MugScan Hat

Pippin takes a look at addictive adventure writing


What makes a game so irresistable and addictive that you must go back to it time and time again?
Multi-user adventure games are text adventures and the comments I make throughout this article apply just as much to single user adventures as they do MUGs. Both involve considerable interaction with the computer and both have locations which give an atmosphere to the game as well as providing the means of getting around from place to place. Both have puzzles which must be solved to advance in the game.

In previous Issues, I have reviewed some of the Multi-user games that are on-line. There are many other games that I have not yet reviewed. But I think that it is worth pausing in this Issue to discuss what it is that makes a great adventure game and what should be avoided. Hopefully this article will provide a guide to the new adventure writer.

It goes without saying that one of the hallmarks of a quality game is the absence of spelling and typographical errors. It is true that many creators of adventure games are fascinated with the technical aspects of presenting a game and tend to think that the rooms will look after themselves. Often an otherwise brilliant programming concept is damned on its first showing, because it is almost illiterate. With the advent of spelling checkers with word processing packages, there can be little excuse for poor spelling. It looks so tacky.

Because the programmer is so involved with the works of the game it is essential that he find a literate soul who will take care of every aspect of room writing. Perhaps the best way of approaching this is to allow friends to contribute but to have only one appointed as editor with sole editorial power. This is desirable for many reasons. It establishes a single style to the game. Allowing all rooms to be edited bv one person stamps a common literary style as well as giving the whole land a coherence. Without this the rooms become disjointed and bitty and soon lose any sense when the number of rooms grow in size. If your editor has humour it wlll come through in the room descriptions and the players will love it. The same is true of puzzle setting. Whilst you can't expect one person to invent every puzzle in the game they should follow a pattern so that a good player can reason some puzzles through perhaps partly because he recognises the author of the puzzle by the way lt is presented. Recognising the author obviously leads to 'knowing the way he thinks', players love to solve problems with a minimum of information but provided with a strong intuitive clue. Using someone with editorial powers will give your game a polish it will otherwise lack.

What should and what should not be included in a room description?
Mobiles (non-player characters) should be used where a person or creature is required to be at a location. For example, a blacksmith in his forge or an innkeeper in his inn. Under no circumstances should this type of persona be described in the room description, it must always be depicted by a mobile. Remember that there may be times when, quite reasonably, the innkeeper may not be in the location. If an object of any kind is mentioned in a room description it must be provided as an examinable object in that location. There can be nothing worse than "there is a closed door to the west of you." Examine door. "I see no door here." Feelings should be kept out of room narrative entirely. Expressions like 'You feel that you are being watched', is perhaps the corniest term used in adventure writing. Personally I cringe every time I see this in the text. Atmosphere and feeling can be provided in so many ways that it is not necessary to resort to creahng it with old hat like this. Room description should be reserved for inanimate objects that are present in the room permanently and not transients that may be there sometimes and not at others. Room narrative should be just that. Describe what can be seen. Don't start every room with 'You are standing... etc'. or 'You are looking...etc'. The tree in the quad will continue to be there even when you are not gorping at it or climbing all over it. Computer-like signs and messages should be avoided except perhaps in Sci-fi games.

Talking to other players.
Interaction with other players is unique to Multi-User games and is one of its most attractive features therefore talking to other players should be made available in a simple way. Players should be able to shout, tell say and say by name and abbreviation. Some players prefer to sit on the sidelines of an adventure and chat to others. Rooms can be provided for them where fighting is not allowed.

Features for on-line operators.
Most games now permit the operator to create rooms and objects and mobiles on-line whilst the game is running. Some even allow the creation of puzzles and spells on-line. This is a very desirable innovation as it allows the MUG operator to respond at once to player requests for changes and additions to the game.

How many locations should be in a land?
In conversation with other adventure writers over the years, I find that most are agreed that twenty rooms per player is the most comfortable figure with a minimum of two hundred rooms. Too few locations give the game a claustrophobic feel. Too many rooms mean that players will seldom meet and the player interaction will be reduced. More seriously the quality of the room descriptions declines. I am rarely impressed when a new mug writer tells me that his game has five thousand rooms. Nearly always this means large aggregates of locations with the same description, often with the same spelling mistakes in each of them. Even when very large numbers of rooms have been well written I often wonder about the purpose of these barren wastes. Because they certainly don't rate well on the next statistic.

How many puzzles should a game have?
Too many puzzles will seriously hamper movement in the game and make it like walking through treacle. If you try and give puzzles a ratio of one to six with rooms you will find you have a balance which will give players plenty of things to think on without detracting from the action side of the game.

How many mobiles (non-playing characters) should be in the game?
This is not an easy question because it depends what the mobiles have been allocated to do. Some will be ferocious beasts whose task will be to provide adventure and danger for the hero on his quest. This kind of mobile should be in a ratio of three mobiles to each player where the scenario of the game calls for a culling of players by monsters. In this type of game a mmimum of fifteen creatures makes it just uncomfortable enough. Monsters should be graded in difficulty depending on the value of treasure they are guarding. Certainly there should not be more than one very powerful creature in the game or your players will get fed up with being killed and go play another more sympathetic game.

What penalty should you exact when a player 'dies'?
Firstly let us be frank about this one and say that any claim to realism goes straight out of the window when your hero is back on the adventure minutes after being consumed by a large ugly dragon. But this is excused because you know this is a fantasy game and you don't walk into too many dragons these days. Most games deduct half the players score if he dies and was the victim and the whole score is lost lf he was the aggressor. Frankly I see no reason to change this rule as it seems to work well in all the games where I have seen it operating.

What is it that makes a great adventure game?
A great adventure should at times have you sitting on the edge of your chair with excitement equal to any arcade style game. The adventure should be presented in such a way that you are not reminded that you are not sitting in front of a computer. You are on a great quest not manipulating a keyboard.

Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: cnffeb91.htm