Regarding a recent view on Anchorhead

Matt_W has posted a very nice review of Anchorhead on IFDB. … view=29389

I would like to comment on it because it reveals a mindset that I found very, very interesting - because they seem to relate to the expectations of the IFers today, and there is a clear contrast to what the IF player is expected to do today to solve a puzzle vs what they used to be expected to do. And I’m not even talking about sprawling, hard to map geography, or extensive note-taking, or inventory limits - I’m talking about finer stuff.

I’m about to pick up bits of Matt_W’s review, but I want this to be absolutely clear - I’m not putting him down. On the contrary, I find this, as I said, very interesting, and would like to take this as possibly a starting point on what IF players are “expected to expect” nowadays - and indeed whether IF should accomodate this view!

Matt_W then proceeds to illustrate this with some examples, and I was surprised to see that those examples weren’t really anything special. They were instances where it was clear that an irrevocable action had taken place, and the usual IFer of Anchorhead’s release date would think nothing of not making that action until they were certain that they could get through with their inventory reasonably intact. Back then, leaving a dropped item anywhere was unthinkable - who knew when you might need it again? And an author thought little of allowing the player to drop an item in a soon-to-be-inaccessible room, because hey, who was going to do that crazy thing?

This is what really, really prompted me to start this thread. I was very surprised to hear this sentiment voiced, and I wondered if it indicated a real shift in what IF playing is to new IFers. Is it that in modern IF everything interactible is expected to be listed apart from the scenery, which one may skim at one’s leisure? That would certainly explain why I see some games with very little scenery implemented (“You can’t see any such thing”. You liar, clearly I do, because it’s in the room description!) and all of the interaction is in the next paragraph, where actual objects are listed.

It’s only a couple of things, you see, but they hint really, really strongly at an interesting change in expectation on the part of the player. Some time ago I wrote (on RAIF, I think) about how deeply I was supposed, as a player, to examine items - am I expected to examine, search, look under and look behind every single item unprompted? Of course not (and yet, in the old Speccy text adventure days, I was!). Yet some exploration is in order. Is that exploration dwindling away in the eyes of new IFers?

Of course, new and exciting things are taking the place of this compuslive kleptomania and exploration. Narrative currently rates very high, and I often see new IF works doing things no other game had ever done - maybe it’s small things, maybe it’s big things, but the size doesn’t matter because it remains wonderfully fresh. So I’m not bemoaning a loss, or anything; I’m not waxing nostalgic. I’m not nursing a drink in the corner of the room glaring at everyone else and going “Bah, these young’uns don’t know a thing, mumble mumble, in my day we, we, we were unfaired to and, and, and we damn well liked it, hmm, or just hated it very quiet like. I remember, I, I remember… I… Oh yes love, another drink, please”.

I’m just quite interested. :slight_smile: What expectations do IFers have today? What do they expect to have to do to get through a work of IF? And how has this affected authors and designers? Are designers even aware that they are designing for an audience with certain expectations, or are you authors just doing your own thing the way you like it done?

Interesting topic! For the moment I only have something to say about this bit:

Yeah, I got annoyed by the examine-vs-search distinction, not only in Anchorhead but also in Savoire Faire, which is another game I played recently for the first time. It feels too much like a guess-the-verb bug. I don’t mind it if the game doesn’t go out of its way to suggest that something is worth examining more closely — but once I decide to do so, I shouldn’t have to guess at exactly what syntax is required to get the game to tell me about it.

I’ve felt that you examine with your eyes and search with your eyes and hands.

No question, Anchorhead is very much a Middle School, pre-influence-of-IF Comp kind of game - designed to be played in many sittings, with getting stuck or into unwinnable situations (and going back a couple of saves) an expected part of the experience.

I don’t think that this is completely the case, but I do think there has been considerably more emphasis in recent years on the importance of writing descriptions which draw the player’s focus to the most plot-significant elements of the scene. This doesn’t have to mean separate paragraphs for each Important Item, but that’s one very easy way to do it.

The old/middle-school sensibility was more about - to grab a quote from Scott McCloud, talking about the flat style of the Tintin comics:

If I was pulling arguments out of my arse, I’d speculate that the emphasis on democratic-setting in IF declined as graphical games’ ability to render worlds realistically and beautifully grew, to be replaced with a focus on things - say, internality - where text still has the edge. Dunno if I can make the case stick.

No, that has always been a thing. The poor implementation you shall always have with you.

Hmm, I usually do expect to have to check out things in the room descriptions–in fact I think of the “everything relevant will be listed in a paragraph at the end” as very old-school, like Scott Adams vintage. I’d have thought the trend was toward integrating things into room descriptions so there wasn’t a “You can also see” paragraph at the end. Sometimes it’s hard to find a relevant thing buried in a verbose description, but that’s because there’s too much stuff to check out in the description, not because I’m checking things out at all.

“Search” vs. “examine” can be a real pain sometimes, even given what Marshall says about the difference, if you don’t have a clue you’re going to search–spoiler for “A Flustered Duck”:

I remember being annoyed that I had to search my hayloft to find the saddle when it was something I’d hidden there myself.

Part of this is the familiarity of the verb. If we didn’t know what verbs to use already, no one would guess “examine” (people might guess “look at”) let alone “inventory.” But it’s common to know “examine” going into a game, less common to know “search.”

As long as a game is consistent in its approach, I can play either way. But if the first few rooms have unimplemented scenery and the interactible nouns are separated, and then later on there’s an important noun hidden in the description, I’d probably get angry and quit.

For the games I write, I have my own aesthetic which I prefer: no room titles, single paragraph descriptions, and fully-implemented scenery. To each their own! I’m also team examine-and-search-do-the-same-thing. In real life they’d be different, but the extra step in the game feels like unnecessary work.

I’ve complained about Anchorhead’s difficulty more than once, but my problem isn’t really with the difficulty or nature of difficulty per se - even though I don’t think I’m very good at hard puzzles in general.

My gripe has been with the delivery of the hint and solution info. Crammed together lists of microscopic instruction. In combination with the vintage of the game and depth of the puzzles, I found it too hard to get just nudges, or even to correlate the hint material with where I am/was. As such, my attempt to get myself over ruts was spoilery, nonsensical and just too annoying-making for me to want to continue to play. It’s my idiosyncracy that I’m very easily put off by that kind of hint/help experience. Part of it could be ameliorated if Anchorhead were indeed just a more modern game with a few more technical stripes, but the major part is just the build of those hint materials.

In terms of what I expect today… I’m not sure. I would assume generally More Variations On The Same Thing, except there are few new long form games where I can say I’ve tested this out of late. I’m guilty of not properly trying either of the two most obvious examples, Hadean Lands and Counterfeit Monkey, yet, because I’ve been avoiding long form things while working on other projects.

There’s Blue Lacuna, but I don’t like Myst so I didn’t like a Myst-like puzzle thing when I tried it. Victor G’s advocation that a person could and should try it with the puzzles off is still in my head. But I like puzzles :slight_smile:

Having been around since the 8 bit game days, I probably have no great new light to shed on what I want or expect. I think I’m fairly open to a lot of puzzle styles so long as the game does them well on its own terms.


Just wanted to say that I’m glad my review provoked an interesting discussion. I’m basically brand-new to IF (I played Zork and some Scott Adams games back in the mid-80’s, when I was 8 or 9), so my perceptions may be colored by the few games I’ve been able to complete in the last few weeks. In particular: Hadean Lands, Coloratura, and Counterfeit Monkey are all relatively recent games by accomplished authors, and they follow very consistent search=examine, scenery-can-be-examined-but-not-touched rules. Even Endless, Nameless, which brings back a bunch of older IF conventions in service of gentle parody, follows these rules. It just threw me a bit when the very first major puzzle inAnchorhead requires you to move a piece of scenery around. After playing all those others, it really did feel like ripping an object out of the wallpaper to serve my purposes. On the other hand, perhaps I don’t really have the breadth of experience necessary to write reviews that mention the conventions of “most IF.”

I expect that IF authors on this forum have strongly tended to converge on stylistic conventions over the years.

However, I’m not sure what you mean by “scenery can be examined but not touched”. HL has almost no “You also see…” paragraphs; I preferred to wrap up portable objects in paragraphs wherever possible. The first room starts with the mention of the workbench and door (both manipulable), and then says “You notice a heap of alchemical supplies piled on a table. Next to the table, an iron panel is set in the floor.”


Sounds reasonable.

Not quite the same change, but: I speculated long ago that the shift from “Expect to screw up and start over a lot” to “Expect to finish the game without backing up” was sparked by graphical adventure games. Not because of the visual style, but because graphical games usually had animations as well. (And longer load times too.) You couldn’t replay a game sequence as fast as you could type, skimming responses; it now involved waiting and rewatching stuff you’d already seen.

I had to go back and look. (It might be best if I just stop trying to eat my foot.) I couldn’t find, in my quick re-tour, a location where gettable objects aren’t listed in the final paragraph of a room description. Objects that you can open or move around seem to get their own paragraph, except sometimes for doors in hallway descriptions. But, you’re right, I guess the distinction/“rule” is more subtle than I’d indicated. I was never confused in HL about which things I could use and which were there for ambiance even though it doesn’t seem to follow a consistent way of doing things (except to be maximally evocative with as few words as possible.)

EDIT: And I’ve gone back and edited my Anchorhead review to make it a bit more subjective sounding. The content is still the same, just removed the (unlike most IF) references and similar phrases throughout.

I’ll probably have a few more things to say later on tonight, but I can address the quoted bit right now - in a bygone age, long long ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the Elder Gods were still pretty much the Teenage Prankster Gods, useless scenery used to be minimally implemented by redirecting every single action to it to display “That’s not important” or some such variant. There’s even an extension to replicate that behaviour.

This is barely used nowadays, but it did serve a great purpose - allow for a modicum of depth of implementation while also saying to the player “Look, don’t waste your time with this. It’s just scenery. Look elsewhere for that puzzle solution you want”. Which sometimes is a sorely needed guidance.

You were roughly on the right track. In general I describe immobile scenery before portable objects, and interesting scenery before a storage bin whose only purpose is to contain six assorted bits of metal.

If I were writing a large scenery object that the player has to think about moving, as in Anchorhead, I would mix it somewhere in the middle at first. After it’s moved, it might be broken out into a separate paragraph. (Because it’s now more interesting – out of place.)

I’m not a fan of that at all. It makes the parser feel like a sinister presence instead of an objective narrator. It makes me want to argue with it.

take candle
That’s not important.

O rly Mr. Parser. Well if you’re so smart, why don’t you tell me what IS important?
No. That would limit your enjoyment of the puzzles.

I would enjoy the puzzles more if I could take the candle. You know, illusion of freedom and whatnot…
There is no freedom, only puzzles. And cake, when you’re done with them. Please, proceed with your enjoyment.

… GLADOS, is that you?

I mean, if the parser is GLADOS or another specific character, then it’d work well. Otherwise, the parser shouldn’t know more than the PC knows.

I’m finding more and more that the thing that always puts me off is when I’m given a backstory, exciting or not, and then dropped into a large environment with no clear explanation or goal. Even if it’s just “mop the floor in every room” to give me a purpose to explore. I hate having to act unmotivated-ly to tease out the plot in a location where I wouldn’t be expected to search in every closet and open every drawer.

We’ll agree to disagree. :slight_smile: I personally dislike a game that gets so completely lost in implementing the tiniest irrelevant detail that makes puzzle-solving much harder than it need be.

BUT: context is important! In a narrative-heavy story like Photopia, I would definitely agree with you. In a puzzlefest - which is all about enjoying puzzles, and which I take you’re not a particularly big fan of given your argument with the parser :wink: - this trimming is necessary. Curses, Jigsaw, Mulldoon Legacy, an Andy Phillips game… It really becomes necessary to distinguish flavour-text from actual interactivity.

And, of course, it is quite simple to circumvent this by implementing a minimal implementation of the object. Something dismissive. It might not work in clueing the player that it’s not important, depending on the sort of game (in puzzlefests the whole point is to scour the environment and think outside the box, and everything that’s implemented is potentially useful. So if you implement everything however minimally your player will be in trouble! It’s like a jigsaw puzzle with no corner pieces and possibly no image), but at least it won’t attract attention either.

Oh, I agree! I also dislike being insufficiently motivated - like “why am I putting so much effort into this?”. In Curses!, I keep wanting to go to the first room and type >DOWN and buy myself a bloody map of Paris on the airport. Which is quite revealing, given the whole point of the game and the Curse. :wink:

Very interesting - that is probably one of the reasons! And even today some games have not learned from that. :stuck_out_tongue: Mind, it may also have to do a lot with LucasArts games simply having a different philosophy - one that the gamers adored. Sierra has no problem with forcing you to repeat and repeat things over and over again, and deals with it by allowing you to speed up the game or skip all sorts of major/minor cutscenes.

If that breadth of experience were necessary we’d have no reviewers left except for a handful of aging guys and gals - who are awesome, of course. Just keep on writing, Breadth of experience be damned - you have your own experience, and that’s very important in a review. I find some reviews very helpful simply because I can clearly see what the reviewer usually likes in IF and whether or not I can relate to that reviewer. You don’t need experience to do that - just be articulate, which you are, and be passionate about what you’re doing, which you are. So keep writing!

EDIT - I keep talking about puzzlefests as old things, yet Counterfeit Monkey and Hadean Lands are very recent big hits. But - they are different kinds of puzzlefests. I am not surprised that newcomers find it easier to deal with CM or HL than, say, The Mulldoon Legacy. It’s a different sort of problem-solving. I would be surprised that these newcomers, who cut their teeth on CM or HL as their first big IF, would also enjoy Heroine’s Mantle or Heist. (BTW, does anyone know what happened to Andy Phillips? I’m a huge fan)

It’s funny – he came out with Heroine’s Mantle in 2000, disappeared for 9 years where that question you just asked would apply and then came out with Inside Woman in 2009. If you are unfamiliar with the game and curious if he changed any, it includes an underwater battle against an assassin sextuplet.

So, I expect he’ll mysteriously reappear in 2018 with something else.

Oh, I’m very familiar with the game. I’ve played all of his games, and find he’s improved over time. Inside Woman is the one I’ve come closest to beating by myself, closely followed by Heist.

I’ll be looking forward to 2018.

(can’t believe I didn’t pick up on this earlier) So you’re talking the parser as an actual entity, as it were? Not literally, of course, but you’re taking the parser to be, let’s say, the narrator? That’s interesting. I tend to see the parser as only the actual command line, the means by which I communicate with the game, as invisible as my feet are when I’m pedalling a bycicle. Then there are games that subvert this, Bellclap being the famous example where the parser is actually a divine command from you, the player, who are the deity (Crystal and Stone, Beetle and Bone also does this, less ambitiously). The idea of the parser knowing anything makes it almost a character - which I think is unusual for the large majority of games…?

Also, I should think the narrator of the game is supremely placed to tell me what matters and what doesn’t. :slight_smile: I mean, if you COULD take the candle, and everything else that you think that you should be able to, and you end up with an inventory of +100 red herrings that you can’t distinguish between… is that really preferrable? Surely some limitations are to be expected. Does it really matter if the limitation is “That is not important.” or “You’ve have a phobia of candles since you were a child. A nasty business you prefer not to talk about. Naturally, you steer well away from this one”?

…well, granted, the latter makes for more interesting reading. Marginally.

Haven’t you ever played VIOLET?