[COMP98] [SPOILERS] Firedrake's reviews 1/2

10 views
Skip to first unread message

ro...@firedrake.avertspam.demon.co.uk

unread,
Nov 17, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/17/98
to
Firedrake's Comp98 Reviews

Introduction

I'm being a purist. I'm working entirely from the comp98.zip archive,
and ignoring any later addition files (a deadline is a deadline, after
all). I used Comp98, but I've taken some games out of order, because I
can play the Inform ones on my Psion palmtop during slow times at work.
All other games (and many of the Inform ones) were played under Linux,
for which I was pleasantly surprised at the range of supported
interpreters.

I'm also just back from a weekend at Novacon, and I'm posting this
before reading anyone else's comments.

What sort of qualifications do I have to judge in this competition?
Well, I've been playing IF since about 1987 (Infocom games, mostly). I
discovered Inform a couple of years ago, and I've kicked around some
code, but haven't released anything. And I read a lot. I prefer the
story aspect of games rather than the puzzle aspect, but I try to be
even-handed.

And I know a chap who knows Graham Nelson. (Hi Rhodri :-)

I reserve the right to insert spoilers without further warning.

Rating system
10 : Wonderful. I love this game.
9 : Excellent, only one or two minor flaws
8 : Starting to get really good
7 : Good, competent
6 : Workmanlike, perhaps uninspired
5 : Doesn't quite make the grade
4 : If I felt like this about one of my own games, I'd keep working
3 : I might well abandon something of mine at this level
2 : Pretty poor, with some redeeming features
1 : It stinks

I gave points for Technical (quality of programming, responses to
unusual actions, lack of guess-the-X, etc.), Narrative (plot, writing
quality) and Interaction (sense of involvement, degree to which one can
alter the plot), as well as an overall rating based on my feelings
towards the game.

Fifteen - Ricardo Dague

This one wouldn't run under Psion Frotz. Not an encouraging start.

"Sparse" doesn't really do this game justice. "Minimalist" might be
better. "Kitchen. Exits are south, east and north". OK, so it doesn't
have the lyricism of Infocom; I can live with that. It's more like the
very first games I saw.

The 15-puzzle is nicely implemented; I'd like to see source for that.
The television is a pleasant touch. And all the objects one finds are
things one might plausibly find in a modern setting; no power drills in
the middle of Camelot here.

Set against this, however, must be the sheer lack of scope of the game.
The 15 puzzle; the cat in the tree; the maze. That's it. The maze
itself is simply mappable, which is at least a new idea; while all the
locations have the same description, all movement is reversible. (Since
there aren't enough objects to map it conventionally, I suppose this is
a good thing.) On the other hand, all it is is a series of locations
one has to map.

But I came out at the end thinking "Is that it?" I didn't have a
_character_, just a puppet. This was a reasonable first piece, but I'd
like to see better narrative development in future work.

Technical 6
Narrative 1
Interaction 6
Overall 5

Downtown Tokyo Present Day - Digby McWiggle

Ah, now I _like_ this! Movie intro, so we have some idea of what we're
in for. Third-person narration, very neatly done. And a decent help
system!

Good descriptions, and good interaction of objects. And a sense of fun
that comes through all the time. The game stays throughly in genre, too.

Very little to complain about. I'm always a bit hesitant to wait,
especially at the start of a game, but this didn't seem excessive. I'd
like to see more, in particular some longer pieces, from Digby.

Technical 10
Narrative 10
Interaction 8
Overall 10

Where Evil Dwells - Paul Johnson & Steve Owens

This looked like fairly conventional IF. Good, very atmospheric
descriptions. But, as often, I found myself at a loss. I could wander
around outside the house and get killed in interesting ways, but
getting in appeared to be beyond me. No help, hints or credits were in
the game file, but reasonable hints and a walkthrough are provided
separately.

Since I'd spent most of the time looking for a way into the house, I
used the walk-through to view the rest of the game. Quite a few needed
objects didn't seem to be mentioned, the nineball, the imp, the map and
the music box for example. The geography of the house was also slightly
odd, with the attic stairs arising from the master bedroom. Longer
text pieces, especially, were plagued with misprints. (And I was mildly
miffed that, even though I'd thought to lock the car, the professor
stole it anyway. :-)

The atmosphere of the descriptions was clearly inspired by Lovecraft's
Cthulhu mythos, but seemed shallow on examination. I had no sense of
personal or character involvement in the action; one of the greatest
virtues of the Cthulhu stories, to my mind, is that the protagonist is
affected by his experiences; that didn't seem to happen here.

This is quite an accomplished work, but more attention to detail would
be welcome.

Technical 6
Narrative 4
Interaction 5
Overall 5

Purple - Stefan Blixt

A very promising start, with setting clearly established. However,
almost at once I ran into technical problems, not being able to do most
of the interesting things that seemed to be on offer (moving bits of
electronics, examining charts, and so on). The shelter itself suffered
from major disambiguation problems ("close door" coming back with
"which do you mean, the controls or the huge door"); and as I was
rather hesitant to go into hibernation against the fall of civilisation
without closing the door first, I had a certain amount of trouble here.
However, the descriptions, while sometimes excessively spare, were
clear and atmospheric, and I was looking forward to the rest of the
story.

The second half seemed almost the work of another author. Rather than
the tension and feeling of realism seen earlier, there was a fantastic
and inconsistent air to the setting. Further technical problems
(including one that stopped the walk-through from working) surfaced,
overpowering what plot remained.

I'd love to see an expanded first half of this work, perhaps in
conjunction with a more experienced Inform programmer.

Technical 3
Narrative 8/4 (first and second parts)
Interaction 5
Overall 5

Trapped in a One-Room Dilly - Laura A. Knauth

This was quite clearly a pure-puzzle game. In spite of that, I enjoyed
it immensely. Only a couple of problems marred the experience: the
three-line status bar, while attractive, took up too much of the
limited Psion screen; I'd never heard of a "paper scratch" being an
actual piece of paper; a few similarly minor problems also surfaced.

However, there were almost no technical flaws. Even given the
restricted scope of the game, this is quite remarkable. All the objects
had interesting descriptions (I was particularly amused by the bookcase
and the doll), and could be used in reasonable ways.

The puzzles themselves were enjoyable, not particularly difficult but
adequate to hold my attention; the hint engine was perhaps not ideal,
but worked nonetheless. I finished this game almost exactly on the
two-hour mark.

I look forward to seeing more from this author; I'm certainly going to
download her previous piece once the Competition is over.

Technical 9
Narrative 1
Interaction 9
Overall 9

Cattus Atrox - David A. Cornelson

An interesting idea, and atmospheric setup. I quite liked the initial
descriptions, and layout of the town, though the location descriptions
were perhaps minimal.

After the flight through the city was completed, though, too much was
given away too quickly (the clues in the living room), too many actions
met by "you can't". There was probably a way out of the trapdoor (I got
myself half-untied but was stymied by guess-the-verb), but I already
had a bad enough taste in my mouth that I didn't care to find it.

My low overall mark is a measure of my distaste for the game. I didn't
think the content was justified by the story; it didn't seem necessary.
I continued for the two hours out of a sense of duty rather than from
any wish to find out what would happen. Still, I don't watch horror
movies or read about psychopathic killers either.

Technical 4
Narrative 7
Interaction 4
Overall 3

I was encouraged to note (after I'd played this game and written the
above) that at least one of the other judges clearly felt the same way.
Using the walk-through provided later only reinforced my opinion: since
when was "free hands" (as opposed to "untie hands", which didn't work)
a standard command?

CC - Mikko Vuorinen

"You probably won't understand what the game is all about, but that's
all right." No, it isn't. I don't understand what this game is about,
and I have no reason to care about it. The author's job is to draw me
into the story, not to tell me I won't get it... OK, rant over.

Actually, the above is my major problem with this game. There is no
background, no involvement, just a blend of high-tech and mystical
props. There don't appear to be any major technical errors, but I
didn't get any particular satisfaction from solving the problems or
finishing the game, and neither did I have any sense of persona.

Technical 5
Narrative 4
Interaction 2
Overall 4

The City - Sam Barlow

This is the first game I've played in comp98 which seemed to ask to be
identified as "art". Apparently just two rooms, two things to do. But
there were more options available, just well-hidden.

This game was too minimal for me to get much idea of the author's
capabilities, but the central idea was a reasonably good one. However,
the essential futility of the environment disappointed me. There was no
explanation of what was going on, or why; no background, even when one
had "won". (However, the "that's not how you remember it" message is
worth a rating point by itself.)

Technical 6
Narrative 7
Interaction 4
Overall 7

Enlightenment - Taro Ogawa

Perhaps inspired by last year's Zero Sum Game, this is another
successful-adventurer story. This time, though, you just have to get
rid of a troll...

This game was technically superb, with sensible responses to every
combination of items I tried. All the puzzles had reasonable solutions,
and a sense of humour pervaded the entire proceedings (even the "full
score" list). While there wasn't a great deal of characterisation, this
was entirely in genre; even so, the only things I missed were
interesting NPCs.

Taro says this is his first completed game. I am very much looking
forward to seeing what he does next.

Technical 10
Narrative 4
Interaction 9
Overall 10

Research Dig - Chris Armitage

A very promising start, with persona and situation clearly defined.
However, this game was marred by spelling errors and excessive
disambiguation problems.

The puzzles were minor; I felt I was breaking character somewhat by
removing items from the house, but that was all that was needed to win
the game. I did feel that the ending was rather sudden, and left too
much unexplained.

This is very nearly a good game. I hope Chris builds on this, as there
were promising elements; overall, however, it didn't quite work.

Technical 5
Narrative 5
Interaction 6
Overall 5
--
Roger Burton West
Frontline Administrator, Demon Internet Ltd
Home: ro...@firedrake.demon.co.uk
Web: http://www.firedrake.demon.co.uk

ro...@firedrake.avertspam.demon.co.uk

unread,
Nov 17, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/17/98
to
The Ritual of Purification - Sable

This game appears to represent a formalised purification on the part of
the protagonist, a magician of some sort. There's little background,
but since it takes place entirely within the spirit world, this isn't
intrisically a problem.

The descriptions and other imagery are drawn with careful detail,
perhaps to the detriment of the game; it seems very easy to strip off
the pretty pictures and reduce it to a series of puzzles. I felt little
involvement with the protagonist, no sense of his desires or goals.

This is reasonable work, but uninspired; it failed to enthrall.
Possibly this sort of thing just isn't to my taste.

Technical 7
Narrative 6
Interaction 4
Overall 4

Persistence of Memory - Anonymous

A game in a modern setting, with no fantastic elements. While I found
the initial move somewhat disconcerting - I couldn't help but treat the
mine as a puzzle to be solved - the setting was very well-drawn, the
puzzles reasonable, and the conclusion satisfying.

There was little characterisation, and the plot was quite linear.
However, the story - to be honest, quite a simple one - was thoroughly
developed and well-told. The internal hints, while barely necessary,
were well-laid-out and complete.

I can't say, in summary, why I liked this game so much. I'd certainly
like to see more from this author, perhaps a longer multi-room game.

Technical 7
Narrative 8
Interaction 4
Overall 8

Informatory - William J. Shlaer

Certainly a new idea: a helmet that allows the character to examine the
source code of the game. ("Somewhere in the distance, you hear mimesis
screaming, but it is swiftly choked off.")

Even apart from that, the game was quite enjoyable; given its purpose
as an introduction to Inform coding (presumably for reasonably
experienced players), the lack of characterisation and narrative is not
especially important.

I found some of the early material a little odd (putting the crowbar in
the fireplace, for example); however, overall the game worked. The only
problem was that I found it somewhat futile: perhaps fun if one had
never looked at Inform coding, but otherwise unexciting.

One idea I'd very much like to see used elsewhere: if you make the game
unwinnable, you instantly get a message to this effect.

Technical 8
Narrative 1
Interaction 5
Overall 6

Mother Loose - Irene Callaci

This appears to have been written for an audience of children. While
this is a fine idea, I felt this game was too complex to serve as an
introduction to IF. Bearing this in mind, however, it is an enjoyable
game. I prefer the introduction to be at the start of the game, rather
than in the help text, but that's a comparatively minor point. More
serious were the disambiguation problems ("floor or floorboard"), and
the repeated messages for opening the windows. ("Opens a few inches,
then sticks" implies that it's more open each time...)

While this was apparently intended to be a short and simple game, I
became stuck on the cat-and-well puzzle, being unable to get either of
the suggested solutions to work. In the absence of a walkthrough, I
viewed the rest of the game via ztools.

While I did get some sense of involvement with the character, the world
seemed just a little too sparse to be absorbing. This game nearly
works, and I'd like to see more from this author, though this
particular genre doesn't especially appeal to me.

Technical 6
Narrative 3
Interaction 8
Overall 5

Photopia - Opal O'Donnell

Distinctly interesting. Multiple viewpoints, almost puzzleless, and
with a definite emphasis on description. However, I found the ending
very sudden, leaving too meny unresolved questions. Moreover, there was
a strong feeling of being railroaded through the plot, so that the
author could show off the latest neat new description.

There were a few very minor technical problems, but few enough things
to do that this wasn't a major concern. The story was interesting, but
I became frustrated by my apparent inability to alter any of it. (A
second play-through revealed that even many of the locations were in a
scripted order. And getting out of the car at the beginning still
leaves "fratboys" (plural) uninjured later on.) If there had been some
way to alter the central event, indeed some way of interacting to go
down anything other than the one ordained path, I'd have been a whole
lot happier with this piece. As it was, I was left thoroughly
unsatisfied.

Quite honestly I think this would have worked better as a short story
than as IF. Even then, it's probably not the sort of short story that
would appeal to me. I'd love to see a more interactive game with this
quality of description and characterisation, however.

Technical 8
Narrative 7
Interaction 2
Overall 5

Spacestation - David Ledgard

Planetfall was the first Infocom game I played, and still one of my
favourites. To see something based on the transcript is an interesting
thought... but would it prove to be any more than that? (And isn't that
technically "based on a copyright work"?)

The descriptions here are not entirely lyrical, but still
competently-written. Oh dear, hunger: not one of my preferred puzzles.
And trying to follow a listed exit gets me "Unimplemented!". Oops. But
still, I like the spare descriptions, and it has what I think of as the
"adventure" feel. Logic is sometimes a bit lacking, though; why should
I want to take some animal down to an unknown planet with me?

Oh, I see; escaping to the planet is the goal of the game. Fair enough,
nice of you to warn me. A short-cut for "starboard" would have been
handy, though I found the nsew paradigm to work anyway.

This game really needs an introduction. Who am I? What am I aiming to
do? Or if you're not going to tell me, why don't I know?

To be fair, I didn't read the detailed documentation till after I'd
finished the game. I do feel that it shouldn't be necessary to do so,
however.

Still, I enjoyed this one. I'd like to see more from this author once
he's found his own voice.

Technical 6
Narrative 5
Interaction 6
Overall 6

Human Resources Stories - Harry M Hardjono

Well, yes. Um. It's a multiple-choice test. With no apparent reason to
it. And if you give the "wrong" answer it drops you out. I dare say
it's terribly meaningful and so on, but is it good IF? No. In fact I
doubt whether it's IF by any meaningful definition. The Dilbert web
site had something similar recently, but done with a sense of humour.

Looking at the documentation, I see that this is intended to be a
testbed for the multiple-choice system. Fair enough; but I'd have liked
to see something with a bit more narrative flow to it. This example
feels too much like the actual test one might be taking.

Technical 2/7 (7 for the mc system, 2 as a game)
Narrative 2
Interaction 3
Overall: 2

In The Spotlight - John Byrd

A standard puzzle game. OK, just one puzzle. No characterisation.

First of all, the goal isn't mentioned. So, I'm suddenly in this
location and I've got some stuff. Whoopee. I have to resort to HELP
just to confirm that this is the puzzle I think it is.

Minor annoyances abound. Opening the matchbook doesn't mention the
scrawl. When the paper plane arrives, it isn't described, so you have
to look before being able to examine it. Then picking it up increases
your score, whereas solving the actual puzzle didn't. (And I have now
"achieved the rank of ". How nice.)

My reward for having solved the puzzle? The CREDITS text. Geewhiz. Do I
get to find out who, or why, or how? Nah. Game over.

Sorry. I found myself wanting to like this one, but there were just too
many faults in it for me to give it a higher rating. I'll keep an eye
on John's future work - this shows promise, it's just not sufficiently
developed yet to be interesting.

Technical 7
Narrative 1
Interaction 5
Overall 4

Acid Whiplash - Anonymous

Ah. An in-joke game. Fortunately I was around r.a.i-f for enough of
last year to know who Rybread Celcius is. Even so, not having played
Symetry or any of his other work, I felt I was missing the point.

"At any time, type WALKTHRU"... well, no, actually. Instead I get "Walk
through what?", and HELP is another parody. Joy.

No. This might well be funny, but it's too frustrating to be fun.

Technical 4
Narrative 2
Interaction 1
Overall 3

Muse: An Autumn Romance - Christopher Huang

A well-done library modification, translating to past tense and a
welcome, formal style. However, this game primarily concerned character
interaction, something I don't always feel works well in Inform ("tell
X about Y" seems limiting). I suspect Photopia's "talk to X"
multiple-choice system might have worked well here.

Apart from that, the game seemed to go well. The only discontinuity I
experienced was the jarring transition between problems (well-defined
and dealing with details of personality) and solutions (get X. show X
to Y. tell Y about Z); I suspect it's an intrinsic problem with IF in
its current form, but it's a problem that other authors have avoided.

One or two technical problems also marred the game (NPC states seemed
sometimes to be set erroneously), but overall this was an interesting
and worthwhile piece.

Technical 6
Narrative 8
Interaction 6
Overall 7

Little Blue Men - Michael S. Gentry

A disturbing and vicious game - and that _is_ a compliment. The
warnings at the start led me to suspect this might be another like
_Atrox_, but it turned out much more interesting: the game itself was
an increasingly strange foray into violence and problem-solving, and
the ending - well, I shan't give it away even here, but suffice it to
say that it was probably the only one possible, leaving me at least
with a sense of completion that would not have arisen from a more
conventional "victory".

I felt the on-line hints, while cleverly adaptive, did not go far
enough in terms of giving recipes for the solution, while at the same
time giving too much away by the order in which they were presented.
Some disambiguation bugs arose ("the paperwork or the scattered
papers"), but these were minor.

Overall, a very satisfactory game, doing something slightly new with IF
while remaining true to its roots.

Technical 7
Narrative 9
Interaction 6
Overall 8


Final comments

The programming seemed mostly to be of a pretty high standard. To what
extent this was a function of the excellence of modern toolkits, I
can't say, but most actions produced reasonable responses.

Narrative quality was highly variable.

Introductions were in many cases minimal or useless. I want to know who
I am and what my aims are; I'd also like to get a sense of the genre of
the game, so that I know at least roughly what to expect. (I know some
forms of literature deliberately break genre constraints, and I accept
this, but as a general rule I'd like some clue.) This lack of briefing
seemed to be a recurrent theme in comp98 games: The City made a virtue
of it, but others (Fifteen, Spotlight, Ritual) did less well as a
result of not doing so.

I was surprised at the number of one-location games: Enlightenment,
Persistence of Memory, Spotlight, HRS (in a way) and of course Trapped.

Both Muse and Ritual of Purification had an interesting problem, that I
hadn't seen before: the situation and writing outstripped the puzzles.
There was a sense of involvement from the setting, but the actions
required were very conventional, and this broke the mood rather.

Overall: a rewarding experience for me, and a great deal that I enjoyed.

dcorn...@my-dejanews.com

unread,
Nov 17, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/17/98
to
In article <981117...@firedrake.demon.co.uk>,
ro...@firedrake.avertspam.demon.co.uk wrote:
> Firedrake's Comp98 Reviews

>
> Cattus Atrox - David A. Cornelson
>
> I was encouraged to note (after I'd played this game and written the
> above) that at least one of the other judges clearly felt the same way.
> Using the walk-through provided later only reinforced my opinion: since
> when was "free hands" (as opposed to "untie hands", which didn't work)
> a standard command?

See, here I get a little testy (not really, but only to make a point).

Pretty much anything you try to do while lying near the trap door will reply
with, "But the rope is too tight!" - [> LOOSEN ROPES] and then "But your
hands aren't free!" - [> FREE HANDS]. I set up these verbs for use, they
weren't just blindly placed there. If you were reading and not racing through
the seen, (which I think I get credit for, because you _are_ in a
tension-filled situation), you would have noticed these little tidbits.

I think we need to have a discussion about this. If I set up an uncommon verb
in the descriptions, then you have no right to say it's guess the verb or that
it's an uncommon command. It's there, I _gave_ it to you, you just didn't
figure it out.

This is "interactive fiction", not "Stories with a static verb list that I
know works most of the time and if it doesn't, then it's a bad game."

Jarb

-----------== Posted via Deja News, The Discussion Network ==----------
http://www.dejanews.com/ Search, Read, Discuss, or Start Your Own

Doeadeer3

unread,
Nov 17, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/17/98
to

In article <981117...@firedrake.demon.co.uk>,
ro...@firedrake.avertspam.demon.co.uk writes:

>Since I'd spent most of the time looking for a way into the house,

Aha, I am not the only one who never figured out a way in. (I used no separate
files.)

There should have been something (without me having to look at a separate
walkthru or list of hints) that indicated a way in. Some little nudge in the
text.

Well, now I feel better, I was feeling rather dumb.

Doe :-) If it NEEDS a walkthru, it needs a rewrite.


Doe doea...@aol.com (formerly known as FemaleDeer)
****************************************************************************
"In all matters of opinion, our adversaries are insane." Mark Twain

John Francis

unread,
Nov 17, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/17/98
to
In article <72slp3$c75$1...@nnrp1.dejanews.com>,
> ro...@firedrake.avertspam.demon.co.uk wrote:
>> Firedrake's Comp98 Reviews
>>
>> Cattus Atrox - David A. Cornelson
>>
>> I was encouraged to note (after I'd played this game and written the
>> above) that at least one of the other judges clearly felt the same way.
>> Using the walk-through provided later only reinforced my opinion: since
>> when was "free hands" (as opposed to "untie hands", which didn't work)
>> a standard command?
>
>See, here I get a little testy (not really, but only to make a point).
>
>Pretty much anything you try to do while lying near the trap door will reply
>with, "But the rope is too tight!" - [> LOOSEN ROPES] and then "But your
>hands aren't free!" - [> FREE HANDS]. I set up these verbs for use, they
>weren't just blindly placed there. If you were reading and not racing through
>the seen, (which I think I get credit for, because you _are_ in a
>tension-filled situation), you would have noticed these little tidbits.
>
>I think we need to have a discussion about this. If I set up an uncommon verb
>in the descriptions, then you have no right to say it's guess the verb or that
>it's an uncommon command. It's there, I _gave_ it to you, you just didn't
>figure it out.
>
>This is "interactive fiction", not "Stories with a static verb list that I
>know works most of the time and if it doesn't, then it's a bad game."

That justifies "FREE HANDS" working.
It *doesn't* justify "UNTIE HANDS" not working.
At least not in the mind of a large part of your audience.

It might not be a bad game, but it's going to lose you marks in a
competitive situation (such as, for example, COMP98).

Ben

unread,
Nov 17, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/17/98
to
In article <72slp3$c75$1...@nnrp1.dejanews.com>,
<dcorn...@my-dejanews.com> wrote:
> >I think we need to have a discussion about this. If I set up an uncommon verb
> >in the descriptions, then you have no right to say it's guess the verb
or that
> >it's an uncommon command. It's there, I _gave_ it to you, you just didn't
> >figure it out.
> >
> >This is "interactive fiction", not "Stories with a static verb list that I
> >know works most of the time and if it doesn't, then it's a bad game."


BS. You are admitting to creating a "guess the verb" puzzle, on purpose?
Man, I should have rated your game lower. "Free hands" has SYNONYMS (like
UNITE HANDS) which should be implemented. Period.

In article <72ss0p$at...@fido.engr.sgi.com>, jfra...@dungeon.engr.sgi.com


(John Francis) wrote:
> That justifies "FREE HANDS" working.
> It *doesn't* justify "UNTIE HANDS" not working.
> At least not in the mind of a large part of your audience.


Absolutely correct.

-Ben

--
bhi...@san.rr.com
http://members.tripod.com/~tunnels/

Mary K. Kuhner

unread,
Nov 18, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/18/98
to
<dcorn...@my-dejanews.com> wrote:

>See, here I get a little testy (not really, but only to make a point).

>Pretty much anything you try to do while lying near the trap door will reply
>with, "But the rope is too tight!" - [> LOOSEN ROPES] and then "But your
>hands aren't free!" - [> FREE HANDS]. I set up these verbs for use, they
>weren't just blindly placed there. If you were reading and not racing through
>the seen, (which I think I get credit for, because you _are_ in a
>tension-filled situation), you would have noticed these little tidbits.

You've put your finger on the exact problem here. If the scene is
scary, if you want it to be tense and nerve-wracking and suck the
player in, guess-the-verb is the kiss of death. The player's supposed
to be rattled, and that often means reading descriptions fast, typing
fast, thinking fast and maybe not too clearly. If you code assuming
calm precision, you'll spoil the scene.

>I think we need to have a discussion about this. If I set up an uncommon verb
>in the descriptions, then you have no right to say it's guess the verb or that
>it's an uncommon command. It's there, I _gave_ it to you, you just didn't
>figure it out.

When I was a grad student I got the same piece of advice from two
different sources, a wise old faculty member and a good writing book:
if the reader (player) has trouble with something, that's a problem.
You may not be able to fix the problem: you may not be willing: you
may find that fixing it breaks something else. But it's totally useless
to argue with the reader. Remember that the one reader who complains
is standing in for many others who don't bother, who just find your
paper confusing and put it aside. You might concievably convince your
single critic (though probably not) but this doesn't address the larger
issues.

I've sweat blood over this writing scientific papers and linear fiction,
and I expect to sweat blood over this when (if) I release a game. It's
unfair and exasperating, but it's true: you have to consider all of the
criticisms, even the dumb ones, and the work will generally be richer
for it. (Note that I say "consider", not "agree with" or "accomodate".
Sometimes you have to consider them and say "No, that's the way it needs
to be.")

Mary Kuhner mkku...@genetics.washington.edu

edr...@concentric.net

unread,
Nov 18, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/18/98
to
>>Pretty much anything you try to do while lying near the trap door will
reply
>>with, "But the rope is too tight!" - [> LOOSEN ROPES] and then "But your
>>hands aren't free!" - [> FREE HANDS]. I set up these verbs for use, they
>>weren't just blindly placed there. If you were reading and not racing
through
>>the seen, (which I think I get credit for, because you _are_ in a
>>tension-filled situation), you would have noticed these little tidbits.
>
>You've put your finger on the exact problem here. If the scene is
>scary, if you want it to be tense and nerve-wracking and suck the
>player in, guess-the-verb is the kiss of death. The player's supposed
>to be rattled, and that often means reading descriptions fast, typing
>fast, thinking fast and maybe not too clearly. If you code assuming
>calm precision, you'll spoil the scene.


This reminds me of an interesting incident in Losing Your Grip.

I'm in the hospital, right? In the second fit. And I finally got that old
lady in the wheelchair back to her room. All of a sudden, she starts to
flatline. By this time I've been pretty well drawn into the game, so of
course I start to freak out. I don't have any idea what I typed, but I know
it didn't do any good. Doctors brush past, wheeling a crash-cart. The room
description is all blinking lights and people yelling "stat!" I don't know,
I was probably just pushing "z", feeling totally useless and pretty damn
sure that I was in the process of losing the game, or at least locking
myself out of a winning scenario, and I *really* didn't want that old lady
to die.

Then (and I don't remember the exact wording, but it was pretty close to
this), the head doctor looked right at me and said: "Administer CPR. Right
now."

Without even thinking, I typed in ADMINISTER CPR, and sonuvagun, it worked.

So it seems to me that there's a right way and a wrong way to clue the
player in to an improbable verb. Mr. Granade did it the right way; Mr.
Cornelson did it the wrong way. I base this judgment on the fact that almost
no-one (perhaps no-one at all) managed to figure out the verb in Cattus
Attrox without help, whereas I don't remember a single post complaining
about ADMINSTER CPR when Stephen released Losing Your Grip.

I'll tell you why I didn't get it, David, and why I never would have gotten
it in a million years. It's because even *after* I read the walkthrough, the
solution didn't make sense. LOOSEN ROPES? FREE HANDS? It's really that easy?
You should have mentioned that either 1) my captors are the worst knot-tiers
to ever be kicked out of the Boy Scouts, or 2) I happen to be an
accomplished escape artist. Otherwise, it isn't any more reasonable to
assume those commands will work than it is to assume BEFRIEND LION will
work. Sure, it makes sense semantically, but what are the odds?

Go back and find that scene in Grip and examine it very carefully. The game
practically spoon-feeds you the line: "Hey, idiot, type ADMINSTER CPR to
solve the puzzle!" But it manages to do it without so much as bending
mimesis, AND it does it in a way that doesn't break the fear and tension of
the moment, AND it does it in a way that doesn't require you to do something
*wrong* first, and so get the hint in an error message.

I mention all this because I'm not opposed to nonstandard verbs per se -- in
fact, I think they're a neat little treat when they're implemented well. You
just have to be very careful to implement them well, and if your players
don't think it worked, then that means it most likely didn't.

-M.
================================================
"If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding.
How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?"

Lucian Paul Smith

unread,
Nov 19, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/19/98
to
edr...@concentric.net wrote:
: Then (and I don't remember the exact wording, but it was pretty close to

: this), the head doctor looked right at me and said: "Administer CPR. Right
: now."

: Without even thinking, I typed in ADMINISTER CPR, and sonuvagun, it worked.

I've seen this other places and really liked it, too. I did it myself
in 'Edifice' in the opening scene (although none of them were required
there), and it was used to great effect in 'Everybody Loves A Parade', in
many places, usually, again, for humor value. Photopia had another scene
almost exactly as described above, even. Actually, that was one of the
(few!) places Photopia broke down for me, because there was this woman
there, giving me exactly what to type in for several moves. It was about
as interactive as the Purple section.

Heck, in an early version of Comp97, I had described the switches with the
words, "Setting the switches to 'on' will,..." and got a bug report that
the game did not accept >SET SWITCH TO ON. I added that grammar, then
went back and changed the wording of the description to something more
obviously an IF-style verb construction.

Now let's look at Atrox. I just replayed it, and had a heck of a time
getting to the aforementioned error messages. Most things didn't seem to
be implemented--including my tormentors! If I had the gun, however,
and tried to 'GET GUN', it told me:

The rope is too tight for you to free your hands.

So this gave me the grammar for 'FREE HANDS', but told me it wouldn't
work. What this message implies to me is "OK, I'll assume you just typed
'free hands', since you'd have to do that first, and this is why it won't
work."

It does *not* give me the 'loosen' grammar. So, let's say I actually *do*
type 'free hands', against likely odds. It now tells me:

The ropes aren't loose enough to free your hands.

Here, 'loose' is *not* a verb--it's an adjective. It would take an
intuitive leap to get to the nonstandard 'LOOSEN ROPES', even here.
Fortunately, at least 'UNTIE ROPES' is implemented. So we do that, try
GET GUN again, and get:

Your hands aren't free.

'Free', again, isn't a verb! The player now has to either try to remember
back to an earlier error message (which had discouraged this sort of
activity), or come up with something new, like, say, 'drop rope', which
won't work.

Now, let's try something else. This is a bit of a setup, granted, but
see if you think, despite the odd grammar, a player might not be more
likely to follow this hypothetical transcript:

>GET GUN (or something similar--ATTACK KARL, for example)

The ropes are still pretty tight. You can barely wriggle your hands.

>WRIGGLE HANDS

You wriggle your hands feverishly and the rope loosens up!

>GET GUN (or, again, something similar)

You'll have to disentangle your hands from the ropes first.

>DISENTANGLE HANDS FROM ROPE ('from rope' would be optional)

You quietly free your hands from the ropes!

-----------
Now, obviously, these would not be the only commands at the player's
disposal. If they wished to use 'LOOSEN ROPES' and 'FREE HANDS', they
should be allowed. But when the game explicitly feeds you grammar, it's
reasonable to assume that the player might try it.

I've used odd verbs here on purpose, although I wouldn't suggest actually
using them in a game. The point is that even such odd verbs have a
reasonable chance of being typed by the player if you give it to them.
"SET SWITCH TO ON" has got to be the most awkward way possible of saying
"TURN ON SWITCH", and yet, because that was the way I gave it to him,
that's what a player tried. Not only that--they couldn't think of another
way to phrase it.

There are two take-home lessons from this. And I don't mean to pick on
Atrox here; it's just the example that was brought up.

One: If you want the player to do something slightly out of the ordinary,
you can steer them in the right direction by supplying them the correct
grammar, whether in an error message, description, or wherever.

Correlary: If you *do* supply the player with a specific grammar, they
will want to use it.

-Lucian

David A. Cornelson

unread,
Nov 19, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/19/98
to
Lucian Paul Smith wrote in message <730b2c$a1k$1...@joe.rice.edu>...

>edr...@concentric.net wrote:
>: Then (and I don't remember the exact wording, but it was pretty close to
>: this), the head doctor looked right at me and said: "Administer CPR.
Right
>: now."
>
>: Without even thinking, I typed in ADMINISTER CPR, and sonuvagun, it
worked.
>
>There are two take-home lessons from this. And I don't mean to pick on
>Atrox here; it's just the example that was brought up.
>
>One: If you want the player to do something slightly out of the ordinary,
>you can steer them in the right direction by supplying them the correct
>grammar, whether in an error message, description, or wherever.

My implementation _was_ poor, but this is the type of response that tells me
so. Now I'll work on my error messages and supportive descriptions to help
the player.

>Correlary: If you *do* supply the player with a specific grammar, they
>will want to use it.


That's what I thought, I just didn't do a very good job...

Thanks LP!

Jarb

David Glasser

unread,
Nov 20, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/20/98
to
<edr...@concentric.net> wrote:

> This reminds me of an interesting incident in Losing Your Grip.
>
> I'm in the hospital, right? In the second fit. And I finally got that old
> lady in the wheelchair back to her room. All of a sudden, she starts to
> flatline. By this time I've been pretty well drawn into the game, so of
> course I start to freak out. I don't have any idea what I typed, but I know
> it didn't do any good. Doctors brush past, wheeling a crash-cart. The room
> description is all blinking lights and people yelling "stat!" I don't know,
> I was probably just pushing "z", feeling totally useless and pretty damn
> sure that I was in the process of losing the game, or at least locking
> myself out of a winning scenario, and I *really* didn't want that old lady
> to die.
>

> Then (and I don't remember the exact wording, but it was pretty close to

> this), the head doctor looked right at me and said: "Foo Bar. Right
> now."
>
> Without even thinking, I typed in FOO BAR, and sonuvagun, it worked.
[snipped good message]

The sacred grail that I think about when beta-testing is this: What goes
out must go in.

Mention a noun or adjective? Implement it. Use a verb in a way that a
player would? Implement it. Use a noun? Implement it. Mention an
object in any printed text? Implement it.

This probably pisses off the people I am helping to a great degree.
(Just ask Christopher Huang, and I could guess his answer.)

Now, everyone, repeat: What goes out must go in.

--
David Glasser gla...@NOSPAMuscom.com http://onramp.uscom.com/~glasser
DGlasser @ ifMUD : fovea.retina.net 4000 (webpage fovea.retina.net:4001)
Sadie Hawkins, official band of David Glasser: http://sadie.retina.net
"We take our icons very seriously in this class."

J. Robinson Wheeler

unread,
Nov 20, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/20/98
to
David Glasser wrote:

> The sacred grail that I think about when beta-testing is this: What goes
> out must go in.
>
> Mention a noun or adjective? Implement it. Use a verb in a way that a
> player would? Implement it. Use a noun? Implement it. Mention an
> object in any printed text? Implement it.
>
> This probably pisses off the people I am helping to a great degree.
> (Just ask Christopher Huang, and I could guess his answer.)
>
> Now, everyone, repeat: What goes out must go in.

I certainly think so, but darned if it doesn't knock the stuffing out
of you just when you need that last bit of oomph to finish the game.
One could add more objects, and more object descriptions, till the
end of time. It might be a manpower problem more than anything else.

What I need is a team of interns, who will go through the code that
I, as the executive producer and author, have written, and will create
all of the new objects and verbs and their basic implementations. If
I have time, I'll go through and tweak their descriptions, but probably
what I'd need is an associate producer or two who will handle all but
the trickiest 2 to 5 percent of this, and who will run the bits by me
that are deemed in need of my special attention.

The potential is to have an IF world in which you can examine the
details down to the signature on the label inside the jacket of the
man who passes you on the street but is not important for solving
the game, he's just part of the scenery.

--
J. Robinson Wheeler
whe...@jump.net http://www.jump.net/~wheeler/jrw/home.html

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages