Fatalism   Leave a comment

Zankage isn’t the answer to this one.
— Carl Muckenhoupt, The Gostak

Samuel T. Denton’s Endgame, the winner of the C32 Contest from last year, had a particular bit that impressed me. I’m going to reveal a mild spoiler, so you may want to go play the game first (it is short, don’t worry).

Now, did you try using the ring while wearing it?

Did you try putting the ring back on and using it again?

10 times?

There’s quite a lot of IF out there that would simply say ‘No, that’d be too dangerous’ or ‘Not while it’s on your hand!’ and forget about it. Others might let you try the ring-on-hand once and then disallow any future tries.

Endgame lets you be foolish, 10 times in a row.

Authors these days are very protective of their players. Many a cliff I have attempted to jump off only to be chided with the message “That’s too dangerous.” Look, I know it’s dangerous. Can’t you let me do it anyway, and maybe give an amusing death message on the way?

This protective tendency seems to have grown from the fatality-at-every-turn days of old. A mere fingerslip in King’s Quest 1 could send the player to their doom.

Later, games became more forgiving and gave adequate warning when death was about to occur. This is a good thing. However, what if the player does something that is obviously fatalistic? Shouldn’t their wish be fulfilled?

Similar logic can be applied to what one might call venting actions. Most IF players know, innately, that violence is (nearly always) not the solution to a particular problem. However, being able to hit the door one is frustrated with is a form of catharsis, even if it results in player death via stubbed toe.

Similar things can be said about licking the floor, or jumping up and down. If the response is amusing enough, or at least doesn’t merely chide the player, it’s encouragement that Yes, everything is ok. My game is well coded and anticipates actions well. The puzzle you are stuck on has a reasonable solution. You are not stuck merely because the verb you tried is not exactly the one I had in mind even though it is equivalent.

So, authors: let us zank once in a while. It’ll make us feel better. Maybe we’ll last, oh, 60 seconds more before we reach for the hints, at least.

Posted February 7, 2005 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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