General Game-Design/Authoring Notes
Sometimes I feel obliged to write up a little sub-rant about something
or other, usually after having played through several dozen comp games
and seeing the same mistake made repeatedly. In the past I was
sticking these on the actual comp review pages but I think I'm going
to centralize them here now. Like my reviews these notes are short and
off-the-cuff rather than extensive. For a more serious study of game
design you could, eg, look at
Zarf's game reviews.
"Story" vs "Game" vs the world:
Adam Cadre's griped about there being no good word for the sort of IF
thing he wants to write; "game" suggests to people that it's, you
know, a game, when he's aiming more for something more literally
"interactive fiction". Anyway, I think we're stuck with "game" for
right now, since "piece" sounds lousy and nobody knows what a "ractive" is.
So that's what I'll use.
Please, please do it. I know you think 1) you got all the bugs out and
2) you don't have time before the comp starts, but 1) you didn't and
2) I certainly have time to lower your game a few points for being buggy.
Hints and Walkthroughs:
With this many games, if I got stuck and didn't have hints or a walkthrough,
I'd quit and give it a 3. Even with that, if there was a long,
annoying sequence (cf the spacewalk in Enlisted), I'd still
quit and give it a 3. Hints are not by any means a substitute for good
game design, and a puzzle solved with hints will always be less for
for me than one solved without them (well, except in the case when the
puzzle makes no sense and I "solve" it by trying random things until
I get it; then it's pretty much a tossup). But but but, if you don't
have great game design and the player is playing under a time limit,
for instance because the game is a comp entry, then stick in hints,
for goodness sake. You're going to have puzzles which are not
fully-fleshed-out or are broken entirely, and it would be a Great Pity
if that's enough to stop the player from finishing the game.
The Length/Fun Ratio:
This is really easy and some people totally fail to grasp it. So here
it is: when people talk about a game being 'fun', what they mean is
the fun density, not the absolute amount of fun. Therefore, if two
games have the same absolute amount of fun things, the longer one will
be less fun. And that means that if you make your game really long,
you had better put a lot of fun stuff in it, or it will suck. This
isn't a perfect equation — it sort of levels off or something at the
edges, so really long games are often fun partly just for being long,
and if your game sux you cannot always fix this by making in shorter — but it's a good thing to keep in mind.
Hrm. Hrm-te-hrm. I have sort of mixed feelings about multiple endings
to games. On the one hand they add depth to the game and let the
player make meaningful choices to determine the PC's fate; on the
other hand, it's annoying when the side-effect of the author putting
in multiple endings is them spending insufficient time on any
particular ending. In that case you really need to see all the endings
to get the same benefit you would in a single-ending game, so adding
the multiple endings does nothing except create more work for the
player. This is especially frustrating when the best endings are
hard to get to. In a "normal" game, you play until you get to the
ending, and then stop, and can know you got more or less what the
author put in. In a game with multiple endings you don't know how much
of the game you're still missing and there's no real way to tell. Bleh.
Talking to NPCs:
The current best conversation systems are more or less all written by
Emily Short (in, eg, Best of Three). I don't expect other people to get up
to this level, but I am tired of >TALK TO NPC. Menu, fine,
ask/tell, fine. But no more talk to, which is the conversational
equivalent of disallowing every verb except for 'use': it makes the
game easier to design by yanking away all agency from the player. Fie
on it, I say.
And that's all. For other IF-related things, including many more reviews,
you can go to my
main IF page.