Kinder, gentler int-fiction...

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Fred Sloniker

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Mar 20, 1995, 1:12:59 AM3/20/95
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Hi, everybody! (Hi, Uncle Nick!)

Those of you with encyclopedic memories, or who routinely archive this
newsgroup, have probably noticed that I make the occasional post here.
Post, because I really like the concept of interactive fiction (which,
to me, is a way ordinary people can tell their tales without hiring
umpteen zillion people to draw pictures, score music, and put it in a
neat box. I have no philosophical objection to illustrated stuff-- in
fact, "The Secret of Monkey Island" is one of my all-time favorite
games. I just know I couldn't do that kind of game. But I
digress...) Occasionally, because up until now I haven't been able to
actually *play* any int-fiction (my lowly WB1.3 Amiga wouldn't run any
interpreters, and my Unix account is used for higher-priority things).
Well, I finally shelled out for WB3.1, so I can happily join the rest
of you guys... except for one problem. What to play?

A little background on my tastes in games...

* The important things for me are the plot, characterization, and
environment. I don't mind puzzles, as long as they're not too
braintwisting, but I expect to spend at least half my time playing a
game just looking around, talking to people, and trying strange
things.

* Dying is something of a turn-off for me; getting into an insoluble
position is a worse one, because I might save whilst stuck. One of
the main reasons I enjoyed "Monkey Island" so much is because I only
had to save when it was time to go to bed or eat or something; the
"Quest for Glory" series, which I also enjoyed, had frequent deaths
but warned when you were in danger (so I could save) and seldom, if
ever, reached an insoluble state.

* I enjoyed "Balances" because it was short, sweet, and fun (good ol'
frotz...) I never got into "Curses" because of how easy it was to get
into an insoluble state (and for another reason, listed below).
"Advent" (the Collossal Caves port) and "Adventureland" (the Scott
Adams one) were both too primitive for my tastes.

* Give me a simple task right off the bat and either let me fulfill it
right away or keep tossing incremental frustrations at me the whole
game (while still letting me see I'm making progress). "Curses"
doesn't give me enough sense of progress in finding that stupid map;
"Stationfall" hugely frustrated the initial task without supplying
enough direction for me to know what to do next.

...so, anyone have any suggestions for kind, gentle, fun int-fiction?
Or is all the stuff out there repeated deathtraps and puns on words?
(In which case I suppose I'll have to write something myself...)

---Fred M. Sloniker, stressed undergrad
L. Lazuli R'kamos, FurryMUCKer
laz...@u.washington.edu

This tagline has been classified in the interest of national security.

The Grim Reaper

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Mar 20, 1995, 3:34:03 AM3/20/95
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In article <3kj6db$q...@nntp2.u.washington.edu>,

Fred Sloniker <laz...@u.washington.edu> wrote:
>Hi, everybody! (Hi, Uncle Nick!)
>
>Those of you with encyclopedic memories, or who routinely archive this
>newsgroup, have probably noticed that I make the occasional post here.
>Post, because I really like the concept of interactive fiction (which,
>to me, is a way ordinary people can tell their tales without hiring
>umpteen zillion people to draw pictures, score music, and put it in a
>neat box. I have no philosophical objection to illustrated stuff-- in
>fact, "The Secret of Monkey Island" is one of my all-time favorite
>games. I just know I couldn't do that kind of game. But I
I gotta agree here. Myst, for instance, is a game that I understand had the
artwork almost entirely done by one person. Single-person games are becoming
a lost art in the industry, and it's really too bad. Anyway...

>A little background on my tastes in games...
>
>* The important things for me are the plot, characterization, and
>environment. I don't mind puzzles, as long as they're not too
>braintwisting, but I expect to spend at least half my time playing a
>game just looking around, talking to people, and trying strange
>things.

Agreed. Nice prose helps here, but cool items are good too. Cool items in
this case could be the spells in enchanter, the rod in Fire Witch, etc, etc.
Anything that's fun to play with. Talking to NPCs is amusing for me for
a little while, but I tend to get bored quickly if they recognize almost no
terms.

>* Dying is something of a turn-off for me; getting into an insoluble
>position is a worse one, because I might save whilst stuck. One of
>the main reasons I enjoyed "Monkey Island" so much is because I only
>had to save when it was time to go to bed or eat or something; the
>"Quest for Glory" series, which I also enjoyed, had frequent deaths
>but warned when you were in danger (so I could save) and seldom, if
>ever, reached an insoluble state.

Also agreed.

>* I enjoyed "Balances" because it was short, sweet, and fun (good ol'
>frotz...) I never got into "Curses" because of how easy it was to get
>into an insoluble state (and for another reason, listed below).
>"Advent" (the Collossal Caves port) and "Adventureland" (the Scott
>Adams one) were both too primitive for my tastes.

Me too. I've become quite spoiled in my tastes in parsers. Only TADS or
Inform for me, thankyouverymuch. Or something just as good, of course. I
liked Balances, all save for the last puzzle that I found a pain in the butt,
and the Boneyard (that damn exit on one wall that you couldn't enter). But I
digress horribly ... Yeah. I'll talk a little more philosophy later, and
mention Curses, but lemme say here that I think Curses has become too complex
for me right now, and it's too easy to get stuck. So I gave up.

>* Give me a simple task right off the bat and either let me fulfill it
>right away or keep tossing incremental frustrations at me the whole
>game (while still letting me see I'm making progress). "Curses"
>doesn't give me enough sense of progress in finding that stupid map;
>"Stationfall" hugely frustrated the initial task without supplying
>enough direction for me to know what to do next.

This doesn't bug me too much. Curses had enough spots to poke at that I
didn't need to concentrate on my main goal. Actually, my college life is kinda
like that too :P

>...so, anyone have any suggestions for kind, gentle, fun int-fiction?
>Or is all the stuff out there repeated deathtraps and puns on words?
>(In which case I suppose I'll have to write something myself...)

Two suggestions, and then some philosophy of my own. John's Fire Witch: good
game. Fun stuff to play with, puzzles that are logical and not-too-hard.
It's possible to die, but completely avoidable beforehand. It's difficult
to get stuck. it's impossible to unknowingly get stuck, I'm pretty sure.
The other game is my all-time favorite piece of i-f, namely The Sound of One
Hand Clapping (at least available for PC... maybe not for others). It's short,
it's sweet, it's got a mix of humor and culture, it somehow communicated (to
me, anyway) a sense of mystic Asian-ness, it's impossible to die, as far as
I know, and though it has maybe one place where you can lose unknowingly, it's
still excellent. My only complaints would be the parser, the not-very-many
descriptions of scenery objects, and the aforementioned one place of getting
stuck. But aside from that, an excellent game. I haven't mentioned any of
the old Infocom games here as my favorites, because (shock), I haven't played
any of them. Too young to have experienced the early part of the computer
revolation. But anyway... more philsophy, from me this time:

What do I like in games? Most of the stuff he mentioned, plus more. I like
easy puzzles. Not hard puzzles with hints available. I like easy puzzles.
Now, that's mainly just because it's satisfying to solve a puzzle. But I don't
like stuff like Curses, where it's too damn big a world. This is good if we're
talking simulation, but I'd much rather have something that's smaller worlds,
where the possible object combinations are smaller, and it's easier to figure
out stuff. Which reminds me. Unnkuulian one-half is another good game, and
small to boot. Checkit out.
Another thing I like in games is details. This kinda gets overlooked by a
lot of people. I like having every single object described, I really do.
I realize it's a pain, but i promise I'll read the descriptions if you write
'em. And on that subject, I like having lots of synonyms for things too. And
I like my worlds as sensible as possible. This argues with simplicity, I
know, but so be it. I don't like >THROW BALL AT CLOCK to return "It's too far
away." Nonsense, I say. Or >PUT BALL ON RIFLE to return "I don't know how to
put the ball on the rifle" Ok, these are pains to do, espcially the second,
but I'd much rather at least get "You put the ball on the rifle, but it falls
off". So details are important.
I'd like to reiterate nice prose as being a good bonus, but totally
unnecessary. Legend had lots of nice bits in it, in this category.
More hints, maybe. I'd like more in-game hinting, and less hint sheets
needing to be attached. But that's just a personal preference, and would
probably turn off some people because it would makes thing too easy.
Another thing I dislike is time limits. Starvation, air running out,
whatever. These just annoy and frustrate me, especially the illogical ones.
*Especially* if I have to worry about them more than once per game.
Mostly what I like in i-f, just to wrap things up, is stuff to play with.
Text to read, objects that beep, spells that do stuff, teleportation rooms,
chameleons that change color, whatever. And a large variety of it, because I
have a short attention span ;P. Bigger isn't necessarily worse, but I think
increasing the complexity beyond a certain point is. Ideally, a long, complex
game, but one that's separated into a large number of areas where you don't
need to worry about stuff from other areas. Tis would allow lots of stuff,
without increasing difficulty (natually, this is the sort of i-f I think I'm
writing currently :P)

> ---Fred M. Sloniker, stressed undergrad

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