IntroComp journal and reviews

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Greg Boettcher

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Aug 6, 2006, 8:04:39 PM8/6/06
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Since this IntroComp was the place where I released my first
(incomplete) game, I was rather excited about it, and I took the
trouble of writing down my thoughts. I'm pasting them down below, as
well as my reviews of the IntroComp games.

Greg

-----------------------------

July 16, 2006

I am writing these words on Sunday, July 16, before the release of the
IntroComp games. I'll post this after the comp is over, and people can
decide if my thoughts today seem pertinent then.

This year's IntroComp is exciting to me for two reasons: (1) I'm
entering it, and (2) there are going to be a ton of entrants.
Jacqueline Lott sent out an email to all the entrants and told us that
there were a record seventeen intents to enter this year. Even if that
doesn't mean seventeen games, there'll surely be a lot.

My only guess for why this is true is that a lot of people are learning
Inform 7 now. To be honest, I haven't read all the discussions about
I7, since I've been busy with my own non-I7 projects. For that matter,
I have not yet played any of Graham Nelson's or Emily Short's I7 games,
either. But with the IntroComp, we may have an interesting test case.
Unless I'm wrong, this will be the first big wave of I7 games by
ordinary r.a.i-f people, rather than I7 developers. If the I7 IntroComp
games are better than other IntroComp games of years past (not
necessarily all that hard, since the quality of IntroComp games has
been spotty sometimes), then that will say something good about I7. If
not, then I guess it might say something bad.

Either way, the possibility of as many as seventeen games is exciting
and makes this year's IntroComp unique. I can't wait to play all the
games, and I intend to review each one.

-----------------------------

July 19, 2006

Well, I've been disproven. Only three out of seven of the games are I7
games. And only seven games, not seventeen. So it's more of a typical
IntroComp after all.

I haven't played too far in most of the games yet, but I'll start
writing reviews in the next few days, I hope.

-----------------------------

August 6, 2006 (before the ceremony)

Uh... I've really procrastinated a lot before writing any reviews. By
this time voting has ended, and several reviews have come out (which is
quite heartening for me -- thanks, reviewers). But the awards ceremony
hasn't happened yet as I write this. Time to capture whatever thoughts
I can before then.

Having seen the variety of opinions people had about my game, I no
longer think there's much chance I'll take first place, but we'll see.
I do hope I score in the top half, at least.

Maybe I'll have time to write a few reviews before the ceremony, or
maybe not.

-----------------------------

August 6, 2006 (after the ceremony)

I took third place. I'm pleased with the result, considering how many
risks I took with my game and how many potentially unpopular things I
tried. (Note: I say "potentially unpopular things," but there are no
mazes in the intro!)

Thanks to all the people who played the games, especially those who
wrote reviews and/or sent me their comments.

And of course, thanks to Jacqueline Lott! I never would have finished
the intro part of my game as quickly as I did without the deadline
incentive.

Now let me finish up writing reviews. Here goes...

-----------------------------

REVIEW: CHILD'S PLAY

This game's point of view certainly makes it unique.

I feel a little ambivalent about the Valley-speak language used in the
game. I found it amusing while I was playing (especially when I found
the same voice in the help menus!). But the more I think about it, the
less I like the idea of stereotypical teenager speech being used as the
narrative voice of a baby. If a baby could talk, its voice would
resemble that of a very small child, not a teenager.

I liked the puzzles, especially the final one.

One of the puzzles somewhat irritated me, though, as it seemed to be a
deliberate "guess the verb" puzzle, which you can only solve by using
the idiom your mom uses. Since this was an idiom I'd never heard
before, it didn't immediately occur to me to use it, and I typed a
bunch of phrasings that didn't work before I hit upon the right syntax.

Overall, an enjoyable game. I'd probably play the finished version. I
have to wonder, though, how much this idea can be further developed.
The PC is so limited in what he/she can do that I'm sure it will be
hard to find a very wide variety of situations where he/she can
interact.

-----------------------------

REVIEW: THE ART OF DECEPTION

I thought this intro was interesting, but I also thought it had some
rough edges.

Some things I didn't like about the game:

* "A blonde man in a white suit has come up the steps." There's no
reason for this to be in the past tense. This is weird, and makes it
seem as though I'm not really looking at what's happening.
* I wasn't able to do anything with the boxes, in spite of the fact
that I was told to try to do so. When I played in "rookie" mode, no
hints told me how to do this either.
* I didn't like the fact that when I played in rookie mode, there was
an obvious choice at the end that was prohibited to me because it would
have led to my death. This annoyed me, and it served no purpose. I
don't think there's any benefit in saving the player from swift death,
as long as game has an UNDO feature. Basically, I think the game would
be better off without the whole rookie/veteran/ghost distinction
(unless it's really that important to prevent non-rookies from typing
"hint").
* Some nouns weren't implemented, e.g. "shadow", "windows," even in
areas I was supposed to be trying to search.

Anyway, despite a few rough edges, I found the game interesting enough.
I'm not sure why, but I did feel involved with the game, and I'd be
willing to play more of it.

-----------------------------

REVIEW: SOUTHERN GOTHIC

Before I even begin to review the game, I have to express my irritation
with its opening quote by Chekhov:

"If you show a gun in the first scene, it better go off by the last."
--Anton Chekhov.

I have always been annoyed by this quote. I think it would have made
more sense coming from some formulaic mystery writer like Agatha
Christie rather than a respectable author like Chekhov. Yeah, it's
sometimes nice to introduce items for later, but then it's also nice
for a fictional world to seem real. I don't think it should be required
for people to look at fictional worlds as artificial collections of
plot instruments.

This quotation actually figures into the gameplay in Southern Gothic,
and I was somewhat annoyed by that at first, but I got over it rather
quickly.

The opening scenario is interesting, with its -- how to say it without
spoilers -- with its contrast between the opening room and the rooms
that surround it. Call it a gimmick, but it is rather original.

Unfortunately, the game was unevenly programmed. Here are some things
that need fixing:

* "sit on bench" doesn't work.
* There were spacing problems here and there.
* The verbs "fire" and "shoot" need to be recognized by games with
guns.
* "set dial to 90" doesn't work.
* Past a certain point you just wander around aimlessly for a while
unless a certain male character appears. But he doesn't appear until
you've done something which I didn't manage to do for a long while.
What's more, the thing you have to do is something that can be
expressed with a very wide variety of syntaxes, and I believe only one
syntax works. This is what I liked least about the game.

I liked the relationships between the PC and the other characters. I
also liked the characterization of the PC. Upon getting bad news, she
says, "You shut your eyes, count to five, and release a sigh instead of
a curse." That's a good detail.

Overall, it looks like the eventual game will be worth playing,
although I hope the author irons out some of these flaws.

-----------------------------

REVIEW: SABOTAGE

I'll start off with what I didn't like about the game:

* I really hate it when I see frequent spacing problems. It's okay to
handle paragraphs in an unorthodox way, but if you sometimes have a
blank line before the prompt and sometimes not, that's just sloppy. For
that matter, there were also a few misspellings and punctuation
problems.
* Talking to the terminal should work as a way of talking to the
computer.
* Lots of nouns mentioned in room descriptions weren't implemented.
* Some items needed more vocabulary. E.g., "x energy field" should
work.

Putting all that aside, I did like quite a few things about the game. I
found the puzzles reasonable; only once did I require hints.

Reading other reviews, it looks like most people weren't that involved
with the story. I didn't feel that way, maybe because I like science
fiction more than most people. I'd play the finished game, and I got
some enjoyment out of the intro. I just wish it were more polished.

-----------------------------

REVIEW: MECHS

I played this game under bad circumstances. I was impatient and in a
bad mood, and I was also sitting right next to somebody who had
finished the game. Whenever I got stuck, I just asked her for help. As
a result, partly due to my own fault, I didn't feel very involved with
this game.

Therefore, I'm not sure whether this should be called a review or just
a statement of my own individual experience playing the game.

That said, I got stuck more than once -- unnecessarily, in my opinion.

First of all, when I type "LOOK AT N", where N is any noun, and it says
"You can't see any such thing," I take that to mean (a) the game needs
polishing, and (b) I can ignore N, since it's just scenery. Not so in
the VR part of this game. That got me stuck, and I was irritated by
that.

Second, when an interlocator does not respond to hardly any topics, I
don't usually keep on pressing with further topics. In this game there
is a case where you have to keep on pressing until you hit the right
topic.

In general, the puzzles in this game were not well clued. For instance,
there is a case where you must engage in violence in a specific way. If
you use the verb "hit," however, the game gives you no clue that you're
on the right track. It just gives you a standard default refusal:
"Violence isn't the answer to this one." Which is not true.

Sorry to Allan Crain for being so negative. It was partly my own fault,
but for whatever it's worth, I didn't enjoy playing this game.

-----------------------------

REVIEW: UNYIELDING FURY

Some miscellaneous thoughts:

This game begins with the sentence: "As we prepare to enter into the
realm of dreams we often reflect upon the events of the day we've had."
Wow, is that vague and generic. It would have been much better to cut
the sentence and just begin with the next one.

When I type "x werewolf," I expect a description more than just, "Yeah,
it's real looking alright." Bizarrely, the werewolf is described in
more detail if you type "look" than if you type "x werewolf"!

At the end of the game, the author wishes to convey the following
information to you: "That feeling in your gut gets worse when you
notice what seems to be a body nearby." Unfortunately, this sentence is
given without variation whenever you type "look" in the final room.
Surely there would have been some other, better way of doing this.

Sorry, but I didn't get involved with this game. I get the impression
that the author meant well, and I hope he doesn't get discouraged, but
I didn't get much out of this.

-----------------------------

REVIEW: NOTHING BUT MAZES

I wrote this, so no review here. Thanks to everyone who offered me
feedback.

Greg

fel...@yahoo.com

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Aug 7, 2006, 12:53:44 AM8/7/06
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Hi,

This is a good opportunity for me to share a few thoughts prompted by
this year's IntroComp.


First (I know, this belongs in r.a.i.f.), I think I know why 10 of the
games announced never made it. Apparently, programming in
Inform 7 isn't as easy as it seems - most likely because it's still
programming? :-)


Second, seeing as my entry was a flop, I have two questions for
those who did better. By the way, congratulations, Greg!

1. Why do I have to implement nouns that don't contribute to the
story and atmosphere. I mean, what's so important about a bunk
bed? Isn't it enough to know that "You don't need to refer to that..."?

2. Speaking of which, I understand it's possible to get away with it:

> First of all, when I type "LOOK AT N", where N is any noun, and
> it says "You can't see any such thing," I take that to mean (a)
> the game needs polishing, and (b) I can ignore N, since it's just
> scenery.

So, what's the trick?


Third, why do I get the impression that today's IF players care more
about technical prowess than story and atmosphere? All science
fiction entries were poorly received this year. "Nothing but mazes"
- my favorite by far - got third place mostly because it's soundly
implemented. Stories don't even get noticed unless they're *very*
good - they can't all be, let's be fair about it.


Last, several people complained about "Nothing but mazes" being
shipped as a Windows executable. But next time I want to
introduce IF to someone, I will choose precisely this game. As
noted in other threads, the whole interpreter thing is way too
confusing for beginners. Being stubborn about it will *not* help.
And by the way, insisting that IF is pure literature, and should
thus be free of pictures and sound will not help either.

So, congratulations again, Greg, this time for your bravery. Your
game has the potential to catch on outside the community.
Promote it well :-)

Felix

NeoWolf

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Aug 7, 2006, 6:28:22 AM8/7/06
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fel...@yahoo.com wrote:
> Last, several people complained about "Nothing but mazes" being
> shipped as a Windows executable. But next time I want to
> introduce IF to someone, I will choose precisely this game. As
> noted in other threads, the whole interpreter thing is way too
> confusing for beginners. Being stubborn about it will *not* help.
> And by the way, insisting that IF is pure literature, and should
> thus be free of pictures and sound will not help either.

Honestly I think the biggest criticism for choosing to bundle it as an
executable is that you rule out anyone that's not using Windows. Being
a Mac user I wasn't able to try out that entry, and no offense meant
but to be perfectly blunt I'm not about to setup an emulator just for
that. The secondary complaint sort of runs contrary with your
reasoning. (Which I do agree with, interpreters aren't exactly straight
forward for everyone.) That being that the big advantage of using an
interpreter is that not only do I not rule anyone out, but it can be
played just about anywhere (I keep an interpreter and a couple of
favorites on my PDA) and organized nicely by some of the more full
featured interpreters. While these things may not mean much for someone
casually dabbling in IF, more experienced users might care quite a bit
about it.

And since I haven't posted anything yet, I'd like to thank everyone
that left any sort of feedback at all regardless of how harsh or kind
it might be, it's definitely appreciated and congratulations to all the
winners. And! Thanks to Jacqueline for running the contest!

fel...@yahoo.com

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Aug 7, 2006, 7:22:39 AM8/7/06
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NeoWolf wrote:
> Honestly I think the biggest criticism for choosing to bundle it as an
> executable is that you rule out anyone that's not using Windows. Being
> a Mac user I wasn't able to try out that entry, and no offense meant
> but to be perfectly blunt I'm not about to setup an emulator just for
> that.

Fair enough. I do hope Greg will release a .t3 edition of the game for
those who can't run Windows executables (after all, any TADS game
goes through .t3 format at some point, right?) But you have to admit
that most people *can* run Windows executables - either natively,
via Wine or, why not, via an already-set-up emulator. In other words,
you're in the minority - no offense meant ;-) - and if you want to make
a product popular, you'll have to cater to the majority first.

Felix

NeoWolf

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Aug 7, 2006, 7:50:13 AM8/7/06
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> Fair enough. I do hope Greg will release a .t3 edition of the game for
> those who can't run Windows executables (after all, any TADS game
> goes through .t3 format at some point, right?) But you have to admit
> that most people *can* run Windows executables - either natively,
> via Wine or, why not, via an already-set-up emulator. In other words,
> you're in the minority - no offense meant ;-) - and if you want to make
> a product popular, you'll have to cater to the majority first.
>
> Felix

Yep, I didn't deny this. However at the same time, if you can cater to
just about everyone first no problem... But I believe that wasn't an
option for the game in question since it was dependent on graphics that
don't work abroad. Still, if you're really concerned with audience
above all else, surely you'd do something cross platform from the
get-go.

Daphne Brinkerhoff

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Aug 7, 2006, 8:05:50 AM8/7/06
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fel...@yahoo.com wrote:
> 1. Why do I have to implement nouns that don't contribute to the
> story and atmosphere. I mean, what's so important about a bunk
> bed? Isn't it enough to know that "You don't need to refer to that..."?

One thing that comes to mind is the size of the game. In a large game,
I don't mind some unimplemented stuff (look at Jigsaw or Curses, for
example). But in a small game, I'm going to end up examining
everything in more detail. It's all going to stand out more. And,
when I'm stuck, I will definitely look around at every object for
things I may have missed. Introcomps by nature are full of small
games, so.

> 2. Speaking of which, I understand it's possible to get away with it:
>
> > First of all, when I type "LOOK AT N", where N is any noun, and
> > it says "You can't see any such thing," I take that to mean (a)
> > the game needs polishing, and (b) I can ignore N, since it's just
> > scenery.
>
> So, what's the trick?

I don't think there is a trick, since, as Greg said, this indicates the
game needs polishing. I *can* see the noun, so the game shouldn't tell
me I can't. Authors might be able to get away with "That's just
scenery", but (especially in places like the VR in Mechs) not too much
or the place just feels bland. You mentioned atmosphere, and in
science fiction or fantasy games especially, if nouns aren't given
descriptions and responses to verbs (like, "you can't do that
because..." not just "you can't do that") then the atmosphere will
suffer.

--
Daphne

fel...@yahoo.com

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Aug 7, 2006, 8:32:25 AM8/7/06
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NeoWolf wrote:

> Still, if you're really concerned with audience
> above all else, surely you'd do something cross platform from the
> get-go.

Not necessarily. Ever heard about the law of diminishing returns?
Think of what the big game studios are doing - or rather not doing.
Release their games on Linux, that is. Why is that? Surely a lot of
people would buy them? Well, no. Not enough people to cover the
extra expenses. Same with IF: who's going to spend the extra time
and effort to make a game both accessible to casual players *and*
portable?

By the way, it's not an author's fault if only the Windows interpreter
can show pictures in TADS 3 games. Yes it's a case of diminishing
returns: almost nobody puts graphics in games, so why should an
interpreter programmer bother to support them? Hence the vicious
circle... Mac and Linux 'terps don't support pictures 'cause nobody
does IF with pictures, and then nobody makes IF with pictures
'cause they know many players won't see those anyway.

Looks to me like somebody just tried to break that circle.

Felix

fel...@yahoo.com

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Aug 7, 2006, 8:49:05 AM8/7/06
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Daphne Brinkerhoff wrote:
> when I'm stuck, I will definitely look around at every object for
> things I may have missed.

At every handle of every drawer in every closet? :-)

...where's the fun in that? And if you're stuck, and you do find
a clue on the underside of the handle on the fourth drawer in
the third closet, wouldn't you say the game is badly designed?

'Cause, you know, that's exactly what gets the most attention
in many game reviews: "All nouns are implemented, and their
sub-nouns and sub-sub-nouns too. What an achievement!"
And I agree it's a big *technical* achievement. But who's going
to benefit? How many players are going to notice - or enjoy -
all that detail? In the previous post, I mentioned the law of
diminishing returns. I think it applies here too.

...or am I missing something? A sub-sub-object, maybe? :D

Felix

Stephen Granade

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Aug 7, 2006, 10:08:16 AM8/7/06
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"fel...@yahoo.com" <fel...@yahoo.com> writes:

> Second, seeing as my entry was a flop, I have two questions for
> those who did better. By the way, congratulations, Greg!
>
> 1. Why do I have to implement nouns that don't contribute to the
> story and atmosphere. I mean, what's so important about a bunk
> bed? Isn't it enough to know that "You don't need to refer to that..."?

It's a question of audience expectations. At this point most any
player familiar with modern IF is going to expect every first-level
noun -- those mentioned in the room description -- to be implemented,
even if the implementation is that every command applied to the object
results in, "That's not important for the game." Having a description
is an additional bonus. You don't have to do this, but if you don't,
your game will feel sparse and underimplemented.

This goes double or treble for games that are solely short
introductions. There's only a little to do, and the player is likely
going to poke around at stuff that you didn't expect. That likelihood
rises sharply if the player gets stuck.

Finally, you say that you didn't want to implement nouns that don't
contribute to the story and atmosphere. If they don't contribute at
all, why mention them in your room description?

> Last, several people complained about "Nothing but mazes" being
> shipped as a Windows executable. But next time I want to
> introduce IF to someone, I will choose precisely this game.

The IntroComp is pitched at the existing IF community, and the
existing IF community doesn't need a bundled interpreter. I understand
Greg's reasoning for doing what he did, but saying that a bundled
interpreter is the way to introduce IF to people when you're talking
about an IntroComp game is mis-reading the current audience.

Stephen

--
Stephen Granade
stephen...@granades.com

Neil Cerutti

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Aug 7, 2006, 10:20:04 AM8/7/06
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On 2006-08-07, fel...@yahoo.com <fel...@yahoo.com> wrote:
> Daphne Brinkerhoff wrote:
>> when I'm stuck, I will definitely look around at every object
>> for things I may have missed.
>
> At every handle of every drawer in every closet? :-)

When I'm stuck examining things again is usually a good way to
getting unstuck. In practice, most commonly I simply reread room
descriptions and take inventory, hoping my attention gets drawn
somewhere fruitful.

> ...where's the fun in that? And if you're stuck, and you do
> find a clue on the underside of the handle on the fourth drawer
> in the third closet, wouldn't you say the game is badly
> designed?

Hopefully, if there's a clue to be found somewhere, my attention
will be artfully drawn to it. If I'm required to examine every
bit of detail in a random manner to find the clue, I'll be
disappointed, and all that detail will seem like clutter.

> 'Cause, you know, that's exactly what gets the most attention
> in many game reviews: "All nouns are implemented, and their
> sub-nouns and sub-sub-nouns too. What an achievement!"
> And I agree it's a big *technical* achievement. But who's going
> to benefit? How many players are going to notice - or enjoy -
> all that detail? In the previous post, I mentioned the law of
> diminishing returns. I think it applies here too.

It's a question of focus, to me. I don't enjoy games with too
much detail and not enough focus. The early games, like Collasal
Cave and Zork, are excellent in this regard. Scott Adams's games
are even better.

I think there is an amount of detail that a modern player should
expect, though. I should be able to reflect back to the parser
the actions and objects mentioned in the game.

For example, if there's something hidden under the bed, I must to
be able to try to hide things under the bed. If the game mentions
the handle on the third desk drawer, it ought to at least
understand me when I try to refer to it. If the game refers to
the thief as a lean and hungry gentleman, I want to be able to do
so, too.

Carefully considering the text presented to the player in light
of how a player will reflect that language back to the parser is
one way an author can provide the focus I want from the games I
play. If the language is extremely detailed and diverse, the
implementation better be, too. And hopefully, that detail should
also be necessary. If the knob on the third desk drawer is not
important, consider not mentioning it.

--
Neil Cerutti

fel...@yahoo.com

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Aug 7, 2006, 10:48:45 AM8/7/06
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Neil Cerutti wrote:

> And hopefully, that detail should
> also be necessary. If the knob on the third desk drawer is not
> important, consider not mentioning it.

But then you'll ask: "How am I supposed to open this drawer?
There is no mention of a knob or anything." You know this
happens - remember all those threads about bathrooms?

Oh no, there's a bathroom in my game...

Have mercy,
Felix

Mike Snyder

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Aug 7, 2006, 11:02:56 AM8/7/06
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<fel...@yahoo.com> wrote in message
news:1154962125.4...@b28g2000cwb.googlegroups.com...

What I've started doing is either not mentioning that the drawer has knobs
(if I just don't feel like adding a layer of unnecessary complexity), or
implementing them in the most basic of ways. I can give a simple "The knobs
are there so the drawer can be pulled open". But *if* I do the latter, then
I'm going to support OPEN DRAWER, and I'm going to re-route PULL KNOBS and
PULL DRAWER to the OPEN DRAWER that's already allowed. I don't know aobut
other languages, but it's extremely easy, with just a line or two of code,
to re-route one action to another.

Also, keep in mind that people are imaginative by nature. If you mention a
desk drawer, they're going to assume (with rare to no exceptions, I would
think) that it can be opened with or without the benefit of knobs. You can
describe just the important things, and people's minds will fill in the
gaps. At least mine does. I'll visualize a location in IF without having to
be told everything about it, as long as the basics are there. And what my
imagination fills in, I'm not likely to try interacting with.

--- Mike.


Andrew Plotkin

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Aug 7, 2006, 11:38:39 AM8/7/06
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Here, fel...@yahoo.com <fel...@yahoo.com> wrote:
>
> Third, why do I get the impression that today's IF players care more
> about technical prowess than story and atmosphere?

Because poor technical implementation will ruin a game faster than a
weak story. A well-implemented game with no story is (I think, for
most people) more enjoyable than a game that tries to present a good
story but falls apart when you try to play it.

This does not imply that technical prowess is *more important* than
story.

> Last, several people complained about "Nothing but mazes" being
> shipped as a Windows executable. But next time I want to
> introduce IF to someone, I will choose precisely this game.

As Stephen said, nobody judging IntroComp was being introduced to IF.

> As noted in other threads, the whole interpreter thing is way too
> confusing for beginners.

That's a non sequitur. There is no reason *not* to make a game
available as a game file. (No, not even the lack of a Mac interpreter.
You think that will last forever?)

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
If the Bush administration hasn't subjected you to searches without a warrant,
it's for one reason: they don't feel like it. Not because you're innocent.

Richard Bos

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Aug 7, 2006, 12:20:03 PM8/7/06
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"fel...@yahoo.com" <fel...@yahoo.com> wrote:

> Daphne Brinkerhoff wrote:
> > when I'm stuck, I will definitely look around at every object for
> > things I may have missed.
>
> At every handle of every drawer in every closet? :-)

No. At every object that is mentioned. If your room description says "A
table stands underneath a window", then the table and window must have
descriptions, even if they're nothing more detailed than "An ordinary
bedside table". If examining your desk mentions a drawer, the drawer
must be implemented (even if only as a synonym for the desk itself); if
examining the drawer does _not_ mention a handle, the handle need not be
implemented. If your first room description mentions being not fully
awake, "wake up" must give more than just the default reply; if your
state of somnolence is never mentioned, "wake up" need not do anything
special.

Richard

Richard Bos

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Aug 7, 2006, 12:20:36 PM8/7/06
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"Greg Boettcher" <WRITET...@gregboettcher.com> wrote:

> REVIEW: SOUTHERN GOTHIC
>
> Before I even begin to review the game, I have to express my irritation
> with its opening quote by Chekhov:
>
> "If you show a gun in the first scene, it better go off by the last."
> --Anton Chekhov.
>
> I have always been annoyed by this quote. I think it would have made
> more sense coming from some formulaic mystery writer like Agatha
> Christie rather than a respectable author like Chekhov. Yeah, it's
> sometimes nice to introduce items for later, but then it's also nice
> for a fictional world to seem real.

You forget that Checkov was writing about the classical stage, not about
a three-volume novel. On stage, you have a limited amount of space, and
a limited amount of time. Your audience is looking at everything that's
going on. You have your scenery, a few props, and a couple of actors;
and that's it.
Everything that is on the stage is going to either be in the way of your
actors, or to draw attention away from them. And it's your actors who
are telling the story, not the decoration of the scene. If it has no
function, it should not be there. You can get away with a table, because
a table is anonymous; but if you do hang something as charged (NPI) as a
gun on the wall, your audience _will_ think that it means something, and
be distracted by it. That's good for a gun that does have a use; but not
for mere decoration.
Note that Checkov did overstate somewhat, for rhethoric effect - but
only slightly. If your scene takes place in the smoking room of a
Scottish country house, the head of a deer and a couple of guns on the
wall are a good way to set the mood - show that this baronet is a keen
hunter, likely to keep a kennel of basset hounds, and all that. But
otherwise? No.

Richard

Stebbins

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Aug 7, 2006, 12:24:17 PM8/7/06
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fel...@yahoo.com wrote:
> Third, why do I get the impression that today's IF players care more
> about technical prowess than story and atmosphere? All science
> fiction entries were poorly received this year. "Nothing but mazes"
> - my favorite by far - got third place mostly because it's soundly
> implemented. Stories don't even get noticed unless they're *very*
> good - they can't all be, let's be fair about it.

I have to disagree. Technical soundness is, of course, important, but
not moreso than the actual substance of the game. The top two
finishers both used unusual settings. And while "Child's Play" was
fairly solidly implemented (the most bug-free game in the comp, IMO),
"Southern Gothic" won the comp even though it was peppered with minor
bugs. I think the difficulty in writing science-fiction is that the
genre has produced such a great volume of work that it is requires more
effort to create an interesting and original story.

> Why do I have to implement nouns that don't contribute to the
> story and atmosphere. I mean, what's so important about a bunk
> bed? Isn't it enough to know that "You don't need to refer to that..."?

I think the general rule for describing scenery is: if you mention it
in the room description, the object should have a description of its
own. Doing this contributes a great deal to story and atmosphere
because it helps to make the environment seem more real. Every time a
player gets a default response from trying to examine something, it's
only going to remind him he's just playing a game.

This is one of the things that irritated me about "Unyielding Fury":
the only nouns implemented are the two objects you have to interact
with. If the author had written descriptions for the scenery objects,
he could have augmented the player's sense of being in a dark and
mysterious forest. But when the player tries perfectly reasonable
things like "x trees", "x moon", "listen", etc. and only gets default
responses, the sense of immersion is completely destroyed.

Having said that, I have to say that I enjoyed playing all of the comp
entries. Most of the entries were good, and just because they didn't
place in the top three doesn't mean they were "poorly received."
("Sabotage!" and "The Art of Deception" were actually two of my
favorites.)

To everyone who entered the comp: congratulations. I'm looking forward
to the finished versions.

Greg Boettcher

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Aug 7, 2006, 1:47:45 PM8/7/06
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fel...@yahoo.com wrote:
> Second, seeing as my entry was a flop, I have two questions for
> those who did better. By the way, congratulations, Greg!

Sigh. I never mean to discourage people, and I didn't think your game
was all bad. I did feel involved and interested while I was playing it.

As others pointed out, this is a matter of expectations. Back in the
80s, any reasonably playable amateur IF game seemed cool. As you can
see, people's expectations are a lot higher now, at least in this
community.

Now about scenery and implementing various nouns.

> 1. Why do I have to implement nouns that don't contribute to the
> story and atmosphere. I mean, what's so important about a bunk
> bed? Isn't it enough to know that "You don't need to refer to that..."?

Yes, but then the game should say "You don't need to refer to that,"
rather than "You see no such thing." Especially since this is extremely
easy to do in Inform 6.

> 2. Speaking of which, I understand it's possible to get away with it:
>
> > First of all, when I type "LOOK AT N", where N is any noun, and
> > it says "You can't see any such thing," I take that to mean (a)
> > the game needs polishing, and (b) I can ignore N, since it's just
> > scenery.
>
> So, what's the trick?

This is something different again. I said this in reviewing Mechs,
which contains a case where you actually have to interact with things
that aren't implemented as nouns. Copy the spoiler-filled text below
and paste it at http://www.rot13.com to read it:

Va Zrpuf, gur uneqjner vagresnpr ebbz zragvbaf Cbeg 0, Cbeg 1, naq Cbeg
2. Vs lbh gel gb RKNZVAR gurz, vg whfg fnlf "Lbh pna'g frr nal fhpu
guvat," juvpu yrq zr ba gur jebat genpx sbe n yvggyr juvyr. Lbh unir gb
tb guebhtu Cbegf 1 naq 2 (jrfg naq rnfg) gb jva gur tnzr.

Yeah, if a player is required to interact with something that's
referred to by a certain name, you really have to implement that name.

Come to think of it, you mentioned the bunk bed in my game. That's
another example. You *do* need to refer to the bed to complete my
intro, so of course I implemented it fairly well.

In a different post, you wrote:
> Daphne Brinkerhoff wrote:
> > when I'm stuck, I will definitely look around at every object for
> > things I may have missed.
>
> At every handle of every drawer in every closet? :-)
>

> [...]


> 'Cause, you know, that's exactly what gets the most attention
> in many game reviews: "All nouns are implemented, and their
> sub-nouns and sub-sub-nouns too. What an achievement!"
> And I agree it's a big *technical* achievement. But who's going
> to benefit? How many players are going to notice - or enjoy -
> all that detail? In the previous post, I mentioned the law of
> diminishing returns. I think it applies here too.

This example is quite different too, since there are two easy
alternatives. Either don't mention the handles (as Mike said), or else
make sure that 'handle' is part of the vocabulary for each drawer.
Either of these are easy and totally adequate IMO.

But the real issue doesn't have to do with drawer handles, but things
that you call attention to in your descriptions.

I actually wrote up a little room description to illustrate. Maybe this
is overkill, but I'll post it here just the same:

Vast Chamber
This is an exceedingly vast underground chamber. Some of the walls are
so distant that they are obscured by haze. Rubble lies everywhere,
covered with cobwebs. A bronze door stands to the east, while in the
middle of the room there is a gaping pit.

If I type X PIT or X DOOR, and it says "You see no such thing," that
irritates me. It *really* irritates me if I'm expected to go down the
pit or through the door.

If I type X RUBBLE, I expect to get something, if it's only "You don't
need to refer to that." That's extremely easy to do in Inform 6, so you
might as well do it. And since it's so easy, you might as well do the
same with the cobwebs.

If I type X HAZE and I get "You see no such thing," I can live with
that.

I'd personally avoid mentioning any doorknob on the door, since as you
say it's a thankless task implementing such things.

> Third, why do I get the impression that today's IF players care more
> about technical prowess than story and atmosphere? All science
> fiction entries were poorly received this year. "Nothing but mazes"
> - my favorite by far - got third place mostly because it's soundly
> implemented. Stories don't even get noticed unless they're *very*
> good - they can't all be, let's be fair about it.

It's sort of like reading. If I read somebody's manuscript and it
contains a lot of punctuation mistakes, I probably won't be all that
interested unless the story is unusually compelling.

> Last, several people complained about "Nothing but mazes" being
> shipped as a Windows executable. But next time I want to
> introduce IF to someone, I will choose precisely this game. As
> noted in other threads, the whole interpreter thing is way too
> confusing for beginners.

This is a good reason for making a game available in multiple versions.
Several IF authors have done that. But it's not a good reason for
releasing a Windows version and nothing else.

Of course, I did release a Windows version and nothing else. But the
attached text file explains in some detail why I did this.

Greg

NeoWolf

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Aug 7, 2006, 8:08:03 PM8/7/06
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> Not necessarily. Ever heard about the law of diminishing returns?
> Think of what the big game studios are doing - or rather not doing.
> Release their games on Linux, that is. Why is that? Surely a lot of
> people would buy them? Well, no. Not enough people to cover the
> extra expenses. Same with IF: who's going to spend the extra time
> and effort to make a game both accessible to casual players *and*
> portable?

Well I imagine it's possible to release a version for casual and
portable players. One just includes the interpreter and a batch file on
Windows. Besides, I think comparisons to other games isn't quite as
valid here considering how most major IF development suites are cross
platform by default.


> By the way, it's not an author's fault if only the Windows interpreter
> can show pictures in TADS 3 games. Yes it's a case of diminishing
> returns: almost nobody puts graphics in games, so why should an
> interpreter programmer bother to support them? Hence the vicious
> circle... Mac and Linux 'terps don't support pictures 'cause nobody
> does IF with pictures, and then nobody makes IF with pictures
> 'cause they know many players won't see those anyway.

Yeah, this is problematic, though not all interpreters don't support
graphics. Though to my knowledge no TADS ones do on Mac, which is what
the guy used. Like I said, I don't really fault him for it but it does
leave people out in the cold. It's absolutely up to the author how
important that is, and I don't fault them for simply choosing the
development process they decide on. But if I can't play it, I just
can't play it. It's my problem if I want to, and it's their problem if
they'd want me to.

BrettW

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Aug 7, 2006, 9:05:54 PM8/7/06
to

> 1. Why do I have to implement nouns that don't contribute to the
> story and atmosphere. I mean, what's so important about a bunk
> bed? Isn't it enough to know that "You don't need to refer to that..."?

The scenery is a major component of the atmosphere. Why give up the
opportunity to accentuate the atmosphere? We're not writing Interactive
Cliff Notes, but Interactive Fiction.

Although adding in detail is laborious, I don't think anyone should so
easily give up a chance to tell their story.

BrettW

Adam Thornton

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Aug 7, 2006, 9:44:14 PM8/7/06
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In article <eb7mpv$f8b$1...@reader2.panix.com>,

Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
A well-implemented game with no story is (I think, for
>most people) more enjoyable than a game that tries to present a good
>story but falls apart when you try to play it.

"Chicks Dig Jerks," we're looking at *you*.

Adam

fel...@yahoo.com

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Aug 8, 2006, 12:13:05 AM8/8/06
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Greg Boettcher wrote:

> Sigh. I never mean to discourage people, and I didn't think your game
> was all bad. I did feel involved and interested while I was playing it.

Don't worry, I wasn't whining :-)) But the thing is, you *do* like SF.

> Yes, but then the game should say "You don't need to refer to that,"
> rather than "You see no such thing." Especially since this is extremely
> easy to do in Inform 6.

All my beta-testers insisted on this, too. Which is odd, because I
checked and double-checked and I don't think "Sabotage" ever says
"You see no such thing." for any noun mentioned in a description.
It does say "You don't need to refer to that" a little often (I thought
I was providing focus that way. Oops, big mistake).

> Va Zrpuf, gur uneqjner vagresnpr ebbz zragvbaf Cbeg 0, Cbeg 1, naq Cbeg
> 2. Vs lbh gel gb RKNZVAR gurz, vg whfg fnlf "Lbh pna'g frr nal fhpu
> guvat," juvpu yrq zr ba gur jebat genpx sbe n yvggyr juvyr. Lbh unir gb
> tb guebhtu Cbegf 1 naq 2 (jrfg naq rnfg) gb jva gur tnzr.

Funny, I didn't notice. I just used compass directions.

> If I type X RUBBLE, I expect to get something, if it's only "You don't
> need to refer to that." That's extremely easy to do in Inform 6, so you
> might as well do it. And since it's so easy, you might as well do the
> same with the cobwebs.

And, when you do, nobody seems to notice. I guess "You see no such
thing," looks too much like "You don't need to refer to that." when
reading fast. My lesson: don't rely on automated mechanisms, use
Decoration objects :D

> Of course, I did release a Windows version and nothing else. But the
> attached text file explains in some detail why I did this.

Yes it does, and that could prompt an entirely different discussion on
whether it's ok to make illustrations essential in a literary work, the
issue of sight-challenged players and so on. But the fact remains:
a Windows executable is *the* most accessible game format for most
potential players.

Cheers,
Felix

P.S. I'd like to thank the authors for their games and the others for
feedback. It was a good IntroComp; every single entry appealed to
a few people at least. Now, let's finish these games, shall we?

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