So if you’re playing a game in which you have to put things on a string in a certain order, do you prefer:
1.) To be able to put them on and take them off willy-nilly?
2.) To be told some variation of “That’s not the right order” and stopped if you get it wrong so you don’t have to take things off again?
(1) allows more freedom, but means a lot of putting things on and taking them off again. I suppose one could implement an “empty string” command so that you wouldn’t have to type “take A off string” and then “take B off string”. But then everything would come off, even if the first few were correct.
(2) is sort of nanny-authoring, but it saves a lot of typing.
When in doubt, err on the side of making things convenient for the player. Unless your (bead stringing?) mini-game is super fun, nothing kills the fun like knowing what you have to do and only getting hung up by a persnickety parser implementation.
Also, it’s less work for you if you don’t worry about physics and just have the player specify what they want outright and narrate any fiddly bits. Players very much appreciate when the author/parser understands what they are trying to do and gives them a hand.
PUT RED BEAD ON STRING.
Okay. You can type “STRING [COLOR]” as a shortcut!
You complete stringing beads on the bracelet. But those are not Suzie’s favorite colors in order. You clear them off for another try.
You could get into the weeds of making them remove beads(?) in the same order they were put on, then you get into stacks and arrays…you can let them take off the middle bead, but does that also take off everything above it or magically leave things in order, and how do you figure that out and describe it to the player?
It’s like for a combination lock - is it worth it making the player
TURN DIAL TO 4. TURN DIAL TO 5. TURN DIAL TO 1.
…and keeping all that straight as opposed to
OPEN SAFE What combination do you want to try? (Enter 3 digits.)
TURN DIAL TO 4 What combination do you want to try? (Enter 3 digits.)
451 That doesn’t open it. Try another?
I don’t know if this matters for what you have in mind, but if you want the player to have traversed another part of the map to secure the right order of beads (and presumably also the significance of precisely those beads in exactly that order), you wouldn’t want someone to follow the game’s lead in stringing the beads.
If there’s a note in the game, or a conversation with an NPC, where the order of the beads is explained, you could let the player just STRING BEADS all at once without specifying an order, on condition that they have read the note/listened to the NPC.
This is a very what-kind-of-game-is-this sort of question.
If the player doesn’t even realize until halfway through the game that order matters, then you wouldn’t want the parser to spoil the surprise. Also, it might make sense for the bead-stringing process to be error-prone – the player is supposed to be new and clumsy at it.
On the other hand, if the player has been anticipating this bead-stringing process for the entire game, and they’ve spent all their effort collecting the beads, then you want the process to be more of a triumphant final action. In that case, you want to prevent errors; they ruin the momentum of the scene.
On the third hand, it would be pretty funny if the player panics and starts remembering the directions wrong. “No, wait! Isn’t the red bead next? No, it’s definitely the green bead! Now you’re not sure!” Then, when they go to re-read the instructions, the piece of paper blows away in the howling storm.
The player will collect the “beads” all throughout the game, and will probably realize that they need to be strung on something, but they don’t get the string until the end when they have (hopefully) collected all the beads. They’ll also get a clue at the end for how to string them, which shouldn’t be terribly hard, as I’m not going for difficulty here.
It wouldn’t be too hard to brute force it, but I don’t think anyone will have to, and I don’t particularly care if they do, as it’s the result that matters.
This is actually startlingly close to what happens, although not until the player has done the puzzle. You must have your crystal ball at hand.
Beyond the “guess the verb” conundrum, there should always be an author’s itent on this sort of dificulties: otherwise, I dare say its beyond the pale (lack of experience notwithstanding) to do it gratitiously or to merely irritate the player.
I suppose the author could allow for an option in-game to make the puzzle clue-friendly or uncluing.
Perhaps a an acceptable riff on Zarf’s paper blowing away would be to give you the raspberry for getting no beads on the string right. This could be a way to allow the player to try brute force without being fully brute-force, since the possibility of getting no beads right randomly is just under 40%, assuming 3+ beads. They could also do stuff like exchange the last 2 beads quickly to get even more of an idea of what might/might not work. So you could reward creative/targeted guessing.
I sort of have this in A Roiling Original where you can use an idlers’ slider that makes high-pitched noises based on the letters you got right. But if you get them all wrong, you hear none of them. You can only take so many high-pitched noises, as well. So constructive guessing is allowed, both on any one word and on which words are best (TENTATIVE, for instance, would be a bad choice if you wanted to save slider charges, since it had similar letters.)
And yes I agree a custom verb to pull all the beads off would be nice. Perhaps even one to say “REMOVE [number]” to remove X beads, or “R [x]” for short. In this case the VERBS command might be room- or condition- dependent, so you can remind the player of handy shortcuts.
Failure should be just as interesting as success. It makes it more complex to write because an author can’t just clip a branch and say “game over” but it provides interesting interactive possibilities and an experience that is less on-rails.
If you’d like to nanny a little but not a lot, the protag can realize that they are getting it wrong after x number of actions. Or the world or its residents can intervene in some interesting way (gusts of wind, a nagging phone call from an eccentric aunt, a dumptruck falling out of the sky, or whatever would suit your fiction).
If it’s an involved process, a >START OVER command of some sort would be welcomed by players, I’m sure.
Since I just finished playing through it, some notes on an analogous puzzle in The Dreamhold. (Spoiler-tagged, though I’ve tried to be vague enough not to totally ruin it.)
The puzzle has a very similar shape to the “string bead” example - you need to take some action with a bunch of similar items, and the puzzle is only solved if you act on each item in the right order.
Each item is tied to a particular story fragment, so “solving the puzzle” also involves piecing together the larger story. This is narratively pretty effective… it helps ensure the player understands the backstory before the significant events that follow.
The correct sequence appears in a couple other places in the game; each of them is pretty subtle, but having multiple means that the player gets to feel clever for noticing at least one.
The game blocks the action for things that are totally out of sequence, but not for skips. (So if the correct sequence is ABC and I try ACB, it allows AC but prevents the B.) This helps hint which of the items is out of order without being completely trivial to brute force.
You can reset the state with a couple of commands; leaving to do something else also resets the state. (ie. You don’t have to undo each action individually.)
My feeling is that the ordering aspect of the puzzle would have been pretty annoying if it wasn’t tied to the story — otherwise it’s just an unnecessarily-fiddly find-and-use puzzle — but with the narrative payoff it worked quite well.
Thanks for all these useful replies, everyone. I think I’m going to settle on a partial-nanny situation. I am glad to be reminded that failure needs to be as useful as success-- I don’t think that can be repeated too often.
And here’s the reply I wish I had given to @severedhand if I hadn’t jumped the gun:
So I’m sure everyone remembers when my game The Bloody String swept the XYZZY awards for everything. And quoting from Wade’s review of it:
Walker’s mastery of Inform is exceeded only by the beauty of her writing, which is always lush, terrifying, and immersive. Every scene sings with tension, heartbreak, gore, and exceptionally smart wordplay. The Bloody String sets a new standard for excellence in IF. Five stars.
Since Wade outed me prematurely (will this IF paparazzi scum never stop buzzing around?), I am forced to announce the sequel to the masterpiece: