How Not to Design an Ending

Taking a fresh look at my long-stalled magnum opus. (“Magnum” in this case being a synonym for “bloated.”) In order to win the game, the player needs to have three NPCs in a particular room, plus a bunch of chimpanzees. The chimps need to be equipped to do a certain thing, and the player needs to be in possession of four different items. The absence of any of those items will not be fatal, but it will force the player to go off and get whatever is missing, which could involve solving a few other puzzles.

This is a combinatorial explosion. Very bad design. But for plot reasons, I’m stuck with it.

I’m thinking of organizing it as a set of several scenes. These scenes will only run in that one room, and each will probably have bits of text that will nudge you in the right direction. Plus, the NPCs will be able to make intelligent comments based on which scene is running. Yeah, that makes sense. But it’s still a horrid tangle.

Ok. Yes, a sequence of scenes will give you massive control of what’s happening. But I just wanted to chime in and remind you that embracing the Chaos of a complicated endgame may also be a perfectly acceptable option. With testing, you’ll find which suits your story. Having a finale with lots of random factors and possible combinations that may play out somewhat differently between players is an excellent outcome for a work of IF.
I end with this irrelevant emoji: :corn:

Multiple endings wouldn’t work too well with this game. Either the player gets what she came for, or she fails. There are a few ways to end the game early, in a very unsatisfactory way – not dying, but being arrested, that type of thing. Once the endgame has been reached, I don’t think there are any branches. It’s down to the question of how to help the player pull it all together without being too obvious. Having an NPC say something like, “Oh, dear. What will we do for money?” That would be an in-game hint that the player needs to backtrack and find some money. That type of thing.

I got myself into that sort of situation all the way through writing Alias ‘The Magpie’ and I doubt I could have finished it without the extra degree of control afforded by scenes. Just being able to make an Instead rule that limits a specific action during a pariticlar situation was invaluable. Some scenes almost operated like one-room games which meant I could stage manage everything. I highly recommend it as a technique for handling a complex plot. I’m looking forward to seeing how your game turns out, it sounds fun!

Please ignore this stupid response which assumed "Scenes" as Inform 7 scenes.

Your description reminded me a bit of how the Monkey Island games tended to be structured as hubs with multiple quests that could be worked on separately. To become a pirate, the player has to master sword fighting, thievery, and treasure huntery, and all three tasks were their own mini adventures. Then I think you have to obtain a ship, recruit a crew, and lift the ban on sailing(? it’s been a while.)

That’s a lot to do without help, but the game did a great job of breaking everything into steps scenes can help this because you can trigger hints and outcomes based on how they fire. Appointment for Monkeys is a scene. Barrel of Monkeys is a scene. Barrel of Monkeys ends when every monkey is in the Dentist's Waiting Room and Appointment for Monkeys has ended. Instead of knocking on the receptionist's window when barrel of monkeys is happening and Appointment for Monkeys has ended: say "You'll need to get *all* the monkeys here before the Dentist will check them for cavities..." (that is total pseudocode but should be possible.)

Don’t be afraid to give the PC some knowledge and understanding to assist the player along. "I’m not strong enough to carry this piano up the stairs. It’ll probably take at least four people, and I remember seeing Bob near the Taco Stand… Maybe if I find his wallet he’ll help…"

Thanks for the agreement, folks. I don’t want to turn this into a which-programming-language discussion, but I’m using T3 with the adv3Lite library, which has great support for scenes. It also has an equivalent of Instead rules – objects called Doers. It’s a rather silly name, but the Doers sit between the player’s command and the action processing. They’re designed to intercept the player’s intended action and if necessary turn it into some other action.

Please forgive my Inform-centric assumption.

No apology needed, Hanon. Eric Eve borrowed the whole idea of scenes from Inform 7.

Mine too! It was the mention of “scenes”, although at the time I was thinking, I’m sure Jim Aikin’s a TADS person.

Could you explain a bit more what you mean by scenes?

Scenes are time periods with an official starting and stopping point. Actions and events can be triggered by counting how many turns you have spent in a scene.

(In Inform 7 a “scene” is an actual definable thing that can manage world-state.)

Monkey's Curse is a recurring scene. Monkey's Curse begins when the player carries the monkey's paw. Monkey's Curse ends when the player does not carry the monkey's paw. Every turn while Monkey's Curse is happening: say "You can't help but feel hundreds of phantom simian eyes observing from the shadows." When Monkey's Curse ends: if the player carries fewer than three bananas: end the story saying "Lacking sufficiently-appropriate foodstuffs, you are set upon by a troupe of rabid orangutans and summarily devoured!"

And you can also define rules that only apply during specific Scenes, such as

Instead of eating a banana during Monkey's Curse, say "Hungry though you are, you feel the phantom simian eyes boring into you, and suddenly lose your appetite."
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Rooms divide the game up in terms of space, scenes divide the game up in terms of time.

If you want the player to do this before that, then you can either put this in a room they must get through to get to that (controlling the player’s movement through space) or you can use scenes with scene A where this may occur, followed by scene B where that may occur.

Imagine you have an NPC who say, runs a toyshop. In scene “A”, asking about “police” will cause the toymaker to offer the player a police doll. Only after overhearing the suspects in the drunk tank (which triggers scene B) will asking the toymaker about “police” get the NPC to talk about the crooked police who are in on the protection racket.

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