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Degree of Difficulty

PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2016 4:22 pm
by Jjbee62
I was just thinking about various puzzles in IF. At times they become so difficult that many players will just give up. I know there are some who enjoy solving the most difficult challenges, but shouldn't IF be more balanced? I don't think the puzzles should overshadow the story.

Anyone old enough to remember the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" text adventure? Great story, but you spent so much effort on the puzzles that it was hard to enjoy. At least that's how I felt after spending a few hours trying to get the Babel fish in my ear.

I suppose you could always write 2 or 3 versions and have the player choose a difficulty level at the beginning.

Just pondering the possibilities.

Re: Degree of Difficulty

PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2016 6:05 pm
by ElliotM
Questions about pacing and difficulty are central to good IF design, so it is good that you are thinking of such things.

Re: Degree of Difficulty

PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2016 9:03 pm
by ParadoxGames
What I found frustrating about "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" wasn't the difficulty of the puzzles alone. It was the difficulty coupled with a very strict time span to solve them. If I remember, In your opening scene as Arthur Dent, you have ten moves tops to get out of your house. Not much time to explore the setting.

I personally like the hardest puzzles possible. But If I have tough puzzles, I want ample time to figure them out. Ironically, while your time is limited, a lot of puzzles in "Hitch" involve the command WAIT.

Re: Degree of Difficulty

PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2016 9:43 pm
by Jjbee62
ParadoxGames wrote:What I found frustrating about "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" wasn't the difficulty of the puzzles alone. It was the difficulty coupled with a very strict time span to solve them. If I remember, In your opening scene as Arthur Dent, you have ten moves tops to get out of your house. Not much time to explore the setting.

I personally like the hardest puzzles possible. But If I have tough puzzles, I want ample time to figure them out. Ironically, while your time is limited, a lot of puzzles in "Hitch" involve the command WAIT.


My thoughts on it probably evolved somewhere between my days playing Zork and Wizardry on my old Apple ][e and my days playing AD&D and other RPGs. Especially with AD&D, a lot of DMs didn't understand balance. One DM thinks it's his job to dump lots of rewards on the players and another thinks the most important thing is to kill them off as quick as possible. One of the best I ran into and who I tried to learn from kept everyone in a near constant state of panic. There was never a dull moment, even in the times when everyone knew they could relax he would toss in something to keep things interesting. The trick was that balance between risk and reward.

There are times when a real brainteaser is great, and times when you can take all day to find the solution, but, there are times when a good jolt of adrenaline is needed.

Re: Degree of Difficulty

PostPosted: Tue Apr 19, 2016 5:29 am
by P/o Prune
Personally I don't care so much about the toughness of the puzzles. I'm more concerned whether it's logic or not. tough puzzles are ok as long as the author makes sure that it's solvable and leaves clues so the player isn't left completely in the dark.
The only game where I've seen that been done with success was "Rendevouz with Rama"
I agree that the time limit sucks big time, but I don't mind having to sit and wonder about a puzzle. The feeling when you finally beat the game is great :yeah:

Re: Degree of Difficulty

PostPosted: Sat Apr 23, 2016 2:03 am
by Duncan_B
Perhaps the one of the most convenient measures of toughness in IF is the the Cruelty Scale devised by Andrew Plotkin.

Re: Degree of Difficulty

PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2016 9:22 am
by David Whyld
There was a time, years and years ago, when I had lots of patience with puzzles and would sit there trying out one thing after another for hours until I finally figured out what I needed, but these days I just don’t have that kind of patience. If something is difficult or poorly clued (or seems to me to be difficult or poorly clued), I’ll usually just quit and try something else. So I tend to favour easier games now and avoid the puzzlefests (or at least play them knowing there's a walkthrough available if I get stuck).

Re: Degree of Difficulty

PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2016 6:00 pm
by Campbell
Do you think that has anything to do with your assumptions on the ability of the author. I think I'm the same, but I would say that there was a reasonable chance that older games were written by more "serious" authors, so even if the puzzle was difficult, you expect it to be fairly well designed.

Re: Degree of Difficulty

PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2016 7:21 pm
by Jjbee62
Perhaps more to do with the author's thought processes. A linear thinker tends toward obstructive puzzles, look under mat, get key unlock door. Degree of difficulty is just based upon the number of obstructions.

A more abstract might use more complex blocks, relying on piecing together the necessary elements in the correct sequence. If that makes any sense.

Re: Degree of Difficulty

PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2016 7:45 pm
by David Whyld
Campbell wrote:Do you think that has anything to do with your assumptions on the ability of the author. I think I'm the same, but I would say that there was a reasonable chance that older games were written by more "serious" authors, so even if the puzzle was difficult, you expect it to be fairly well designed.


That probably has a lot to do with it. Those old games had entire teams working on them, whereas most IF today is written by one person. Betatesters can offer advice on puzzle design, but ultimately it's down to the single author to decide whether or not to include a certain puzzle in the game or make it easier. As an author, I've put some unfairly hard puzzles in my games over the years and not realised until someone else has pointed out to me how unfairly hard they are. To me they seemed fine and perfectly logical, but then I wrote them and I'm approaching them already know the answer. To anyone else, they're probably not fine or logical at all. A lot of the time when I'm playing games, I'm wondering if the puzzle I'm trying to solve is one that seems perfectly logical to the author but not to anyone else, of it's simply a case that I'm just not 'getting it'.

Another thing, though, is that the IF I grew up playing in the 80's was commercial. People paid money for the games and when money's involved, there's an expectation that you're getting a better product than if it were free. Games that couldn't be finished would end up going back to the store with a demand for a refund. Plenty of games back then had unfairly hard puzzles, but there was usually a kind of logic to them that you could figure out if you tried hard enough. Then, too, there were computer magazines galore which contained hints and tips for games, and I also remember knowing plenty of people at school who played them as well and we used to discuss puzzles. If I was stuck, odds on someone I knew could help out. These days I don't know anyone in real life who plays IF games and so I'm left to solve the puzzles on my own. Most of the time I haven't the patience.

Re: Degree of Difficulty

PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2016 7:49 pm
by Campbell
David Whyld wrote:People paid money for the games and when money's involved, there's an expectation that you're getting a better product than if it were free.
It's funny, but I think the same applies to software. In some ways I regret removing the registration fee for ADRIFT, purely for the fact that people think that a free product is inferior to a paid one.

Re: Degree of Difficulty

PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2016 9:04 pm
by David Whyld
Ah, but don't you also get that incredible sense of relief at not having to listen to people tell their tales of woe at how they had to mortgage their house and sell their eldest child into slavery in order to save the money needed for the registration fee?

Re: Degree of Difficulty

PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2016 10:07 pm
by Jjbee62
The development team vs. single author is a good point. Much of today's IF is written by authors who are strong in one area, but weak in others. Even with authoring tools, some programming skill is helpful and the best programming won't save a poorly written story.

Re: Degree of Difficulty

PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2016 10:13 pm
by Campbell
David Whyld wrote:Ah, but don't you also get that incredible sense of relief at not having to listen to people tell their tales of woe at how they had to mortgage their house and sell their eldest child into slavery in order to save the money needed for the registration fee?
True.

Re: Degree of Difficulty

PostPosted: Fri Apr 29, 2016 1:14 am
by ParadoxGames
Campbell wrote:Do you think that has anything to do with your assumptions on the ability of the author. I think I'm the same, but I would say that there was a reasonable chance that older games were written by more "serious" authors, so even if the puzzle was difficult, you expect it to be fairly well designed.


Do you know what I think one reason for that can be? Let me know if I may be on to something.

In the 1980s, these types of games were mainly available by purchase. You bought the game, and it was the one you focused on winning. You had no internet walkthroughs. There were no archive sites where you can download every one of these now-vintage for free. There was no tool like ADRIFT that allowed anyone to make a game and share it with everyone. The sheer availability of everything at our fingertips drives down the interest.

I'm basing this on my own experience. When I was 10, all I wanted was a Pac-Man machine. They retailed for $1500 at the time. I don't want one now. Why? I have emulators and the MS arcade version and Plug and Play TV units that play the game exactly as the arcade plays, all with n exact copy of the ROM chips. And I barely play it now, or any of the emulated games anymore, that I would have died for in the 1980s now that they're all in my grasp to play for free. I still love them, but I think our attention spans shorten over the decades as they proliferate and become instantly accessible. I think the instant availability of the classics, and homemade games of every quality level, are a parallel experience.

What do you think?