Puzzle difficulty and arbitrariness (_Balances_ Spoilers)

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David Baggett

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Nov 15, 1994, 2:03:33 PM11/15/94
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In article <78486511...@clone.his.com>,
Matthew Russotto <matthew....@his.com> wrote:

>Why? What one person can think up, generally another can figure out.

That's not true at all. It is trivial to design a puzzle that no one will
be able to solve. Trivial! How about, "I'm thinking of a number between 1
and a billion. Guess the number to solve the puzzle."

How about "prove Goldbach's Conjecture." Simply stated puzzle. Someone
thought it up long ago, and it's still unproven. Lots of easily definable
problems in many domains are incredibly difficult.

In games like _Curses_ and _Balances_ where there is heavy emphasis on the
brain-teaser aspect, the designer must be especially careful to design only
logical and fair (even overly fair) puzzles. Otherwise players will get
disgusted and quit. In this case both parties lose.

I think _Balances_ has much to recommend it [1], but *many* of the puzzles
have very arbitrary solutions. The "dangerous things have cubes" bit is
*way* too obscure -- no one will have an a priori mental association
between cubes and dangerous and/or valuable things; this is an arbitrary
relationship. You can make these kinds of relationships work, but it
requires considerable effort -- you have to go to some lengths to ensure
that the player gets enough game background to make this connection in his
mind. Otherwise, when the player is presented with the solution (either
through spoilage or exhaustive search) his reaction will be "Huh?!" rather
than "Why didn't I think of that?!" The former reaction is simply
devastating to a game, and that is why it is critical to err on the "too
obvious" side.

And casting the light spell on the temple -- how is anyone supposed to get
that by anything but exhaustive search? I simply could not fathom any
logical reason why that should work, even in retrospect. I'm sure Graham
had something in mind, but it didn't make it out of his brain and into the
text of the game.

Many people have admitted to using exhaustive search to solve puzzles in
both _Curses_ and _Balances_. I think this is indicative of puzzles that
are either too difficult, too subtle, or whose solutions are not logical.
(Though I cannot personally make a good overall judgment about _Curses_
since I haven't finished it.)

Puzzle games do not have to be excruciatingly difficult to be successful.
Unnkulia One-Half is probably our most popular game, and it is by far the
easiest, and certainly the lightest.

Personally, I prefer to make the puzzles easy (either by designing easy
puzzles, or by providing hints that make the puzzles as easy as the player
needs) and to spend a lot of time on the subtext -- to build subtle
parallels, symbolism, general commentary, etc. into the setting. In a way,
this is very similar; it's just that difficult puzzle games *require* you
to notice this stuff. In my case, much of the subtext is important to
fully understanding the work. But that's another matter entirely -- one
can ignore all that stuff and still enjoy the game.

(Of course, brain-teaser aficionados sometimes find it hard to turn off
their instinctive desire to analyze every object and line of text in the
game as somehow directly related to a specific puzzle, and get frustrated
at the preponderance of what they perceive as "red herrings.")

>If you can't get anagramming from that, tough.

Well, if it would help to make the point, I can write you a three room game
that you'll never solve in a million years and then make fun of your
pathetic attempts to solve it. :)

Dave Baggett

[1] "High in the sky, a tortoise flaps across the sun." is a wonderful
sentence.
__
d...@ai.mit.edu MIT AI Lab He who has the highest Kibo # when he dies wins.
ADVENTIONS: We make Kuul text adventures! Email for a catalog of releases.

Richard Beigel

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Nov 16, 1994, 12:05:51 AM11/16/94
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Andrew C. Plotkin" <ap...@andrew.cmu.edu> writes:
>> listen
>The endlessly repeating threnody of the monks tells of the legend of one
>who will some day enlighten their order, and so be taken up to a higher
>plane. He (or she, presumably) is known as The Four-Cubed One.
>
>"light" is, literally, in the text of the game...

Whenever I cast the lobal spell I hear a loud bang in my ear and I
still couldn't hear anything when I listen to the temple. Did anyone
else have this problem? How did you succeed in listening to the
temple? Eventually, I read a spoiler and traded my useless lobal
scroll in at the scales so I could get 51 points instead of 50.

--
Richard Beigel telephone: (203)432-1228
Dept. of Computer Science email: beigel-...@cs.yale.edu
P.O. Box 208285 campus mail: A. K. Watson Hall
New Haven, CT 06520-8285 51 Prospect Street

Michael Levy

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Nov 15, 1994, 3:54:24 PM11/15/94
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In article <3ab0m5...@life.ai.mit.edu>,

David Baggett <d...@ai.mit.edu> wrote:
>In article <78486511...@clone.his.com>,
>Matthew Russotto <matthew....@his.com> wrote:
>
>>Why? What one person can think up, generally another can figure out.
>
>That's not true at all. It is trivial to design a puzzle that no one will
>be able to solve. Trivial! How about, "I'm thinking of a number between 1
>and a billion. Guess the number to solve the puzzle."

Uhh... seven?

(always looking for new ways to waste hundreds if not thousands of dollars).
--

-- Michael Levy
mle...@umbc8.umbc.edu

John Holder

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Nov 16, 1994, 11:12:08 AM11/16/94
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Thus spake David Baggett (d...@case.ai.mit.edu):
] In article <8imKCmi00...@andrew.cmu.edu>,
] Andrew C. Plotkin <ap...@andrew.cmu.edu> wrote:
] >Excerpts from netnews.rec.arts.int-fiction: 15-Nov-94 Puzzle difficulty
] >and arbit.. David Bag...@case.ai.mi (3828)

] >> I'm sure Graham


] >> had something in mind, but it didn't make it out of his brain and into the
] >> text of the game.

] In retrospect, I didn't qualify this enough. I fully expected there to be
] some explanation, just not one that I would like. :)

] >"The endlessly repeating threnody of the monks tells of the legend of one


] >who will some day enlighten their order, and so be taken up to a higher
] >plane. He (or she, presumably) is known as The Four-Cubed One."
] >
] >"light" is, literally, in the text of the game...

] I don't mind puzzles based on wordplay, but this is too subtle IMHO.

Dave,
I've admired your games and puzzles, but frankly I figured this out
the moment I read it, which make this a more obvious puzzle to me than some of
the puzzles in the Unnkuulian series....

John
__ __
__/\_\ John Holder - jho...@nmsu.edu /_/\__
/\_\/_/ Computer Science - New Mexico State University \_\/_/\
\/_/\_\ Coffee should be as black as hell, as strong /_/\_\/
\/_/ as death, and as sweet as love. (Turk. prov.) \_\/

The Essential Addition

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Nov 15, 1994, 6:27:51 PM11/15/94
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In article <3ab0m5...@life.ai.mit.edu>,
David Baggett <d...@ai.mit.edu> wrote:
>Well, if it would help to make the point, I can write you a three room game
>that you'll never solve in a million years and then make fun of your
>pathetic attempts to solve it. :)

Please do, Dave. Honestly, I'd love the challenge. If you can provide a
logical explanation for every puzzle within the game, I'd love to take a
crack at it. I like hard games. I like puzzles. But I hope that rule
is clear -- there must be logical explanation for why a person of
above-average intelligence who has grown up in a generic background (i.e.
no puzzles based on the legend of an MIT graduate student who everyone
else has not heard of) should be able to solve it after putting in the
necessary work. If the game does not pass this rule, then the point
you're trying to make is grossly exaggerated.

Whether or not a puzzle passes this rule is not for you or me to judge.
If I find that I can not finish the game, then the puzzles will be
examined publically, here, to see if I failed or if you broke the rules.

Yes, this is a challenge. In the language of the Old West, "I'm calling
you out, partner."

Incidentally, if you don't want to do it, I understand. I'm asking you
to put in a lot of work, after all, and I'm sure your time is limited.
On the other hand, it could be fun. Your choice.

--
_____________________________________________________
rbryan@ =--> ....... | ............... | ....... |...| ....|
netcom.com | ..... | ...... | ...|..| .... |.... .... | The Essential
|......|..........|.................|......|.....|.. =--> Addition
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Andrew Southwick

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Nov 16, 1994, 3:59:04 PM11/16/94
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Warning: newbie post.

d...@case.ai.mit.edu (David Baggett) writes:
>Andrew C. Plotkin <ap...@andrew.cmu.edu> wrote:
>>Excerpts from netnews.rec.arts.int-fiction: 15-Nov-94 Puzzle difficulty
>>and arbit.. David Bag...@case.ai.mi (3828)

[ ... ]

>>"The endlessly repeating threnody of the monks tells of the legend of one
>>who will some day enlighten their order, and so be taken up to a higher
>>plane. He (or she, presumably) is known as The Four-Cubed One."

>>"light" is, literally, in the text of the game...

>I don't mind puzzles based on wordplay, but this is too subtle IMHO.

I'm assuming that in this game, one part of the solution requires the
player to cast a Light spell on a temple (from context given by a bunch
of random posts on games I haven't played). This puzzle *is* logical,
and I think not too subtle. It does require some thought, usually
provided by seeing a lot of prophecy stories.

Most prophecies get munged in their telling (much like the Telephone game).
Coupling this with the description, above, leads one directly to the
solution (or at least a few trial-and-error steps away). The problem is
in realizing the first point -- in the context of the game.

The game can be made easier by making indirect reference to the munging
of prophecies (possibly by explaining other prophecies that have been like-
wise corrupted), or by giving the prophecy in other forms in which the player
might see that the form, given by the quote above, might not be a "direct
translation." A third method would be to let the player do the munging
himself, e.g. deriving the above quote via translation from an uncovered
tablet and a rosetta stone.

The solution to a problem should not require special knowledge, else the
game starts excluding players. Infocom games were big on general knowledge;
trivia almost. American schools aren't pumping out knowledgable kids
capable of tackling these problems. You can limit the area of knowledge
required to play a game well (say, Greek and Roman mythology), or provide
a lot of that background within the game itself. A few small problems
won't stop a player, especially if there is some chance for help from
friends or the net, or solving the problem by chance. "Logical" problems,
however, are typically of a very different form. Solving them does not
require knowledge per se, but familiarity with many areas of knowledge, or
thought about the subject (which can come from either intense interest or
a high-powered mind). Keep this in mind, and your 'logic' puzzles should
be more logical.

>Dave Baggett


Andrew R. Southwick asout...@vnet.ibm.com
I am not a lawyer, but I've seen one on TV I speak not for IBM
-- Freedom by permission is a contradiction in terms --

Robert A. DeLisle

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Nov 16, 1994, 4:55:12 PM11/16/94
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Richard Beigel (beigel-...@cs.yale.edu) wrote:

: Andrew C. Plotkin" <ap...@andrew.cmu.edu> writes:
: >> listen
: >The endlessly repeating threnody of the monks tells of the legend of one
: >who will some day enlighten their order, and so be taken up to a higher
: >plane. He (or she, presumably) is known as The Four-Cubed One.
: >
: >"light" is, literally, in the text of the game...

: Whenever I cast the lobal spell I hear a loud bang in my ear and I
: still couldn't hear anything when I listen to the temple. Did anyone
: else have this problem? How did you succeed in listening to the
: temple? Eventually, I read a spoiler and traded my useless lobal
: scroll in at the scales so I could get 51 points instead of 50.

'
After using 'me' as a target many times in 'Curses', I found no
problem in using spells once someone explained how 'Enchanter' worked.
I thought the message from the monks was quite clear. My only problem
then was finding the fourth cube.
I got my extra point from a different source, but got only 46 total.
AAD

David Baggett

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Nov 15, 1994, 10:09:22 PM11/15/94
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In article <rbryanCz...@netcom.com>,

The Essential Addition <rbr...@netcom.com> wrote:

>If you can provide a logical explanation for every puzzle within the game,

>I'd love to take a crack at it. But I hope that rule ... is clear --


>there must be logical explanation for why a person of above-average

>intelligence who has grown up in a generic background ... should be able


>to solve it after putting in the necessary work.

It seems like you're defining logical as "something I can figure out given
a suitable amount of effort," which makes your claim that you can solve any
"logical" game a tautology.

But if I ignore that, I can still give you trivial examples of puzzles that
you don't need any special knowledge to solve, yet still won't be able to
solve. For example, if I give you a 200 digit number and ask for the two
prime factors, you'll never get them, because this requires enormous
computing (or mental) resources to answer. But it's perfectly logical and
very simply stated, and doesn't require any fancy mathematical knowledge.
You need to know what a prime is, and what factors are -- that's it.

>If the game does not pass this rule, then the point you're trying to make
>is grossly exaggerated.

Well, Matthew never said the puzzles had to be logical anyway. But even if
we restrict it that way, it's still silly.

Here are a couple puzzles involving doors and keys. They are progressively
more difficult, but all require the same prior knowledge:

Given key 1 through key 5, door 1 through door 5

Puzzle 1: Key n opens door n.
Puzzle 2: Key n opens door n + 1 mod 5.
Puzzle 3: Key n opens door n + 3 mod 5.
Puzzle 4: Key n opens door n + turncount mod 5.
(I.e., key 1 opens door 2 on turn 1, door 3 on turn 2, etc.)
Puzzle 5: Key n opens door n + turncount + # items carried mod 5.
Puzzle 6: Key n opens door n + # cheez keys eaten + # of toenails
clipped by monk 4 - first prime number greater than room
number Igdoof is currently in ...
...

Which of these would you actually figure out without exhaustive search?
They are all logical -- there is a simple explanation for which key opens
which door for any puzzle at any given time, and there is evidence that
*could* lead you to that explanation.

For that matter, have you played GC? The puzzles are logical, but they are
extremely difficult; probably bordering on impossibly so for a single
person working without hints.

OK, I'll rise to your challenge. Partly because I think it's an important
point, and partly because it's an amusing little project and I'm sick of
doing real work and reading news. :)

Dave Baggett

Andrew C. Plotkin

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Nov 15, 1994, 8:43:14 PM11/15/94
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Excerpts from netnews.rec.arts.int-fiction: 15-Nov-94 Puzzle difficulty
and arbit.. David Bag...@case.ai.mi (3828)

> And casting the light spell on the temple -- how is anyone supposed to get


> that by anything but exhaustive search? I simply could not fathom any
> logical reason why that should work, even in retrospect. I'm sure Graham
> had something in mind, but it didn't make it out of his brain and into the
> text of the game.

> listen


The endlessly repeating threnody of the monks tells of the legend of one
who will some day enlighten their order, and so be taken up to a higher
plane. He (or she, presumably) is known as The Four-Cubed One.

"light" is, literally, in the text of the game...

Now I don't think this is a particularly *nice* puzzle; you get a
one-word clue, and if you miss it, you're screwed. (I was.) But it's not
*completely* arbitrary.

There's something similar in Curses, and I didn't mind that one, because
the key word is repeated several times as you fumble around looking for
the solution, and eventually you notice.

The thing in Balances, IMHO, is a little too nasty for a full-fledged game.

--Z

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

john t baker

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Nov 15, 1994, 10:24:30 PM11/15/94
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In article <3abt52...@life.ai.mit.edu> d...@ai.mit.edu writes:
>OK, I'll rise to your challenge. Partly because I think it's an important
>point, and partly because it's an amusing little project and I'm sick of
>doing real work and reading news. :)

I think that this should be like watching a gameshow on television where the
contestants blunder around looking for answers while the home audience can
see the solution on their screens.

Upload the game to ftp.gmd.de, but email the source to people who ask. If
you want to. :)
--
John Baker
"It ain't an easy life being a self-parody."
- John Baker

David Baggett

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Nov 15, 1994, 11:03:29 PM11/15/94
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In article <8imKCmi00...@andrew.cmu.edu>,

Andrew C. Plotkin <ap...@andrew.cmu.edu> wrote:
>Excerpts from netnews.rec.arts.int-fiction: 15-Nov-94 Puzzle difficulty
>and arbit.. David Bag...@case.ai.mi (3828)

>> I'm sure Graham


>> had something in mind, but it didn't make it out of his brain and into the
>> text of the game.

In retrospect, I didn't qualify this enough. I fully expected there to be


some explanation, just not one that I would like. :)

>"The endlessly repeating threnody of the monks tells of the legend of one


>who will some day enlighten their order, and so be taken up to a higher
>plane. He (or she, presumably) is known as The Four-Cubed One."
>
>"light" is, literally, in the text of the game...

I don't mind puzzles based on wordplay, but this is too subtle IMHO.

Dave Baggett

Phil Goetz

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Nov 16, 1994, 9:38:21 PM11/16/94
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In article <3ab0m5...@life.ai.mit.edu>,
David Baggett <d...@ai.mit.edu> wrote:

BALANCES SPOILERS!



>I think _Balances_ has much to recommend it [1], but *many* of the puzzles
>have very arbitrary solutions. The "dangerous things have cubes" bit is
>*way* too obscure -- no one will have an a priori mental association
>between cubes and dangerous and/or valuable things; this is an arbitrary
>relationship.

You're referring to the cyclops? That's not the association.
You have a spell that turns dangerous things into harmless ones.
You try it on the cyclops -- it doesn't work -- then you realize that
he is dangerous because of his mace.

>And casting the light spell on the temple -- how is anyone supposed to get
>that by anything but exhaustive search? I simply could not fathom any
>logical reason why that should work, even in retrospect. I'm sure Graham
>had something in mind, but it didn't make it out of his brain and into the
>text of the game.

When you cast the spell that lets you listen to the monks, they say
that they are waiting for someone called "the 4-cubed one" who will
enlighten their order. Enlighten. That's one that you'll either
get in about a minute, or you'll never think of, because you've read
the description once and don't read it carefully again.

Phil go...@cs.buffalo.edu

Gerry Kevin Wilson

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Nov 16, 1994, 4:43:48 AM11/16/94
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One of the few truly objectional parts of Balances is this:

SPOILERS!


You must 'lobal me' rather than just 'lobal'. I suspect that many have
had problems with this.
--
<~V~E~SOF~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~CYBER~CHESS~~~~~~~~~~~~~NO~RELEASE~DATE~~~~~~|~~~~~~~>
< RTI T In the distant future, entire planets are won or lost | ~~\ >
< G O WAR E in a single battle. Vertigo's first strategy game. | /~\ | >
<_____DONT-HOLD-YOUR-BRE...@uclink.berkeley.edu__|_\__/__>

Mathematical Institute, (0865) 2-73525

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Nov 16, 1994, 7:34:27 AM11/16/94
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In article <3ack8k$k...@agate.berkeley.edu>, whiz...@uclink.berkeley.edu (Gerry Kevin Wilson) writes:
> One of the few truly objectional parts of Balances is this:
>
> SPOILERS!
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
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>
>
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>
>
>
> You must 'lobal me' rather than just 'lobal'. I suspect that many have
> had problems with this.
> --

I can hardly argue the point that it's objectionable, since you've objected
to it, but would like to mention that it does also enhance the hearing of
other people (not that this does any good, as it happens). Anyway, Balances
is not meant to be a work of art, it's just a silly little demonstration
designed entirely around nasty parsing puzzles!

Graham Nelson

Gareth Rees

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Nov 17, 1994, 6:20:09 AM11/17/94
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Robert A. DeLisle (r...@crl.com) writes:
> I got my extra point from a different source, but got only 46 total.

A lovely bug in the version of Balances I played (unless it's been
corrected since I pointed it out, you can use the magic carpet inside
the cube) allowed you to reenter the cube as many times as you liked and
amass an arbitrarily large score.

--
Gareth Rees

David Horowitz

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Nov 17, 1994, 7:28:51 AM11/17/94
to

Hmmm . . . This is a very interesting thread. And like beauty is in
the eye of the beholder. In the realm of IF games, I think that the
difficulty level of a game has a direct relationship between the amount
of time the player has to dedicate.

Let me give you an example from my own expierence. I started playing IF
games very early. In fact I played Adventure in the early '70's on
an IAMSI 8080, and I played Dungeon in the Mid-Late '70's on a PDP 11/03.

It took me more than 10 years of on and off play to finish Dungeon across
various hardware platforms. In the early days you could'nt be sure you
would always have access to a computer. One of the most difficult puzzles
I have found was from Dungeon:

What is round as a cup,
tall as a house,
But all the Kings Horses can't draw it up?

Now, today, most of us know, a well. It is an acceptable answer to the
question, once you know the answer. But, When you are playing this
for the first time. . . IMHO, far too difficult.

Some, have claimed, and to thier credit, have finished IF games without
any outside help. If a player has time to devote to the game, to
read every line carefully, this can be and should be able to be
accomplished. I find that so long as help is available, and time
is growing short, help/hints do not ruin the expierence of the game.
To me IF is more of an interactive novel, the story/plot is as
important as the puzzles. The better the story, the more enjoyable the
game.

I feel that I am beginning to babble here, so enough.

___________________________________________________________________________________
David Horowitz
horo...@panix.com
CIS: 70732,3437

David Baggett

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Nov 17, 1994, 1:57:56 PM11/17/94
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In article <CzE4n...@acsu.buffalo.edu>,
Phil Goetz <go...@cs.buffalo.edu> wrote:

>You're referring to the cyclops? That's not the association.
>You have a spell that turns dangerous things into harmless ones.
>You try it on the cyclops -- it doesn't work --

Right; no problem there. The problem is, how was I supposed to know to
cast the lleps of this spell on the elephant to make the cyclops? The
explanation is "dangerous things have cubes, therefore I should try to
*create* a dangerous thing," which I think is, like "enlighten", too
obscure.

>Enlighten. That's one that you'll either get in about a minute, or you'll
>never think of, because you've read the description once and don't read it
>carefully again.

Worse yet, if you don't figure it out deductively you will figure it out
quickly using brute force, then not understand why it worked. If the
puzzle hadn't been so susceptible to a brute force attack, I might
eventually have figured it out.

Dave Baggett

Jonathan Badger

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Nov 17, 1994, 3:05:51 PM11/17/94
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d...@case.ai.mit.edu (David Baggett) writes:

>Right; no problem there. The problem is, how was I supposed to know to
>cast the lleps of this spell on the elephant to make the cyclops? The
>explanation is "dangerous things have cubes, therefore I should try to
>*create* a dangerous thing," which I think is, like "enlighten", too
>obscure.

Well, I have to admit that I didn't get the "enlighten" puzzle either., but
the "lleps" puzzle wasn't particularly hard, mainly because even if it
didn't have a purpose, it is the sort of thing that would have at least a
clever response. Don't you like to try those sorts of things in adventure
games just to see what happens?

BTW: It isn't limited to the stuffed elephant -- ANY object can be
made into the cyclops. Of course other objects may have better
uses.... :-)

Greg Ewing

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Nov 17, 1994, 6:29:19 PM11/17/94
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In article <3adv40$h...@crl5.crl.com>, r...@crl.com (Robert A. DeLisle) writes:
|> '
|> After using 'me' as a target many times in 'Curses',

I figured out that I need to 'lobal me' instead of just 'lobal'
but I keep getting distracted by butterflies.

> Eventually, I read a spoiler and traded my useless lobal
> scroll

Does this mean the lobal scroll has nothing to do with
listening to the monks?

Greg Ewing, Computer Science Dept, +--------------------------------------+
University of Canterbury, | A citizen of NewZealandCorp, a |
Christchurch, New Zealand | wholly-owned subsidiary of Japan Inc.|
gr...@cosc.canterbury.ac.nz +--------------------------------------+

Greg Ewing

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Nov 17, 1994, 6:33:44 PM11/17/94
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In article <3afia3$8...@news.panix.com>, horo...@panix.com (David Horowitz) writes:
|>
|> Now, today, most of us know, a well. It is an acceptable answer to the
|> question, once you know the answer.

It doesn't *quite* seem to me to fit... you don't
actually draw it up, rather you draw up something
*from* it...

Or is this a dialectical problem?

|> David Horowitz
|> horo...@panix.com

David Baggett

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Nov 17, 1994, 2:31:36 PM11/17/94
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In article <3aeilm$1...@news.bu.edu>, David Gilbert <dgil...@bu.edu> wrote:

>I agree completely. I found this game to quite good, IMHO. Even though I
>finished it in one night.

I don't know who you're agreeing with and disagreeing with (use
followups!), but here are some comments:

>You must understand that Infocom had many HIRED professionals to program
>and playtest their games. Many IF games that come out now are done by very
>few people who don't get paid for it. Graham isn't Infocom, he's only one
>person.

Believe me, I sympathize. But Graham still has access to playtesters via
the internet, some of whom were playtesters for Infocom. This alone is not
really a good excuse. People like Adam Thornton and Mike Kinyon are
excellent playtesters who find things that I imagine some of the best
Infocom testers would have missed.

>One shouldn't critizise Graham for missing a few meager details. which are
>in my opinion extremely picky ones.

Criticising _Balances_ is not the same as criticising Graham! Furthermore,
we shouldn't stifle our criticisms just because there's a dearth of text
adventures; we should air any reasonable, constructive criticisms that we
have so that the few authors out there can learn from the weaknesses of
existing works.

>The old Infocom writers didn't have to worry about [p]rogramming and testing
>the game themselves, so they could spend a lot more time on the actual
>writing.

Testing, yes. Programming, no. From what I've read, the Infocom authors
generally did the programming as well. Sometimes there were teams, like
Meretsky & Adams for HHGTG, but in general I think these authors were also
programmers.

Anyway, this isn't a programming or a writing issue. It's a puzzle design
issue.

>Most modern IF writers have to be programmers as WELL as writer, so when a
>potential IF writer lacks the programming expertise to incorperate an
>aspect of the plot into the game, he has to cut corners.

You're losing me. What criticism of _Balances_ are you addressing? I
thought you addressing the complaints that some puzzles in _Balances_ are
too difficult, and perhaps unfair.

>I commend Graham for his efforts in creating a game that very much reminded
>me of the "Enchanter" world.

Me too.

Dave Baggett

Felix Lee

unread,
Nov 17, 1994, 12:29:03 PM11/17/94
to
David Horowitz:
[zork riddle]

>Now, today, most of us know, a well. It is an acceptable answer to the
>question, once you know the answer. But, When you are playing this
>for the first time. . . IMHO, far too difficult.

counter perspective: The first time I encountered that riddle was in a
computer store, on a machine demoing Zork II. A well was the first
thing I thought of.

I think this riddle isn't hard, if you're familiar with the structure
of riddles. But that's part of the problem. The difficulty of
riddles and puzzles often depends on the background of the solver.
--

David Gilbert

unread,
Nov 16, 1994, 10:28:54 PM11/16/94
to

I agree completely. I found this game to quite good, IMHO. Even though I
finished it
in one night. I thoroughly enjoyed it, however. When I downloaded it, I had
no idea what it was about. When I started it and I realized it took place in
the "Enchanter" world, I about flipped with joy.
You must understand that Infocom had many HIRED professionals to program and
playtest their games. Many IF games that come out now are done by very few
people who don't get paid for it. Graham isn't Infocom, he's only one person.
One shouldn't critizise Graham for missing
a few meager details. which are in my opinion extremely picky ones.
The old Infocom writers didn't have to worry about
programming and testing the game themselves, so they could spend a lot more
time on the actual writing. Most modern IF writers have to be programmers as

WELL as writer, so when a potential IF writer lacks the programming expertise
to incorperate an aspect of the plot into the game, he has to cut corners.

I commend Graham for his efforts in creating a game that very much reminded
me of the "Enchanter" world. I think that more of these small "nastalgia"
IF games should be written. (A Planetfall type would be kinda cool)

--Dave

David Baggett

unread,
Nov 19, 1994, 11:36:03 AM11/19/94
to
In article <badger.785102751@phylo>,
Jonathan Badger <bad...@phylo.life.uiuc.edu> wrote:

>the "lleps" puzzle wasn't particularly hard, mainly because even if it
>didn't have a purpose, it is the sort of thing that would have at least a
>clever response. Don't you like to try those sorts of things in adventure
>games just to see what happens?

I just don't think that puzzles requiring random search are good puzzles.

David Baggett

unread,
Nov 20, 1994, 1:12:05 PM11/20/94
to
In article <3adb0o$5...@dns1.nmsu.edu>, John Holder <jho...@nmsu.edu> wrote:

>] I don't mind puzzles based on wordplay, but this is too subtle IMHO.

>I've admired your games and puzzles, but frankly I figured this out the
>moment I read it, which make this a more obvious puzzle to me than some of
>the puzzles in the Unnkuulian series....

Of course a dozen or more people can claim that the puzzle is easy, arguing
that they figured it out quickly. You can't really judge a puzzle's
difficulty or fairness that way; you have to look at how people overall
will do. The question is: "Will a significant number of people be totally
confused by the solution?" If so, then either the solution is just bad, or
the puzzle is very hard. I don't really object to hard games, but I also
don't agree with the puzzle-heads that difficulty makes a game more fun. I
don't see how adding a more straightforward hint than a single occurrence
of the word "enlighten" would hurt anything.

Graham has written an excellent "Player's Bill of Rights". Everyone should
read it; it makes it clear that there *are* reasonably objective criticisms
one can make of most adventure games.

Here are some rules I think _Balances_ violates:


Rule 2: Not to be given horribly unclear hints
Violations: "Enlighten"
Turning the elephant into the cylcops (almost no hint)

Rule 6: Not to need to do unlikely things
Violations: Cast light spell on temple
Commit suicide (to get into Boneyard)

Rule 7: Not to need to do boring things for the sake of it
Violations: for all X, for all Y [cast X on Y]

Rule 9: To be allowed reasonable synonyms
Violations: No synonyms for barker's "ticket"
General what's-my-vocabularly here and there

Rule 13: To be able to understand a problem once it is solved
Violations: cast light spell on temple


Look, none of these is terrible but they all definitely got under my skin
while I was playing, and I see no reason why the game can't be changed a
little here and there to alleviate the problem. Every author knows to
expect to have to make revisions during playtesting -- often substantial
ones. I've been making _Legend_ revisions based on playtester feedback
since March!

As for UU2, it certainly violates rules too. I wish that it weren't
interpreted as my concept of the Ideal Adventure Game. It was never
intended to represent my views about anything. I don't even think it's
particularly good.

Furthermore, the fact that I can't write my Ideal Adventure Game doesn't
mean that I can't hold others up to the same standard. :)

Martin Dunstan

unread,
Nov 20, 1994, 1:08:42 PM11/20/94
to
In article <3ag93k...@life.ai.mit.edu>,

David Baggett <d...@ai.mit.edu> wrote:
>In article <CzE4n...@acsu.buffalo.edu>,
>Phil Goetz <go...@cs.buffalo.edu> wrote:
>
>Right; no problem there. The problem is, how was I supposed to know to
>cast the lleps of this spell on the elephant to make the cyclops? The

Ok so perhaps some of the puzzles in Balances are obscure to some
people (me included) however I still managed to finish the game. The
reason is because I treated the whole thing as something to explore:
wouldn't it be fun to turn that harmless toy into something dangerous?
Besides it seems to have no other use so why not?

I did a similar thing with the tortoise: after reading its mind I
failed to notice the clue in the description: I just thought it would
be interesting to see what would happen when I cast various spells on
it.

Once you meet the cyclops then why does it give you long enough to
memorise some spells to cast at it? Perhaps this implies that you are
supposed to do something here ... and once done one finds something
useful.

Trying out various spells in different ways allows you to see parts
of the game that you wouldn't see if you solved everything "correctly"
the first time around: for instance, has anyone been killed by a dragon?

I realise that this isn't the serious way of completing an adventure
game and doesn't really get you far in something like Curses but when you
come to a dead end and can't think of what to do next why not just
experiment and see how the author has handled situations where the player
does unusual/stupid/unexpected things. You never know, it might solve a
problem or two.

Martin

A.J.W. Kemp

unread,
Nov 21, 1994, 7:12:23 AM11/21/94
to
In article <3ao3hl...@life.ai.mit.edu> d...@case.ai.mit.edu (David Baggett) writes:

[stuff about enlightening the monks]

>Graham has written an excellent "Player's Bill of Rights". Everyone should
>read it; it makes it clear that there *are* reasonably objective criticisms
>one can make of most adventure games.

>Here are some rules I think _Balances_ violates:

>Rule 6: Not to need to do unlikely things


>Violations: Cast light spell on temple
> Commit suicide (to get into Boneyard)

You don't actually _need_ to get into the boneyard to complete the game.
The only reason for doing this is to do the firework display, and I sort of
got the impression that this was a throwaway 'bonus' point to be discovered
by people who are fiddling around.

Andrew

David Gilbert

unread,
Nov 21, 1994, 10:40:24 AM11/21/94
to
MEGA SPOILER ALERT!!


Isn't "Balances" supposed to be a dream? Since when did a dream make any
logical sense? :) :) :)

Only from the warped mind of,

David L. Gilbert

DBlaheta

unread,
Nov 22, 1994, 6:25:07 AM11/22/94
to
In article <3agp0f$j...@cantua.canterbury.ac.nz>,
gr...@cosc.canterbury.ac.nz (Greg Ewing) writes:

: |> After using 'me' as a target many times in 'Curses',
:
: I figured out that I need to 'lobal me' instead of just 'lobal'
: but I keep getting distracted by butterflies.
:
: > Eventually, I read a spoiler and traded my useless lobal
: > scroll
:
: Does this mean the lobal scroll has nothing to do with
: listening to the monks?

There are a number of ways of solving that. I didn't have *any* problems
getting into the temple; however, once there, I gave up on
"find-the-verb". *sigh*

Don Blaheta
dbla...@aol.com

Mark Green

unread,
Nov 21, 1994, 10:41:28 AM11/21/94
to
ajw...@hermes.cam.ac.uk (A.J.W. Kemp) writes:

>Andrew

In addition, the stuff about the light spell isn't unprompted either.
All the time you're in the location, you can hear "voices inside the cube";
using the super-hearing spell (forgot the name) on the cube lets you
hear the people inside refer to being "enlightened".
Perhaps not a wonderfully good idea to base the solution on a pun, but it's
not a totally unprompted action.
--
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Mark Green |ObDisclaimer: These may not even | |
| CS UnderGrad |be MY opinions, far less the uni's.| MOOSE ! |
|University of Reading UK |So don't blame anybody for them. | |

DBlaheta

unread,
Nov 22, 1994, 6:50:10 AM11/22/94
to
My biggest beef is with the parsers on these things. I solved almost
every problem in the games on my own, and then had to try and figure out
how to phrase it to the computer. Three real nightmares (and, as I
recall, my "stuck-points" on Zork II) were the Curtain in the Bank of
Zork, the box-in-the-side-of-the-volcano problem, and the riddle. *Each*
of these I had figured out in less than five minutes, and then couldn't
figure out how to tell this to the game. I tried a whole bunch of things
on the riddle one, I remember, and didn't hit on 'answer "well"' until
someone told me.

In Balances, I didn't have too much of a problem with the Cyclops thing; I
figured, well, I have an elephant. An elephant isn't much good. Do I
have a spell to change it? Well, it's such a simple, safe... aha! I have
a spell to make things safe, and a spell to reverse it! I think that the
puzzle would not have been fair if there wasn't something quite so...
harmless. That, imho, was what made the puzzle non-random.

Don Blaheta
dbla...@aol.com

Carl Muckenhoupt

unread,
Nov 23, 1994, 2:01:18 AM11/23/94
to
dbla...@aol.com (DBlaheta) writes:

>In article <3agp0f$j...@cantua.canterbury.ac.nz>,
>gr...@cosc.canterbury.ac.nz (Greg Ewing) writes:

>: |> After using 'me' as a target many times in 'Curses',
>:
>: I figured out that I need to 'lobal me' instead of just 'lobal'
>: but I keep getting distracted by butterflies.

Being distracted by the noise made by butterflies on the other side of
the hill is a sign that the lobal spell is working. At that point, a
number of commands like "listen to monks" and "listen to temple" will get
you some very explicit directions concerning what to do next.


--
Carl Muckenhoupt
Breakfast Dragon
-==(UDIC)==-

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