[COMMENTS] Introcomp games

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Aug 7, 2005, 6:09:17 PM8/7/05
Moderate spoilers for Introcomp games to follow.

Hobbit: I would have preferred a world and characters that weren't
borrowed from somewhere else. Not only has The Hobbit been a good book
and a mediocre movie or two, it has already been done in IF -- multiple
times. It is, of course, possible to redo an old story almost
infinitely (as witness Hollywood, but also Euripides); but I think the
bar goes up after a few renditions, so that the next version someone
does of this has to stand up to all the tellings that have gone before.
In this particular case, that's a fair challenge.

Aside from that, a number of the solutions in this short scenario were
so far-fetched that I would never have figured them out without the
included instructions; and even with the .sol file I gave up on finding
a good dark place in which to use the hat and sword.

Somewhen: This is not ready for Introcomp. There are lots of places
where there ought to be exits, but the rooms can't be entered because
they haven't been constructed yet, and I couldn't find a plot or any
significant motivation. This isn't to say the finished product would be
bad -- just that there was too little here for me to tell. You really
can't judge how good a game is going to be until you have seen at least
some of the interaction. All I could find here was set dressing.

Deadsville: Competent, with flashes of humor, but eww. I am not sure
whether or not I would have the stamina for an entire game about eating
brains. That's just me, though. This does work reasonably well, and the
finished version might be just the thing for fans of zombie horror.

Also -- I hate to be difficult, but I seem to recall the Latin of the
intro not exactly lining up with its English "translation". This may
have been late-night carelessness or something -- I'm assuming that the
Latin was in fact written from the English, and it's easy for even a
good Latinist to make some mistakes in prose composition -- but if
you're not sure you're catching all the errors, I'd recommend having a
classicist friend (and we all have those, right?) proofread it for you.

Fox Dragon Bread: Promises a classic-style puzzle game, but needs
polish. In particular, the middle puzzle had me stumped for much longer
than I think it should have. There could be more attention to different
phrasings of the same command, and more feedback for intermediate
stages of puzzle solution/almost-right attempts. All this would come up
in a thorough beta-testing, which I assume the finished version of the
game would have.

Weishaupt Scholars: Hm. I spent much of this wandering around
uncertainly, then had something happen which I assume was bad; not sure
how to fix it, I quit rather than try again. On the other hand, many
people obviously enjoyed it. I'm not sure whether to conclude that I
wasn't paying enough attention to the text (Bad Player Syndrome) or
that this should be better-directed.

Griswold: Maybe if I had been in a different mood when I tried it, this
would have appealed to me more, but I found I was not in the spirit for
the flippant writing, and quit after a couple of moves.

Negotis: There were a bunch of things about this that I found annoying
-- underimplementation of topics for Harkan, for instance; the
randomness of certain portions; having to restart five or six times
before managing to survive the introduction. And yet somehow I found it
strangely enjoyable. Silly, odd, but enjoyable. And then there was the
missing UNDO...

What follows is an opinionated design rant, based on the fact that I
wanted to enjoy this game, which was obviously crafted with a lot of
care, more than I did. You have been warned.

I realize that the elements that make life difficult for the player
are, for the most part, integral to the author's vision for Negotis;
there's no point in doing these RPGish stats in this way if you're
going to allow the player to UNDO. Personally, I have always been kind
of down on random elements in IF, unless what's being randomized is
purely cosmetic. I'm fine with the idea that there are many ways to
solve a puzzle, some of which lead to better results than others:
that's deterministic, and on careful replaying I could get a good
result on my own. There's a kind of fun in this, if I'm in the right
mood. But I see no fun in optimizing the success of a runthrough by
saving and restoring until I happen to get the dice roll to come out in
my favor.

I suppose I would ask what the stats are adding to the game, and why we
need them so much that it's worth getting rid of UNDO. In a human-run
RPG, the fun thing about stats is that they *do* give the player a way
to customize his experience -- by letting him design a character in
advance and thus choose what sorts of experiences he's likely to run
into during play. Get rid of the character-design aspect and you've
lost a lot of the point of having them. Make the stats entirely based
on whether the player has previously succeeded at random tests, and now
all you have is a profile of how lucky the player has been so far. With
a feedback cycle that means that a play session which is going badly
will likely then go worse in the future. Not so fun. There are various
simulation-type games which I simply quit when things start to go
unrecoverably bad, because I don't have the patience to play through to
my inevitable demise; but at least in that case I don't have the
frustration of being cut off from an intriguing story, as well.

Okay, so the stats *do* provide an element of variation from game to
game. But still, so what? In my opinion, there are a couple of possible
reasons to add factors to a game that make different playthroughs go

1) You want the player to be able to affect the plot in some way.
Having the outcome randomized means that the player has less control,

2) You expect the player to play many times. In this case, you need to
make sure that the game is really rewarding to play over and over: the
playthroughs should probably be short(ish), and they should offer some
genuinely diverse experiences -- scenes that play out in a whole new
way, for instance.

Neither of these seem to apply here. I could see having stats which
kept track of how successful the player was being at arguing down
Harkan to a fair price, or how ingeniously he solved various puzzles,
or how thorough he was about finding stuff. That would be interesting,
it would be partly but not wholly within the player's control, and it
would not necessitate disabling UNDO.

Anyway, possibly I misunderstood some of the effects that the
statistics were having on the gameplay, but that is the impression I
got from playing it half-a-dozen times or so. I was willing to restart
and replay in this context because the amount I had to redo was
relatively small; if the game as a whole were larger I would not have
the patience to play it through over and over to get it right, and
there never seems to be quite enough warning of dangerous events for me
to be able to save at the right times.

On a *completely* different note, I was interested in the business of
the different-colored crystals/statues/etc., but thought that the hints
of the alien culture (religion?) could have been developed further than
they were. So something else I would hope for in a full version of the
game is a chance to explore this imagined world in more depth.

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