Is IF a game or a story?

I kind of have a feeling this question might have been asked a lot, but I’ll ask anyway. Do you think being an IF writer is more like being a writer or being a game designer?

I like this medium, but I don’t see myself as extraordinary at building puzzles, and I think my strong point is my skill in ideas and written exposition. I think I can take advantage of this medium’s interactive element by designing non-linear investigation that could tell a very interesting story, but I’m beginning to wonder just how necessary very refined puzzles are to this medium.

Also, do you think a lot of IF writers incorporate role-playing game elements in some of their stories because it’s a good idea, or because these mechanics are something they really like? Do you think there are some situations where statistics may be necessary to convey a good idea or provide framework for a very interesting puzzle?

I would just like to know beforehand what the community thinks about this issue: mainly, whether IF should be seen more as a game or a story.

I’m feeling kind of insecure about what I’m choosing to do, and that’s why I’m asking this question. I have a novel-length project that I’m working on intermittently, between my more standard IF stories, and I must confess there are not a lot of puzzles. I incorporate a lot of elements of mystery in my story, and most of the interaction takes place as investigation undergone by the protagonists in these plots. I don’t design practical problems very easily, and many obstacles can be overcome by speaking with the right people and creative puzzle solving in terms of advancing the plot, rather than attaining any definite treasure or goals. I only have a lot of experience playing classical IF, and they don’t seem very story-oriented to me; but I know that more modern games in this genre are more heavy on the narrative element.

I guess that what I’m saying is game design probably isn’t my strong point, but I really find allure with the interactivity in this medium, and levity it brings with setting exploration and plot investigation. I think it’s very suitable for the stories I would like to tell, and much of my scoring system revolves around how much information the player has successfully divulged. You don’t have to directly tell me whether or not I’m making a bad decision using this medium primarily as a means to tell my story, rather than experimenting with interesting game mechanics, though this is to me a big concern; but I would very much appreciate any input in terms of whether you see this discipline as primarily story-telling or game design, which element is more important, and whether or not too much linearity and straight-forwardness in this medium is a bad idea.

I apologize for this long post, but please take the time to consider these ideas. I would really like to have a good discussion about this problem.

*)Japanese visual novels, which are sometimes compared to interactive fiction, are sometime entirely linear, and oftentimes require very little input other than pivotal moments that are branching in a plot. Yet these PC still remain very popular in the Eastern hemisphere. Does this convince you that story might be enough as a chief element in games to pull some games through successfully, and if so than why do more similarly structured gaming mediums in the west, like gamebooks, remain unpopular?

*)Did the Infocom games remain popular with people during the commercial era of IF more for story or for gameplay? Was complicity enough to pull these games through?

*)Do you believe it’s more important to be a good writer or a good game designer to create a well-crafted text-based adventure game. *This question is probably my biggest concern in this post.

I know this topic was long, but I’d appreciate any honest and reflective responses.

I’m not exactly a regular, so maybe what someone else says will carry more weight with you. Personally, I think you should just do what you want, and not worry too much about what your audience wants. My WIP is (mostly) inventoryless and puzzleless.

For example, Lock & Key is one big puzzle, and there are a lot of other “one big puzzle” games. OTOH, Alabaster is very story-heavy; the only puzzle is “how do I find other possible endings?” (incidentally, Emily Short is very good at writing this sort of game – just look at Galatea – but she’s also quite good at writing balanced games with a little of both). AMFV is a good example of a story-heavy game which is not exclusively story-based.

If you try to balance puzzles and story, you may appeal to more people, but each half may end up shallower because of it. OTOH it is quite possible to interweave puzzles and story well (cf. Bronze), but IMHO it’s more challenging because you need to balance them.

TL;DR: IF is a wide field; you can get away with a lot. Don’t worry too much about not having the right “balance” of puzzles and story.

Yeah. :slight_smile: I’m sure someone will chime in with that quote about the crossword puzzle at some point … :slight_smile:

Like most folks plodding around in IF, I wear all three hats: writer, designer, and programmer. I’m a crappy, utterly unqualified, kludgy, clumsy, confused programmer. I’m a competent, professional game designer. I’m a kickass game writer. I play to my strengths on large projects, challenge my weaknesses on small ones.

Puzzle design is distinct from game design. You seem to be conflating them a bit.

There are some good ideas and interesting puzzles which directly involve statistics. So for those, yes. For others, no. Replace the word “statistics” with words like “hats” or “pomegranates” or “color-coded key cards” and it’s the same question with the same answer.

It’s a medium all its own, and it’s most likely to excel when it’s approached that way, I think. Evoking other things is fine and fun, but game-scenario includes everything “story” could ever hope to be, and more. IF games are (usually) scenario-based, so they’re games that soar above story.

Thank you very much. I think these were very good responses.

I have been feeling insecure about myself, and maybe puzzles aren’t really an element of game design as I once thought they were. I do admit I have a tendency to try and classify everything, so maybe this can easily make me feel mixed-up and confused :laughing:

I see myself wearing the same three hats as you, Ghalev, and in the same proportions too. I think the puzzles in my story mix very well with my narrative, but I don’t consider myself somebody good with physics are with numbers.

I do believe interactivity is necessary to some extent in this medium, but the ideas in my story will probably be my strong point. I don’t see myself designing brutal puzzles, but something more akin to problems that need to solved in different phases of a long situation. I do think a score system would provide some of my stories with interesting features :slight_smile:

I’ll stick to what I think I’m good at, and try and make myself decent at everything else. Maybe I just got too worked up over nothing; that happens to me quite a bit. What you said about IF being scenario based really struck a chord with me, because I kind of saw the medium in the same light, without being able to express this concept into words. Maybe that’s one of the things I really find alluring about it, but who knows.

So I guess I’ll just stick to my script :slight_smile: Ghalev, you told me that IF is a medium of it’s own, and shouldn’t be classified as either a “game” or “story,” but this leaves me wondering just what the implications of its artistic rules means. Perhaps everyone here’s still trying to find the answer to that one, so I won’t expect a full-blown answer. Still, I’d appreciate hearing any opinions on this. I’ll try approaching the medium this way from now on, instead of trying to draw clear dilineations between other mediums like novels and video games which are still a little different.

I said no such thing. :frowning:

But anyway, good luck with your game, be sure and post for testers when it’s time.

Sorry, maybe I misinterpreted your words. You seemed to tell me IF was a medium of itself, and I extended it to mean this. You also said it should be approached that way when crafting your story that way, so I guess, from that, I construed this.

Maybe you mean it’s both?

That’s correct.

Yes, you did. To clarify my position on “classifying:” Those who can, do. Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym. Those who can’t teach gym, classify and theorize.

I was talking (entirely) about making stuff, and approaches to making stuff. I only classify things when I’m feeling under the weather, but today I’m pretty healthy :slight_smile:

I’ve seen this subject covered both in different forums and different languages, but I’ve always found a common conception (or is it a mis-conception?) where it’s taken for granted that IF is a medium in which interaction is in permanent struggle against story-telling… and interactivity equals puzzle-solving and story-telling equals linnearity.

I’m sorry I can’t extend on this, but I’m trying to finish a WIP which should have been out in time to Halloween (and now I hope will be released just a few days after, if nothing goes horribly wrong! ^_^’). My point, in short, is that IF as a medium should aspire to be the tangible proof that the former equation is not an absolute and immutable truth at all.

Good luck with your project!

Nicely said :slight_smile:

That phrase always annoys me*. Yes, being able to teach something requires a different skill set than being able to do it does, but in my experience it also helps if you can do what you’re teaching. I’m a music teacher and I constantly work on my craft. I believe that by becoming a better musician I’ll also become a better teacher.

[size=85]* Yes, I do realise that the phrase usually is used for comedic effect, and that people saying it usually don’t mean it. It still annoys me.[/size]

That tingle means it’s working :slight_smile:


You’ve probably gathered something like this from the other responses, but for my money, refined puzzles are not at all necessary. I like a good puzzle, and really like a great puzzle.* But I really like a game with a good story, and there’s nothing more frustrating then a game with an interesting story that suddenly grinds to a screeching halt because I didn’t think to frobozz the grue, or because I didn’t mention the magic topic to the Keeper Of The Plot Trigger. (Well, you can make it more frustrating if I had to frobozz the grue fifty turns ago, and more frustrating still if there are no available hints.)

So, if puzzles aren’t your thing, leave them out. And some things that you think aren’t puzzling may be. Your beta testers will tell you about that.

*Definition: A puzzle is good if, when I read the solution in the hints, I slap my head and say “Why didn’t I think of that? That’s clever.”
A puzzle is great if I can solve it myself.

Amen to that :slight_smile: For me, more specifically, a puzzle is great if it leads me through three stages with very careful timing for each:

(A) Ah, a conundrum! At last, a worthy foe! I will now study it to learn its parameters![Pretty Brief]
(B) Damn … damn … I have no idea … gah … lost … hopeless … [Longer than A, but still preferably briefish]
© EUREKA! BEHOLD MY AWESOME COSMIC STUDLINESS!!! [Duration equal to underwear-clad victory lap around the living room, high-fives to nearby stuffed animals, etc]

Would you be my beta-tester please? :laughing: