Natural action   1 comment

My use of “structural elements” to name things that are actions but not really puzzles was a bit of a hack. I meant that those elements were working as structure, rather than something to “stump” the player, but since normal puzzles define structure as well, it’s not the best term. (I also put in a bit of bias with my first two examples for having the structure require navigating somewhere else first; however, the CPR scene in Photopia doesn’t follow this logic.)

I’m going to stick with natural actions for the moment, defining them as “actions that advance a narrative without requiring insight or logic.”

I’ve also contemplated the problem I posed regarding the “easy” puzzles of Photopia: what makes them different from using a key on a lock? I think the hinge here is the puzzles involve fantasy elements, invented items with possibly no context in the player’s experience. They’re relatively typical Western fantasy elements, so readers with a nodding attachment to those tropes should have no issue, but it’s quite plausable for a player to know nothing of Western fantasy.

Looking over my previous examples, then, I’d say natural actions either a.) Give direct instruction to the player, b.) are repetitions of a puzzle in identical contexts, so after the first time it is quite natural what to do, or c.) are connected enough to a player’s background and context that no thought is required.

C seems like a relative case. Take the possibility someone has never seen a lock and key before. Using a key on the lock then *would* be a puzzle (never minding the fact they probably wouldn’t know the word UNLOCK either). If this is taken as fact, then the “easy” puzzles in Photopia really *are* natural actions for some players, so for those people they are not puzzles at all (which explains why when the game was released there was confusion as to whether it was puzzleless or not).

Now, to the experimental IF question: could an (enjoyable) game be written entirely with natural action? There are, of course, actual examples (like Stephen Bond’s Rameses) but they seem to enforce this through player inaction; pure navigation, or conversation, or a combination of both. Would it be possible to maintain natural action while allowing the player to be in the middle of, say, a spy thriller?

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Posted February 4, 2005 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

One response to “Natural action

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  1. Pingback: IFComp 2007: Fox, Fowl and Feed « Renga in Blue

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