IFComp 2007: Beneath   4 comments

Or more precisely, BENEATH: a Transformation. While it is based on stories of Robert E. Howard, if you think one of Lovecraft’s “creeping madness” stories you aren’t too far off.

Your gained knowledge of the worms almost feels like a physical possession.

Not every puzzle is presented as a challenge to be overcome. Sometimes puzzles are “secret puzzles”, niches and crannies that reward a player who tries unusual things with things as small as an amusing message or as large as a complete subplot.

However, the challenge puzzles serve as a sort of anchor to the secret puzzles, because without knowledge of some sort of challenge to overcome there is no anchor to the plot, and the player has no motivation to go on.

Beneath‘s problem is it is composed almost entirely of secret puzzles.

My first experience with the game was carefully mapping everything I could reach. This took about half an hour, and after I was done I had no idea what my objective was, or even what a possible puzzle to solve was.

I later caused a few things to happen but it was merely a matter of trying things that looked interesting.

I ended up having to resort to a walkthrough. The movement of the plot seemed relatively arbitrary — why did I need to go to the police station in the first place? why do I need to complete the transformation? — and I believe part of the problem is the player is never fully placed in the player character’s head. The player character has an obsession but this is never conveyed (except through an admittedly creepy status line), so the player doesn’t share the same obsession. While I normally don’t go for timed messages, a few helpful nudges about primal urges or whatnot (which could include hints about possible objectives within them) might go a little way to conveying what’s really going on.

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Posted October 21, 2007 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

4 responses to “IFComp 2007: Beneath

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  1. My first response is to wonder if we’re really talking about two axes or one — open vs secret seems like a separate thing from core vs optional. But maybe not, since presumably secret core puzzles are a bad idea (as demonstrated here). Open optional puzzles are probably still legal, though. Related query: is putting in a locked door with no (plot) motivation for getting it unlocked a secret puzzle or a non-secret one? Is the distinction more about core-plot-relevant puzzles vs non-core-plot-relevant ones, or is it really about “rewards for doing the unexpected” vs (something like) “rewards achieved in the course of normal play”?

    I forget if you’ve played Blighted Isle, but that strikes me as one of the best examples of how to handle optional content in a satisfying way as part of a larger game.

  2. Part of this depends on the expectations of the genre. In a haunted-house mystery, expecting the player to find secret passages without mentioning them isn’t much of a shock (see Theatre). By contrast, in Across the Stars when I found my first secret I did a double-take (when I realized the genre had switched to Indiana Jones, I had an easier time proceeding).

    I’ll have to think about the locked door example. In a treasure-hunt game, I would presume there was treasure back there and wouldn’t need more motivation than that. In a regency romance, I wouldn’t worry about it until I had some motivation (suspecting some sort of secret hidden in the house, etc.) I know in Beneath, the hole with the old man didn’t really feel like a puzzle — I guessed (correctly) I shouldn’t even bother until the right part of the plot came.

  3. I’ve heard that Robert Howard and H. P. Lovecraft were friends, and that they cross over on occasion.

  4. Pingback: IFComp 2015: Koustrea’s Contentment | Renga in Blue

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