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.



Multiple Endings:
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.