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Task inspiration

Postby ParadoxGames » Wed Jul 13, 2016 4:13 am

I don't know how to say too much without spoiling my game, but does anyone have trouble sometimes coming up with game/task mechanics to advance the plot of a story? I guess a text game can be considered a marriage of two concurrent elements: plot/storyline and task/puzzle solving mechanics. The plot develops as the tasks are solved. So I'm reaching the middle of my plot but am having trouble coming up with an inventive enough interrelated set of puzzles required to get to the next stage of the story. Once I get over this hurdle to the next stage, most of the plot and the puzzles/tasks are pretty clear to me until the end.

My game is fairly open-ended and free-form, so I want to have most oft he tasks for this next part of the story to be solved in almost any order, or at least with various sub-tasks that can be solved independently and converge by the end. My idea is for the character to be asked to collect three items, and each item has its own sets of tasks required to acquire them. But I can't seem to come up with something original or different to prevent it from becoming a series of fetching items.

Does anyone have suggestions for coming up with innovative ideas to come up with puzzles to advance the story? I don't want this dry spell to stop my progress on the game.

Thanks.
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Re: Task inspiration

Postby Po. Prune » Wed Jul 13, 2016 4:30 am

I would really like to help you, but have you any idea hwo difficult a question you're asking? It's like walking into a library and ask to borrow a book without telling what genre you're interested in. :wink:

You're asking for puzzles without giving any indication as to what kind of puzzles you're looking for, or what the game is about.
If you don't want to reveal too much of your game, my advice is to take this up with family members or friends. someone you can talk to about the game.
By the way, why so reluctant to tell about your game? (just curious)
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Re: Task inspiration

Postby Lazzah » Wed Jul 13, 2016 10:30 am

Welcome to the world of IF author's block! We all go through this, believe me!

My advice is to read a few books. I get a lot of inspiration for plots and puzzles from reading fantasy & sci-fi novels.
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Re: Task inspiration

Postby Po. Prune » Wed Jul 13, 2016 11:25 am

Lazzah's got it right.
Read books, especially about the genre your game is set in and keep an open mind.
Yesterday, for instance, I watched a re-run of the tv series White Collar. It was the episode where they're looking got Washington's flag (the one he was carrying when crossing the Delaware in 1776)
The episode lasted 45 minutes but I got tons of ideas for a game and for puzzles.
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Re: Task inspiration

Postby ParadoxGames » Thu Jul 14, 2016 2:58 am

okay. that last post and the one from Lazzah are good ideas. I didn't want to say too much about the content just because I'd like to keep it a surprise, but a few things about it:

In the game, you play the role of a new breed of successful machine with a human mind- a singularity experiment. You're kept under observation for bugs and interface problems with the robot body before being revealed to the public. Many of your memories are inaccessible to you (the amnesia theme) and you're personally trying to uncover the past of your donor's (and now your) mind.

The entire game takes place in one building, the research lab you were born in. Many of the characters you meet are the team members who built you.

The nature of the game is freeform and not completely linear, however. There are time demarcations. After a series of puzzles or tasks or completed, you move on to the next "day". But within each day, I'd like the puzzles not to have to be solved in an exact order. There are 7 "days" in the game, and I have the basic goals for each of them planned out, except for day 3. That's where I am now.

Actually, writing part of the plat has helped me know what I'm looking for a bit. I had an idea of a new character for day 3 who wants three items, and your job for the day would be to solve puzzles to get those items, but not in any order. But the "item trade" seems real cliche for me, so that's where I wasn't happy and was looking for ideas. Maybe that helps you understand, but I thought that even discussing ideas would help, even if not specific. I wasn't looking for any specific puzzle ideas, but more like new ideas to make the nature of the puzzles unique.

In day 4, for instance, the character will be stuck somewhere, and need to solve brain puzzles to get out, rather than complete task-based dilemmas. I've seen that in graphical adventures like 7th Guest and Myst and such. For a text game, though, I thought that is something not so common and kind of different.

If you have any thoughts on this, let me know.
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Re: Task inspiration

Postby Duncan_B » Fri Jul 15, 2016 3:10 pm

If you have any thoughts on this, let me know.
Okay.

I wasn't looking for any specific puzzle ideas, but more like new ideas to make the nature of the puzzles unique.
Arguably impossible. Sorry.

The nature of the game is freeform and not completely linear, however.
Untrue. While your plot is clever, your choices of form ("game" and "literature"), medium ("interactive fiction" or ADRIFT product whatever the result, specifically with the functionality of v5), and genre ("adventure" or "puzzle" game) are by their nature limiting because you are choosing to be or to say X at the cost of not being or saying Y. You have consciously (wisely, I hasten to add) limited the space of play into a single office building. This spatial limitation and the time demarcations you mention form a linear structure. Your game will be authored and played within limits, as all games are (or else they are arguably only borderline or even not games; see game theorist Jesper Juul's model for a general idea). Embrace and play with your limits, but imagining that they aren't there only complicates things and it does your imagination a disservice by placing things out of realistic or actualize-able reach.

After a series of puzzles or tasks or completed, you move on to the next "day". But within each day, I'd like the puzzles not to have to be solved in an exact order. There are 7 "days"
Do you intend this day structure to establish a time matrix? ("A time matrix creates an adventure where events do not wait for player-character participation," according to Kirk Botula in the AD&D Complete Book of Villains). Could a player recover from missing such-and-such from Day 1? Will they always have the opportunity to do action X, or will thing Y always be present? If character Z goes through with their plan on Day 2 without being stopped, or if they didn't have whatever MacGuffin by then, can the player still achieve a favorable outcome? I wouldn't out-of-hand discourage thinking about such ideas, but if you start dealing with questions like this, know that especially as a solitary author you are looking at an extra level of complexity, cruelty, and potential player frustration that risks alienating your audience at the same time as it exponentially increases your workload as an author. What potential audience size are you looking at* or for? How much time are you willing to devote to this single project for that audience? What would the extra layers you're talking about adding be worth it, in your estimation? These might be good questions to consider.

If you're not implementing a time matrix, the "days" you mention function more like the acts of a play, and all the puzzles within are more like traditional quest structures than you may have initially imagined. That's not to say that's bad per se. Many games and works of literature have done terrific things within these sort of structures. The many day structure is used to good effect as a partitioning scheme, for example, in "Yahtzee" Croshaw's "X Days a Y" series, beginning with 5 Days a Stranger, if you're familiar. If not, you can find the first of them here and the rest on the same site. And yes, text-based games have dealt with these sorts of structures heavily already, time matrix or no.

*Hint: the most upvoted bug/enhancement for ADRIFT has 15 votes.
need to solve brain puzzles to get out, rather than complete task-based dilemmas
Solving a puzzle is a task-based dilemma, all the more literally so when it's written in ADRIFT.

If you want some inspiration on how to operate within these sort of limits, a fairly thorough analysis of how narrative is constructed in the literal space of a game's fiction can be found in the essay "Game Design As Narrative Architecture," by media scholar Henry Jenkins. At only 13 pages, it is likely to be a read that takes only a fraction of what your game's production will cost you timewise. I think it might inform your authorship in some important and potentially inspiring ways.

I hope this helps. Good luck with your game.
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Re: Task inspiration

Postby ParadoxGames » Mon Jul 18, 2016 8:50 pm

Thank you Duncan; you gave me a lot to think about.

I understand that all text adventures are linear in nature, and a program "closes off" as tasks are completed, but by freeform, I meant that you don't just solve one puzzle, move on to the next one in that path, solve one puzzle, more on to the next one, etc. By calling the game "freeform", I want to clarify that I'm under no delusions that the game has no linear nature to it. I just meant that I didn't want the game to be so strict that the player has no more freedom to act than as in a "Find Your Fate" book. What I meant by freeform is that:

1) a player might be working on several sets of tasks at a time, and the player doesn't necessarily have to do everything in a certain order. For instance, an object may not be needed (or its purpose may not be apparent) right away, but the puzzle of retrieving the object is presented and may be solved at any time between when the object is discovered and its needed.

2) There are places for the player to go and things to explore that aren't required to win the game, but do provide clues that may make winning the game easier. If you're getting stuck and want to do something else for a while, you can listen to the news or something.

3) Even though the path narrows as you go to the end, the character is still free to explore the areas from before, and the same areas will have new things to do on different days.

To answer your question about how the "Days" work in the game: certain tasks are to be completed each "day", and when you complete them all, you may advance to the next "day". The day won't change until the tasks are completed. I wish to keep the cruelty level low, but the time factor does limit the number of moves to complete each "day's" tasks. The number of turns to a "day" a player has is absurdly generous: approximately 1000.

There is a time matrix to the game. Characters perform actions at certain times. Doing things t the proper time makes the game easier, but the game won't be cruel if you miss the window. For instance, a character comes to clean your room once a day, and you must interact with her a certain way to receive a required object. However, if you miss the time window in this situation, there's an alternative way to bring her back off-schedule, but it requires additional problem-solving as a trade-off for being forgiving.

Treating the "days" as acts in a play is also part of the storyline, but I always have to most trouble writing middles to stories vs beginnings and endings, and partially why I'm stuck.

I've actually experimented building a brain teaser demo in ADRIFT, and it's working well. Of course, there are tasks to solve, but I did work out a way to do puzzles in adrift. The main task will be to open a door to escape the room. To do so, you must discover a combination to unlock the door. Solving brain puzzles rewards the player with one part of the combination. The puzzles are something like those in 7th Guest or 11th Hour.

You've not only given me a lot to think about. You gave me some resources that I'll enjoy reading for new insights. I already clicked the links and am downloading the Jenkins PDF. Plus, just by describing the game, I looked at more from outside the scope of the ADRIFT window, and found a lot of the answers I was looking for.
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Re: Task inspiration

Postby ParadoxGames » Mon Jul 18, 2016 8:57 pm

forgive the double post. I blame my ISP, which kept freezing at the moment I tried to post.
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