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PostPosted: Fri Feb 02, 2018 4:15 am 
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To celebrate the re-release of Anchorhead, we might well play it at an upcoming IF Meetup here in Oakland.

So I started replaying it a bit, and then I remembered why I was unable to play Anchorhead, like, at all, because I could never figure out what my objective was (or was supposed to be).

Consider the very first puzzle of the game.

Spoiler: show
The first puzzle asks you to get the house keys, which requires you to break into the real estate agent's office. The puzzle is pretty tricky; your only indication that it is a puzzle is the fact that there's an out-of-reach ladder in the alleyway behind the office, which, by adventure game logic, implies that you can (and should) try to climb it. (In the new edition, at least the trash cans are already underneath the ladder.)

But if you don't visit the alley, (and there's no particular reason to try that first,) you'll find the entire town of Anchorhead, dozens of rooms filled with stuff to examine. Unfortunately, at this point, it's basically all a red herring. You can't solve any puzzles in town yet; you can't do anything of importance until you enter the house, which requires breaking into the agent's office.

If you keep exploring town, eventually you'll find Michael, who will remind you to get the keys, but he says "Well, I'm sure the real estate agent just stepped out for a bit. You can get the keys from her when she gets back." This sounds like a hint to just keep waiting (which doesn't work, and the game will AFAIK never say "you've waited long enough; it's time to do something desperate") or perhaps it's a hint to keep wandering around town looking for the real estate agent, which won't help either.

Once you've explored 20+ rooms and examined their contents, most of which are not-yet-solvable puzzles, even when you do encounter the ladder in the alleyway, it stops looking like an inviting adventure game puzzle, but instead looks like yet another not-yet-solvable puzzle.


And it's not just the first puzzle… the whole game is like this. The huge environment constantly forces me to ask, "What am I supposed to solve here? Is this a puzzle I can solve yet? Is this even a puzzle?" You can spend hours just exploring Anchorhead while making no progress against any of the story goals.

I've played quite a few parser games over the years, but I felt like had to just give up on Anchorhead and do the whole game by the walkthrough; at no point did I feel like I ever "got the hang of it" so I could solve even one puzzle on my own. Some of the puzzles felt fair enough (though not all), but to solve them myself, I'd have to know/believe that they were solvable puzzles, which i essentially never did.

Are there any hints available for Anchorhead beyond the walkthroughs I see on IFDB? I think a Q&A invisiclues-style hint system would be just the thing.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 02, 2018 12:14 pm 
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I have not replayed the game since it originally came out, except that I ran through the introduction a few times while testing the Steam release.

I assumed (without justification) that the game locked you near the agent's office until you got the keys! That is how ingrained the idea of "restricted initial scene" is for me. But even if the opening scene were built that way, the rest of the game is all wide-open exploration of the kind you describe. It's just a classic 1996 aesthetic -- I don't remember thinking any strange about it at the time. Curses is the same way.

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The huge environment constantly forces me to ask, "What am I supposed to solve here? Is this a puzzle I can solve yet? Is this even a puzzle?"


That is exactly right.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 02, 2018 12:22 pm 
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Without commenting on whether this particular design aesthetic is good, bad, or better left to moulder in the grave of history, I just want to point out that the first Zork allows you to wander off into an expansive and essentially puzzle-less wilderness without ever forcing you to engage with its single, initial puzzle -- which involves going around back of a building and breaking in through a window.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 02, 2018 12:44 pm 
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Granting that the aesthetic is part of a classic tradition, I of course never finished a Zork game without Invisiclues. Zork + Invisiclues is, I claim, a much better experience than Zork with a walkthrough.

In the last 20 years, has nobody created Q&A/Invisiclues hints for Anchorhead or anything less spoilery than a straight-up walkthrough?

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 02, 2018 12:52 pm 
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Also I should maybe warn you that even the walkthroughs that are available are for the 1998 version. The Illustrated Edition is substantially different in several places (and trivially different in many more) and will depart from any previous walkthroughs very quickly.

I don't know if anyone's published any invisiclues-style hints for Anchorhead, but if they were written prior to last Wednesday they will have the same problem.

For what it's worth, I did try to make Michael slightly more helpful this time.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 02, 2018 1:26 pm 
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Admittedly, it took me and several other high school students over a year to complete the mainframe version of Zork, albeit with limited terminal access during school hours and the occasional home use of a a portable terminal (TI Silent 700 as I recall).

But throughout the Infocom years, large games without obvious pointers to game-progression was the entire point. That's what was loved. You didn't know anything and nothing was handed to you on a silver platter. We've since moved on from those norms. Bates' Puzzle Theory article: http://www.lucasstyle.com/tutorials/App ... Theory.pdf and Zarf's cruelty ratings come to mind as catalysts for the change.

I can see how anyone playing IF in the last 10 or even 15 years would be used to designs that encouraged completion at every turn. I'm rather fond of the open expanse no hints design, but only if everything else is solid (which I think is true of Anchorhead).

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 02, 2018 1:53 pm 
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If you want mild hints, it can help searching rec.games.int-fiction archives for whatever you're stuck on. It's kind of like invisiclues, because the effort makes you not want to do it too much, and it only reveals a bit at a time.

For the new version, you should post questions here so we can build a similar database for future visitors!

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 03, 2018 3:46 pm 
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Bruno Dias posted an article connecting the "work on it for months" adventure game aesthetic of the 1980s and modern games like Minecraft/Spelunky (you need a wiki to play well), Super Meat Boy (die-die-die platforming), Shenzhen I/O (here's a computer manual, have fun). Games with a very steep learning curve and no concession to "on-boarding" new players.

Article link: https://www.pcgamer.com/1998-text-adven ... 8s-lineup/

I'm not sure the connection is all that close. There's an analogy, but the gaming context is very different. Back in the 80s, games were expensive to produce, expensive to play (both for the game and the home computer), and there just weren't many choices. "Get your money's worth" was a plausible, if not universally accepted, argument.

Now it's the opposite: we have a vast surplus of cheap games trying to differentiate themselves from each other. And, obviously, group play is the norm (whether that means chatting on a game forum or watching Twitch streams). We observe that "really hard game" is a viable niche, but that *doesn't* mean these designers ignore the needs of new players.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 13, 2018 10:55 am 
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I'm a new author, but a old-time player.

In all phases of our society today, no change is more evident than the crunching of available time everyone has. Malls that once thrived are dying. We don't want to spend hours strolling a mall , we rather pull up to a store - get in and get out. Spending a full Saturday at the Country Club is a ancient way of life. Now golf courses are lucky to attract players for 9 holes.

Playing Interactive fiction is no different. Long gone are the days players will persevere for hours on end to figure out a game when they get stuck, where as another game is online a few clicks away.

To that end, game help and hints will not be enough. It is not a satisfactory experience for a player to consistency refer to help in order to make progress in the game. There is nothing wrong with a large game, or even a difficult game. Everyone loves to be challenged now and then. The real issue becomes - how does a game respond when the player has seen all he can see, learned all he can learn, and now is stuck wandering aimeless around hoping to stumble upon the right combination of puzzle solving tasks. It is so much easier to jump into another game at that point.

Reed's Blue Lacuna offered the concept of a drama manager and if parser based IF is going to be anything more than a nostalgic throwback to gaming, then its games will have to evolve. Every IF game should have enough built-in intelligence to assist the player, provide direction, hints, and keep track of their progress.

If there is one thing lacking in too many parser games, it is still that. We seem to have a plethora of ways to provide contextual help to a player stuck, but we need to take it one step further and have the game bring a level of AI to keep the player engaged and moving forward in the story narrative. The game should drive the player as much as the player drives the game.

With Twine and the CYOA options taking a larger market share of IF, that is the challenge which parser-based IF tools must address more fully in the coming years.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 13, 2018 5:36 pm 
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I think most of us parser folks are in agreement with this. Anchorhead is really an old school implementation. It still stands as an excellent parser game, but newer players may not accept that with the level of effort involved.

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"It boots nothing to avoid his snares, for they are ever beset by other snares." - The shade of High Lord Mhoram, The Wounded Land - Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.


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