Ideas for Interactive Fiction

Recently there has been a bit of an argument raging on several blogs about how much a game idea stands alone, how much it’s worth without any implementation, apropos of Squidi’s 300 game mechanics page.

I’m not going to dive into this debate, mostly because the point I’d want to make has already been made eloquently and repeatedly by other people: that the process of implementation includes a certain amount of further design work, raises questions that aren’t covered by the original specification, and so on. It tends to warp an idea in other, subtler ways, too. (A great book on this, not about game design but about art, is Baxandall’s Patterns of Intention. It’s a compelling description of how external and internal forces shape creative production, which I read in college and still go around recommending whenever I have the slightest excuse.)

On the other hand, not every game idea is viable even in its basic form: it’s either not a description of anything that could be elaborated (because it’s about incidental features of the game), or it leads inevitably to terrible implementation problems. So Squidi has genuinely accomplished something by serving up an assortment of ideas at least some of which are really pretty decent starting places.

I occasionally look through the search terms that have led people to this site, to see whether I’m providing what people are hoping to find, and one of the things semi-frequently mentioned is “ideas for interactive fiction” or “if premises” or the like. I wonder what these people are looking for — maybe, in fact, something like Squidi’s list, only IF-specific instead of directed to other kinds of (primarily video) games.

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Emergent Puzzle Solutions

A recent RAIF thread brought up the Magnetic Scrolls games, and the fact that they used a simulationist system that could produce puzzle solutions that the game authors hadn’t thought of:

“Talk of current IF development drifted on to whether it’s possible to create a game in which the player is not really constrained by the author’s intentions. Michael noted that Magnetic Scrolls games were kind of like this-for example, if an object had the “sharp shards” bit set, dropping or throwing the object would cause it to shatter into many sharp shards. In total, 128 bits were used to describe a more or less working universe that the player could interact with in ways that hadn’t been anticipated. As an example, Michael described an unintentional situation in which one could put a rat in some liquid nitrogen, snap off its tail and, for a few turns, use the tail to puncture feed sacks and obtain food.”

This raised a fair amount of interest (most of the “ZOMG that would be GREAT!!” kind). This yearning to do something the author didn’t think of is something I hear a fair amount of: Mark Bernstein has complained that, because IF games anticipate solutions, the IF player is always robbed of the pleasure of having invented a novel solution because he always knows the author was there first. Emergent-solution design might address that complaint. It might also address the frustration players often feel when a logical-seeming approach is either forbidden or not recognized by the game at all.

So I found myself thinking, again, about why more IF games don’t work this way.

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Casual Games of Assembly

Originally this was going to be part of the same post as the one on Puzzles of Aesthetics: I started out talking about fashion games, in general. But I quickly realized that JoJo’s Fashion Show was one kind of game and all the other fashion games were something else entirely.

So this half of the post is about games like Vogue Tales, Dress Shop Hop, and — by extension — Cake Mania, Turbo Subs, Go Go Gourmet, and the astonishing Golden Hearts Juice Bar. (That’s not a good kind of astonishment.)

There’s not a lot of IF stuff in here at all, really, since the kind of challenge involved is almost entirely about speed, and wouldn’t translate well.

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Puzzles of Aesthetics

A few weeks ago, I complained about the casual game Home Sweet Home that it wasn’t a very entertaining game, being asked to decorate a house to client specifications. (I ragged even more on the “construction” part of the game, which manages to be easy and annoying at the same time, and to bear little or no resemblance to the real-life activity that it is supposed to be simulating.) Other people evidently liked the game more than I did.

Since then, though, I’ve been thinking about this question: how do you design a puzzle or goal-oriented interaction in which the player’s job is to make aesthetic judgments?

I’ve seen a number of different gestures towards this kind of puzzle in recent games.

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