Why Not Use "use"?

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Daryl McCullough

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Jan 28, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/28/00
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A graphical game that I played once offered a
crude point and click method to construct commands.
For example, to unlock a door with a key, you would
first click the command icon for "use", then go to
your inventory window and click on the icon for your
key, and finally click on the picture of the door in
the main window. The game would print out the
corresponding command:

Use key with door.

Modern text game systems such as Inform, TADS, and Hugo.
have a much larger set of commands, and so they offer such
subtleties as "unlock door with key", "hit door with key",
"throw key at door", etc. However, it seems to me that for
objects that have one obvious way to be used, the player
should be able to just say "use <object>" or
"use <object> with <object>" or "use <object> on <object>".

I'm wondering why most IF authors seem to avoid using "use",
even though users are likely to use it (and many users are
used to using "use" from games that they used to play).

Is "use" avoided because

1. It might give away a puzzle? I don't see that as a problem,
because the default behavior for "use" could be "I don't know
how to use that here" or something like that.

2. It leads to boring transcripts?

3. It's too low-class?

4. Some other reason?

It seems to me that having a catch-all word like "use" could prevent
those annoying "guess the verb" situations (the ones that are not
intentionally puzzles on the part of the author).

Daryl McCullough
CoGenTex, Inc.
Ithaca, NY


Mike Snyder

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Jan 28, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/28/00
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Daryl McCullough wrote in message <86ss9c$2u...@edrn.newsguy.com>...

> 1. It might give away a puzzle? I don't see that as a problem,
> because the default behavior for "use" could be "I don't know
> how to use that here" or something like that.

This is basically why I don't like "use" in my own IF. It's difficult to
know if the player has actually figure out what the certain item is for. For
instance, suppose you've got a freshly-painted wall and an empty CD case.
Perhaps there are clues in the game to let the player know to scrape paint
off the wall with the CD case (under which is a clue that was painted over,
for instance). Now, to make sure they've "solved" the puzzle, I'd expect
something like "Scrape Wall With Case" or "Scrape Paint With CD" or any of a
number of others. Now, if I allowed "Use Case on Wall" then maybe they just
got lucky and hadn't actually solved the puzzle. Well, that's probably not
the best example since using a CD case on the wall would probably mean
they're wanting to scrape paint off -- but there are situations like this.

Mike.

Gene Wirchenko

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Jan 29, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/29/00
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da...@cogentex.com (Daryl McCullough) wrote:

>A graphical game that I played once offered a
>crude point and click method to construct commands.
>For example, to unlock a door with a key, you would
>first click the command icon for "use", then go to
>your inventory window and click on the icon for your
>key, and finally click on the picture of the door in
>the main window. The game would print out the
>corresponding command:
>
> Use key with door.

1) >slide key under door
2) >unlock door with key
3) The key doesn't have a door.

>Modern text game systems such as Inform, TADS, and Hugo.
>have a much larger set of commands, and so they offer such
>subtleties as "unlock door with key", "hit door with key",
>"throw key at door", etc. However, it seems to me that for
>objects that have one obvious way to be used, the player

^^^^^^^


>should be able to just say "use <object>" or
>"use <object> with <object>" or "use <object> on <object>".

And if there is one obvious way and one not so obvious way and
the player selects the less obvious way because it is more obvious to
him?

>I'm wondering why most IF authors seem to avoid using "use",
>even though users are likely to use it (and many users are
>used to using "use" from games that they used to play).
>
>Is "use" avoided because
>

> 1. It might give away a puzzle? I don't see that as a problem,
> because the default behavior for "use" could be "I don't know
> how to use that here" or something like that.
>

> 2. It leads to boring transcripts?
>
> 3. It's too low-class?
>
> 4. Some other reason?

It's too vague? Consider:
>use hand with door.
Does this really say what to do? No. It could mean to open the door
or to knock on it.

>It seems to me that having a catch-all word like "use" could prevent
>those annoying "guess the verb" situations (the ones that are not
>intentionally puzzles on the part of the author).

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko

Computerese Irregular Verb Conjugation:
I have preferences.
You have biases.
He/She has prejudices.

J Walrus

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Jan 29, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/29/00
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Daryl McCullough <da...@cogentex.com> wrote in message
news:86ss9c$2u...@edrn.newsguy.com...

> A graphical game that I played once offered a
> crude point and click method to construct commands.
> For example, to unlock a door with a key, you would
> first click the command icon for "use", then go to
> your inventory window and click on the icon for your
> key, and finally click on the picture of the door in
> the main window. The game would print out the
> corresponding command:

Yeah, but in games like this, if you can't solve a puzzle, it's too easy
to just try using everything on everything else, especially if you know
roughly what you're supposed to be doing but can't figure out what to do
it with.


JW

Daryl McCullough

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Jan 29, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/29/00
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ge...@shuswap.net says...

> It's too vague? Consider:
> >use hand with door.
>Does this really say what to do? No.

If the meaning of "use X with Y" is vague,
then the game's response should be "That's
too vague, could you be more explicit?"

Gene Wirchenko

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Jan 30, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/30/00
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da...@cogentex.com (Daryl McCullough) wrote:

>ge...@shuswap.net says...
>
>> It's too vague? Consider:
>> >use hand with door.
>>Does this really say what to do? No.
>
>If the meaning of "use X with Y" is vague,
>then the game's response should be "That's
>too vague, could you be more explicit?"

In which case, isn't it back to using something other than "use"
for the verb?

Aris Katsaris

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Jan 30, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/30/00
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Gene Wirchenko <ge...@shuswap.net> wrote in message
news:38940a7a...@news.shuswap.net...

> da...@cogentex.com (Daryl McCullough) wrote:
>
> >ge...@shuswap.net says...
> >
> >> It's too vague? Consider:
> >> >use hand with door.
> >>Does this really say what to do? No.
> >
> >If the meaning of "use X with Y" is vague,
> >then the game's response should be "That's
> >too vague, could you be more explicit?"
>
> In which case, isn't it back to using something other than "use"
> for the verb?

Yes. We are talking about the *other* cases, when the action is
obvious.

Aris Katsaris


Adrian Eyre

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Jan 30, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/30/00
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>> In which case, isn't it back to using something other than "use"
>> for the verb?

> Yes. We are talking about the *other* cases, when the action is
> obvious.

e.g.

> USE KEY WITH DOOR -> UNLOCK DOOR WITH KEY
> USE CASSETTE WITH WALKMAN -> PUT CASSETTE IN WALKMAN

...maybe even...

> USE FOOD [WITH MOUTH] -> EAT FOOD [WITH MOUTH]
> USE [FINGER WITH] BUTTON -> PUSH BUTTON [WITH FINGER]


Daryl McCullough

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Jan 31, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/31/00
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ge...@shuswap.net says...

>
>da...@cogentex.com (Daryl McCullough) wrote:
>
>>If the meaning of "use X with Y" is vague,
>>then the game's response should be "That's
>>too vague, could you be more explicit?"
>
> In which case, isn't it back to using something other than "use"
>for the verb?

Yes, in the cases where "use" would be too vague. I started
off saying that in those cases where there is one obvious
way to use an object (or to use one object with another object),
why not use the word "use"?

Magnus Olsson

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Jan 31, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/31/00
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In article <8747ua$1p...@edrn.newsguy.com>,

AFAIK, the reason the general opinion seems to be against the use of
"use" is not that some snarky IF Czar made up an arbitrary rule against
its use, but that there were actual games that used it, and that people
played them, didn't like the way they worked, and said "This has been
tired and found wanting; please do something else instead".

Or at least I'd like to think that was what happened. But the problem
is that I've only played two games that had the word "use". One of them
had such a hopelessly limited parser that "use" was the smallest problem
about playing it, and the other one I wrote myself.

So could someone who has played text games with "use" in them give any
examples, and perhaps some concrete criticism of why it was bad in
that particular game? It's all very well to criticize the use of
"use" from a theoretical standpoint, but it tends not to convince people.


--
Magnus Olsson (m...@df.lth.se, zeb...@pobox.com)
------ http://www.pobox.com/~zebulon ------

okbl...@my-deja.com

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Jan 31, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/31/00
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In article <s96fojd...@corp.supernews.com>,

"J Walrus" <moc.toofgib@effilctliba (backwards)> wrote:
>
> Yeah, but in games like this, if you can't solve a puzzle, it's too
easy
> to just try using everything on everything else, especially if you
know
> roughly what you're supposed to be doing but can't figure out what to
do
> it with.

But hasn't the author lost the battle at this point, anyway?

I sure don't respond well to having to try everything with everything.
--
[ok]


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

J Walrus

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Jan 31, 2000, 3:00:00 AM1/31/00
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<okbl...@my-deja.com> wrote in message
news:874kf1$u1c$1...@nnrp1.deja.com...

> In article <s96fojd...@corp.supernews.com>,
> "J Walrus" <moc.toofgib@effilctliba (backwards)> wrote:
> >
> > Yeah, but in games like this, if you can't solve a puzzle, it's too
easy
> > to just try using everything on everything else, especially if you
know
> > roughly what you're supposed to be doing but can't figure out what
to do
> > it with.
>
> But hasn't the author lost the battle at this point, anyway?
>
> I sure don't respond well to having to try everything with everything.

Ok, I put that badly. What I meant was, it can be too easy in some
games, mainly graphical adventures which *do* have a generic 'use'
command, to think, 'I can't be bothered to think about what to do now,
I'll just try using everything in my inventory on this object. Oh look!
It works! Well, I would never have thought you could use it like
*that*.' I haven't solved a puzzle by doing this, I've just tried a few
arbitrary 'actions' and discovered which one the author wanted me to do.
For me, one of the big attractions of text-based IF was that you
couldn't do that, you had to think about how to solve a puzzle.


JW

okbl...@my-deja.com

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Feb 1, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/1/00
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In article <s9c2sd...@corp.supernews.com>,

Nah, you can still do that. It's just a matter of how many verbs you
have to try *besides* "use".

Daniel Barkalow

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Feb 2, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/2/00
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On Tue, 1 Feb 2000 okbl...@my-deja.com wrote:

> Nah, you can still do that. It's just a matter of how many verbs you
> have to try *besides* "use".

I was reading a linguistics book about semantics yesterday and thinking
about this at the same time, and realized that there's somewhat of a
canonical set of default actions. It would be relatively simple to make
each object have a default verb to replace "use" if that object is the
first noun, with the possibility of swapping the noun and second. E.g.,
"use butter on toast" becomes "put butter on toast", but "use bottle on
water" becomes "put water in bottle". The next thing I noticed is that you
can leave out "use" and the preposition: "butter toast", "bottle
water". For some reason, this doesn't work with verbs without indirect
objects in English, but there's the interesting sequence "north" -> "use
north door" -> "go north".

Of course, this means that there could be a reasonable USEComp entry
without any verbs. Hmm...

-Iabervon
*This .sig unintentionally changed*


J Walrus

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Feb 2, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/2/00
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<okbl...@my-deja.com> wrote in message
news:8777vo$qq0$1...@nnrp1.deja.com...

> In article <s9c2sd...@corp.supernews.com>,
> "J Walrus" <moc.toofgib@effilctliba (backwards)> wrote:
> >
> > Ok, I put that badly. What I meant was, it can be too easy in some
> > games, mainly graphical adventures which *do* have a generic 'use'
> > command, to think, 'I can't be bothered to think about what to do
now,
> > I'll just try using everything in my inventory on this object. Oh
> look!
> > It works! Well, I would never have thought you could use it like
> > *that*.' I haven't solved a puzzle by doing this, I've just tried a
> few
> > arbitrary 'actions' and discovered which one the author wanted me to
> do.
> > For me, one of the big attractions of text-based IF was that you
> > couldn't do that, you had to think about how to solve a puzzle.
>
> Nah, you can still do that. It's just a matter of how many verbs you
> have to try *besides* "use".

But because of that, it's less tempting. And when you've worked out the
solution, you should still be able to tell the game you've solved the
puzzle without trying hundreds of verbs. It's when that doesn't happen
that something is wrong.
I can't think of any text IF puzzle which I've solved by repeatedly
trying different combinations of verb, subject and object, other than
badly-designed guess-the-verb situations.


JW

okbl...@my-deja.com

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Feb 2, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/2/00
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In article <s9gsmqn...@corp.supernews.com>,

"J Walrus" <moc.toofgib@effilctliba (backwards)> wrote:
>
>
> But because of that, it's less tempting. And when you've worked out
the
> solution, you should still be able to tell the game you've solved the
> puzzle without trying hundreds of verbs. It's when that doesn't happen
> that something is wrong.

Seems like a matter of degrees. The level of temptation may be greater
with "use" than with many other verbs but, in either case, you have the
same situation: The reader doesn't know and is guessing. The odds of
the reader getting it right increase if you allow "use" indiscriminately
(which I don't think is really what's being suggested here) but is that
a bad thing?

I suspect it is thought to be bad because authors expect the readers to
think about it and work it out. But, then again, maybe it should be an
authorial responsibility to provide a "can't work it out" path.

A digression, really. I think all people are suggesting here is that
"use" be a shorthand for "eat" or "unlock" or whatever the "default"
action with an object or an object/indirect object combination would be.

> I can't think of any text IF puzzle which I've solved by repeatedly
> trying different combinations of verb, subject and object, other than
> badly-designed guess-the-verb situations.

Well, yeah. And don't you wish you could've just typed in "use" at that
point? ;-)

J Walrus

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Feb 2, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/2/00
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<okbl...@my-deja.com> wrote in message
news:87a7e9$2eb$1...@nnrp1.deja.com...

> In article <s9gsmqn...@corp.supernews.com>,
> "J Walrus" <moc.toofgib@effilctliba (backwards)> wrote:
> >
> >
> > But because of that, it's less tempting. And when you've worked out
> the
> > solution, you should still be able to tell the game you've solved
the
> > puzzle without trying hundreds of verbs. It's when that doesn't
happen
> > that something is wrong.
>
> Seems like a matter of degrees. The level of temptation may be greater
> with "use" than with many other verbs but, in either case, you have
the
> same situation: The reader doesn't know and is guessing. The odds of
> the reader getting it right increase if you allow "use"
indiscriminately
> (which I don't think is really what's being suggested here) but is
that
> a bad thing?
>
> I suspect it is thought to be bad because authors expect the readers
to
> think about it and work it out. But, then again, maybe it should be an
> authorial responsibility to provide a "can't work it out" path.

You're right, I suppose. Perhaps my opposition to the use of 'use' is
still a remnant of the bad old puzzle-oriented days. What I was really
opposed to was the limiting of object interactions to 'use <object> with
<object>', as in many graphical adventures, which, as you have pointed
out, isn't really what was being discussed.

> A digression, really. I think all people are suggesting here is that
> "use" be a shorthand for "eat" or "unlock" or whatever the "default"
> action with an object or an object/indirect object combination would
be.

Ok, I concede your point. That might be a welcome addition, especially
when dealing with expressions the player isn't used to. (The amount of
time I spent in 'Anchorhead' trying to fill the bath with water! 'Draw
bath' means nothing to we Englanders.)

> > I can't think of any text IF puzzle which I've solved by repeatedly
> > trying different combinations of verb, subject and object, other
than
> > badly-designed guess-the-verb situations.
>
> Well, yeah. And don't you wish you could've just typed in "use" at
that
> point? ;-)

Fine, you've convinced me. The use of 'use' as a shortcut to the most
obvious action would probably help with these sort of problems, although
there would still be problems when trying to use an object for something
other than that for which it was originally intended.


JW

okbl...@my-deja.com

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
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In article <s9hb3l...@corp.supernews.com>,
"J Walrus" <abilt...@bigfoot.NOHORMELPRODUCTS.com> wrote:
> [stuff and then...]

>
> Fine, you've convinced me.

I WON! I WON! WOO-HOO! In your FACE, Walrus!

--
[ok, now looking around for a place to redeem a victory ticket for
valuable cash prizes.]

J Walrus

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
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You can hardly taunt *me* now you've won. I defected.


JW

Mark J. Tilford

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Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
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On 31 Jan 2000 17:55:07 +0100, Magnus Olsson <m...@bartlet.df.lth.se> wrote:
>
>So could someone who has played text games with "use" in them give any
>examples, and perhaps some concrete criticism of why it was bad in
>that particular game? It's all very well to criticize the use of
>"use" from a theoretical standpoint, but it tends not to convince people.
>
>

Well, I remember there was a BASIC game I played many years ago where the
verbs USE and TRY were available only in 'special situations', usually
ones where you'd die if you didn't do the right thing. Specifically, it
had a separate parser, and when you were in a 'situation', it wouldn't
parse it normally, but instead only look for USE/TRY commands.

Example: (actual situation from game, not actual text)

> GO WEST

You're in a small field. There's a shed to the west.

A meteorite hit you and punctured your spacesuit.

> USE SEALANT

Okay, your suit is fixed.

> GO WEST

The shed door is locked.

> TRY KEY

It's unlocked now.


And so on. I was rather stuck on getting into the shed, because TRY/USE
KEY would only work immediately after a GO WEST command. I finally had to
read the source code to figure it out.


--
-----------------------
Mark Jeffrey Tilford
til...@its.caltech.edu

BrenBarn

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Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
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Just a general response, as usual. . .
It seems the root conflict here is that we don't want the player to get
frustrated because he knows what to do but can't figure out how to communicate
his intention to the game, nor do we want to allow the player to mindlessly
solve any puzzle by USEing every object with every other object.
I personally like the idea of USE, partly because I'm a big fan of
LucasArts graphical adventures, where USE is totally standard, and partly
because I hate it when I can't get the computer do what I want :-).
I think a good way to approach this problem might be to implement USE, and
then deal with the "brainlessness" problem from another angle. For example,
make lots (well, not LOTS, but a fair amount) of "red herring" objects that are
totally appropriate for the game world but don't actually help you win. With
an inventory of 10 objects which I know (from experience) will all be useful,
I'll be tempted to go ahead and try all the combinations. With an inventory of
25 objects, some of which may be useless, I'll be less tempted.
And the red herrings don't even have to be "useless" per se. They can be
things like notes or pictures that convey information but are not USEful (i.e.,
it doesn't make sense to USE them with most other objects). Or they can be
independent objects like poker games or doodle pads that, while not affecting
the final outcome of the game, can take the player's mind off that thorny
puzzle for a while.
Heck, I like those kinds of objects ANYWAY, even without all this USE
folderol. And, in the same vein, there are undoubtedly people who just plain
DON'T like them. So I guess this little post will convince no one who wouldn't
be convinced anyway. Oh well :-).

From,
Brendan B. B. (Bren...@aol.com)
(Name in header has spam-blocker, use the address above instead.)

"Do not follow where the path may lead;
go, instead, where there is no path, and leave a trail."
--Author Unknown

Andrew Plotkin

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Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
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BrenBarn <bren...@aol.comremove> wrote:
> It seems the root conflict here is that we don't want the player to get
> frustrated because he knows what to do but can't figure out how to communicate
> his intention to the game, nor do we want to allow the player to mindlessly
> solve any puzzle by USEing every object with every other object.

I have found it fruitful to consider the range of action a player has in a
game. Not the exact number of possible commands, but the *shape* of the
space of possible commands.

I find that an approximately two-dimensional space is what works. That's
two independent axes, each of which is a reasonably-sized list of
possibilities.

In Colossal-Cave-style text IF, the axes are verbs and objects.
(Two-object verbs are insignificant at this broad view. If you like,
consider that "put X in bottle" becomes just another verb in the player's
mind, in his internal model of stuff-to-try-with-something-new.)

In Myst-style graphical IF, the axes are something like inventory-objects
and pieces-of-scenery. Only in some games, such as Myst itself, there are
few or no inventory objects. Those are just the games which have to rely
on independent, stand-alone puzzles -- otherwise players dismiss them as
too easy, click-on-the-thing-to-continue.

If there's one list of things to try in any position, you can run down it,
and be guaranteed to win. This is dull. If there are three orthogonal
lists, you'll get lost in space -- note this is exactly the standard
objection to adding adverbs to text IF. Two axes is what works.

If you want to reduce the verb list to "use", you should then start to
think about what range of possibility will replace it.

--Z

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

Adam J. Thornton

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Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
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In article <s9jou6...@corp.supernews.com>,

J Walrus <abilt...@bigfoot.NOHORMELPRODUCTS.com> wrote:
>You can hardly taunt *me* now you've won. I defected.

Uh huh huh. You said "defected." Uh huh huh. Uh huh huh.

Butthead^WAdam
--
ad...@princeton.edu
"My eyes say their prayers to her / Sailors ring her bell / Like a moth
mistakes a light bulb / For the moon and goes to hell." -- Tom Waits

okbl...@my-deja.com

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Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
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In article <87dgtq$4m0$1...@nntp6.atl.mindspring.net>,

Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
>
> If you want to reduce the verb list to "use", you should then start to
> think about what range of possibility will replace it.

Ooh! Ooh! I know! Subordiniating conjunctions!!

> USE KEY BECAUSE I SAID SO!

--
[ok]

Daryl McCullough

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Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
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Andrew Plotkin says...

>I have found it fruitful to consider the range of action a player has in a
>game. Not the exact number of possible commands, but the *shape* of the
>space of possible commands.
>
>I find that an approximately two-dimensional space is what works. That's
>two independent axes, each of which is a reasonably-sized list of

>possibilities...


>
>If there's one list of things to try in any position, you can run down it,
>and be guaranteed to win. This is dull. If there are three orthogonal
>lists, you'll get lost in space -- note this is exactly the standard
>objection to adding adverbs to text IF. Two axes is what works.
>

>If you want to reduce the verb list to "use", you should then start to
>think about what range of possibility will replace it.

As somebody else said in this thread, what I was proposing was not
to narrow the verb choices down to just "use" (although that was the
idea behind Gunther's minicomp). It was for the case in which the
player has *already* figured out what to do, but can't guess which
verbs to use. For example, if the player has a punctured life raft
and finds a tube of silicone sealant, then he has basically solved
the puzzle of how to fix the life raft. But does he say "Put sealant
on life raft" or "Fix life raft with sealant" or "Pour sealant on
life raft" or "Apply sealant to life raft" or "Spread sealant on
life raft" or what? I don't think that there is any fun to be had
in guessing the right phrase. Of course the game author can try to
anticipate every phrase that the player might use, but its really
hard to be complete.

I was only suggesting the use of "use" in cases where figuring
out the right verb is only *accidentally* a puzzle. If there
really is a puzzle to be solved (How are you supposed
to fix the time machine using the garden rake?) then the game
should certainly require that the player be more precise. Then
the two-dimensionality can come either from the combination of
things to use (Use X with Y, where X is some inventory object
and Y is some specific part of the thingamabob at the center
of the puzzle) or from the combination of Object + Situation.
In the latter case, there would have to be some logical reason
that using the object in every situation would fail (perhaps
the object gets used up, or perhaps using it in one situation
negates its use in the appropriate situation).

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
to
Daryl McCullough <da...@cogentex.com> wrote:
> Andrew Plotkin says...

>
>>If you want to reduce the verb list to "use", you should then start to
>>think about what range of possibility will replace it.
>
> As somebody else said in this thread, what I was proposing was not
> to narrow the verb choices down to just "use" (although that was the
> idea behind Gunther's minicomp). It was for the case in which the
> player has *already* figured out what to do, but can't guess which
> verbs to use. For example, if the player has a punctured life raft
> and finds a tube of silicone sealant, then he has basically solved
> the puzzle of how to fix the life raft. But does he say "Put sealant
> on life raft" or "Fix life raft with sealant" or "Pour sealant on
> life raft" or "Apply sealant to life raft" or "Spread sealant on
> life raft" or what? I don't think that there is any fun to be had
> in guessing the right phrase. Of course the game author can try to
> anticipate every phrase that the player might use, but its really
> hard to be complete.
>
> I was only suggesting the use of "use" in cases where figuring
> out the right verb is only *accidentally* a puzzle.

"Accidentally" is the key word -- if the author knows there's a verb
problem, the author will probably have tried to anticipate lots of
possibilities. And it's not usually that hard. For the life raft problem
you quote, I think you *have* a sufficient list. (Particularly if "fix
raft" and "fix hole" returns "what do you want to fix the raft with?")

I do not recall many situations in recent games where there's no best
choice for a verb -- or maybe three or four. As an author, I spend some
time making sure that my sitations *can* be covered by common verbs; this
is not a terrible restriction.

Paul O'Brian

unread,
Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
to
On 4 Feb 2000, Daryl McCullough wrote:

> For example, if the player has a punctured life raft
> and finds a tube of silicone sealant, then he has basically solved
> the puzzle of how to fix the life raft. But does he say "Put sealant
> on life raft" or "Fix life raft with sealant" or "Pour sealant on
> life raft" or "Apply sealant to life raft" or "Spread sealant on
> life raft" or what? I don't think that there is any fun to be had
> in guessing the right phrase. Of course the game author can try to
> anticipate every phrase that the player might use, but its really
> hard to be complete.

But how important is it to be complete? As a player, I've always been of
the opinion that if the game recognizes the three or four most likely
phrasings, that's quite sufficient. So if the hypothetical game above
recognized "Put sealant on life raft", "Fix[/repair] life raft with
sealant", and "Pour sealant on life raft", I wouldn't really object if
it didn't recognize "Apply" and "Spread." To me, a "guess-the-verb"
problem is when there's only *one* correct verb and the game gives
unhelpful responses to anything else in the same neighborhood.

--
Paul O'Brian obr...@colorado.edu http://ucsu.colorado.edu/~obrian
SPAG #19 is here, featuring reviews of 1999 IF competition games and
interviews with the winners, along with news, scoreboard, and more!
Find it at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag


Daryl McCullough

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Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
to
Andrew Plotkin says...
>
>Daryl McCullough <da...@cogentex.com> wrote:
>> ...For example, if the player has a punctured life raft

>> and finds a tube of silicone sealant, then he has basically solved
>> the puzzle of how to fix the life raft. But does he say "Put sealant
>> on life raft" or "Fix life raft with sealant" or "Pour sealant on
>> life raft" or "Apply sealant to life raft" or "Spread sealant on
>> life raft" or what? I don't think that there is any fun to be had
>> in guessing the right phrase. Of course the game author can try to
>> anticipate every phrase that the player might use, but its really
>> hard to be complete.
>>
>> I was only suggesting the use of "use" in cases where figuring
>> out the right verb is only *accidentally* a puzzle.
>
>"Accidentally" is the key word -- if the author knows there's a verb
>problem, the author will probably have tried to anticipate lots of
>possibilities. And it's not usually that hard. For the life raft problem
>you quote, I think you *have* a sufficient list.

Well, my list left out "patch life raft". But my question
(the question that gave a title to this thread) is: Why
*not* use "use" in such cases? What advantage is there in
avoiding it?

Daryl McCullough
CoGenTex, Inc.
Ithaca, NY

(Particularly if "fix

Daryl McCullough

unread,
Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
to
Paul says...
>Daryl McCullough wrote:
>
>> ...Of course the game author can try to

>> anticipate every phrase that the player might use, but its really
>> hard to be complete.
>
>But how important is it to be complete?

It's not important at all. All that matters
is that there be an overlap between the set
of possible phrasings considered by the author
and the set considered by the player. The problem
only occurs when this overlap is empty. Admittedly,
if both the author and the player are trying their
best, then this should happen only rarely, but it
will happen sometimes.

BrenBarn

unread,
Feb 5, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/5/00
to
>I have found it fruitful to consider the range of action a player has in a
>game. Not the exact number of possible commands, but the *shape* of the
>space of possible commands.
>
>I find that an approximately two-dimensional space is what works. That's
>two independent axes, each of which is a reasonably-sized list of
>possibilities.
<snip description of the two-axis system>
An interesting way of looking at the problem. Even as I write this, the
possibilities opened up by approaching the issue this way are growing within my
head.

>If you want to reduce the verb list to "use", you should then start to
>think about what range of possibility will replace it.

Well, I'm not suggesting cutting back to just a single verb. My idea is a
little less extreme: definitely a few fundamental verbs like GET and EXAMINE
(maybe just those two), and perhaps a few somewhat basic things like OPEN,
PUSH, PUT X IN Y, etc.
Aside from that, though, my idea would indeed be much like your example
with one axis as inventory and one as external objects. The character moves
through the world and encounters objects, some of which he can pick up. He
must then figure out how to use the objects he CAN carry with those he CANNOT
(and possibly with other carryables as well).
In general, I think a good solution to this issue is to make each axis so
large that it is impractical to try all the combinations. So you make lots and
lots of objects, which can serve the added purpose of enhancing the realism of
the game world.
Another solution that has tentatively entered my mind is to allow the
player to somehow specify how to USE two objects together in a way that cannot
adequately be expressed by a single verb. This idea probably wouldn't work too
well with text IF, but in graphical IF you could, for example, have the command
USE STICK WITH BOTTLE bring up a screen in which the player could manipulate
the stick and bottle visually. (Put the stick in the bottle neck, hit the
bottle with the stick, balance the bottle on the stick, put the stick in the
bottle neck and then twist it so that part of the stick breaks off inside the
bottle, etc.)
I think the most important thing, though, and the thing that ultimately
will help most, is making sure that all the puzzles have their solution stated
or demonstrated somewhere in the game (perhaps with parts of one solution
scattered throughout the game). This way you can have as many "dimensions" as
you want, and the way the player finds the right sequence of actions is by
sifting through the information found within the game world and applying the
resulting knowledge to the objects in that world.
As you can probably tell, I like the idea of self-contained gameworlds

Goetz the Angelic

unread,
Feb 6, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/6/00
to
In my personal opinion, one of the major caveats of "use" is that it
shatters the immersion of interactive fiction. "Use" makes one feel
too much like I am participating in a video game, and I am performing a
game action on some object. Furthermore, "use" will be interpreted in
the fashion that the author wants it to, not the way the player is
thinking of, making the player feel like even more of an observer.

The goal should be such that the player could articulate what he wants
to do so he feels as if he is participating in the created world, not
using acceptable game verbs to perform actions that the programmer
wants him to. I've received e-mails from people asking for lists of
accepted verbs that will work (dreadfully unimaginative people; I ask
them what verbs they've tried and they can list one or two). This sort
of mindset that "I must conform to the parameters of the game" is
ultimately self-destructive.

Chris Piuma, etc.

unread,
Feb 7, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/7/00
to
In article <87dgtq$4m0$1...@nntp6.atl.mindspring.net>, Andrew Plotkin
<erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
> If there are three orthogonal
> lists, you'll get lost in space -- note this is exactly the standard
> objection to adding adverbs to text IF. Two axes is what works.
>
> If you want to reduce the verb list to "use", you should then start to
> think about what range of possibility will replace it.

Well, why not adverbs?

--
Chris Piuma, etc.
Editor, flim : http://www.flim.com
A recipe box filled with palimpsests.

Andrew Plotkin

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Feb 7, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/7/00
to
Chris Piuma, etc. <edi...@flim.com> wrote:
> In article <87dgtq$4m0$1...@nntp6.atl.mindspring.net>, Andrew Plotkin
> <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
>> If there are three orthogonal
>> lists, you'll get lost in space -- note this is exactly the standard
>> objection to adding adverbs to text IF. Two axes is what works.
>>
>> If you want to reduce the verb list to "use", you should then start to
>> think about what range of possibility will replace it.
>
> Well, why not adverbs?

That's an excellent point. I was thinking about that too, although it
didn't occur to me until well after I posted.

It should work.

That is, you should be able to make a game which is both reasonably
solvable and not completely trivial. It will still feel somewhat gimmicky,
unless a whole tradition of them develops, which I certainly don't expect.

You'd probably want to make the objects and actions somewhat
*non*-traditional -- maybe spells or magic items -- just to keep the
player from getting stuck trying standard verbs.

And, of course, you still have to avoid writing a sucky game. :-)

Iain Merrick

unread,
Feb 7, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/7/00
to
Andrew Plotkin wrote:

> Chris Piuma, etc. <edi...@flim.com> wrote:

[...]


> > Well, why not adverbs?
>
> That's an excellent point. I was thinking about that too, although it
> didn't occur to me until well after I posted.
>
> It should work.
>
> That is, you should be able to make a game which is both reasonably
> solvable and not completely trivial. It will still feel somewhat gimmicky,
> unless a whole tradition of them develops, which I certainly don't expect.

This is true, but what's wrong with the odd gimmick game?

Gimmick games are much more fun than rambling threads on raif which
never get resolved because nobody ever writes a game to demonstrate
their ideas.

> You'd probably want to make the objects and actions somewhat
> *non*-traditional -- maybe spells or magic items -- just to keep the
> player from getting stuck trying standard verbs.
>
> And, of course, you still have to avoid writing a sucky game. :-)

Just write _something_, anybody!

By the way, Gunther Schmidl's UseComp would be a great platform for
games which try out some of these ideas. Although you knew that already.
The deadline is monday 14th, IIRC.

--
Iain Merrick
i...@cs.york.ac.uk

Emily Short

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Feb 7, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/7/00
to

----------

In article <87dgtq$4m0$1...@nntp6.atl.mindspring.net>, Andrew Plotkin
<erky...@eblong.com> wrote:

>I have found it fruitful to consider the range of action a player has in a
>game. Not the exact number of possible commands, but the *shape* of the
>space of possible commands.
>
>I find that an approximately two-dimensional space is what works. That's
>two independent axes, each of which is a reasonably-sized list of
>possibilities.

Thank you, Zarf. This is a succinct and useful way of expressing something
I've been trying to come to grips with myself for some time.

It also, I think, helps answer the earlier question, "Is a CYOA book
somewhere between 'linear' fiction and IF?" The CYOA works on a single
axis; I would venture to guess that there is no way satisfactorily to map IF
onto even a very very long, much-branching CYOA form.

This may seem a totally unrelated question, but has anyone played the pilot
game "Ace of Aces"? The game apparatus consists of two books: each player
takes one and opens to a starting page, where he sees a picture of what is
visible to him. Then he and his opponent each select a maneuver (the
possibilities are listed along the bottom of the page, with numbers); the
two numbers are tabulated according to a guide in the back of the books; and
the players flip to images corresponding to their new relative positions.
Repeating, of course, until one of them ends up in the other's sights.

It's cumbersome to describe, but elegant to play. More to the point, it's
an interesting example of the situation where a two-dimensional game space
is mapped onto a finite (and more to the point, manageably small) number of
game states.

ES

Greg Ewing

unread,
Feb 8, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/8/00
to
Andrew Plotkin wrote:
>
> For the life raft problem
> you quote, I think you *have* a sufficient list. (Particularly if "fix

> raft" and "fix hole" returns "what do you want to fix the raft with?")

But surely "use" is one of the possibilities that
should be on this list.

Picture a real-life example for a moment: you and
your mate Fred are on a sinking life raft. "How
can I fix this hole?" Fred shouts. "Use the sealant
in the repair kit!" you yell back. At this point,
Fred is not likely to request you to rephrase it
using a more explicit verb!

--
Greg Ewing, Computer Science Dept,
+--------------------------------------+
University of Canterbury, | A citizen of NewZealandCorp, a |
Christchurch, New Zealand | wholly-owned subsidiary of USA Inc. |
gr...@cosc.canterbury.ac.nz +--------------------------------------+

Andrew Plotkin

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Feb 8, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/8/00
to
Daryl McCullough <da...@cogentex.com> wrote:
> Well, my list left out "patch life raft". But my question
> (the question that gave a title to this thread) is: Why
> *not* use "use" in such cases? What advantage is there in
> avoiding it?

Because players will always use a predictable, dull, mechanical, tedious,
mimesis-breaking solution to a puzzle before an interesting, creative,
clever one.

Then they will blame the author for writing predictable, tedious, etc.
puzzles.

I say this as a player, not an author.

Peter Smith

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Feb 8, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/8/00
to
Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote in message
news:87o571$ss5$1...@nntp1.atl.mindspring.net...

> Daryl McCullough <da...@cogentex.com> wrote:
> > Well, my list left out "patch life raft". But my question
> > (the question that gave a title to this thread) is: Why
> > *not* use "use" in such cases? What advantage is there in
> > avoiding it?
>
> Because players will always use a predictable, dull, mechanical, tedious,
> mimesis-breaking solution to a puzzle before an interesting, creative,
> clever one.
>

In the cases where I've wanted to type "use" I've known the solution but not
how the game wants me to express it. Guess the verb rapidly becomes
tedious.

Partly this may be not having played hundreds of games yet. Partly this is
the parsers I've come across are not as intelligent as people are. And how
could they be?

Stray thought - what has been done about IF not using natural language
parsing for command input?

Peter Smith.


Daryl McCullough

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Feb 8, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/8/00
to
In article <87o571$ss5$1...@nntp1.atl.mindspring.net>, Andrew says...

>
>Daryl McCullough <da...@cogentex.com> wrote:
>> Well, my list left out "patch life raft". But my question
>> (the question that gave a title to this thread) is: Why
>> *not* use "use" in such cases? What advantage is there in
>> avoiding it?
>
>Because players will always use a predictable, dull, mechanical, tedious,
>mimesis-breaking solution to a puzzle before an interesting, creative,
>clever one.

In the cases that I'm talking about, whether "use" is supported
or not has no impact whatsoever on puzzle solving. The phrase
"Use X with Y" would only be supported in the case in which there
is an obvious (in the mind of the author, at least) meaning. At
all other times, the game would insist that the player be more
specific.

The only difference that I can see in allowing "use" is that
it avoids "guess the verb" (which I think is a good thing) and
it makes for more boring transcripts (but no more so than using
one letter abbreviations "n", "s", "u", "x", etc.)

Daniel Barkalow

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Feb 8, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/8/00
to
On 8 Feb 2000, Daryl McCullough wrote:

> In article <87o571$ss5$1...@nntp1.atl.mindspring.net>, Andrew says...
> >
> >Daryl McCullough <da...@cogentex.com> wrote:
> >> Well, my list left out "patch life raft". But my question
> >> (the question that gave a title to this thread) is: Why
> >> *not* use "use" in such cases? What advantage is there in
> >> avoiding it?
> >
> >Because players will always use a predictable, dull, mechanical, tedious,
> >mimesis-breaking solution to a puzzle before an interesting, creative,
> >clever one.
>
> In the cases that I'm talking about, whether "use" is supported
> or not has no impact whatsoever on puzzle solving. The phrase
> "Use X with Y" would only be supported in the case in which there
> is an obvious (in the mind of the author, at least) meaning. At
> all other times, the game would insist that the player be more
> specific.

One way to make it more likely that the author's idea of what "use" means
with a given object and the player's idea coincide is to always have
"use" do the thing the object was presumably designed for. So if you have
a CD case, trying to use it on peeling paint will mean putting the paint
in it, because CD cases are designed to hold things. With this
restriction, you once again have two dimensions to any interesting puzzle
solution, since you have a direct object and an indirect object, and the
verb is entirely dictated in a predictable way from the direct
object. (Unless it's something like "use torch", which tends to be an
uninteresting and obvious puzzle once you have the object).

As far as mimesis, I tend to think very little about the manner in which I
use tools when I'm using them in the normal way, and thus it seems more
natural to say "use fork" than "put fork in mouth".

-Iabervon
*This .sig unintentionally changed*


Aris Katsaris

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Feb 8, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/8/00
to

Daryl McCullough <da...@cogentex.com> wrote in message
news:87f6o5$2a...@edrn.newsguy.com...

> Paul says...
> >Daryl McCullough wrote:
> >
> >> ...Of course the game author can try to
> >> anticipate every phrase that the player might use, but its really
> >> hard to be complete.
> >
> >But how important is it to be complete?
>
> It's not important at all. All that matters
> is that there be an overlap between the set
> of possible phrasings considered by the author
> and the set considered by the player. The problem
> only occurs when this overlap is empty.

When the overlap is small there's a problem. I'd hate
to have to use four or five different verbs until I found what
the author wanted me to use...

J Walrus

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Feb 9, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/9/00
to

Daniel Barkalow <iabe...@iabervon.mit.edu> wrote in message
news:Pine.LNX.4.21.000208...@iabervon.mit.edu...

How about only using 'use' when it's something you'd say in natural
English?
For example, as Greg suggested somewhere else in this thread, you might
well say 'use the sealant to fix the raft.' But I doubt you'd ever say
'use the key on the door', you'd say 'unlock the door with the key'.
Similarly, you wouldn't say 'use the cd case on the wall' precisely
because is isn't clear how you would be expected to do so. Of course,
the problem with this approach is that 'use' then becomes just another
verb, and no longer works in the verb-guessing-prevention capacity which
was being suggested.


JW

JW

Aquarius

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Feb 9, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/9/00
to
Andrew Plotkin spoo'd forth:

>> I was only suggesting the use of "use" in cases where figuring
>> out the right verb is only *accidentally* a puzzle.

> "Accidentally" is the key word -- if the author knows there's a verb
> problem, the author will probably have tried to anticipate lots of

> possibilities. And it's not usually that hard. For the life raft problem


> you quote, I think you *have* a sufficient list. (Particularly if "fix
> raft" and "fix hole" returns "what do you want to fix the raft with?")

> I do not recall many situations in recent games where there's no best


> choice for a verb -- or maybe three or four. As an author, I spend some
> time making sure that my sitations *can* be covered by common verbs; this
> is not a terrible restriction.

Reading the reviews of the comp games (didn't get time to play them all,
as ever), there were a few places where reviewers complained about games
with guess-the-verb puzzles, or complained that "obvious" synonyms
weren't included. Normally, these games ended up in the bottom half of
the pile; one of the things that reviewers seem to see as a requirement
for a "good" game is that there *are* lots of synonyms for everything,
and you don't have to fish around for the right verb, noun, whatever.
Having "use" might well fix that problem, thus making poorer games
better, but it may not be the ideal solution; we can either implement
"use", thus eliminating a variety of "guess-the-verb" problems and making
some poentially poorer games better (but making all games rather bland
and generic), or try and reward games that do implement lots of synonyms,
thus hopefully encouraging authors to do the same, which makes all games
better and less generic, which is harder work. Personally, I'd opt for
the second of the two.

Aquarius

--
"And how do you measure madness? Not with rods and wheels and clocks,
surely?"
-- The Joker, Arkham Asylum

BrenBarn

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Feb 10, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/10/00
to
>Because players will always use a predictable, dull, mechanical, tedious,
>mimesis-breaking solution to a puzzle before an interesting, creative,
>clever one.
>
>Then they will blame the author for writing predictable, tedious, etc.
>puzzles.
>
>I say this as a player, not an author.
That's why the author has to have enough confidence in his work to
recognize such complaints as unwarranted and go along unperturbed, waiting for
the mythical Intelligent Player to arrive and heap praises upon the author.
But I don't need to tell YOU that, Zarf. :-)

Andrew Plotkin

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Feb 10, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/10/00
to
BrenBarn <bren...@aol.comremove> wrote:
>>Because players will always use a predictable, dull, mechanical, tedious,
>>mimesis-breaking solution to a puzzle before an interesting, creative,
>>clever one.
>>
>>Then they will blame the author for writing predictable, tedious, etc.
>>puzzles.
>>
>>I say this as a player, not an author.
>
> That's why the author has to have enough confidence in his work to
> recognize such complaints as unwarranted and go along unperturbed, waiting for
> the mythical Intelligent Player to arrive and heap praises upon the author.

I know you're kidding, but I still disagree.

I use the famous Zarf "that's deliberate" line when a player says "I don't
understand." But when a player says "I got bored," *hell* no. I *never*
intend my players to get bored. If they do, that's a big fat problem which
has to get fixed.

Iain Merrick

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Feb 10, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/10/00
to
Andrew Plotkin wrote:
[...]

> I use the famous Zarf "that's deliberate" line when a player says "I don't
> understand." But when a player says "I got bored," *hell* no. I *never*
> intend my players to get bored. If they do, that's a big fat problem which
> has to get fixed.

Hmmm...

_Hunter, in Darkness_: Deluxe Edition! This wonderful game is fun for
all the family, and comes in a tasteful grueskin-covered box. Includes a
lovable WUMPUS(r) BEANIE BABY(tm) and Miniature Crossbow with kid-safe
Nerf(tm) bolts to keep you amused when you get tired mapping that bloody
maze. Not available in any shops.

Andrew Plotkin

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Feb 10, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/10/00
to
Iain Merrick <i...@cs.york.ac.uk> wrote:
> Andrew Plotkin wrote:
> [...]
>> I use the famous Zarf "that's deliberate" line when a player says "I don't
>> understand." But when a player says "I got bored," *hell* no. I *never*
>> intend my players to get bored. If they do, that's a big fat problem which
>> has to get fixed.
>
> _Hunter, in Darkness_: Deluxe Edition!

That's release 4. The original release had a big fat problem. I believe
I've fixed it.

Magnus Olsson

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Feb 10, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/10/00
to
In article <38A2A6...@cs.york.ac.uk>,

Iain Merrick <i...@cs.york.ac.uk> wrote:
>_Hunter, in Darkness_: Deluxe Edition! This wonderful game is fun for
>all the family, and comes in a tasteful grueskin-covered box. Includes a
>lovable WUMPUS(r) BEANIE BABY(tm) and Miniature Crossbow with kid-safe
>Nerf(tm) bolts to keep you amused when you get tired mapping that bloody
>maze. Not available in any shops.


I *want* one of those! :-)


--
Magnus Olsson (m...@df.lth.se, zeb...@pobox.com)
------ http://www.pobox.com/~zebulon ------

TEWoerner

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Feb 10, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/10/00
to
I'll bet you have developed a graphic which explains this better than words.
I think I need the graphic to match your realization (my problem).

I love your life raft example. I have a problem with games which would
respond, to "Look in / Search Raft" with "You find nothing" but want "Put
hands in fold of life raft" to achieve "You find tube of sealant". At
worst, the text of the story needs to lead you to the action through text
descriptions ("The raft has folds due to shape distortion from the water you
could almost hide something in.) At best, the story wouldn't have such a
puzzle.

Once I have a tube of "raft sealant" in my hand, and my rubber raft is
leaking air, only a small percentage of the population does not know what to
do next. Perhaps the answer is that a good author is one who leads the
player in these situations to the exact phrasing. Playtesting is key to
these solutions (as almost all authors seem to indicate with their
recommendations to other writers and thank you's to their playtesters.

But this is a lot of time and a lot of work.


BrenBarn

unread,
Feb 11, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/11/00
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>Having "use" might well fix that problem, thus making poorer games
>better, but it may not be the ideal solution; we can either implement
>"use", thus eliminating a variety of "guess-the-verb" problems and making
>some poentially poorer games better (but making all games rather bland
>and generic), or try and reward games that do implement lots of synonyms,
>thus hopefully encouraging authors to do the same, which makes all games
>better and less generic, which is harder work.
But, on the other hand, if our criterion for a good game (or at least, one
of our major criteria) is how many synonyms is has, then maybe we need to
rethink our ranking :-). I once wrote a huge article for the school newspaper
describing how I liked a warped, technically atrocious movie review better than
a correct, clean-cut essay -- but the fact that the article was never published
may mean I'm in the minority here :-).
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