Goblins: Deduction vs. Abduction   4 comments

Alas, I have not quite finished yet. Perhaps this post will give a hint as to why. But first, a brief detour into Sherlock Holmes.

From the start of The Five Orange Pips by Arthur Conan Doyle:

When I glance over my notes and records of the Sherlock Holmes cases between the years ’82 and ’90, I am faced by so many which present strange and interesting features that it is no easy matter to know which to choose and which to leave. Some, however, have already gained publicity through the papers, and others have not offered a field for those peculiar qualities which my friend possessed in so high a degree, and which it is the object of these papers to illustrate. Some, too, have baffled his analytical skill, and would be, as narratives, beginnings without an ending, while others have been but partially cleared up, and have their explanations founded rather upon conjecture and surmise than on that absolute logical proof which was so dear to him.

Sherlock Holmes is oft-stated to always conclude things based on airtight deduction, having a set of facts whereupon to build a case where there can be no other conclusion. However, quite often the character relies on abduction, which instead a probability-based guess based on circumstances. Later, in the same story, a young man arrives:

“Give me your coat and umbrella,” said Holmes. “They may rest here on the hook and will be dry presently. You have come up from the south-west, I see.”

“Yes, from Horsham.”

“That clay and chalk mixture which I see upon your toe caps is quite distinctive.”

The supposition made here is most likely correct, but hardly the only possible one; perhaps the man stole the shoes from someone else who resided in the area. Still, Sherlock Holmes’s inference is the best explanation, likely enough that the reader doesn’t notice it’s not an “absolute logical proof” in the same manner as mathematically proving that 1 + 1 = 2.

To summarize: with deduction, we have fully known rules and circumstances that when together force some kind of conclusion. With abduction, we have circumstances where we have to infer the chain of events, but it’s a probabilistic guess.

By the treehouse where all the treasures are stored in Goblins there is an “old boot”. There is no more detail other than that.

After long frustration I ended up checking a “hint sheet” that was given with the game, and found this:

Submarine. The sub may be surfaced by waving the boot (which was originally fished from the sea) at the beach where the fish is carrying the welcome sign. Be sure to bring the compass when using the sub or all is lost!

I went to the place with the welcome sign …

… and found WAVE BOOT had no effect, nor did any other attempt at using a magical item. No, it turns out you have to be in the bay just north of this part of the beach, and then the action works.

This happens to be an unusually prominent spot for me to highlight an issue with adventure games. I feel like a lot of adventure game writers think they are writing puzzles which will be solved via the process of deduction, but the player needs to use abduction instead.

The author knew the boot was fished from the sea, but somehow failed to convey this fact. The author knew the nature of the boot’s magic. The author knew the boot’s magic could be activated via waving. The author knew the “royal entrance” was next to the sign, but not right at it. If given all those facts, it’s possible to logically conclude both that WAVE BOOT is the right action and where it should be done; without these facts, the player is instead using abduction. They can see the crime scene after the fact and can only make their best guess about what to do.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; a confirmed conclusion from abduction can be highly satisfying. However, it needs to be a most likely conclusion, not one plausible theory out of ten. Many authors are tentative about giving “excess hints” to a puzzle in a game, but they have to keep in mind the player is always working via abduction, and making a puzzle solution 10% more likely to be correct isn’t the same as “giving a puzzle away”.

Posted January 11, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

4 responses to “Goblins: Deduction vs. Abduction

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I think of this more like a mistake. Either the writer forgot about the manual, or either the writer thought that it would be clever to make it a little bit more complicated. Which is a mistake.

    • I am sure leaving the room out of the hint was a mistake (is that the one you mean?) There might be an interesting reason for it but I will get to it on my last post.

      All the objects have minimal description so it was definitely meant as “try everything everywhere” for the solution.

  2. The supposition made here is most likely correct, but hardly the only possible one; perhaps the man stole the shoes from someone else who resided in the area. Still, Sherlock Holmes’s inference is the best explanation, likely enough that the reader doesn’t notice it’s an “absolute logical proof” in the same manner as mathematically proving that 1 + 1 = 2.

    Did you mean, the reader doesn’t notice it’s not that kind of proof?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: