Saturday, February 02, 2013

The problem with the RPG element

So, just some musings to pass the time until the next version of Eamon Deluxe is released...

The problem with the RPG element

I've often compared Eamon to a nascent version of the interactive fiction community with an RPG twist. That RPG twist made Eamon somewhat interesting, but lets face it, it also made it something of a pain as well. Here you are playing along with a well cultivated adventurer when *BAM*. You get killed by a sudden death trap. *BAM*. You lose a battle to some suped up boss monster (here's looking at you Guardian from Tomb of Molinar). Your character dies, and you have to start over from the beginning. Except you don't. You have three options. 1) Start over from scratch, Burly Irishman, Beginners Cave, Trollsfire, etc.; 2) Restore your character off the main hall and try again, or 3) Just simply use the plain vanilla approach of Fresh Sam to play your adventures. Thus, you either get to continuously rebuild your character over and over (if you're playing the honest way), play with the character you want (with subsequent restorations), or play a generic Fresh Sam. None of these are truly satisfying.

My point is that here we have one of the few things that distinguishes Eamon from the rest of the Interactive Fiction genre, yet actually utilizing the RPG features is tedious. Even Tom Zuchowski stated back in the March 1997 newsletter "Use the FRESH SAM program to play Eamon and don't use the Main Hall at all. That's what I have done for 10 years." But I don't give a damn about Sam. He gets killed a million times. He breaks his favorite sword. He drinks a potion and loses all of his charisma and agility. Doesn't matter.

How to fix this? Sam Ruby figured this out and wrote at least two adventures (Elemental Apocalypse and Boy and the Bard) where he provides the character to the player. The primary advantage of this is that it makes it much easier to balance the play to the player. You don't get some guy waltzing through with 1000 hd points and a 500x4342 sword, slaughtering everything in sight. Instead, you have a consistent approach to how things will be handled. The designer knows that to expect and can probably produce better programs for it.

But once you go down that path, how different is this from other interactive fiction? The player in Infocom's Planetfall is also the same every single time you play. While that player ultimately "advances" to Stationfall, he doesn't carry over the RPG experience. To compare this to Eamon, you're only going to be walking around The Shopping Mall with Trollsfire if you've actually generated a character and gone through the Beginner's Cave. Fresh Sam addicts don't get that choice.

The other option (and one that should be included if possible) is to just allow the player to start that game over without having them go back to the Main Hall. While this fixes some of the RPG element, the designer is still left with some of the game play balance issues.

So, what are your thoughts? Do you like the RPG element, or are you quite frankly annoyed with it? Do you still use the Main Hall? Fresh Sam? Have you modified your Fresh Sam to the characteristics that you would prefer? What approaches do you think would work best from a game design prospective? I'm interested to hear your thoughts!