Informal poll: use of hints

I’m curious: how many of you play IF (with more than a marginal notion of puzzles) with the determination to “beat” the game without help? How many are more on the side of playing more for the experience/writing, and don’t want to spend more than a few minutes on any puzzle, because there’s so many more works out there on your to-play list?

I first encountered text adventures in the 90s, and then did not return to them until recently. Thus, the logic/solving challenge was nearly the whole draw for me, but since discovering this forum I feel like that’s very much a minority mentality now. In other words, is there anybody left who could be presented with a fresh new adventure of a fair size, and would work on beating it without hints, even if it took a couple week’s worth of evening free time? (Presuming the game was quality enough to draw you in…)
Shout out your opinions!


I always try to beat the game without hints. The main exception comes up when I betatest a game. I prefer more fluid advance to check all the game.


There are very few games I have solved entirely without hints. ( Games I finished without hints.(
Most times, the readiness to use hints or a walkthrough is a given for me. I won’t have an open tab with the cluesheet next to the game window, but when I get stuck for a number of turns I look at the hints without guilt. It’s a normal part of playing, reading and enjoying interactive fiction for me.

Things change when I open up a game from my “Big long games”-folder. (yes, it’s actually called that) These are games that I save for periods when I have plenty of time to give a game that I expect to be way above average quality (for some definition of quality, be it storytelling, puzzle extravaganza, general weirdness,…) the attention it deserves. I go into these with the explicit intention (explicit as in I tell myself out loud) to try and solve them without hints.

I’m not saying I succeed, but the intention is there.

-Games still waiting in my “Big long games”-folder: 1893, A World’s Fair; Mulldoon Legacy; Lost NY; Curses!; Mentula Macanus and quite a few more…
-Already solved (all with minimal hints and maximal determination): Worlds Apart; Finding Martin; Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina; Lydia’s Heart(I still have to replay it and review it some time…); Blighted Isle
-Hadean Lands and Anchorhead; the Illustrated Edition are both waiting to be tackled completely hint-free. (The only IF-games I have ever purchased)

EDIT: I do realize rationally that this conflates quantity with quality, like a big game is more likely to also be a good game. There are many IFComp sized games that would deserve the same focus and attention when I start to play them.
However, there is something about opening up a mammoth game that feels a lot like turning the first pages of a doorstopper book by Dan Simmons or Tolstoj. I know I’m in for the long haul and I’m commited.


Oh heck, I nearly always have to use the hints! It’s an accepted part of the playing experience for me. But then I’m not a brilliant puzzle-solver (I’m more impatient than methodical), although I’m a bit better than I used to be.

Back in the 1980s, my response to being confronted with an impossibly hard adventure game (ie any adventure game from the 1980s) would be a rapid escalation through a predictable series of events:

  1. Try some sensible commands;
  2. Try some silly commands;
  3. Type expletives in rapid succession;
  4. Remove the tape from the tape player (I had a ZX Spectrum), insert between the teeth and bite down hard;
  5. Kick TV;
  6. Run around the neighbourhood yelling and breaking windows.

These days, I’m a sober and responsible adult who has learned to diffuse such frustrations by turning to the hints at the first whisper of difficulty.

That’s why I also put a full hint system in my own games, on the understanding that it will form an ordinary and accepted part of the playing experience as only someone with saint-like patience and an endless span of empty years stretching out in front of them (such as a person washed up on a desert island along with a miraculously working PC, or a prisoner sentenced to a life of solitary confinement on one of the moons of Jupiter) is likely to solve, for example, The Fairies of Haelstowne, through ingenuity and brute-force alone.

EDIT: having looked through @rovarsson’s list of games finished without hints, I realised that I too completed Stephen Granade’s Fragile Shells without any help at all and without breaking a single television set! I’d forgotten how terribly clever it made me feel at the time. Now I’ve remembered it, I can feel terribly clever all over again.


We must get together some day on top of a suitably monumental building to exchange congratulatory slaps on backs and celebrate feeling terribly clever.

Gizeh Pyramid perhaps? Or forget buildings, why not Everest!


For me, I stopped being guilty about using hints/walkthroughs or even decompiling a game once I realized that sometimes authors just write bad puzzles.

Like, here is a hypothetical scenario: you have to light a fire at one point and the only accepted command is “burn firewood with lighter”, but if you type “light firewood with lighter” it says “I don’t understand LIGHT” and if you type “burn firewood” it says “That dangerous act would achieve little”. Then I’m interacting in good faith but the game is providing feedback that is actively pushing me away from the correct solution.

So I only really try ‘no hints’ if I’m absolutely confident in the author of the game. I played Adventure for several weeks with no hints a couple years back and it was one of my favorite experiences of all time. I played Baba is You with no hints for a long time and it was also fun (although I broke down eventually).

But yeah, I think the whole ‘no hints is best’ idea is predicated on the idea of a complete, polished, fair game where the author has tested to see if it is reasonable, and I’d say that <5 long puzzle games like that come out a year, and some years none come out.


I’d like to know who played this amazing game and didn’t eventually use hints.

I use hints all the time, although I try not to. Sometimes I’m just being really dumb, and sometimes a game has such tenuous logic or such well-hidden clues that I don’t know who would get it without hints. If I’m really sucked into a game, I’ll play for too long and start relying too much on hints as I get tired, so I’m trying to kill that bad habit.

I don’t particularly like hints that take you out of the game on a separate screen. Like, a menu of hints with all the N and Q and so forth. I like integrated hints that know where you are and what you have and have not done and don’t require you to navigate an immersion-breaking menu. It’s a lot of work to make a good integrated hint system, but I think it is worth the effort.


That is an enormously important prerequisite for playing hints-free. Authors with a proven track record have earned this, but for newer authors it’s vital to earn this trust through thoughtful implementation of commands (implementing unnecessary commands and helpful responses to “wrong” commands plays a huge role in getting my trust as a willingly confounded player.) I’ll try increasingly weird (but sensible in-context) things if I trust the author has an ace up her sleeve so I can look back and laugh my nuts off/stand in awe at how ingenious/gloriously hilarious a puzzle is.


Me too. I’ve got a pretty good way of doing this in Adventuron and am now wondering how easy it would be to implement in another language (I’ve been looking at TADS - the manual is 6 foot thick!)


The Inform 7 docs contain a handy example of how to achieve this without too much code through the use of relations. (Although I haven’t actually used it an a game yet.)


If you have any questions, drop by the TADS area of this message board and ask away. There’s only a few of us, but we’re happy to offer advice and pointers.


Yeah, I likewise tend to have pretty fast resort to hints for most games – if I’m floundering for ten minutes or so, I have no compunction about getting a nudge in the right direction. Of course, that’s because 95% of the time I’m playing in the context of a competition or festival where I’m trying to play and review at least two games a day, but I don’t think my habits are that different even without that time pressure. The exceptions are when I’m beta testing a game, where I try my best to bang through without hints as long as I can (though as @ChristopherMerriner will attest I am definitely not above sending a transcript, describing where I am, and sort of fishing for whether I’m on the right track with a puzzle), or where I’m playing a long game where the puzzles are the main draw and I can trust that the game/author is playing fair and it’ll be worth my while.

Though now that I describe this second category I’m realizing that it might just cover Hadean Lands and that’s it (I did need one hint to finish, but I don’t feel too bad about that: I had an incorrect mental image of how the whole ladder/counterweight assembly was set up, and had what seemed like a plausible alternate solution to the chime-at-the-end-of-the-plank puzzle where you need to use said counterweight, so had banged my head against that fruitlessly for quite a while and likely would have continued to do so for a long time if the hint hadn’t corrected my incorrect assumptions).


When I was younger I would grit my teeth and try to play through without hints. (Of course, back in the day you usually had to pay for hints, like Invisiclues and the such, which changes the calculus when your income is derived from mowing neighbors’ lawns.)

Nowadays I’m more inclined to reach for hints or walkthroughs sooner. Life’s too short to be banging away on something I’m never going to guess anyway.

I will say, if the game offers other puzzles or areas of the map to explore, I’m still inclined to move away and focus on them before returning to the stumper. It’s especially gratifying when playing a different area of the game mentally “unlocks” what is needed elsewhere.


I start out with good intentions but usually end up needing hints for puzzle-orientated IF, especially if it depends on forms of logic I’m not very good at or neurotypical intuition (for the latter especially, the answer often doesn’t look like the most logical answer to me even after I’ve done it, even if that wasn’t the point of the puzzle).

If I trust the game’s logic is sufficiently congruent with mine, I will sit with it as long as necessary. If I don’t, I have no compunction about using the hints as a breadcrumb trail, though I try to keep following the hints to whatever makes sense for the game. That’s not always just to do with puzzling requirement. Once I understood what Song of the Mockingbird was doing with its hints, I was checking what the puzzles said about the last few steps on a frequent basis, so I could enjoy the parallel narratives of my game and the ideas the walkthrough had. Also, if it’s a competition game, I would not consider my review complete without checking the hints, even if I didn’t need them.

I do have the cluesheet/walkthrough in the tab next to me from move 1, if an IF game has such a thing, simply because if I get to the point of needing I hint, my patience with the game may break if I have to hunt excessively for it.

As far as game development is concerned, so far I’ve been more interested in making sure the in-game hints (that are about mixing immediate help with snippets of optional characterisation) link properly in my game* and don’t feel like a punishment to read. Producing the classic artefacts that assist with long-range puzzling (walkthroughs and comprehensive clue/hint sheets) is for later, when I have rather more game to path.

    • The hints are in a menu, but as it’s a choice-based IF where all the choices are in the same menu as the hint pertaining to them, that’s less of an issue than in parser (where even having a menu in the middle of an otherwise-pure parser setup could cause immersion breakage for some players in some contexts).

It really depends!

The more I like a game, the more likely I am to forego hints.

I have a strong dislike of inorganic “brain teaser” puzzles like Zork III’s royal puzzle or the cubes in Spellbreaker. I used to solve them but nowadays I blow them off almost immediately. They don’t interest me at all.

Some games just feel unpolished, and I don’t believe that the puzzles will be well-calibrated/clued. I seek hints sooner rather than later with games like that.

It’s hard to find time to ruminate and reflect as much during comps/festivals (though @DeusIrae manages), so I’m quick to seek help in such player contexts. That is not my preferred play style, but what can you do?


I’ve beaten a lot of Infocom games without hints with some notable exceptions:

  • Cutthroats: combination of not caring + guesswork with the equipment
  • Suspect: Too many NPCs moving around all the time. Didn’t seem possible to get a feel for them, unlike Deadline
  • Spellbreaker: had no idea what the box was for.
  • Lurking Horror: not sure what my problem was.
  • Nord and Bert Couldn’t Make Head Couldn’t Make Head or Tail of It: The wheels came off after the first two areas. I only finished it because I have a project to finish all the Infocom games.
  • Beyond Zork: after many hours playing as a character that could not win (literally, the character I created could not finish the game), I came to see the game as unfair and was unwilling to invest a lot of time in what might lead to dead ends.
  • Zork Zero: Close readers of Gold Machine likely realize that I dislike ZZ as a game and, more broadly, as a beneficiary of Zork’s brand association. I think the towers of Hanoi was the last straw. Or was it the peg jump? It’s a very large game, and I just ran out of patience.

Some notable post-Infocom IF classics for which I resorted to hints:

  • Curses: I can’t remember the puzzle, but I do know that I was stumped.
  • Anchorhead: I got myself into zombie games more than once. in one of the cases, I didn’t know what was wrong.

I said that my mentality was all about the solving, but I sympathize with several of the other scenarios mentioned. If I were beta testing or trying to complete a lot of games for competition judging, I would use a different approach.
But mainly I agree that in maintaining a no-hints determination, the game has to be worth it, and the author has to be “trustworthy”. Those are the games where I’m determined to stick it out.
In the game I’m making, I’m trying to bend over backwards to accommodate every possible phrasing for the correct idea of solving a puzzle. Also I’m striving that every puzzle would be considered fair and logical that virtually anyone could solve, if they were willing to try to think about it and experiment a little.
So I hope my game might make the list for a few people of games worth playing through without hints :slight_smile:


I prefer to eschew hints for two reasons:

  1. Few things annoy me more than seeing the solution to a puzzle I could have solved if I’d just given it a little more time and effort; and

  2. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of solving a problem that had been bugging me for some time.

The end result: a few pleasing successes along with a pile of unfinished games. One of these is So Far, which I’ve been battling off and on since 2006. Try as I may, I can’t get out of Caught in Metal.

As @mathbrush pointed out, confidence in the author is vital. Having solved both A Change in the Weather and Spider and Web without hints, I’m willing to give Mr. Plotkin the benefit of the doubt that he isn’t wasting my time. That said, I see four ways this could end. From most to least preferable:

  1. I finally solve the puzzle and spend the rest of my life reveling in my brilliance and my tenacity.

  2. I give up and discover I’d been wasting all these years working on something I was never going to solve.

  3. I give up, only to find out I’d been on the edge of a solution but had stupidly missed a vital clue.

  4. I’m involved in a serious car wreck, and as I’m being rushed to the hospital, I spend my final minutes wondering how So Far ends.

Unless I get ending #4, I’ll keep you posted.


I’m a big fan of the Professor Layton series, which has a lot of innovative traits among interactive fiction, even looking past all the high-budget things like fully voiced animation that aren’t an option for most of us.

Most innovative, and the series’ chief hallmark, is the complete decoupling of the puzzles from the setting. One review said that the game was like a musical, except that instead of songs, people randomly burst into puzzles. This means all puzzles are self-contained, eliminating the hole-in-the-bucket chain of fetch quests. The game is therefore granted some unique advantages in the dispensation of hints.

  1. Few if any puzzles are specifically required to complete the game. As long as you finish some 50-70 puzzles total, there usually aren’t more than five or six that will impede your process in the story— usually low in difficulty.
  2. The game is also filled with redundant puzzles of varying difficulty levels. During the exploration phase of the game, wherein the Professor pokes around looking for clues, a hidden puzzle may pop up anywhere; it can be played then and there or else added to your collection of puzzles to engage with later.
  3. Where you don’t find a hidden puzzle, you’ll probably find a Hint Coin, of which there are lots. These can be spent on hints within any puzzle, which can cost up to three coins each depending on the puzzle’s difficulty.

Thus, Level-5 developed a form of interactive fiction wherein no one puzzle can stand as a roadblock towards furthering the story, forcing you to choose between seeking out a walkthrough and abandoning the game entirely. Any tough puzzle can grant its own hints in-game, while still making the player mete out their hint coins sparingly to avoid being caught without them at a real brain buster.

I feel like these would be good options to explore and maybe elaborate upon, when designing your in-game hint system. Still, we can all use a reliable walkthrough from a thoughtful game writer.


Thanks for your input, everyone… it’s enlightening to hear. I’m glad there’s a few people that still like the challenge of solving the puzzles… for awhile I wasn’t sure :slight_smile:


For non-English speakers, the situation described by Brian Rushton is just what he says, one word out of place, and we lose our way. Surely it was very satisfying to find out for yourself, as I remember at a few cases. As has also been said here, I would love trust and to tune in to the logic of the author. It never happened to me, I was not an experienced player as you here seems.

I want to comment this happens with other types of games, even the 3D ones with a history, a good argument, AND even with technical documentation in information technology, which one can see like a text adventure, trying to find out what was missing or wrong, what the context is, and to what extent it is different from ours, which are the wrong clues, and misunderstandings. This is a text adventure game that I play professionally for hours and days. For the other games, the lack of time makes me go to the hints so I don’t miss the moment of adventure.