I’ve been interested in learning about puzzle design for longterm games vs short games, and I’d like to learn more about it from the community, because it seems like this is something people have thought about a lot.
Many of the short IFComp winners have much more text than the early Infocom games, but those early games could take a month or more to win; many people did not get frustrated during while working on the puzzles, or got frustrated but enjoyed it. I played Adventure after having tried many more ‘new school’ games, and I played it over a month, and I didn’t get frustrated; I loved the challenge it provided.
So where do games with a month’s worth of gameplay get it from?
-Is it the puzzle ‘flowchart’ (Solving A unlocks B, C, and G?)? I considered this, that perhaps the easier games just had a linear flowchart with few puzzles while long games had a broad flowchart. However, Spellbreaker is pretty linear, and is one of the longest Infocom games. It has a structure a lot like Violet, with a tight opening and then a gentle broadening before a finale.
-Is it the difficulty of coming up with a solution to a particular puzzle? This has to be part of it; if all the puzzles are easy, the game will be over soon. Although A Mind Forever Voyaging had no real puzzles (except for the endgame), but seemed to provide a LOT of gameplay time with, again, less text than many modern classics.
-Is it the red herrings? This is one thing I’ve considered: that early adventure games had a lot more red herrings, and that Infocom (and other publishers of similar quality) made games fun by providing interesting responses to interactions with the red herrings.
-Is it the cruelty rating on the Zarfian scale? Many old games locked you out of victory unknowingly (like Curses! and Spellbreaker), requiring you to play as far as you can until you get stuck, then replay, changing your actions to make that part winnable.
My guess is that the last two are some of the best ways to make a long-lasting, fun game, but I don’t know.
By the way, I’m talking about a specific class of game here. I feel like there are several classes of Big Games (like Gijsber’s first and second ideals):
Class 0 (the one I’m talking about): 10+ hours of gameplay, much of it retrying the same portions over and over
Examples: Adventure, Zork, Hadean Lands, Curses!
Class 1: 4+ hours of gameplay divided into manageable ‘chunks’, with each chunk completable in an hour or so, and with little to no need to revisit puzzles.
Examples: Anchorhead, Counterfeit Monkey, Worlds Apart, Blue Lacuna, King of Shreds and Patches, Andy Phillips games
Class 2: 2+ hours of gameplay, designed for maximum player accessibility and offering branching or procedural gameplay for replay value
Examples: Superluminal Vagrant Twin, 80 Days, Choice of Games
I feel like I could confidently work on a Class 1 game that I felt good about (basically stringing IFComp-size games together) or a Class 2 game (where writing content is the main obstacle), but I have no idea how to write a Class 0 game. Very few have been written in the last decade (Make it Good and Hadean Lands, maybe Endless, Nameless and One Eye Open, although the last one is fairly short for class 0). I really like class 0 games; does anyone have any suggestions on how to write one?