interesting article on game design (or: does Colossal Cave really suck?)

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michael...@ey.com

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Mar 25, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/25/98
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On March 20th, I wrote:

> we can't say things like "Big purposesless mazes are bad, except for the
> big, purposeless mazes in Colossal Cave or Zork." That's a double standard.
> We have nothing with which to back the statement up; nothing sets those
> mazes apart from any other big, purposeless, frustrating and all-around
> crappy maze in a newer game.

And a number of people responded and, I think, resoundingly proved me wrong.

This is a good thing. What concerned me most about John Miles' original post
was that he seemed to be implying that these games are exempt from criticism
simply by virtue of their age, which is not a valid defense. The responses to
my commentary, on the other hand, have all been very valid defenses, and so I
stand corrected.

Do I still think they're poor games? I don't know. I guess it depends on how
nostalgic you are, and on what you're looking to get out of interactive
fiction. Me, I prefer to think of them as rough drafts. We've revised. We've
preserved the gems and expunged the dross, we've written as far as we can go
in certain directions and we've moved on. I guess I feel more comfortable with
where we've ended up than with where we started from. The big, pointless maze
may have been an interesting exercise in problem-solving skills, but I don't
feel like it stands up to much repeat performance.

I would like to point out that video games, like Greek plays (and unlike fine
wines) don't get any better by sitting around gathering dust. They get better
by withstanding criticism. What was good about them to begin with might still
be good today -- but we still have to know *why* they're good.

Remember:

Even if we are midgets standing on the shoulders of giants -- that still makes
us taller than the giants.

:-)

(Clip that and save it -- you'll never see me use an emoticon again in your
life.)

--M.

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

Second April

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Mar 25, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/25/98
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> Do I still think they're poor games? I don't know. I guess it depends on how
> nostalgic you are, and on what you're looking to get out of interactive
> fiction. Me, I prefer to think of them as rough drafts. We've revised. We've
> preserved the gems and expunged the dross, we've written as far as we can go
> in certain directions and we've moved on. I guess I feel more comfortable with
> where we've ended up than with where we started from. The big, pointless maze
> may have been an interesting exercise in problem-solving skills, but I don't
> feel like it stands up to much repeat performance.

Fair enough. I certainly don't think I would point anyone who asked "show
me what this IF stuff is" toward CC or Dungeon, because there are much
better examples. (Matter of fact, I just responded to a post along those
lines in rgif, and I didn't mention those, nor did I even think of doing
it.) There are good things about those games--good writing, some clever
puzzles--but those good things certainly aren't peculiar to them.
Likewise, for mazes, there are better examples of mazes to point out--the
badger hole in "Arthur," the glass maze in "Sorcerer", to name a few--than
drop-an-object. If those early games came out today, I still think they'd
get put in the fairly large competent-but-nothing-special file, which is
actually pretty remarkable considering how many of their successors,
including commercial games, would be relegated to the don't-bother
category.

> I would like to point out that video games, like Greek plays (and unlike fine
> wines) don't get any better by sitting around gathering dust. They get better
> by withstanding criticism. What was good about them to begin with might still
> be good today -- but we still have to know *why* they're good.

Sure. I don't think anyone should argue that CC or Zork should be
slavishly copied now--merely that we can learn from what they do well,
most importantly the writing.

Duncan Stevens
d-st...@nwu.edu
312-654-0280

The room is as you left it; your last touch--
A thoughtless pressure, knowing not itself
As saintly--hallows now each simple thing,
Hallows and glorifies, and glows between
The dust's gray fingers, like a shielded light.

--from "Interim," by Edna St. Vincent Millay

HarryH

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Mar 27, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/27/98
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In article <6fbgvt$jr4$1...@nnrp1.dejanews.com>, michael...@ey.com says...

>Do I still think they're poor games? I don't know. I guess it depends on how
>nostalgic you are, and on what you're looking to get out of interactive
>fiction.
>--M.
^^^ I'm saving this one. Really unique smiley. ^_^

Tired of bad games?

From time to time, someone comes up with a list of bad elements in a game.
Sometimes this list comes from a game designer, but more often than not, it
comes from a disappointed player. While such a list is helpful, such lists
should be taken with a grain of salt.

It's easy to come up with a list of bad elements. In fact, here's mine:

1. Don't be too simple.
2. Don't be too complicated.
3. Strive for realism.
4. Forget realism, focus on fun!
5. Forget fun, focus on drama!
6. Don't be boring.
7. Don't overwhelm the player.

Well, you get the idea. Once you "violated" one of these principles, your
game, no matter how great, is open to criticism. What's the matter with you?
Can't you read Harry's seven simple rules on game design? :)

Take IF, for example. A lot of people believe that lateral thinking puzzles
are the best kind. I don't agree. Lateral thinking puzzles are trivial if you
know them, impossible if you don't. Hence, they violate BOTH rule 6 and 7.

To me, personally, the best puzzles are the ones that require thinking. They
tend to be easy if you know what you're doing. If not, well, there's always
brute force method. One of the more cited complain is that puzzles are
nothing but an exercise in frustration; ones that can only be solved by brute
force method. My respond to that is: No, they're not. They are highly
sophisticated challenging puzzles that YOU fail to solve, yet the designer is
kind enough to provide an alternative passage to let you go on with the game.

And talking about highly sophisticated puzzles: What about those that require
external knowledge? Not employing obscure knowledge is, of course, sound in
concept. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to put in practice. What is
obscure knowledge? Let's take a quick check:

1. Whose face appears on the US $20 bill? (Americans: No peeking!)
2. Name two planets that starts with a vowel.
3. The well known chess opening trap that Garry Kasparov fell into when
playing Deep Blue. (The sequence even appears on Dave Barry's column)
4. Who is Dave Barry? What does he do? Where does he live?
5. The square root of 65536? (No calculator necessary)
6. The other name for Brontosaurus?

As you can see, some knowledge that is obvious in some circle, is obscure in
others. If you're playing a geographic game, you're very well expected to
know where Venezuela is. If you're playing a musical game, is it a strech to
know the lyrics of popular singing group's (Beatles, Queen, and others)
songs? (Of course, there's always a way to be obscure: Is 13457 a prime
number? Go ahead and use a calculator on this one. :) )


Another thing to remember is that even the best games violate some of the
principles. Take, for example, this principle: "Don't overwhelm the player in
the first 30 seconds." What appears to be sound advice is a distinct failure
in Pac-Man. Let me put it this way: You're designing a game where bravery and
courage is rewarded. The players are all devout cowards and instead of
seizing the iniative, they holed up and got overrun. Who's at fault? You as
the designer? Or the players?

I try to phrase the next few sentences gently, but, unfortunately, have
failed. Those of you who play games and expect the designer to accomodate
YOUR every needs are [deleted. But there's nothing good here, anyway].
[Several more rants deleted]. And worse, you spread false information on the
game designer's qualifications as a designer. To expect that EVERY game
(especially those which are made by someone or a small team) to exhibit the
characteristics of master writer, artist, programmer, AI expert, and
physicist, and able to simulate the social, economical, and political
situations attuned to every single individual players is FOOLISH.

If you absolutely hate a certain game, maybe the game is bad. Or maybe, the
game just isn't for you. Boys tend to view Tamagotchi as boring, yet girls
like them. Do you like chess? I do, yet there aren't that many people who do.
How about some new yet unnamed, unclassified game that someone is producing?
Is it for you? Will you complain if it's not? Will you accuse it of being a
poor game?

When a game designer is trying to accomodate EVERYBODY's need, the game gets
bland as it approaches the most common denominator. Hence, violating rule
1,4,5 and 6. If Hollywood tries to do that, ratings won't be necessary. All
movies will be rated G!

<IRRELEVANT NOTE>
If censorship is alive, they'd ban Huckleberry Finn, The Scarlet Letter, most
of horror, sci-fi, authobiography, or other fictional works that features
violence, sex, strong language, defy authority (those Star Wars rebels come
to mind) or other non-social redeeming quality. Yeah! No instant death for
the MAIN character. Noooo, main character has to die slow. Everybody else,
stormtroopers, supporting actors, extras, can just kick the bucket like
popping corn.
</IRRELEVANT NOTE>

So what can you do? What can you do as a player to help those game designers?
Well, here's what you can do. You can send feedback to the game author on
what he did right. What he should strive for on the next game. What you
want to play NEXT TIME AROUND. When a good designer look at these requests
and see that there's lack of desire to have a maze, he'll wisely omit it,
regardless of the time already spent developing it. And, he will continually
experiment and improve those promising elements that fail to excite.

Failing that, there's Inform, TADS, Hugo, and even AGT. For those arcade
enthusiasts, there's FastGraph, klik-n-play. First person perspective more to
your liking? Doom, Quake, Descent editors abound. Ditto with military gaming.
Go make your own game, kid, and show the world what's right.

Now, to me, that is a noble cause.
And the best gaming experience there is.

-------------------------------------------------------
Of course I'll work on weekends without pay!
- successful applicant


ber...@comm.hq.af.mil

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Mar 27, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/27/98
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In article <4%DS.54$%j1.2...@news1.atlantic.net>,
har...@iu.net.idiotic.com.skip.idiotic.com (HarryH) wrote:

[lots of interesting and amusing stuff deleted]

Your post was too long Harry, make it shorter so people will read it. And
don't overwhelm me with humor. :-D (good post)

"Rules" on such subjective matter as interactive fiction should be read with
an implied "generally speaking," before each. Even that last statement could
be read with that implied, but it would hurt your head. The "art" in
rec.arts.int-fiction means any format or standard can be discarded if the
product delivers overall "desirable" results. The whole of a work of art is
greater than its parts, yet without the parts it is nothing.

You mentioned chess, a game I also enjoy. As you know, there is a list of
principles for the opening: develop all of your pieces before attacking,
don't move a piece twice, castle early, etc... When you first learn these
guidelines, you apply them without any thought (although your game does
improve.) As you study more, you inevitably come across a grandmaster game
where the professional violated one of these sacred rules. "He never
castled!!!" you scream. "'Initiative' was more important in this case," says
your coach. And eventually you learn about tempo, material, space, better
minor pieces, king safety, center control, key squares, etc... Your skill
in assessing the relative importance of each factor in each circumstance
determines your success -- the game as a whole.

For the beginning IF author, will he better off with a maze or without one?
For the beginning chess player, will he be better off castled or his king in
the center? Real principles (not players' petty whining to which you were
referring) are a way for masters to convey their understandings of the art.
"I've played thousands of games, and I've gotten into trouble many times when
I moved the same piece twice, early -- even when I thought I had a pretty
good reason." == "I've written scores of games, and the most unfavorable
comments have come when I killed off a player without warning -- even when I
thought I had a pretty good reason."

"Through the eyes of a beginner" is an old axiom grandmasters claim to
follow. That is, look at the current position from the fresh perspective "am
I in danger of anything 'obvious' _right now_, because I've been so absorbed
looking 12 moves ahead I may be missing a 'mate in one'?" These lists of
principles can help the accomplished IF author in the same way. "I've got a
multi-layered, quality story and some devilish puzzles. But what's this maze
really doing here?"

Enjoy what you're doing for its own sake. You can lose a game, but still
enjoy learning from it and enjoying its complexities (which is why I don't
play much any more, the losing (which is inevitable for all) bothered me too
much.) You can write a story that you enjoy and would like to have been able
to play even if people complain. Learn from the masters, develop your own
style.

Your points are very well taken and understood. It's frustrating to hear
the negatives. It's laughable to hear contrary advice about how to do
something (I tried waterskiing once, each person telling me very different
methods of how to get up. "You bend your knees." "NO, you don't bend your
knees..." "You sort of bend your knees, but you sort of don't.")

I feel a little smug that I didn't use the forest for the trees cliche. ...

...

D'OH!!!!

Jim

(JDAB)
*****

Angus McLaren

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Mar 29, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/29/98
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michael...@ey.com wrote in message <6fbgvt$jr4$1...@nnrp1.dejanews.com>...

>On March 20th, I wrote:
>
>> we can't say things like "Big purposesless mazes are bad, except for the
>> big, purposeless mazes in Colossal Cave or Zork." That's a double
standard.
>> We have nothing with which to back the statement up; nothing sets those
>> mazes apart from any other big, purposeless, frustrating and all-around
>> crappy maze in a newer game.
>
>And a number of people responded and, I think, resoundingly proved me
wrong.
>


To add my two cents worth, an IF game is in actual fact a maze. Regardless
of wether there is a maze in the game or not the actual game itself is a
maze. This is the best form of maze as not many people think of the game as
the maze so every one is sucked into it all. Personally I find a maze, that
is to say one that is intentionaly made such as that in Zork, to be either a
challenge or a bore depending on the style that it is created in. You can
create a maze that may be essential to the game but you have to be able to
make that maze fun so that the player does not lose interest quickly. I try
to avoid programming mazes as it is very hard to think up a different way or
a new way of approaching them to make them fun. So a maze is good as long as
it was made to be fun, don't bore us so that we forget the whole game and
never play it again.

Angus McLaren
nee...@NOSPAMhydra.com.au
"Where ever you go, there you are!"

Mark J Musante

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Mar 29, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/29/98
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Anson Turner (an...@efortress.com) wrote:
> An IF game is a maze. Even if there is no maze in the game, the game is
> itself a maze. It is the best kind of maze because most people don't think
> it is a maze. It is possible to create a maze, that is, a maze within the
> game, which is itself a maze, but that maze (within the maze) has to be
> fun, or the player will lose interest in the maze within the maze, as well
> as the maze.

I just got lost in a twisty maze of phrases, all different.


-=- Mark -=-

Dennis....@transquest.com

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Mar 30, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/30/98
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In article <EqLEu...@world.std.com>,
I'm amazed at this post...

(ok. I'm sorry. Really. I'll never do it again...)

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