Computer Adventures, The Secret Art
adventure game player plot games item book work text
This files constitutes the text of "Computer Adventures, The
Secret Art". Following Bruce Sterling's example with "The
Hacker Crackdown", and cribbing some of his ACCEPTABLE USE POLICY,
I am now releasing the text of the book as "literary freeware".
Amazon Systems, who originally published the book, have approved
the electronic distribution of its text in this form, and, indeed,
expect to make a number of sales of the actual book on the back of it!
ACCEPTABLE USE POLICY
The documents on this disk are not commodities. They're not for sale.
You didn't have to pay any money to get them. If you did pay anything
to see this stuff, you've been ripped off.
You can copy them. You have my permission to do that.
You can upload them onto boards or discussion groups.
You can print them out.
You can photocopy the printouts and hand them around as long as you don't
take any money for it.
But they're not public domain. You can't copyright them as I've
already done that. Attempts to pirate this stuff and make money from
it may involve you in a serious litigative snarl; believe me, for the
pittance you might wring out of such an action, it's really not worth it.
And don't alter the text, either; that would be pointless.
It's a couple of years since I wrote the book, so I've added
notes between *** *** where my opinion or where facts have changed.
Mail me and give me your opinions, if you like.
If you'd like a copy of this book in its original paperback form,
signed by the author, typeset!!, very much easier to consult than
a pile of printouts, with full colour cover art and full of super
illustrations from Andrew Hill, telephone, email or write to:
Lodge Hill Road,
UK GU10 3RD.
tel (+44) 252-716669
Cost UK pounds 3.00
US dollars 4.50
UK post free
Overseas Post UK pounds 1 US dollars 1.50
VISA / Mastercard accepted for telephone/postal orders.
Gil Williamson August 1994.
Introduction to the Secret Art
There is no doubt that the writing of adventure games is an art, in
the same way that writing a book or play is. It is also a secret art
in that a only a handful of game writers seem to be able to produce
a gripping game.
I have carefully analysed the features of successful games, and present
them here in the form of a Do-It-Yourself manual. This book reveals
the secrets of how to plan, how to write and how to sell computer
adventure games, also called `interactive fiction'. Irrespective of
whether your game is a pure text adventure - for some the only `real'
adventure - or a real-time graphic adventure, or even a text adventure
with graphic illustrations, the principles of design are very similar.
Is there any point in trying to break into this difficult marketplace?
Most certainly. There is a shortage of games with the essentials of
a good adventure, which are plot, atmosphere, challenge and a sense
of winnability. Advances in technology are much less important to
the adventure game enthusiast.
Although the book assumes that you have played one or
two computer adventure games, and that you therefore understand their
general structure, it does not assume any programming knowledge. Some
basic definitions are given in the table overleaf, and the chapter
on Architecture describes and defines the various elements of an adventure
in more detail.
Terms used in this book:
A `Game' takes place in:
`Locations' (or Scenes or Rooms).
`Characters' (People, Monsters etc.) populate the Locations.
An important Character is the Player
Character who represents the game player.
`Items' (or Objects or Nouns) are contained in these Locations or
may be in `Limbo' - a sort of storehouse for Items whose location
has not yet been decided - or may be within another Item, or may be
carried by a Character.
It is also possible for a Character to be contained in an Item.
The player interacts with the game by means of `Commands' input by
keyboard or other input device.
A Sexist Note:
In this book, for simplicity, I have used the terms `he' and `him'
in reference to the player. I do, of course, realise that many ladies
of the feminine gender are also players, so please accept `he' as
`he/she' and `him' as `him/her' throughout.
How to Present
- Text or Graphics?
Most of the comments made in this book are relevant to all types of
adventure, however presented, but there are always pros and cons.
This chapter outlines some of the choices and consequences of adventure
graphics and sound.
Often, the game-writing system you use will have as much influence
on the format of your game as anything else. There are some notes
about game-writing systems in Chapter 6, and in Appendix A. Ensure
that the medium you choose is adequate to the adventure you plan.
In most adventure games, even those with considerable graphic and
audio illustration, text is also very important. When you play a text
adventure game, you probably find that the scenes you create for yourself
in the mind's eye are just as vivid as any screen image could be.
A new genre of `arcade' adventure games is now becoming available,
but for the few game writers lucky enough to belong to companies prepared
to invest in these products, there are still many size and portability
restrictions that are not experienced by text game writers. Writers
of arcade adventures would do well to heed the tenets of good design.
Razzamatazz may sell an individual game, but it will not sell a series.
Think carefully before deciding your game needs graphics. After all,
though it is possible to print lavishly illustrated books much more
cheaply nowadays, publishers seldom, if ever, think of illustrating
a detective novel or book of short stories. In the computer world,
though word processors and spreadsheets are presented in ever more
elaborate guises, the properties of late 1970s Electric Pencil and
Visicalc are still the important elements of these products.
Any game written for a particular piece of hardware will transfer
most easily to other hardware if it is text-only. The cost and difficulty
of transfer from machine to machine increases in direct proportion
to the sophistication of the graphics and audio effects delivered.
Again, many computers in common use, such as IBM PCs or VAXes have
little or no graphics or sound capability when compared with Atari
and Commodore games-oriented hardware, and text adventures have become
a favourite with users of such machines.
The technology of screen images, together with the restrictions of
RAM, backing store and development time, lead to three main types
of graphic associated with an adventure that can be played on a personal
Hand-drawn still scenes of greater or less quality,
sometimes with the facility to include characters and items that the
player character can see;
Digitised still images (sometimes grouped so that a cyclic movie-
like effect can be delivered);
Arcade-style playfields, sometimes drawn with perspective but operated
in a 2-dimensional `Platform' format, where the player character,
other characters and items actually appear, and move appropriately.
The player character can manipulate the screen environment.
Adventures with still or almost still images often allow the user
to switch off the pictures, so that the user is reduced to a text
adventure, with a better response time and more space on the screen
for informative text.
In the `playfield' style arcade adventure games, or those which depend
on the use of icons and mice and menus, the total number of locations
in the game is often restricted, as is the richness of the game.
Some graphic games, I feel, are rather spoiled by having all possible
verbs on pull-down menus, leaving little or no scope for imagination
on the part of the player, and there comes a point where real-time
events are happening on the screen and the game is verging on an arcade-style
game, or a wargame.
My own personal opinion is that text is the most suitable medium for
adventure games, but that optional illustrations, well-designed, can
enhance enjoyment in the same way that good illustrations in a book
do. Having said that, the shareware game-writing product AGT, which
I favour, is text only.
In any event, the aspiring adventure writer will find that most game-writing
systems currently available concentrate on delivering a text adventure
(with optional still graphics).
*** One or two systems for graphic adventures are now beginning to
Before leaving the subject of image, it is worth mentioning a useful
advance on the old scrolling screen technique used in the early adventures.
This is the `windowing' technique which allows the screen to be broken
into various sectors such as:
- Text from the game
- Exit directions
- Player status.
Some of these windows may be multi-use - the graphics and map window
often being the same one.
Sound Effects and Noises Off:
Though sound may sometimes be used to enhance a game, it is a mistake
to make proper play dependent on sound. This is not because some players
are deaf, or want to play while wearing their personal stereos, but
because adventurers may not wish to disturb those around them with
synthesised dalek voices, beeps and laser blasts. In my opinion,
sound should always be capable of being switched off without spoiling
*** The advent of sound boards is allowing sound to become more useful
and usable ***
How to get your Ideas
The Style of your Adventure:
There are a number of clear forms in which an adventure can be placed.
The first, and most common, is the one devised for the original Colossal
Cave adventure. Each scene and its contents are described or drawn,
and the player is free to attempt to move around, pick up and drop
items and take action.
In the second form, a simpler one, the scene and contents are described
or drawn, but the player has a very few alternative actions he can
take. These alternatives are made clear to the player, and he simply
selects alternative 1, 2, 3, or 4 etc. The consequences of each alternative
tend to be more far-reaching than those of the other style of adventure.
Such adventures resemble those children's interactive books which
have a page for each situation, and where the reader is invited to
turn to different pages to see the results of the various actions
he can take.
A third main stream of adventures is the `role-playing' analogue,
where there is emphasis on companions working as a team, and attributes
such as strength, dexterity, stamina, and intelligence are given to
each character. Magic spells and random combat play a strong part
in such games, and it is sometimes possible for the player or players
to act on behalf of more than one character in a single playing session.
These three basic styles often merge and mingle with each
other, but it is important to decide the style of your adventure before
embarking on writing it and maintain the style throughout.
It is important to start with a new and different game concept every
As you plot the game, it will keep trying to resemble other games,
but you must resist the temptation to go along with these diversions.
The 1988 AGT Game Contest featured a game based on a Wagner Opera,
and another based on an SF short story. Both were original concepts
for an adventure game, and made you want to play them in a way that
a clone of Zork would not.
On the other hand, there is always room for a well-written satire,
though PORK has probably spelled the end for Zork satires. It is so
important that your player's enjoyment is not dependent on him having
played a certain game.
I have plot outlines for dozens of games, ranging from the ascent
of mountains to underwater treasure hunting, from a journey on the
London Underground system to a quest in classical Greece, from a round
of golf to an E E Smith-style Space opera. I keep them in a spiral
backed notebook, and keep adding ideas as they occur, until one becomes
unrefusable and it spills out into implementation. There! I've given
you six ideas in one breath, none of which closely resemble any game
Very few adventures even remotely approach realism, which is why it's
a good idea to base them in an artificial, or at least very constricted,
world. Use consistency in creation to communicate the atmosphere.
An idea should appeal before you consider it for game status. Whenever
I enjoy a book or movie I consider how well it would translate to
a game. Occasionally, something will just hit the spot, and it becomes
a feature of one of your games in the pipeline. The London Underground
concept grew out of a idea to optimise tube travel in London, not
a game at all. The quest in classical Greece came from a Sprague de
Camp book called `An Elephant for Aristotle'. As an ardent, but inexpert,
golfer, I find that the situations one finds oneself in on a typical
round more closely resemble `Lurking Horror' than they do `Leaderboard'!
One subject which can be rather delicate is Pornography. In particular,
Leather Goddesses has a mildly pornographic theme, handled, I think,
quite tastefully and amusingly. Leather Goddesses takes care to allow
female players, and delivers alternate text and characters for them.
Other games which go into much more detail on the mechanics of sex
are much less appealing, and often insulting to female audiences.
The buyers of such games would not be the mainstream of adventurers,
and the games lack subtlety, even when compared to `girly' magazines.
Once an idea has come to you, you must nourish it for
a while to give it full value. What you do is to add all the extra
features the game will support in the form of a `bull session'. In
this manual, Chapters 4 and 5 are a huge mine of ideas on which to
base plot elements. I work best by myself, with the Hi Fi turned up
loud and a pencil and paper in my hand. Drawing a map will often suggest
other features and plot elements. Reading the book that sparked the
original inspiration may feed more ideas, and reading books on a similar
theme should also help. Working with a like- minded friend is also
a good technique.
More Theme Ideas:
The Happy Return:
Instead of starting the adventure at a point before the quest begins,
try starting it where the precious item has been recovered, and the
player has to fight his way back to civilisation. This technique is
useful for putting the player into the thick of the action early in
A similar idea is to start the game with the player imprisoned in
some way, and he must escape.
Penetrate the enemy defences, and free the prisoners - the Teheran/Entebbe
Make your player find his way around the ruins of Knossos, examining
wall paintings and artefacts.
Most adventure-writing systems can be used to develop complex diagnostic
programs for simple situations.
Try setting the scene of the game as a relatively unimportant incident
in a huge Worldwide (to hell with the expense - make that inter-Galactic)
campaign. This is a super lead-in to a series!
Explore unexplored territory, excavate archaeological remains, meet
strange alien peoples and try to avoid shooting them. Have the adventurer
find some peaceful contact mechanism.
Basing your Adventure on an Existing Work:
Whereas in the USA, a copyright owner has to register his copyright
formally and announce it on the work, in the UK and Europe generally,
copyright infringement can take place even on unpublished work.
Copyright is not given to ideas, plots or themes, however original.
In the UK, copyright is infringed by the reproduction of any substantial
part of a copyright work without permission. `Substantial' is hard
to define. Even a very small quote can qualify if it is important
to the work as a whole.
In the USA, copyright is infringed by quoting sections of a copyright
work except for the purposes of non-commercial scholarship, comment
and news reporting.
Therefore, although it is tempting to use an existing work as your
basis, you must be extremely careful not to infringe copyright. It
is a shame to devote lots of work to a game that can never be published.
It is, perhaps, safer to write an adventure `..in the style of...'.
Excellent examples of this genre exist.
Another pitfall is provided by Trade Marks. You will find that the
inspiring name or phrase you might like to use in your game title,
such as `Batman', `Star Wars', `Dungeons and Dragons', `Popeye' or
`Lord of the Rings' is someone's registered trade mark, so steer clear
of these, too.
Apart from Copyright or trade mark infringement, there are a number
of problems with using an existing work as your basis. If a player
has read the book, or seen the movie, he will expect a resemblance
between your plot and its plot. If you reproduce the plot of the work,
then it becomes easy to solve. If you don't, the player is disappointed.
Again, no adventure game, text or graphic, will exactly reproduce
a book or movie. What the adventure game specialises in is the interaction
of the game with the player.
I can well remember having a lot of `wheelspin' at the start with
The Hobbit and other Tolkienesque adventure games, just because the
plot didn't turn out the way I expected. Another disadvantage is that
the solution to a problem in a book or film is often based on a character
having a bright idea out of the blue. This is difficult to suggest
to the player without broadcasting the solution or is boring to re-enact
in the adventure.
Probably the best middle course is to borrow the atmosphere and technology
from your chosen work, but to build your own totally new plot into
The Plot Thickens
Adventure games offer a feeling of involvement and interaction which
can surpass even the most exciting book or movie, and it seems a pity
not to make the most of them. This chapter contains over thirty main
categories of feature, each of which can spawn hundreds of plot elements.
I advise you to work out a plot before you start writing the adventure.
I say A plot, not THE plot, as you may contract, extend or modify
the plot as development continues.
If you sit down to write an adventure from beginning to end, it will
be a very thin and insubstantial piece of work. You need time to develop
the theme and plot.
I carry around a spiral-backed reporter's notebook - the poor man's
laptop - which goes in my briefcase to work, sits beside me as I earn
my living, and sleeps on the bedside table at night. Every time I
have one of my brilliant inspirations, I note it down before the damned
thing escapes again. In fact, a sharp pencil with an eraser on the
end and a trusty notebook are better than a laptop for this purpose
- I've tried both systems!
Into this notebook go the maps, the characters, the clues, the traps
and the problems for the next adventure.
I find the maps to be the most fruitful source of inspiration. Very
often, a map or the plan of a building can suggest a plot element
that no amount of abstract thought could generate.
It is also handy to jot down character attributes so that you can
keep the personalities consistent.
A good adventure does not just fall into your hand like a primed hand-grenade.
It requires a lot of preparation, thought and creativity.
If you finish writing the adventure with the same set of plot elements
as you started with, then you have every right to be surprised. Given
a good basic theme, the very act of developing the details of the
adventure should suggest other plot elements, which will gradually
displace some of the original ones. There is nothing wrong with this,
provided that you retain the basic theme. If that goes, then you either
have an unstructured monster on your hands or the theme for another
It is no longer sufficient, these days, for a player merely to survive
all the elaborate threats to his life. There must also be a story
which is very nearly interesting enough to enjoy for its own sake.
Atmosphere is also very important and there must be a build-up of
excitement during game play.
Inject a minor dose of suspense early in the game, and up to three
or four more important forebodings or anticipations before the end
of the game. For correct dramatic effect, the last such event should
be the biggest and best.
More will be said later about clarity and consistency in developing
adventures, but much can be done to help development by keeping the
plot well-balanced and paced.
Make sure there's enough territory around which the adventurer can
roam to keep him interested at any given time. An adventure that starts
in a cell and stays there until the player figures out how to escape
will bore the average player quickly.
Similarly, leave lots of items for him to play with, and
don't make the adventure too lethal. It is very boring for a player
to be killed off every time he makes a false move.
To get you started, I've listed the following features to help you
build your plots.
Try to introduce as much variety as possible to every adventure. Many
of the ideas in this section are tried and tested, and some are totally
new. Combine these ideas with your own and try to dress them up in
a new guise.
Possession of equipment:
One of the most typical requirements for problem
solution is that the player be in possession of certain equipment.
For example, plimsolls in Scott Adams' Pirate Adventure prevent the
player falling off the window-sill. I remember this one because I
discarded the plimsolls at an early stage and still managed to complete
the adventure by SAVEing just before every trip to the sill.
Sometimes, simple possession of equipment is enough to make the game
work. Sometimes the player must use the equipment in a certain way
before it becomes effective.
Collect and Assemble:
In many adventures, the player must collect and assemble
pieces of equipment to make a new item. Again, in the Pirate Adventure,
he has to collect all the parts for a galleon, and assemble them.
This is the case where the combination of a set of items makes it
possible to produce another item which the player needs.
Another neat feature is to require the player to keep the parts list
with him in order for the item to be assembled.
In one of my adventures, one of the parts was omitted
from the list. This part was necessary and should have been obvious
to the player, but, just in case he hadn't realised, I allowed him
to retrieve the missing item without too much further difficulty.
Another typical game feature is to remove a part
from one item for use on another - for example, taking a battery from
a torch to make a radio work.
A favourite idea is to non-magically transform an
item from one state into another by washing, cleaning or rubbing it,
painting it, oiling it, winding it up, putting fuel in it, connecting
it to the electricity supply, or switching it on or off.
Very often the game-writing system will favour the
switching of a non-working item with a working one, so that, although
the player is theoretically unaware of it, the object is actually
two items. The item in its first state is visible in the location,
the other is kept in limbo. When the transformation occurs, the items
Such transformations are not limited to items. Characters,
including the player character, can be transformed into a new character
in analogous fashion to Clark Kent & Superman, Popeye & Popeye with
Spinach, Jekyll & Hyde, mild-mannered chemist & Incredible Hulk.
Often, an object which is available from a location
is not visible when the player enters the location. The object must
For example, a game may require the player to dig
in the ground or to move, say, a pile of leaves or a carpet, whereupon
a new item is discovered.
Another favourite site for discovery is where a container
clearly contains one item. Once that item is removed, another item
is discovered lurking in the bottom of the container. You can hide
items in unlit locations so that they cannot be discovered until a
light is introduced.
Again, from the game-writer's point of view, an item
may be kept in limbo until the player carries out the action which
results in discovery.
There are two basic types of weapons. A general purpose
weapon, such as a loaded automatic, will be effective against most
foes. A specific weapon, such as a wooden stake (anti-vampire) or
a silver bullet (anti-werewolf), may be uniquely required to kill
a certain class of enemy. Often, it will also be effective against
other opposition, though the well-known vampire repellents - sunlight
and garlic - seem specific to the undead.
It is unfair to have a specific weapon in a game
unless its effectiveness is widely known or there is some clue about
it in the game itself.
Another aspect of weapons is the number of rounds
of ammunition they carry. This concept ranges from the six bullets
in a magazine, through the number of arrows in a quiver and the charge
(shots left) in an atomic blaster, to the potency of the magic remaining
in an Elven Sabre.
A distinction is often made between items that are
carried and items that are worn. The VERBs used might be WEAR and
REMOVE. Clothes can be important for warmth, decency or as a mark
Some items which are worn have even more special
significance - for example Cloak of Invisibility, Space Suit, Gun
Belt or Rucksack.
A puzzle with a logical solution is a delight to
solve. Examples abound in adventure games and represent a major source
of pleasure in playing.
Suppose you have a game in which there is a radio
without a battery, and a torch with a battery but a broken bulb. There
is a clear invitation to make the radio work with the torch battery.
This `collect and assemble' feature also represents a puzzle with
a solution that makes sense.
Conversely, illogical solutions to puzzles detract
Another point to remember is that instead of trying
to make an item work, you may want the player to stop an item working
because it is interfering with his objective.
Many of the features of adventure games present themselves
as puzzles. The main thing to remember is to keep them fair. There
is a class of puzzle so illogical that there is little satisfaction
even in solving it.
In this case, the player must find an item and give
it to a character or monster in order to secure his/her/its co-operation.
A favourite plot device is to allow several different items to be
used to bribe a single adversary. Only one of these can, however,
be spared. If one of the others is used, it makes the adventure harder
or impossible to complete.
Another feature of bribery is the need to carry an
item so that a companion will stay with the player. For example, the
player in Pirate Adventure soon discovers that the parrot will stick
close to him as long as he carries the biscuits.
Purchase is a special case of bribery. Some games
allow a pool of money to be accumulated, usually by discovery of treasure,
and expended in exchange for goods and services in furtherance of
the quest. In this case, the pot of gold coins is depleted according
to the value of the commodities purchased and increased by addition
of treasure trove, plunder and swag.
An adventure has considerable potential for the use
of mazes but guard against making the maze boring. In some cases,
the maze is a geographical one, in others it is logical. I shall explain
In a geographical maze, if the maze is drawn on a
piece of paper, the locations in the maze correspond correctly to
the direction travelled to reach them. That puts them on a par with
the kinds of maze you see in children's puzzle books. The way the
game writer sometimes makes it difficult is to give each location
the same or similar description.
To solve these, the player simply maps the maze.
Extra complications can be introduced by having hidden passages which
do not appear in the description.
In Hollywood Hijinks, the author has a large geographical
maze in which, when the player moves in a given direction, the game
tells him how many paces he has taken before the next junction or
dead end. A map is printed out as underlines and `I's, but it is in
two layers - all the underlines, and all the `I's, and the two printouts
must be overlaid before the whole maze is revealed. Nevertheless,
because it is a geographical maze, it was possible to solve with only
one layer of the map (as I laboriously proved), and would probably
have been possible to solve with no map at all. Ah, what a feeling
of satisfaction that accomplishment would have provided!
In a logical maze, the locations in the maze are
connected together in a bizarre fashion so that a geographical map
is not all that helpful. Typically, East from location A leads to
location B, but West from location B does not lead to location A.
Again, the locations may be similarly or confusingly named. Here is
a diagram of such a maze:
Cave 2 Cave 3
Entrance <- [Cave 1] -> Cave 2 Cave 1 <- [Cave 2] -> Cave 3
Cave 3 Cave 1
Cave 2 Cave 1
Cave 4 <- [Cave 3] -> Cave 2 Exit <- [Cave 4] -> Cave 2
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Cave 1[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp]Cave 3
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] The quickest way from ENTRANCE to EXIT would be[nbsp][nbsp]E
to CAVE 1,[nbsp][nbsp]S to CAVE 3,[nbsp][nbsp] W to CAVE 4 and W to EXIT. Note that if
the player goes N from CAVE 2, he gets to CAVE 3, then N again returns
to CAVE 2. Similarly, going E from CAVE 2 always takes the player
to CAVE 3, and E again takes him back. If the descriptions of the
four caves were similar, this would appear like an endless series
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] The adventure writer's usual convention for these
apparently illogical mazes is to call them `twisty' in the location
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Added variety can be provided by having the structure
of the maze vary with time, or vary according to the player's activities,
or at random.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Variable Geography:
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Two or three examples of variable geography come
to mind. In Wishbringer, for example, Festerton changes in a sinister
fashion, part-way through the adventure. A totally new set of locations
and items appears, each one a sinister version of the ones in the
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] One-way and Restricted Exits:
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] It is frequently useful to allow the player to pass
from one location to another without being able to return the same
way. Examples of this are some teleport devices (see transportation),[nbsp][nbsp]such
as chutes, climbing down ropes, falling into pits or rivers and entering
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Similarly, some adventures feature a narrow exit
which can be negotiated by the player only if he is unladen or lightly
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Too many such exits can prove burdensome to the player.
Use the facility sparingly and logically. It is a useful feature for
forcing the player to solve additional puzzles. In Sir Ramic, for
example, the player enters a set of caverns by one route, but must
leave by another if he wants to take the large item he has assembled
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Secret Exits:
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Although a location description usually describes
all the exits from the location there is no compulsion to do so. Therefore,
an exit can remain secret by virtue of not being described, until
the player invokes a SHOW EXITS command or tries a direction. A natural
convention is to say in the location description `There are exits
in many directions' so that the player knows he may have to try several.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] A useful `secret' exit is provided in a pond or pool
if the swimmer dives. Then he can take an underwater passage.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Another idea is not to have a conventional exit at
all in the secret direction, but to `teleport' the player to the next
location when he performs a certain action, such as moving a book
in the bookcase or saying a magic word. Secret exits are therefore
often one-way exits.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Sometimes, a hint can be left that a secret exit
exists, such as a rectangular hairline crack in the wall, or a character
disappearing from the location unaccountably.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] An important plot feature is giving the player knowledge
which he can use to deal with an obstacle. For example, in Leather
Goddesses of Phobos, there is a simple way of dealing with one of
the monsters. To stumble upon that method would be very difficult,
but deciphering a coded note gives you the information you need.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] To maintain `fairness', some adventures with this
kind of knowledge-based problem solution will not allow the knowledge
to be applied unless the player has previously, in this particular
instance of the game, encountered the item that offers the clue.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] A rather over-used ploy is to use a number written
on some document as a telephone number or lock combination. See also
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Another knowledge-based ploy involves the player
researching in reference books, or in the handbook supplied with the
game. This method forms one of the principal features of instructional
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Curtains and Carpets:
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] If you are concealing a scene or exit behind a curtain
or wall hangings, then if the player moves the fabric, it must be
replaced with another item which describes the scene or exit.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] A carpet frequently conceals a trapdoor, leaves cover
cave entrances, and so on. The same sorts of description rules apply
to these, and the simplest mechanism for the game writer to use is
Transformation, described above.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Elaborate Patterns of Behaviour:
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Often, and this is most entertaining for the player,
he must build up, by trial and error, an elaborate behaviour pattern
to circumvent a single obstacle. A great example of this is the method
of obtaining a Babel Fish in Hitchhiker, where the player must forestall
several different accidents, and divert a robot before he can get
hold of the fish. The messages from the game are humourous, and it
is a pleasure to solve. In another commercial adventure, some elaborate
behaviour is spelled out in a printed enclosure - acting as a sort
of copy-protect mechanism.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Richness of Methods:
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Another entertaining feature is to provide different
methods of achieving the same objective. In Paul Daniels' Magic Adventure,
there were three ways of getting from the Airport to the Hotel - bus,
taxi and hire car. All three methods worked, but each had different
problems to surmount, and players were amused to hear about the routes
they hadn't used. Another device to enrich a game is provided by giving
the player a variety of roles to adopt, so that the story develops
differently because of the different powers of the role taken.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Door Openers:[nbsp][nbsp]
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] There are lots of door-opening methods, ranging from
the trivial KNOCK or RING to such elaborate solutions as a coin in
the slot or solving a numeric combination. The classic ones are requiring
a key to unlock the door or needing to say a magic word, like `OPEN
SESAME', or having to show a pass.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Another complete set of solutions involves a door
being locked until certain other doors are closed (as in an air-lock)
or unlocked only for a certain period after another event.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] A door may be inscribed with runes or code of some
kind which reveal the way to open it. The solution to the code might
be a feature of copy protection.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Riddles are a favourite technique. Make sure, though,
that the solution you favour is truly unique and self-evident once
guessed. There are two really annoying mistakes some game-writers
make with riddles. The first is a riddle so obscure that it cannot
be solved. The other is one to which you know one or more possible
answers but cannot think of the words the game-writer expected you
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] An example of a `fair' riddle (Gollum in The Hobbit):
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Q. Alive without breath,
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] As cold as death;
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Never thirsty, ever drinking;
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] All in mail, never clinking.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] An example of an obscure riddle:
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Q. What's green, hangs in a tree and
A. A herring. (see Polish folklore for the
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] explanation of this)
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] An example of a riddle with too many or complicated
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Q. What's white and dangerous?
A1. Polar Bear;
A2. Blizzard / Avalanche / Iceberg;
A3. Seagull with a hand grenade...etc.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] There are wonderful varieties of vehicles in adventures,
from magic carpet to teleportation device. If they are to be used
repeatedly, though, make sure that they are easy to operate. For example,
if you are only using a vehicle once, to make an essential bridge
from one location to another, then it is fair practice to make it
hard to operate. If, on the other hand, you are using it a lot, then
it is boring to the player to have to, for example:
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] PUT KEY IN IGNITION
SELECT FIRST GEAR
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] .... and so on.
Peter Cartwright, in his new Lady in the Swamp adventure, accumulates
a list of destinations for his car. Once the player has solved the
clue for another possible destination, that destination is added to
a numbered list with which he is presented when he suggests driving
A number of anomalies occur with transportation. If the player character
actually enters the vehicle, then commands like East, West and so
on may really apply to the directions inside the vehicle. This is
fine if the vehicle is large, like a spaceship, but not if it is a
car, for example, when these commands might be appropriate for the
whole vehicle and contents. When you are in the vehicle at some location
or other, do you describe the location, or do you describe the interior
of the vehicle?
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] There are two or three ways of dealing with this,
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] If the vehicle is a horse or other vehicle which
is not enclosed, then you can move it to the new location with the
player in response to a direction command. In this method, the player
has to be `on' the horse or `on' the motorbike. This you can ensure
by forcing him to use a `mount' command, then setting a flag to ensure
that he dismounts before he does anything other than travel from location
If the vehicle is like a car, in that it is enclosed, but the outside
world can be seen from it, it can be handled by having several locations
such as `At the Town Hall in the car', `Outside your home in the car',
`At the Beach in your car'.
You move from `At the Beach' to `At the beach in your car' and vice-versa
by ENTER and EXIT. Travel is effected by moving the player from one
`... in the car' location to another. Elevators are also dealt with
in this fashion.
If the inside of the vehicle is actually a set of locations like this,
each with a different view from the window, then be sure when you
`move' it to the Town Hall that you also move any items the player
has dropped in it when he was parked at the beach, as well as reproducing
any controls inside the car.
Also, ensure that the player can only travel between these locations
by car, otherwise he will find on walking back to the Town Hall that
the car he left at the beach has mysteriously driven itself to join
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Alternatively, you can implement vehicle operations
by moving the exits around while the player is inside the vehicle.
The vehicle is one location (or even a group of locations if it is
a ship or spacecraft). This is handy if you are prepared to describe
the journey rather than the destination. Some of the adventure game-writing
systems will not allow this type of solution, as exits cannot be altered.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Teleportation is a very handy system. Often what
seems to be transport is actually teleport. The player is removed
from location X to location Y. If the locations are not `in the vehicle'[nbsp][nbsp]then
the vehicle must also be teleported. It is also used to deal with
secret exits and resurrection, and is even a major feature of some
games, such as Star Portal.
One commercial game has an ingenious `black hole' teleportation device.
Entering any of the black holes takes you to a predictable destination.
There is even one hole which the player must make for himself, another
which is cleverly concealed inside something else and another whose
destination moves in a predictable manner.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Death and Resurrection:
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] As cautioned elsewhere, try not to kill the player
too readily. However unsuccessful his ploys, it is unfair to make
them a capital offence.
Resurrection is a fairly frequent device to prevent the player from
having to restart the game. For a serious player, however, it is unsatisfactory
to win a game as a result of a resurrection and he would reload a
saved game in these circumstances. If you do provide a resurrection
facility, make sure that the game is re-set in a playable form. Sometimes,
the game-writer maroons the player without access to the items needed
to complete the adventure, which makes the exercise pointless. It
is quite in order to make the game harder by scattering the items
the player character carried in his inventory around the accessible
locations at random.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] There are special cases where apparent suicide on
the part of the player character or a companion is beneficial in the
way that sacrificing a piece in Chess can be.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Push, Pull, Turn and Play:
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Most adventurers, after EXAMINEing an item, will
PUSH, PULL, TURN or PLAY it, depending on its description. Very often,
this is exactly what the player was intended to do. However, it is
always advisable to have some relevant responses to these attempts,
even if they do not advance the game.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] The use of containers can be extremely helpful, particularly
when the contents are nested. In some adventures, there is a limit
to carrying capacity which can be over-ridden by the use of a container
to carry the smaller items.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Again, the difficulty of opening successive levels
of container can provide a pleasurable experience to the player. It
is also possible to perform cartoon-like incongruities in which a
small item contains a very large one.
The usual mechanisms for container manipulation are OPEN and CLOSE,
but UNLOCK and LOCK may also be relevant. Most game-writing systems
do not allow transparent containers, so that any contained objects
are not visible when the container is closed.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Invisibility is a very useful attribute for a player
character. In this state, the player can usually avert monster attack
and can eavesdrop with impunity.
Invisibility offers a great deal of scope for the author's imagination.
The effect can be of short or unpredictable duration, may have adverse
physical effects, and may prevent the invisible character from carrying
or even touching items.
The invisibility can be invoked in a number of ways. For example,
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] magic spell
wearing a ring or cloak
consuming a potion.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Remember to deliver handy clues regarding the invisible
player's state and limitations, otherwise the benefit of invisibility
may become almost totally incomprehensible to the game player.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Codes & Ciphers:
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] The easiest method of introducing codes and ciphers
to a game is via a discovered note. Another method of making codes
seem natural is the translation of alien languages or character sets,
Most adventurers are quite capable of interpreting a message simply
anagrammed, coded or ciphered. A typical trick for short messages
is to take the message and transpose all letters in the following
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] A-D; B-E; C-F; .... W-Z; X-A; Y-B; Z-C
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] so that HELP becomes KHOS.
To make it harder, we could reverse or otherwise anagram the message,
and/or break the message into regular groups. The purpose of this
is to hide the identity of common words such as `a', `of', `to' and
`the', so that translation cannot be based on recognising word length.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] HELP I AM TRAPPED INSIDE A COMPUTER
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] might become:
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] HELPI[nbsp][nbsp] AMTRA[nbsp][nbsp] PPEDI[nbsp][nbsp] NSIDE[nbsp][nbsp] ACOMP[nbsp][nbsp] UTER
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] before being transposed to:
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] KHOSL[nbsp][nbsp] DPWUD[nbsp][nbsp] SSHGL[nbsp][nbsp] QVLGH[nbsp][nbsp] DFRPS[nbsp][nbsp] XWHU.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] However, there is a limit to the patience of your
audience. The method usually employed to decode transposed messages
is to count the letters, and then assume that the most frequent will
be E, the next T, then A, O, I, N, S, H, R, D, L, U and so on, which
tends to work fine for English with the regular frequency of `the'
`a' and so on.
If it is a regular transposition, the player assumes the most frequent
letter is E, then T, then A and so on, until the message springs to
Let us analyse the message above:
letter no of occurrences
and all the rest 1.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Your player would have a reasonable chance of decoding
that message if you used a regular transposition.
On the other hand, if the message is a long one, you can afford to
have an irregular transposition such as:
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] for example.
You could even make the message very short and the transposition immensely
complex if you overtly or secretly include the key in your game instructions,
as I did in the Paul Daniels Magic Adventure or in a codewheel or
other device in the game pack. (See also the section on Copy Protection.)
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Many discoveries can be made only if the player follows
a non-player character or monster to find out what he/she/it is doing.
It is especially useful to allow the player to eavesdrop on other
characters in order to determine the magic words that open doors or
Sometimes following will permit directions and paths which are not
available to the player moving independently. In at least one adventure,
following an animal is a good way to get out of mazes.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] The Senses:
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Smell and hearing can be useful adjuncts to an adventure.
At least one adventure was issued with a `scratch and sniff' card,
and Hitchhiker has a situation where the player must use senses other
than sight to continue play.
Characters with heightened senses may be able to detect danger at
a greater distance than usual.
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Proxy Actions:
[nbsp][nbsp][nbsp][nbsp] Actions which might be undertaken by a player may[nbsp][nbsp]be
delegated to a non-player character, usually a companion to the player.
This delegation may be made explicit by command of the player, or
implicit by virtue of the presence of the character.
For example, Trent/Tiffany in Leather Goddesses always performs spontaneously
to protect the player character if he/she is present.
There is more discussion of this under the subject of Characters and