The Zarfian Cruelty scale, revisited

I have written up some thoughts on the Zarfian Cruelty Scale, which has now been floating around for over twenty years. I first posted about it in a newsgroup which was (at the time) entirely focused on parser IF. It still gets invoked today, but I think that its assumptions haven’t kept up with the modern expansion of IF.

https://eblong.com/zarf/essays/cruelty-revisited.html

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Interesting. I thought that from the beginning, the notion of cruel games are: “games where you are stuck or dead, or preventing from winning without knowing.” I learnt recently that in other genres that state is called “walking dead”.

anyway, that thing, I’m amused that the original definition has nothing to do for what I was thinking it was :slight_smile:

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Hm, I would have said that your phrasing matches my 1996 definition pretty well.

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My general feeling is that medium-sized undo stacks have cut the legs out of the cruelty scale as a scale, because Merciful games and Nasty games don’t feel different when I can get myself back into a winnable state with undo. In both cases, I needn’t worry about getting locked out of victory. There’s now only one question: “can I be locked out of victory beyond what undo can fix?” Which is to say, “Is the game cruel?” This is a good question, but that’s no longer a scale.

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Graham Nelson’s Player’s Bill of Rights is a great guide to help avoid creating cruel games. :man_teacher:

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Said that, who knows there’s multiple undos in a row available? Only a handful of the hardcore players.

Even I, I simply forget about multiples undos.

So, IMHO I don’t think the cruelty scale should change deeply based on undo, also taking in mind not all interpreters behave the same.

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Nowadays, I think unless there is no saving available or some mechanism that thwarts it or undo, cruelty is more about structure and player notification. A non-cruel game should not let the player get into an unwinnable state and continue doomed play without letting them know. One move instadeath isn’t really cruel with undo, I’m talking letting the player progress to day 5 without a critical item only accessible on day one and no clue how to progress.

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I’d say the cruelty scale still holds but game structures got even more complex where it’s always possible to win the game but find out you missed some optional objectives.