Inform 7 Home Page / Documentation

§11.3. Helping and Hinting

IF is difficult to play: often harder than the writer ever suspects. Players are held up by what is "obvious", and they stumble into unforeseen combinations, or spend inordinate amounts of time working on the "wrong" problems. Too much of this and they give up, or post questions on online forums. Against this, many IF authors like to include in-story hints.

There are many approaches, which differ on two main issues.

First: do we spontaneously offer help to the player? The difficulty here is detecting the player's need: Y ask Y? tries to spot aimlessness, while Solitude has a novice mode where it is reasonable to assume that help is almost always needed. On the other hand, suppose we require that the initiative come from the player. Will a novice know to type HELP? Query shows how to redirect any attempt to ask a direct question into a HELP request. At the other end of the scale, wearily experienced players may type HELP all the time, out of habit, cheating themselves of the fun of frustration: if so, Real Adventurers Need No Help provides the nicotine patch against this addiction.

Second: how do we decide what help is needed? Normally the player only types HELP, which is unspecific. The simplest approach offers a menu, diagnosing the player's problem by obliging him to make choices: see Food Network Interactive. Listing all the possible problems in the story may give away too much, though, since players may not have reached the puzzles in question yet; so some authors prefer to create menus that adapt to the current state of the story (commonly called "adaptive hints").

Failing this, we can also try to parse commands like HELP ABOUT MICRODOT, as in Ish. Trieste takes a similar tack, except that instead of offering hints about puzzles, it offers help on story features (such as how to save), and lists all the available topics if the player types simply HELP.

Finally, and perhaps most stylishly, we can try to deduce what the player is stuck on from his immediate circumstances and from what is not yet solved: this needs a powerful adaptive hints system like the one in The Unexamined Life.

* See Getting Started with Conversation for a way to redirect a player using the wrong conversation commands

* See Footnotes for another medium by which hints could perhaps be transmitted

arrow-up.png Start of Chapter 11: Out Of World Actions and Effects
arrow-left.png Back to §11.2. Saving and Undoing
arrow-right.png Onward to §11.4. Scoring

*ExampleY ask Y?
Noticing when the player seems to be at a loss, and recommending the use of hints.

*ExampleFood Network Interactive
Using a menu system from an extension, but adding our own material to it for this game.

A (very) simple HELP command, using tokens to accept and interpret the player's text whatever it might be.

Catching all questions that begin with WHO, WHAT, WHERE, and similar question words, and responding with the instruction to use commands, instead.

Table amendment to adjust HELP commands provided for the player.

Novice mode that prefaces every prompt with a list of possible commands the player could try, and highlights every important word used, to alert players to interactive items in the scenery.

***ExampleReal Adventurers Need No Help
Allowing the player to turn off all access to hints for the duration of a game, in order to avoid the temptation to rely on them overmuch.

***ExampleThe Unexamined Life
An adaptive hint system that tracks what the player needs to have seen or to possess in order to solve a given puzzle, and doles out suggestions accordingly. Handles changes in the game state with remarkable flexibility, and allows the player to decide how explicit a nudge he wants at any given moment.