Are there any alternatives to puzzles?

17 views
Skip to first unread message

Jonathan Petersen

unread,
Mar 4, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/4/98
to

Daniel Schulman wrote:
>
> This is my first attempt at a discussion topic, so don't expect much.
>
> I wanted to write a "puzzle-less" game, but it occurred to me that
> there really aren't that many alternatives to having puzzles. I don't
> particularly like puzzles - they always seem to feel artificial. The
> player feels like a clever little rat instead of a character in the
> story. But, what else can you, as the writer, do? The player needs
> to have something to do, or interactivity is worthless. There needs
> to be some way to control the pace of the plot as well.
>
> I was thinking of doing a game where the main emphasis - in fact, the
> whole emphasis, was on examination and exploration. The player
> basically gets the plot why wandering around and looking at stuff.
> The more they explore and look at, the more areas open up.

This describes, almost exactly, the focus of "A Mind Forever Voyaging,"
which many people consider one of Infocom's most satisfying games. AMFV
does have a few puzzles, but the great bulk of the game is just looking
at stuff. If you haven't played it yet, AMFV seems like the logical
place
to start if you're wondering how to make (mostly) Puzzle-less IF work
well.
To see what not to try, play "Fable." :)

Jon

Stacy the Procrastinating

unread,
Mar 4, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/4/98
to

On Thu, 5 Mar 1998, Daniel Schulman wrote:

> This is my first attempt at a discussion topic, so don't expect much.
>
> I wanted to write a "puzzle-less" game, but it occurred to me that
> there really aren't that many alternatives to having puzzles. I don't
> particularly like puzzles - they always seem to feel artificial. The
> player feels like a clever little rat instead of a character in the
> story. But, what else can you, as the writer, do? The player needs
> to have something to do, or interactivity is worthless. There needs
> to be some way to control the pace of the plot as well.

<snip>
> So I pretty much ended up back where I
> started. Puzzles. Any other ideas?
>
>

Poking back through the archives, I've seen this thread pop up before, and
I know there are some examples of almost-puzzleless games that can be
trotted out (A Mind Forever Voyaging, is one classic example, since the
emphasis is definitely on exploration rather than problem-solving). It
seems like that style game, where the player basically has a checklist
rather than a list of obstacles, is one alternative, though I'm not sure
how much that appeals to the IF public in general. Most people, it seems,
really love the mind-benders ;-)

- Stacy

***************************************************************
* DEATH TO SPAM! *
* To reply to this message, cut the animal out of the address *
***************************************************************


Daniel Schulman

unread,
Mar 5, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/5/98
to

This is my first attempt at a discussion topic, so don't expect much.

I wanted to write a "puzzle-less" game, but it occurred to me that
there really aren't that many alternatives to having puzzles. I don't
particularly like puzzles - they always seem to feel artificial. The
player feels like a clever little rat instead of a character in the
story. But, what else can you, as the writer, do? The player needs
to have something to do, or interactivity is worthless. There needs
to be some way to control the pace of the plot as well.

I was thinking of doing a game where the main emphasis - in fact, the


whole emphasis, was on examination and exploration. The player
basically gets the plot why wandering around and looking at stuff.
The more they explore and look at, the more areas open up.

The problem is, this approach doesn't seem like it would work for most
games (the one I was thinking of was heavily symbolic and
allegorical). I also was unable to convince myself that someone would
actually want to play it. So I pretty much ended up back where I

FemaleDeer

unread,
Mar 5, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/5/98
to

>From: ST97...@pip.cc.brandeis.edu (Daniel Schulman)
>Date: Wed, Mar 4, 1998 19:15 EST

>The player
>basically gets the plot why wandering around and looking at stuff.
>The more they explore and look at, the more areas open up.
>
>The problem is, this approach doesn't seem like it would work for most
>games (the one I was thinking of was heavily symbolic and
>allegorical). I also was unable to convince myself that someone would
>actually want to play it. So I pretty much ended up back where I
>started. Puzzles. Any other ideas?

Well, basically I like puzzles if they are half-way decent. Yes, you can try
branching, different story lines result from different actions taken. In other
words the story does not always come out the same, it depends on what the
player does. Personally, although I am not positive, I think this idea works
better for a "short story" if game, not a longer one.

FD Have you played Tapestry? That idea, no puzzles need to be involved to have
different branches.


------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Femal...@aol.com "Good breeding consists in
concealing how much we think of ourselves and how
little we think of the other person." Mark Twain

Brian 'Beej' Hall

unread,
Mar 5, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/5/98
to

[Consider this post an explorative ramble, as I am writing down ideas as
they pop into my head.]

In article <34fded4e...@news.brandeis.edu>,


Daniel Schulman <ST97...@pip.cc.brandeis.edu> wrote:
>I wanted to write a "puzzle-less" game, but it occurred to me that
>there really aren't that many alternatives to having puzzles.

In defense of puzzles:

I like puzzles. I like the story, too, if it's good, but the puzzles
make the game. (Give me a puzzle to solve! I suck at 'em, but they're
still quite fun.) In other words, if you have no puzzles, you have just
a branching story.

If that is good enough (Choose Your Own Adventure), then that's great.
Otherwise, you'd better have some other plan up your sleeve to make the
game more interesting.

One thing that I think could accomplish this is some seriously fleshed-
out NPCs. Imagine a game where the plot evolves depending on how all
the NPCs act--how they act is dependent on your interaction with them.
(I know this sounds like a lot of games, but take those games and make
the NPCs far more real. We're all AI programmers, right?)

Of course, getting them to act in the way you want is a bit of a puzzle
in itself. Perhaps a better definition of "puzzle" is in order?

Well, enough rant--I'd better stop wasting bandwidth.

-Beej


Daniel Schulman

unread,
Mar 5, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/5/98
to

>Well, basically I like puzzles if they are half-way decent. Yes, you can try
>branching, different story lines result from different actions taken. In other
>words the story does not always come out the same, it depends on what the
>player does. Personally, although I am not positive, I think this idea works
>better for a "short story" if game, not a longer one.
>
>FD Have you played Tapestry? That idea, no puzzles need to be involved to have
>different branches.
>

I played Tapestry, and (no offense to the author, it was a good game),
I didn't really like the way it handled having multiple branches. I'm
not sure why - maybe it felt too mechanical, too obviously a plot
device. I liked the way I-0 did multiple branches much better.
That's sort of what I was trying to say - I would like to do a game
without puzzles, to see if it could be done well, but I can't seem to
come up with an alternative that works as well.

mike gentry

unread,
Mar 5, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/5/98
to

Daniel Schulman wrote:
>
> I wanted to write a "puzzle-less" game, but it occurred to me that
> there really aren't that many alternatives to having puzzles. I don't
> particularly like puzzles - they always seem to feel artificial. The
> player feels like a clever little rat instead of a character in the
> story. But, what else can you, as the writer, do? The player needs
> to have something to do, or interactivity is worthless. There needs
> to be some way to control the pace of the plot as well.
>
> I was thinking of doing a game where the main emphasis - in fact, the
> whole emphasis, was on examination and exploration. The player

> basically gets the plot why wandering around and looking at stuff.
> The more they explore and look at, the more areas open up.

The main purpose of puzzles, besides irritating and/or challenging the
player, should be to direct the flow of the story (assuming the game has
a story).

A locked door, for example, closes off a section of the game until the
player finds a key. If that is its only function, then the door is a
meaningless hindrance. However, if your game has an unfolding story, and
there are certain elements which you want to happen later in the game
rather than earlier, then suddenly you have a device for controlling the
sequence of events. The later story elements all occur behind that door.
In the process of searching for and finally locating the key, the player
encounters earlier events that set the stage for the later.

If you have areas that only "open up", or make themselves available,
when the character enters or looks at certain items, then in a sense you
are still implementing puzzles, albeit puzzles with extremely simple
solutions.

My point: perhaps if you looked at puzzles as more of a tool for
controlling narrative flow, rather than as obstacles merely for the sake
of it, you might get a better handle on how to create the type of game
you're looking for.

The danger in writing a completely open-ended, puzzle-less game is that
the story stands a good chance of being too diffuse, too confusing
(since things are happening in no particular order), and/or too boring.
Stories without any sort of linear progression tend to, by definition,
not go anywhere. And if the player is not called upon to exercise
his/her faculties, then it begs the question of why you didn't write the
story on paper to begin with and let people read it the normal way,
rather than requiring them to endlessly type EXAMINE this and EXAMINE
that in order to get through it.

This isn't to say that open-ended stories aren't any good. "A Mind
Forever Voyaging", as many have already noted, is a largely puzzle-less
game that is very satisfying. I might point out, however, that there is
a plot going on around all that free exploring, and in order for the
plot to advance you do have to solve a few puzzles.

I tend to enjoy (and I strive to write) puzzles that serve more to
advance than to hinder the plot. They don't necessarily have to be easy;
but I like them better when they are solutions that the protagonist
would reasonably come up with, to problems that he/she would reasonably
encounter, during the course of the story. It should be intuitive. The
WWI scene in Jigsaw is a good example. It's clear that you have to do
SOMETHING, and if you don't get it right then bad things will follow,
but by that time you (the player) are so drawn into the plot that you
really don't have to think about it at all -- you simply do what must
come next in the context of the story.

Of course, my first IF game presents over a dozen locked doors within
the first hour of gameplay, and if my beta-testers are to be believed it
drives everyone batfuck crazy, so what do I know?

Anyway: my point is, don't necessarily give up on puzzles -- do rethink
the way you implement them. Cleverly placed puzzles can gently funnel a
player through the story without ever giving him/her the feeling of
being "led". They also heighten the reward factor -- a good piece of
prose is all the better if you had to work like hell to read it.

-- M

P.S. Take a look at Andrew Plotkin's new game "Spider and Web" for an
idea of what I'm talking about. (See his other two for the exact
opposite.) Babel is also a good example of "plot-driven" puzzles.

Dancer

unread,
Mar 5, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/5/98
to


Daniel Schulman wrote:

> This is my first attempt at a discussion topic, so don't expect much.
>

> I wanted to write a "puzzle-less" game, but it occurred to me that
> there really aren't that many alternatives to having puzzles. I don't
> particularly like puzzles - they always seem to feel artificial. The
> player feels like a clever little rat instead of a character in the
> story. But, what else can you, as the writer, do? The player needs
> to have something to do, or interactivity is worthless. There needs
> to be some way to control the pace of the plot as well.
>
> I was thinking of doing a game where the main emphasis - in fact, the
> whole emphasis, was on examination and exploration. The player
> basically gets the plot why wandering around and looking at stuff.
> The more they explore and look at, the more areas open up.
>

> The problem is, this approach doesn't seem like it would work for most
> games (the one I was thinking of was heavily symbolic and
> allegorical). I also was unable to convince myself that someone would
> actually want to play it. So I pretty much ended up back where I
> started. Puzzles. Any other ideas?

Stories have a thing called 'conflict', which is then followed by
'resolution' (resolution may include denoument(sic)).
I-F has puzzles.

The game I'm currently working on, I'm trying to eliminate puzzles, and
instead substitute 'challenge' (or 'conflict' if you will).

In this case it is conflict with circumstances and with an alien
environment (which, you could define as a puzzle, if you like).

The trick here is that the game exists on two levels. The interaction
layer and the simulation layer. The simulation layer is the biggest
portion. It deals with the environment, which is a single interlocking
chunk. In order to reach the end of the story, the player has to work out
the logic of the system. Having done so, it should be relatively trivial
for the player to manipulate that system to achieve his/her ends.

If I was, for example, to hand you my notes with the meaning of the
symbols, and the logic of the system, you could probably do the whole
thing in very little time. The trick is to deal with a logical system that
resembles (but is not) the logical system that you are used to.

Hence, no puzzles, exactly. Just an system that can be tinkered with,
modified, experimented on, and learned. Having done so, completion of the
story should be reasonably automatic.

The rest of it is tied up with trying to make good narrative prose out of
the whole thing, so that you have a second-person story that you can
enjoy.


(Notes: Got another 20% of the simulation done last night. All things
being equal, another week or two)

D

jba...@earthling.net

unread,
Mar 5, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/5/98
to

In article <34fded4e...@news.brandeis.edu>,
ST97...@pip.cc.brandeis.edu wrote:

> I wanted to write a "puzzle-less" game, but it occurred to me that
> there really aren't that many alternatives to having puzzles. I don't
> particularly like puzzles - they always seem to feel artificial. The
> player feels like a clever little rat instead of a character in the
> story. But, what else can you, as the writer, do? The player needs
> to have something to do, or interactivity is worthless. There needs
> to be some way to control the pace of the plot as well.

This is a frequent topic of debate/discussion here. There have been
some noteworthy attempts at this concept, with some of the results being more
satisfying than others. The oft-cited "A Mind Forever Voyaging" is (IMHO) a
great example of how to do this right. Activision's "Portal", released in
the mid-80s, was touted as being "puzzleless interactive-fiction", though I
personally never played it and don't know how well it succeeded (comments,
anyone?). I remember one of the Competition entries from a year or two ago,
which was largely puzzleless and required the player to commit suicide to end
the game... I forget the name of it. Tapestry, which I greatly enjoyed, also
had fewer puzzles than normal.
My current I-F project is an attempt at "almost puzzleless" I-F,
dealing mostly with exploration. Since the setting of the game is real, the
project is requiring an extraordinary amount of research, but the end result
will (hopefully) be worth it. I'm not a skilled enough writer, however, to
make the game totally puzzleless, but I'm trying to make the puzzles suit the
environment. There will be no mazes or "Bank of Zork" puzzles. ;)


Zorkers do it under the rug,
"Average Joe" Barlow (jba...@ipass.net)

-----== Posted via Deja News, The Leader in Internet Discussion ==-----
http://www.dejanews.com/ Now offering spam-free web-based newsreading

Chris Marriott

unread,
Mar 5, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/5/98
to

In article <19980305004...@ladder03.news.aol.com>, FemaleDeer
<femal...@aol.com> writes

>Well, basically I like puzzles if they are half-way decent. Yes, you can try
>branching, different story lines result from different actions taken. In other
>words the story does not always come out the same, it depends on what the
>player does. Personally, although I am not positive, I think this idea works
>better for a "short story" if game, not a longer one.

My all-time favourite IF game is the old Infocom "A Mind Forever
Voyaging". That's a superb example of a game involving very few puzzles;
its *plot* is what makes it a great game.

Chris

----------------------------------------------------------------
Chris Marriott, SkyMap Software, UK (ch...@skymap.com).
Visit our web site at: http://www.skymap.com
Astronomy software written by astronomers, for astronomers.

Michael Straight

unread,
Mar 5, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/5/98
to

On Thu, 5 Mar 1998, Daniel Schulman wrote:

> This is my first attempt at a discussion topic, so don't expect much.
>

> I wanted to write a "puzzle-less" game, but it occurred to me that
> there really aren't that many alternatives to having puzzles. I don't
> particularly like puzzles - they always seem to feel artificial. The
> player feels like a clever little rat instead of a character in the
> story. But, what else can you, as the writer, do? The player needs
> to have something to do, or interactivity is worthless. There needs
> to be some way to control the pace of the plot as well.

Have you played the game "Babel"? It could, fairly easily, be re-written
so that there were no puzzles, just wandering around, looking at the
station, finding places where you could have visions of what had happened,
slowly piecing together the story.

I don't think Babel would be as much fun without the puzzles, but that
might give you an idea of what is possible.

But even walking around examining things is a kind of puzzle and can
naturally lead into other kinds of puzzles that, when done well, don't
feel artificial: Where should I go? What should I look at? What's going
on here? How do I get over there? What's this for? What would happen if
I did this?

SMTIRCAHIAGEHLT


L. Ross Raszewski

unread,
Mar 5, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/5/98
to

In article <34fded4e...@news.brandeis.edu>,

ST97...@pip.cc.brandeis.edu wrote:
>
> This is my first attempt at a discussion topic, so don't expect much.
>
> I wanted to write a "puzzle-less" game, but it occurred to me that
> there really aren't that many alternatives to having puzzles. I don't
> particularly like puzzles - they always seem to feel artificial. The
> player feels like a clever little rat instead of a character in the
> story. But, what else can you, as the writer, do? The player needs
> to have something to do, or interactivity is worthless. There needs
> to be some way to control the pace of the plot as well.

Perhaps what yuo need is a broader definition of puzzle. When most people
(most, not all, please don't bomb me with counterexamples) say "puzzleless",
what they often really seem to mean (is that wishy-washy enough?) without
obtrusive puzzles.

This isn't clear (even to me) so I'll give an example.

Obtrusive puzzle: The door has a lock which can only be opened by playing
Lights Out with the computer.

Unobtrusive puzzle: I'm baking a cake, but I've run out of eggs. I need to
procure some (provided that getting them doesn't involve playing lights out
with a chicken)
Better yet, it's a mystery game, and I'm solving a crime.


Obtrusive puzzle game: The 7th Guest (this is the best example I can think of,
the puzzles actually have nothing whatsoever to do with the game. you get the
idea, though. Zork is another extreme example. As are most Zarf Games
(except maybe Spider).)

Unovtrusive Puzzle Game: AMFV, I-0

so my point (yeah, I do have one, it surpriese even me) is that you can still
have puzzles, in a "puzzleless" game. Just make them good puzzles. Don't
hide any keys, don't put combination locks on things. Do give the character
something they want to accomplish

Vivienne S Dunstan

unread,
Mar 5, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/5/98
to

In article <34fded4e...@news.brandeis.edu>,
ST97...@pip.cc.brandeis.edu (Daniel Schulman) wrote:

>I was thinking of doing a game where the main emphasis - in fact, the
>whole emphasis, was on examination and exploration. The player
>basically gets the plot why wandering around and looking at stuff.
>The more they explore and look at, the more areas open up.

I'm trying to do something similar with a game I have been designing
for a very long time now. It will probably involve a few puzzles here
and there, but the main thrust will be to try to figure out what is
going on through watching, observing, questioning etc. The setting
is a historical one (Scottish borders, 16th century) which probably
compounds my difficulties, but this finding out is crucial to the plot.

I'm still not sure how feasible it is, or how easy it will be to
implement this in current game systems (I'm learning Inform at the
moment) but it's a vital part of my design, so I'm going to try.
In many ways any branching is going to take place inside the player's
head, as they try to make sense of what's going on. Their actions (or
"re"actions) will then drive the plot forward, but the player will be
only a pawn in a larger story, so their ability to change the "big
events" may be restricted, as they act within their own power limits.

Perhaps it also helps that the game will be time-limited and events
will take place at certain times, for very good, well-defined game
reasons. This gives a framework in which the player can interact,
move about etc., find out about things, but the main structure of
events is already pre-determined. Again the player is only a very
small player in this scenario, but it is up to them to effect change,
in spite of this, mainly based on knowledge gained and interaction.

Thanks to the others by the way who have suggested other games to
play. I've never played A Mind Forever Voyaging before (it didn't
run on my Commodore 64 which I used for Infocom games!) but now
thanks to Lost Treasures of Infocom I can play it on my Apple Mac.
I have played Tapestry though and found that very interesting,
although I think it takes a different approach to these issues.

Best wishes.

Viv Dunstan
Fife, Scotland
http://www.users.zetnet.co.uk/vdunstan/


Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Mar 5, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/5/98
to

jba...@earthling.net wrote:
> Activision's "Portal", released in
> the mid-80s, was touted as being "puzzleless interactive-fiction", though I
> personally never played it and don't know how well it succeeded (comments,
> anyone?).

There were sixteen databases, and you went from one to the next looking
at files. Each file effectively triggered the next one. One database was
an emerging narrative (actually two, years apart) and you mostly
alternated between finding a new piece of narrative and a new data file
in one of the other nodes.

It was a good plan, but it didn't really try to disguise its lack of
interesting interactivity. It stood or fell on the strength of the SF
story, and the SF story wasn't very good.

In fact it was later published as a paperback novel, and I think it works
the same way in both forms.

--Z

--

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

Lucian Paul Smith

unread,
Mar 5, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/5/98
to

Daniel Schulman (ST97...@pip.cc.brandeis.edu) wrote:
: This is my first attempt at a discussion topic, so don't expect much.

: I wanted to write a "puzzle-less" game, but it occurred to me that
: there really aren't that many alternatives to having puzzles.

Instead of thinking in terms of puzzles, think in terms of
conflict/resolution. The protagonist faces a challenge or an obstacle and
must overcome it. You *could* write a story with no conflict, but it
would likely be uninteresting--as it seems you are discovering with your
exploration story.

My advice (such as it is) would be to keep the exploration as the
backdrop, but challenge the protagonist in some way.

You might also be interested in "IF Roundtable: The Art of the Puzzle" at
http://www.xyzzynews.com/xyzzy.14g.html

-Lucian

Steve Bernard

unread,
Mar 5, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/5/98
to

Chris Marriott wrote:

> My all-time favourite IF game is the old Infocom "A Mind Forever
> Voyaging". That's a superb example of a game involving very few puzzles;
> its *plot* is what makes it a great game.
>
> Chris
>

I also heartily recommend Chris Klimas' "Mercy". It was by far the best
game released last year and ranks up there among my favorite games of
all time.

Download it now.

If you already have, play it some more.

Then give me a dollar.

Then play it again.

Repeat the two previous steps and this one.

-Steve

P.S. No, I mean EVERYBODY!

--
It began with a certain disgust, and it ended-
Since we could not immediately seize upon eternity-
It ended in a scattering of perfumes.
-Arthur Rimbaud

The Glassers

unread,
Mar 7, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/7/98
to

Jonathan Petersen <en...@ucla.edu> wrote:

> To see what not to try, play "Fable." :)

Hey, Fable wasn't that horrible. It was surreal, and at least had
something resembling a plot (more than one could say for many games).

Plus, the MST3K version is d!@# good fun.

--David Glasser
gla...@NOSPAMuscom.com
Check out my new unfinished website at http://onramp.uscom.com/~glasser
It is better than my two-year-old unfinished website at
http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/6028/

Danimator

unread,
Mar 7, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/7/98
to

Vivienne S Dunstan wrote:
]
] Perhaps it also helps that the game will be time-limited and events

] will take place at certain times, for very good, well-defined game
] reasons. This gives a framework in which the player can interact,
] move about etc., find out about things, but the main structure of
] events is already pre-determined. Again the player is only a very
] small player in this scenario, but it is up to them to effect change,
] in spite of this, mainly based on knowledge gained and interaction.
]
] Thanks to the others by the way who have suggested other games to
] play. I've never played A Mind Forever Voyaging before (it didn't
] run on my Commodore 64 which I used for Infocom games!) but now
] thanks to Lost Treasures of Infocom I can play it on my Apple Mac.
] I have played Tapestry though and found that very interesting,
] although I think it takes a different approach to these issues.

Although not Interactive Fiction, I'd like to toss in Ultima V.
Whenever I consider "games with an interesting story" this is always
the first one I think of, and it's my favorite long-term non-IF
game.

The storyline is figuring out a mystery--why has the whole realm
gone to pot since U4? The game starts you out with the piece of the
story told by one person, and as you explore the realm you'll find
more and more characters that know other parts of the story (and
discover that you read some important clues in the documentation
but didn't realize it at the time). Many of these are -not- required
in order to win the game; once you had beaten it, there was still
play-value involved in trying to figure out, say, where the
Shadowlords came from in the first place.

That said, it probably wouldn't work as-is in any IF. The story
had all taken place previous to your introduction into it, and if
there wasn't the surrounding RPG world it would've been rather short.
But I believe it could be useful to consider from the concept of
"how to tell a story in a game."


-Dan, longtime lurker who hopes won't be flamed for bringing up a
non-IF game

ravi...@fast.net

unread,
Mar 8, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/8/98
to

Well, as someone who's been accused of writing interactive *fiction* (and
puzzles are often thought of as at least a part of the 'I' of IF) ...

There have been various positions presented in this thread on exactly what a
puzzle is - and the difference between puzzles that are obviously puzzles
tacked on to the story and puzzles that are integrated directly into the
story.

There have also been discussions (in other threads) about engines like the
Erasmatron which could (theoretically) create true "puzzleless" stories - but
also non-linear, non-predictable stories that the author could only set up the
initial settings for.

The question is, I suppose, can an author write a (relatively) linear story in
the "classic" I-F mode (ie there is one, single ending which the author wants
the player to 'find' and there's many (ways/sets of commands) which lead
there) and still have no puzzles?

I think the answer's yes. But the only solution might be a gimmick -- a
pseudo-hybrid of 'classic' I-F and non-linear NPC-based storytelling.

"Mercy" did this - to a point. There WERE puzzles - insofar as any I-F game
has puzzles -- "What do I do next?"

The solution seems to be to have the game end up solving itself if the player
doesn't...

Which brings me to my point. :)

I know it's a rilly rilly bad idea to announce one's works-in-progress (Hiya
Whizzard...how goes testing? Ya know, the millenium's just around the
corner...), but what the hey. :)

When I was doing design work for De La Poer (previously mentioned in the
'Copyright Redux' thread), I came across an academic paper on NPC design on an
I-F homepage (sorry, can't find it at the moment)...

In any case, the paper suggested that the problem with I-F NPCs is that they
don't carry their own weight. The story grinds to a screetching halt while
the PC plays with cans in the pantry (or whatever).

What, like no one else can move cans around?

Hence, my design for DLP. The game could be - theoretically - solved by the
player typing 'wait' 'wait' 'wait' 'wait'. It'd be rilly rilly boring...but
you'd get to the end.

You'd also miss out on a lot.

DLP DOES have puzzles (good ones, I hope...) but they're all optional.

The more puzzles you solve, the deeper into the mystery you get. But you'll
reach the end of the story even if you miss all of them.

This, however, presents a new problem -- time limits. But I think that giving
players a reasonable amount of time, and allowing save/restores will help to
temper this.

Any thoughts? Suggestions? Mocking messages regarding how long (1999? 2000?
2050?) before the damn thing'll be done? :)

OH, BTW...when the other characters solve a puzzle, they don't present the
answer. You don't get to see how they did it. Hence, the game doesn't give
away solutions...just bypasses the puzzles.

d

Dancer

unread,
Mar 8, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/8/98
to

In article <6du78n$984$1...@news1.fast.net>, ravi...@fast.net wrote:
>I know it's a rilly rilly bad idea to announce one's works-in-progress (Hiya
>Whizzard...how goes testing? Ya know, the millenium's just around the
>corner...), but what the hey. :)

I've noticed that. A direct result of my mentioning the one I have in
progress a few days ago was a sudden cessation in time available to work
on it. I'm hoping to get back to it momentarily. I need to parse
indirect object names that cannot be dictionary words. Oh, man. Why did
I do this to myself?

>When I was doing design work for De La Poer (previously mentioned in the
>'Copyright Redux' thread), I came across an academic paper on NPC design on an
>I-F homepage (sorry, can't find it at the moment)...

I don't suppose it was mine, was it? Umm, no...you said academic. Hmm.
Let me know if you can recall.

>In any case, the paper suggested that the problem with I-F NPCs is that they
>don't carry their own weight. The story grinds to a screetching halt while
>the PC plays with cans in the pantry (or whatever).
>
>What, like no one else can move cans around?

Hence, part of my reason for wanting a parser that doesn't assume that
the player is the one initiating an action. I'd hate for the player to
get all those silly little library messages when it's an NPC that's
doing the work. (cf: The chelonian in Enchanter)

>Hence, my design for DLP. The game could be - theoretically - solved by the
>player typing 'wait' 'wait' 'wait' 'wait'. It'd be rilly rilly boring...but
>you'd get to the end.
>
>You'd also miss out on a lot.
>
>DLP DOES have puzzles (good ones, I hope...) but they're all optional.

I would like to see this. A lot.

>The more puzzles you solve, the deeper into the mystery you get. But you'll
>reach the end of the story even if you miss all of them.
>
>This, however, presents a new problem -- time limits. But I think that giving
>players a reasonable amount of time, and allowing save/restores will help to
>temper this.
>
>Any thoughts? Suggestions? Mocking messages regarding how long (1999? 2000?
>2050?) before the damn thing'll be done? :)

Does it need them?

>OH, BTW...when the other characters solve a puzzle, they don't present the
>answer. You don't get to see how they did it. Hence, the game doesn't give
>away solutions...just bypasses the puzzles.

Hmm. That's got promise. I like to view I-F as a partnership between the
player and the character of the protagonist.

D

--
before [; Thinking: <post message>; ];

Vivienne S Dunstan

unread,
Mar 8, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/8/98
to

In article <6du78n$984$1...@news1.fast.net>,
ravi...@fast.net wrote:

>Hence, my design for DLP. The game could be - theoretically - solved by the
>player typing 'wait' 'wait' 'wait' 'wait'. It'd be rilly rilly boring...but
>you'd get to the end.
>
>You'd also miss out on a lot.
>
>DLP DOES have puzzles (good ones, I hope...) but they're all optional.
>

>The more puzzles you solve, the deeper into the mystery you get. But you'll
>reach the end of the story even if you miss all of them.

That's exactly the case with my game. Obviously I don't want to give
too much away but the player is a very minor character present at a
investigation/hearing into a recent murder. The player has a role to
play and can go off exploring as part of that - in the process they
may pick up on other things going on - but if they just stay in the
one location the hearing will proceed anyway and the game will rumble
on to its eventual conclusion, which they can change, but that's
another story ...

I think this has a lot to do with the role of the player. In lots
of classic games the player character is the central character,
often in a deserted underground cavern, or an abandoned house,
and the game largely revolves around them. They are the focus,
their actions are the most important (even only?) things going on.

In the game I'm working on the player has a very clearly defined
role and they are restricted to that role. One thing it brings
to mind for me is the prologue of Zork Zero where the player is
mistaken for a ?waiter (memory going now) and runs backwards and
forwards between the kitchen etc. Obviously that is too limited
for a full game (and could be exasperating to play!), but it
shows how a player can have a role as part of a busy scene, and
not be able to step above that.
[probably not explaining myself very well here - sorry all]

>This, however, presents a new problem -- time limits. But I think that giving
>players a reasonable amount of time, and allowing save/restores will help to
>temper this.

I need a framework of events for my game so I'd be very interested
to hear other people's views about this too. Either it could be
done using events which move time forward, or the game is played
in some form of real time. Either way it is limited, and this has
to be managed somehow.

>OH, BTW...when the other characters solve a puzzle, they don't present the
>answer. You don't get to see how they did it. Hence, the game doesn't give
>away solutions...just bypasses the puzzles.

That sounds interesting. In my game the NPCs won't really be
solving puzzles as such, more telling the story and providing
clues. Maybe providing a few obstacles as well, but that's usual!

I also like the idea of obtrusive/unobtrusive puzzles that
L. Ross Raszewski <rras...@hotmail.com> talked about in an
earlier posting. That seems to be touching a lot on the ideas
here - a broader definition of 'puzzle' is needed. It certainly
gives us something to think about anyway.

Best wishes.

Viv
(who doesn't know when her game will be finished either :)
http://www.users.zetnet.co.uk/vdunstan/


Adam J. Thornton

unread,
Mar 8, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/8/98
to

In article <34FE70AD...@brisnet.org.au>,

Dancer <dan...@brisnet.org.au> wrote:
>(Notes: Got another 20% of the simulation done last night. All things
>being equal, another week or two)

Oh, this takes me back to December of '92, when Avalon was to be ready in
time for the New Year.

Adam
--
ad...@princeton.edu Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark cafe

Joe Mason

unread,
Mar 9, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/9/98
to

In article <B128A5B6...@man-116.dialup.zetnet.co.uk>,

Vivienne S Dunstan <viv.d...@one-name.org> wrote:
>
>In the game I'm working on the player has a very clearly defined
>role and they are restricted to that role. One thing it brings
>to mind for me is the prologue of Zork Zero where the player is
>mistaken for a ?waiter (memory going now) and runs backwards and
>forwards between the kitchen etc. Obviously that is too limited

The player WAS a waiter in the prologue of Zork Zero, but yes, I take your
point.

I think an interesting example would be Infocom's Moonmist, in which there is
a main plot (the "ghost" investigation) and a subplot (the treasure hunt).
Although the PC is the only one who works on the mainplot, after the treasure
hunt begins various other characters wander around "searching". It would've
been a good effect if they could actually have a chance of FINDING the
treasure - but no. They just searched in random places.

Anyway, I'm finding this thread very interesting and can't wait to see some of
these games!

Joe

p a t c h.net

unread,
Mar 9, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/9/98
to

Steve Bernard said "To hell with carpal tunnel!" and wrote:
> I also heartily recommend Chris Klimas' "Mercy". It was by far the best
> game released last year and ranks up there among my favorite games of
> all time.
>
> Download it now.
>
> If you already have, play it some more.
>
> Then give me a dollar.
>
> Then play it again.

You forgot to take the first address off the list and move everybody up
one. If you don't do that, it won't work!

- spatch, and it's completely honest, too! -


--
der Spatchel. spatula@s p a t c h.net. Proud to eat yummy red meat.
PUTPBAD is undergoing a facelift at http://www.spatch.net/booth. Soon!
"Them fancy pants is weenies." - Zorak

Howard A. Sherman

unread,
Mar 9, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/9/98
to

Daniel Schulman wrote:

> This is my first attempt at a discussion topic, so don't expect much.
>
> I wanted to write a "puzzle-less" game, but it occurred to me that

> there really aren't that many alternatives to having puzzles. I don't
> particularly like puzzles - they always seem to feel artificial. The
> player feels like a clever little rat instead of a character in the
> story. But, what else can you, as the writer, do? The player needs
> to have something to do, or interactivity is worthless. There needs
> to be some way to control the pace of the plot as well.
>

> I was thinking of doing a game where the main emphasis - in fact, the
> whole emphasis, was on examination and exploration. The player
> basically gets the plot why wandering around and looking at stuff.
> The more they explore and look at, the more areas open up.
>

> The problem is, this approach doesn't seem like it would work for most
> games (the one I was thinking of was heavily symbolic and
> allegorical). I also was unable to convince myself that someone would
> actually want to play it. So I pretty much ended up back where I
> started. Puzzles. Any other ideas?

My style of writing is quite akin to the philosophy you're talking
about. While puzzles are great and all and I'm sure we can all recall a
puzzle or two that can bring an immediate smile to our respective faces,
I am of the school of thought that a puzzle has to make sense in relation
to the context of the game itself. I've often found that some really
great puzzles either didn't belong in the game at all, or if they sequed
somehow from the game they were just a little too reaching to be
seriously considered. I love puzzles, but I make this statement from the
newbie perspective. I tend to focus more of my time and attention on the
plot of the story itself, the descriptiveness of the various rooms and
items to be found, and how it all is relevant to the game itself.

While I do tend to focus more on the qualities you talk about;
exploration and examination, I also realize, as you quite rightly pointed
out, that interactivity is, in fact, in the very name of the genre
itself. Therefore puzzles must play a part if even to a lesser degree.
What better way to captivate the reader than to put he or she in the
shoes of the main character in every sense of the word?

The recent article in ComputorEdge by Charles Carr lists two important
elements, as he sees it, for IF to continue and flourish. I'll have to
add a third: Make IF Newbie friendly!

Alot of us take the essential IF interface for granted not realizing that
we live in a GUI world. The GUI masses aren't accustomed to actually
functioning in a text environment. Puzzles should reflect this and not
be overly difficult. To a newbie, half the problem may be how to get the
parser to convey exactly what they want to do to solve any given puzzle.
Beyond that, the conceptual framework must be considered. Can you
picutre a GUI-based IF newbie solving the Bank of Zork problem in Zork
II? Or even better, the brain-damaging puzzle from Spellbreaker? I don't
think so. They'd probably tinker a bit, do some experiementing, then
quit the game forever if not IF entirely in a tidal wave of frustration.
Infocom's rating system of Standard, Advanced, etc. did address this to
an extent, but then ran the risk of robbing the puzzle-shy of playing a
potentially great game. (Maybe multiple versions of the same game?? But
then we have confusion.. "Did I get the right version?" etc...)

I think that with the skyrocketing numbers of book sales combined with
the equally skyrocketing number of computer users, IF can enjoy a golden
age that none of us could've dreamed of even two years ago. We have two
(ok, maybe three) great development platforms, we have booksellers such
as amazon.com running national TV ad campaigns for their websites along
with companies like Dell and Gateway who are now also utilizing the mass
market to market their products when they never have before.

The end result? A lot of well-read people using computers. I think IF
fits into that niche perfectly. But we need to think of the newbie
rather than scaring them away. We have a unique opportunity to put
IF not just back on the map, but give it a permanent home there. If book
sales are up, and computer sales are up, then wouldn't the marriage of
books to computers (vis a vis Interactive Fiction) be a perfect marriage?

And, dare I say it, with millions of book-crazed computer users some
enterprising chap may actually be able to make a buck at writing
Interactive Fiction.... <big grin>

"That's just my opinion but I could be wrong" - Dennis Miller

Howard A. Sherman
Implementor at Large
http://www.randomonline.com


Darin Johnson

unread,
Mar 9, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/9/98
to

Actually, I think the puzzles are, in *my* view, the best part of IF
games. IF that seriously tries to be good fiction bores me to tears.
If I'm reading fiction, I want to read it through, and have the author
present the story to me. I don't want to fumble around examining
useless items, poking into closets, etc. Maybe IF can become good
enough for that, but I've seen no examples so far. One of the most
boring IF games I've played was "Deadline" - the puzzles were weak,
the story just wasn't that good, and I've never read a real mystery
novel where the sleuth solved it by restoring the game over and over
timing out everyone's moves. And maybe I'm being sacriligious here,
but I didn't think A Mind Forever Voyaging was that interesting; a few
puzzles would have enlivened it (I'd much rather have read it as a
book).

And if the purpose is to get some role-playing, most IF games fall
down there too. There just isn't enough breadth of actions available
to make it good role-playing.

So - Don't get rid of the puzzles. So far they're the only thing
making IF interesting.

--
Darin Johnson
da...@usa.net.delete_me

John-Paul Townsend

unread,
Mar 9, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/9/98
to

I particularly like the idea of a puzzle-less story ONLY if there is a
strong and INTERESTING
plot line. It seems all of the IF games out there are mainly "gather
treasure" type games. I like those that are not so treasure oriented. I
don't mind puzzles if they are few and far-between, and GOOD. Zork is one
of my favorites, even thought it does all of those things I just said I
didn't like. I guess I like it just for tradition, but I don't like new
games that follow the same suit.
Okay, I'm done.
Thanks
John-Paul Townsend

Allen Garvin

unread,
Mar 10, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/10/98
to

In article <tvyvhtn...@cn1.connectnet.com>,

Darin Johnson <da...@usa.net.removethis> wrote:
And maybe I'm being sacriligious here, but I didn't think A Mind
Forever Voyaging was that interesting; a few puzzles would have
enlivened it (I'd much rather have read it as a book).

It's not sacrilege. There are quite a few people here, including myself,
who were underwhelmed by it. It took me only three days to play all of
it; it was the first game I bought for my new amiga, and I had read about
the new format now called Z4 in the New Zork Times, I expected a game that
would keep me occupied for months. When there are puzzles to play, one
is much more likely to pay close attention to the game and to spend more
time wandering about and trying stuff. The puzzles provide a good focus.
--
Allen Garvin kisses are a better fate
--------------------------------------------- than wisdom
eare...@faeryland.tamu-commerce.edu
http://faeryland.tamu-commerce.edu/~earendil e e cummings

ravi...@fast.net

unread,
Mar 10, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/10/98
to

>II? Or even better, the brain-damaging puzzle from Spellbreaker? I don't
>think so.

Uhm, brain-damaging? Is this just a colorful description of what it does to you
when you try solving it? Or did I miss a major part of the game? :)

d

Dennis....@transquest.com

unread,
Mar 10, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/10/98
to

In article <34fded4e...@news.brandeis.edu>,

ST97...@pip.cc.brandeis.edu wrote:
>
> This is my first attempt at a discussion topic, so don't expect much.
>
> I wanted to write a "puzzle-less" game, but it occurred to me that
> there really aren't that many alternatives to having puzzles. I don't
> particularly like puzzles - they always seem to feel artificial. The
> player feels like a clever little rat instead of a character in the
> story. But, what else can you, as the writer, do? The player needs
> to have something to do, or interactivity is worthless. There needs
> to be some way to control the pace of the plot as well.
>
> I was thinking of doing a game where the main emphasis - in fact, the
> whole emphasis, was on examination and exploration. The player
> basically gets the plot why wandering around and looking at stuff.
> The more they explore and look at, the more areas open up.
>
> The problem is, this approach doesn't seem like it would work for most
> games (the one I was thinking of was heavily symbolic and
> allegorical). I also was unable to convince myself that someone would
> actually want to play it. So I pretty much ended up back where I
> started. Puzzles. Any other ideas?
>

Does anyone remember Portal? This was a game Activision released in the
late 80s. You played an astronaut who returned to Earth after a long mission
to find the planet deserted. You find a computer terminal that is still
working and "discover" the story by accessing files in the database. As you
read certain files, you uncovered links (sort of like the web) which gave you
access to other files which contained more links and so on. Eventually you
discovered the whole story of what had happened and even what your involvement
was. (Yes, that's a simplification of the whole thing.)
It was only partially text based. All of your input was by mouse clicks
and the game responded with text. There were no puzzles. Does this count as
IF?

Chris Crawford

unread,
Mar 10, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/10/98
to

I'm responding to the discussion of puzzles in such games. I have always
defined the difference between a puzzle and a game as arising from the
player's perception of an active intelligence attempting to thwart his
efforts. Thus, any product in which you don't sense an active intelligence
working against you, I would call a puzzle. This makes a great many
products puzzles.

I'll also point out that this issue raises the problem, what are we trying
to challenge in the player? Puzzles tend to challenge the intellect.
Interactive stories would challenge one's people-sense.

Chris

Howard A. Sherman

unread,
Mar 10, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/10/98
to


ravi...@fast.net wrote:

No, you hit it right on the head. Forgive the pun.. :)

Howard


weird...@prodigy.net

unread,
Mar 10, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/10/98
to

In article <35048...@news.tamu-commerce.edu>,
eare...@faeryland.TAMU-Commerce.edu wrote: > > In article
http://faeryland.tamu-commerce.edu/~earendil e e cummings > I
think the main problem was that, except for in 2081, you could get all the
necessary recordings just by doing the same stuff in the previous years. My
*favorite* Infocom game was Zork Zero, which had the *most* puzzles. There,
in my opinion, the puzzles didn't get in the way of the plot but in a sense
were the plot. PS I also didn't care for the ending. Basically it's "the
PLAN (which is never described) is discovered to be an Orwellian nightmare so
instead they adopt the PROJECT (which isn't described either) and everything
turns out peachy!"

Dancer

unread,
Mar 11, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/11/98
to

In article <6dv396$1dc$1...@cnn.Princeton.EDU>, ad...@princeton.edu (Adam J. Thornton) wrote:
>In article <34FE70AD...@brisnet.org.au>,
>Dancer <dan...@brisnet.org.au> wrote:
>>(Notes: Got another 20% of the simulation done last night. All things
>>being equal, another week or two)
>
>Oh, this takes me back to December of '92, when Avalon was to be ready in
>time for the New Year.

Have we been waiting for Avalon that long? Ouch.

I realise that I'm probably jinxing things by giving the odd progress
report. Ah, well.

BTW, a couple nights ago, I solved another major stumbling block:
I have some objects (sockets, actually) which are notionally (but
not actually) inside a container that isn't really a container, and
which are containers themselves, except their contents are actually
inside the object that they are notionally contained in. Confused?

Each socket may actually be in one of a large number of places, you see,
and there's a lot of code between them and the socket-container to
determine which sockets are present, handle the descriptions, check
which are empty and not empty, and handle the actual insertion and
removal of objects.

That was the _easy_ part. The _hard_ part was that the _names_ of the
sockets can't be dictionary words. (I won't explain why, just yet, but
suffice it to say that the socket-names contain characters that the
parser/dictionary just will NOT deal with as being part of a word. '.'
springs immediately to mind for one of them) Ultimately, I got that part
working, parsing the necessary strings from the player input,
byte-by-byte, and matching them to the appropriate sockets (if present).

Fortunately, the socket names never have to be used as a direct object
in a situation where there is also an indirect object specified (or is
that the other way around?).

Dancer

unread,
Mar 11, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/11/98
to

I don't remember this one, but I once considered doing a game very much
like it. I guess whether it's I-F or not depends on how it's written.

D

--
http://dancer.brisnet.org.au/

Andrew Wilson

unread,
Mar 16, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/16/98
to

I'm surprised that none of you mention a brilliant puzzleless experimental
piece of I-F by the beloved Andrew Plotkin called "The Space Under the
Window". Am I the only I-F fan whose played this frustrating game? To
quote from the 'about' screen:

"Verbs such as "take", "drop", "open", and "examine" are not relevant in
this work. They will not be understood. Instead, your part is to type the
names of objects (or attributes or aspects of objects) that you see in the
narrative. When you refer to an object, it will be brought into greater
prominence, changing the course of the narrative thread. Or it might be
reduced to lesser stature, or removed entirely. You'll have to experiment.
Typing the same name second time may cancel the effect of the first time,
or the effect may be cumulative. The order in which you type names may or
may not be important."

There are no puzzles in the traditional sense. The puzzle is the plot
itself. The whole point of the game is to work through the plot to the
desirable outcome. Its very easy to get to the wrong conclusion, and I
haven't successfully completed it yet. There is no help file or
walkthrough that I'm aware of.

I think you should all download it (SUTW.z5) and play it. It shows that it
is possible to write an intriguing, addictive piece of I-F that has no
traditional puzzles in it. Once again Mr P. is pushing the boundaries of
I-F way past what's usual.

Daniel Shiovitz

unread,
Mar 16, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/16/98
to

In article <andreww-1603...@as5-23.interact.net.au>,

Andrew Wilson <and...@interact.net.au> wrote:
>I'm surprised that none of you mention a brilliant puzzleless experimental
>piece of I-F by the beloved Andrew Plotkin called "The Space Under the
>Window". Am I the only I-F fan whose played this frustrating game? To
>quote from the 'about' screen:
[..]

There was a fairly large amount of discussion about TSUTW when it came
out. Check dejanews, or the raif archive.

--
(Dan Shiovitz) (d...@cs.wisc.edu) (look, I have a new e-mail address)
(http://www.cs.wisc.edu/~dbs) (and a new web page also)
(the content, of course, is the same)


Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages