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  Mechanic #170 - Interactive Fiction - Word Search Shooter
Posted: Jan 03, 2014

Representing the visual aspect of aiming and firing at body parts, using only text.

  Word Search Shooter

After doing the previous entry, [#169 - IF Stealth], I considered that maybe I could do some more modern-based gameplay using an ASCII interface. I challenged myself to make a first person shooter. I came up with two ideas. This is the first one.

First Person Shooters are really based on a combination of visual acuity and manual dexterity. That is, the majority of the moment-to-moment gameplay involves spotting targets, locating their weak points (the head, usually), and moving the mouse crosshairs to the desired point quick enough to click the mouse before the enemy moves. That's incredibly difficult to translate into interactive fiction. You can't just type shoot badguy in head. It loses everything.

My solution to this problem was to introduce the need for, at least, visual acuity in order to locate and target your enemies. The end result is kind of a first person shooter mixed with a word search. When an enemy attacks, they appear on screen as a jumble of colored letters.



Fig 170.1 - An enemy approaches!

When this screen pops up, you have 30 seconds (or some other set time period) to search for as many words as you can in the enemy's boundaries. You type the words out separated by spaces as quickly as you can.



Fig 170.2 - Boom! Headshot!

Each word that you successfully find is a hit. How much damage is done is calculated based on the length of the word and its location. So SHEET does more damage than GUY, while SMELL is a glancing blow off the side of the head and POOL is a kill shot to the chest.

  Taking It One Step Farther

That's basically it. First person shooter word find. The basic idea is a bit weird, but there's a lot you can do with the idea to make it more interesting. For instance:



Fig 170.3 - Multiple enemies.

If you are attacked by several enemies at one time, they could equally appear in your word search shooting section. Here you've got a greater range of letters to search through. Do you choose to focus on one enemy, or split your focus amongst all three? At places where they overlap, new words can be formed. If you type a word that exists between two different enemies, it hits both.



Fig 170.4 - Obscured enemy.

Here, you find your enemy hiding, partially obscured by a wall. You can still see parts of him, which you can search for words to hit him. You can also guess words based on partials sticking out from behind the wall. If you guess a word, it still counts as a hit - but you can't hit any words completely obscured by scenery.



Fig 170.5 - Darkness.

An enemy approaches in the dark, but the letters are too dark to make out. Use a flashlight! While using a flashlight, every letter you type is illuminated, along with the letters immediately surrounding them. But don't take too long, because flashlight time counts against you. Switch back to the gun to word search attack!


Here's a few other ideas I had that I'm not going to bother illustrating:

- Some enemies switch their words around every ten seconds. It's the same letters and words, but in a different place and order. So if you see the word SMELL, you can still hit it if it moves. Maybe wait until it moves to a better location before you do.

- Different enemies can use different word sets. So, if you are attacked by a giant ASCII octopus, the words you'd find on him would be nautical themed, while a thug would have mobster themed words.

- In the afore mentioned ASCII octopus, getting words on the tentacles will blow the tentacles off, reducing the number and strength of attacks the octopus can use against you. Disarm thugs, hit weak points for great damage, destroy turrets off tanks, and so on.

- Unlock special abilities which give you more time, or even hints. For instance, you could "level up" in killing thugs for each word that you find. The more you find the same word, the brighter it is. So after killing thugs for a while, most of the mobster word set will be illuminated for you, allowing you to kill thugs much quicker.

- Maybe you could find a list of all the words in the mobster word set, so you can try blind guessing rather than even attempting to parse the jumbled letters.

- For added difficulty, maybe boss enemies mix things up a little. The letters themselves could be written backwards or upside down, or written in a more difficult to parse font (the Wingdings boss is a real killer).

- Don't just stop at word searches. Take other puzzles from the comics page, like the jumble or crossword puzzles, and create enemies out of those as well.

Well, that's more than I ever thought I'd write about a word search game, but there you go. A first person shooter, or a bizarre approximation of one, done in text.



Copyright 2007-2014 Sean Howard. All rights reserved.