Interactive hints

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Molley the Mage

Dec 9, 1992, 12:04:54 PM12/9/92
There has been a lot of very interesting discussion on the best way to
provide hints for the player so far, and I would like to contribute my
observations and (hopefully) a solution of sorts.

I agree with several previous posters who say that one of the problems
with Infocom on-line hints is that the question list can reveal future
events to the player which might spoil some of his enjoyment. I would
note for the record that Infocom did make a token effort to include
"questions" in the list which were not part of the game at all, but
would provoke the response "Reading through all the hints at random
will spoil your enjoyment of the game; only check hints when you are
really stuck and only check hints for what you are stuck on."

However, I have a way which might help eliminate even the need for a
question list. Suppose that the author of a small text adventure game
went through and wrote out a "question list" for his hints, similar to
one which might have been used in an Infocom game. For example, for
my own game Challenge of the Czar, I went through and wrote a
hint-book, following the Infocom model of hints. Some of the
questions in that book are:

(1) How do I get past the rattlesnake?
(2) How can I get some money?
(3) What do I buy with my money?
(4) What should I do about the thief?

The "hint" system is actually an on-line program, (which I made a
separate program to discourage the use of hints by forcing the player
to quit his game, run another program, get the hints, then load the
game up again and pick up where he left off, but which could be turned
into a for-real "on-line" help system in TADS as a user exit), which
gives some informational text and then asks the simple question:

What are you having trouble with? Enter the name of a topic, and I
will present you with a list of questions from the master hint list
which correspond to that topic.

Give me a hint about >

At this point, the user types in what he's having trouble with;
usually, this is a noun from the game. Thus, if he were lost in a
maze, he might type MAZE. Using the example questions above, let us
suppose that the player typed "rattlesnake" or "the rattlesnake" or
"the snake" or any other synonymn which the program recognized. (Yes,
there might be a problem if the hint program didn't know the topic he
was stuck on, sort of a new version of the guess-what-the-parser-wants
game. However, I contend that if the hint program is written using
the entire vocabulary of the game itself, there should be no

If the user typed RATTLESNAKE, the program would return with:
(1) How do I get past the rattlesnake?

Select the number of the question you want, or hit N for a new topic.

If the user selects question 1, then the program goes to an
Invisiclues-style reveal progressively more detailed hints, up to an
including a spoiler. However, the penultimate hint and the spoiler
itself are encoded, using a substitution cipher (I think I will change
this to Magnus Olsson's letter-reversal scheme!), so that it's not
*too* easy for the user to get a complete answer.

If the user had typed MONEY, he would have gotten back:
(1) How can I get some money?
(2) What do I buy with my money?

Now, you still have the problem that the user might not want to know
that he's got to buy something (maybe he was thinking of bribing
someone instead), but that could be changed by wording the question in
a more neutral way.

What is the general opinion on this system? My personal feeling is
that the very best sort of hint system is a dynamic one which
evaluates the user's situation and gives him the most relevant hint,
but implementation would be quite difficult. For an example of one
attempt at this sort of system (and a very good attempt at that), I
recommend The Dungeon of Dunjin, a shareware game written by the very
same Magnus Olsson who posted the reversed-letters idea. His system
isn't perfect, but it does a pretty good job.

The hint system envisioned by the gentleman from Project Oz would be
nearly impossible (IMO) unless you had a very small number of puzzles
(like Deadline does).

M. Sean Molley, CS Department, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY
RealSpace - (502) 745-4027 | Email address : MOL...@WKUVX1.BITNET
"Carrying guns makes you a warrior like wearing feathers makes you an eagle."

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