Managing hint threads

(This is a discussion about hints, not about games, but I wanted to put it adjacent to the HL threads…)

When I launched HL, I decided not to include hints (lotta development work!) nor to build a hint section on the game’s web site. Instead I figured I’d start a thread here and point everybody at it. (The “Help” link on redirects to the hint thread.)

I figured it was more fun to discuss the game with people than to bang on a web page for hints. In fact this came up during a discussion at a conference this weekend. Dave Gilbert (Wadjet Eye Games) said “If a player leaves my game to get help, I’ve failed.” I replied, “If a player goes to a walkthrough for help, that’s disengaging; but if they go talk to other players, that’s engaging, because they’re talking to other people excited about the game.”

On the other hand, I’ve gotten a couple of comments that the hint thread is now really large, hard to search, and intimidating to newcomers. Everybody is being very careful about spoilers, even in the questions, and so the thing winds up as 35 pages of “I need to SPOILER. I have SPOILER.” “Oh, it looks like you haven’t SPOILER.”

When I set this up, I was thinking of the Counterfeit Monkey thread, which has bubbled on for the past couple of years with apparent success. It’s got some of the searchability problem, but people weren’t as rigorous about questions. You get questions like “I’m trying to pass Roget’s Close” or “I’m also at the university, and I’m trying to get Waterstone’s attention” in cleartext. So it’s a little less opaque.

What do we think about these threads? What do I do about HL hints, going forwards?

The cheap solution is to start a second HL hint thread. This is not entirely ridiculous. HL has been out for just three weeks (!) and the initial discussion burst has quieted down. (Half the posts in the hint thread appeared in the first five days.) If I start a second thread, it will last a good long time before it reaches the magnitude of the first.

Would it makes sense to ask people to leave their questions partially visible? We could agree to regard room names, out-in-the-open ingredients, and rituals named on sheets as not that spoilery. (I’ve already taken a step in this direction by making the map and room names visible up front.)

I could spend time building a web-based hint system, or somebody else could do it. Wikis are always popular. (At least up until they are abandoned spam-traps.) But this gets back to the engagement problem. I want to direct players into the community, and hey, we have a community going on here.

IMO, the existing HL hint thread is indeed broken. It could maybe be fixed by editing your post at the top of the thread, to set guidelines, and asking moderators to go back and edit the existing posts to remove the spoiler tag from non-spoilerific questions.

In the case of HL specifically, I think we should also recommend that people post a total recall dump in a spoiler tag, including DOORS and THINGS, which people usually forget to add because the RECALL command doesn’t mention them. Relatedly, it would be helpful if the FACTS list would contain enough information for hint providers to infer which dragons had been fixed.

I also maintain that at least a few hints could be added to the game itself. The low hanging fruit would be telling players about overlooked sheets and overlooked ordinary exits.

One of the really good things about the game, but which causes a problem with searching for answers, is open-endedness. Because there are multiple ways to achieve something, and asking something without knowing where exactly the person has reached risks spoiling something.
So then we give lists of rituals/rooms etc. This becomes particularly problematic when searching for something, because say, you have a problem with the lead increase ritual and you type in lead increase, there’ll be multiple hit with a list of rituals, which you will inevitably glance over searching for your answer even in those three lines of search bar, and you’ll know that there’s something known as alead decrease or vaccum protection when you haven’t even got to that point yet. Even quite a lot of the items have multiple uses, so searching for one part of the problem could lead you to another problem regarding the same item further on that you now know the solution to.
I think any new hint thread would have to address that, though I agree with the idea of a community interaction. A web-based hint system for a game this size would have easily had me reaching for hints much more often

Is that good or bad?

It’s too late for this now, I think (unless someone wants to do a ton of work) but I think it’d be nice to do a little bit of categorizing so there is more than one hint thread. Back in the rgif days when Jigsaw or some other deep puzzle game came out everyone made a new post whenever they had a question and you could then search that way. Possibly that’s overkill for this forum, but at least divide into beginning/middle/endgame somehow.

(I would say the “beginning” ends after reaching the Nave, so maybe at least Before the Nave / After the Nave to make it a little more sane trying to find help.)

Another method rather than portion of the game might be to sort by “portion of the ship”, which isn’t perfect (maybe someone should actually be below the stairs rather than messing around the north end) but might make it more approachable for players.

The absolute gold standard in hint forums is Caravel with the DROD games, where the forums are far better than any Invisiclues, but in DROD you can easily sort by room and I’m not sure how to sort Hadean at all.

FWIW, I’ve mused a lot about what I’d do if I were going to code a hint system for HL. In addition to the “are you overlooking any sheets/exits” I mentioned above, I think the primary thing it would do is take a total recall dump and tell you a list of unsolved puzzles that you have the resources to solve right now:

  • Unperformed rituals for which you already have direct access to all of the necessary ingredients
  • Ingredients/formulas that have been named in other unperformed rituals that you should be able to find. (There really aren’t that many of these that wouldn’t be covered by “overlooked exits.”) basically just elemental earth, emulgence, Gaian precipitate, Name of the Tortoise, jade
  • Doors/cabinets which you should be able to open (without opening any other doors/cabinets, without performing any unperformed rituals, and without finding any new ingredients/formulas/keys)
  • End game tasks: awakening dragons, ballast, final marriage

For most people, just knowing “These are puzzles that you can solve right now” would provide 80% of the help. Plus, once a puzzle is known to be solvable, it’s not that much more work to provide linear unfolding menu-based hints for the puzzle. (You could even just link to a wiki.)

I have several times considered coding this myself, outside of HL. I’d ask the player to copy and paste a transcript of a recall dump; my code would parse it, and spit out a list of solvable puzzles, hyperlinked to a wiki where individual puzzle solutions could be posted. But but but that would be silly, because this should just be baked into the game itself, right?

I would like to think in terms of what I’m doing about hints this week. Baking a hint system into the game is not going to happen this week.

It could maybe be fixed by editing your post at the top of the thread, to set guidelines, and asking moderators to go back and edit the existing posts to remove the spoiler tag from non-spoilerific questions.[/spoiler]

Spoilers for a mod? :frowning: “Not it?”

(I know, I know, it’s probably part of the gig, but…!)

The heavy use of spoiler tags is a huge problem; since you actually can’t work out whether a question is relevant without untagging, spoilered questions just get untagged en masse, at least by me. I think Dan’s idea of dividing into “phases” might make sense. You still get some spoiling, but it can’t be helped. Anyone who visits a hints thread knows they are doing something dirty, anyway.

I rather prefer the absence of any in-game hints on this occasion. It’s not, after all, as if the game doesn’t give you lots of help; it just doesn’t give direct hints; but you usually have some ideas for things you can work on. Thus far my only long period of stuckness came when I forgot that I had not read one crucial bit of paper. Most of the time, I feel I’m getting somewhere, albeit slowly, which suits me fine. I think the interaction with other players is actually more interesting when plenty of people are playing. And sooner or later someone will do a walkthrough: and if a hints thread is dirty, a walkthrough is truly filthy; but a good walkthrough is a guilty pleasure, for me at least.

“Not it!”

If you wanted this zarf, it would be quite easy to split the topic after the initial post so that the url would stay the same.

That would make life more complicated, not simpler.

What I’ve personally wished for many times (not just in HL) is a very much restricted version of that. I would like to be able to ask “do I have the resources/knowledge to do X right now?” and get a yes-or-no answer. If I’m reading your proposal right, it would not give me that bit of information in isolation: it would insist on telling me that I can’t do X, but I can do S, T, W, and Z (and by implication not U, V, or Y). That seems pretty spoiler-ific from here.

A concrete example in HL is that I wasted quite a lot of time trying to get into

the Tertiary Lab.

Given the room’s location, I assumed that it must be a relatively easy puzzle and I simply wasn’t thinking of the right trick. I was a tad astonished to find out how far into the game you have to get before being able to do that. If I’d been able to ask “can I get into this room yet?” I would probably have done so after awhile, and saved myself a lot of frustration, while not risking spoiling any other puzzle. I would not have liked a hint system that insisted on blabbing everything else I could solve immediately.

Of course, in a game as complex as HL even “can I do X?” isn’t always black and white. It might be that you could do X if you could think of how to suitably alter a ritual you know but have never done even the base version of, let alone the modified one. Does that count? It probably needs to, because a “no” answer might discourage you from working on what you need to work on.

Yes. For one thing, that way you don’t have to expose exactly what knowledge is needed to be able to answer the question.

A restricted version would be fine, and not much more work. You’d get to ask about unperformed rituals, unopened doors, and missing ingredients/formulas.

There are surprisingly few of these, remembering that the contract would be, “can I solve this right now without performing any unperformed rituals, finding new ingredients/formulas, or opening new doors?”

In fact, I can only think of three examples.

[spoiler]Coralicide (which provides access to the Gaian precipitate), lead decrease (which opens the storage nook hatch, among other things), and solvent (which opens the marble/obsidian doors).

If you asked the game if you can open the marble/obsidian doors, I’d say “yes” as soon as you learned the granite solvent ritual and had all of the ingredients/formulas for it.

In the case of the storage nook hatch, I’d have it say “yes” once you’ve performed lead increase. If you just know lead increase but haven’t performed it, I’d say “no,” per the contract. This eliminates the complexity of trying to detect whether you could perform lead increase/decrease, if only you had the right ingredients. Once you’ve performed lead increase, you can definitely perform lead decrease.

In the case of coralicide, I probably wouldn’t expose that as a selectable puzzle directly, except by letting the player ask if they can get Gaian precipitate. To that, I’d say “yes” once they’d entered Deep Stacks.[/spoiler]

Then, IMO, just start a new thread, lock the old one, and set good guidelines at the start about what should/shouldn’t be spoiler-tagged.

I reckon dfab’s right on the simple solution here. I think it might make me more keen to help hint again too!

To be fair, zarf launched the existing hints thread with this instruction:

I think he hasn’t got a lot of room to bitch because people took that seriously.

And really, as somebody who was very recently in need of hints, I understand why people did take that seriously. You don’t need to play the game very long before you realize how interconnected the puzzles are and how even framing a question could be a spoiler for someone a few hours’ play behind you. I’m not sure that “setting good guidelines” is an easy fix here.

Wasn’t bitching; was trying to find a better plan.

We’ll see if the new plan is better.