Re: IF without puzzles

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Andrew Plotkin

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Aug 28, 2005, 7:03:17 PM8/28/05
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Here, Victor Gijsbers <vic...@lilith.gotdns.org> wrote:
>
> I wonder what you mean by a 'pacing device'; or rather, I think I know
> what a pacing device is, but I don;t see how it can turn a mess of
> characters and events into a story - a pacing device is rather something
> that controls the flow of exploration, by giving information to the
> reader at a higher or lower rate.
>
> Puzzles slow a piece down, this is true, and therefore are in a sense a
> pacing device. But as such they are highly unpredictable: any given
> puzzle may take your reader between 10 seconds and forever to solve. So
> controlling the pace of your story with puzzles is very tricky indeed,
> and it is hard to believe that this is their primary use. (Less tricky
> ways to pace your story is by adding more or less description, by
> introdducing more or less events of lesser importance inbetween the main
> events, and so forth. mostly just the tools one uses for pacing static
> fiction, actually.)

But this is the point. What we find in IF -- I'm speaking both as a
player and as an author -- is that the sense of pace is *not*
determined by the number of words, or even by the number of events the
player witnesses in the game text. And the amount of time the player
spends -- while significant -- is not the most important factor
either.

The most important factor is the number of interesting actions the
player actually types. ("Interesting" excludes repeat look/examine/
inventory commands. A movement from any room to any other also tends
to blur into a single effective action, even if what the player
actually types is "N <enter> E <enter> E <enter> NW <enter> U
<enter>".)

Anything the player has to stop and think about doing is effective
pacing. Adding more description or witnessed events has some effect;
but if the player isn't forced to stop and interact, then he'll almost
certainly be skimming through them. They feel *fast*.

Now, one consequence of this is that an easy puzzle has nearly as much
pacing effect as a difficult one. Being stuck on a puzzle is
frustrating, but it doesn't slow down the *sense* of the game -- not
in the literal proportion of real-time minutes of stuckness. The
player feels the game is "on hold". This is qualitatively different
from slow pacing. (It may also be quantitatively sucky as a player
experience, of course.)

So puzzles as pacing devices are quite predictable: the effect is
proportional to the complexity of the puzzle, in the winning path. I'd
say the *difficulty* of the puzzle is actually a secondary effect: the
author is trying to create material which takes so many actions,
without pushing the player into mechanical (boring) repetition.

--Z

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
I'm still thinking about what to put in this space.

Victor Gijsbers

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Aug 29, 2005, 7:07:08 PM8/29/05
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Hi Andrew,

Thanks for your very interesting comment. I believe that you are right
and I was wrong: the number of significant actions taken, that is, the
number of _decisions_ the player has to make, is a very important pacing
device in IF.

I'm not sure that the number of actions that the winning path through
the puzzle takes is a good measure of the amount the puzzle slows down
the game, though. Falling back on personal experience, I can say that
when playing Anchorhead's tense story, puzzles I got stuck on deflated
the tension significantly by slowing the unfolding of the story in real
time. This to the point where I constantly had a walkthrough open, to
which I could go when I felt that the pause in the unfolding had gone on
so long that my interest was waning. Puzzles that I could easily solve,
even if they took just as many significant actions, did not have such an
effect.

This may be peculiar to me, though I would find it very surprising.


Given that puzzles can indeed be a very effective pacing device because
they are significant actions, there still remains the possibility that
there are other kinds of significant actions that have the same effect.
Important moral decisions, say, or choices about how you wish to portray
your character.

Greetings,
Victor

Andrew Plotkin

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Aug 30, 2005, 11:49:48 AM8/30/05
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Here, Victor Gijsbers <vic...@lilith.gotdns.org> wrote:
>
> I'm not sure that the number of actions that the winning path through
> the puzzle takes is a good measure of the amount the puzzle slows down
> the game, though. Falling back on personal experience, I can say that
> when playing Anchorhead's tense story, puzzles I got stuck on deflated
> the tension significantly by slowing the unfolding of the story in real
> time. This to the point where I constantly had a walkthrough open, to
> which I could go when I felt that the pause in the unfolding had gone on
> so long that my interest was waning. Puzzles that I could easily solve,
> even if they took just as many significant actions, did not have such an
> effect.
>
> This may be peculiar to me, though I would find it very surprising.

It is a useful player's-view description. Obviously this stuff *does*
vary, and I am biased towards my own playing experience when I make
generalizations.

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