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14 thoughts on “Discussion: Ethan Carter’s Stories Untold

  1. On the parser section of Stories Untold, I remember reading, I don’t remember where, that they deliberately designed it to be janky. The idea being that a younger player of contemporary text adventures would find the parser difficult to master, maybe even confusing and abstruse. Seemingly, No Code wanted to emulate this experience for modern players who might either be experienced adventurers, know all the “get ye flask” tropes, or at least familiar what chat-bots, and so they made it deliberately opaque and sometimes contradictory.

    Hmmm. Now I loved Stories Untold, but I’m not sure I buy that story. The first chapter, The House Abandon, which is now the free demo, was originally a jam game made in a few days. I don’t think it changed much. The reason it doesn’t play like a proper text adventure is that it is not. Parser based text adventures are systemic, but The House Abandon doesn’t need to be, because it is short and there are few variables. My guess is that what is going behind the scenes is basically not a parser but a choose-your-own-adventure, a la Twine, but with typing. That would make it harder to anticipate whatever the player might type, and it’s easier to do in a fast paced game jam.

    Not to take anything away from it. The important thing is that it does create that confusion, not whether they planned it from the start! Just thought it was interesting in a Death of the Author kind of way.

    Oooh, and that bike-chase scene in Stranger Things – I wondered if it was a deliberate subversion in that El makes the police car fly over the kids, whereas ET made the kids fly over the police cars. Probably not the first person to think of that, but googling it is not a rabbit hole I’m going down!

  2. Mr Behemoth!

    I had very similar thoughts when I was playing the text adventure segments – that actually this was an extremely stripped down parser and that it programmed to respond to specific sentences and drive through something like a twine.

    Even if that confusion is deliberate, it is just bad because it is literally infuriating in the second chapter. It does not add to the experience what they think it does. It collapses the game into player vs developer – you’re not “enjoying” the “evocative confusion” to put it delicately.

    Stranger Things: There’s a video out there that details every 80s homage scene in the series; there were plenty. Frankly, it just annoyed me. I liked it for what it was not for what it resembled or smelt like. And I’m definitely sure the scene with the van going up in the air is meant to be a subversion of the scene from ET. One of the things that bothered me in the second series is that the 80s homage stuff seemed to be more prominent and artificial, but that may just be me.

  3. So should I just get a walkthrough for the new, nastier Nova 7, or is there no point in cheating through this one in order to open more puzzles I won’t be able to do? On a perhaps related note, I could give you some hints on The Great Tower if you’re in the market. It wouldn’t really destroy the experience.

  4. Matt, personally I found Nova 7 the most difficult of every puzzle due to its size. Some of the other post-game challenges did stump me for awhile but I think I was just burnt out at the time. I polished them all off in a matter of days when I returned.

    My new favourite response from Brian Moriarty’s talk: A hint? Fuck off.

    I haven’t played SSR since we last spoke about it. Part of this is fear, but also I’ve just been working on other games. Archaica is surprisingly taxing with relatively small puzzles. Good work.

  5. Marcos, I’m trying to wrack my brain for proc gen puzzle games but none come to mind. Everything is hand-crafted. Roguelike games are like proc gen puzzles but they’re not quite in the same league because randomness sometimes makes it very unlikely you will succeed.

  6. Well, I recently made a procedurally generated puzzle game; you can check it out in my site (I know, I know, you don’t do reviews… 🙂 )

  7. I admit that there are not many… Tumblestone ( and Streamline ( come to mind. Streamline has human-designed levels in the “campaign”, and PG ones on the infinite mode.
    And, of course, there are some sokoban collections that are PG, although these probably are human-curated.

  8. Minesweeper! Which doesn’t operate under the constraint that the puzzle has to be fairly solvable. Hexcells Infinite and Lyne have procedurally generated modes too. With Lyne, since the elements are all in the open, all you need to do to make the game fairly solvable in some sense is to provide a puzzle with a unique solution. Hexcells presumably has to be doing something else, though I’m not sure what.

    To explain what I’m talking about–Lyne is a game that’s kind of about solving bridges-of-Königsberg problems (except solvable)–you have a bunch of symbols joined by lines, and you have to trace paths that hit each symbol exactly once and traverse each line exactly once. Usually there’s more than one kind of symbol and like symbols can only be connected to each other, and there are some wild-card symbols that can be reused a certain number of times (you have to max them out).
    Hexcells is basically Minesweeper with hexagons, and with several other ways of communicating information besides “n adjacent cells are filled”(e.g., “the filled cells around this are contiguous/noncontiguous, n cells in this line are filled, n cells within two hexes of this one are filled”). I find it pretty annoying–it’s the only minesweeper-alike I’ve ever seen that will tell you a space is adjacent to 0 filled spaces without expanding to the adjacent spaces, and the reason it does this is because far too much of the work consists of scanning a huge grid with lots of cues until you see “Hey, this row is marked as having five filled hexes and there are only five hexes in the row.”
    It’s like, if you’ve ever done an acrostic puzzle on pen and paper you’ve probably thought “Wow this would be much nicer to do with an interface that automatically kept the quotation in sync with the clues.” (In fact I never do them on pen and paper, but doing one on that site just now was heavenly, because of the interface.) It felt like Hexcells could have done such an interface, like given you a special click to autocomplete a clue once you’d filled in everything else, but maybe it wouldn’t have been as challenging without the busywork.
    Perfectly classic level select screen though?

    Marcos, thanks to the link to Streamnline–fun game!

  9. Matt

    Minesweeper, of course! I’m annoyed with myself because I did remember a procedurally-generated puzzle game but didn’t make a note of it… I’ve forgotten it now. I still think Roguelikes operate like little procgen puzzles but they can break what you perceive “as a puzzle” in other ways such as carrying resources from one “puzzle” to another.

    I’ve had Hexcells for ages but never got round to it. I think there’s a market for puzzle games where the player follows a simple algorithms instead of actively breaking a puzzle into a “solution”. Zen puzzles. That’s 2048. Aside from hitting all platforms for free, 2048 was also a success because it was relaxing and kept you engaged. For those brought up on Threes! it was perplexing to think you had to do a lot of donkey work before an actual puzzle emerged. RYB sounds similar in that you have to figure out the solution from a few indicators and some of the earlier levels are indeed as simple as just the Hexcells busywork you describe. But RYB builds on that and finding the weakness, the vulnerability in the puzzle is the real challenge.

    Wait! Threes, Spelltower, Twofold… there you go! Aren’t these procedurally-generated puzzle games? The way they build and constantly push you towards failure (success is unlikely) makes them feel more roguelikes in my book 🙂


    I still haven’t checked out your game or suggestions, I’m afraid!

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