Recently I tried Mystery in London, a search-for-lost-objects game. I’m not sure what possessed me to do this; possibly it was the pretty screen shots, or possibly it was curiosity about what this genre involved.
Less than an hour of the demo was plenty to convince me that I do not like search-for-lost-objects games at all. You’re confronted by a cluttered screen with many items too visually indistinct to recognize, and asked to pick out a handful of items fitting the list at the bottom of the panel. This experience has all the joy and charm of looking for a lost set of keys. The environments are often at least a bit interesting, but they don’t really make sense — all sorts of random nonsense has been put into them in order to spice up the object search, so that a fancy grocery store may turn out to contain a fire hydrant, a couple of lizards, a rose hanging from the ceiling, and a water mark on the plaster that looks exactly like Abraham Lincoln. Suffice it to say that interpreting the objects around into a coherently designed world is not the point of the exercise.
I’m sure that someone does enjoy all that, just as someone or other faithfully bought all the Where’s Waldo books. So I’m not here to kick someone else’s preferred form of entertainment. What interested me particularly about the form of Mystery in London was the use of minigames; specifically, at one point, an old man at a pub challenges the player to a game of Reversi.
Now, there are lots of computer implementations of Reversi in which the computer plays to win. But I’ve never seen a computer Reversi as unstintingly bad as this one, blithely giving away corner spots, making no effort to get strong positions at the edge of the board, etc. In one game I got the computer to the point where it had run out of moves through sheer incompetence; that one was called a draw and we had to play again. The second time, I won 46-18. So it’s obvious that the designers didn’t want to pose a really serious skill challenge to the player, since that might be out of keeping with the difficulty level of the rest of the game.
What I’ve been thinking about since is whether this is a reasonable way to create small skill challenges where you don’t want the minigame to become too dominant a part of the whole play experience — namely, give the player an opponent who is fairly weak. IF occasionally has minigames of skill that are hard to win unless you figure out a trick and disable your opponent, but I think I’ve less frequently seen them where the opponent is simply mediocre at playing. Perhaps as a way to represent, say, combat, where randomization is such a dissatisfying approach in IF?
This would wind up being a fairly stylized, puzzle-y, un-narrative-like kind of play, I imagine. But maybe interesting. Or are there examples already out there that I don’t know about?