Non-Exploration Games

I wonder how many IF games there have been that are not about exploration — i.e., in which the main character is not portrayed as exploring anything (because he/she is already familiar where and what everything is in the vicinity, like most people most of the time). So there would probably have to be a strong central goal other than exploration and no exploration would really be required to reach it.

Infiltration, and invasion of monsters’ domiciles counts as exploratory. Defending a stronghold against an attack could possibly qualify as non-exploratory, depending on the mandatory puzzles you have to solve.

Let’s put it this way: not only aren’t there any keys in any locks, but it wouldn’t even make sense to try a key in any locks, or to look for the keys to any locks, because the main cahracter isn’t actually looking for anything.

Let’s say CYOA in general wouldn’t qualify because it’s very easy to write a non-exploration game in it, so I would presume there would be too many candidates — unless its object model is so sophisticated that is basically a parser game without the parser, but it still isn’t about exploration… then I would be intrigued.

Asking a bunch of people a bunch of things in order to solve a mystery is just a social form of exploration — let’s call that ruled out as well, basically because shifting exploration into the social realm does not really intrigue me, and I am looking for non-exploratory ways to be intrigued in IF.

Any games you can list that qualify will be moved very high on my to-play list. If there basically aren’t any games that fit these requirements, I will be sad but also motivated.

I would be very curious to see what titles pop up here, because I can’t see IF without a modicum of exploration. I mean, there comes a time when you stop exploring and start using the knowledge/items you have, and that seems to fit what you want, but that comes after the player gets used to the surroundings. The way to elliminate that would be to put the player in a spot he instantly knows everything about. I’m not sure that’s possible.

The closest I can think of is a game, like Moonmist, where almost all of the information is available pre- and meta-game, in Moonmist’s case a brochure which practically has a game map and room descriptions. When you go in, you’re already very familiar with the game. But you still have to explore the place…

Or maybe I’m misunderstanding, taking it too far? In that case a puzzlefest like Heist would fit the bill, because you’re not looking for anything but actively trying to solve a puzzle. But isn’t that true of every IF? You’re never really exploring just for the sake of exploring, even in A Mind Forever Voyaging you had goals.

EDIT - Heh, second time you say “I’m looking for this and that” and I immediately say “I don’t think there are any”. I swear it’s not on purpose. :slight_smile: But as I’m typing this I remember two games that might fit the bill… “Baron” and “Fate”… there IS exploration but it’s far from being the focus…

And then of course there is “Figaro”, but that’s as much a joke as a thought experiment.

Thanks for those names, Peter. Yeah, I don’t blame you for finding it hard to think of examples, given all my requirements. You are correct that it is very hard to avoid exploration even when it is not the main goal, but that is precisely what I’m looking for. I’m looking for a game in which you are not expected to open every box, look in every container, examine every object, go through every door, and enter every room, and in which, while you may perform some of those actions sometimes, the player does not feel obligated to do any of those things unless specifically tipped, because it’s not an exploration game. Avoiding the ‘Moonmist effect’ where you’re supposed to know everything but have to act exactly like an explorer anyway – I especially dislike that!

It’s very odd the way, no matter what kind of story is being told, if you read the actual transcript, or follow the player’s actual actions, the main character is always busy taking apart all of his or her possesions (or even odder, somebody else’s possessions). I would like to see some games in which everything the player does is actually an action that it makes sense for the main character to do in the narrative, and it isn’t typically to explore.

I agree it’s difficult which is why I thought, ;Maybe there aren’t any,’ but that can’t really be true … can it? I will check out ‘Baron’ and ‘Fate’.

Hmmm. Would it count if the player tries to examine every nook and cranny, and the game gently but firmly discourages them? Or if the game simply doesn’t have much in the way of hidden objects?

If “1984” is a good example of what you mean, then maybe I understand. :slight_smile:

“La femme qui ne soppurtait pas les ordinateurs” is not about exploration, but it’s not IF either, so I’m pretty sure it doesn’t count.

EDIT - Hmmmm. I’m starting to think what you want are games that are so focused on story and writing that the puzzles take a back seat, and as a result, if there’s a non-standard action the player should take - such as even looking under a bed - he is heavily prompted to do so. Is this it? It’s just that I’ve seen this heavily criticised, it tends to create static fiction disguised as interactive.

EDIT 2 - I have to start thinking all my posts at once instead of constantly editing them. :stuck_out_tongue:

That’s one way of doing it, I guess. Not the one I was specifically thinking of (which I won’t get into as it will only launch me into talking about my WIP again and I don’t want my threads to keep ending that way). But it sounds like it might qualify depending on what they are encouraged to do in its place.

I never played that game – I usually am not particularly drawn to games based on novels, but if you say it fits the bill, I will try it.

Well it sounds interesting! But probably off-point. Maybe I will try it anyway.

Probably deservedly so. So, nah. I like puzzles. However, there are plenty of possible puzzle designs that are non-exploratory. I really don’t think the puzzle design is the sticking point, I think the sticking point is creating a process of discovery for the player that does not revolve around obsessively pushing the main character into every corner as if they aren’t a person but a sniffing dog, or an extremely nosy and impertinent conversationalist. I am looking for a play loop that does not impose a single, compulsory, weird personality on the main character, just so the player can get all the necessary info to solve the puzzles.

Oh, don’t worry. It’s got absolutely nothing to do with the novel, and it’s a short game to boot.

So a game with a well defined player character that refuses to do some things on account of their personality would be ok?

“Prized Possession” comes to mind. You’re thrust into a series of situations, and your focus is to get out of them, rather than explore heavily.

EDIT - “Memento Moratori”, incidentally, pokes fun at exactly what you describe. Now THERE’s an introcomp game I’d have loved to see completed.

EDIT 2 - Oh, hey! You might enjoy “Constraints”! It’s not exactly within the scope of this thread, but I think you’ll find it interesting.

EDIT 3 - I mean the one by Martin Bays, not Stephen Grenade’s. Grenade’s game might well be excellent but I just haven’t played it yet.

EDIT 4 - Oh, ke-rap. Scratch “1984”, my bad. It’s actually “1981”.

Prized Possession sounds like a prime candidate, as long as most of the things I type aren’t attempts to find things in the room that will help get me out. And I will try those others. Peter, thanks for helping me with your great breadth of knowledge about all these corner-case games.

I wish I could recall whether that was the case, but it’s a while since I played it. Have fun. :slight_smile:

Maybe you should run an anti-exploratory game jam…

“Rameses” was the first one that leapt to mind. Of course it’s exhibit A for the “static fiction disguised as IF” complaint. I suppose Galatea counts as exploration through conversation. I thought of “Monday 16:30,” where you’re in your office, but there’s a lot of rifling through your coworkers’ desks for stuff, somewhat justified in that they’re jerks and you’re bored but still self-consciously full of escape game cliches.

Maybe “Shade” and about two-thirds of “Rover’s Day Out”; both of these are My Apartment games on the surface and both of them have to-do lists, which suggests something about the design problems. (Namely, that even if the character knows exactly what’s around her and what her goals are, the player doesn’t.)

“Backup” is a game about defending a stronghold, but in practice you’re going to be exploring a lot of the rooms, because you’ve never seen them before. Not much lock and key though (well, there’s one literally locked door that you may or may not want to open, but the lock is right there). The puzzles are more combat oriented.

Gun Mute? You sort of invade some people’s domiciles, but it’s mostly “You have to go forward, get past this attack without getting killed, now go forward to the next attack.” And the sense is that the PC knows these places. It’s not lock-and-key puzzles (the obstacles are the people and other things who are trying to kill you).

You could also try Revenge of the Fussy Table and The Coming of the Mirthful Messiahs, though those may hardly be long enough to count (RotFT is an example from the Inform documentation, TCotMM isn’t as long).

And a jam sounds like a great idea.

Argh, game jam = panic attack. I am terrible with deadlines, to the point of phobia.

Somebody else recommended that one to me, someone I often solve games with cooperatively. He is a bit more tolerant of SFDAIF than I am.

Yeah, I know what you mean, but I still ended up taking the exploratory approach to those games. My transcript for Shade probably looked exactly like somebody trying to examine, look in various parts of and open every single thing from a limited set before it could be solved. Even when…

…the scenery turns to sand, I am still trying to open the sand, look under sand, pull everything out of the sand, put things in the sand, attempt to manipulate every single possibly-manipulable thing. Because this is how you solve the game, so the main character must do all of this, and up until then it had been an exploratory game, and had been turning on that instinct, encouraging it.

But thinking about Shade brings to my mind Heliopause, which could be an example. I remember the navigation itself being the puzzle, which is not in itself exploratory, but I don’t recall now how thorough I had to be in exploring everywhere in order to solve it. I believe the objective was to get home.

Sounds like a possible hit. Why haven’t I tried this? I will, after I get to the other side all of this family stuff slated for this weekend. And I’ll try the ones from your addendum as well. Thanks, as always, Matt!

Do you want it to be non-exploratory for the PC or for the player? Aisle is of course definitely non-exploratory for the PC. The only way a game can be non-exploratory for the player is when the player already knows what to do. There are several possibilities for that; here follows a non-exhaustive list.* Make the world empty, so that there is simply nothing that could be explored (e.g. a one-room world where one has to solve a non-exploratory puzzle such as winning a nim game).

  • Make all information available, so that there is nothing left to discover.
  • Set the game on rails, thus eliminating all real freedom (while possibly leaving the illusion of it).
  • Encourage the player to do nothing but pursue a clear goal (e.g. in a tightly timed game).
  • Make every action significant and irreversible, so that no exploration is possible.
    In the latter two cases, exploration would still be possible through replay, of course.

Sorry for the disorganised response but I am typing on my phone. The answer to your first question is ‘both’. But I didn’t have such a broad definition of ‘exploratory’. I’m not sure I’d agree that for it to be a non-exploratory game, the player has to already know what to do. It’s the difference between exploring your options (not what I meant) and exploring a physical or social environment (more what I meant). Still, even moving through an environment could be non-exploratory as long as I don’t feel as a player like I need to look in every corner because if I don’t, I won’t solve the game.

Despite this, your list of ways of going extremely anti-exploratory is very interesting! Particularly the last couple of items.

How about Death off the Cuff?

I knew people would soon jump in with better examples. Though I’d disagree about Shade, I’d consider it about exploration…

“Death Off The Cuff” I’m also not sure about. I’m pretty sure Laroquod’s original definition makes it exploratory. But it does come close, as the exploration is part of original concept. Each successful exploration is a “puzzle solved”.

Death Off The Cuff – is that the one where I played an incompetent Poirot-like figure? Detective stories are one of the few types where social exploration works for me, because it’s a detective’s job to ask seemingly irrelevant questions about minutiae. However, I do think of that game as me basically just exhausting all the topics in a room, and that is sort of the key point of my idea of ‘exporatory’, it’s this idea that regardless of what the main character is doing, the player is just trying to exhaust all the text.

What if the player had to be trained to ignore the right text? What if you were actually penalised for digging in the wrong places and examining the wrong things? What if when you asked an awkward, stupid, irrelevant question, you were actually called on it, and the conversation would be irrevocably over? I’m sure each of these things has been done, in isolation, but as an underlying model for an alternate style of game?

Maybe I’m just rationalising, but I feel intuitively that there are a lot of ways to go here; the player could be trained to behave in all sorts of ways other than as a vacuumer of information. What if the player could express an emotion with an actual style of play? The predominant emotion of most IF transcripts I see is something like an obsessive-compulsive panic. How can I get the player to behave more expressively than that? And who else has attempted this? And blather blather I could go on and on talking about my aspirations for this kind of stuff; but I just want to go far enough so that people get it.

I wonder how well Short’s Bronze fits your criteria? The PC is returning to a familiar home and recalls memories of places and things. Plus you can walk straight to rooms or things with single commands.

I’m pretty sure I tried that once, but I don’t think I played all the way through and I don’t really recall the nature of the puzzles. I’ll give it another shot.

To get back to a more fundamental/theoretical level, isn’t most fiction about exploration, in a broad sense? Isn’t it about experiencing new facts, finding new places, etc.?

Of course, IF tends to force players into a habit of examining everything and trying all options, but even without that – One of the few pieces of fiction doing without much exploration would be Robinson Crusoe (up to the point when Friday shows up), but turning that into a game would make it more of a strategy “builder” game – finding resources and using them optimally, etc.

IMHO, “exploring” (or "learning new things) is an integral part of storytelling.