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  • How To Write Low-Spoiler Hints For Adventure Games

    [04.15.21]
    - Meghann O'Neill

  • Some games are harder to write an incremental guide for than others.

    Writing any guide for an adventure game with a large open hub and interlocking puzzles is trickier than for a linear game. In a walkthrough, however, the writer can present their one, straightforward journey through the game. It might be difficult for the player to find what they need without spoilers in a linear walkthrough, but the guide remains entirely functional.

    In the case of an incremental hint guide, individual players will arrive at any puzzle with divergent understandings of the context and interacting puzzle pieces. In the Henry Mosse guide, I made a very general topic heading; "Dealing with the Dockworker", for a puzzle that could be approached at any time during a large chapter. After selecting this topic, you can branch into hints for either reaching the character's location or accessing the item they are holding, if you can already reach them. The player could also be trying to find this item, and/or not know what it is, before they have seen the character holding it, so a separate hint chain addresses that, under a different topic heading. Or, they may see the character and not know what the item is for. Or, they may not be able to see the character without solving an additional puzzle, if they made a divergent choice in the previous chapter, so there are branches to the second set of hints which can lead to that puzzle, if there's no route to seeing the character yet.

    Hero-U is the most complex guide I've written. It had around 600 passages in Twine. (It actually broke Twine at about 150, due to the squillion arrows no longer rendering, and I had to continue in Twee.) I loved writing the Hero-U guide, but it was difficult and it took months.

    Incremental guides are harder to plagiarise.

    As I mentioned above, I've been a game reviewer for 14 years. I know what it feels like to have content get lifted and published elsewhere, word for word, without attribution. (It's not nice.) People steal linear game guides, either explicitly, or by using yours to create theirs. Why? Hits? Advertising? I'm not sure, but I've seen this happen to guides a fair bit. Someone is much less likely, or able, to lift something from a site like Nice Game Hints. Take a look at any of Juho's incremental guides (he's very prolific) and you'll instantly become exhausted by the idea of stealing it and go look for a walkthrough to steal instead. As you may be coming to appreciate, writing an incremental hint guide can be time consuming. You'll work hard to create it. Thankfully, it's also more difficult to steal.

    We need to foster a culture of appreciation for hints.

    If you're a player and you've used a game guide that has helped you, either a linear guide, or an interactive one, consider tipping the creator. I didn't make the Henry Mosse guide for money. I did it because I love Australian games and I want to support the game's players. But, it took me around 20 hours to create, not including two playthroughs and sharing process in this Gamasutra blog. Juho has built a tip function into NGH. I'm hoping to eventually get enough tips from this guide (on kofi) to pay a saxophonist to record me some parts for an adventure game I'm making myself. It's an experiment. If it doesn't happen, that's OK, too. It seems that people who make guides often get a lot of hits, but can't always turn hits into reasonable recompense for their labour. Perhaps that's just the way things are, or perhaps cultures can change.

    Developers, people are going to make guides for your game for free. You know that, I know that. I literally just make a guide without pay for Henry Mosse. But (if you don't already), you could consider giving keys to sites like Nice Game Hints, or to established guide creators. Perhaps you'd pay an experienced person to write an official guide, too. The Thimbleweed Park and Hero-U developers valued the well-structured, low spoiler hints I was able to provide. I'd expect official guides would be something game developers would want to explore, given developers have clear ideas about what kind of engagement they'd like to encourage in their players.

    Could the narrative designers on Thimbleweed Park, Hero-U and Henry Mosse have written better incremental hint guides than me? This is a question I honestly don't know how to answer. I feel like they should be able to write better guides than me, given how well they know their own content, but (specifically) guide creators seem to bring a fresh eye to problem solving that makes their content uniquely valuable. I wish I had more time for making incremental guides.

    Thankyou to creators of guides.

    To the people who create game guides, thankyou. I use them. And I'm getting better at tipping, where I can. I think of you as fondly as I remember the kids in my Year 8 Computer Studies class. And, I picture a retired Ms Watling enjoying reading your guides in her retirement, too. (Ms Watling wasn't actually annoying. She was a teacher who played videogames when I was 6; my hero.)

    I've learned more about adventure games by making these three guides than I have in all my years of reviewing and playing them. Making an incremental hint system for a point and click adventure game is basically like doing deep dive analysis into design. It's challenging, but fun. Consider whether a low spoiler structure is good for the game you're making a guide for and its players. And, if you need a place to start making one, Nice Game Hints is ready to provide you with all the tools you need.

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