A good timing for nudging the player to HINT

This is a pretty niche “problem” I’m having since most people likely to play my game are already familiar with the inner workings of the genre. I would however like to cover my bases and think of the player who is new to IF and didn’t bother or think of reading ABOUT. So the idea is to track if the player seems to know what they’re doing or if they’re stumped. I’m thinking counting the turns passed since they last received a key item and explicitly telling them they can HINT would be a good way to go about this. So what would be a good amount of turns? My rough estimate for the size of the game would be that it’s somewhere in the ballpark of an Infocom game teetering on the edge of the hardware limitations of the time, but half of the map is unreachable during the early game. I’m thinking of 500 turns, but i’m really not sure. 200 turns? 1,000? Any thoughts?

Edit: Come to think of it, this might be something that is best left alone until beta. You guys can’t really know how hard the game is (which is hard for me to evaluate) and how many key items there are, etc. so you might not be able to help me with this. Still open to thoughts though if you happen to have any!


An interesting topic. I am adding a hint mechanism to my WIP as well (taking the form of a “beta tester” NPC, since I dislike using a faceless “parser voice”.) The way I approach the problem is to basically track “meaningful actions” which progress the story. Basically any action which works towards the goal. Then when the players starts to repeat themselves without making any progress, the NPC will come up with suggestions. Now not everyone wants to be hand-held, so I make this configurable (like the “tutorial mode” used by Emily Short in her games).


I’m not sure about this idea, it kind of breaks the fourth wall (which isn’t that bad really) and (more more bad) it can feel like the game is calling the player stupid.
I’d mention the existence of a HINT verb at the very beginning of a the game when out of world instructions are less intrusive. And later you can still track progress but I’d give subtle, in world, nudges rather than something that screams: “HEY DUMMY, USE THE HINT VERB SINCE YOU’RE OBVIOUSLY AN INCOMPETENT FOOL”.

The thing about breaking the fourth wall right in the beginning is that it’s really atmospheric and I want the player to be immersed in the setting right from the first screen.

Edit: That being said, your point about the player possibly feeling the game is belittling them is very fair and something I should consider.

In the very first screen they see, give limited helpful commands like HELP and HINT. If it doesn’t register that if they’re stuck they should type HELP or HINT, then they’re not going to be able to complete a parser game anyway.

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Hmm. Maybe I could start right off by telling them about HINT, HELP, ABOUT etc. and only then transporting them to the beginning of the story.

Edit: Have them have to Y/N maybe.

I do something like this: have the tutorial question right away, but I do make sure the help command is mentioned either way:

A tall, thin man suddenly appears, seemingly out of nowhere.
"Hey there!" he says, grinning broadly. "My name is R; I beta-
tested this game. I am here to offer guidance if you need it.
Have you played interactive fiction before?"

R's grin widens. "Welcome to the wonderful world of interactive
fiction! Instead of reading in a book about a hero in a tale of high
adventure, you are portraying the hero, and you get to make the
choices that affect the story.
I will be your guide, providing suggestions at each turn on the
commands you may try. Take my advice or ignore it; it is up to you.
I do warn you when you try to do the impossible or try to do
something the game does not understand. You can always use
the help command or talk to me if you get stuck. Let us begin!"

"Splendid!" R says. "I will tell you about commands unique to this
game when the need arises, just in case you have never played
Pack Rat before. You can always use the help command
or talk to me if you get stuck. Let us begin!"

Players are used to opening screens with special instructions or tutorial bits or questions about whether they want help/tutorials. It won’t affect their immersion, I don’t think. Maybe there’s some disagreement about this, but I feel like it’s really standard in all types of games.

I always do an opening screen that either asks the player if they want helpful information, or just gives it to them. Then I ask if they’re new to parser IF and if they consent, I have a little paragraph about basic commands that I tweak to fit each game. They can come back to all that helpful information with HELP, and get hints with HINT.


I consider HELP in general software sense, that is, how to use the parser/play the story and HINT as leading to the now more-or-less standard invisiclues style hint menu (whose often is a submenu of HELP menu, to which I’m incline to add a more immersive layer, THINK. whose should the realm of adaptive hint whose should be in form of nudging on the basis of what the player has already done, and perhaps has dismissed as purple prose or red herring
(I’m sure that everyone got at least once its moment of not finding a tool/paper/garment, searching everyhere, then stopping to think on, in mind surfaces that overlooked drawer… where the sought tool indeed ended ! hence the “immersive”… and this happens also in coding, who don’t pause after a long fight against a complex routine, don’t suddenly remember that there’s a note about it and how to code it in that chapter of the programming language manual ?)

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

I agree that opening splash is enough, with HELP providing useful information (including info about retrieving hints if applicable). These are just conventions of the medium. Most players in trouble will try HELP without prompting, in my experience.

…but you’ve already given yourself the best advice. It may not even be a problem.

e: as in, if people aren’t getting puzzles in testing, a good question is “why aren’t people getting this?” and looking at the content itself

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Adventure has those smart hints, but writing smart hints is a puzzle in itself, for the author. For example, in Advent, if the player spends 4 turns in the grate room, the game asks ‘Are you trying to get into the cave?’ under certain(smart) conditions and offers a hint. The conditions are, a) the grate must be closed and b) there should be no keys in sight. This sounds reasonable enough, but if the player opens the grate, closes it and drops the keys in another room, the game offers the that same hint in 4 turns in the room.

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One solution to this - do a pre-banner message about meta commands. See 18.37. Printing the banner text

Think of how in a movie you get previews, and a warning to turn off your cell phone, and not to smoke in the theater before the movie starts. You can do that so not as to harsh the vibe.

Delay the banner as in the example in the linked documentation, get all your “If you need a hint, press H” info out of the way, then drop the banner and start the game.

Alternatively, you could even start the game in a “menu” room (with or without a banner drop) and you have a room description with all your commands - here’s how you save, here’s how you load, here’s what you type if you need a hint; press [P] to get popcorn…Type YES to begin." Like you’re in the lobby before the start of the movie and the “vibes” begin. You’d do this like:

Rule for displaying the banner text:
     do nothing.

Menu is a room. The printed name is "Welcome to [My Awesome Game Title]". 

When play begins:
     say "Press H if you ever get stuck and need a hint. Type ABOUT if you want game credits, SAVE to save the game, RESTORE to load a game. Type YES to begin the game.";
     if the player consents:
          say "[banner text]";
          Now the player is in The Actual Starting Location;
          end the story saying "Your heart isn't up for adventure, I see...";