Aurora-related questions

So as some of you may have noticed, my beta release of Aurora was rather rocky. Still, I feel that there is a decent game in there waiting to be pulled out. Here are some problems that have arisen that I’m not sure how to solve.

-The beginning is supposed to have a lonely, atmospheric feel, which is why you start in a long, empty hall. However, everyone seems to get frustrated because you start in a long, empty hall with no items and practically nothing to interact with. Inherent problem?

-I’m not sure how to judge what’s a good difficulty. I feel like a proper IF should leave you really and completely stuck at some point, but the difficult parts in my game seem to mostly just annoy people, especially at the beginning when you can’t talk to other characters for hints.

-How often should one include metagame advice (on what commands to use, etc)? After you wake up Gail, it tells you how to switch characters, which seems highly necessary to me, but I don’t have anything at the beginning advising you to type “about” or “help” (or whatever)–and if you don’t, apparently you’ll never, ever figure out how to use the displays. I put work into the opening paragraph and don’t want to break the mood with metagame suggestions. Should I anyway?

-Aaaugh what causes extra line breaks to appear in random places? Seriously, I have no idea. I didn’t put extra paragraph break tags anywhere; what else could cause that?

P.S. Don’t go download it now if you haven’t; I’ll make a newer release when I’ve resolved these questions. And to the people who downloaded that really buggy first version: I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it’s way better now.

I can imagine a long, empty hall being atmospheric in a film with good cinematography. Maybe in a comic. But in prose, you need to provide specific details in the text to create the atmosphere. That doesn’t necessarily mean cluttering locations with useless objects - it can be light, shadows, memories. (Things that might make a spaceship corridor seem atmospheric and lonely to me might be: humming lights, a discarded personal item, something that’s broken down and not been fixed…)

Also bear in mind that empty hallways are all too common in IF. Your audience may already have preconceptions for what this means that are quite different from your own.

There are plenty of people who complain that games are becoming too easy. Give your game the difficulty you want it to have and stick to your guns. But bear in mind that there are a larger number of people who just quit when they get stuck, so either provide hints, or be prepared to lose that section of your audience. (Also, high difficulty isn’t the same thing as having no idea what to do to progress, so be careful to make sure which you’re dealing with.)

Normally I don’t worry so much about this, but I wanted my last game to have a clean opening. What I did was to have two different screens at the start - first the title, then the game, with a single line right at the top telling players to type ABOUT. In others words, include the meta stuff, but clearly demarcate it from the in-universe text of the game.

That said, working in Inform, don’t you have to output that version banner anyway? That’s always an obvious place for authors to put “Please type ABOUT even if you’ve played IF before.”

If you could start this thread in the Inform 7 forum, I’d be interested in the answer. I think it revolves around where you have full stops and spaces, but it doesn’t seem at all intuitive to me.

As long as you made it clear this was a beta, your players are probably A) Specifically looking for where they can help you. B) Focusing on letting you know what they didn’t like about the game.

There’s no need to apologise. Almost every IF game has flaws in its first beta. Finding them at this stage is a good thing. :wink:

Just one thing. I may be wrong, but it seems that you’ve been uploading beta versions of Aurora directly to the IFArchive, without ever making it known on IFDB that it’s not beta anymore. I have downloaded 3 versions of Aurora already, all of them saying “release 1”, all of them different sizes (and the latest one being corrupt).

If this is what you’re doing, I’d like to ask you to consider rapidshare or megaupload or some other service to share your beta with your testers, and wait until it’s ready before you add it to the archive - it gets so confusing. Also, please start incrementing the number of releases - it gets even more confusing.

I just played a few turns (went and searched for it on the IF-archive and plopped it into Quixe before I got to the part of your message where you said not to download it. I fail the idiot test), and I agree with pretty much everything Pacian said. Especially this:

And in your case, I think you have good reason to put atmospheric stuff in the corridor – as far as I can tell, the original PC isn’t supposed to have any trouble remembering the layout of the ship, so you can spice up the corridor descriptions with what’s behind all those doors, and hook memories etc. onto that. It doesn’t seem like the player should have to walk through every door to see what’s behind it.

[spoiler]In particular, I walked into Cryo 3 and got this message:

and my thought was “Hey! I don’t know that.”[/spoiler]

Also, I think more metagame hints can be a good idea. The response to “west” was good; and the first time the player examines a display you can tell them about “consult display about x.” (Redirecting “consult pod about x” to that might be nice too, or did that turn out to be incredibly annoying?) Telling the player about commands when they need them is a good idea, I think.

Oh, and cruelty level might be a good thing to mention in the ABOUT – can the game be made unwinnable?

I really like the idea of switching among multiple PCs to perform different tasks.

Give the player something to do that evokes the feel you want. Remember, the player’s reactions and commands are part of the story - if you just plop him on an empty corridor, the atmosphere will get lost as soon as the player leaves. Loneliness and atmosphere rely on time, and time in IF has to be filled with reading, thinking and interacting. It’s part of the nature of IF that it takes only a moment to do anything, but it can take a very long time to react and understand the immediate consequences of an action.

Difficulty and cruelty basically come down to the public you want to reach; but within a set level of difficulty, there is such a thing as frustrating. Do implement a hint system, or at least a hint file to give to your testers. Record how often they have to refer to the hints, and more importantly, how they felt about a puzzle once they solved it, with or without hints - if they’re as mystified by the solution as they were by the problem, then something is probably amiss. Furthermore, in-game clues can come from everywhere, but it’s very easy for them to sometimes get lost in the shuffle of detail in object descriptions, etcetera. A good rule of thumb is that seeing something happening is much more likely to be taken as a clue than seeing something in a description.

Traditionally, the words “New players should type ABOUT” come either just before the first prompt or right after the banner text - that’s the part with the title, author’s name, serial number and so on. I strongly suggest you don’t remove the banner entirely, although delaying or replacing it with an equivalent for stylistic reasons is cool. If the player needs meta-game help to get through a section prior to the title text, then either you give it to them earlier, or delay the moment when it’s necessary.

But ultimately: Not knowing how the game’s interface works is much more of an immersion-breaker than an unobtrusive message telling them to try >FITZO LAMP.

I’ve got a newer version compiled now, by the way. (And I was forgetting to increment the release numbers. facepalm)