Without Hints

I know this has come up on the newsgroups a few times in the past, but it’s a topic I’d like to revisit. How many games have you solved completely without hints? (If this is a large number, perhaps just mention those that made you especially proud.)

I’ve solved a lot,* but I’ve also lost willpower and looked at hints for several I was determined to solve on my own. (Curses, for instance.)

I sometimes have wondered in vain or cynical moments if anyone has ever solved certain large and difficult games without hints. (Jigsaw, say. Or The Mulldoon Legacy or Savoir-Faire.) If so, valued group members, please share your triumphs. Another reason I’m asking about this is that I’m working on a game of my own, and it has become clear that I significantly underestimated how difficult its puzzles are, which I suspect is a universal tendency.

*Well, some. Zork III, Spider and Web, So Far, The Elysium Enigma, Hollywood Hijinx, and Infidel come to mind.

Sorcerer- I had to use hints only for a guess the verb issue.
Suveh Nux-
Forbidden Castle- no hints available
Don’t Sh*t your pants- yes, it’s a real game on IF archinve
Eric The unready-
Galtea/Glass/Photopia/Magic Travels/9:05/Shrapnel - if these can be considered “won”
I-0- at least one of the endings

All Things Devours was the first non-trivial game I solved without recourse to hints.

I happened to start it while grounded in an airport for a few hours with no Internet access, or else the temptation to find a walkthrough would likely have been too great.

Since then I strive to finish a game without hints where possible, with the exception of IF Comp games where I cheat at the slightest excuse. Sometimes I even look at the walkthrough before I play the game, to see if the bulk of the actions are repetitive and soul-crushing.

I have GATOR-ON, Friend to Wetlands! and Condemned to thank for that habit.

I did everything but the outcropping without hints in Spellbreaker, but I once I resorted to the invisiclues for Sorcerer, I couldn’t stop myself.

Just as a matter of historical interest, do we have any evidence that difficult games released without walkthroughs or hints were ever solved? I assume that someone must have done this for Curses, for instance, based on the usenet history, but there could have been hinting from the author or even decompilation of the code, etc.

A pretty common thing is for a group of people to play a hard game together and discuss it. I played Curses this way in college: a group of us were all playing, and over meals in the college dining hall we’d talk about what we’d solved and what we still had to go. We didn’t have recourse to outside hints, as I recall*, but we gave one another a lot of help, and between us we were able to figure the thing out.

I know there were people who played Savoir-Faire the same way, trading ideas on ifMUD. Which was fine with me: S-F was a tribute to Curses and other games of its ilk, and I intended to produce a similar kind of experience. I didn’t feel like I’d made the game “too hard” or that people were ruining it by discussing it, since that was part of the point.

  • Note: it is possible that I’m forgetting something and/or that one of my friends checked out a walkthrough without notifying me. But what I recall is chatting with people, not walkthrough-reading.

I guess this brings up another point. I got stuck in Savoir-Faire around, as far as I remember, needing to do something about the basement doors and also probably not having translated the diary or letter or whatever it was. Without really looking for hints, I came across references to these puzzles in a usenet thread or somewhere else and then lost motivation to finish the game. The same thing happened with Make It Good, actually. I had the theory, but I was lacking the practical details. Then I saw the discussion of it on Emily Short’s blog and got spoiled again. (The discussion was ROT-13’d, but I am exactly the type to have a ROT-13 Firefox extension. Maybe I should password-protect it and hide the password on a random page of a biography of John Dulles.)

I’ve been stuck in Rhem 2 for five years. I haven’t looked at the hints, and I know I have the theory about what needs to be done more-or-less down. It’s just a matter of fiddling with some things. Now the game doesn’t work on 10.6, and I’d have to play it on my office computer to finish it when I am supposed to be conducting philological inquiries or pedagogical innovations. But I like the tension.

Not many, for me. Aside from some pretty brief competition entries or similar short games, and some more-or-less puzzleless games, I did Gun Mute without hints (but with a fair amount of dying). Even with Shade I had to look at a walkthrough, because I got snarled up by doing something out of order, so I didn’t realize I had to redo my previous action. I feel pretty much no shame about using hints, anyway; if I can’t figure out what the author is thinking once or three times, I can still enjoy the rest of the game if I need a boost past a puzzle or three.

Part of this may be that I’ve never played with other people. But contra Ben Cressey’s experience, even in a really good game I find that there can be those one or two puzzles whose solution makes me say, “Was I supposed to come up with that on my own?” (For instance, The Firebird is a great game, but I had to read the ClubFloyd transcript for exactly one set of puzzles, I think, and when I did I found that the author commented that one was rightfully criticized as a guess-the-verb; which made me feel good about having cheated.)

…anyway, Jonathan, since I was one of your testers, you should probably adjust for the fact that I can’t solve anything without hints.

I’ve been interested for a while in the notion that solving puzzles (without hints–but does anyone do this? Has anyone ever done it in the era of widespread net availability? The evidence I have suggests not) is similar in some ways to literary interpretation. Jigsaw is not as hard as Pale Fire or “Seven American Nights,” for instance; but is it fair to say that interpreting what you have read when you can see all the text in Jigsaw is as easy reading the sequential pages in the other texts, but that understanding the latter is even harder than solving the puzzles required to “read” the former? Is there some useful analogy between this understanding and the type of mind-reading or lateral-thinking required to solve puzzles? If so, does it extend beyond self-evidently puzzle-based texts?

Sure. Many of us adventure fans solve many puzzles without hints. Maybe even most of them.

What’s rare is for someone to refuse to use hints for any puzzle – even the annoying illogical one in that one game that makes no sense. (As it were.)

What are “hints”?

Only those outside the game? What of works of IF that extend outside the game?

I thought it would be neat to create an IFDB poll on this issue: http://ifdb.tads.org/poll?id=98p583h5vlrswxmo

And I appreciate the definition of illogical puzzles as those you can’t or don’t want to solve. How often is there agreement, though? I would suspect that a significant number of players who worked on Spellbreaker without hints got stuck exactly where I did: THROW BOX at OUTCROPPING (or whatever it was, I’m sure you know what I mean). I’d be curious to know where people got stuck in The Plant, if they did. I suspect it would be in the early part of the game, which seemed to me to have the most difficult puzzles, but I doubt that the author designed it that way intentionally.

As for “But, what are hints?,” I’m reluctant to engage in precise definitional exercises. There are philosophers here, after all, who do this sort of thing for a living. Are you thinking of something like the way that Save/Restore was handled in Slouching towards Bedlam, but with hints? I’d love to hear about it, if so.