In my project, I currently have to decide whether to introduce an NPC automatically after a certain number of turns, or whether I want to force the player to examine a scenery object (albeit a fairly conspicuous one), after which the NPC will be revealed. I somewhat favor the second approach, because it’s more interactive. If the player doesn’t have to examine the object, the player will merely have to wait (or look) while the internal fuse runs down and the routine brings the NPC into play. However, I believe that people inexperienced with IF would be unlikely to examine scenery objects. Even though I would say that I’m primarily writing for the IF community, I don’t want my friends and family to give up on me if I manage to get them to play it at all. Furthermore, I don’t want to break the pacing by having the game stall out indefinitely; I think that could spoil the effect.
It’s also not as if the player would have to kill many turns just waiting. In fact, she would only have to wait once, or else do three other moves. (I’m using Hugo, which causes three turns to pass on the WAIT command.) I’m pretty much leaning on introducing the NPC after the fuse runs down, even though I wish I could add something interactive about it.
If the scenery is fairly obvious, then I’d say go ahead an use a timer. Maybe not 3 turns, but something, just as a fail-safe. I don’t tend to examine lots of stuff as a general rule, but not because I don’t know how. It’s just not a habit with me.
Will the player be able to move to different rooms and still be able to examine the scenery object? (I don’t know Hugo so I’m not sure about the specific terminology.) As long as it’s not possible for players to miss the encounter completely by moving to a new location, a three - turn timed hint (as Pacian described) seems fine to me. Forcing a player to perform some useless action in the same location for three turns or wait (even if that would automatically take three turns), would be annoying as hell.
Allowing the player to examine the scenery object and making the encounter happen automatically in three turns is something I hadn’t thought of. It’s a good idea. I’m not sure if I could come up with a good way to drop a hint that the scenery object has to be examined, other than by making it the most interesting element of the room. The way I have it now, the scenery object itself only just becomes visible, because the PC was in the dark and has just acquired light, so I think most veteran IF players would naturally choose to examine it.
No, at this point, the player has no other room to travel to, and the majority of the game will not open to the player until she interacts with this NPC. There’s pretty much nothing to do except examine the object, so I definitely need some mechanism to either trigger the encounter or leave an explicit hint in the player doesn’t.
Thanks for the suggestions! Why don’t we transform this thread from a discussion of my particular situation to a more general discussion of adventure craft. Is it ever appropriate to force the player to examine any object, halting advancement until she does so? Sometimes we may have written a description that we feel is critical for the player to read in order to best appreciate the game.
Heh. It’s difficult to imagine how a forced action is “more interactive” than a forced meeting. But beyond that, here’s another vote for “both.” If something needs to happen, leave it as an opportunity for the player, but otherwise, make it happen one way or the other.
I’m sure we could offer suggestions if we knew more about the object
To help the player appreciate the game … maybe not. To allow advancement, certainly.
x oak panel
On close scrutiny, the worm-eaten oak panel proves to have hinges on one edge!
This is a simple puzzle, and a pretty common type, I’m sure.
My personal suggestion would be, if examining something in the room is important, make the object stand out in the room description in some way. Call it “an interesting-looking painting” in the room description, or something like that. I mean, that’s a lame but serviceable example. Better might be something like, “Recessed lighting plays down across the painting, and an armchair has been drawn up facing it, as if the owner of the mansion spent many hours in contemplation of the gilt-framed portrait.” The reader who fails to examine the painting is just being stubborn.
I read somewhere that one of the purposes of puzzles in IF is pacing. Not just a built-in delay before the story can continue, but a sort of test of whether the player is ready to learn more. By performing certain actions (e.g. solving a puzzle), the player demonstrates that they understand enough about the game world to appreciate the bit of story you’re about to give them.
For that reason, I’m against timed auto-solutions. On the other hand, I’m fully in favor of timed hints - the point is for the player to understand what’s expected of them, so if they don’t seem to be getting that, it’s perfectly appropriate to give them a nudge.