Challenge and how it can be met - in text games

I’m thinking about types of challenges in text game design today, and how the reader can meet them.
I’m having fun!
So maybe someone would like to share the fun with me by talking about some specific challenges they think work in text games, or by talking about the best examples they’ve seen in the text games they’ve read :slight_smile:

Also happy to hear about examples from other walks, like video games, particularly if you have an idea about how that could be applied in a text game (like I have no idea how a button-bashing physical challenge on a console controller could be emulated in a text game, so didn’t write it here…)

Some types of challenges:-

  • Understanding challenge:
    (When following context, lore, or subtle themes - maybe learned on optional side paths - may radically alter a decision. Like you’ve learned that the revolution is actually being funded by a faction of the elite that is using the revolutionaries as a stalking horse against a rival, making the decision to help out more nuanced.)

  • Problem solving:
    (Using clues to reach conclusions about whodunnit, or maybe working out whether you can get a two faction out of your way by pitting them against one another)

  • Puzzle solving:
    (More specific I think. Finding the right key to open a door, or standing on the correct two pressure pads at once to not be hurt by a poison gas trap. Collecting passwords, or working them out through coded information or literacy challenges.)

  • Behaviour memory:
    (Like remembering how an opponent has behaved in the past and adjusting your approach accordingly, or realising you’ve got about a minute to act while a character is turning into a werewolf because you’ve seen it take that long when they did it before)

  • Identity challenge:
    (Who or what do I want to be? How do I want to approach this as a character? I think these challenges tend to offer opposing decisions, like morale decisions, or faction politics decisions)

  • Academic problems:
    (Like maths problems, or applying knowledge of game world physics, chemistry or biology you’ve learned during an encounter).

  • Quick thinking / pressure challenges
    (Making decisions under pressure - is this less relevant in text games - particularly choicescript - as you can’t use time as a pressure? Maybe you can emulate time pressure with good writing and high stakes decisions.)

  • Map memory
    (I guess this could be important in a more open world challenge? Like a game that partly takes place in a labyrinth or something? Or perhaps where you gather resources from different places - like knowing ‘dragontooth’ flowers only grow on the pinnacles of the tallest mountains)

  • Metagaming challenge
    (Understanding how different skills in character builds complement each other. Weighting a character to achieve a specific outcome more easily - like building a dedicated fighter or a rogue)

  • Tactical challenges
    (Like choosing to fight horsemen with pikes or occupying the high ground, or flanking your friends during a snowball fight to negate the advantage of their snow fortress)

  • Management challenge
    (Allocating gold, inventory management. Choosing to set up one type of building to focus on gathering resources so you can get a more advanced specialist building - and its benefits - sooner. Trading goods)

  • Cooperation
    (Empathising with npc’s goals, weighing a romantic relationship and your partner’s feelings against original conflicting goals)

Any thoughts, or fleshing out any of these, or any best examples you’ve seen are really welcome!!

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I honestly don’t like them. More when Is supposed to be a thing that my character knows and does every day. As I am a story focus person. Many puzzles suddenly appear from nowhere interrupting the flow artificially. Most of them solve tactic; are Fuck google this.
However, I prefer that when using the specialized training of Pc as a Mechanics to solve the problem of Npcs.

For example, You play as a Mechanic then you can automatically solve a puzzle about changing cables in a motor. that for other Pc backgrounds can’t solve by themselves, That is a meta puzzle but I found them funny.

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Yeah, that’s a good meta gaming challenge example. Like the decision to succeed in that way could be greyed out, but becomes selectable if you have the mechanic skill, or developed a high enough level in mechanics to succeed. Or you don’t grey it out and allow people to try and fail, but maybe improve that skill while failing.

Either way I think I get what you are saying, that you prefer not to disrupt the narrative, so a challenge has to blend in well for you without breaking your immersion in the story.

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Exactly, Normally puzzles and challenges look to put them artificially just to be a game mechanic and doesn’t even have nothing to do with the game storytelling.

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Let me preface this by saying that right now I am talking more about interactive fiction that’s more fiction, and less about games and challenges (I don’t read the latter much, so…).

I like the challenge types, for me I prefer to work with identity, cooperation, tactical, behavior and understanding challenges.

But more important than which kind, are HOW they are implemented.

For me there’s three kinds of challenges.
1: The ones that take me out of the story.
2: The ones that has to do with character building.
3: The ones I never notice.

For me, cat 1 is Samurai of Hyuga. There’s a lot of challenges there, everything from remembering in which direction to run, to deductions and games. I was never really fond of them, for me they added nothing to the story. They often feel like add-ons to make it more like a game. Like little school test things to make sure you didn’t skim the text, but a lot of the time the test was on things that I didn’t feel were important.

Cat 2 is, like Mara said, how you build your character. It’s more of a reward than a challenge though, unless you craft the choices right. Since you can’t predict what’s going to happen when making a character, you need to make sure people can pick directions where you suspect your character will be better at things. This, for me, is where the tactical challenges comes in.

Cat 3 is the cool ones, that if it’s done well, you’ll never notice it. It seeds information naturally through the story, and if you remember it, you’ll have a better chance judging what choices and paths to pick. It’s essentially the same as 1, but done more subtle.

Breaking the narrative is the worst thing when you’re aiming for interactive fiction rather than a choice game, and I wish more people trusted their stories and didn’t feel the need to gameify them.

Once again, no attack on more game/management oriented games, just not my cup of tea, so I don’t play them enough to know what I’m talking about.

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Oh, boy. I’ll be watching this thread closely. :eyes:


I’m not going to say anything new, just offer a different perspective (maybe?).

I think that in terms of designing puzzles (as opposed to cataloging them), I feel that it’s more helpful to think of effect time, i.e. if the outcome of solving (or trying to solve) the puzzle has an immediate effect, medium-term effect or long term effect.

These do not refer to the duration of the effect but the time delta that it takes for the outcome of the choice to come into effect. It is important to note too that some outcomes do not rely solely on a single choice, but rather on compounded choices (mostly the long term).

Immediate Effect

Puzzles whose outcome is immediately apparent. They're usually straightforward and not very subtle. Players know they are solving a puzzle of sorts.

E.g.:

  • Riddle (“Speak, friend, and enter.”, or the Academic)
  • Collected information (I would lump together the Understanding, Problem Solving, Puzzle Solving and, Behaviour and Map Memory)
  • Skill (A puzzle that presents a solution based on a skill or personality trait; so, the Identity and Metagaming Challenge)
  • Combat mechanics

Medium-Term Effect

These would be the ones whose effect is not immediate but which is not in effect beyond the scope of the chapter or scene. To use your example:

I think these are mostly tactical, but they can be more subtle too. Like navigating a dialogue tree in order to pry some information out of an NPC.

Long Term Effect

Finally, I would group together Management and Cooperation under the long term label. Tactical can also come here. These are usually pulverised throughout the game and compounded to yield an effect by the end of the story.
  • Management (Investing in skills and choosing how to spend experience points are also considered resource management!)
  • Social Alliances (like choosing which faction to support, befriending certain characters, etc)

Video games can get away more easily with puzzle design because they have visuals to aid them. Not every kind of puzzle will lend itself gracefully to the medium of text-based games, and choice-based gamebooks are even more limited. Parser gamebooks at least allow the player to experiment with different solutions until they get it right (although it can be equally frustrating for different reasons).

Choice-based gamebooks must present all choices at once, which makes the whole thing about solving it by process of elimination (which is a lot less thrilling) unless the consequences of the choice are not immediately apparent.

There’s a time and a place for each kind of puzzle, even the more obvious ones. And they can be a lot of fun if done right. But I believe that a game should have at least one long term puzzle.


I might be wrong but I think that the only way to do combat right in a text-based game is by using the good ol’ turn-based combat mechanics.

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  • Player A attacks
  • Player B attacks
  • Player A attacks
  • Player B attacks
  • Wash, rinse, repeat

In the context of choicescript, since you really have only one player, you can shift the paradigm so the players always have agency:

  • Player attacks
  • Player defends
  • Player attacks
  • Player defends
  • Wash, rinse, repeat

The Magincia games and Ironheart comes to mind right now. But a lot of other games take this approach.

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Let me first state that I only talk about my opinion, which I am sure does not fit that many other players.

I hate most of the challenges, that many IF contain. I have bought about 60 games, hosted and cog mixed but only played through about 15. Some games I just had not the time before to try but many games just kind of force me to stop, cause at one point they just provide no fun for me.

Like Mara said, getting a riddle that just because I do not think the right way, makes it a failure, although my character would have no problem to solve, since it is a normal thing in this world, sucks. I might tolerate one of this in a game, if I otherwise love it, but then its enough. I do not want to read lore, I want to play, so do not punish me, because I did not read the appendix.

I hate challenges. that require Min-Maxing, like before, I want to play the game, not note down every stat change to keep a track on what stat I have to choose to not die in the end. Min-Maxing to get a special, not win relevant reward, thats ok. If I like the game, I might go for something like that in another playthrough.

The challenge that makes me quit a game instantly is the one, that feels like getting punished for not choosing, what the author wants me to choose. That fortunately is a really rare thing here in cog or hg.

But I even loose the wish to complete the game, by regularly having to choose a “lesser evil”. I do not have a problem, by making bad decisions, no I hate having to do so, with only a distinct clue, ehat I chose. If I know, what I am coosing, thats ok, like choosing to be bad at athletics, or not being rich. That are challenges that are normal and welcome, since a character can not be perfect, and should not be. But if I have to choose between things like, being an ex-prisoner or cursed or having bad luck, I do not like that choice, especially at the beginning of the game, if I do not get a clue, at what the consequences might be, or what of this negative things would fit the character I want to play best. And no I do not like to first dive in the deep waters so I can choose better in another playthrough, because, I do not replay those games, most of the times^^

Personally I even dislike having to often to choose between answers that all seem not fitting for the character I play. If I only get options to be rude to someone, when I want to show understanding, or not get the possibility to yell at someone that pissed me off, well after several of this options I put the game aside, and might never touch it again.

The last thing that comes into my mind, that I do not like is constantly choosing between activities if they are balanced poorly. If I get the chance to spend some time with someone or get hints that are important for a positive ending of the game, thats harsh. If I can only spend time with a friend or a potiential RO, and by choosing the friend lock me out of romance that no fun either.

So to end this very long ranting I add challenges/choices that I like. I like challenges that improve the game, like forming the character. I like that you need several playthroughs to get a complete background of the game, when its not win relevant. I like getting special flavor texts regarding any speciality I chose. I like when the game reacts towards the style I play without changing my choices. Like when I play a funny character, I hate when the game decides becaus my stat is above whatever, I make jokes at a funeral, I would like that when I choose to not make them, that a companion makes a remark about that alá “I never thought you could slip up a opportunity to place a pun”. Overall I want to be rewarded for the way I play, not punished. Getting an exra flavor sentence or something like that is really enough, but constantly getting an oh to bad that would have been better if you had chosen right. In this example even bad things that happen, are a good bonus, so when I chose to save someone and sacrifice another, I will be ok with that, as long as afterwards not both complain that I should have chosen the other.

For me reading cog or hg should be relaxing not stressing, but that is just my personal view.

4 Likes

Playing TLU 2 has made me think about exactly this topic of challenge in a text based medium. I am very much struck by how… relatively un-punishing most COG/HG games are, and while I appreciate that, I also wish there was more space for more challenging or even punishing narrative games.

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@Charles_Parkes -
After reading this thread, several times over, I believe you are missing the “concept of challenge” in design and confusing mechanics with it.

Once I have time to further think on this and how best to respond, I’ll be making a new thread.

Punishment and negative feedback is a model rejected by this company – while you still can pursue such in a Hosted Game, the cross-over in your audience from Choice games is so large, that doing so might hurt you more than it helps.

The entire min-max approach to gaming is not aligned with the wants and desires of most CoG/HG/HC gamers.

With that said, there are some Hosted games that do encourage such behavior.

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I understand that, and why. Too much challenge can feel unfair to a lot of people, especially those who primarily want to experience the story. From my perspective, people who want to play more challenging games can play something else, where for most blind players, these games make up a huge percentage of all the games we can play.

Done well, challenging gameplay and story can enhance one another, and can enhance the themes of the plot and characters. I do not argue for changing COG’s model, or that all games released henceforth should be punishing/difficult, only that that is an option that should be welcomed as part of offering a wide variety and spectrum of accessible games.

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The probability of a challenge text game enchanting the story is at best of Zero. Why challenge destroy the player agency. Oh, you can choose… But absolutely all choices except that one, that just because four number in the mechanics of the game and X formulation is the only that let you pass the check… So how ONE choice for a playthrough passing and rest meaning die or suffering helps the story? No way ever.

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@Eiwynn I may well have confused my game design language!
So, I was thinking about meaningful decisions and how character builds, skills, and the readers choice of what they want to read might be implemented.

More specifically, I’d been thinking about ‘open world’ game activities, easy examples are things like fighting, hunting, making a piece of armour, making potions, persuading an important npc to change their approach. (For example, many games fill the spaces between story with combat, within which the player’s choices about equipment, experience point allocation, faction alignment become meaningful and enjoyable, if they like that type of thing).

I was looking at the ways these activities were introduced in text games and other mediums, e.g open world activities (Skyrim) where you hunt an animal to make leather, you can make armour from the leather, enchant it and sell it - that’s a v.high level of player agency and self-made goal setting. Or (Fable) with those hand-eye coordination smithing challenges. But also win/fail skill tests, flavour text, and decisions leading to short or long diversions (present in most choicescript games).

So that was the context that I was thinking about ‘challenges’ in. Do feel free to edit my language if I’ve misappropriated game design terminology.

Choice

  • I’m after this bear because I want to test my metal (fighting)
  • I’m after this bear because I need the pelt to survive this cold (hunting)
  • I’m actually avoiding the bear while I gather alchemical components (alchemy)
  • I don’t want to get distracted, the castle must be near by now, just a little way through these woods. (continue storyline)

Cue a page of text about the type of encounter they enjoy,
Or cue a win/fail skill test,
Or cue a combat challenge
Or cue an opportunity to put an item reward they picked up earlier to good effect

I am not Eiwynn, but as a reader, I will be very very pissed except that The game clearly specify is an open box with no importance of the story. Why? Because is forcing several skills upon the player without no story reason. Oh, you want to have better stuff and rewards well you have to always choose X and Y.

It is a common failure of Sandbox like Skyrim. It is so intrinsically flawed that serious role players , have to install a media of twenty mods to create logically storywise experiences. Stuff like the role a thief assassin with fashion sense imperial that hates mudding his clothes and heavy labor. In some much missions, you are forced to smith your own stuff to advance, go mining… When It have no sense. So you have to install mods to go one of the smiths to do the job for you (as it should lol. IT IS THEIR WORK) Same with mages and enchanters etc… Oblivion Morrowind… Have that from the beginning giving organic experiences that make the story richer. Not force everyone into have all skills or have X skills to have a reward.

The story should be a reward not a punishment for not having X skills.

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@Charles_Parkes Thanks for starting this thread. I’ve been thinking a lot about similar issues lately and the discussion here is really useful to me.

I don’t have much to add except one small personal example relevant to this category:

In my last game, I tried something that I hadn’t seen in CoG or Hosted games (please feel free to correct me if I’m missing any - would love to see some more examples) and used the *input_text command to make a puzzle that tested understanding more efficiently than I felt a multiple choice ever could. There was a situation where an NPC asked the player to guess at an inscription that only someone who had heard certain stories and fully made a connection between them and earlier events would know, but offering it as one of a list of options would have made it obvious. So I chose instead to make the player type in their answer (allowing for all variants of capitalisation and a number of misspellings).

I think puzzles like this would become frustrating if overrused, or if progress in important areas of the game were absolutely dependant on them, but I can report that this one seemed to go down very well with the majority of players. A good deal of the positive feedback I had concerned the satisfaction people felt when figuring out this particular puzzle.

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Thanks @Wiwyums Great example! I’d also forgotten that the *input_text command is probably one of the few gateways in choicescript to more complex challenges. Hmm, inspiring! I’ll try to brainstorm further on the *input_text commands utility a bit here:

  • Your great comprehension puzzle example (and avoiding the multiple choice spoiler)
  • Parser based movement (linking in with map/room understanding and navigation.
  • Parser based combat mechanics (for example writing the name of spells and their targets, like ‘fireball goblin’)
  • Deepening customisation of challenge outputs. Like you breed a pokemon, or forge a sword and can name it something destiny-appropriate if you’d like too.
  • A tactical parser would be interesting. You could have a normally choice tree, but with one option might be “send a command”, which would present you with viable list of commands and regiments, then you could input an order- so regiment A advanced, and regiment B formed square for example.
  • *input_number would be helpful for a merchant challenge, offering a lower amount of gold for some goods for example. I recall Swamp Castle using it for the management mechanics, where challenge was derived from allocating scarce resources in a limited timeframe.

PS while I have the post open, @cup_half_empty your analysis was reeeally helpful, especially in its depth - and the poke battle example not only demonstrated the text limitations of combat challenges, but also indicated how successfully such a mechanic could be implemented (with the birth of a massive game franchise!)

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In the Witcher 3, you can negotiate your payment with the people hiring you. But they used a slider. If you insist on asking for more than the npc is willing to pay they’ll just drop you. It was kind of a gamble, to see how much I could get for a job before losing the contract. :yum:


Edit:

There’s a nice trick I don’t think I have seen anyone use yet. You can actually use the *stat_chart function outside the stats screen. I think it could be used during a fight like the pokemon example.

So, something like this:

*gosub generate_random_enemy
-----------------------------

*stat_chart
	percent (round((enemy_current_hp / enemy_max_hp) * 100)) $!!{random_big_enemy} @{(enemy_current_hp > (1.25 * pc_cur_hp)) ☠|}

The ${random_big_enemy} waves his club as he belches a war cry. The thing comes crashing upon you.
*if (dexterity > 30)
	At the last second, you jump aside! You feel the wind [i]wooshing[/i] inches from your head. This could have been nasty but you were quick enough.
*else
	*set pc_cur_hp -10
	At the last second, you jump aside! You manage to escape the blunt force of the attack, but one of the club spikes gashes a wound across your shoulder. You can feel your arm becoming numb.

*stat_chart
	percent (round((pc_cur_hp / pc_max_hp) * 100)) You

What do you do?
*fake_choice
	# Fight.
		*goto attack_menu
	# Use item.
		*goto quick_inventory
	# Run!
		*goto retreat

Would become something like this in-game:

example

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If my memory does not fail me, this is actually used during Hollywood Visionary : from time to time, your assistant will present you with the charts to track how your movie is progressing. I agree it’s pretty neat, especially for players like me that hardly ever glance at the stats screen on their own. :stuck_out_tongue:

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I learned something new today and I LOVE it. Thanks @cup_half_empty that is amazing to know, so many uses!

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Nice! I haven’t played that one yet. :yum:

@Wiwyums your game has been on my to try list for quite some time, and I’ve recommended it based on the demo to a lot of people but hadn’t bought it yet. Going to do that now. So glad you put puzzles in it. Or at least, a puzzle. Not sure if there are multiple ones or not.

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