First, and hopefully only, embarrassing truth of this post: I felt pretty cool playing Planetfall. I was never allowed more than a Game Boy when I was growing up so I was looking forward to having a video game as a homework assignment. It started out on a rocky path, but by the end of it, I was having a little fun.
As a preface, I was not able to start playing the game until Monday night because Mac Frotz is not awesome. It’s hard to find and it’s difficult to use. I call it Mac Fritz because it wouldn’t let me save the game. At all. I saved it a couple times, but I was not able to restore the game when I died. So I turned to my new best friend, the walkthrough. It took a couple tries to find one explicit enough for my needs, but I found one. So the walkthrough helped me out in directions and stuff, and I eventually met Floyd.
I don’t really see what all the talk about Floyd is, whether it’s positive or negative. But there are reasons for that. I didn’t get to stick around with him for that long. After I woke up for the second day, I shortly thereafter died and I could not restore my file, so I decided to write this blog instead of starting all the way over. Coincidentally, Floyd and I did not have much bonding time and I didn’t get to “watch” him die.
On the other hand, I don’t think he was that annoying. He just kind of follows you around, saying random things every once in a while. I can sort of identify with that, but that’s beside the point. The point is that he’s just like a puppy. He’s like Toto in The Wizard of
Oz. Sure, Toto’s cute, but he doesn’t really do anything. In the end, he finds the curtain behind which the Wizard is hiding just like Floyd gets the card for you. Except Floyd dies. Nevertheless, they’re just there for the most part. That’s it. You can interact, you can ignore him. It’s up to you. But in the end, it doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that he does serve to provide some change to the game. Up until that point, it was all descriptions and directions. Then you turn a robot on and he goes nutso. It’s exciting to say the least. So overall, he’s a likable character, mostly just because of the fact that he is a character in a world devoid of others.
Improving interactive fiction without visuals is a challenging idea. The first, and most obvious change would be the increased intuition and capacity for vocabulary, allowing for a larger variety of commands to be entered, understood, and implemented. I would also avoid mazes. I hated the maze part in Planetfall. Mazes are mostly solved by memory, but also by visual cues. When the names are provided, it’s fairly simple, but mazes have no place in text-based games. None whatsoever. I would also suggest that any extraneous objects or places be minimized. Without seeing them quickly and making a fast assessment, it’s distracting and it makes the player lose interest when he or she keeps going all these pointless places and doing a bunch of worthless things. Now that the big stuff is out of the way, let’s look at the story. I think it might make text-based interactive fiction better if the stories involved less moving and exploring and were more cerebral, like a riddle of sorts. I don’t know exactly how this would be realized, but perhaps something like being trapped in a prison cell and organizing escape. You wouldn’t have to worry about getting lost, but you would be constantly updated with people passing your cell, things falling on your windowsill and the like. Perhaps the game would have a timer and waiting would be automatic. Time could pass without control. You would age and time would pass in greater sections; months, perhaps even years at a time. And the character would get little side missions. He would have to spend time nailing something together or learning how to sew for some awesome reason. The only trouble is that action like that would get boring. I can’t help but think of Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped becoming a video game of this sort. That’s just what comes to mind.
In order to improve the NPC, I would say that they should be more relevant. Make them matter. And maybe even make them evil. Then you could battle them and their presence is highly important. And there would be blood. Awesome.