Some IF gimmick concepts

I know that gimmicks are a long and storied tradition in IF. Stories with an “a-ha” moment, twists, unreliable narrators, single room games, single command games, works that stretch the boundaries of IF. Often it feels like essentially everything under the sun has been done already.

However I have a couple concepts for potentially interesting gimmicks that have been rattling around in my head for about a decade and won’t leave. Like many younger people at one point I wanted to hoard these million-dollar-do-not-steal© ideas, but you come to realize that ideas are a dime a dozen and it’s what’s produced that counts. IF writing typically is a very personal thing anyway, and everyone has their own pet ideas they want to make and couldn’t care less about yours.

So whether people might want to roll with these concepts or just roll their eyes, I wanted to share them at least once to see what others think. And I am also curious whether any of them have already been done before in some form that I might check out.

  • A story which is told in reverse, carefully constructed to mask this fact and make some amount of sense being played normally until the conclusion (beginning). An outline that I had in mind for this: [rant]the player stands in front of a shattered glass window, blinks as if waking from a dream and notices the window is actually whole. Police outside the window drive off. The player leaves the building, a car drives up, the driver smiles knowingly and hands the player a wad of money. The player enters and travels to a destination. They climb up the fire escape, enter a room through a window and discover a corpse in bed with a knife sticking out of it. The player takes the knife and leaves the room…other events ensue with the player eventually leaving that building, tears welling in their eyes for no reason, gradually growing worse as they reach their home and discover the dead body of their wife, and the story ends with the player stabbing her with the same knife as she returns to life to utter her final words in reverse.[/rant]

  • A story featuring multiple disparate settings and characters, with brief scenes and/or puzzles to solve. The primary conceit is that each section ends and picks up with the next character having written what happened previously, so a story about a man trapped on a space station has a young woman suddenly looking up from her typewriter, wondering where to take the story next; then a medieval bard finishes writing about that young woman in his journal; then Mark Twain crumples up the paper, declaring the story awful, etc. These stories-written-by-stories could even be occurring in a circle, and have some way to influence each other.

  • Flipping the typical take-everything-not-nailed-down play style on its head, a story where the player begins carrying a large number of items and must find a way to discard them in order to proceed. The man at the door stops you saying “no guns allowed, sir,” and it’s a puzzle to find a good way to get rid of it. Then you’re too heavy for the weight limit on the elevator, etc. A twist at the end could be discovering that you actually needed some of those items, and there may have been well-hidden ways to bring them with you all along, or at least reclaim them later.

  • A story that would be a logistical nightmare - when the player takes inventory, they are simply told they are “certain you have everything you need tonight.” Whenever a stopping point in the story is reached, the player can pull out nearly any logical item they can think of, and therefore change the course of the story. The theater ticket taker asks you for your tickets, and you can pull out tickets, or money to bribe him, or a gun to shoot him, or a handkerchief into which you sneeze and it turns out to be monogrammed in a way that signifies you as the theater owner. I love the idea of near-endless possibilities but any amount of branching would get ridiculous quickly.

  • A story that plays out similarly to classic Looney Tunes/cartoon shows where the player is tasked with defending a baby or helpless cute animal that consistently puts itself in peril. Wandering through a construction site being the classic example. Not an original idea, but one I think would be fun in IF.

The first one you rant-concealed sounds great - you should try to make that for Ectocomp!

I’m not trying to discourage you from writing any of these by any means - you can put your own spin on them, but here are some similar games you might want to research along the lines of your ideas:

[spoiler]The cyclical scenes one brings to mind Photopia though I don’t think they overlapped quite in the same way. Your idea is a bit like a play called La Ronde, only that was stories connected via sexual trysts.

Getting rid of inventory: see Enlightenment and possibly also To Hell in a Hamper.

The “logistical nightmare” one is actually quite doable in a choice interface. You just add choices the player didn’t know they could make. “Oh, I do have a left-handed flathead screwdriver, just as I need it!”

The last one sounds like a good concept as well, running a bit along the lines of the Babel Fish puzzle in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where solving each piece reveals another obstacle.[/spoiler]

Thanks for the feedback. I like the first idea as well, though for it to work it probably needs to be quite railroady on the player, and probably best accomplished as choice-based. Like I said, I had thought of it a decade ago before systems like Twine became popular so I had been trying to think about how to make it work with a parser.

I didn’t mean to imply “if these ideas have already been done then I just won’t bother,” rather I don’t necessarily expect that I will ever do anything with them, realistically. I do have another story I’m working on but it is more of a standard IF, sort of a “my first” one, but hopefully still decent.

I’ve played Photopia and know what you mean about it feeling similar. I will check out those other games as well.

I also see what you mean about the complicated one and using a choice-based interface, but I was thinking of it more along the lines of Aisle. “Type anything and see what happens next.” Presenting them as choices takes a lot of the fun of creativity out of it, or being delighted that the author actually thought of that weird thing you typed in. You could think of it as being similar to the video game Scribblenauts, where the player must solve various puzzles by writing down absolutely anything: someone is hungry so you give them an “enormous jalapeno,” or a “poisoned steak,” etc.

Sounds cool! I’m a huge fan of games that play with how you interact with them, so I’d be excited to play any of them!

And as I said, I wasn’t trying to discourage you with the similar games at all - it’s just good to know what came before. I’ve had so many ideas and gone OH MY GOD I AM SO BRILLIANT only to have someone say “Oh yeah, that movie that just came out did this…” It’s literally the definition of “great minds think alike” - if you come up with a really good idea, it’s quite likely someone else has also thought of it.

That’s not a bad thing, it’s just shared consciousness. There are no original ideas, the art is in how you personally interpret the idea. The same reason there are pyramid-shaped structures built on multiple continents - it’s an idea that works!

Along the same lines of not trying to be discouraging but look at what came before, for the first idea you might look at

An idea I had that was kind of like your second idea: “IF on winter’s night a traveler.” It starts by addressing the player who’s eagerly awaiting a game, then goes into the game, which turns out to be the IntroComp release, so the player in the frame story downloads the full release, but it’s actually something different, which dead-ends with a completely insoluble problem, so they get a walkthrough, which opens as another game, which…

The penultimate example is ambitious as hell, but perhaps not as impossible as it may seem: if you abstract the objects down to a dozen or so “flavors”, you could generalize rules for them.

This would be fairly low-cost extensible, I think: there’s really no reason why the guard would act substantively different to, say, a chainsaw or a warrant.

This was an idea I had for a game I haven’t written and probably isn’t one of at least the next two or three. The PC is a grue, and light/darkness is reversed - you can see in the dark, but you can’t enter light areas or you are likely to be slain by an adventurer. In order to increase your roaming area you need to solve puzzles to turn the lights off/put the fire out/scare away the glow-worms. Meanwhile a Zorkian adventurer is fumbling through the dungeon and it’s your thankless job to stop them walking into all the deadly pitfalls, tripwires, troll ambushes, etc., that you can see and they can’t. I even wrote a few paragraphs, but it turns out messing with the light/darkness system in Inform 7 is really hard (for me anyway) and then there was a PC-is-a-grue game in Ifcomp '16 so it’s shelved.

I also had a similar idea not too long ago, involving a grue and a Zorkian machine called the Deliminator that would allow the grue to travel in light, getting his first chance to explore the surface world of Zork. (I even had a puzzle involving a salesman in a shop in Accardi, as an homage to the salesman puzzle in “Zork: the Undiscovered Underground.”)
I even had a half-completed transcript, which got lost in my backups. However, after 1) the game “Dynamite Powers” included a machine called a deliminator, and 2) the aforementioned pc-is-a-grue game in comp 16, it just never happened.

#1 is vaguely similar to Beanstalk the and Jack

#3 has been done at least twice: Enlightenment and To Hell in a Hamper

There is actually a whole list of backward games listed on IFDB -

And I’d surmise most Infocom fan/authors have a grue game in them!

I started working on a game a lot like this where the player has a bag with a whole lot of junk in it, and the game proceeds by guessing what you might have in your bag that would help the situation. I might return to it, but it was a lot of writing.

With some preliminary “Family Feud” style testing, you could probably pretty quickly generate a list of the most likely 90% of items players would come up with in given situations.