Player Knowledge vs. PC Knowledge

5 views
Skip to first unread message

Matthew Murray

unread,
Apr 21, 2002, 12:38:26 PM4/21/02
to
I believe this has been discussed before, but as I do not remember
in what capacity, I thought I'd ask again, just in case.
I was having an interesting discussion with someone on ifMUD about
this issue... Where is the line between what the player knows versus what
his in game representation (PC, or player character) knows? Should they
have more or less the same information? Is it right for the author of a
game to imbue the PC with knowledge that the player has no way of knowing?
I'm not sure where I fall on this particular issue. I can sort of
understand the other person's argument that the PC and the player are not
at all the same, and should not be treated as such. However, I also have
something of a problem with an author presenting information that suggests
the PC knows something that I the player cannot possibly know. If the
game, then, becomes merely a series of things that PC does with knowledge
that I am doing without knowledge--in other words, I am learning what the
PC already knows--I guess that doesn't strike me particularly well.
It makes more sense to me that the player and the PC are more or
less on the same page--if the PC is required to learn something--be it
through achieving new knowledge or remembering old knowledge--it should be
a discovery to both at the same time. Likewise, the player shouldn't be
forced to keep information from the PC or use information in the game the
PC himself couldn't possibly have access to. (One of my (least) favorite
examples of this: In Sierra's King's Quest VI, a vital puzzle having to
do with the genie's lamp hinges on the PLAYER having seen the lamp, when
the character's in-game persona could not possibly have seen it.)
I'd love to hear any thoughts whatsoever anyone has on this.
Feel free to tell me I'm wrong or whatever, but I'd much appreciate any
insight. Thanks.

----------------------------
Matthew A. Murray
matthe...@mindspring.com
http://www.matthewmurray.net
----------------------------

Papillon

unread,
Apr 21, 2002, 1:40:55 PM4/21/02
to

> I'm not sure where I fall on this particular issue. I can sort of
>understand the other person's argument that the PC and the player are not
>at all the same, and should not be treated as such. However, I also have
>something of a problem with an author presenting information that suggests
>the PC knows something that I the player cannot possibly know. If the
>game, then, becomes merely a series of things that PC does with knowledge
>that I am doing without knowledge--in other words, I am learning what the
>PC already knows--I guess that doesn't strike me particularly well.

I find it annoying if I'm stuck fumbling around trying to figure out what
the player already knows.

Spoilery examples: Varicella. V cynlrq vg bapr naq arire ntnva, orpnhfr V
fcrag zl ragver svefg cynlguebhtu fghzoyvat nebhaq gur pnfgyr gelvat gb znc
vg. V'z abg fher V'q rira svavfurq znxvat n znc orsber V ena bhg bs gvzr naq
gur tnzr raqrq. Guvf, gb zr, jnf hasnve. (Rfcrpvnyyl univat gb qrny jvgu gur
yvggyr jnyxvat-vagb-jnyyf zrffntr bppnfvbanyyl juvyr gelvat gb svaq nyy gur
rkvgf, znxvat zr rira zber naablrq.) V guvax fbzrbar ryfr bapr fhzzrq gur
ceboyrz hc nf gur ragver cbvag bs gur tnzr orvat lbh gelvat gb pneel bhg n
cybg gung gur CP unf nyernql gubhtug bs naq JBA'G GRYY LBH. V frg gur tnzr
nfvqr jvgu n zragny abgr gb gel vg ntnva jvgu n jnyxguebhtu fb V pbhyq frr
gur cybg naq abg unir gb qrny jvgu gur veevgngvba.

Now, Spider and Web qbrf fbzrguvat fvzvyne, ohg jvgu n qvssrerapr: ol gur
gvzr lbh trg gb pneelvat bhg gur CP'f cybg, lbh'ir unq n qrprag punapr bs
svthevat bhg jung gung cybg vf. Ng gur irel yrnfg, lbh unir frra gur ynlbhg
bs gur cynpr lbh'er va naq xabj fbzrguvat nobhg lbhe rdhvczrag. Naq, bs
pbhefr, gurer jnf n checbfr gb nyy gur jnaqrevat nobhg lbh qvq rneyvre, n
checbfr bgure guna lbh fvzcyl erpbafgehpgvat CP xabjyrqtr.

In general, something the PC already knows how to do shouldn't really be a
puzzle, should it? If the PC's job is to operate the oogle fluxtran, then
even if the game's documentation comes with detailed instructions on the
care and feeding of an oogle fluxtran, figuring out how to operate it in the
game is a dumb puzzle. IMO, of course.

> It makes more sense to me that the player and the PC are more or
>less on the same page--if the PC is required to learn something--be it
>through achieving new knowledge or remembering old knowledge--it should be
>a discovery to both at the same time. Likewise, the player shouldn't be
>forced to keep information from the PC or use information in the game the
>PC himself couldn't possibly have access to. (One of my (least) favorite
>examples of this: In Sierra's King's Quest VI, a vital puzzle having to
>do with the genie's lamp hinges on the PLAYER having seen the lamp, when
>the character's in-game persona could not possibly have seen it.)

Well, that one's not TOO terrible a sin, as there are other ways of getting
past the obstacle and it wouldn't be impossible to guess... Far more
irritating (to me) would be a situation in which you the player know the
identity of a traitor at a game's beginning because of movie sequences, but
the character is artificially prevented from acting on it until you uncover
proof in the game.

The question becomes whether any sort of "Meanwhile, back at the ranch"
interludes are appropriate in a game. By their very nature they present
information the character doesn't have, even if that information is little
more than an indication to the player of how desperate the situation is
getting.

I would guess that this isue would hinge on whether you were approaching a
work as a story or as a game. Most of the time, I go into these things
looking for a story. I VERY often turn to walkthroughs after making only
tiny effort on my part... because I'm not really into puzzle-solving, I just
want to play with the story. I like the interactivity, and I will deviate
from walkthroughs to examine things that interest me, but most of the time
the achievement of "winning" isn't much of a drive for me.

In a story-focus game, I like to see as much of what's going on as possible.
So "elsewhere" interludes are enjoyable. More information is good.

If I were more focused on "solving" the game, I would be less appreciative
of such interludes, particularly if they dumped a solution on me from on
high.

Emily Short

unread,
Apr 21, 2002, 2:34:34 PM4/21/02
to
In article <Pine.LNX.4.44.02042...@zork.plover.net>,
Matthew Murray <hl...@plover.net> wrote:

> I believe this has been discussed before, but as I do not remember
> in what capacity, I thought I'd ask again, just in case.
> I was having an interesting discussion with someone on ifMUD about
> this issue... Where is the line between what the player knows versus what
> his in game representation (PC, or player character) knows? Should they
> have more or less the same information? Is it right for the author of a
> game to imbue the PC with knowledge that the player has no way of knowing?

I think if you're going to have a well-defined PC, as opposed to one who
is either a) Generic Adventurer #543 or b) a total amnesiac, you pretty
much *have* to endow the PC with such knowledge. This is even more true
if the setting of the game is not a realistic modern-day one. If I set a
game in modern Manhattan, I would expect you to share much of the PC's
knowledge about how the world works. (Actually, given that you live there
and I don't, I'd expect to have to do a bunch of research to get it
right-- but anyway.) He might still have a personal background that you
don't, but you'd both have the same basic survival knowledge.

But if the setting is a fantasy world, then yes, you can expect the PC to
know things about how it works that you can't possibly know in advance.
And I would rather learn those things by interaction with the game world
than by reading a 20-page manual first. Part of the appeal of such games,
too me, is that you the player come to understand both PC and world by a
sort of induction. Bad Machine, for instance, works almost entirely by
immersing you in a world and a consciousness you can only barely
understand.

I sense that really bugs you isn't just that the PC knows more than you
do, though:

> If the
> game, then, becomes merely a series of things that PC does with knowledge
> that I am doing without knowledge--in other words, I am learning what the
> PC already knows--I guess that doesn't strike me particularly well.

From scrollback, I see this was a question raised by Savoir-Faire, so let
me have a crack at answering.

If this were a question of making the player guess actions randomly based
on a rationale that is not explained, then yes, I think it would be
unfair. (Or at least, a fairly abstract sort of pleasure without much
immersion. I'm reminded of those parlor games where a couple of people
know a secret rule for behavior that the others must guess and then
emulate.)

But, at least in this case, you have access to the same basic rules about
how the world works that the PC has. From there on out, he'd solve these
problems the same way you do -- by figuring out how those rules can be
turned to his advantage. Sure, he's got some experience that you don't
have, but the rules are the same for both of you. It's a bit like the
difference between being an experienced programmer and being a novice with
a copy of a language manual: the experienced programmer will think of
solutions and possibilities more rapidly, but the novice can still work
out how to do many of the same things, with enough attention to the
manual.

To my mind, this is a bit different from the sort of puzzle where, for
instance, the player is forced to find something that the PC hid earlier
that day and whose location he knows perfectly well. Much of the
*factual* background to the game that the PC would automatically know, I
tried to make available in as non-infodumpy a way as possible. YMMV, of
course.

> It makes more sense to me that the player and the PC are more or
> less on the same page--if the PC is required to learn something--be it
> through achieving new knowledge or remembering old knowledge--it should be
> a discovery to both at the same time.

As mentioned, this pretty much requires that whatever the
challenges/puzzles are, they are new to the PC as well as to the player.
Which restricts the field to amnesia games, travel-to-strange-new-world
games, etc.

--
Emily Short
http://emshort.home.mindspring.com/index.htm

Mike Snyder

unread,
Apr 21, 2002, 5:58:29 PM4/21/02
to
When I think about some of my favorite movies (Fight Club, The Usual
Suspects, Memento, others) and even just other "good" movies, the adventure
comes from the surprise. Although I've been too busy for IF recently, I
would imagine that the best games *would* be the ones where the PC has
secrets, or knows certain things that don't surface until later, to shed new
light on prior events.

Mike.

"Matthew Murray" <hl...@plover.net> wrote in message
news:Pine.LNX.4.44.02042...@zork.plover.net...

Eric Mayer

unread,
Apr 21, 2002, 6:20:12 PM4/21/02
to
On Sun, 21 Apr 2002 11:38:26 -0500, Matthew Murray <hl...@plover.net>
wrote:

The dichotomy, or lack thereof, between PC and player/reader
seems to be one of the most difficult problems in interactive fiction.
I wonder if it should be? Does the confusion really arise from a lack
of clarity as to whether a particular work of IF is a game or fiction?

A game is something you - the player -- play and, for the most
part, try to win. The character you control isn't that important in
his or her own right. In a game the player and the character are
closely identified. Both share the same goal of winning the game and
the player does the "thinking" for the character in trying to solve
the puzzles. The simpler the game, the less problem there is with
"viewpoint." If you're just pressing a button to shoot aliens, then
you're the PC, such as it is. If the author, however, rather than
putting the player's finger on the firing button, puts the player in
control of a PC who's doing the shooting then the trouble begins.
Especially if the player has motivations that aren't shared by someone
who is just sitting in front of a computer pressing a button to blast
digitized aliens.
But what if you consider a work of IF to be fiction? Really
fiction, and not a game. In most fiction the reader will be
identifying to some extent with a protagonist who the reader initially
does not know anything about. Do we expect all protagonists to begin
novels as amnesiacs, forced to discover their identities along with
us? Finding out about the protagonist is often one of the most
interesting aspects of the story. Readers don't feel cheated that the
protagonist knows more than they do -- perhaps because "identifying
with" a character is not the same as being "identical to" which may be
more what you tend towards in games.
Nor is there anything unusual about having to discover things
about a fictional character which the character already knows, yet
still learning new things, along with the character, as the character
experiences the story. (Of course, there can be questions, as in
mystery novels, of what is and is not fair, when it comes to
witholding from the reader things the protagonist experiences during
the course of the story)
However, I'm not sure to what extent it is allowable, or any
author has, treated IF as truly, more fiction than game. It seems that
most of the little IF I've played, where the story involves character
revelation, the protagonist is forced to discover his or her identity
along with the player. Self discovery is a big theme in fiction but
usually it involves more subtle discoveries than we get in IF.

--
Eric Mayer
Web Site: <http://home.epix.net/~maywrite>

"The map is not the territory." -- Alfred Korzybski

Papillon

unread,
Apr 21, 2002, 4:24:48 PM4/21/02
to
ems...@mindspring.com (Emily Short) wrote:

>> It makes more sense to me that the player and the PC are more or
>> less on the same page--if the PC is required to learn something--be it
>> through achieving new knowledge or remembering old knowledge--it should be
>> a discovery to both at the same time.
>
>As mentioned, this pretty much requires that whatever the
>challenges/puzzles are, they are new to the PC as well as to the player.
>Which restricts the field to amnesia games, travel-to-strange-new-world
>games, etc.

(Disclaimer: I haven't played Savoir-Faire yet)

Not necessarily, and I think I need to clarify what I said earlier. I said
"Something the PC already knows how to do shouldn't be a puzzle". What I
meant was more - what the PC already knows how to do should not be the
*entirety* of a puzzle. A decent puzzle can be built on top of what the PC
already knows.

The challenges/puzzles don't have to be "new" to the PC in the sense of
whole-new-world, but they should at least be challenges to the PC.... unless
you're writing a game sheerly about the drudgery of a boring, challengeless
life or something...

I think many of us encounter new challenges in our lives without having
amnesia or traveling to strange new worlds. :)

A.P. Hill

unread,
Apr 21, 2002, 8:37:39 PM4/21/02
to
Well, I would suggest instead of sitting down and writing out what the
player knows and doesn't know, which would be a pretty big list...I
would develop an Intelligence Check used for any situation that cannot
be remedied with common sense. It RPG, it can be a check versus the
players Intelligence Score, or by the roll of a die with modifiers
based on current aplatures. I mean, there's no way around it, you do
have to know at some point what the PC knows versus the player, unless
you are playing a game of LIFE and the player is a mirror image of the
PC, then that would make sense not to conduct Intelligence checks.
For example, if I was playing A.P. Hill, and I came to a door that
asked what aplatures meant. I would be like, "Hmmm, I'm not sure,
does anyone have any magic-read?"

Anything to save time, nothing worse than slowing down the adventure.

A.P. Hill

Matthew Murray

unread,
Apr 21, 2002, 11:30:06 PM4/21/02
to
On Sun, 21 Apr 2002, Mike Snyder wrote:

> When I think about some of my favorite movies (Fight Club, The Usual
> Suspects, Memento, others) and even just other "good" movies, the adventure
> comes from the surprise.

The difference being, of course, that the audience at a movie
doesn't (well, under normal circumstance) take an active role in the
creation of the story. They are watching the story unfold on film. In a
computer game, the player--like it or not--is a part of the action.

> Although I've been too busy for IF recently, I
> would imagine that the best games *would* be the ones where the PC has
> secrets, or knows certain things that don't surface until later, to shed new
> light on prior events.

I guess my question is why it should (or how it can) be a surprise
to the PC but not the player in those circumstances.

Eytan Zweig

unread,
Apr 22, 2002, 3:44:33 AM4/22/02
to

"Matthew Murray" <hl...@plover.net> wrote in message
news:Pine.LNX.4.44.020421...@zork.plover.net...

> On Sun, 21 Apr 2002, Mike Snyder wrote:
>
> > When I think about some of my favorite movies (Fight Club, The Usual
> > Suspects, Memento, others) and even just other "good" movies, the
adventure
> > comes from the surprise.
>
> The difference being, of course, that the audience at a movie
> doesn't (well, under normal circumstance) take an active role in the
> creation of the story. They are watching the story unfold on film. In a
> computer game, the player--like it or not--is a part of the action.
>
> > Although I've been too busy for IF recently, I
> > would imagine that the best games *would* be the ones where the PC has
> > secrets, or knows certain things that don't surface until later, to shed
new
> > light on prior events.
>
> I guess my question is why it should (or how it can) be a surprise
> to the PC but not the player in those circumstances.
>

It all depends on the effect you want to create. If you're aiming for a game
where you ARE the PC - which seems to be what you want given your comments
above - then yes, the knowledge gap between the two should be as minimal as
possible. There are two ways to achieve this that I know of:

A. Start both from nothing - i.e. Amnesia games, alien world games, etc.
B. Place the PC somewhere that is culturally accessible to your target
audience, and use that to form a background. If you place your game in
downtown New York, for instance, and the PC needs to get to the other side
of town, I think most players will realize you need to either CALL TAXI or
get on a subway.

But, there is no requirement that all IF should have a player-character
correspondance. IF isn't just about being the hero of the story, it's a tool
that allows you to create stories where player response makes a difference -
but a lot of what's possible can rely on having a dychotomy between what the
character knows and what the player knows. This can work both ways - the
character may have secrets (or random information that's not readily
available) that the player doesn't have immediate access to, or vice versa
the player may have access to knowledge that the character won't know about.
This can be used for many, many effects. An aborted idea for an IF game I
had was a superman parody where you play a Lois Lane type character, totally
oblivious that you're companion in the game is in fact the superhero that
keeps saving the day - but the player should be able to figure it out within
the opening intro. There I wanted to exploit the knowledge gap for humerous
effect - the game itself required you to save the day after the hero was
incapacitated, but a lot of the character's reactions to things would have
been funny because she is ignorant of what's painfully obvious to the
player.

Anyway, my point is - why should there be a difference between what the
player and the character knows? Because such a difference might be
interesting, or challanging, or some other desired effect. If you can't see
how such a gap would fit in with the story you are creating, that's probably
a sign that there shouldn't be one there.

Eytan

kodrik

unread,
Apr 22, 2002, 3:41:11 AM4/22/02
to
> I guess my question is why it should (or how it can) be a surprise
> to the PC but not the player in those circumstances.

IF is a game, not a simulation. A game is supposed to convey emotions such
as suspense or suprise, and to create such reactions the autor must take
into account that the player and the PC are two seperate entities.
When you watch a movie like Sixth sense, the action is controlled by the
Director so you cannot have evidence of his state until the director wants
to.
In IF, the player can interact with the environment and therefore can find
clues that a movie and a book can have the player avoid. Part of the
excitement of IF is to solve problems with investigation, and if
uncertainties about the PC you control adds to the game, then it is a great
tool for authors to use.

Sean T Barrett

unread,
Apr 23, 2002, 7:38:31 AM4/23/02
to
Emily Short <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:

>Matthew Murray <hl...@plover.net> wrote:
>> It makes more sense to me that the player and the PC are more or
>> less on the same page--if the PC is required to learn something--be it
>> through achieving new knowledge or remembering old knowledge--it should be
>> a discovery to both at the same time.
>
>As mentioned, this pretty much requires that whatever the
>challenges/puzzles are, they are new to the PC as well as to the player.
>Which restricts the field to amnesia games, travel-to-strange-new-world
>games, etc.

Hmm. Strongly disagree, I think. If the challenges/puzzles
are for the player and not for the PC, immersion will be
entirely ruined for me. (The phrase "your first link" in
SF's score is about as jarring to me as Varicella keeping
his "master plan" secret from me.)

And really, this is true in SF: the vast majority of the
puzzles do puzzle the PC. I think for narrative reasons
it makes sense for the PC to have secrets from the player,
or at least, I keep writing games where that's true (in
The Weapon people quickly figure it out, and it's kind of
a cheap thing to keep secret; in Heroes I think I did
a much better job, because the things the PCs slowly dole
out are things they don't *realize* are relevant, which
I think works better). But the puzzles are always puzzles
confronting the PC. This is the quintessence of the relation
of IF to role-playing, I think; in a (pen-and-paper) RPG,
the player always knows everything the PC knows, and the
challenges are always challanges for both. In adventures
we take some liberties with this, but I think we don't
want to go too far.

It's quite possible to mask "travel-to-strange-new-world";
whether it be a familiar home unfamiliarly arranged, or simply
unfortunately locked; or an encounter where a PC with weak
people-skills and strong mechanical skills and must try to
operate a familiar machine while dealing with the unfamiliar
situation of being closely watched by a character with
different goals.

At heart, too, I think this is why the word "adventure" still
tends to be applicable, because if the story has any challenges
then there will always be some sense of "strange new world", and
hence of adventure. Galatea's interviewer certainly had one.

SeanB

David Thornley

unread,
Apr 23, 2002, 11:53:34 AM4/23/02
to
In article <61188078.02042...@posting.google.com>,

A.P. Hill <aph...@altavista.com> wrote:
>Well, I would suggest instead of sitting down and writing out what the
>player knows and doesn't know, which would be a pretty big list...I
>would develop an Intelligence Check used for any situation that cannot
>be remedied with common sense.

I think a probabilistic check is generally a bad idea. It's hard
enough to figure out what the player can and cannot do without
having to compute probabilities.

It RPG, it can be a check versus the
>players Intelligence Score, or by the roll of a die with modifiers
>based on current aplatures.

I don't role-play all that much any more, and recently I managed
to completely change how a certain session turned out with some
incredibly bad die-rolling. I don't think you want to write a
game with, say, two ways out of the start room that require an
intelligence check with 99% chances to pass either, miss both,
and write a review.

I mean, there's no way around it, you do
>have to know at some point what the PC knows versus the player,

Certainly. If you do know what the PC knows, you can apply that
logic directly without having to make up probabilities.

>Anything to save time, nothing worse than slowing down the adventure.
>

That's applicable to actual role-playing, with a human running the
situation. If the die rolls turn out to be undesirable, the human
can then adapt the situation. IF programs aren't nearly as intelligent,
and can't be creative when facing unexpected situations.

--
David H. Thornley | If you want my opinion, ask.
da...@thornley.net | If you don't, flee.
http://www.thornley.net/~thornley/david/ | O-

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages