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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Interactive Fiction Pet Peeves

So I thought before I dive straight in to the games, I'd talk a little about the criterion I generally use when evaluating Interactive Fiction.

I know that writing an IF game is very hard and time consuming. Even a seemingly small and sparsely implemented game can be a herculean effort. But I also know that when writing my own game, there were certain obvious standards I tried to adhere to. I am not a programmer (half the things I learned in Aaron Reed's recent textbook were ENTIRELY new to me, despite having read through the manual pretty thoroughly (or so I thought)) and not an aficionado, but there were things even I knew to try to include. Here are things that I look for to determine immediately whether or not a game is worth playing (though I promise to try to play through ALL of the games):

List of pet peeves after the jump!!


One of the first commands I type when playing a game (unless the opening is particularly striking or involving) is "About" or "Help". As far as I'm concerned, any decent current game will recognize this command and give me either a menu or just a paragraph telling me a bit of information about the game. This info might include special non-standard commands I might want to use, a list of beta-testers (always a welcome sign), and some background information on the game or author. If a game refuses to respond to either command, my hackles are immediately raised.

Unimplemented Obvious Objects

If a room description makes a point to mention and describe, say a "desk" or a "mysterious envelope", then I expect to be able to interact with those objects. I don't care if the interaction is limited to simply a description. That's fine. But what I can't stand is when a "cracked mirror" is referred to and I get the response "you can't see anything like that here" when trying to "examine" it closer! Again, it severely diminishes my expectations.

I am not like this guy. I am not a mind reader.
Difficult or Mind Reading puzzles

I have to admit, there are many many works of Interactive Fiction that are heavily puzzle based. My own piece was also heavily puzzle based (though the conditions of the competition led me to think that was what a game had to do), but I have to admit I prefer plot based puzzles. I don't mean linear, as in fact I'm very interested in nonlinear IF, but as much as I love creating puzzles, I am not so good at solving them.

Good puzzles should be well clued and eventually solvable. If I have to look at the walk-through my first reaction should be "Oh, of course! I'm such an idiot!" as opposed to, "What?? Who would ever think of doing that? The author's an idiot!" Puzzles often have a way of annoying me and they can get boring and frustrating quickly. I remember when writing Party Foul, I decided to give the other members of the party plenty of independent conversation in the hopes that even if the player was wandering about frustrated and not sure what to do next, at least they might be somewhat entertained by the banter around them. (This strategy was probably a little less successful than it was in my head)

Text Dumps

If I wanted to read blocks and blocks of uninteractive text I would sit down and read the New Yorker's fiction section. I hate it when there are big blocks of uninteractive scenes in IF. I make allowances, of course. Though even at the beginning of an IF story, I prefer a minimal introduction. 

Granted it's difficult to replicate convincing dialogue with NPCs, and so it's tempting to shoe horn those "interactions" in uninteractive cut-scenes, but to me, it defies the whole point of the medium. 

Clichéd Genre Fiction

Look, I like science fiction as much as the next blog-writing nerd but it does not impress me when the same unimaginative tropes are used over and over again. And I'm not a fantasy fan at all. So when I discover that I am, yet again, a warrior on his way to finding obscure loot in dank and twisty caves, call me a curmudgeon, but I find myself unimpressed by the writer's originality. 

Of course there ARE good games that have been written that use these environments, either subversively (Lost Pig comes to mind) or in a unique way (see Hunter in the Darkness), but at least for this reader, the author starts in a hole that they must then climb out of. Again, good clever writing can save anything, but I'd rather have an original premise.

Well, that's about all. Despite all this premature grumbling, I'm really excited to see what kind of games crop up this year. Lets hope there aren't too many that make me think of this list.

1 comment:

  1. A nice list you have here! I totally agree with most of your points, it really annoys me! Unfortunately, I don't think clichéd genre fiction will stop unless people start thinking more outside of the box. By the way, I wrote a post about my own fiction pet peeves on my blog so I hope you will read and comment with your own opinion telling me what you think!