Adventures in Interactive Fiction

Success is North of Failure

Time enough (to write) at last…

So I didn’t get as much coding done over the weekend as I had hoped, mainly because the telephone company *finally* installed my DSL line, which meant I was up til 5:30 Saturday am catching up on the new episodes of Lost.  That, in turn, meant that most of the weekend was spent wishing I hadn’t stayed up until such an ungodly hour, and concentration just wasn’t in the cards.

However, I did get some stuff done, which is good.  Even the tiniest bit of progress counts as momentum, which is crucial for me.  If the pendulum stops swinging, it will be very hard for me to get it moving again.

So the other day, as I was going over the blog (which really is as much a tool for me as it is a way for me to share my thoughts with others), I realized I had overlooked a very basic thing when coding the whole “automatically return the frog to the fuschia” bit…

As the code stood, if the player managed to carry the frog to another room before searching it, the frog would get magically returned to the fuschia.  This was fairly simple to resolve, in the end – I just coded it so that the game moves (and reports) the frog back to fuschia before leaving the room.  I also decided to add in a different way of getting the key out of the frog – in essence, rewarding different approaches to the same problem with success.

Which brings me to the main thrust of today’s post.  I have such exacting standards for the games I play.  I love thorough implementation.  My favorite games are those that build me a cool gameworld and let me tinker and explore, poking at the shadows and pulling on the edges to see how well it holds up.  A sign of a good game is one that I will reopen not to actually play through again, but to just wander around the world, taking in my surroundings.  I’ve long lamented the fact that relatively few games make this a rewarding experience – even in the best games, even slight digging tends to turn up empty, unimplemented spots.

What I am coming to appreciate is just how much work is involved in the kind of implementation I look for.  Every time I pass through a room’s description, or add in scenery objects, I realize just how easy it is to find things to drill down into.  Where there’s a hanging plant, there’s a pot, dirt, leaves, stems, wires to hang from, hooks to hang on, etc.  Obviously, unless I had all the time in the world, I couldn’t implement each of these separately, so I take what I believe to be the accepted approach and have all of the refer to the same thing.  Which, in my opinion, is fine.  I don’t mind if a game has the same responses for the stems as it does for the plant as a whole, as long as it has some sort of relevant response.  Even so, this takes a lot of work.  It might be the obsessive part of me, but I can’t help but think “What else would a person think of when looking at a hanging plant?”

Or, as I’ve come to think of it:  WWBTD?

What Would Beta Testers Do?

I’ve taken to looking at a “fully” implemented room and wondering what a player might reasonably (and in some cases unreasonably) be expected to do.  This is a bit of a challenging process for me – I already know how my mind works, so trying to step outside of my viewpoint and see it from a blind eye is hard.   I should stop for a second to note that I fully intend to have my game beta tested once it reaches that point, but the fewer obvious things there are for testers to trip over, the more time and energy they’ll have for really digging in and trying to expose the weaknesses I can’t think of.

I’ve found one resource that is both entertaining and highly informative to me:  ClubFloyd transcripts.  ClubFloyd, for the uninitiated (a group among which I count myself, of course) is a sort of cooperative gaming experience — if anyone who knows better reads this and cares to correct what may well be a horrible description, by all means!– where people get together on the IFMud and play through an IF title.  The transcripts are both amusing and revealing.  I recently read the Lost Pig transcript and it was quite interesting.  The things people will attempt to do are both astonishing and eye-opening.  In the case of Lost Pig (which, fortunately, I had already played before reading the transcript), what was even more amazing was the depth of the game itself.  I mean, people were doing some crazy ass stuff – eating the pole, lighting pants on fire, and so on.  And it *worked*.  Not only did it work, it was reversible.  You obviously need the pole, so there’s a way to get it back if, in a fit of orc-like passion, you decide to shove it in down Grunk’s throat.

Anyway, my point is, the transcripts gave me a unique perspective on the things people will try, whether in an effort to actually play the game, to amuse themselves, or to amuse others.  Definitely good stuff to keep in mind when trying to decide, say, the different ways people will try to interact with my little porcelain frog.

Other Stuff I Accomplished

So I coded in an alternate way to deal with the frog that didn’t conflict with the “standard” approach.  I also implemented a few more scenery objects.  Over the course of the next few days, I’m going to try to at least finish the descriptions of the remaining rooms so that I can wander around a bit and start really getting to the meat of it all.  I also want to work on revising the intro text a bit.  In an effort to avoid the infodumps that I so passionately hate, I think I went a little too far and came away with something a bit too terse and uninformative.  But that’s the really fun part of all of this – writing and re-writing, polishing the prose and making it all come together.

Whattaya know.  Midnight again.  I think I’m picking up on a trend here.

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April 14, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

3 Comments »

  1. Creating the most evocative, immersive game is a tender trap, and if you let those impulses rule you, you’ll end up with the most detailed vaporware product ever. (I know because I suffer from the same impulses). I reached a point with my first release that I had to say, “Enough!” I just didn’t have an infinite amount of time and I couldn’t describe the dust motes floating through the air.

    One way out is to create a believable PC, and use his/her/its personality to shut off some angles of the world. Let’s say that your PC hates cats and is trying to escape from a world ruled by felines. He might not want to describe the critters in any great detail except in special cases (fighting the Queen cat, etc).

    And yes, you will find beta testers who will freak out over every little detail and complain about it — even when your game is ridiculously detailed already, or if such detail is unimportant to the PC. Some people will spend their time searching the lava flow that’s threatening to subsume them with flesh-vaporizing heat.

    Comment by poster | May 16, 2008 | Reply

  2. I have to agree somewhat… Progress has been horrendously stalled due to a really busy schedule lately (and the fact that someone recently broke in and managed to steal my monitor before the alarm went off!), but a little voice keeps saying that if I wasn’t trying to do things so “fully”, maybe it would be easier to squeeze at least a few minutes in here and there. As it is now, I tend to think that working on the game will be too time consuming for just a few minutes worth of effort and forgo it altogether. Definitely something for me to think about.

    Comment by Jules | May 16, 2008 | Reply

  3. I find myself plowing through this blog because something about your trails and tribulations in authoring IF resonates with my own. I read a “blurb” and find myself wondering what he’ll do about it, or if he will simply abandon the thing, or if I am going to learn something that will help me. Yes, help me. Every every now and then I find something in your ramblings that I feel will save me a bit of frustration as I struggle to make my own IF works. And, to be honest, it feels good to find a fellow sufferer.

    Regarding this particular post: I find I am taking a peel-the-onion approach, where the onion has an infinite number of layers. That is to say, for example, I write the outer layer of the descriptions first for all locations. Then, like you, I try to figure out what the average player might do in a particular location and provide a second layer for him or her to drill down into. Then I do a third layer in places where I feel it’s appropriate. Then I stop. Yup, some folks will want more, but it’s too much work to satisfy them and still compete the project. This approach is allowing me to “keep the pendulum swinging.”

    As for those players who try to light a glass of water on fire, or knock a hole in a wall, well they are simply jaded IF players who are trying to milk some life out of a game that is otherwise not worth playing. The only way past them, it seems to me, is to write a good game that does something unique and compelling that keeps them “turning the pages” instead of screwing around. That’s the real challenge for me, and I am finding it very hard to raise my game to that standard.

    Comment by Robert D DeFord | November 1, 2012 | Reply


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