The evils of help? (Ballerina)

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Kathleen M. Fischer

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Dec 13, 1999, 3:00:00 AM12/13/99
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I was quite impressed with the help system of Jim Aikin's Ballerina when
I first played it (as a miserable excuse for a beta-tester). And I
thought "wow, this is cool, the player can't ever get stuck. I should do
this in my own WIP."

But now I'm wondering it's such a good thing. After all, if no one needs
to ask questions, then there are no posts, and no feedback for the
author, who will never know if people found it too easy, too hard, what
areas people stumbled over, etc.

And then there is that little matter of publicity.

So, I guess the question is, is such an extensive help system, which is
great for the player, ultimately harmful for the game?

Kathleen (who strongly recommends giving Ballerina a try if you haven't
already, and who is thinking seriously of no longer thinking seriously
about putting a help system in her own WIP)

--
-- Excuse me while I dance a little jig of despair.


Sent via Deja.com http://www.deja.com/
Before you buy.

Richard Fairweather

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Dec 13, 1999, 3:00:00 AM12/13/99
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There's no doubt that Mulldoon (great game though it quite clearly is)
wouldn't have been noticed by quite so many people if it wasn't for the huge
number of posts for help on rec-games. That's certainly how I found out
about it.

On one hand, a lack of in-game hints can be hugely frustrating for the
player, especially if they don't have easy access to the Internet -
especially in a puzzle-heavy game like Mulldoon.

On the other hand, simply giving hints away like Ballerina does makes it too
easy. This is a personal opinion - I have very little willpower when I'm
stuck in a game.

I believe the best solution is the one Magnetic Scrolls used: in the game
packaging, there are hint questions (eg "How do I open the post office
safe?"), but the hint answers come in the form of 30-character randomised
sequences of letters, which the user has to laboriously type in to the help
system in the game to find the answer. This was enough to put me off simply
looking up the hints the minute I got stuck, as it took *ages* to get the
answer to just one question. But the help is still there, if you really need
it.

Sadly, this approach wouldn't work anymore, as the documentation typically
comes in electronic form, and it would be easy for the player to simply cut
n' paste from the game documentation into the game itself. But it's an idea,
and one I personally would like to see followed up.

Kathleen M. Fischer <green_g...@my-deja.com> wrote in message
news:83395a$e2h$1...@nnrp1.deja.com...

Volker Lanz

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Dec 13, 1999, 3:00:00 AM12/13/99
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> But now I'm wondering it's such a good thing. After all, if no one needs
> to ask questions, then there are no posts, and no feedback for the
> author, who will never know if people found it too easy, too hard, what
> areas people stumbled over, etc.
>
> And then there is that little matter of publicity.
>
> So, I guess the question is, is such an extensive help system, which is
> great for the player, ultimately harmful for the game?

Good question. Lots of hint requests about a game on rgif definitely leads
to more people downloading it and trying it out.

I thought about this for a while before releasing INTRUDER and finally
decided to include hints for about the first third of the game, to help
players who get stuck right at the beginning. I thought (and still think)
this was a good compromise. (This has not, however, lead to _anyone_ asking
questions about the game on rgif... sniff...).

- v


Jasper McChesney

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Dec 13, 1999, 3:00:00 AM12/13/99
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Richard Fairweather wrote:
>
> I believe the best solution is the one Magnetic Scrolls used: in the game
> packaging, there are hint questions (eg "How do I open the post office
> safe?"), but the hint answers come in the form of 30-character randomised
> sequences of letters, which the user has to laboriously type in to the help
> system in the game to find the answer. This was enough to put me off simply
> looking up the hints the minute I got stuck, as it took *ages* to get the
> answer to just one question. But the help is still there, if you really need
> it.
>
> Sadly, this approach wouldn't work anymore, as the documentation typically
> comes in electronic form, and it would be easy for the player to simply cut
> n' paste from the game documentation into the game itself. But it's an idea,
> and one I personally would like to see followed up.

How about spellign out the numbers in the manual (i.e.
"seven, eighteen")
so they can't cut and paste?

Second April

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Dec 13, 1999, 3:00:00 AM12/13/99
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On Mon, 13 Dec 1999, Kathleen M. Fischer wrote:

> But now I'm wondering it's such a good thing. After all, if no one needs
> to ask questions, then there are no posts, and no feedback for the
> author, who will never know if people found it too easy, too hard, what
> areas people stumbled over, etc.
>
> And then there is that little matter of publicity.

The real problem here is that non-competition games don't get enough
attention, as discussed elsewhere. You'll be happy to know that solutions
to this problem are forthcoming, from Lucian's IF Book Club and from other
sources. If non-comp games get noticed, there's no incentive for the
author to avoid coding a hint system in order to get the game noticed.

Watch this space.

Duncan Stevens
dns...@merle.acns.nwu.edu

But buy me a singer to sing one song--
Song about nothing--song about sheep--
Over and over, all day long;
Patch me again my thread-bare sleep.

--Edna St. Vincent Millay

Lucian Paul Smith

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Dec 13, 1999, 3:00:00 AM12/13/99
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Kathleen M. Fischer (green_g...@my-deja.com) wrote:
: I was quite impressed with the help system of Jim Aikin's Ballerina when

: I first played it (as a miserable excuse for a beta-tester). And I
: thought "wow, this is cool, the player can't ever get stuck. I should do
: this in my own WIP."

: But now I'm wondering it's such a good thing. After all, if no one needs


: to ask questions, then there are no posts, and no feedback for the
: author, who will never know if people found it too easy, too hard, what
: areas people stumbled over, etc.

What if Release 1 was without hints, and another release, perhaps a month
or two afterwards, included them? Then the permanent version on the
archive would have the hints for those coming late, but there'd still be
the option to play without them (and post questions) when it was first
released.

-Lucian

Jim Aikin

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Dec 13, 1999, 3:00:00 AM12/13/99
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Not too surprisingly, I've been wondering the same thing myself.

My original motivation was that I'm a lousy game-player. I don't like
getting stuck, so I figured other people probably don't either. But my
solution to this problem was crafted in sublime ignorance of the
cultural (and thus "marketing," if we can use the word in this context)
dynamic found on rgif. I _did_ set the game up so that you score fewer
points if you use the hints, but possibly that isn't a daunting enough
obstacle to dissuade anybody.

If I had to do it over again (and if enough people tell me they like the
game, I _might_ write a sequel...), I would probably create a game file
with no hints other than the usual scatter of in-game clues. I would
then create a _second_ .z5 file containing the hint system, which would,
following Richard Fairweather's suggestion, provide you with a gibberish
8-letter word. To get a hint, you would have to save the real
game-in-progress, load the hint game, ask for a hint, write down the
8-letter word, then reload the real game and type the word, which would
give you the hint. And reduce the score for that puzzle.

Also, I wouldn't release the hint "game" file for at least a month after
the release of the actual game. This would encourage traffic on rgif and
discourage casual hint-browsing, while also providing, in the long run,
a full set of puzzle solutions that even my mom could understand.

I'm a little too proud to post a query asking if anybody is actually
playing the damn thing. Maybe next week.

--Jim ("Here, let me give it to you on a spoon") Aikin

"Kathleen M. Fischer" wrote:
>
> I was quite impressed with the help system of Jim Aikin's Ballerina when
> I first played it (as a miserable excuse for a beta-tester). And I
> thought "wow, this is cool, the player can't ever get stuck. I should do
> this in my own WIP."
>
> But now I'm wondering it's such a good thing. After all, if no one needs
> to ask questions, then there are no posts, and no feedback for the
> author, who will never know if people found it too easy, too hard, what
> areas people stumbled over, etc.
>

> And then there is that little matter of publicity.
>

> So, I guess the question is, is such an extensive help system, which is
> great for the player, ultimately harmful for the game?
>

kar...@fermi2.chem.yale.edu

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Dec 14, 1999, 3:00:00 AM12/14/99
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Lucian Paul Smith <lps...@rice.edu> wrote:
: Kathleen M. Fischer (green_g...@my-deja.com) wrote:

: : But now I'm wondering it's such a good thing. After all, if no one needs


: : to ask questions, then there are no posts, and no feedback for the
: : author, who will never know if people found it too easy, too hard, what
: : areas people stumbled over, etc.

How sad. I guess it doesn't help to suggest that people write 'this was a
great game!' posts to rgif whenever they play a good game? Well, perhaps
that could become part of the rgif culture if the core r*ifers started
doing so.

: What if Release 1 was without hints, and another release, perhaps a month


: or two afterwards, included them? Then the permanent version on the
: archive would have the hints for those coming late, but there'd still be
: the option to play without them (and post questions) when it was first
: released.

Good idea. But also have a password that turns the hints on, announced on
rgif, so that those who've already played the game don't need to redownload
the game.

-Amir

Eric Mayer

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Dec 14, 1999, 3:00:00 AM12/14/99
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On 14 Dec 1999 16:55:11 GMT, kar...@fermi2.chem.yale.edu wrote:

>
>How sad. I guess it doesn't help to suggest that people write 'this was a
>great game!' posts to rgif whenever they play a good game? Well, perhaps
>that could become part of the rgif culture if the core r*ifers started
>doing so.


I haven't been involved in rgif or the IF community long enough to
know what the culture actually is, but this strikes me as the best
solution. For a long time I was involved in sf fandom, which centered
largely around fans publishing fanzines which, weirdly, tended to have
nothing to do with sf. Like IF games the fanzines were not available
for money but they were not exactly free either. Rather, if you
received a fanzine, either beause the editor mailed you one on a whim
or you saw a review or listing and requested a sample, then, if you
wanted to stay on the mailing list you were expected to "pay" with an
occassional letter of comment - a loc. So fanzines weren't/aren't
"freeware" but rather "locware."

It has worked wonderfully well for sf fandom for years. And some
fans just made a reputation as prolific loccers. (And well deserved
since seeing that editors got feedback was as important, really, in
the whole context of the community as anything else)

Of course the whole setup was different. For one thing, a fan editor
can prune the mailing list of people who haven't made it clear that
they want to stay on the list. Also editors used the locs in letter
columns, which helped spur discussions from issue to issue. Now that
we have usenet, supposing the author looks at rgif, the best payment
might be a posting, which could spur discussion and interest rather
than an email to the author.

Mind you, a loc is more flexible than an out and out review. It might
be long, involved and crafted, if the writer has the desire to do so,
but it can also be a simple, "Hey, enjoyed your work. Nice job."
I have, myself, played quite a few games I've downloaded from the
archive without an email or a post. It didn't occur to me, although it
should have, that maybe some sort of "payment" was, although not
exactly "required" really called for under the circumstances. (Maybe
that is not really part of the culture at the moment)

Having just put up my game for the second time in a week (the bug-fix
fix as it were) , it is a little late, but in the future I might just
stick in there somewhere:

This game is locware. If you enjoyed it, or even if you didn't, please
post a Letter Of Comment to rgif or, if you're shy, just send me an
email.


--
Eric Mayer
Web Site: <http://home.epix.net/~maywrite>
=====================================================
co-author of ONE FOR SORROW
A "John the Eunuch" mystery from Poisoned Pen Press
<http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/html/sorrow.html>
=====================================================
"The map is not the territory." -- Alfred Korzybski

ke...@somethingorother.com

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Dec 15, 1999, 3:00:00 AM12/15/99
to

> I believe the best solution is the one Magnetic Scrolls used: in the
game
> packaging, there are hint questions (eg "How do I open the post office
> safe?"), but the hint answers come in the form of 30-character
randomised
> sequences of letters, which the user has to laboriously type in to
the help
> system in the game to find the answer. [...]

>
> Sadly, this approach wouldn't work anymore, as the documentation
typically
> comes in electronic form, and it would be easy for the player to
simply cut
> n' paste from the game documentation into the game itself. But it's
an idea,
> and one I personally would like to see followed up.

It'd be little trouble and just as effective to give the letter-
sequences in reverse, I suppose. As someone with fragile willpower in
situations of frustration, this seems like it might be a good idea.

Although I do tend to use in-game help as a rough indicator of how
interesting the game's likely to be, if I'm finding the opening
sections dull going and verge on giving up for good (the fate, I
suppose, of freeware) - picking a random puzzle and glimpsing at a bit
of its solution, to see if things improve further along, if it involves
the sort of puzzles that would be interesting to solve.

Kevan

--
ke...@somethingorother.com
http://www.stormloader.com/kevan

Greg Ewing

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Dec 16, 1999, 3:00:00 AM12/16/99
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Richard Fairweather wrote:
>
> Sadly, this approach wouldn't work anymore, as the documentation typically
> comes in electronic form, and it would be easy for the player to simply cut
> n' paste from the game documentation into the game itself.

Perhaps the hints themselves could be provided in encrypted
form, together with a description of the decryption algorithm
for manual execution.

Hmmm... taking this idea further, a skillful author might be
able to weave the encrypted hints into the game itself in a
believable way. Then decrypting the hints would become another
level of puzzle... and some people might need hints for the
hints... oh, dear...

Greg

Jason Thibeault

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Dec 16, 1999, 3:00:00 AM12/16/99
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>Also, I wouldn't release the hint "game" file for at least a month after
>the release of the actual game. This would encourage traffic on rgif and
>discourage casual hint-browsing, while also providing, in the long run,
>a full set of puzzle solutions that even my mom could understand.

Brilliant, Jim. I'm going to filch that idea (with due credits of
course ;) for my WIP.

My solution to this very problem -- I thought of it a while back, when
I first started prelim work on Xerxes, because I look at hints early
and often (I have no will) -- was to provide the first two or three
minor nudges in plain English, then give the rest in a sort of
pseudo-code. A simple encryption scheme -- like replacing letters
with the immediately proceeding letters in the alphabet -- is a
tedious enough method to keep people from browsing the hints, while
not cracking people's skulls over the actual decryption. Whaddaya
think, Sirs?

Regards, Jason
------------------------------------------
Jason Thibeault
3rd year BA(Eng)
Acadia University
http://www.crosswinds.net/~ragnaroknemo/
------------------------------------------

Ross Presser

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Dec 16, 1999, 3:00:00 AM12/16/99
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alt.distingu...@acadiau.ca (Jason
Thibeault).wrote.posted.offered:

>>Also, I wouldn't release the hint "game" file for at least a month after
>>the release of the actual game. This would encourage traffic on rgif and
>>discourage casual hint-browsing, while also providing, in the long run,
>>a full set of puzzle solutions that even my mom could understand.
>
>Brilliant, Jim. I'm going to filch that idea (with due credits of
>course ;) for my WIP.

IIRC, this is how Infocom usually did it -- they'd sell the bare game file
and a few months or years later sell an "enhanced" version with builtin
hints.
--
Ross Presser
ross_p...@imtek.com
"And if you're the kind of person who parties with a bathtub full of
pasta, I suspect you don't care much about cholesterol anyway."

Jon Ingold

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Dec 17, 1999, 3:00:00 AM12/17/99
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I originally was going to include a hint system in Mulldoon which would give
a series of pertinent questions to get the player on the right track, so
that no hint contained an explicit answer to any problem; therefore acting
as a 'nudge' rather than a simple 'oh I can't be bothered thinking so I'll
jack into the hints and win type thing'. However, since the game size
overloaded, and I had to remove hints entirely, this is academic really.

Sorry.

Jon

kar...@fermi2.chem.yale.edu

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Dec 17, 1999, 3:00:00 AM12/17/99
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Jason Thibeault <031...@acadiau.ca> wrote:
:>Also, I wouldn't release the hint "game" file for at least a month after

:>the release of the actual game. This would encourage traffic on rgif and
:>discourage casual hint-browsing, while also providing, in the long run,
:>a full set of puzzle solutions that even my mom could understand.

This is a neat idea. You could also just release the password that turns
on the help system so people who already have it don't have to redownload
the game.

: My solution to this very problem -- I thought of it a while back, when


: I first started prelim work on Xerxes, because I look at hints early
: and often (I have no will) -- was to provide the first two or three
: minor nudges in plain English, then give the rest in a sort of
: pseudo-code. A simple encryption scheme -- like replacing letters
: with the immediately proceeding letters in the alphabet -- is a
: tedious enough method to keep people from browsing the hints, while
: not cracking people's skulls over the actual decryption. Whaddaya
: think, Sirs?

It's a great idea... unless you're a hacker and write up a perl (et al.)
script to automatically decrypt all the hints. Yes, it's embarrassing, but
I might do it. In fact, I might have as much fun doing that as playing a
game.

-Amir

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