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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I Bonk You

I've got a beta of the Lovecraft IF up, which I will probably open to Cathode readers in the near future. The Brother and The Girl get first pass to remove all the really horrible stuff. Also, calling it a beta might be premature as some early discussion might make it necessary to update the codebase to support stuff like page history and synonyms. Not sure yet.

The biggest problem is dealing with how best to bonk the user. While we like to protest that interactive worlds, and textual ones in particular, should be as versatile and open-ended as possible - the truth is that often they're limited to the bare minimum of what the user requires to get along in the game. Sure, Zork had some awesome versatility. Like when you told the parser to kick that bucket hanging by a rope ... it would kill you. Funny, ha ha.

Often, though, you don't get to do whatever you want. You can't for instance, fill the bucket up with everything in your inventory and make it fall (I don't think you can at least ... I could be wrong). Instead, you'll get bonked with some kind of parser response like, "You can't fit the toothbrush into the bucket". Or whatnot.

For example, in a recent IF I played with there was a mattress. I couldn't pick up the mattress, because it was too heavy. I couldn't sleep on the mattress, because it was too nasty. I could lift the mattress, but I was told there wasn't really much point. These are all common interactions a user might try with a mattress ... just not the one the developer wanted. So the user gets bonked.

I don't have a good bonking mechanism. In The Case Of Randolph Carter, you only get a certain number of actions per page. If you don't perform a valid interaction the game assumes you are waiting and proceeds with the story. Part of this is to alleviate the problem of being stuck in a room with a mattress and a bucket and not being able to figure out how to leave. Failure in Randolph Carter will still, oddly, result in a kind of success.

It just doesn't seem to communicate it well right now.

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