Unwinnable games

61 views
Skip to first unread message

Mike Sousa

unread,
Mar 19, 2000, 3:00:00 AM3/19/00
to

I posted this on raif to get author's perspective, but am wondering what
players might think.

---- Original post -----

To what extent should an author stop the PC from entering an unwinnable
situation? Should the game just let the PC continue with the game, thus

letting the PC figure it out? Should the game display subtle messages?
more direct message? Don't let it become unwinnable? Kill the PC/end
the game after a few moves?

I'm leaning towards limiting the situations and/or ending the game with
an appropriate sequence. Feedback welcomed.

-- Mike


wbassett

unread,
Mar 19, 2000, 3:00:00 AM3/19/00
to
The one time I got stuck in an unwinnable situation was in Anchorhead. It
had to do with management of the light source.

S

P

O

I

L

E

R

S


If I remember aright, you have two light sources -- a flashlight and a
lantern. You lose the flashlight when you fall into the water in the
basement of the church. The lantern I regarded as a limited light source,
much like the one in Zork, and so I was diligent in lighting it only when I
needed it and blowing it out soon thereafter. After a point all the matches
are done, but that's okay --I've explored all the dark areas. Or so I
thought.

It turns out that I need a light source when I'm on the ground floor of the
asylum. Without one I'm, ah, in an unwinnable situation. You can't explore
in the dark.

I thought this was an unfair unwinnable situation, because there was no hint
that I was going to need to save a match for the future, and logically,
there was no reason for me to do it. The asylum's lit up for most of the
game -- why would it suddenly be dark? And why would I assume that a maniac
would be chasing me in the dark, and that I would need it?

Lessons? I think unwinnable situations are fine if they're a result of some
stupid, boneheaded thing I did. If they're logical, in other words. (You
throw away the strange, rusty key you've picked up in the treasure chest.
You idiot! That key's supposed to open the door to let you escape from the
evil hobbit!) But an unexpected unwinnable situation -- blind luck, in other
words -- is just no fun.

As to whether an author should signal this.... Well, you could. But I think
most players of these games understand that it's often a test of one's wits,
and that bad things can happen. As long as the set-up is fair, I don't think
it really needs to be signaled -- although you might want to put a note at
the beginning of the game that unwinnable situations can occur. In this
particular case, I objected to the fact that the set-up didn't make sense.
Most buildings, for example, have a light switch on the ground floor.

By the way, in deference to the guy who wrote that game, I think he said
that in later editions he would put a switch on the ground floor.

doug
Mike Sousa <mso...@efortress.com> wrote in message
news:38D44BA9...@efortress.com...

Peter Killworth

unread,
Mar 20, 2000, 3:00:00 AM3/20/00
to
Mike Sousa wrote:
>
> I posted this on raif to get author's perspective, but am wondering what
> players might think.
>
> ---- Original post -----
>
> To what extent should an author stop the PC from entering an unwinnable
> situation? Should the game just let the PC continue with the game, thus
>
> letting the PC figure it out? Should the game display subtle messages?
> more direct message? Don't let it become unwinnable? Kill the PC/end
> the game after a few moves?
>
> I'm leaning towards limiting the situations and/or ending the game with
> an appropriate sequence. Feedback welcomed.
>
> -- Mike

--

I'm a bit confused by this thread. I am used to having to replay
bits of IF, either because I did something wrong or because I've
thought of a better way. Puzzle solving takes a little work (it
shouldn't take a LOT of work, eg in certain puzzles in certain
adventures I'm too polite to name). But life often involves
retracing of steps. I don't understand the problem by those who
never want to have to replay part of the game... if you can't make
a mistake, where is the challenge?
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
Dr. Peter D. Killworth, James Rennell Division for Ocean Circulation
and Climate, Southampton Oceanography Centre, Empress Dock, Southampton
SO14 3ZH, England.
Tel: +44 (0)23-80596202
Fax: +44 (0)23-80596204
Email: P.Kil...@soc.soton.ac.uk
Web: http://www.soc.soton.ac.uk/JRD/PROC/people/pki/pki.html
Ocean Modelling Newsletter: http://www.elsevier.nl/locate/omodol/
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Gareth Rees

unread,
Mar 20, 2000, 3:00:00 AM3/20/00
to
Peter Killworth wrote:
> I'm a bit confused by this thread. I am used to having to replay bits
> of IF, either because I did something wrong or because I've thought of
> a better way. Puzzle solving takes a little work

It's one thing for a puzzle to take a little retracing of steps. It's
quite another thing to play a game for several days only to discover
that on the very first move you bought the wrong thing from the shop and
now you have to go right back to the beginning and play it all over
again...

--
Gareth Rees

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Mar 20, 2000, 3:00:00 AM3/20/00
to
Peter Killworth <P.Kil...@soc.soton.ac.uk> wrote:
> I'm a bit confused by this thread. I am used to having to replay
> bits of IF, either because I did something wrong or because I've
> thought of a better way. Puzzle solving takes a little work (it
> shouldn't take a LOT of work, eg in certain puzzles in certain
> adventures I'm too polite to name). But life often involves
> retracing of steps. I don't understand the problem by those who
> never want to have to replay part of the game... if you can't make
> a mistake, where is the challenge?

Well, the basic point is that replying part of a game is a terrible idea
for a non-reward; it can be very dull. Dull is not what you want in a
game.

I find this much more true in graphical games than in text games,
however. And I think this is why the unlosable game really took off with
the Myst-genre graphical game, as opposed to text games.

In any case, a mistake doesn't have to involve a lot of replying.

* In some cases, a mistake may simply fail; that's still a challenge,
because you haven't advanced, just gained negative information.
* In other cases, a single "undo" will take care of it.
* In yet others, the player will have saved a game just before the
dangerous point, because the game clearly clued him in that this was
smart. So he just has to type "restore".

And those categories are roughly the divisions I used when I start
talking about the "Zarfian game cruelty scale", several years (!) ago.

Of course, I *do* tend to write games at the bottom of the scale, where
some replying is inevitable. But I don't do it because it's the only way
to write a challenging game. :)

If you look, most of the puzzles in even the cruellest game fall into one
of the less-cruel categories. One has to rate the overall game at the
level of its worst puzzle, to give the player fair warning, but it's never
*all* like that.

--Z

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the
borogoves..."

Adam J. Thornton

unread,
Mar 20, 2000, 3:00:00 AM3/20/00
to
In article <8b5g1o$rot$1...@slb7.atl.mindspring.net>,

Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
>If you look, most of the puzzles in even the cruellest game fall into one
>of the less-cruel categories. One has to rate the overall game at the
>level of its worst puzzle, to give the player fair warning, but it's never
>*all* like that.

Savage Island 2.

Adam
--
ad...@princeton.edu
"My eyes say their prayers to her / Sailors ring her bell / Like a moth
mistakes a light bulb / For the moon and goes to hell." -- Tom Waits

GraemeCree

unread,
Mar 21, 2000, 3:00:00 AM3/21/00
to
>>It's one thing for a puzzle to take a little retracing of steps. It's quite
another thing to play a game for several days only to discover that on the very
first move you bought the wrong thing from the shop and
now you have to go right back to the beginning and play it all over again...
>>

First time I played Sorcerer, I neglected to get the Vilstu potion. The game
became unwinnable the moment I left Guild HQ, but I didn't realize it until the
Coal Mine. That was a lot of time wasted.


es...@my-deja.com

unread,
Mar 23, 2000, 3:00:00 AM3/23/00
to
In article <sh5B4.1829$L5.2...@newsfeed.slurp.net>,

"wbassett" <wbas...@key-net.net> wrote:
> The one time I got stuck in an unwinnable situation was in
Anchorhead. It
> had to do with management of the light source.
>
> S
>
> P
>
> O
>
> I
>
> L
>
> E
>
> R
>
> S
>
> If I remember aright, you have two light sources -- a flashlight and a
> lantern. You lose the flashlight when you fall into the water in the
> basement of the church. The lantern I regarded as a limited light
source,
> much like the one in Zork, and so I was diligent in lighting it only
when I
> needed it and blowing it out soon thereafter. After a point all the
matches
> are done, but that's okay --I've explored all the dark areas. Or so I
> thought.
>
Well, there's no reason you HAVE to blow out the lantern. At least in
the version I played. And in the version I played, the lantern doesn't
go out on its own unless it gets wet, or is carried out into the rain.
When I finished Anchorhead, I only had to re-light the lantern once or
twice. The flashlight does get damaged when you escape from the church,
but it lasts long enough to reach lighted areas. I think the lantern
goes out too, but it can be re-lit. If you left the lantern elsewhere,
you don't have to re-light it. I didn't think it was necessary to blow
out the lantern once I left the dark areas. So I never had the problem
you did -- that is, using up matches.

> In this
> particular case, I objected to the fact that the set-up didn't make
sense.
> Most buildings, for example, have a light switch on the ground floor.

I'll have to agree with you that the darkness bit here is hard to
foresee. I was wondering why the top floor of the asylum was lit and
the ground floor was dark, with no light switch in sight. If there was
a power failure or something, shouldn't the top floor be affected as
well? Did the lights burn out and the orderly was just too lazy to
change the bulbs? (Of course, we know he was too lazy to clean up the
mess Edward Verlac left behind). But I didn't let that get in the way
of my enjoyment of the game.

Esrom


Sent via Deja.com http://www.deja.com/
Before you buy.

es...@my-deja.com

unread,
Mar 23, 2000, 3:00:00 AM3/23/00
to
In article <u3dple...@pobox.com>,

Gareth Rees <garet...@pobox.com> wrote:
> It's one thing for a puzzle to take a little retracing of steps. It's
> quite another thing to play a game for several days only to discover
> that on the very first move you bought the wrong thing from the shop
and
> now you have to go right back to the beginning and play it all over
> again...
>
> --
> Gareth Rees
>

Curses is a particularly notable offender. There are numerous ways to
make the game unwinnable. Spoilers follow for Curses and
Christminster...

S
P
O
I
L
E
R
S

P
A
C
E

Here are a few occurences that can make Curses unwinnable without the
player realizing it. In no particular order...

Examining or reading the book of poetry before getting the attic key.
You'll be stuck in the gardens after returning from the Unreal City.

Some of the 'slide pictures' can be entered only once. It's way too
easy to leave these scenes without doing everything you need to do, and
not realize it. Sometimes, you'll only realize what you need to bring
with you and what you need to do 'after the fact'. I have yet to find
ways of returning to the scenes of the miniature or The Maiden after
leaving them for the first time. (One would think there'd be
a 'lagachable' item in 'The Maiden' area, but as far as I know, there
isn't).

I also regret to say that there's at least one notable way to make
Christminster unwinnable: Getting honey from the wrong beehive. Some
people might not have interpreted the clues right, and will believe it
doesn't make a difference which beehive you choose. Of course, there's
the clear indication that you'll only be able to raid the beehives
once, but it may not be clear that it makes a difference. If one SAVED
after that, then that SAVE position is useless if they chose the wrong
beehive.

And so, in the scene where Jarboe and Bungay are interrogating Malcolm,
I couldn't help thinking that the reason they failed to create the
elixir was because they got the honey from the wrong source. I'm not
sure if the puzzle is 'unfair' or not. If I recall correctly, the clue
to the right beehive is in Wilderspin's story, which he'll only tell
you once per game session. I guess it depends on your point of view.

Gareth Rees

unread,
Mar 23, 2000, 3:00:00 AM3/23/00
to
Spoilers for Christminster:


es...@my-deja.com wrote:
> I also regret to say that there's at least one notable way to make
> Christminster unwinnable.

Remember that Christminster is an old game (1995). At the time there
was a lot of tolerance of unwinnability. By the standards of Acheton or
Curses or Trinity, Christminster is very gentle: although there are
several ways to get stuck, I think most of them are pretty clearly
indicated. If I were writing it now, I would put a lot more effort in
to make it harder to get stuck.

But it's not as easy to get stuck as many people have thought! Some
people thought that there was only one point at which you could get the
tears and thought they had to replay. Others thought that it was
essential to get the ingredients in the right containers to start with
otherwise you would never be able to get the recipe to work.

Here's an amusing way to get stuck: visit Malcolm's room, lock yourself
in, throw the key out of the window. Oops.

--
Gareth Rees

Lucian Paul Smith

unread,
Mar 23, 2000, 3:00:00 AM3/23/00
to
es...@my-deja.com wrote:

: Curses is a particularly notable offender. There are numerous ways to


: make the game unwinnable. Spoilers follow for Curses and
: Christminster...

<spoilers only for Curses left>

: Examining or reading the book of poetry before getting the attic key.


: You'll be stuck in the gardens after returning from the Unreal City.

Actually, while this was true for early releases, it is not true for the
current release. There's a potted plant you can move, revealing a coal
chute you can enter, giving you access to the basement. You have to
figure out how to work the dumbwaiter but that's the only requirement.

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages