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!


Wade said...

Since I revisited Eamon in the 2000s, I've mostly used Fresh Sam for speed and convenience. Back in the day, I didn't have that program, but what I would do was just cheat at the moment of death (where possible!) to preserve my long-running character. Usually just hitting reset and typing RUN or similar behaviour would let me retrieve him.

Obviously none of the situations you described in your post are ideal, but with different people making all the games, and no standard grading or policed structure of the Eamon universe, I guess that's how it had to be. You get the charms of the possibility of ongoing characters with the tradeoff of all the Eamon ramshackleness that entails.

Re: characters given to the player by the game, that still feels Eamony to me (more than 'general IF-y) so long as those characters generally behave, mechanically, in an Eamon way. EG their stats work as usual, they can pick up weapons and have Eamon combat. I didn't like it when the MAIN PGM was changed so much that all the Eamon features were invisible. Then, to me, you might as well be playing a non-Eamon IF. But that's me.

T Ferguson said...

My two cents: Keeping the same character is a pretty important factor for me; the only the "cheating" I've ever done has been for the sake of preserving my "guy." Fresh Sam always seemed as if it would negate some of the joy of Eamon.

Despite the fact that most of the Eamons that provide the player with a prefab character are well-produced---indeed, they're often much better than average Eamon fare---it always felt a bit like limbo to launch them from the Main Hall. My guy sort of went on such-and-such an adventure but sort of didn't. Hence, I tend to regard, e.g., a SoftDisk Eamon as something employing Eamon rather than as an Eamon proper.

Frank - Eamon Deluxe said...

I used my own variation of Fresh Sam ("Fresh Stan", then usually "Brutis" with Eamon Deluxe) on the Apple II probably for the same reasons Tom Zuchowski did. i.e. we both worked on Eamon at the system design level and saw the flaws and holes in the RPG element of "vanilla" Eamon.

I still feel that Eamon is one of the greatest and most clever gaming systems ever created. The concept and execution are quite impressive given the time period and OS limitations and, as a programmer, Donald Brown's code is beautiful to read. I think that given more time and inspiration, Brown would have improved the RPG factor among other things.

It's very easy to see in nearly all of the adventures written by Brown that he's saying, "Here, look what you can program a computer to do." And the Eamon system itself seems to say that as well. In some cases, the actual content of his Eamons were less than par because they were merely filler that he used to show off how easy it was to incorporate various innovations to the system. e.g. The Death Star and Apple Island are lousy adventures as far as actual gaming content, but served to show how, respectively, sound effects and hires graphics could be included. Others, such as Castle of Doom (which is still packed with features), really showed off his creative talent and writing skills.

I was surprised during the early testing phase of Eamon Deluxe at how many requests were made for expanding the RPG element, character development, and monster/artifact data consistency. I had gotten used to not really noticing such areas since I always played using generic test characters. Since then, I've made a pretty strong attempt at satisfying these requests but there are times when I just have to shrug and say "that's Eamon."

The fact that Brown didn't publish standard data guidelines early on in the Designer Manual led to a lot of the inconsistencies in the classic adventure library. I finally had to come up with my own standard values system in Eamon Deluxe which I created from examining the adventures written by Brown himself as well as Jim Jacobson and also the "legal" values of character stats.

With Eamon Deluxe 5.0 things such as a standard sword are worth the same amount in every adventure as well as the stats of "tough" monsters, etc.. It's all starting to come together pretty nicely, but there certainly is a long way to go as far as the Eamon RPG element is concerned.

Frank - Eamon Deluxe said...

Note: I'm posting this comment on behalf of LUKE HEWITT.

Luke uses a screen reader and wasn't able to post it himself due to conflicts between readers and all the inconvenient changes that have been forced into, among other websites I used to like, this blog. The same annoying changes (or "technological advancements" as Google calls them) have been a thorn in my side as well.

Also noted, I'm a bit behind on my email and Luke apparently forwarded this to me for posting on February 5th:

As per the comments about Google's bloody captures (which also amusingly enough have stopped me using my old Google Groups account that was created before them), here are my thoughts on the RPG features which are a little different to other peoples.

Myself, I love character advancement! I really like the fact that I can play through the Eamon Deluxe Demo Adventure and get my rear handed to me the first time by Black Bob and his goons, then go away, play some more adventures, come back and beat Black Bob silly. Indeedd this is even more so when considdering adventures like A Runcible Cargo which i never got to play until my character was tough enough.

Myself, the multi-character advancement is one of the things that makes Eamon fun for me, and if that means saving occasionally, restoring games and not doing some adventures because my character is not strong enough, well that's part of the fun and makes things even more satisfying when I do get through. Indeed, this was why I so much wanted the Witch and other venders from the graphical Main Hall incorporated into the text only version, so that I could start with my standard generated characters and build them up over time.

The only thing I will say that becomes a problem in Eamon is the lack of specific notes on adventures as to their level. While the ratings on reviews are great, it'd be nice to actually hve a bit more of a formal advancement system, so that there could be quite literally adventures of specific levels, this would also help authors design adventures for specific strengths of characters as well, and offer an even challenge, indeed if the adventure packs in Eamon Deluxe weren't already so complete I'd almost suggest giving each adventure some sort of classification based upon the toughness of it's enemies that appears in the main menu of each pack so that players would know whether their character was strong enough.

For me at least, playing everything with Fresh Sam would lose a good part of the charm of Eamon, though admittedly if there was no ability to quit to Main Hall or restore characters as Eamon Deluxe has I might think differently.

Sam Ruby said...

What would now be called "leveling" a character was great fun for a while but unsustainable with so many authors and no imposed consistency as to difficulty levels and loot. As an author who was interested in telling stories, expanding mechanics, and delivering an adventure that would be "on-level" for everyone, I eventually found it necessary to disregard accrued stats, gear, and sometimes even biography. Certainly this would have been jarring earlier in the life of Eamon, but by the time I started doing it, no one I knew was still "leveling" and I never received any complaints about abandoning it (plenty of complaints about other things, of course!)