Hints in adventure games.

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David Etherton

Dec 4, 1993, 1:37:31 PM12/4/93
Okay, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the "right" way to
do hints in an adventure game. Here are some ideas:

1. Don't include them at all. This is obviously the most challenging,
and to some extent the most annoying. Annoying for who depends on
how well the author supports their game. Right now I'm blundering my
way through a game, slowly running out of puzzles to solve, so the
ones that are left tend to be the ones I've been unsuccessfully trying
to solve for a long time. Fortunately for me, the author has been
very responsive in providing hints to me. If I kept on getting stuck
in a game that the author didn't support well, I'd have to go begging
to the net (annoying the world :) or just throw the game back on the
shelf (annoying myself). Having a human provide hints is in some sense
best because they can accurately judge your game state and give you
just enough information to get you going in the right direction.

2. Include them with written documentation. This provides an
incentive to "register" a game. However, if the hints are plaintext,
it's really easy to ruin the game for yourself by referring to the
hints too early and too often. I did this for another game I played,
where I made it through about half of the game totally on my own, ran
out of puzzles I could solve, and started using the hint book. Needless
to say, the game didn't last too much longer after that. So encoding the
hints is an idea; make them a pain to decode, like Scott Adams games
or Magnetic Scrolls games. This helps a little bit, but you still
have the problem of the questions themselves giving too much away, or
blowing a later puzzle in the game because you weren't sure what
question to ask.

3. Include them with the game. This is a nice feature to leave out
of the unregistered version of shareware. In its simplest form,
like in some of the later Infocom games, it's equivalent to number
two, which is rather useless. Ideally it seems that the hint
mechanism should be able to figure out what state you are in the
game (perhaps even going so far as to analyze the puzzle directed
acyclic graph) and offer a suitable hint. However, even this is a
little too easy to rely on, which leads me to...

4. Make them implicit in the game. To some extent, many games already
do this; if an object is hidden is some particularly obscure place,
leave a "note" or other clue (perhaps overhearing an actor). However,
I often find myself "stuck" in a game, knowing approximately what I
need to get done, but by virtue of the fact that I don't know what
order I have to solve the puzzles in, I'm totally stonewalled.

How about some heuristics which look at things like how long since
you've scored a point, combined with the density of "failed" commands
(I don't know how to do that to the widget)? Now, telling that the
player could use a hint is relatively easy; trying to figure out what
they could use a hint for is a little tougher. Maybe pick one of
the "exposed" nodes of the puzzle DAG (forgive my lame nomencature) at
random, and say, "Hey, why don't you go take a look at the barn
door again?". Here, "exposed node" would mean any puzzle which you
can either a) directly solve with a magic command, b) directly solve
with a magic command involving something in your inventory, or,
barring any of the first two, c) directly solve with a magic command
involving something you have direct access to but just don't happen
to be carrying at the time. For me, just knowing which puzzles I
shouldn't be wasting my time on yet because I don't have the means to
solve them is a big help. Of course this is part of the challenge of
the game, but then again, I like to play games for fun, not to get

You probably want the ability to turn of the "auto-hints", or at least
have the game ask before offering one to you. Also, auto-hints can
probably be defeated pretty easily by just saving your game, typing a
bunch of stupid commands to trigger the mechanism, and then restore
the game again afterwards to get rid of the wasted turns. For this
same reason, it is pointless to have hints deduct points from your
score. However, intentionally triggering the auto-hints is still more
painful than just typing "hint", which may still prevent them from
being overused to some extent.

Well, that's a lot of thought. Anybody else have any opinions about or
enhancements to these ideas?

-David Etherton

David W. LeCompte

Dec 5, 1993, 2:14:19 PM12/5/93
I have been thinking about hints, myself, and I think that overhearing
an actor, or even having a benevolent actor to give you useful nudges
is the style that I find most attractive. If Rebecca Snoot was
designed a little differently in RTZ, she would be the perfect
example. As it is, she shows up semi-randomly (or at least, when I
least want her to show up.) and offers canned commentary, some of
which is useful for some puzzles ( though I had begged the net for the
solutions of some puzzles before Rebecca helped me out ).

The way that I would want to have a perfect Rebecca (aside from
casting issues, and other concerns that the New, Better, Infocom are
interested in with full-motion video adventure games) is the knowledge
of the puzzle DAG (using lame terms, but I can't come up with any
better, either) would be part of her design, and she might come up
after enough "failure messages", and, in casual conversation, give a
suggestion, or perhaps a request for something that would be

For instance. Suppose that you have to fix a tractor, and the tool
that you need to make the repairs is a wrench. Perhaps you've already
found the wrench, but it's not on you. Rebecca might say something to
the effect of "You know, I've been meaning to tune up my truck. I
don't suppose that you've seen a wrench around. I lost my favorite
wrench while I was fighting grues..."

The good designer would make the hints entice the user to think about
the wrench in the right way. The good designer would also recognize
that the hint that I just mentioned would lead the player to give the
wrench to Rebecca. She might ask "are you sure that you don't need
this" if one of the exposed unsolved puzzles needs the wrench. She
should only take the wrench if it's no longer needed, or if the means
for getting it back from her is obvious to the player.

just my thoughts...

-Dave LeCompte

These opinions are my own, and do not necessarily reflect
those of my family, my company, my race, or my species.

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