[IF-Review] New review available

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Mark J Musante

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Dec 20, 2004, 9:13:45 AM12/20/04
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Dan Shiovitz has reviewed Andrew Plotkin's "Dreamhold" for this week's
IF Review. It's available here:

http://www.ministryofpeace.com/if-review/

Andrew Plotkin

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Dec 20, 2004, 10:31:07 AM12/20/04
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Yay, thanks.

To repeat the obvious comment, the hint system is going to get a
severe rewrite, and I'm open to suggestions about how to add more
zero-to-full-speed hints at the beginning. (Getting a beginner to
*assuredly* solve the game is not *necessarily* the goal: remember
that _Myst_ was played and enjoyed by a lot of people who never
finished it.)

> Similarly it caters to both people who like red herrings (a
> surprisingly large number) and people who like puzzles that require
> careful exploration and lateral thinking -- but if you spend your
> careful-exploration energy on a red herring, sucks to be you. In
> fact, the two playing strategies are almost totally opposite.

So, is it possible to write a plenty-for-everyone IF game, or is it
inevitable that a long game will only be really optimal for one kind
of IF player? Or is the necessary compromise to have not too much
stuff for anyone?

I now think about the long games of the past, which I don't think were
optimal for everyone either. I wonder if we've been spoiled by a
plentiful wave of comp games, which are short and (when taken in
groups) *do* offer a game for every taste.

--Z

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
I'm still thinking about what to put in this space.

PJ

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Dec 20, 2004, 11:34:02 AM12/20/04
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Andrew wrote:

>So, is it possible to write a plenty-for-everyone IF game, or is it
>inevitable that a long game will only be really optimal for one kind
>of IF player? Or is the necessary compromise to have not too much
>stuff for anyone?

I think folks have gotten used to the shorter format of the comp and
gravitate towards games that appeal to them. I didn't have any
complaints about the red herrings although I prefer puzzle solving.
It's just a matter of taste -- the author writes what he can, and it's
up to the public to pass judgment on his/her art.

It probably is harder, however, to write the perfect "intro" game and
combine that with a long, hard game that suits all levels of
experience. Certain traits -- more humor, a certain graduated level of
difficulty in the puzzles, the ability to feel real accomplishment and
understanding as you progress -- are intrinsic to getting the new
player hooked. But there's no magic formula: Dreamhold has these
elements to some degree (maybe not the humor).

So Dreamhold may seem a tad too complex for a brand-new player, but
then all the early IF games were complex. It's probably too early to
tell whether that in itself is a sticking point.

The game broke some new ground with the hint system. Improving on that
will be a plus. Judging whether all its elements works for everyone
isn't really necessary. It's a good game, and users will get from it
what they will.

PJ

mscip...@yahoo.com

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Dec 20, 2004, 2:07:10 PM12/20/04
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This review says that the setting of "The Dreamhold" didn't hold
together well. On the contrary, I was surprised by how well it did
hold together. Admittedly, the curving hallway with its
empty-rooms-containing-single-objects branching off from it at first
felt contrived. But once I saw how the areas somewhat off the hallway
(the starting area, the garden, the domes, the cave, and the column
room) held together internally, the random rooms made more sense where
they were. I decided that the wizard built the main areas of his house
where the geography would accommodate them, and then connected all of
these areas with one corridor. He then installed adjoining the
corridor all the rooms that could go pretty much anywhere (such as the
painting studio).

--
MSC

Andrew Plotkin

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Dec 20, 2004, 2:06:57 PM12/20/04
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Here, Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
>
> To repeat the obvious comment, the hint system is going to get a
> severe rewrite, and I'm open to suggestions about how to add more
> zero-to-full-speed hints at the beginning. (Getting a beginner to
> *assuredly* solve the game is not *necessarily* the goal: remember
> that _Myst_ was played and enjoyed by a lot of people who never
> finished it.)

More on this:

I now think that there's no reliable way to decide that the player is
stuck. What I can do, as I said earlier, is *conservatively* decide
that the player is (or might be) stuck, and offer a hint. If the
player really is stuck, he can look at the hint. If he's doing fine,
he can type "TUTORIAL OFF" and the game will stop bugging him.

I am not planning to rearrange the hints in the opening scene -- that
seems to work pretty well. I may extend them a little, though.

For example, "i" in the initial room gives you some added info about
examining what you're carrying. But if you leave the room first, you
never get that. I want to extend the range of that initial-help phase
a little. Once you get out into the corridor, though, it's definitely
over.

(I am trying to maintain a hint, now-you-try, hint, now-you-try rhythm
in the opening. *Not* give the player a step-by-step lead-through of
the first three rooms.)

In another thread, PJ wrote:

> One other system I could imagine putting in place for newbies is
> what I would call the unprompted scene change that works the same as
> a hint. So if a newbie was missing the point that he had to "X" a
> stack of papers, after a few trips in and out of the room he might
> suddenly get. "Your stomping back and forth in the room has caused a
> large stack of papers to fall over, revealing a previously hidden
> cubbyhole of the desk that is now in plain view." If this doesn't
> get the newbie to "X" cubbyhole, then maybe nothing ever will.

This is a strategy for a game which you want newbies to *complete*,
but it doesn't serve as a *tutorial*.

Would that scene get the newbie to type "examine cubbyhole"? No, not
at all. You never got him to type "examine papers". He may not be
thinking about the "examine" command at all. He may not even have
started thinking about the papers yet -- perhaps he's trooping back
and forth trying to solve the lock-and-key puzzle in the adjacent
rooms.

What you're teaching, if anything, is that you solve puzzles by
walking back and forth until the puzzle goes away.

(Plus, you'll get a flood of complaints -- both from new and
experienced players -- saying "What kind of stupid puzzle is this? You
can only find the cubbyhole by typing 'N.S.N.S'! How was I supposed to
figure that out?")

I had a hard time balancing "tell them what to do" versus "do it for
them" in Dreamhold. I'm sure I didn't find the perfect balance,
either. It's a bunch of case-by-case judgements.

For example, this is my only major game where you *don't* start in
Verbose mode. Verbose mode is more popular than Brief mode these days,
I'm sure. But I still want to explain it, because *some* games start
in Brief. And the only way to do this is to start the player in Brief,
let him type "verbose", and demonstrate the difference. Obviously this
takes some (pro-active) hinting, and so I put some in.

Similarly, when the player encounters a locked door, I make him type
"unlock door with key" and then "open door". I think auto-door-opening
(as in _All Things Devours_) is terrific. But I can't use it in a
tutorial game -- not at the beginning.

(I do in fact have some unlocked, auto-opening doors later on in the
game. Nobody notices they exist, of course.)

(Other point: never underestimate how much fun it is to unlock a door,
if you're not an IF expert! One of the transcripts I got from an
actual newbie had the annotation "w00t!" after she successfully
unlocked a door.)

Andrew Plotkin

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Dec 20, 2004, 2:46:50 PM12/20/04
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Even more on this...

Dan's review says:

> Similarly it caters to both people who like red herrings (a
> surprisingly large number) and people who like puzzles that require
> careful exploration and lateral thinking -- but if you spend your
> careful-exploration energy on a red herring, sucks to be you.

A MUD discussion a few days ago went around the question of what *is*
a red herring. Certainly I have some elements in Dreamhold which never
get explored or invoked at all. (I think all my games have that.)

But I also have a lot of items which I intended as *rewards* -- you
try something offbeat, you get a cool new discovery. And people
considered those to be red herrings too, because they couldn't *do*
anything with them. (Either because there is no use for the item, or
because the use occurs later in the game -- no difference from the
player's point of view at that moment.)

Now, this being a MUD discussion, we were all IF experts. Which is a
bias. I don't have any indication that new players feel this way. (On
the other hand, I'm trying to make the game fun for experts too.)

I don't have a brilliant design solution for this. The only response
I've got is to strengthen the clues which point out the "normal" path
of the game. (Which doesn't include optional discovery bits.) If
players always know what they're trying to do next, they may not feel
driven to explore every apparent red herring.

However, my last few games have been quite linear and strongly-
directed, and I *want* Dreamhold to have a broad area of open
exploration. (*I* like open exploration, if I feel I'm in the hands of
a good designer.) So there's going to be a period in the middle of the
game where you have a lot of choices of stuff to do, but not all of it
is doable.

Hopefully one particular set of seven goals is both clearly apparent
and always doable. But I don't see a way to completely avoid the
problem (without starting over with a completely new game).

Dan Shiovitz

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Dec 20, 2004, 4:43:47 PM12/20/04
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In article <cq7a7a$ge6$1...@reader2.panix.com>,
Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
[..]

>
>But I also have a lot of items which I intended as *rewards* -- you
>try something offbeat, you get a cool new discovery. And people
>considered those to be red herrings too, because they couldn't *do*
>anything with them. (Either because there is no use for the item, or
>because the use occurs later in the game -- no difference from the
>player's point of view at that moment.)
[..]

>I don't have a brilliant design solution for this. The only response
>I've got is to strengthen the clues which point out the "normal" path
>of the game. (Which doesn't include optional discovery bits.) If
>players always know what they're trying to do next, they may not feel
>driven to explore every apparent red herring.

I think this is the right tack, and I think it's possible to do
it in a game without making it feel too linear. I don't think it's
possible to do it in *this* game without a radical rewrite.

In general, I think the deal is that when players grab onto one part
of a thread they expect to be able to pull until the whole thing comes
up, and if they can't do that they get unhappy. So I don't think
there's anything wrong with putting in cool exploration rewards as
long as they feel reasonably complete in themselves.

In fact, I think red herrings are almost never a problem in themselves,
unless they're maliciously obvious. The issue arises when you're
stuck on some other puzzle and can't figure out what to do next, and
the red herring seems like it might provide a solution, so you waste
some energy there. But the problem here isn't with the red herring,
it's with the other puzzle. At least going by my behavior, anyway --
when I'm playing a game I'll happily bounce from puzzle to puzzle,
moving on when I don't seem to be making progress, but eventually I
get to a point where I've got some thread I'm pulling on, and it seems
like thing X or thing Y will let me keep going, and so I end up just
beating on them until I solve it. The problem wrt this in Dreamhold is
that most of the time neither X nor Y are what you want -- it's some
other thing Z you hadn't noticed yet.

So if you were going to change the game, I guess I'd suggest making it
more of a puzzle to find the mural, but once it was located, make it
easier to find each of the bits -- not necessarily to actually obtain
them, but at least to know where to look, because that would usually
make it clear that the red herrings were not, in fact, relevant to the
puzzle.

>--Z
--
Dan Shiovitz :: d...@cs.wisc.edu :: http://www.drizzle.com/~dans
"He settled down to dictate a letter to the Consolidated Nailfile and
Eyebrow Tweezer Corporation of Scranton, Pa., which would make them
realize that life is stern and earnest and Nailfile and Eyebrow Tweezer
Corporations are not put in this world for pleasure alone." -PGW


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Michael Coyne

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Dec 21, 2004, 9:28:17 AM12/21/04
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On Mon, 20 Dec 2004 19:06:57 +0000, Andrew Plotkin said to the parser:

> I now think that there's no reliable way to decide that the player is
> stuck. What I can do, as I said earlier, is *conservatively* decide that
> the player is (or might be) stuck, and offer a hint. If the player really
> is stuck, he can look at the hint. If he's doing fine, he can type
> "TUTORIAL OFF" and the game will stop bugging him.

If the player types 'x me' or 'xyzzy' as the first move, you can assume he
is an experienced IF'er and turn off all hints. : )


Michael

Andrew Plotkin

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Dec 21, 2004, 11:30:05 AM12/21/04
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I don't agree.

Jdyer41

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Dec 21, 2004, 12:49:48 PM12/21/04
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>Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:

>>Michael Coyne <coy...@mtsdot.net> wrote:
>>
>> If the player types 'x me' or 'xyzzy' as the first move, you
>> can assume he is an experienced IF'er and turn off all hints. : )
>
>I don't agree.

I am presuming this was simply a joke, but it would be interesting
to see if a certain combination of commands would reveal to the
parser (with a high probability) it was dealing with an expert
(as opposed to detecting a newbie, like City of Secrets does).

I'd say it's moot in terms of actual design because the expert
would always type EXPERT; I'm just referring to the
psychological/sociological perspective.

-- Jason Dyer

Raymond Martineau

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Dec 21, 2004, 12:59:42 PM12/21/04
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On Tue, 21 Dec 2004 08:28:17 -0600, Michael Coyne <coy...@mtsDOT.net>
wrote:

At least one of those things won't work for games involving Amniesa style
of stories. (e.g. ones that drop you into the setting without any
information whatsoever.)

Examples from the recent competition would be Identity, Trading punches,
and a few other games that involve an alien or unknown environment. .

David Alex Lamb

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Dec 21, 2004, 6:10:05 PM12/21/04
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In article <pan.2004.12.21....@mtsDOT.net>,

Michael Coyne <coy...@mtsDOT.net> wrote:
>If the player types 'x me' or 'xyzzy' as the first move, you can assume he
>is an experienced IF'er and turn off all hints. : )

Not if the player is a newibie who reads this newsgroup, since you've just
told us all.
--
"Yo' ideas need to be thinked befo' they are say'd" - Ian Lamb, age 3.5
http://www.cs.queensu.ca/~dalamb/ qucis->cs to reply (it's a long story...)

Michael Coyne

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Dec 22, 2004, 9:33:01 AM12/22/04
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On Tue, 21 Dec 2004 23:10:05 +0000, David Alex Lamb said to the parser:

> Not if the player is a newibie who reads this newsgroup, since you've just
> told us all.

Newbie? What the hell, you guys aren't supposed to be reading these
messages. Get back to playing IF!


Michael

Mark J Musante

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Dec 27, 2004, 5:07:18 PM12/27/04
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Magnus Olsson has reviewed Andrew Plotkin's new game "The Dreamhold"

for this week's IF Review.

http://www.ministryofpeace.com/if-review/

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