# Puzzles, problem-solving, and IF

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### Roger Giner-Sorolla

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Apr 5, 1996, 3:00:00 AM4/5/96
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Hello all,

I've been lurking on here for a couple of months, ever since I got stuck
on Christminster. The high quality of debate and thinking on these
newsgroups is amazing, and so is the interest value of the games being
put out by the likes of Messrs. Nelson, Rees, and DeMause.

The recent debate on "puzzley" and "puzzle-free" IF has got me thinking
about what exactly makes an IF game too "puzzley." I think that IF
(hyperfiction and the like) can definitely be free of problem-solving
elements, but an IF /game/ cannot. Here's why:

There are three possible elements of challenge in a game: coordination,
chance, and problem-solving. Chess is an example of a game that is pure
problem-solving; a slot machine is a game that is pure chance; and a
shooting gallery is a game that is a pure test of hand-eye coordination.

If an interactive computer program has none of these elements -- if, say,
the point of the game is to wander through a landscape and look at all the
pretty scenery -- I think most of us would be reluctant to call it a
"game." The pure walk-through would get more "game-like" if, for example,
the designer added a large number of non-obvious "Easter eggs" -- birds
that sing when you click on them, hidden areas, and so forth. Now, the
goal is to see the walk-through in its entirety; certain problems have
to be solved to achieve this goal.

The walk-through would also get more "game-like" if challenges of
coordination were added (shoot the pixies in the Enchanted Forest!) or if
elements of chance were added (chase the randomly moving Wumpus through
the landscape!) Adding any of the three possible elements of a game
would move our hypothetical walk-through closer to the ideal of an
"interactive game."

But, in my view, an "interactive FICTION game" must draw its "game"
elements almost exclusively from problem-solving. It's no coincidence
that the average IF enthusiast gets annoyed when the outcome of an IF game
can be seriously affected by chance factors (see Nelson's "Player's Bill
of Rights") -- I suspect that a similar annoyance would result from a
challenge to coordination suddenly popping up in the middle of a game.

>KILL TROLL WITH CHAINSAW

[Loading DOOM mode ... please be patient]

At the very least, chance and coordination challenges detract from the
main focus of an interactive fiction game, which is problem-solving. They
somehow make the game less prototypically IF.

This should not be surprising; most of us play interactive FICTION games
for the same reason we read genres of fiction like mystery, Gothic,
adventure, and SF. These genres of fiction are all about problem-solving
-- Who killed Roger Ackroyd? What's the secret of Ravensbrooke Castle? How
do I communicate with the alien ship? How am I going to make it across the
Yukon alive?

In fiction of this type, the pleasure comes from kibitzing along with the
problem-solving methods of the detective, the starship pilot, or the
explorer. The clever reader may even try to work out a solution on his
own, based on clues in the narrative. Then, even more fun can be had by
comparing one's own problem-solving efforts to those of the protagonist,
and to the "solution" that is eventually revealed.

The added pleasure of the /interactive/ fiction game comes, of course, from
collapsing the distance between reader and protagonist. The player is
directly involved in solving problems; she can manipulate the environment
in a way that a reader of linear fiction cannot. But an IF game
retains the goal of problem-solving that confronts both the reader
and the protagonist in linear fiction.

Chance and hand-eye coordination are impossible to integrate into the
reader's experience of linear fiction, of course. In fact, I suspect that
these elements are seen as detracting from the "fiction" aspect of
"interactive fiction," because they are not, and cannot be, a part of
linear fiction.

To sum up my views: an IF game without problem-solving elements is not an
IF game. If it has no challenges at all, it is not a game, just a work of
IF. If its challenges are not of the problem-solving type, it can be
called an interactive game, but it has alienated itself from our
experience of fiction.

Well, that's quite a bit of prologue to the more concrete point I'd
originally intended to make about problem-solving and puzzles. So, I'll
let this stand on its own for now -- but with the promise (or threat?)
that my next post will deal directly with why some problem-solving
challenges in IF also grate against our experience of fiction, and come
off as "too puzzley."

Roger Giner-Sorolla
New York University
Department of Psychology (S/P)

### David Baggett

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Apr 6, 1996, 3:00:00 AM4/6/96
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In article <Pine.SUN.3.91.960405...@xp.psych.nyu.edu>,
Roger Giner-Sorolla <gi...@xp.psych.nyu.edu> wrote:

>To sum up my views: an IF game without problem-solving elements is not an
>IF game. If it has no challenges at all, it is not a game, just a work of
>IF.

Right. But the central question is, do these things have to be games?
Will "just a work of IF" interest people? I think one could.

Dave Baggett
__
d...@ai.mit.edu
"Mr. Price: Please don't try to make things nice! The wrong notes are *right*."
--- Charles Ives (note to copyist on the autograph score of The Fourth of July)

### Julian Arnold

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Apr 6, 1996, 3:00:00 AM4/6/96
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In article <Pine.SUN.3.91.960405...@xp.psych.nyu.edu>,

Roger Giner-Sorolla <mailto:gi...@xp.psych.nyu.edu> wrote:
>
> To sum up my views: an IF game without problem-solving elements is not an
> IF game. If it has no challenges at all, it is not a game, just a work of
> IF.

Basically, I agree. But what is wrong with "just a work of IF?" There are
other things we can challenge through this medium, besides the
player/reader's puzzle-solving abilities.

Jools

### Kenneth Fair

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Apr 6, 1996, 3:00:00 AM4/6/96
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In article <4k4nm8\$t...@life.ai.mit.edu>, d...@ai.mit.edu wrote:

>In article <Pine.SUN.3.91.960405...@xp.psych.nyu.edu>,

>Roger Giner-Sorolla <gi...@xp.psych.nyu.edu> wrote:
>
>>To sum up my views: an IF game without problem-solving elements is not an
>>IF game. If it has no challenges at all, it is not a game, just a work of
>>IF.
>

>Right. But the central question is, do these things have to be games?
>Will "just a work of IF" interest people? I think one could.

Most stories have a protagonist that the story revolves around. Part of
what makes the story interesting is that there is a plot, i.e., stuff
happens to the protagonist. Usually the plot is in the form of
problems for the protagonist to solve, adversities to be overcome, and
the like. In a regular story, the reader watches the protagonist
solve those problems. The setting is determined by the author, where
he places those characters and so on.

In "traditional" IF, the player becomes the protagonist. She must solve
the puzzles. She also has some control over the setting by her actions
(go here, don't go there).

If you want to have IF without problem-solving by the player, then one
solution would be to have some other character do the problem solving.
This would mean that the player would no longer be the protagonist but
a sort of moveable camera. You could either have the player tag along
as a sidekick to the protagonist, or you could allow her to roam the
stage as a ghost, looking at what she desired while the action goes on
around her. The main problem is that the player might miss crucial
parts of the story, unless you waited for the player to do something
(such as in Christminster). All this, of course, requires extremely
detailed NPCs.

I tend to think that such an approach won't be very successful. What
would be successful, though, is to better blend the puzzles into
the story line to make it much more like problem solving of the sort
we do instinctually every day. I think a large part of the problem
driving this discussion is that our models of the world aren't
detailed enough yet. If I can think of sixty different ways to do
some particular task that needs to be done, yet the game will only
allow one way to complete it, it seems artificial. (For example,
why can't you dig a hole with the trowel in Lost New York? You
certainly could in real life.) But trying to anticipate every
possible response or action of the player becomes a nightmare.

Is there such a thing as a plotless story? If so, how could that
be translated into IF?

Just a bunch of random thoughts,
Ken

--
KEN FAIR - U. Chicago Law | Power Mac! | Net since '90 | Net.cop
kjf...@midway.uchicago.edu | CABAL(tm) Member | I'm w/in McQ - R U?
"I'm sorry to have written such a long letter. I did not have
time to write a short one." - George Bernard Shaw

### Bozzie

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Apr 6, 1996, 3:00:00 AM4/6/96
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Roger Giner-Sorolla <gi...@xp.psych.nyu.edu> writes:

>Hello all,

>I've been lurking on here for a couple of months, ever since I got stuck
>on Christminster. The high quality of debate and thinking on these
>newsgroups is amazing, and so is the interest value of the games being
>put out by the likes of Messrs. Nelson, Rees, and DeMause.

>The recent debate on "puzzley" and "puzzle-free" IF has got me thinking
>about what exactly makes an IF game too "puzzley." I think that IF
>(hyperfiction and the like) can definitely be free of problem-solving
>elements, but an IF /game/ cannot. Here's why:

>There are three possible elements of challenge in a game: coordination,
>chance, and problem-solving. Chess is an example of a game that is pure
>problem-solving; a slot machine is a game that is pure chance; and a
>shooting gallery is a game that is a pure test of hand-eye coordination.

But a game *isn't* just that. To say it is is to lower the standard.
If you're playing, say, baseball, do you only enjoy winning the game, or
making up the strategy? I know I enjoy just playing with friends. Theres
more to a game then just winning and losing, which is why IF is such a
potentiall-powerful tool for making games, you dontt have to win it to
enjoy it, as apposed to, say doom, where you spend hours trying to get
past some monster(or whatever, a n addrenalinmay give you a high, but
in the end, its winning thats importnt. Sadly, in many (older) and vn
even newer IF, there isn't much point in *not* winning (unless you
need to solve a puzzle that way, or want to see a fun way of dying,etc.)
Life (and even fiction) isn't like that. There are more then just the
best or most dramatic solution, and effot should be put into
losing as much as winning. Or at least make losing noty such a n
ARG, damn this backspace key. *sigh*

>If an interactive computer program has none of these elements -- if, say,
>the point of the game is to wander through a landscape and look at all the
>pretty scenery -- I think most of us would be reluctant to call it a
>"game." The pure walk-through would get more "game-like" if, for example,
>the designer added a large number of non-obvious "Easter eggs" -- birds
>that sing when you click on them, hidden areas, and so forth. Now, the
>goal is to see the walk-through in its entirety; certain problems have
>to be solved to achieve this goal.

Well, I dunno. No, nmaybe it wouldn't be a game (although I could think of
it as good IF, if well done) but for one thing there isn't a walkthru.
You woldnt have to worry... All you'de have to worry about is missing something
but then, why worry? I mean, everytime you ply the game you'd find something
new... Although, sadly you'd probably start by doing all the commands you
tried on the previous time. After all, we all have our favorite commands
and terms and order of f those commands.. And words we rarely think of using.
Now, maybe if we could change that <grin> ;-) or maybe have the scenery
change every time, yet be consistent... A very hard thing, thiough.

>The walk-through would also get more "game-like" if challenges of
>coordination were added (shoot the pixies in the Enchanted Forest!) or if
>elements of chance were added (chase the randomly moving Wumpus through
>the landscape!) Adding any of the three possible elements of a game
>would move our hypothetical walk-through closer to the ideal of an
>"interactive game."

Yeah, but do we want thT? I mean I play a game cause I want to be in someone
*else*s shoes (well, one of the reasons). And I dont want to lose out if
I cant do someone els can... I mean, supposing I have to touch a red panel
and I'm color blind? Or are we talking only of text adventures?

>But, in my view, an "interactive FICTION game" must draw its "game"
>elements almost exclusively from problem-solving. It's no coincidence
>that the average IF enthusiast gets annoyed when the outcome of an IF game
>can be seriously affected by chance factors (see Nelson's "Player's Bill
>of Rights") -- I suspect that a similar annoyance would result from a
>challenge to coordination suddenly popping up in the middle of a game.

Well, ok, I'll agree with that. But If doesn't have to be a game. (he said,
hoping not to bring about annther debate :))

>>KILL TROLL WITH CHAINSAW

>[Loading DOOM mode ... please be patient]

LOL! I'd love to have seen that in a game :)e

>At the very least, chance and coordination challenges detract from the
>main focus of an interactive fiction game, which is problem-solving. They
>somehow make the game less prototypically IF.

But I thought the main focus was plot.. Interactive *fiction* after all.

>This should not be surprising; most of us play interactive FICTION games
>for the same reason we read genres of fiction like mystery, Gothic,
>adventure, and SF. These genres of fiction are all about problem-solving
>-- Who killed Roger Ackroyd? What's the secret of Ravensbrooke Castle? How
>do I communicate with the alien ship? How am I going to make it across the
>Yukon alive?

agreed. I love to see puzzles that are made for the game. I l
If Im playing the game for the puzzes and not for the plot, then I hope
that the puzzles fit in to thea game. They shouldn't be removable
and fit into annother game with ease. A detective game should be about
characters and manipulating them and such. Fantasy should be about swords
and sorcery. If you have a puzzle where you have to destroy a alien
space ship while your own is half dead and your cheif engineer is giving
it "all she's got, capn" Then that fits easily into a sci fi game and not
in others.

Wheras, games which have over used puzzles like looking for keys, etc, I
dont like as much for their game value.

That said there are games I love that have over used puzzles. However, those
games tend to be well written, have good plots and good characters.e

### Roger Giner-Sorolla

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Apr 9, 1996, 3:00:00 AM4/9/96
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I think Ken Fair's response in this thread is exactly the idea I wanted
to develop in my follow-up to my initial post. That is, given that an IF
game must involve problem-solving, how do we make the puzzles more
believable, so that they help to maintain the suspension of disbelief that
the "fiction" part of IF requires?

Of course, there can be interactive fiction without puzzles, but I
suspect most readers of this forum have an a main interest in interactive
fiction *games*, which almost by definition require puzzles (broadly
defined). Problems that are highly satisfying to the game-player may
appear absurd, or beside the point, to the reader of fiction. For example,
the puzzles in the faculty dinner, in the context of the game
"Christminster", provide a wonderfully diverting lull before the drama of
the endgame -- but this charm, I suspect, would be lost on the reader of
a hypothetical "Christminster" novel, who might well wonder why the
protagonist's struggles with edible crustaceans are described in
such heroic detail.

There's not an IF game I know of that doesn't sacrifice at least part of
its fictional integrity to the pleasures of the game. Still, I think a
goal of well-written IF games should be to make this sacrifice as small as
possible -- to try to make problems as believable, contextualized, and
integrated with the plot as possible. If we aspire to write the
"literary" interactive-fiction game, it pays to keep in mind the German
critic Erich Auerbach's characterization of the goal of literature as
"mimesis" -- an internally coherent imitation or representation of the
world (or a world, in the case of fantasy and SF).

Alternatively, you can just re-define your goals and concentrate on
writing a fun puzzle-game with only the most tenuous connection to
reality. Nothing wrong with that; but I sense that a lot of the authors on
this forum aspire to something different, a balance between "fiction" and
"game".

Coming up next: My personal police blotter of CRIMES AGAINST MIMESIS

### Kenneth Fair

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Apr 10, 1996, 3:00:00 AM4/10/96
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In article <Pine.SUN.3.91.960407...@xp.psych.nyu.edu>,
Roger Giner-Sorolla <gi...@xp.psych.nyu.edu> wrote:

> I think Ken Fair's response in this thread is exactly the idea I wanted
>to develop in my follow-up to my initial post. That is, given that an IF
>game must involve problem-solving, how do we make the puzzles more
>believable, so that they help to maintain the suspension of disbelief that
>the "fiction" part of IF requires?

I would only add one thing. I've recently been playing a non-IF
Myst-like adventure game called Shivers (by Sierra). The setting is
a museum of oddities created by an eccentric professor. It has lots
of puzzles that might seem otherwise grafted on, but in this case,
they fit with the storyline (the professor wanted his museum guests
to solve various puzzles to be able to see certain things). Instead
of crafting the puzzles to fit the storyline, they crafted the
storyline to fit the puzzles. (And generally did a credible job of it.)

I just wanted to mention this as a second, perhaps unspokenly assumed,
way of grafting puzzles to storyline to create a seamless whole.

--
KEN FAIR - U. Chicago Law | Power Mac! | Net since '90 | Net.cop
kjf...@midway.uchicago.edu | CABAL(tm) Member | I'm w/in McQ - R U?

Technology is a way of organizing the universe so that man
doesn't have to experience it. --Max Frisch

### Cardinal Teulbachs

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Apr 12, 1996, 3:00:00 AM4/12/96
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kjf...@midway.uchicago.edu (Kenneth Fair) wrote:

>I would only add one thing. I've recently been playing a non-IF
>Myst-like adventure game called Shivers (by Sierra). The setting is
>a museum of oddities created by an eccentric professor. It has lots
>of puzzles that might seem otherwise grafted on, but in this case,
>they fit with the storyline (the professor wanted his museum guests
>to solve various puzzles to be able to see certain things). Instead
>of crafting the puzzles to fit the storyline, they crafted the
>storyline to fit the puzzles. (And generally did a credible job of it.)

>I just wanted to mention this as a second, perhaps unspokenly assumed,
>way of grafting puzzles to storyline to create a seamless whole.

The Zork series has always seemed to me to be the prime example of
this, and it's one reason why if I had my 'druthers (which, I suppose,
I do) I would prefer to write a story set in that or a similar
universe. The exigencies of a puzzle are easier to handle when one has
the freedom to throw in everything but the kitchen sink storywise. In
a more rigid, "real" world, it's usually much more difficult to find a
story-consistent rationale for one's best puzzles.

I suppose this reflects, though, the difference in character between
the puzzle-driven games and what we're wont to call the "serious"
ones. The serious ones seem to be stories in search of puzzles, while
the more fantastical ones seem like bunches of puzzles searching out
some coherence and plot.

--Cardinal T

[ I mean, what the hell kind of villain thwarts the hero's ]
[ progress with soup cans in the kitchen pantry? ]
[ ]
[ --Russ Bryan ]

### Joe Mason

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Apr 13, 1996, 3:00:00 AM4/13/96
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"Re: Puzzles, problem-solv", declared Bozzie from the Vogon ship:

B>But a game *isn't* just that. To say it is is to lower the standard.
B>If you're playing, say, baseball, do you only enjoy winning the game, or
B>making up the strategy? I know I enjoy just playing with friends. Theres
B>more to a game then just winning and losing, which is why IF is such a
B>potentiall-powerful tool for making games, you dontt have to win it to

:-) Last night I was at a marathon 5-hour Balderdash game... The guy who
probably had the most fun never moved off the first square, because everybody
could tell exactly which definitions were his, because they were always the
funniest... I think that's a perfect example of a game where winning and
losing aren't important.

Joe

-- Coming soon: "In the End", a work of Interactive Fiction --
-- More about the 1996 IF Contest at rec.arts.int-fiction --

ş CMPQwk 1.42 9550 şTalk is cheap because supply exceeds demand.

### Phil Goetz

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Apr 14, 1996, 3:00:00 AM4/14/96
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Roger Giner-Sorolla <gi...@xp.psych.nyu.edu> writes:
>This should not be surprising; most of us play interactive FICTION games
>for the same reason we read genres of fiction like mystery, Gothic,
>adventure, and SF. These genres of fiction are all about problem-solving
>-- Who killed Roger Ackroyd? What's the secret of Ravensbrooke Castle? How
>do I communicate with the alien ship? How am I going to make it across the
>Yukon alive?

I disagree. The science fiction I like, and the science fiction I write,
isn't about problem-solving. It might be about problem-posing: suppose
some future development, and look at the new problems that crop up.
Problem-solving science fiction is of the 1940's-1950's (and 1990's, if
you count _Analog_ and the new _Star Trek_, both of which I try but fail
to enjoy).

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