Thank you all for helping out with the earlier brainstorming on things for fleshing out my game. Now I can get more things together. One big flaw I found recently: I had some vague idea on what kind of ‘regions’ or ‘sections’ I want to have in my game, but for my first playtesting I stringed them up in order. Basically the player will go through a linear list of events and puzzles. But of course the ‘World’ should not be linear (otherwise people would feel ‘railroaded’ and this is not a train game )
So now I draw a map (I understand Trizbort.io can help with this for getting things arranged without manually changing room connections each time I want to move things around). But still the question remains on how to go about building a ‘world’. I do want player freedom (walking around) but I also want to ensure some events occur in a certain order, and just putting locked doors everywhere and giving the player a bunch of keys at the ‘proper time’ feel like too artificial to me.
Which makes me wonder… How do you sages go about creating a world for your players to experience? How do you ‘balance it out’? Any pointers or things to watch out for?
I would say, to make it feel like you can do anything but you can’t, sometimes to limit off areas at a certain point, have an NPC there or a logical-sense thing in your mind. For example, near the beginning of your game, you could be with a zoo tour guide who allows you to do different things but not wander off or do something that you shouldn’t (be able to) do.
It’s hard for me to answer exactly, because in my game there are lots of things that can be worked on in conjunction with each other, so the need for gating is minimal and relatively believable story-wise when used…
I don’t know what your overall design looks like, but in general:
- If your reasons for keeping the player bottled up in specific “regions” is narrative, then have a narrative justification for it: you can’t go there because you don’t have the appropriate security clearance, you can’t go there because it’s protected by a spell cast by the wicked Foozle (who is the boss of the area the player is currently in), or whatever
- If your reasons for keeping the player out of an area are gameplay-related, tie the barrier to the gameplay mechanic motivating the decision. This is the Zelda/metroidvania thing: get bombs and you can blow holes in cracked walls, get the hookshot and you can cross gaps you couldn’t jump across before, and so on. Ideally what you’re doing here is grouping your puzzles (loosely) by type and then putting them in buckets that are gated by access to some widget (like the hookshot) and the “subquest” or whatever that gives them the widget is basically a brief tutorial on the kind of puzzles that they’ll be expecting to solve with it (or how it changes the semantics of how they interact with the world) in the area they’re unlocking by obtaining it.
- If you’re keeping the player in a specific place because you don’t want them to be confused by all the other stuff they might run into (for example, a small tutorial area before the rest of the game opens up), then absolutely treat it like the player’s on rails and just make sure the game segment is interesting/entertaining/short enough on its own merits so the player won’t bail on the game before they get to see the rest of it.
That all said, the way I generally handle it (not just in IF, but in game design in general) is to spend way too long worrying about the theory, then abandon about 75% of the theory when it actually comes to the implementation, and then spend the next ten thousand hours jiggling all the handles, adjusting all the picture frames, and moving all the furniture around until the amount of additional fiddling I want to do and my desire to actually release the thing finally reach equilibrium.
I’d also add that I think it’s completely legit (and has a long pedigree in IF) to throw the majority of the world open to the player fairly early and basically only segregate sections of the world by virtue of the puzzle dependency graph. That is, there’s no large-scale meta-test for accessing various areas, just whatever puzzles you need to solve to access specific rooms/objects/whatever. That’s more or less the modern “open world” model in a nutshell: if you’re having trouble with a boss in Elden Ring you can (mostly) just bypass them and take a different route. That might prevent you from accessing some specific area, either directly “behind” the boss or behind a locked door you’ll encounter much later, but it doesn’t stop you in your tracks until you beat the boss.
Notably, Cragne Manor takes this approach.
“Approach? I don’t see any approach at all, sir.”
Cragne Manor actually does have gated areas restricting progression. The first one is the bridge that I guess is often where a lot of people stop. I don’t know if @Draconis was instructed to make it difficult to proceed there or if it was happenstance. The rest of the game in the planning stages before being handed to authors had very specific keys and locked doors built into the map that were compulsory to implement and ostensibly intended to unfold the rooms in some semblance of progression.
Thank you for pointing out that reference to me. I have read a lot of blog posts by Emily Short about NPC interaction, but I somehow missed this article. I will check it out.
I sit corrected. Perhaps Bigfoot Bluffs is a better example.
Nope, that was all me. For better or for worse. (I did say we wanted to put a puzzle in our room, just not specifically a difficult one.)