to eat
the berries, which is completely an optional action. I assume that this
allusion is absent if the player has never attempted the action---if so,
one has to gaze in awe at the level of detail worked into the game.


QF

--
The best way to destroy a cause is to defend it poorly.

quic...@quickfur.ath.cx

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Sep 24, 2006, 1:14:35 AM9/24/06
to
On Sat, Sep 23, 2006 at 08:14:10PM -0700, Adam Thornton wrote:
> In article <20060923165849.GB32032@crystal>, quic...@quickfur.ath.cx
> > For example, having to throw
> > the exact object to distract the patrol: I'm sure there's a clever
> > reason behind the choice of object, but at the time, I saw no reason for
> > it besides nitpick.
>
> Well, sure:
>
> SPOILER
[... snipped ...]

Well yes, I know *that* after making the mistake the first time. I was
referring to something deeper: was there a reason the PC chose that
particular item to throw in the first place? I'm sure there is, but my
point was that, at the time I got to this point in the story, I felt
like I've just been forced to guess something I couldn't possibly have
known. Having the interrogator yell it at me made me feel like the game
is punishing me for not correctly guessing a random variable.

It would've made a big difference, to me at least, had I known in
advance some rationale for that particular choice of item. After all,
it's conceivable that the item in question may come in useful later on.
The game did not even provide a veiled hint that this is not the case,
so basically I was being punished for making what seemed like a
reasonable choice at the time.

Now I know that this wasn't the intent; but the issue here is that by
this point, the game hasn't convinced me that it's worth my time yet,
and now it's giving me all the more reasons to think not. Perhaps S&W
just doesn't fit my playing style, I don't know. I had already
considered giving up once before, but had persisted just in case the
game had something more to offer, but when it got to this point, I
finally decided that it was not worth the frustration to find out what
happens next.

What made people persist through the first part of the game? I'm just
curious how/why people put up with what I perceive to be an extremely
frustrating exercise in guessing the unguessable.


QF

--
Without geometry, life would be pointless.

Adam Thornton

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Sep 24, 2006, 1:34:52 AM9/24/06
to
In article <20060924051639.GB3337@crystal>, quic...@quickfur.ath.cx
wrote:

> What made people persist through the first part of the game? I'm just
> curious how/why people put up with what I perceive to be an extremely
> frustrating exercise in guessing the unguessable.

I thought the unreliable narrator for reasons other than "the author was
sloppy" or "the viewpoint character is trying to trick the *player*" was
pretty cool.

Adam

quic...@quickfur.ath.cx

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Sep 24, 2006, 2:05:09 AM9/24/06
to
On Sat, Sep 23, 2006 at 10:23:02PM +0000, Dan Shiovitz wrote:
> In article <20060923161654.GA32032@crystal>, <quic...@quickfur.ath.cx> wrote:
> [..]
> >Well, I've read reviews alluding to "the puzzle", which apparently is a
> >great stroke of genius. Perhaps I should give S&W another chance by
> >slogging through just to see that part of the game---but then this makes
> >me wonder if the initial game could've been done in a better way that
> >draws in the player more?
>
> Hunh, that's interesting. I thought the intro to S&W was *great* --
> starting out in the alley and gradually moving into something deeper
> in a way that exactly reflected how the rest of the game was going to
> go.

Well, that part of it seemed reasonable; but I was referring to the
interaction with the interrogator and what essentially boils down to a
guess-the-story puzzle. The thing is, I wouldn't have minded have if I
made a mistake in the reconstructed story, and then later on this
mistake turns out to be fatal. In that case, I would've nodded and said,
yeah, what I decided to do was pretty dumb, let's try that again. But
instead, what I got was, before I had any chance to find out *why* a
particular decision was wrong, Mr. Interrogator appears, insults me, and
forces me to choose something else for reasons I couldn't possibly have
guessed at the time. That's what I found extremely frustrating.


> This is an interesting question, though. If the main part of the game
> is going to be a certain way, how do you teach the player how to play
> it? You don't want to have the beginning be unreflective of the main
> game, or people will enter it under false pretenses, but you don't
> want it to scare away people who would get into it if they can be
> eased into the right mindset.

[...]

Well, from my limited experience, I can perhaps elaborate a little on
how Worlds Apart drew me in (notwithstanding all the reasons I had to
not play it---genre I dislike, amnesia, too subjective, ad nauseum).
WA's world also has a lot of things the player has to learn before
he/she can effectively interact with it. But it was very effective in
showing the player what to do without blatantly saying "by the way, you
can and probably need to do X, Y, and Z in this game".

.
.
.
(Warning: the following is a bit spoily.)
.
.
.

It starts out with a scene of the PC struggling against something,
something about the ocean, and something about a child's voice, and a
mysterious black figure. See, here in the very opening of the story are
already several hooks to draw the player into the story: Who is the PC?
*What* is the PC? Who is the child? Who was the black, sinister figure?
Why am I here, and what will happen next?

Then there's another short scene, and the PC wakes up with a trail of
footsteps in the sand. Immediately, there's another hook: whose
footsteps are these? The child's? The figure's? Somebody else's? What
will happen if I try to follow the steps? Will something bad happen?
Should I look around more carefully first, before I go any further?

From here, there are several possible ways to go, although sooner or
later, one find out that there are really only a handful of locations
that further the story. But nevertheless, consider one of the locations:
the PC sees a shelter, and a black figure guarding it. Aha! Something's
going on here. This mysterious figure has something to do with the intro
earlier. What is its purpose? Who/what is it?

Now consider another location: the player sees a dying tree, a chip in
the wood, and a cracked crystal buried in the leaves. Immediately, more
curiosity is piqued: what happened here? Why is there a chip in the
wood? Does it have anything to do with the cracked crystal? Why is there
a crystal here? Who put it here, and why?

Then in addition to all this, you have oblique allusions to the PC's
unusual anatomy right from the start of the game---which immediately
raises the questions: What am I? Why am I here? How can I find out more
about myself?

So you see, right from the start, the player is drawn into the story
world, wondering about all these questions, and expecting that whatever
the answers may be, they will be very interesting. And I've hardly begun
to scratch the surface of how the plot is cleverly unfolded in these
little teaser chunks throughout the entire game.

Now perhaps I can describe (and hopefully not spoil too much) one more
scene, to address the question of how one might ease the player into the
game world: not long after the beginning of the game (after a few
relatively simple initial puzzles), there is a scene involving a mother
teaching her daughter certain skills. This setup is exploited to coach
the player as to how this universe works, what one can do with it that
may not be immediately obvious, and a bit of background story. After
this scene, the player begins to realize that there are new ways of
interacting with what previously seemed like all there is to the world,
and immediately new horizons open up, further drawing the player into
the game. Although on its own this device may seem really awkward and
contrived, the little that has happened before this point gives a very
good reason for this scene, and thus integrates it seamlessly into the
story.


QF

--
To provoke is to call someone stupid; to argue is to call each other stupid.

J. Robinson Wheeler

unread,
Sep 24, 2006, 2:30:16 AM9/24/06
to

Oh dear, are we really at this point? Eight years later, having to
explain to a new generation of players what the big deal was at the
time. Trying to prove to ourselves that we weren't exaggerating, or
overhyping, but were genuinely impressed by something remarkable.

It turns out it's a nice thing to do on a Saturday afternoon, to sit
around thinking about a great IF game I once played, re-reading my
transcript of playing it, and trying to remember what it was like the
first time, so that I can articulate it.

The funny thing about being prompted to recall Spider and Web is that
I remember the ducks. While reading this thread, one of the distinct
visual images that came time mind was one of Zarf taking a walk along
a road and seeing some ducks, and the idea for Spider and Web
striking him. I never saw the ducks, Zarf did. And yet I remember the
ducks.

Anyway.

---------------
SPOILER WARNING. I'll be mostly trying to talk in the
abstract about the part of the game that I especially don't want to
spoil, but this will still be too much spoiling for anyone who wishes
to have a completely unadulterated experience of the game.
---------------

quic...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
> So now I'm really curious about other people's experiences with

> [Spider and Web]. What draws you to the story and keeps your
> interest?

It's not just any old game that wrests the Best Game Xyzzy out of
Photopia's grasp. That was a potent year.

You have to understand that 1998 was a time of great ideas in IF.
People were trying all sorts of neat things that were pushing and
pulling and heaving and straining the medium, trying to wring more
delights out of it than Infocom ever dreamed of. Adam Cadre was
bringing in the fractured narrative experiments from independent
film. Chris Huang's Muse, a Comp game of note, used first person,
past-tense narration to tell a thoughtful, wistful, and in some ways
more grown-up story than we'd seen before. There were a lot of ideas
being tried out.

Spider and Web was the execution of a new idea for interactive
storytelling. As Zarf already explained in this thread, the idea was
to make figuring out what the story is the point of playing the game.
You can't just read this story, you have to play it. You have to
experiment with it. And it all builds to the perfect "Aha!" moment
where you understand something with compelling, lightning bolt-like
clarity.

Along the way, there were other innovations. Boiling down the
conversational interactivity to Yes, No, or refusing to answer, was a
new idea. Somewhere, Zarf explained it away as laziness, avoiding
having to implement something more involved and fiddly. But it was
new, and it was exactly right for the story, and for the PC, for the
character you were playing. Room descriptions that subtly changed,
according to revised context, as play went on and the PC had a
different perspective -- that wasn't new. Zarf had sort of started
that himself with A Change in the Weather, but he was still showing
what could be done with that.

There was also a subtle use of emphasized text throughout the game,
not just as a gimmicky effect, but...

No, on second thought: The emphasized text isn't important.

> But the thing is, I *like* fiddly aspects to puzzles in general,
> but in S&W, I got so frustrated by needing to get every last detail
> right even when there was no apparent reason for it (at least at

> that point), that I just couldn't bring myself to going on. For


> example, having to throw the exact object to distract the patrol:
> I'm sure there's a clever reason behind the choice of object, but
> at the time, I saw no reason for it besides nitpick.

Clearly, you weren't engaged. All of your impressions sound combative
rather than interactive. "The game wanted to be *this*, and I didn't
want it to be that, but it wouldn't let me do anything else no matter
how hard I tried!" It is generally true that people enjoy IF games
more when they allow themselves to go along with what the author has
put together than if they run against the grain. You can only play as
far as the implementation goes.

However, within the narrow limits of what Zarf was trying to do and
the story he was trying to encourage people to play, S&W offered a
lot of terrific new ideas, executed smartly, and with a thoroughness
that encouraged me to trust him.

The leap you never made, instead of getting more and more frustrated,
was to take a breath, calm your mind, and ask yourself: Okay, why do
I need to get all these details right? Why is this game about that?
What, in fact, is the reason for it?

The reason for it is what the story is about, and why there's a
famous "Aha!" moment later on. There is a reason for it being picky.
You have to come to the conclusion that it's not just being picky to
be picky, it's being picky because the story is about the details of
how you came to be in that chair, what you did, where, and when.

As for the specific example of throwing the exact object, I'm not
sure it occurred to me to throw anything but the lockpick. Naturally
it has to be the lockpick because the interrogator is holding it and
showing you that he found it. This isn't a time-travel game where you
can go back and leave something else and find the interrogator now
holding the toggle switch instead of the lock pick. He found your
lockpick, so, evidently, that's what you threw.

You describe needing a walkthrough and your frustration at not having
enough clues to solve the puzzles. What you were missing the whole
time is that everything the interrogator says to you is a clue, is
more information. He tells you what the PC did not do. It's like a
multiple choice test where wrong answers keep being eliminated, which
gives you a better chance of guessing the right answer each time.

I remember being particularly proud of making it through the game
without help, but I mostly found the game to be self-cluing in this
regard. The biggest problem I had was the long process of trial and
error trying to figure out the timing of the scan web disruptor and
its green and blue buttons, I think.

> This is interesting, because I never felt the interrogator was that
> vivid at all.

I suppose it depends on what you look for in an NPC. The interrogator
had a definite and strong personality, was intelligent and patitent
up to a point, but with a temper that could be sparked. He's got some
artwork in his office that, should you peruse them, perhaps make you
think more about him. He has a philosophy about his job and about
being on one side of a long-lasting conflict. The structure of the
game is such that you have to do a fair amount of trial and error,
and the story has to keep returning to the interrogator, who has to
make a comment before turning you back. These comments are written
with a healthy variety that keep him from seeming robotic. Fairly
elaborate the first time, then becoming brusque by the 3rd through
the Nth repetition, his comments are just natural enough to sustain
the idea of a professional interrogator who has reserves of patience.

I think your flat opinion of the interrogator is another side effect
of your disengagement with the game. Or, a side effect of your
frustration. To you, he was the instrument of the game being picky
and annoying, and not a character you were interacting with and
learning things about. To me, he was the other half of what made the
game a full experience. It would have been a considerably shallower
experience without that character. People often accuse Zarf of
writing sterile, cerebral games, but the interrogator in Spider and
Web has real blood in him.

> Maybe our standards differ, but to me, if I needed a walkthrough
> just to get to a juicy part of the game, then it has failed at

> least on the point of drawing the player into the story.

There's no question that the game failed to draw you in. I was drawn
in by the time I got through the first door out of the alley, because
the game had already made one or two startling attacks on my
assumptions, and I was curious to figure out what was really going
on. You never became curious. You just wanted to get whatever bit was
happening over with so you could get to the juicy part.

> Granted, I never got to the oft-alluded to fantastic puzzle, so

> perhaps it could've offset all the frustration before that. [...]


> I still wonder if it's worth the effort for me to try to get to
> that point.

No. You will never enjoy the fantastic puzzle, I'm afraid. It's lost
to you. The problem is that the juicy part is only juicy if you're
engaged the whole time leading up to it.


SECOND SPOILER WARNING. JUST IN CASE.


You have to find it fascinating that you're playing a character who
knows more than you, who was up to something, but you aren't sure
what, and are being interrogated as to what you did. "But I don't
know!" isn't the right answer. "Hmm, okay, so what the hell *did* I
do?" is what you have to grapple with. Wanting to find out what the
hell you did is where the engagement is. Finding out, in the fullness
of play, is where the fun is. The farther you go, the more realize
that this is a game with an unreliable narrator, but you're the
narrator. The disconnect between what the PC knows and what you, the
player, knows, and exploring that gap -- that's where the meat of the
game is.

The game is constructed knowing that the player will have to bumble
around. The player's floundering is translated, within the story,
into the PC's evasiveness, willfully playing dumb to account for the
player not exactly knowing what to do or where to go. The story stays
coherent and mimesis is preserved, even though you are incompetently
playing the part of someone supremely competent. The interrogator at
one point wonders why they sent someone so seemingly absent-minded
and bumbling to do a master spy's work.

Heh heh.

What this all leads to is a moment when you're sitting there, brow
furrowed, pensive. "Okay," you think to yourself. "I have, at length,
and with pains taken, figured out everything I [the PC] did when I
entered. And yet it still doesn't explain... Wait."

Then you think some more. Then you realize that you don't know
everything you did yet. You only know as much as the *interrogator*
knows, which is different from knowing everything the *PC* knows.

Then the "Aha" moment comes, which can best be described as the
moment when you, the player, close that gap between what you know and
what the character you're playing knows. You suddenly know everything
he does, and you realize you're just as smart as the super spy you're
playing after all. You finally *are* that character, and your actions
now are deliberate instead of flailing. You know everything you need
to know. You know your mission, you know the layout of the lab, you
know when and how to use your gadgets. It all makes perfect sense,
and the game has *tutored* you to this point of fully engaged mastery
of the situation.

That's why we hailed the game as brilliant at the time, and still do
today. That's why it was a significant advance in interactive
storytelling. That's why we remember it as being a hell of a lot of
fun.

// He shrugs, and offers a smile as honest as you have
// seen. "Well? Have I done well? It is my job to know
// everything about you, after all."


--
J. Robinson Wheeler Games: http://raddial.com/if/
JRW Digital Media Movie: http://thekroneexperiment.com/dvd/

Emily Short

unread,
Sep 24, 2006, 4:35:33 AM9/24/06
to

quic...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
> I was
> referring to something deeper: was there a reason the PC chose that
> particular item to throw in the first place? I'm sure there is, but my
> point was that, at the time I got to this point in the story, I felt
> like I've just been forced to guess something I couldn't possibly have
> known. Having the interrogator yell it at me made me feel like the game
> is punishing me for not correctly guessing a random variable.

Aha, okay. Other people have pointed out that there is in fact a bit of
cluing (though this puzzle is the one I specifically remember having to
look up in the walkthrough). But there's another point here, I think: I
didn't regard those "you lied to me" moments with the interrogator as
punishment. They fit into the story, reveal a bit more of the plot, and
flesh out the character of the person I'm struggling against. Sure,
they come about because I-the-player didn't do something perfectly the
first time, but that's fine: I am going to get another chance, this
time armed with more information. The interrogator's reprimands are
part of the structure of the puzzle, feedback on the way to my getting
it right.

There are other games that do this to an even greater degree: Rematch
and Varicella come to mind, since you have to replay the entire game
rather than just revisiting specific scenes.

If you regard replay requirement as a sign that the puzzles are just
unfairly hard, you won't enjoy yourself; if you see it as a process of
teaching the player enough to get through, in which even the failures
are interesting, it becomes a lot more fun. (Of course, this requires
that the author has in fact made the results of failure worth reading.)
Paul O'Brian talks about what he calls the "accretive PC", a character
developed as the player replays and learns enough to perform the role,
in his review of Lock and Key:

http://www.ministryofpeace.com/if-review/reviews/20030502.html

Spider and Web goes a step further in incorporating these alternate,
learning lives of the PC into the game, and providing an explanation
for them within the fiction.

Emily Short

unread,
Sep 24, 2006, 4:55:31 AM9/24/06
to

quic...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
> > 1. It's a fairly long game, and long games -- especially ones released
> > after the mid-90s -- tend to be less played and less discussed than
> > shorter ones. There has been a lot of talk in the community about why
> > that is (people having less time to devote to playing IF, people
> > having less inclination to review long IF), but it does seem to be a
> > trend.
>
> That is sad, given that there's definitely a wish in the community,
> paradoxical as it may be, for longer IF.

Oh, sure. But long IF is more work to write and gets considerably less
attention: you see the problem.

> Ah, I see. I guess I was still trying to decide if the game was
worth my
> time, and didn't find enough to keep me going to the point I feel like I
> identified with the PC in his struggle against the interrogator. In
> fact, the game didn't give me enough hints that my struggle wouldn't be
> in vain---the way the story was so constricted right from the start made
> me feel that the PC's fate has already been sealed, and I'm just a
> puppet to help him reconstruct the events that led to his demise.

Curious: this never occurred to me. I always assumed that sooner or
later I was going to be able to turn the tables.

But then, there are some things about the way the game responds to you,
during interrogation sequences, that are subtly odd. You eventually
find out why, but if you don't register that they're odd, you may not
look for an explanation of them.

> > I also thought the Lyric subplot didn't fit entirely cleanly into the
> > rest of the plot.
>
> I thought it fitted perfectly, since it reveals the reason for the
> reaction and later actions of one of the antagonists. (I hope that
> wasn't too spoily for people who haven't played/finished the game.)
>
> A lot of the backstory necessary to understand this, though, isn't
> immediately obvious; one has to basically explore every nook and cranny
> of the game world to pick up the little bits sprinkled throughout in
> order to have some idea of what's going on.

Possibly I missed some of it, then. Though I would argue that it's
tactically unwise to squirrel away important information like this,
especially information that explains *why* a certain part of the story
is even present. I understand the temptation: it's fun for the author
of IF to sprinkle around a lot of background material that only the
dedicated player will ever find. But it's not necessarily a good idea.

> Hmm. Since I didn't get very far with S&W, I can't make a meaningful
> comparison; but I did feel that WA does explain enough about how
> interaction works in that universe. The recollection of the mother in
> the Haven certainly was an effective way to do this, IMO. As for the
> story, I felt it was perfectly paced so that the player was both getting
> a good amount of story revealed for her efforts, and not getting just
> enough so that curiosity is maintained. The part with Saal was perhaps
> unusual in this respect in the sheer amount of information it provides,

Yes, I remember thinking that the interaction had changed style when I
got to this bit.

James Mitchelhill

unread,
Sep 24, 2006, 7:16:29 AM9/24/06
to
On 23 Sep 2006 23:30:16 -0700, J. Robinson Wheeler wrote:

> Oh dear, are we really at this point? Eight years later, having to
> explain to a new generation of players what the big deal was at the
> time. Trying to prove to ourselves that we weren't exaggerating, or
> overhyping, but were genuinely impressed by something remarkable.

<snip>

This brings up an interesting point. How many generations of IF players are
there? Has the IF community slowly accumulated (and lost) people, or have
there been major influxes and exoduses?

I think I turned up seven-ish years ago (dear lord, that seems a long
time). The first comp I voted in was 1999. So I just missed being around
for _Spider and Web_ and the old classics, like _Photopia_ (except
retrospectively), but was around for things like _Shade_, _Galatea_, _LASH_
and _Varicella_.

--
James Mitchelhill
ja...@disorderfeed.net
http://disorderfeed.net

Mike Robinson

unread,
Sep 24, 2006, 7:46:33 AM9/24/06
to
On Sat, 23 Sep 2006 06:53:48 +0000, quickfur wrote:

<snip discussion of Spider and Web / Worlds Apart>

> So now I'm really curious about other people's experiences with these
> two games, and especially if they have played both. What draws you to


> the story and keeps your interest, and what turns you off?

I've not played WA, but I played S&W a few years ago, and also found it
very frustrating. I gave up at the part with the door scanners. After
seeing this thread, I played through the game again with a walkthrough.

My problem with this game is not the unreliable narrator, but that the
player character is withholding information from the player human for no
good reason. When I play IF I attempt to identify with the PC, the PC is
"me". The whole structure of IF with 2nd person descriptions is
designed to support this. Anything that deliberately separates the
knowledge of the PC and the player reduces enjoyment of the game.

There is another game with a famously unreliable narrator: Final Fantasy
7. The difference here is that the unreliable narration is justified by
the plot - the player character has convinced himself that his version of
events is correct, and later the PC and player (re)discover the truth
together. At no time does the unreliability impair the player's ability
to identify with the PC, because what they know remains the same. In S&W
the PC is maliciously withholding information just to set up one
supposedly "clever" puzzle.

dave e

unread,
Sep 24, 2006, 8:11:26 AM9/24/06
to

quic...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
> OK, the following may raise some heckles (judging from archives of
> similar threads in the past), but I genuinely want to know so I'll take
> the risk.

>
> Recently, in an effort to expand my experience of newer IF (before this
> I've played mostly the original Infocom stuff and not very much else), I
> started looking through various reviews to find some good, "modern"
> games to play. I started out looking for more light-hearted,
> tongue-in-cheek games, so I really enjoyed such games as Winter
> Wonderland and Return to Ditch Day. Afterwards, I wanted to try some
> more serious games, and I noticed that Spider & Web seems to be getting
> rave reviews so I gave it a try.
>
> Unfortunately, I felt quite disappointed by it. The writing was good,
> and the plot seems potentially very interesting (I never made it to the
> end), but I found very little to keep my interest. I felt like I was
> tackling not a guess-the-verb puzzle nor a guess-the-noun puzzle, but a
> guess-the-story puzzle. It seems that I have to get every small detail
> exactly right in order to go on, and after spending 2-3 hours just to
> get to the lab door, I felt so frustrated that I gave up. At that point,
> I had finally figured out what was going on, and felt I could probably
> get through the game if I tried, but I just didn't have any interest
> anymore. Apparently people found the interrogator/flashback device
> interesting, but for me, it was beyond annoying. So it was clever to not
> kill off the player but have the interrogator verbally abuse him, but to
> my mind, it's no different from a "*** YOU HAVE FAILED ***" message. And
> (practically) forcing the player to guess every last detail of a
> predetermined plot---I really felt like it would've worked better as a
> novel than as IF (where's the interaction?).
>
> I would've given up much earlier had it not been for the rave reviews,
> so I kept pressing on, hoping that there would be some pleasant
> surprises waiting. Unfortunately the game failed to keep my attention
> long enough for that pleasant surprise (if there is one).
>
> So my question is, what exactly am I missing? Since so many people
> apparently likes this game so much, there must be some redeeming quality
> about it that I totally fail to see. Maybe I just don't have the
> patience for that type of game. Or maybe I'm missing something obvious?
>
> But here's the kicker: after my bad experience, I was a bit bitter about
> what I perceived to be "modern IF" (as opposed to the adventurous romps
> of, say, the Zork series), but decided to give it one more shot. So I
> browsed the reviews and for whatever reason picked up Worlds Apart. Now,
> first of all, I found that the subject matter is rather distasteful for
> me---it seemed too New-Agey, what with crystals and dreamworlds, and
> psychic healing for goodness' sake. But the surprising thing is, the
> story was presented in such a way that continues to pique my interest,
> and I kept *wanting* to explore further and discover more, even if I had
> to cringe at the New Age stuff that was going on in the game. The game
> world was incredibly detailed, and the story was so captivating, and the
> plot so teasingly revealed in ambiguous bits, that I just *had* to see
> the end to find out what exactly was going on. At the end, I felt so
> much a part of the game world that a lot of the New Age stuff didn't
> bother me as much anymore, and I felt I could really identify with the
> characters in the game. I even felt that the game should've gone much
> longer so that the plot could be more fully resolved.

>
> So now I am faced with this (perhaps unfair) comparison: here's this
> really hyped game featuring a spy with cool gadgets, which is a genre I
> *liked* (if there is anything that interested me in Spider & Web, it's
> the very cleverly designed gadgets---but unfortunately that wasn't
> enough to keep me), and here's this search-your-inner-self, dream world
> story which I don't really have a taste for. The first one failed to
> keep my interest for more than 2 hours even though I *should've* liked
> it. The second one managed to keep me for *14 hours* and drooling for
> more, even though I dislike its choice of genre! Now I've no choice but
> to wonder, why? Could it be that Worlds Apart is simply more effective
> as IF than Spider & Web?
>
> My intention is not to start another anti-Andrew-Plotkin flamewar; I
> have not played any of his other games, and I respect his cleverness in
> such things as the gadgets and the way they can be combined, from what
> little of the game I saw. But I'm really curious, what exactly is it
> about Spider & Web that makes people like it so much? For whatever
> reason, it simply stirs no interest in me in spite of the promise of
> clever puzzles, which I like. Worlds Apart, OTOH, kept my interest all
> the way to the end, even though I dislike its choice of genre. Maybe I

> have the wrong expectations from Spider & Web---but then again, I did
> glance a bit at the reviews of Worlds Apart, and was quite ready to
> write it off as soon as the New Age stuff starts getting out of hand.
> But somehow, the story managed to keep me all the way.
>
> So now I'm really curious about other people's experiences with these
> two games, and especially if they have played both. What draws you to
> the story and keeps your interest, and what turns you off?
>
> (I apologize if this has already been hashed to death long ago---I'm a
> latecomer to the scene.)
>
>
> QF
>
> --
> "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always
> so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." --
> Bertrand Russell. "How come he didn't put 'I think' at the end of it?"
> -- Anonymous

Not every player responds the same to every game-- I liked Spider and
Web conceptually, and because it uses a programming/narative structure
which hasn't been used in any other game (that I'm aware of). Its a
truly original work. For players who enjoyed Spider and Web, I
recommend "All Things Devours"

But I also agree with your criticism, that the game can get quite
frustrating and repetitive after a time.

Two of my favorite games were Jigsaw and Christminster. You could try
those.

One thing I like with Amazon.com are the lists of books "purchased by
readers with similar interests". (netflix also makes video
recommendations, based on user evaluations of the games they've already
seen). I wonder how hard it would be to program a "recommendations
engine" for interactive fiction, and build up the necessary data base
of user ratings to make it work.

dave

kroc...@sociologist.com

unread,
Sep 24, 2006, 8:35:14 AM9/24/06
to
J. Robinson Wheeler

> There's a guy and a girl, and they break up before really forming
> a bond. So Far is a series of metaphorical representations of getting
> "so near, and yet so far" to that state of connectedness that was
> desired.


That's like saying that _Conan Kill Everything_ is a series of metaphorical
representations depicting the conflict between civilisation and barbarity.
But that's not the story; it's merely a possible theme. What is usually
meant by the word "story" is narrative, i.e. plot, or intrigue. So what's
the plot of _So Far_? How would you summarise it?

(A pedantic sidenote. Themes tend to be abstract and vague, and thereby have
little bearing on the specificity of a literary text. The things you and
Adam mention are non-specific; they could apply to thousands of texts/IF
games. The specificity of a literary text, its plot, characterisation,
dialogue -- in other words the literary craftsmanship -- is what sets it
apart and allows us to answer the question if this particular text is good
or not. As I demonstrated above, it's possible to formulate a fancy-sounding
theme for CKE, but when you take a look at CKE's plot and characterisation,
it becomes clear that, as literary texts go, it is not particularly
interesting.)


J. Robinson Wheeler

unread,
Sep 24, 2006, 9:06:24 AM9/24/06
to

Mike Robinson wrote:

> Anything that deliberately separates the knowledge of the PC
> and the player reduces enjoyment of the game.

Oh, not for me. Deliberately separating the knowledge of the PC and
the player *increased* my enjoyment of the game.

I think we have probably identified the core difference between those
who enjoyed the game and those who did not. I think it's very
intriguing that there is such a clear polarity.

Emily Short

unread,
Sep 24, 2006, 9:53:41 AM9/24/06
to

Mike Robinson wrote:

[SPOILER SPACE]


> My problem with this game is not the unreliable narrator, but that the
> player character is withholding information from the player human for no
> good reason.

But there is a good reason! What you "do" in the flashback scenes is
what you narrate to the interrogator; the PC is withholding information
from the player in order to keep the interrogator from learning it.

Mike Robinson

unread,
Sep 24, 2006, 10:57:40 AM9/24/06
to

That is not a good reason. The player could easily be shown thoughts of
the PC that the interrogator is not aware of.

Emily Short

unread,
Sep 24, 2006, 12:19:39 PM9/24/06
to

Mike Robinson wrote:
> >> My problem with this game is not the unreliable narrator, but that the
> >> player character is withholding information from the player human for no
> >> good reason.
> >
> > But there is a good reason! What you "do" in the flashback scenes is
> > what you narrate to the interrogator; the PC is withholding information
> > from the player in order to keep the interrogator from learning it.
>
> That is not a good reason. The player could easily be shown thoughts of
> the PC that the interrogator is not aware of.

Sure, it is theoretically possible to revise the premise so that not
all that the player sees is also narrated to the interrogator, but
you'd lose the point of the game, which is to piece together the truth.
As things stand, there is an adequate narrative reason for the PC to
lie to the player, and a compelling gameplay reason for the game to
work this way.

Stephen Bond

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Sep 24, 2006, 12:23:03 PM9/24/06
to
Mike Robinson wrote:

> My problem with this game is not the unreliable narrator, but that the
> player character is withholding information from the player human for no
> good reason. When I play IF I attempt to identify with the PC, the PC is
> "me". The whole structure of IF with 2nd person descriptions is
> designed to support this. Anything that deliberately separates the
> knowledge of the PC and the player reduces enjoyment of the game.

I'm more of the opinion that one of the great advances in IF was
the discovery that the player and PC are different entities.
Many of the most groundbreaking and truly interactive works have
exploited this difference. I'm glad we're no longer in the days when
the PC had to be "me".

Surely one can identify with a character without having exactly the
same state of knowledge? It is possible to identify with the victims
of dramatic irony in a drama, for example.

Stephen.

Stephen Bond

unread,
Sep 24, 2006, 12:31:55 PM9/24/06
to
Emily Short wrote:
> Mike Robinson wrote:
> > That is not a good reason. The player could easily be shown thoughts of
> > the PC that the interrogator is not aware of.
>
> Sure, it is theoretically possible to revise the premise so that not
> all that the player sees is also narrated to the interrogator, but
> you'd lose the point of the game, which is to piece together the truth.
> As things stand, there is an adequate narrative reason for the PC to
> lie to the player, and a compelling gameplay reason for the game to
> work this way.

I agree. It's worth mentioning, though, that the player *is* shown
certain thoughts the interrogator is not aware of, but in a subtle
manner. Realising that these messages are, in fact, private
thoughts, not for the interrogator's ears, is one of the most
pleasant discoveries in the game.

Stephen.

Mike Robinson

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Sep 24, 2006, 12:55:03 PM9/24/06
to
On Sun, 24 Sep 2006 09:23:03 -0700, Stephen Bond wrote:

> Mike Robinson wrote:
>
>> My problem with this game is not the unreliable narrator, but that the
>> player character is withholding information from the player human for no
>> good reason. When I play IF I attempt to identify with the PC, the PC is
>> "me". The whole structure of IF with 2nd person descriptions is
>> designed to support this. Anything that deliberately separates the
>> knowledge of the PC and the player reduces enjoyment of the game.
>
> I'm more of the opinion that one of the great advances in IF was
> the discovery that the player and PC are different entities.
> Many of the most groundbreaking and truly interactive works have
> exploited this difference. I'm glad we're no longer in the days when
> the PC had to be "me".

And the very best works have attempted to minimise this difference. Eg.
"Slouching Towards Bedlam", where the PC is given abilities usually only
available to the player. The PC and the player learn about the game world
together, and the distinction between them blurs, so when an ending is
reached the player is happy that it was the ending they chose.

"The Erudition Chamber" is another great example, the game is testing both
the player and the PC in the same way.

Both these games make perfect use of the media, as they are truly
interactive (branching story). If you want to write fancy postmodernist
nonsense, maybe static fiction would work better.

Mike Robinson

unread,
Sep 24, 2006, 12:56:24 PM9/24/06
to
On Sun, 24 Sep 2006 09:31:55 -0700, Stephen Bond wrote:

> I agree. It's worth mentioning, though, that the player *is* shown
> certain thoughts the interrogator is not aware of, but in a subtle
> manner. Realising that these messages are, in fact, private
> thoughts, not for the interrogator's ears, is one of the most
> pleasant discoveries in the game.

So subtle that it's virtually impossible to figure out without a
walkthrough.

James Mitchelhill

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Sep 24, 2006, 1:26:53 PM9/24/06
to
On Sun, 24 Sep 2006 17:55:03 +0100, Mike Robinson wrote:

> On Sun, 24 Sep 2006 09:23:03 -0700, Stephen Bond wrote:
>
>> Mike Robinson wrote:
>>
>>> My problem with this game is not the unreliable narrator, but that the
>>> player character is withholding information from the player human for no
>>> good reason. When I play IF I attempt to identify with the PC, the PC is
>>> "me". The whole structure of IF with 2nd person descriptions is
>>> designed to support this. Anything that deliberately separates the
>>> knowledge of the PC and the player reduces enjoyment of the game.
>>
>> I'm more of the opinion that one of the great advances in IF was
>> the discovery that the player and PC are different entities.
>> Many of the most groundbreaking and truly interactive works have
>> exploited this difference. I'm glad we're no longer in the days when
>> the PC had to be "me".
>
> And the very best works have attempted to minimise this difference. Eg.
> "Slouching Towards Bedlam", where the PC is given abilities usually only
> available to the player. The PC and the player learn about the game world
> together, and the distinction between them blurs, so when an ending is
> reached the player is happy that it was the ending they chose.
>
> "The Erudition Chamber" is another great example, the game is testing both
> the player and the PC in the same way.

Whereas, _LASH_ is all about the player and PC being different, and is one
of my favourite games. I won't give away any spoilers here, but the ending
exploits this totally and is powerful and emotionally affecting in ways
only this could acheive.

Emily Short

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Sep 24, 2006, 1:37:55 PM9/24/06
to

Mike Robinson wrote:
> On Sun, 24 Sep 2006 09:23:03 -0700, Stephen Bond wrote:
>
> > Mike Robinson wrote:
> >
> >> My problem with this game is not the unreliable narrator, but that the
> >> player character is withholding information from the player human for no
> >> good reason. When I play IF I attempt to identify with the PC, the PC is
> >> "me". The whole structure of IF with 2nd person descriptions is
> >> designed to support this.

Second person description is common in IF, but certainly not universal:
there is IF in the first person (much of Robb Sherwin's work, and some
others) and in the third (Winchester's Nightmare, Beetmonger's Journal,
and Kallisti come to mind, but there are others as well). So I wouldn't
say this is intrinsic to the medium. Robb's PCs are, I think, a
particularly strong argument that non-second-person IF has real
advantages.

> >> Anything that deliberately separates the
> >> knowledge of the PC and the player reduces enjoyment of the game.
> >
> > I'm more of the opinion that one of the great advances in IF was
> > the discovery that the player and PC are different entities.
> > Many of the most groundbreaking and truly interactive works have
> > exploited this difference. I'm glad we're no longer in the days when
> > the PC had to be "me".
>
> And the very best works have attempted to minimise this difference. Eg.
> "Slouching Towards Bedlam", where the PC is given abilities usually only
> available to the player. The PC and the player learn about the game world
> together, and the distinction between them blurs, so when an ending is
> reached the player is happy that it was the ending they chose.

I agree that this was ingeniously done; I'm not as sure that it's the
*reason* Slouching is so good. I was more interested in the fact that
Slouching managed so adroitly to set up a choice for me to make.

> "The Erudition Chamber" is another great example, the game is testing both
> the player and the PC in the same way.

I liked Erudition Chamber well enough, but the "test" aspect imposed
unconvincing constraints on the narrative; I enjoyed the thing as a
toy, but I can't say I took the story terribly seriously. Certainly I
don't think I would put EC on my top 10 best IF ever list.

> Both these games make perfect use of the media, as they are truly
> interactive (branching story).

I'm as interested in branching stories as the next girl, but I don't
accept that "truly interactive" means the same thing as "branching
story". There are a number of other possible effects of interaction,
among which I would include

-- complicity in the PC's behavior and/or responsibility for the way
the story comes out (Slouching Towards Bedlam, 1981, Fail-safe,
Varicella; a bit less successfully, things like Bliss and Last Hour),
sometimes leading to a sense of greater moral engagement with the PC;

-- first-hand experience of the restrictions the PC struggles with
(Rameses, Constraints; Photopia to some extent; Jane), sometimes
leading to a greater understanding or sympathy for the PC's inaction;

-- first-hand experience of the threats the PC fears (Anchorhead,
Lurking Horror, and indeed most other horror IF);

-- non-linear exploration of a story's background, NPCs, or setting,
allowing the player to focus on the aspects of the tale he finds most
interesting, or to seek his own answers to peripheral questions within
the game world (Ribbons, Exhibition; most "conversational" IF; most IF
with extensive worldbuilding, such as Worlds Apart);

-- and, yes, the differences of perspective and experience between PC
and player, when the PC's characterization is an important part of the
story (Common Ground, Fallacy of Dawn, Necrotic Drift, Being Andrew
Plotkin); or where understanding the PC is a puzzle (Bad Machine,
Gostak, Suspended, Bellclap to some extent). It's not impossible to
have an unlikeable, strongly characterized, or confusing narrator in
static fiction, naturally, but the give and take of IF means that the
player can actually explore the differences between himself and the
character he's playing, rather than simply observing them.

> If you want to write fancy postmodernist
> nonsense, maybe static fiction would work better.

Mmyeees. Leaving aside the question of whether S&W is postmodernist (I
wouldn't say so, really) or nonsense (I think we'd disagree here too),
I can definitely say that it would *not* work better, or indeed at all,
as static fiction.

Jake Wildstrom

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Sep 24, 2006, 1:42:34 PM9/24/06
to
The Prophet , known to the wise as quic...@quickfur.ath.cx, opened the Book of Words, and read unto the people:

>Well yes, I know *that* after making the mistake the first time. I was
>referring to something deeper: was there a reason the PC chose that
>particular item to throw in the first place? I'm sure there is,

**** _BIG_ SPOILER ****


The PC _didn't_ throw it from the west corridor into the east the
first time around. He dropped it after panickedly using it to get into
the utility closet in the east corridor.

Which is why going through the door at the south end of the T
intersection will get you killed the second time you do it. You
dive through the door, knocking th lockpick off and onto the
ground. That happened, but at a different door, one not in the sight
of the guards. Reminding the interrogator of this possibility is
enough to make him realize what actaully happened.

>known. Having the interrogator yell it at me made me feel like the game
>is punishing me for not correctly guessing a random variable.

He's an interrogator. He's not a nice man. And the fact that it's the
lockpick that you're missing later is important to the story.


>It would've made a big difference, to me at least, had I known in
>advance some rationale for that particular choice of item. After all,
>it's conceivable that the item in question may come in useful later on.

Well,t hat's part of the difference between the real and simulated
story. In the simulated story, there's no good reason, and since
you're playing out the simlated story, there is indeed no good reason
(albeit some significant consequences, which you have to play
out). Whereas in the real playthrough which you're not directly clued
to, there's a very good reason for the lockpick to be the item
accidentally left in that corridor.

>The game did not even provide a veiled hint that this is not the case,
>so basically I was being punished for making what seemed like a
>reasonable choice at the time.

There's a _very_ veiled hint, in the form of the door that's "not
important"; also the fact that the interrogator tells you a guard
found your lockpick before they captured you. But I think you're
expected to throw the wrong thing and then be corrected and I didn't
feel punished by the game -- just nudged by the interrogator, as I've
been all along.

>What made people persist through the first part of the game? I'm just
>curious how/why people put up with what I perceive to be an extremely
>frustrating exercise in guessing the unguessable.

See, I felt I received feedback constantly. Yes, I had to guess at the
right story, but I had a narrator nudging me towards the right story
all the time, pretty explicitly. It was fun to be responsing to that
feedback. Your mileage may vary.

--
D. Jacob (Jake) Wildstrom, Math monkey and freelance thinker

"A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems."
-Alfred Renyi

The opinions expressed herein are not necessarily endorsed by the
University of California or math department thereof.

Andrew Plotkin

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Sep 24, 2006, 2:00:20 PM9/24/06
to

I would connect this with the distinction between first-person and
third-person narration in non-interactive prose. Or maybe that's the
wrong distinction -- there are inside-the-head and outside-the-head
third-person styles of writing.

The outside-the-head form of narrative is familiar, and nobody
complains that the protagonist is *lying* just because the book fails
to describe his thoughts. Certainly the protagonist isn't lying to the
reader; the protagonist is not aware of the reader.

I was using exactly that form (with small exceptions), but it was
unusual in two ways. First, I retained the traditional IF second-
person style. And second, the POV was -- so to speak -- inside the
*eyeballs*, while still being outside the brain.

(Even in first-person style, it is accepted that the book can "lie to
the reader" -- the protagonist is lying to himself, and the book is
presenting this unreliable narrative, rather than reality. In a way,
this is also what I was doing: there was such an unreliable narrative,
albeit one presented to a second character. And the game presents
this. The justification for this -- as with first-person books -- is
not that the *character* wants to lie to the reader, but that *I* do!
Please don't blame the poor spy for my whims. :)

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
Making a saint out of Reagan is sad. Making an idol out of Nixon ("If the
President does it then it's legal") is contemptible.

Adam Thornton

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Sep 24, 2006, 2:50:49 PM9/24/06
to
In article <pan.2006.09.24....@example.invalid>,

Mike Robinson <bl...@example.invalid> wrote:
> My problem with this game is not the unreliable narrator, but that the
> player character is withholding information from the player human for no
> good reason. When I play IF I attempt to identify with the PC, the PC is
> "me". The whole structure of IF with 2nd person descriptions is
> designed to support this. Anything that deliberately separates the
> knowledge of the PC and the player reduces enjoyment of the game.

Then, yeah, you're going to hate S&W.

It's not for "no good reason." It's inherent in the structure of the
game. It's being withheld from the interrogator, and withholding it
from you is a side effect.

I might recommend "Chicken and Egg" for a somewhat different twist on
the narrative, with just the "good parts" puzzle.

It's at the Archive, buried deep in some minicomp directory somewhere.

Adam

Adam Thornton

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Sep 24, 2006, 3:18:04 PM9/24/06
to
In article <pan.2006.09.24...@example.invalid>,
Mike Robinson <bl...@example.invalid> wrote:

This is not the failure of the author. You are, I hope, aware of the
implied "for me" in that sentence?

So the game didn't work for you. Great. Get on with life. Plenty of
people have chimed in with why they thought it was a good game and what
the original poster was missing. You disagree that any of these things
make it a good game. Bully for you. De gustibus non est disputandum.

Adam

Adam Thornton

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Sep 24, 2006, 3:27:07 PM9/24/06
to
In article <gppkelqr6h4m$.1mr85meg3lx3u$.d...@40tude.net>,

James Mitchelhill <ja...@disorderfeed.net> wrote:
> This brings up an interesting point. How many generations of IF players are
> there? Has the IF community slowly accumulated (and lost) people, or have
> there been major influxes and exoduses?

I can't speak to IF players. There has certainly been a rotation among
raif posters.

I have been reading RAIF certainly since early on in college
(1990-1994), and I am sure I was reading some Usenet group about text
adventures (I don't know when r*if was newgrouped, and it might well
have been comp.sys.games.ibm-pc.adventure or some such) the first time I
had Usenet access in 1988. Holy shit. I've been babbling about text
adventures on Usenet for *half my life*.

In that time a lot of people have come and gone. Plotkin's been pretty
constant at least since the release of Inform. But we've lost a lot of
the original luminaries. Molley the Mage (Sean Molley, I think his
slave name was) comes to mind. You never see Kevin Wilson around
anymore, although he's gone on to a successful career as a game
designer. Jacob Weinstein; probably hundreds of others. But, geez,
look at where we've been in that time. I remember when everyone was
lamenting that Infocom wasn't doing text adventures, and that no one
else knew how to do parsers that good, and the excitement of just
getting tools to disassemble Infocom files.

What we'd now call very primitive text adventure creation languages:
GAGS, AdvSys, a few others I can't recall--but which really *were* the
state of the hobbyist art at the time.

A bit later, TADS 1.x, expensive for me at the time ($50, I think!), and
in 1992? the release of TADS 2 with a terrific Tex-produced manual and a
lovely plotter-drawn insert map showing object classes. Curses and
Inform 5. The adoption of z5 as the standard Inform format rather than
z3 and the bitching and moaning about that.

> I think I turned up seven-ish years ago (dear lord, that seems a long
> time). The first comp I voted in was 1999. So I just missed being around
> for _Spider and Web_ and the old classics, like _Photopia_ (except
> retrospectively), but was around for things like _Shade_, _Galatea_, _LASH_
> and _Varicella_.

Oh, a *newbie*.

Adam

José Manuel García-Patos

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Sep 24, 2006, 4:11:06 PM9/24/06
to

> It's not for "no good reason." It's inherent in the structure of the
> game. It's being withheld from the interrogator, and withholding it
> from you is a side effect.

Then, why not letting the human player lie to the interrogator by himself
instead of being forced to follow a lie through? That way the story
would've been richer, more interactive, different in every session. Also,
that would've solved the two major criticisms made in this thread.

Think about it: We've been reading that people complain about not being
possible to choose which object to throw at a particular puzzle. Given
that you're supposed to lie to the interrogator, why not being able to lie
your own way? Of course, one might say that the following parts of
the story would not make sense if some previous scene was changed, but
that's exactly the point. The story must be changed according to the
player's actions, not the opposite. This scheme would also make it easier
for the player to identify with the PC, given that his actions are his own
decissions, and not the author's.

Disclaimer: I have never played the game. Maybe there's something I'm
missing. Nevertheless, I'm with Mike Robinson here. Avoiding the player to
identify with the PC is the biggest bug of all.

All The Best.
José Manuel García-Patos
Madrid

José Manuel García-Patos

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Sep 24, 2006, 4:40:48 PM9/24/06
to

> I'm more of the opinion that one of the great advances in IF was
> the discovery that the player and PC are different entities.
> Many of the most groundbreaking and truly interactive works have
> exploited this difference. I'm glad we're no longer in the days when
> the PC had to be "me."

I think we (some people in this thread) have different opinions about this
issue because we're using a confusing terminology. Maybe we should think
of PC's as we think of our SO's. You're not your SO, but you care about
him/her. You're not your SO, but you like him/her to be and to act in a
certain way. Most of all, you're not your SO, but you wouldn't like if
she/he lied to you. So, maybe we shouldn't be speaking of indentification,
not even of empathy, but, simply, of being in love with the PC. This would
explain why some twists in the stories are met with such disgust by some
players. They're almost like infidelities to them. Also, that would be the
key to understand why some games with several different PC's do not
provoke schizofrenia.

So I guess I must correct my previous post here: Making the player want
to break up with the PC is the biggest bug of all.

José Manuel García-Patos

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Sep 24, 2006, 5:09:34 PM9/24/06
to

> Oh dear, are we really at this point? Eight years later, having to
> explain to a new generation of players what the big deal was at the
> time. Trying to prove to ourselves that we weren't exaggerating, or
> overhyping, but were genuinely impressed by something remarkable.

And isn't it possible that you all were wrong at the time and that we, the
younger generation, are trying to make you understand that? I don't know.
I mean, who remembers who won the Nobel Prize eight years ago? How many of
them were undeserving? Something being remarkable for one generation
doesn't mean that it has to be so for the others (or that it ever was
remarkable at all). I hate eighties music, but my older sister loves it.
Who's right, who's wrong?

There's also the possibility of it being something like the
movie Metropolis to my friends in college. They said: We can see why it
was so good, but it has aged badly. It doesn't appeal to us anymore. Where
20's people saw wonders, we see errors. Where they were blinded by the
special effects, we got turned off by the screenplay and the acting.

I'm sure you were not overhyping, but you have to admit that times have
changed. It's not a matter of we know better than you newbies. People and
games do age, and very few of both do it like a Bourdeaux. But there's one
thing you can be sure of: When the dust settles everyone can see clearer.

Adam Thornton

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Sep 24, 2006, 5:15:50 PM9/24/06
to
In article <pan.2006.09.24....@alumno.uned.es>,

José Manuel García-Patos <jgarc...@alumno.uned.es> wrote:
> So I guess I must correct my previous post here: Making the player
> want to break up with the PC is the biggest bug of all.

And yet, and yet...Zero Sum Game derived its considerable charm largely
from this very premise.

I can think of a number of other games in which I was expected to play
someone I disliked intensely. Sometimes (_Cattus Atrox_) this did
indeed put me off the game. Sometimes (_Infidel_) it did not.

Adam

José Manuel García-Patos

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Sep 24, 2006, 5:45:58 PM9/24/06
to

> I can think of a number of other games in which I was expected to play
> someone I disliked intensely. Sometimes (_Cattus Atrox_) this did
> indeed put me off the game. Sometimes (_Infidel_) it did not.

What's that supposed to prove? We've all gone to bed sometime with someone
we disliked intensely. (Just kidding, but it serves me to explain the
following.) If you have a girlfriend, you don't like everything about her.
There are always things you'd like to polish. And that would be
her case about you, too. But trespassing that fine line between
"disliking something about you" and "this is it" is what the author must
avoid, and that's what I was referring to when I talked about breaking up.
Obviously, the reasons everyone has for breaking up with their
respective SO are different in quantity and quality, but that's something
the author (and the SO's) must take into account. The main reason for
breaking up with a PC in my case is dishonesty: That he or she knows
something that I don't.

[A more broad and interesting topic would be how to play with the
stretchability of the fine line. But I don't want to get into that now.
Could there be a case where I could forgive a dishonest PC? Who knows?]

quic...@quickfur.ath.cx

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Sep 24, 2006, 6:15:21 PM9/24/06
to
On Sat, Sep 23, 2006 at 11:30:16PM -0700, J. Robinson Wheeler wrote:
>
> Oh dear, are we really at this point? Eight years later, having to
> explain to a new generation of players what the big deal was at the
> time. Trying to prove to ourselves that we weren't exaggerating, or
> overhyping, but were genuinely impressed by something remarkable.

Then it brings up the question of whether the game has enough merit to
stand on its own? I'm not trying to fling mud at it, but to me, if a
particular game requires a certain background in order to be truly
appreciated, why not provide that background within the game itself
rather than to assume the player has that mindset? To me, a true
masterpiece must be able to stand on its own, to prove its own value
without needing an external context (even if having that context will
help one appreciate it all the more).


[...]
> It's [Spider & Web] not just any old game that wrests the Best Game
> Xyzzy out of Photopia's grasp. That was a potent year.
>
> You have to understand that 1998 was a time of great ideas in IF.
> People were trying all sorts of neat things that were pushing and
> pulling and heaving and straining the medium, trying to wring more
> delights out of it than Infocom ever dreamed of. Adam Cadre was
> bringing in the fractured narrative experiments from independent film.
> Chris Huang's Muse, a Comp game of note, used first person, past-tense
> narration to tell a thoughtful, wistful, and in some ways more
> grown-up story than we'd seen before. There were a lot of ideas being
> tried out.

OK, so I wasn't on the scene at the time. Does that mean that I will
never be able to fully appreciate these works?


[...]
> > But the thing is, I *like* fiddly aspects to puzzles in general,
> > but in S&W, I got so frustrated by needing to get every last detail
> > right even when there was no apparent reason for it (at least at
> > that point), that I just couldn't bring myself to going on. For
> > example, having to throw the exact object to distract the patrol:
> > I'm sure there's a clever reason behind the choice of object, but
> > at the time, I saw no reason for it besides nitpick.
>
> Clearly, you weren't engaged. All of your impressions sound combative
> rather than interactive. "The game wanted to be *this*, and I didn't
> want it to be that, but it wouldn't let me do anything else no matter
> how hard I tried!" It is generally true that people enjoy IF games
> more when they allow themselves to go along with what the author has
> put together than if they run against the grain. You can only play as
> far as the implementation goes.

No, my problem with it was more along the lines of: OK, so here I am
playing this game, and I get put in this situation. Now, let's see what
I can do. SLAP! OK, apparently the game didn't like that. I don't
understand why, but OK, I'll go along with it. SLAP! Oops, wrong again.
Still don't understand why. But I guess I'll go along with it. SLAP! Oh
no, not again! What does this game *want* from me anyway?? Let's try
this other thing now... SLAP! OK, I guess the game really doesn't want
me to play it.

You see the disconnect here.


[...]
> However, within the narrow limits of what Zarf was trying to do and
> the story he was trying to encourage people to play, S&W offered a lot
> of terrific new ideas, executed smartly, and with a thoroughness that
> encouraged me to trust him.
>
> The leap you never made, instead of getting more and more frustrated,
> was to take a breath, calm your mind, and ask yourself: Okay, why do
> I need to get all these details right? Why is this game about that?
> What, in fact, is the reason for it?

Part of the problem was, the game didn't successfully convince me that
it was worth the effort to find out the answer to these questions. This
of course has no bearing on whether it was *actually* worthwhile, but
having no prior knowledge, I can only base my evaluation on what the
game presented to me. Since I wasn't there back in '98, I have no way of
knowing, Oh, look, there's a new idea!, or, Oh, look, here's another
innovation! -- I had to rely purely on what was in the game itself, and
what I saw didn't sufficiently convince me of its worth.


[...]
> The reason for it is what the story is about, and why there's a famous
> "Aha!" moment later on. There is a reason for it being picky. You
> have to come to the conclusion that it's not just being picky to be
> picky, it's being picky because the story is about the details of how
> you came to be in that chair, what you did, where, and when.

That much I got from the little I saw---the problem remains one of my
being unconvinced that it was worth the effort to get to the point where
I reach the "aha!" moment.


> As for the specific example of throwing the exact object, I'm not sure
> it occurred to me to throw anything but the lockpick. Naturally it has
> to be the lockpick because the interrogator is holding it and showing
> you that he found it. This isn't a time-travel game where you can go
> back and leave something else and find the interrogator now holding
> the toggle switch instead of the lock pick. He found your lockpick,
> so, evidently, that's what you threw.

But how would I know, without prior knowledge, if it was found *after* I
got caught, after a later incident? The game did not give any clue in
that direction, AFAIK.


[...]
> You describe needing a walkthrough and your frustration at not having
> enough clues to solve the puzzles. What you were missing the whole
> time is that everything the interrogator says to you is a clue, is
> more information. He tells you what the PC did not do. It's like a
> multiple choice test where wrong answers keep being eliminated, which
> gives you a better chance of guessing the right answer each time.

See, I figured all this out after the first few attempts. But still, my
lingering question at the time was, Is all this effort really worth it?

It seems that in your experience, you were already convinced earlier on
that this was a worthwhile endeavor. I wasn't, and that's why I posted
my original message, to find out what it was about the game that made
other people like it enough to put up with the blockades.


[...]
> > This is interesting, because I never felt the interrogator was that
> > vivid at all.
>
> I suppose it depends on what you look for in an NPC. The interrogator
> had a definite and strong personality, was intelligent and patitent up
> to a point, but with a temper that could be sparked. He's got some
> artwork in his office that, should you peruse them, perhaps make you
> think more about him. He has a philosophy about his job and about
> being on one side of a long-lasting conflict.

Perhaps I never got far enough for him to become more vivid.


[...]
> I think your flat opinion of the interrogator is another side effect
> of your disengagement with the game. Or, a side effect of your
> frustration. To you, he was the instrument of the game being picky and
> annoying, and not a character you were interacting with and learning
> things about.

That's true.


> To me, he was the other half of what made the game a full experience.
> It would have been a considerably shallower experience without that
> character. People often accuse Zarf of writing sterile, cerebral
> games, but the interrogator in Spider and Web has real blood in him.

Again, had I gone far enough, I'd probably appreciate him more.


[...]
> There's no question that the game failed to draw you in. I was drawn
> in by the time I got through the first door out of the alley, because
> the game had already made one or two startling attacks on my
> assumptions, and I was curious to figure out what was really going on.
> You never became curious. You just wanted to get whatever bit was
> happening over with so you could get to the juicy part.

Well, it didn't begin that way. I started being, as everybody else,
curious about what was going on, why I was at the door, what this
strange building was, etc.. But as the game began to unfold, I became
increasingly frustrated with it because of the way I perceive it was
reacting to me. That led to me wanting to just get the annoying parts
over with, but apparently that only led to more frustration. Eventually
I just gave up.


[...]
> > Granted, I never got to the oft-alluded to fantastic puzzle, so
> > perhaps it could've offset all the frustration before that. [...]
> > I still wonder if it's worth the effort for me to try to get to
> > that point.
>
> No. You will never enjoy the fantastic puzzle, I'm afraid. It's lost
> to you. The problem is that the juicy part is only juicy if you're
> engaged the whole time leading up to it.

And hence my question: just what was it that drew people in at the
beginning? 'cos it didn't happen to me. Obviously, I'm missing something
here.


[...]
> You have to find it fascinating that you're playing a character who
> knows more than you, who was up to something, but you aren't sure
> what, and are being interrogated as to what you did. "But I don't
> know!" isn't the right answer. "Hmm, okay, so what the hell *did* I
> do?" is what you have to grapple with. Wanting to find out what the
> hell you did is where the engagement is. Finding out, in the fullness
> of play, is where the fun is. The farther you go, the more realize
> that this is a game with an unreliable narrator, but you're the
> narrator. The disconnect between what the PC knows and what you, the
> player, knows, and exploring that gap -- that's where the meat of the
> game is.

See, had I known all this, I might have been more engaged in the game.
However, I'm not sure how I was expected to know this beforehand. I can
only judge from how the game presents the story to me, and for whatever
reason, the way it did so didn't make it "click" for me.


[...]
> The game is constructed knowing that the player will have to bumble
> around. The player's floundering is translated, within the story, into
> the PC's evasiveness, willfully playing dumb to account for the player
> not exactly knowing what to do or where to go. The story stays
> coherent and mimesis is preserved, even though you are incompetently
> playing the part of someone supremely competent. The interrogator at
> one point wonders why they sent someone so seemingly absent-minded and
> bumbling to do a master spy's work.

Perhaps this is where the disconnect is: you approached the game as
someone apart from the PC and trying to figure him out. I approached the
game *trying* to identify with the PC but failing badly. So what was so
ingenious to you seemed to me a nitpicky frustration.


[...]
> Then the "Aha" moment comes, which can best be described as the moment
> when you, the player, close that gap between what you know and what
> the character you're playing knows. You suddenly know everything he
> does, and you realize you're just as smart as the super spy you're
> playing after all. You finally *are* that character, and your actions
> now are deliberate instead of flailing. You know everything you need
> to know. You know your mission, you know the layout of the lab, you
> know when and how to use your gadgets. It all makes perfect sense, and
> the game has *tutored* you to this point of fully engaged mastery of
> the situation.
[...]

Perhaps this is where the problem lies: I did not know that the story
was intended to be this way. I was expecting to identify with the PC,
yet the game only makes sense if initially you, the player, are a
separate entity from the PC (at least according to your analysis). As
far as I could tell, from the little I saw, I (the PC) might as well
have been doomed to failure (capture) already. So it seemed to me that
the only point left in the game was to recall what happened. From this
perspective, the way the game led me to figure out this recollection was
extremely frustrating. Had I known the point behind it all, it would
probably have been a completely different experience.

So then my question is, why didn't I get it? Was it completely my fault
in not understanding what the point of the game was? Could the game have
been done in such a way that at least gave me some indication that
something more was going on, so that I'm eased into the right mindset?


QF

--
Without outlines, life would be pointless.

quic...@quickfur.ath.cx

unread,
Sep 24, 2006, 7:09:58 PM9/24/06
to
On Sun, Sep 24, 2006 at 12:46:33PM +0100, Mike Robinson wrote:
[... discussion about Spider & Web ...]

> My problem with this game is not the unreliable narrator, but that the
> player character is withholding information from the player human for
> no good reason. When I play IF I attempt to identify with the PC, the
> PC is "me". The whole structure of IF with 2nd person descriptions is
> designed to support this. Anything that deliberately separates the
> knowledge of the PC and the player reduces enjoyment of the game.
[...]

After reading through this thread, I think I'm a bit clearer now on what
happened.

Plotkin was trying to exploit the difference between the PC and the
player, and using that to structure the game. I can see why this would
be regarded as a very ingenious idea. But I, and other players like me,
are approaching the game from the POV that we *are* the PC, even if we
don't yet know that much about what the PC is supposed to know.

People who approach the game without assuming that the player *is* the
PC apparently picked up on what was going on. But others, including me,
approach it assuming that we *are* the PC, and from that perspective,
the game was extremely annoying. This is even more so when we're unaware
that the whole point is that the PC is trying to withhold information
(which, still, begs the question, why withhold it from the player and
not just the narrator?---but apparently there's a point to this, judging
from some of the replies).

Interestingly enough, some people are of the opinion that it's an
advancement to realize the PC is not equal to the player, whereas
others, like Jose, find it intolerable when this difference cause the PC
to be definitely distinct from the player. For me, I find that pushing
this distinction too far breaks immersion. Rather than "being" the PC, I
become some faceless third party merely observing, and sometimes
influencing, the actions of the PC. This approach just doesn't work for
me, even if it does for others---at least not if the game gives me no
indication whatsoever that this is intended to be the case. I approached
the game expecting to *be* the PC, and as such, when the PC is trying to
do something that he withholds from telling even me, I don't understand
the point of the game, and pick up on all the minor points that annoy
me.

However, I still wonder if it is possible to ease a player into such a
mindset. Rather than assuming that the player would pick up on this
fact---which is risky because if the player doesn't, he will totally
hate the game---is there a way to indicate this *within the game* so
that the player knows what to expect? In retrospect, I can see how this
would make a huge difference in my perception of the game. Perhaps if
the story were written in the third person, I might have picked up on
what was going on (but I don't know if this will break something else in
the story that I'm unaware of). Or maybe the story could've been a
little more up-front about what's going on.

On a related note, as to closing the gap between the PC's knowledge and
the player's knowledge, I found that the approach used by Worlds Apart
worked much, much better for me. To be sure, one can't expect the player
to know everything the PC knows from the get-go, but structuring the
presentation of the story such that the player picks up this information
as necessary makes it much less painful, IMHO. WA does this using a
rather clever process of having the PC recall past events (done in a way
that integrates with the plot and doesn't seem contrived). I felt that I
*was* the PC from the start, even though I didn't even know who I was
supposed to be, and what I was capable of doing.

S&W's approach seems to be a bit too far into the realm of a
meta-puzzle, at least from my perspective. I expect more immersion than
this approach seems to provide.

And certainly, a new player who is not necessarily aware of such
story-telling devices will probably run into the same problems I did.
Risking alienating the audience in this way is not a good idea, IMHO.
One could at least hint (within the story) that something more is going
on than is apparent at first. Requiring your readership to be educated
in the subtleties of plot devices doesn't seem like a wise decision to
me.


QF

--
Which is worse: ignorance or apathy? Who knows? Who cares? -- Erich Schubert

Poster

unread,
Sep 24, 2006, 7:16:06 PM9/24/06
to
Dan Shiovitz wrote:

> Note that S&W actually has two kinds of scenes -- there are scenes
> where "success" for the scene is very strictly defined, but the player
> has a lot of freedom to mess around within the scene in the process of
> reaching success, and those alternate with scenes where the player has
> only limited ways of interacting but "success" is quite broadly
> defined.

Really? I got frustrated way before the other type of scene ever showed up.

>>from Baf's blurb, WA allows you to explore the world, going from place
>> to place, doing different things, and trying things out. The NPCS sound
>> multi-dimensional rather than one-dimensional.
>>
>> I myself vastly prefer games where you get to explore. It has always
>> surprised me that people don't rank this as some metric when reviewing a
>> game. For me, it makes the difference in whether I finish the game or not.
>
> People do consider exploration to be an important metric in evaluating
> a game, or at least I do. But that's not the same as saying it's
> required for every game! I like big games that have a lot of cool

I'm not saying that it should be for everyone -- I am saying that it is
a requirement for ME. Me, solo, ego, I.

There's another game that proved to be as annoying as S&W, which I
cannot remember the name of at the moment. You played a young Japanese
girl who was abducted by a mafioso. All you could do was talk, while
waiting to be delivered to your doom. It was five minutes of sheer
guess-the-noun/verb-itis, after which, you died. Of course, you could
just type "Z" twenty times in a row and you died all the same. Blech.

Well this thread has now become a torrent, so I'll go on to something else.

-- Poster

www.intaligo.com Building, INFORM, Seasons (upcoming!)

Emily Short

unread,
Sep 24, 2006, 7:23:54 PM9/24/06
to

quic...@quickfur.ath.cx wrote:
> On Sat, Sep 23, 2006 at 11:30:16PM -0700, J. Robinson Wheeler wrote:
> > You have to understand that 1998 was a time of great ideas in IF.
...

> OK, so I wasn't on the scene at the time. Does that mean that I will
> never be able to fully appreciate these works?

No, they're still good games. But it may be harder, looking back, to
understand the "wow, this is *so* *amazing*!" reactions some of them
got -- exactly because they had such an effect on subsequent IF that
many games written since have used related techniques or explored
related ideas.