Adventure 500: RNG   7 comments

RNG, aka “random number generation.” Picture by Jeremiah Andrick, CC BY 2.0.

There’s quite a bit that happened since I last posted, but I wanted to focus on one part in particular. This is an actual transcript of play:

> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
> get axe
OK.
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
> get axe
OK.
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
> get axe
OK.
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
> get axe
OK.
The dragon singes your hair WITH his breath.
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
The dragon singes your hair WITH his breath.
> get axe
OK.
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
> get axe
OK.
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
>

One might be forgiven for not realizing there is a one-third chance of this happening:

> throw axe
You’ve killed the dragon.
It contracts into wrinkles and disappears.

The author seemed to think if they include a random number generator which triggers one-third of the time, then players will maybe have one or two misses before they have a hit. Unfortunately, that’s not how random number generation works, and it’s quite possible by dumb luck to have a situation where it would be nearly impossible for the player to surmise they were doing the correct action. (The probability for the 7 misses in a row shown in the transcript is two-thirds to the seventh power, or approximately 5.85%.)

This issue happens in a different way in A Fine Day for Reaping (2007) and Nevermore (2000). Both cases include texts that appear in random order, the idea being equivalent to leafing through a book and happening upon important information. If one expects random chance to act intuitively, most of the needed text should be found in short order, but in actual practice, some players will just keep missing a certain text by luck (it happened to me with both games).

This is on top of the uncertain feeling any randomness is occurring at all. With an adventure game, the general expectation is for an action to work if it is the right one, and a clear signal is needed if something random is awry. With our recent Spelunker play (and the Eamon games I blogged about) it was very obvious we had a D&D combat type system with random outcomes, broadcasting the information to the player that with a “miss” all one needed to do was try again.

I think the thief combat in Zork is somewhat between the extremes. There’s enough variety in the thief’s messages that I personally realized random chance might lead me to defeat him, but I would like to ask, in general: was there anyone who got stuck by the thief because they assumed there was a puzzle-method of winning, rather than just lucking out in raw combat?

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Posted April 30, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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7 responses to “Adventure 500: RNG

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  1. I’m not sure if I’m answering your question exactly, but I’ll comment anyway, hehe.

    Regarding the thief in Zork, game I’ve played a couple of years ago, I wasn’t sure whether you can kill him or not. I thought that you have to run away from him. So I tried to evade him, and if I encountered him I fought him trying to survive only. I didn’t imagine he was important to the puzzle of opening the egg. In fact, I thought, because of the message you get when you open it at the beginning with the scepter, I need to “level up” to open it without damage. And that wasn’t the case, so I found the solution in a walkthrough (this and the use of the scepter to get the rainbow to appear were the two times I needed help). In that moment, I learnt that you could kill the thief.

    I think that those kinds of things, of understanding the “frames”, the expectations, of the puzzles have to do with the age and the games one played. For example, I thought you had to flee from the thief because I was “raised” with Sierra games like King’s Quest or Larry, were you can’t kill that kind of random characters (the gnome in KQ 1, for example). Maybe if one had played Zork when it first came out, because of the closeness with Adventure, where you can kill the dwarves, or with the RPG genre, people would expect to kill him.

    Another example I remember, although it doesn’t have to do with a random factor, was a puzzle in Shadowgate. I’m used to inventories whose objects don’t have weight. Well, in Shadowgate, they do. I thought that was only because the designers wanted the game to be more realistic. But I didn’t think that factor was relevant for a puzzle. Well, [SPOILER] there’s an old bridge that when you try to cross it, it falls, and a description appears that says that it was too old and rotten to resist (or something like that). I thought that it was a “red herring”. But no: you have to drop almost all your objects and then, lightly, you can cross it.

    • The egg puzzle is really interesting, in that it’s technically fair and unfair at the same time. In retrospect, it makes total sense the thief could open the egg. In practice, if someone gets on the wrong track with the puzzle, it’s very hard for them to get off. (I personally didn’t figure it out – back in the day I used Invisiclues to finish Zork I, the setup with the marker that reveals lines.)

      The “framing” idea is really nice.

      I think part of the reason I’m enjoying this project (even for the games like this which seem to be on the lower end of the quality scale) is I’m getting the proper framing effect; I feel like I’m getting the perspective of the people from the same time period, as opposed to feeling like an alien.

    • Wait — you can open the Zork egg with the sceptre?! How does that work?!

  2. Pingback: Weekly Links #169 « No Time To Play

  3. Allegedly the chances of winning against the thief increase if you weigh him down by giving him treasure. I consider that a puzzle, although it’s not really broadcasted to the player that giving him treasure has such an effect.

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