Memorable Moments in IF

Some of you may read PC Gamer this month and have seen the article “Designing for the Moment”. This is being discussed a lot in the halls of game programming shops these days: making the moments that people talk about, similar to a film or a TV show. (Think of how reveals were handled in shows like Lost, Dexter, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5 and so on or movies like Memento, Identity, Mulholland Drive and so on.) What you usually need is a defined character and a clever situation or use of that character in a reveal moment.

The article says:


The article gives a good example:

The “revealation” that you as the player eventually come to when you realize that Reznov in Call of Duty: Black Ops does not exist. He’s a figment of your imagination, at least starting from a certain point. Your character had gone crazy. It was the revelation moment – sort of like in Sixth Sense, when you realize “Oh, he’s dead.” Or in Fallen when you realize “Oh! It was the demon narrating the whole thing!”

Does IF have moments like that? Can people call out their most memorable IF moments? Obviously this would require lots of spoilers but this forum seems to have the capacity for that. I’m really curious if IF can provide the emotional impact that other games can and have with many players. (Obviously this doesn’t have to mean emotional solely in terms of making you cry or laugh, but also in terms of providing surprise, astonishment, the “cool reveal”, the subtle twist that you just had to bring up to others because it was so darn cool. Or just the really effective scene that either gave you tingles, chills, or was just plain cool in how it was handled.)

My personal belief is that IF wants to be ultimately relevant to more game players, it needs to prove that it can provide these moments to gamers who are not only accommodating them but starting to demand them.

First three off the top of my head: the maze in Photopia, the very beginning of Spider and Web, and Grant’s tea order in Best of Three.

No. I have never had any emotional reaction to IF. I played the games obsessively in the 1980s because whenever I did, a small dial on my left nipple would go up by 30% or so.

First ten that come to mind:

  • Solving that one puzzle in Spider and Web.
  • Playing after the first scene in De Baron.
  • Exploring the creepy setting in Vespers.
  • Talking to the doctor in Anchorhead.
  • Talking to Shakespeare in King of Shreds and Patches.
  • Beating All Things Devours.
  • Defeating the VOLTAIC WRAITH in Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom.
  • Getting through the dark room in Leadlight.
  • Learning about functional programming in Lists and Lists.
  • Performing surgery in Cry Wolf.

Not really emotional, but memorable: defeating the dragon in Adventure with the very first thing I tried. A friend, who had introduced me to the game and was standing behind me and watching me play, burst out laughing. It turned out he had spent several days trying different things before he hit on the solution, and was laughing at the fact that I did not hesitate an instant before typing in the correct answer.

Robert Rothman

Learning (and using) the magic word in Anchorhead. I still remember how to spell it, and I even have a guess how to pronounce it.

I’m always mentioning this one in various contexts: The elevator in The Lurking Horror.

Finding out what the cubes were for in Spellbreaker.

I’m surprised no one’s mentioned this one from Planetfall:

Floyd’s death.

Maybe that’s not a spoiler, but I felt a little bit spoiled when I heard about it before I got there.

I think there are a lot of things that IF struggles with as a medium - not because of the form, but because of what authors want to use it for. But this kind of thing - the incredible twist on your expectations, the devastating reversal, it’s something I think many IF games have done really well. An important part of it is that in text it’s easy to hide things - you just don’t mention them, even if, in a graphical game, the truth would be obvious from the first screen.

This isn’t a new thing for IF, or even for graphical games (it’s obvious from the intro that Snatcher (1988) is building up to a twist, and it managed to misdirect me, at least). I guess it may be a new thing for gazillion dollar studio games like Call of Duty, but the people on the fringes of any medium are always doing interesting stuff with every part of it - and that includes the IF fringe, the storytelling part, and where they overlap.

Games you might want to try include 9.05, Shrapnel, Fail-Safe, August, Slouching Towards Bedlam, and, for a more silly example, The Tale of the Kissing Bandit.

I still tell the tale of the Sultan’s Riddle in Leather Goddesses of Phobos. I mean, I literally tell anyone who’ll listen the story of my struggle with the thing, and my eventual triumph after days of RESTOREd games and yet-another-wrong-attempt … and it’s a good story. I even do my Sultan and Trent voices (not that Trent gets many lines in that bit).

Not sure if anyone else sees that riddle the same way … I mean, if you get it fairly quickly, it’s just a cute joke. But if you actually struggle with it, it’s an almost supernaturally cute joke, because (well, to avoid spoilers) you feel the solution on a gut level when it finally kicks in.

It’s somewhere in the tension-space between a triumph designed into the game, and a found/emergent triumph, with all the emotional impact and endurance of each.

There have been many others, in games old and new, but that’s a fave.

Heh. I actually played LGOP a couple of weeks back… and boy, did I hate that riddle. For starters, as with other riddles, there were other things (I disremember which, but trust me, I came up with many) that actually fit the solution. Which turned the puzzle from “riddle” to “read the author’s mind for his preferred solution”. At one point the Sultan actually said “Good guess. But wrong.” Yeah, it was a good guess. Yeah, it fit every bit of the riddle. And if the game’s just going to discard it like that, then screw the puzzle, give me the solution.

Plus, I’m not too god on riddles anyway, but that’s another issue. Riddles and safe combinations. Real blind spot there.

Very very yes. :slight_smile: Not only are there are things that fit … when you first encounter the riddle, they fit BETTER.

It doesn’t discard it; it’s part of the structure of it … part of what constructs the solution.

I just thought of an early episode of QI - Quite Interesting, season 1. I think it was the first one in which Rich Hall appeared. Stephen Fry gave the contestants four different people (I think it was people, but it’s not really the point), and asked them what was the similarity - or diference, I disremember, but let’s stick to similarity - between them.

Eventually, he gave the answer. He prefaced it by saying “Actually, there is no similarity between them.” At which point Rich Hall, looking horribly shocked, said something like “What the hell kind of show is this anyway?”. All the funnier because, heck, it’s true - you get asked what the similarity is and you get told the answer is “none”?

Which is my point regarding the riddle. Yes, it’s a clever riddle - but discarding replies that fit well doesn’t make it good, just frustrating. Which I understand was the point, of course; it fit in with the characters, the situation, the overall theme. I happen to hate it with a passion, but I’m not saying it’s out of place.

Bah, should be like the riddles in Turandot - the woman asks the riddle, the man gives the answer, and then, regardless of whether it was the answer she was expecting, it gets tested by three wise men who then decide for themselves whether it’s a good answer.

A good riddle is often misleading, but not so misleading that the wrong answer also happens to fit in perfectly.

It is the nature of puzzles in IF that not everything which is “logical” (in a real world sense) will be the “right” solution. If the correct solution was not adequately clued, or otherwise could not reasonably have been arrived at based on knoweldge that someone in the position of the player character would have possessed, then you have a legitimate gripe about unfair puzzle design. If the author hasn’t provided at least a thought-out response to a reasonable, but incorrect, thing to try, you have a legitimate complaint (in this case, more about incomplete implementation than about design). However, I don’t think the mere fact that something was reasonable to try but still wasn’t the solution means that the author has been unfair. To me the best puzzles are the ones where the obvious things to try don’t work (but do generate meaningful responses), and where the correct solution doesn’t seem obvious except with hindsight (at which point it seems so obvious that you wonder how you missed it for so long).

Robert Rothman

You’re welcome to your opinion that it is frustrating and not-good.

On the more objective matter of fact, you’ve already been politely corrected. That correction stands.

Yeah, I got that, sorry if I wasn’t clear. I was commenting on the structure of it needing such subterfuge, and how it affected the “riddling” experience, and even how it resembled an episode on a TV show. I was not disputing the fact. Merely lamenting it.

Rothman - I understand that, but we’re talking about riddles, not puzzles. In puzzles, it’s natural that there may be 50 different ways to solve a puzzle - and we’ll have to come up with the one (or the ones) that the programmer intended. That’s another matter, and I agree with you as far as puzzles go. But riddles come up with a list of characteristics, often misleading. Unless the riddle specifically says “…and I’m not a XXX”, then XXX is a valid answer to the riddle. So are many other. If the riddle is constructed as to allow many several answers - and I’m not talking about LGOP anymore, I’m speaking generally - then it’s a shoddy riddle that needs to be reworked, rephrased, retuned. Either that or allow all the possible responses.

Fair play then. Though, for my own part, I see it more as subversion than subterfuge (see next post).

And to be clear, the Sultan’s Riddle absolutely is 100% unquestionably unfair in every reasonable sense of that word, but its unfairness is central to its design, and it’s dismissive responses to legitimate guesses is also central to its design.

It plays on (and this is probably why I like it so much, and perhaps at least part of why Peter disliked it) the relationship between the player and the player-character … the PC is getting a riddle, but the player really isn’t getting a riddle at all, but rather an out-of-character, out-of-world, fourth-wall-shattering alternate puzzle draped in ragged riddle’s clothing.

Clearly, this is a risky design decision for some tastes - and probably for some playing styles. I can certainly understand why it might rub someone the wrong way, or why certain playing styles might collide with it at an unpleasant angle, let’s say.