Matt_W has posted a very nice review of Anchorhead on IFDB.
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. 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?