Telling the player about the hint system

In a parser game, is it helpful to let the player know that there is a hint system? If so, how do you advertise that to the player?

Part of what makes me ask this question is getting feedback from players who said that they couldn’t figure out a puzzle, and in some cases, solved it by brute force. It made me wonder if they knew there was a hint system. (The feedback was anonymous, so I couldn’t ask for clarification.)

(I know that if players can’t figure out a puzzle, that could also be a sign that the puzzle isn’t clued well enough, but I also got feedback from other people who thought the puzzles were easy.)

I think players should definitely be told there are hints available! I usually just mention the hint system in the ABOUT text - which in turn I advertise with a “first time players type ABOUT” notice printed on the first turn. Said notice could also explicitly mention the HINT command, and you can always put it in the blurb too, though obviously there’s not much room there for a Comp game.

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I’d even push it further and add it along with the

Like. First time players type ABOUT. When stuck, use HINT.
(because you can have long-time parser players that still need hints :wink: )

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Yes.

But if just saying “type HINT for a hint” seems too blunt, you could experiment with creative ways to incorporate the hint system into the game world. For example: Foo Foo lets you ask your partner Murphy for a hint. The Wizard Sniffer has a pair of fleas that tell one truth and one lie. Curses has an angel and a devil character who provide clues (although they are pretty far into the game, and not entirely obvious). Robin and Orchid has a lot of in-game written material that has been described as a hint system, but just seems like worldbuilding in-game. Etc.

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One of the advantages of hosting on itch.io is that you can provide extensive documentation (as well as feelies, downloadable versions of the game and links to other sites).

In my documentation, I provide a paragraph such as: “Use HELP to get a brief reminder of how to play the game or HINT to get a context-sensitive hint related to the current location.” The in-game HELP command also reminds you of the HINT command.

Of course, we all know that no one ever reads documentation, so if first-time players don’t read the documentation, they’ll never know this unless they stumble on it in desperation. I think HELP is the first thing that players will try in this case.

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The method pointed to DeusIrae, mentioning the hint system in the ABOUT whose in the turn is mentioned/reminded on the first turn, is more or less the current IF standard method of communicating to the player the HINT system, whose today is a standard hint menu, implemented in every major IF library.
for nonstandard hint system, pointing to INSTRUCTIONS, VERBS or other nonstandard meta/out-of-world commands cited in about, together with, of course, pointing to the nonstandard system in the documentation (at least the README) is a good standard practice.

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

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Thanks, everybody!

In my experience, new users don’t even know how to control an IF game, so embedding some help is always useful. I’d recommend Basic Help Menu by Emily Short - it already contains comprehensive help, and can be extended by continuing the table.

Another another approach is to try to detect when the player is using brute force, and offer a hint at that point.

You’ve tried a lot of locker combinations. You can type HINT to help you solve this puzzle.

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This is a feature I tend to favour (as a player), although it can get annoying if the game guesses wrong on what “brute force” looks like and keeps insisting. I think it was in Exit, which tracks the player in real time, that if you spend a long time with a puzzle, the game points this out and nudges you towards a hint. Ideally it should be able to be toggled on/off, as some players like difficult puzzles, use hints sparingly anyway, and the noise is distracting. But this caters for hint-prone players as well.

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Also to players who get phone calls or head to the kitchen for a midnight snack, of course.

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Yes, always advertise a hint system if you have it. It needn’t be more then a brief fourth-wall parser break at the beginning as people have said, but it can be worked into the game diegetically also as an in-game “tome of lore” or an NPC who knows everything.

(Doesn’t Cragne Manor do a very late parser-aside to the player like “Hey you totally need to make use of this Jansport backpack if you don’t want to go insane sorting your inventory…”?)

Itch is great about that. Inform 7/8/10 also provides utilities for including additional documents and feelies. If you publish with a website you’ll get a basic web page that can link to all of this, can link to a playable browser version if you release with an interpreter, and also download the standalone Blorb or whatever the format is. The web page can be spruced up with standard CSS/HTML skills. If the player doesn’t start via the index.html, all the files will be included in the ZIP release. This is a good way to present the game as playable on itch as opposed to just having the player download a file they may not understand how to slot into an interpreter.

My “play online” button for Fair on itch links to the Inform-produced web-page with the supporting Introduction to IF document and a feelie, as well as the downloadable file and the online playable version.

Screen Shot 2024-07-16 at 12.49.29 PM

Check out all of chapter 25 - Releasing to see what is possible. You can even include the entire game source text, which Inform formats and chapters (if you have sections built in) very nicely.

One sneaky way to clue the player is to put your hints in a feelie (Like the magazine in Graham Nelson’s Reliques) and then also have the feelie as an in-game object. “You peruse the copy of Collegio Magazine. This is full of helpful hints for beginning wizards, and a copy is included with this game…” It’s very throwback since most Infocom games had a copy-protection feelie of some kind that had to be consulted during the game.

They even included ways to make new website templates though I don’t think anyone’s done that.

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Some people have! Zarf’s OneColumn template is good for releasing on itch.io for example. I’ve made new templates for each of my games so I can control the colors.

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