Peter Piers wrote:
So you are effectively saying that if there were tools as good as the modern ones back then we would automatically have had better games?
Most definitely, yes.
Game authors in commercial era were living on money they were making selling games, and they had to compete with each other on everything: amount of rooms, quality of text, quality and quantity of illustrations, puzzles, etc. For example, if they were able to create something similar to Inform and squeeze in same amount of quality text that Emily Short used in her games, I'm sure they would do that. It alone would give us better games.
What you probably meant to say is that L9 and MS back in ~1986 were not able to create same
games that are being created nowadays even if they had the modern tools. I agree with you on that. There is a generation between us and them, and it require no further explanation.
Peter Piers wrote:
Sure, I'll grant you, L9 and MS and Infocom's wizardry at getting all that content into the available hardware was magic, but L9 in particular, in some early games, are very much a showcase for the sort of design to be abandoned. Snowball's gigantic room count, the vast majority of them completely empty and generic, springs to mind... Of course, L9 got better! Over time. I'm thinking that's more likely what happened to IF.
I see what you're trying to say. Yes, now we have much more theory behind IF than back in those days. We have authors exchanging information and writing articles, we have magazines, blogs, free pieces of code, etc.
What you're explaining was especially noticeable with arcade games. Back in 1980's there was no idea of balance or casual gaming, and many of the arcade games were so hardcore that it was practically impossible to go through first few screens, not mentioning finishing the game. After years, things changed. But if you check the strategy games of same era, you'll see that idea of balance is definitely there, actually, it was there long before people started to play strategy games on computers. The more mature game genre is, the more ideas were applied to it by gamers and developers.
By the time L9, MS, and Infocom entered game industry, adventure game genre was already there. Their first games were designed after previous works of same genre (of course I mean Adventure), but later they had to develop and apply new ideas in order to compete and stay in business. The idea of literary text as a medium between game logic and player gives a lot of room for creative developer (which is why now we're talking about IF, not adventure games.) However, developers back then had restrictions which they were not able to overcome. I explained one of the biggest restrictions in my previous message. This was the main reason to choose puzzle-driven design or create procedurally generated rooms.
Actually, I've played many L9 games, and I finished Snowball with only one hint from walkthrough. I can say that it is a well designed game, even for today's standards, not to mention that it's a masterpiece from programmer's point of view. L9 actually did a decent job with procedurally generated rooms. Those rooms not just "completely empty and generic", they are part of puzzle. Rooms and corridors have unique color codes and numbers, and only way to get to your destination is to use those color codes. This technique was used in many more games since, and only reason those rooms are completely empty and generic in Snowball is 48 Kb limit, otherwise L9 would use procedurally generated room descriptions.
There are very remarkable examples of questionable design from that era. If we're talking of L9, I would say it's Return to Eden. I've tried it many times, but just can't stand it. There is no way this software can be called 'interactive fiction', because there is almost no connections to literature. But I completely understand why L9 went puzzle way, it's just because they were unable to go literature way.
Mentioning "7000 rooms" on tape cover was just marketing. Back then many adventure games had very little amount of rooms, and many people considered bigger games as better games.