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Why Newbies don’t like IF January 10, 2006

Posted by samwyse in Interactive Fiction.
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Good games teach you the set of commands that you need to play the game. Almost every IF game extends the “standard” grammar in some way or another. This makes it easy to fall into a “guess the verb” puzzle. The trick to to remember Chekov’s gun and apply it in reverse. If you are going to use the verb “transmorgrify” in the third act, you need to introduce it in the first.

Look at some “simple” but popular graphics games: Tetris, Lemmings, etc. In each of these, the early rounds are simple, teaching the player the vocabulary of the game. In Lemmings, for those who don’t recall, there are a half-dozen or so types of lemmings that you can control. The first few rounds introduce them one at a time, then the next few few let you play with various combinations of one or two. It isn’t until well into the game that the player has to juggle all of the different classes to solve the puzzles.

You have to do the same thing in IF. Look at the Enchanter series: There you had to learn a large number of spells, but they weren’t all thrown at you at once. If you create a story that starts the player in a room with a computer, that room can’t just be a puzzle, it has to teach the player how to use computers in the game. And that requires customization — a lot of it, in fact. USE COMPUTER shouldn’t neither say “Huh?” nor should it magically do what is needed at that point. Instead, perhaps it should list the things that can be done. In other words, USE (and other general verbs) might be implemented as a type of on-line help system:

> USE COMPUTER
Do you want to turn the computer on or off, list the available programs, run one of them, or insert or remove a floppy?
> LIST PROGRAMS
(First turning on the computer)
This computer has three programs: email, notepad, and crypto.
> RUN EMAIL PROGRAM
Do you want to compose a message to someone or read your messages?
> COMPOSE A MESSAGE TO GRAHAM
You send a message to Dr. Xavier, telling him of your discoveries in the Mayan ruins.

Et cetera.

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