Does knowing that it's a random process make combat exciting, or a
pointless series of "KILL x WITH y" commands?
After mulling it over, I've included combat in the story I'm writing,
but only as an alternative solution (and a risky, less-desirable one in
I'd be interested in hearing your views on the subject.
>What are your thoughts on combat in IF? Is an old-school combat system
>frowned upon for the same reason that randomly determined deaths are?
If combat is the way to solve a puzzle (i.e. you own the glass sword
that will kill the last tyrant of hell) I think it is good and
But I don't like RPGish, attribute-based and random combat. In a work
of Interactive Fiction I find it muddling and unfair.
I, on the other hand, found the RPGish, attribute-based and random combat in
IF Comp '04's "Magocracy" to be extremely fun. It was my top pick from the
comp, and an amazing game (needs a fix for getting stuck down in the
dungeon, but still fun).
If there are going to be disadvantages to combat -- i.e. if it makes
the game considerably harder to beat -- there should be advantages as
well. Finally, remember not to make things all too dependant on random
chance; otherwise it's too easy for the game to turn into saving before
each fight and running over and over again until you succeed.
I did it in WarMage. Actually, the system is RPG, but I set up things so
that you have to accomplish certain tasks before passing some combacts, and
once you've done it, it's actually impossible to loose.
This is done by retrieving magical items, spells or combact companions that
makes you invincible against a specific enemy. However, you CAN still fight
against any enemy and, if lucky enough, win, but you CAN prepare enough to
be SURE to win.
In example; the first combact is against a poor guard captain, which is
strong enough to pose some treat on the player. However, if the player uses
a sword he can find on the way, the match is about even. If he has found
the healing potion he is quite sure not to die. If he uses the ferdem
(firebolt) scroll when entering in combact, he gets a great advantage. If
he's also smart enough to scribe the scroll he finds on the way with an
extra "ferdem", then he can probably vaporize the captain before him having
his sword drawn...
More or less, all the combacts in the game are organized so that if the
player arrives fully prepared, he cannot loose; there's a chance of loosing
if the player is halfway prepared, and he is gonna be dead meat if arriving
For me, knowing that it's a random process means that I will make it a
*non*-random process, using UNDO or RESTORE. Then I'll blame the game
for breaking my sense of immersion.
Players are so unfair. :)
--Z (currently working on an idea which involves *deterministic* combat)
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
I'm still thinking about what to put in this space.
I think it's one of those "taste" questions; some people just won't
like a textual representation of combat, and some people, like myself,
will overly enjoy it for no easily discoverable reason.
When I feel the need for an RPG-style combat, I play Nethack. I prefer
my IF to at least seem deterministic.
The system I'm currently developing permits you to use combat to bypass
some challenges: instead of persuading or trapping an uncooperative
critter, you can simply unlimber your weapon and whomp the daylights
out of it. However, combat always entails considerable risk to the PC,
and killing off certain NPC's will close off the optimal endings of the
game. (This is made clear to the player before combat commences.)
I figure this approach will give the thud-and-blunder crowd their dose
of mayhem, while still allowing the more pacifist players to puzzle
their way through to the end. All of the puzzles can be solved without
combat, but if head-scratching and hints fail, many challenges can be
solved less elegantly at the point of a sword.
As far as the random element, my combat system is primarily based on
fixed attributes: strength and dexterity (determined by the player's
choice of class), weapon damage, and the nature of the critter they're
up against. These attributes determine the list of potential outcomes
for that round of combat. Then the random element is applied,
selecting an outcome from that list. A critter that kills the PC
easily will likely kill him on the subsequent 20 restores as well.
Andrew's point about the un-randomizing effect of Restore has raised
some nagging doubts, but I think this system provides a decent
compromise between wholly random and wholly deterministic systems.
Incidentally, the idea of a wholly deterministic system of combat makes
me cringe. Why bother when the intent of the combat here is to provide
an alternative to puzzles?
It seems to me that a deterministic system just reduces the combat to
another puzzle... an uninspired, yawn-inducing lock and key puzzle, no
less. Get magic sword, kill beast with sword. Next room. Get better
sword, kill bigger beast with better sword. Lather, rinse, repeat ad
The whole idea of "providing alternatives to puzzles" has, in my
experience, gone wrong more often than it's gone right.
Not that it *always* goes wrong. But I think authors assume that each
player will automatically gravitate to whichever alternative is most
fun for him. And that assumption is completely unfounded. Figuring out
how to guide the player towards what he "should" do is *even more*
important when there are several things he *can* do.
> It seems to me that a deterministic system just reduces the combat to
> another puzzle... an uninspired, yawn-inducing lock and key puzzle, no
Why would it have to be a boring puzzle? Nearly all *interesting* IF
puzzles are deterministic. (Nearly all bad ones too.)
Just to clarify, my intent isn't to provide an alternative to *all*
puzzles; it's to provide a means of swapping select puzzles in the game
for combat challenges.
> Not that it *always* goes wrong. But I think authors assume that each
> player will automatically gravitate to whichever alternative is most
> fun for him. And that assumption is completely unfounded. Figuring
> how to guide the player towards what he "should" do is *even more*
> important when there are several things he *can* do.
I was indeed anticipating that players would gravitate towards the most
appealing alternative, but I think the choice of player class should
help steer them in the right direction. For each class, the PC's
backstory, tools, and available skills suggest where that direction
lies. The mage's spells largely deal with object manipulation, and he
lacks weapons or combat training. The warrior is a walking armory,
and is steeped in combat training.
And in some cases, the player is specifically barred from some courses
of action. For example, in a confrontation with one NPC, a melee
attack initiated by a mage will elicit laughter. The same attack made
by the warrior will start combat.
Hopefully, there are enough clues and cues to keep the player from
> Why would it have to be a boring puzzle? Nearly all *interesting* IF
> puzzles are deterministic. (Nearly all bad ones too.)
True, deterministic and boring aren't linked. But combat? At first
glance, I have trouble picturing a predetermined combat puzzle as being
interesting and innovative. I think it's because I picture combat as
being a dynamic affair governed as much by luck as by skill -- and once
you replace the dynamic aspect with a static, predetermined series of
events, it's no longer a combat simulation. It's a puzzle pretending
to be a combat simulation.
Then again, the implementation is everything... the right approach
could make it a lot more palatable.
Can you think of any examples of good, deterministic combat in IF?
Personally, I would certainly frown upon it. It's a relic of ye old days
on MUDs, etc. Whenever I come across a scene like this, I'm absolutely
bored by repeatedly entering "kill x with y". I'm drawn to IF for its
interactive fiction, and diversions such as this to me are neither.
That said, plenty of people liked last year's Necrotic Drift, which had
its fair share of randomized combat. I was not one of them, but I think
I'm definitely in a minority.
I don't think Necrotic Drift is a particularly good example of a game
with randomized combat. As I recall, you pretty much always won every
combat you were supposed to win as long as you kept attacking and were
using the right weapon, and if you were using the wrong weapon you
Dan Shiovitz :: d...@cs.wisc.edu :: http://www.drizzle.com/~dans
"He settled down to dictate a letter to the Consolidated Nailfile and
Eyebrow Tweezer Corporation of Scranton, Pa., which would make them
realize that life is stern and earnest and Nailfile and Eyebrow Tweezer
Corporations are not put in this world for pleasure alone." -PGW
> True, deterministic and boring aren't linked. But combat? At first
> glance, I have trouble picturing a predetermined combat puzzle as being
> interesting and innovative. I think it's because I picture combat as
> being a dynamic affair governed as much by luck as by skill -- and once
> you replace the dynamic aspect with a static, predetermined series of
> events, it's no longer a combat simulation. It's a puzzle pretending
> to be a combat simulation.
> Then again, the implementation is everything... the right approach
> could make it a lot more palatable.
> Can you think of any examples of good, deterministic combat in IF?
Something like the Monkey Island insult/sword-fight would fit in. Instead
of insults, it could be "thrust high" and "parry right", or a set of
spells, and so forth. Player actions have deterministic outcome (the NPCs
have random attacks). At worst it's a maze, were the player learns from
experience the proper response to each attack, or what constitutes a good
player series of attacks, but you can make the responses and attack patterns
at least partially predictable (e.g., ice spell counters fire attack).
Another approach is to make the combat a deterministic strategy game, like
David Tanguay http://www.sentex.ca/~datanguayh/
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada [43.24N 80.29W]
> What are your thoughts on combat in IF? Is an old-school combat system
> frowned upon for the same reason that randomly determined deaths are?
> Does knowing that it's a random process make combat exciting, or a
> pointless series of "KILL x WITH y" commands?
If it's really random, the latter. If there's an element of randomness
that you can get around with by solving a puzzle, that's not as bad. The
troll and thief in Dungeon are acceptable, but only just. There's only
two of them; the troll is close to the beginning, so not all is lost
when you get killed, and you have a decent chance to kill him; the thief
is dangerous early on, but you can make killing him very nearly a
certainty by leaving the fight until as late as possible. And they're
short; you don't get half of the game taken over by interminable
sequences of "HIT TROLL"s, but a couple of turns in each case.
> After mulling it over, I've included combat in the story I'm writing,
> but only as an alternative solution (and a risky, less-desirable one in
> most cases).
That can actually be a good idea, as long as it's clear that combat is
the alternative, not the main solution. You do run the risk of players
taking the easy way out and fighting their way around every puzzle; and
then complaining that it spoiled their fun. So you need to make the main
solution the more obvious one.
Well, we've had puzzles pretending to be time machines, alchemy labs,
drug trips, and broken radios. Combat probably won't be impossible. :)
> Can you think of any examples of good, deterministic combat in IF?
I didn't have an example when I wrote that post, but I just thought of
the obvious one: the four-superhero fight scene in _Earth and Sky 3_.
I didn't think that was perfect. You had to go through a lot of
repetitions before solving it (at least I did), and the mechanicalness
It's got the elements I'm thinking of, though. You have a handful of
options on any given turn; some are obvious, some require some
puzzle-thinking to come up with. The scenery can be used in some
unobvious ways -- it's not just you and the enemy. And death isn't in
the equation. (Sure, it seems obvious that a mistake in combat ought
to result in death -- but the player *is* going to use "undo" or
"restore", so how much fun are you really adding?)
Is WarMage in the IF Archive - I remember doing a bit of Beta testing
but couldn't see it in there (or on your web pages)?
"Giancarlo Niccolai" <searc...@ingoogle.com> wrote in message
Well the story I'm working on right now has a wild west like setting, so
combat is essentially unavoidable. The wild west just isn't the wild
west without gunfights. I'm doing my best to make it interesting,
though, and not just typing SHOOT x WITH y over and over again. In
several fights, only one attack is required to win (but you may have to
attack the correct opponent with the correct weapon). In others you
carry on a conversation with your opponent, and the fight is kind of
background action that plays out more or less the same way whether you
participate explicitly or not. And still others require you to use the
environment to your advantage instead of attacking directly. So
hopefully the fight scenes will turn out more interesting than
In particular, coding for the effects of the mage's spells on every
object in the game is a nightmare. You may want to limit the spells so
that they affect NPCs only. That greatly reduces the amount of coding
you'll need to do.
> Hi Gian
> Is WarMage in the IF Archive - I remember doing a bit of Beta testing
> but couldn't see it in there (or on your web pages)?
Yes sorry: we managed to finish it in Italian, and it has been published. If
you can read Italian, then it is at
We (a group of Italian developers) are now taking the English version to the
final stage, so you'll see it around sometime this year.
The site also holds the "pitermossian" grammar. I know there is an Inform
extension in lojban, which is a synthetic language like the Esperanto...
well pitermossian is a fantasy sinthetic language, like tolkien's, but
while Tolkien's are just "outdrawn", the grammar of pitermossian is quite
complete. Also, as lojban, pitermossian is an ambiguity-free language, but
while the former is based on mathematical constructs to achieve this
result, the latter is based more on the extension and "hardening" around
the core idea of "semantic carrying", which is performed in a potentially
ambiguity-free way by many real languages (i.e. Japanese). Potentially,
because real-world languages are often MEANT to carry some ambiguity
exactly for the sake of being ambigue, which is a very important matter in
oratory and communication.
IMHO, pitermossian would be easier to use than lojban on a real context,
because it matches better the human reasoning process, however I lack the
time to develop it and write an English manual. So, if some one of you is
interested in the topic... then you know where to contact me ;-).