Statistics in interactive fiction   Leave a comment

I refer here to Negotis: Book 1, from the IntroComp 2005, and Emily Short’s review:

I’m fine with the idea that there are many ways to solve a puzzle, some of which lead to better results than others: that’s deterministic, and on careful replaying I could get a good result on my own. There’s a kind of fun in this, if I’m in the right mood. But I see no fun in optimizing the success of a runthrough by saving and restoring until I happen to get the dice roll to come out in my favor.

There is lurking here the awkward relationship to variable simulationism that has always been in IF. Text naturally comes off as a discrete medium compared to a graphical game; the character might be standing in room X, not exactly 200 pixels to the right and 500 pixels forward from the entrance. Failure in a discrete medium invites a limited range of responses compared to a graphical one (where the player may be able to choose to run away in a multitude of directions rather than just ‘out’).

In Negotis, the gameworld itself does is not simulationist enough to maintain a simulationist PC. A discrete task it set before the player: they either succeed or not. A “sneak” skill modelled in, say, Morrowind, would have the sneak fail at a specific location (perhaps in the early first steps, or halfway through, or right as the character is about to reach the exit), meaning even if there is a random roll involved there are numerous ways to fail.

In a human-run RPG, the fun thing about stats is that they *do* give the player a way to customize his experience — by letting him design a character in advance and thus choose what sorts of experiences he’s likely to run into during play. Get rid of the character-design aspect and you’ve lost a lot of the point of having them.

Computer RPGs have the additional effect of the pleasure of seeing a character build. There are some computer RPGs with minimal character creation that justify their stats merely in that the player can build them up in the course of the story. Robert DeFord might have similar notions in mind, but the arc here unfortunately is not large enough to sustain any real feel of customization. (This is, of course, also merely an intro, so things in this aspect might turn out for the best.)

I also find (in its present state) the sheer process of character building simply isn’t strong enough to work here. I am reminded of the “strength building” in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness wherein if a player was not strong enough to perform a particular task, they found a box and pushed it back and forth a couple times until their skill magically increased.

Computer RPGs can suffer from the same problem, but they do at least give more an illusion of gradual development while possibly adding drama to a repetitive task. For example, the strength increase in Nethack for pushing a boulder requires pushing around 100+ times while the player is danger of being attacked and is running out of food.


Posted August 8, 2005 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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