When the player must have an object

“Every success begins with ‘sucks’ and ends with ‘yes’… SucksYes!
–Delia, Beetlejuice the Musical


But which one is more cruel? Killing player frequently, but giving hint each time? Or keep telling the player that there is no way to lose the game without telling how? Or perhaps letting the player win, after all, once enough consecutive Zs have been pressed.

My solution is to keep score. Clever solution gets high score. Normal solution gets low score. Waiting for NPC to solve the puzzles for you, gets no score. I hope that’s enough incentive.

Edited to add:
“Or perhaps letting the player win, after all, once enough consecutive Zs have been pressed.”
Can indeed backfire. I can see it now.
“Wow! This game sucks! You have to constantly wait somewhere doing nothing for 5 turns! Only then will something totally unrelated to the location happen, and you can continue with the game. Whatever happens with good old fashioned puzzle solving?”
Trying to coddle the players too much can end up them hating the game also.


I am so tempted to mark this post as “solution.”


If the object must be with the player, and it is not, you can either change the object or change the player.

Sorry, but ,yes, you are.
Most of this thread seems to focus on changing the player.

I’m opposed to forcing the player to make a particular decision when they appear to have a choice. After much of that, they start seeing choices as fake, and soon lose their immersion in the game.
Choices should matter.

So change the object. Give the object some agency. Have it sprout legs and follow the player around like a puppy.

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This relates to another thread, Parser Vs PC Vs Player. If the PC is supposed to exactly represent the player, it can feel a bit ridiculous to have:


You don't want to leave your umbrella behind.

Whereas if the PC is a clearly defined character who is separate from the player, it’s reasonable to have:


Heavens, my umbrella! I can't possibly go out without my umbrella! What if it should rain?

OMG that’s the exact thing you have to do in a puzzle I’m currently writing - except it’s 3 turns!

In defence, i’m going to argue, the difference is the player does get to know that is remotely happening (although can’t see it).

Scary :slight_smile:


Yes, I agree. I think it’s partly the result of the online competitive league tables that many games have, where not saving the game means that you’re a tough, mean, “Iron Balls” player, and gives you bragging rights and “Learning by Dying” is now disdained as a strategy for noobs.

So to many players the game now saves for you, and saving more often than the “authorized amount” means that they’re weak sisters who acknowledge they lack the technical competence to play well. Restarting is a punishment for playing wrongly, rather than part of a learning exercise.

I think it’s just that every single game now autosaves. It’s expected on desktop games, it’s expected on mobile games.

Well, particularly with the early games, people didn’t know what made a game enjoyable, and what, although realistic, was just an unfunny pain to the point where we’d now regard that design decision as a bug. (Looking at you, Hitch hiker!)

I think that IF has gotten harder to play as the technology has changed, because in the very early days the game responses printed out on a teletype. So there was always paper available, and it was easy to scribble a map onto it. Then CRTs came along, and people didn’t know they were expected to make a map because there’s no longer an implication in the game’s form that they can do so. IF’s audience shrank to people whose minds naturally do that spatial imagination business. (Okay, it’s not a have/have not thing, but some people are definitely better at it than others. I think a large part of Adrift’s popularity is because the 'terp comes with a mapper built in.)

And now games have changed again, with games routinely autosaving, so in gaming culture the meaning of manually saving has changed. It’s something you do when you’re forced to end the session and go to bed (although true gamers play 'til they fall off the couch and wear their red eyes to work like badges of honor.) Saving frequently is “save scumming,” and only used by those not of the faith.

But the thing with giving players freedom is that freedom must include the freedom to uhhh… take the path less optimal. If the game gives the player chance after chance (and then finally, presumably, intervenes and does it for them) then the player’s choices are meaningless.

Visual Novels are very popular. I wonder if part of that popularity is that a playthrough always reaches an ending, rather than kicking the player out with a curt “Game Over” screen. Perhaps we should eschew deadflags one and two, and try writing games which end with a variety of good and not so good epilogs, but all intended to form a satisfying story, even if it is of the player returning on their shield to weeping relatives?

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LOL, I just took 500 words to say that! :laughing:

Save scumming is restoring frequently until you catch a lucky break. (In combat, or in a difficult jumping challenge, or whatever). It’s not really the same thing as saving in order to try different outcomes. Even today.


Yes, it can tip too far into nannying the player. And that’s what makes designing things like this so challenging. There’s a lot of territory between a cruel game and a nanny game, and deciding where you want your game to be on that spectrum is difficult, especially with the conventions younger generations have come to expect. The evolution of an art form is always a little painful, but it’s also pretty interesting.

Third option: one can change the puzzle(s). Consider allowing a creative alternative that requires a different set of active conditions. As long as at least one of them is accessible to every player, the game is still merciful, the player and object can remain as they are, and the player can still feel they earned their own fun. (It is for the creator to decide how each is to be rewarded). Obviously, checking dependencies further down the line is a must.

One way to make going back for an object less painful is to have the option of typing GO [OBJECT] for any item one has already picked up at least once in the game, still exists somewhere in the game world and is supposed to be accessible to the player. (That restriction prevents players from guessing what objects exist in the game at the beginning and “warping” to them). Then someone who realises they’ve missed an essential object can fetch it in two turns instead of many.

Every IF writer should print this, and then tape the printout to the top of their monitor.


Failbetter games put it very well, essentially saying failure should be as interesting as success if not more so.

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In other words, today is NOT a good day to die. :slight_smile:


My experience is that only parser games still allow you the “freedom” of not getting to the end. Choice-based story-games (whether a VN or an all-text CoG) always get you to an ending. The only “risk” is that you don’t get to the ending you want.

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A “game over” screen can happen in a VN, just depends on what the author does. A “game over” doesn’t need to be curt in any game or literally say that; it can be “And you lived happily ever after, having decided to keep the magic fiddle instead of delivering it to the quest giver and thus ending your quest early…” That is an abrupt ending, but could be considered a canon ending that doesn’t say “game over”.

When you say “freedom of not getting to the end” do you mean the player can give up and quit? I’ve seen some incredibly long VNs that some people abandon before getting a canon ending. And I’m sure someone has made a “jump off the cliff” Sierra-type insta-death option in a ChoiceScript game even though that is non-optimal per CoG’s house-style.

Again, have you played any of my choice narratives that go on and on like crazy and flout the IFComp 2 hour suggested limit? :slight_smile: I have a couple of non-linear choice games that will continue via hubs and loops until the player navigates to a canon ending and won’t force the player toward it (Cursèd Pickle, Cannery Vale). In contrast robotsexpartymurder does push the player to the end - you can just click “wait” over and over and let time pass until you reach a the default ending via time-limit.

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I like the way you put that. We could imagine game choices as spread out over an area in (for convenience) a 2D plane, rather than being points on a line between a “cruel” and “nanny” rating scale.

Yes, I think it’s no accident that parser games originated in an academic environment, where a lot of researchers would be playing them. They’re used to pounding away at a problem for days, weeks, or the rest of their lives, and they enjoy that and see it as a challenge. Getting “stuck” isn’t a problem for a researcher - it’s their everyday work experience.

But I’m interested in nonlinear storytelling, not puzzles. Muggles like me come to a game saying “tell me a story” and get ticked off when I don’t get a satisfying ending within a reasonable time frame. (To be fair, I’ve never finished the Arabian Nights either.)