[IFBeginnersComp] Discuss "Mrs. Pepper's Nasty Secret" by Jim Aikin and Eric Eve (SPOILERS)

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Victor Gijsbers

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Feb 23, 2008, 4:33:47 AM2/23/08
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BRIEF OVERVIEW

This is both the most polished and the most substantial game of this
competition. Normally, I wouldn't be too impressed by this game--the
puzzles are very standard, the story is quite superficial, there isn't
much here in terms of ambition or innovation--but it seems an excellent
game for the IFBeginnersComp. If your goal is to educate people about
the kind of IF puzzles that they will encounter in lots of other games,
this really is the game to point them to.


A BIT MORE DETAIL

The designers of this game must have drawn up a catalogue of things that
everybody should learn in order to be able to successfully complete
other works of (puzzle-based) IF. You should be able to solve a cipher.
You should be able to cast a spell using strange components. You should
be able to figure out and repair a machine. You should be able to find a
hidden object. You should be able to get information from an NPC, and
you should be able to give something to an NPC. You should be able to
climb things in order to reach other things. You should be able to look
things up in a book. You should be able to recognise a red herring. And
so forth.

The second step was to design a game that contains each and every one of
these things; that game is "Mrs. Pepper's Nasty Secret". Now the
downside of this approach is that seasoned IF players will see a lot of
stuff they already know (though the puzzles are not trivial). But who
cares about seasoned IF players? This game is meant for beginners to
learn the ropes; and I think the authors succeeded marvelously here.
Anyone who has played through "Mrs. Pepper" is ready to tackle almost
any other piece of IF.

There are some things that could still be improved, though. The puzzle
structure is sometimes a bit too narrow, by which I mean that you have
to solve one puzzle in order to be able to start solving any of the
others. This is especially apparent at the beginning of the game, where
you get several tasks (get into the house, make Mrs. Pepper leave, find
the brooch, reach the skateboard) and you can only proceed with the
others once you have solved the puzzle involving the flyer. Not a big
problem, but since this puzzles isn't trivial, people could spend too
much time fruitlessly trying to solve the other puzzles. (I had some
trouble with the flyer-puzzle myself. I tried to hold it before the peep
hole so Mrs. Pepper would see it when I rang the bell, but this didn't
work. I only hit on the solution that works some time later. This
solution didn't make perfect sense--why is it that Mrs. Pepper cannot
see me? How was I to know that she wouldn't?)

Another problem I had was that at one point near the end, the hint
system left me in the cold. I wanted to move the elf (and I stupidly had
not thought of putting the pot on the skateboard). I tried rolling the
pot (which does not give an appropriate error message), asking the elf
to move, talking to him about it, getting him out of the pot, and so on.
Unfortunately, the game didn't seen to contain any hints for this
situation. This should be fixed.

The implementation is mostly very good. Some things could be improved:


>elf, go north
The elf refuses your request.


is not, perhaps, perfect, but in general, the game is solid and
well-polished.


So, should beginners start with this game? Well--it depends. If the
person in question wants to quickly learn the basics of puzzle solving,
then yes, this is a good place to start. But if the person in question
is mostly interested in interactive narrative, in deep characters, an
involving storyline, a literary theme, than this might not be the best
game to start with. It would have been great to see a game that would
have been perfect for both groups, and in the context of this contest
that game would have gotten a perfect score from me. "Mrs. Pepper's" is
a very successful attempt to introduce at least one class of new players
to the medium, and as such, it gets a score of 9/10 from me in the
context of this competition.


Regards,
Victor

PS. Was I the only one who heard the phrase "Mrs. Peppers lonely, Mrs.
Pepper's lonely, Mrs. Pepper's lonely heart club band" in my mind? :)

Emily Short

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Feb 23, 2008, 12:43:48 PM2/23/08
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On Feb 23, 4:33 am, Victor Gijsbers <vic...@lilith.gotdns.org> wrote:

I share your sense that this game is solid without being narratively
inspiring, but I do want to comment on one thing:

> So, should beginners start with this game? Well--it depends. If the
> person in question wants to quickly learn the basics of puzzle solving,
> then yes, this is a good place to start. But if the person in question
> is mostly interested in interactive narrative, in deep characters, an
> involving storyline, a literary theme, than this might not be the best
> game to start with. It would have been great to see a game that would
> have been perfect for both groups,

I see what you're getting at here, but I am not sure it's reasonable
to expect one game to do all of this at once, while maintaining its
accessibility to beginners. Or, to put it another way, I don't think
it's right to expect that there will be one game that will be the
ideal introduction for every sort of player. I suspect we're better
off giving novices tailored recommendations from a selection of
possible introductory games.

Victor Gijsbers

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Feb 23, 2008, 4:31:07 PM2/23/08
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Emily Short wrote:

> I see what you're getting at here, but I am not sure it's reasonable
> to expect one game to do all of this at once, while maintaining its
> accessibility to beginners.

Ah, but to earn a perfect score, a game should even fulfill my
_unreasonable_ expectations. ;)

Seriously, although I agree with you that one game cannot do everything,
that is, cannot encompass all of the exciting aspects of IF, I
nevertheless do think that one game could encompass a bit _more_ of them
than Mrs. Pepper does. A bit more art intermixed with the puzzles would
make the game an even better introduction that it is already.

Regards,
Victor

Jim Aikin

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Feb 23, 2008, 4:59:40 PM2/23/08
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Victor Gijsbers wrote:

> Seriously, although I agree with you that one game cannot do everything,
> that is, cannot encompass all of the exciting aspects of IF, I
> nevertheless do think that one game could encompass a bit _more_ of them
> than Mrs. Pepper does. A bit more art intermixed with the puzzles would
> make the game an even better introduction that it is already.

I agree that our game was never intended to have an especially strong
narrative. In addition to being designed for beginners, its story is
aimed squarely at middle-school students (and is G-rated). I would never
attempt to defend it on literary grounds.

That said, there _is_ a tiny bit more to the game than just the puzzles.
I'm wondering if you missed the relatively clear suggestion that Mrs.
Pepper murdered her husband.

--JA

Emily Short

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Feb 23, 2008, 9:07:43 PM2/23/08
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On Feb 23, 4:59 pm, Jim Aikin <midigur...@sbcglobal.net> wrote:
> That said, there _is_ a tiny bit more to the game than just the puzzles.
> I'm wondering if you missed the relatively clear suggestion that Mrs.
> Pepper murdered her husband.

I don't speak for Victor, but I certainly didn't miss it; on the other
hand, I kept expecting there to be more about it. Early in the game I
was expecting that it would turn out that this was merely malicious
gossip, that Mrs. Pepper was misunderstood, that her husband had
actually been faithfully nursed through a long illness (or whatever);
later, I was expecting to find a bit more evidence, something to
clarify what had happened.

Ultimately it became clear that that wasn't really going to happen and
that saving the elf was my sole objective (and, as I say in my review,
I like the way that action is rewarded: a big monetary reward would
have seemed trite, nothing at all would have been disappointing; so
the gift of something a little wondrous was just about right).

Jim Aikin

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Feb 23, 2008, 9:24:58 PM2/23/08
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Emily Short wrote:
> On Feb 23, 4:59 pm, Jim Aikin <midigur...@sbcglobal.net> wrote:
>> That said, there _is_ a tiny bit more to the game than just the puzzles.
>> I'm wondering if you missed the relatively clear suggestion that Mrs.
>> Pepper murdered her husband.
>
> I don't speak for Victor, but I certainly didn't miss it; on the other
> hand, I kept expecting there to be more about it. Early in the game I
> was expecting that it would turn out that this was merely malicious
> gossip, that Mrs. Pepper was misunderstood, that her husband had
> actually been faithfully nursed through a long illness (or whatever);
> later, I was expecting to find a bit more evidence, something to
> clarify what had happened.

That might make a nice addition, yes, but it might be a distraction. If
the PC had some concrete evidence of what had happened, the story would
go into a whole new area, because Mom would have to be told, and Mom
would call the police....

Truth be told, the whole business about the late Mr. Pepper grew out of
a simple necessity of puzzle design: How to get a large, heavy pot down
the stairs and out to the yard by pushing it on a skateboard. Obviously,
we needed an elevator and a ramp. And what would an elevator and a ramp
be doing in an ordinary house? And if Mr. Pepper is confined to a
wheelchair, yet he's not in the house, where has he gone? Obvious
answer: He's dead.

> Ultimately it became clear that that wasn't really going to happen and
> that saving the elf was my sole objective (and, as I say in my review,
> I like the way that action is rewarded: a big monetary reward would
> have seemed trite, nothing at all would have been disappointing; so
> the gift of something a little wondrous was just about right).

Hee, hee. Thank you. You can eat the orange, by the way. It takes about
five turns to finish it. (You can also ride your skateboard home at the
end of the game.)

--JA

Emily Short

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Feb 23, 2008, 10:05:22 PM2/23/08
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On Feb 23, 9:24 pm, Jim Aikin <midigur...@sbcglobal.net> wrote:
> Emily Short wrote:

> > later, I was expecting to find a bit more evidence, something to
> > clarify what had happened.
>
> That might make a nice addition, yes, but it might be a distraction. If
> the PC had some concrete evidence of what had happened, the story would
> go into a whole new area, because Mom would have to be told, and Mom
> would call the police....

Yeah, I see the problem: a game about uncovering and reporting a
murder would be quite a different piece of work, in both pacing and
tone, from what you have here. This wasn't really meant as a
suggestion of where the game *ought* to have gone; I was just
reporting on what my expectations were as I played, based on the hints
and foreshadowing I thought I was getting.

Actually, one of my favorite things about the game is the description
of the photo of Mr. Pepper, which (it seemed to me) implied a rather
complicated relationship between himself and his wife.

> Truth be told, the whole business about the late Mr. Pepper grew out of
> a simple necessity of puzzle design: How to get a large, heavy pot down
> the stairs and out to the yard by pushing it on a skateboard. Obviously,
> we needed an elevator and a ramp. And what would an elevator and a ramp
> be doing in an ordinary house?

I liked all that, in part because it was a way in which the house was
not just a generic ordinary house with a generic ordinary nasty old
woman in it. I think this juxtaposition of the whimsically magical
(magical wigs! spells cast by ocarina!) with mundane realistic details
(what do you need in your house to look after someone who can't walk?)
was what put me in mind of Diana Wynne Jones. This is a compliment: I
read as much of her work as I could get my hands on when I was 10 or
11, and still occasionally enjoy rereading it. So that strikes me as a
good sign for how the intended age range might feel about the game.

> Hee, hee. Thank you. You can eat the orange, by the way. It takes about
> five turns to finish it.

I did eat one segment just to see.

Eric Eve

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Feb 24, 2008, 8:26:28 AM2/24/08
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"Emily Short" <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote in message
news:81e8b29e-b1bd-45ce...@q78g2000hsh.googlegroups.com...

> On Feb 23, 4:33 am, Victor Gijsbers <vic...@lilith.gotdns.org>
> wrote:

> I share your sense that this game is solid without being
> narratively
> inspiring, but I do want to comment on one thing:

FWIW, neither Jim nor I regarded it as "narratively inspiring"
either! That wasn't really our objective.

>> So, should beginners start with this game? Well--it depends. If
>> the
>> person in question wants to quickly learn the basics of puzzle
>> solving,
>> then yes, this is a good place to start. But if the person in
>> question
>> is mostly interested in interactive narrative, in deep
>> characters, an
>> involving storyline, a literary theme, than this might not be the
>> best
>> game to start with. It would have been great to see a game that
>> would
>> have been perfect for both groups,

> I see what you're getting at here, but I am not sure it's
> reasonable
> to expect one game to do all of this at once, while maintaining
> its
> accessibility to beginners. Or, to put it another way, I don't
> think
> it's right to expect that there will be one game that will be the
> ideal introduction for every sort of player. I suspect we're
> better
> off giving novices tailored recommendations from a selection of
> possible introductory games.

It'll probably come as no surprise that I largely agree with Emily
here. It's also worth pointing out that Mrs Pepper was also (and
originally conceived as) an entry into Mark Engelberg's beginners'
comp, the rules of which seemed to be specifically asking for
puzzle-oriented games.

That said, I see nothing at all to complain about in a score of 9/10
or the general tone of Victor's review, which comes over to me as
overwhelmingly positive (as, I think, does Emily's). As I think both
reviews recognize, the over-use of IF clichés, which might be seen
as a vice in most games, becomes a virtue in a game aimed at newbies
(that, at least, was how I saw it when working on the game).

-- Eric


craigjo...@aol.com

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Feb 28, 2008, 1:56:08 PM2/28/08
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I made the mistake of looking at the other scores before playing this
final game, and came away a little bored and disappointed. The
setting itself did nothing for me, it wasn't really of any great
interest and so that essential hook to drag me into the fiction just
wasn't there. It also doesn't help that's it's a relatively puzzle
free beginning, ok so you wander around but without even a minor
puzzle (and it was annoying one couldn't try to jump to the open
window from the roof of the car, and more annoying that "jump to
window" gave the response "you see no to window here"...

Once in the house, however, the adventure picked up considerably, and
working out that the buttons were for a lift was a nice ta-da moment.
The substituted letter code was annoying, just too many letters to
note down upfront with so little payoff - I especially wanted to use
the vehicle swerve spell to cross the busy road, it doesn't seem fair
I couldn't. Another disappointment was the lack of punishment for Mrs
Pepper, not even just for the elf but also for killing her husband -
in fact with the wheelchair etc, I was hoping for this theme to have
been developed and for some evidence to be collectable to give Mrs P
her comeuppance.

By the end, I was even hoping for a short coda to the adventure,
featuring me in twenty years time buying the house and having the
orange tree blossom - I suppose that's a good sign that I wanted the
adventure to continue! Playing through again to test the Hint
system, it seems very comprehensive if a little cumbersome - and
there's nothing listed for the final puzzle of putting the pot on the
skateboard and rolling the elf to freedom which is a little
disappointing after the good work earlier.

Overall - 8. As a relative beginner, technically accomplished as this
was it just did not grip as much or work as effectively as The
Sleeping Princess, despite being much longer (possibly too long?) with
more puzzles.

Eve.Capi...@gmail.com

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Mar 3, 2008, 12:36:30 PM3/3/08
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On Feb 23, 4:33 am, Victor Gijsbers <vic...@lilith.gotdns.org> wrote:

I actually am 'Mrs. Peppers' just thought i would throw that in there

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