A style question regarding searching and looking.


a best practice question for the more accomplished authors than me (i.e. almost anyone ^^):

From my understanding (English not being my native language and being new to IF) I’d say:

looking is what you see with your eyes
examining likewise
search is rummaging through things, prodding and poking at stuff, shifting a drawer’s content, etc.

Inform 7 seems to handle “look at ITEM/PERSON” and “examine ITEM/PERSON” the same.

More advanced looking is not supported by default - as “look under”, “look behind”

Searching is a comptely different action with a default message of “you find nothing of interest”

Now - as a newbie to both playing IF and writing IF …

(a) Wouldn it be a good idea to redirect “searching something” to “examine something” but for the few cases where something is hidden and MUST be discovered via searching or would this suggest to the player that searching will always default to looking at (or examining) and thus be a possible plot progress stopper because the player might give up after a while to try searching alltogether?

(b) If (a) is not a good idea - is leaving the default message a good idea or would something along the lines of “You find nothing in addition to what you can see.” for normal things and specialized messages for things that need to be searched for a good idea or will it lead to similar problems as (a) and thus keeping the default text is better?

© Am I right in assuming that “search someone” is actually similar to frisking someone, so that a person would usually object to such an action instead of the usual “you find nothing of interest”?

(d) Is it better to create a “look under” or “look behind” or keep the standard look but move the action to searching? So if something is hidden behind a picture a normal look or examine would not show it but a search would. Or is it normal for an examine to be that thorough that an item taped to the back should be mentioned?

It’s a bit of a question of what people are used to or expect.

It’s up to the author’s style, really. I don’t believe there is a standard, accepted answer. For me, I agree that “examine bookcase” would be a player just giving the bookcase a “once-over” to note how big the bookcase is, an estimated amount of books, etc. But “search bookcase”, to me, is the player removing books, opening covers, feeling around the shelves. So you examine with your eyes but search with your hands.

But, again, I know for a fact that some authors totally disagree with this opinion and handle it differently.

Out of the box, SEARCH is actually intended to only apply to containers or objects, listing what’s inside or on the noun. The parser will ask for a noun, so if you want to search a room, you want to make a new action.

[code]Lab is a room.
Searching generally is an action applying to nothing. Understand “search” and “search room” and “search location” and “search around” as searching generally.

Report searching generally (this is the most rooms have no search items rule):
say “You find nothing of interest.” instead.

After searching generally in Lab when test tube is off-stage (this is the lab loot rule):
Now the player carries test tube;
say “You found a test tube!”;

After searching generally in Lab (this is the already looted the lab rule):
say “You turn the lab over industriously. Unless you need to replenish your stock of bunsen burners, there’s nothing else too interesting here.”
Most players tend not to distinguish between EXAMINE and SEARCH, so if there are rare cases, you may want to hint this.

[code]Lab is a room.

A bookcase is a supporter in lab. Some books are on bookcase.

Last report examining the bookcase when secret lever is off-stage:
say “That bookcase might warrant a more thorough SEARCH.”

a secret lever is a fixed in place thing.

After searching the bookcase when secret lever is off-stage:
say “Aha, a secret lever!”;
now secret lever is on bookcase.
LOOKING UNDER is already implemented with a standard message;

LOOKING BEHIND is not implemented by default and you’d need to write those rules if you want that action in the game.

All this is listed in the Index in Inform which is available after testing your project. The Index is your friend. Note that the index handily updates to include the rule I added as well:

(a) I think this is probably not a good idea, for the reason you mention. Also, searching is traditionally separate from examining in IF, and it’s usually best to stick with the conventions for players’ commands unless you have a good reason not to.

(b) In general, the more you customise your messages, the more distinctive, and immersive, your game is likely to be. Many authors habitually replace all of Inform’s default responses with their own defaults. And treating special cases appropriately is the hallmark of a well-written game.

© Yes, in English to search someone means to frisk them. (Except for “search me”, which is an expression of bafflement.) The instruction: Understand “frisk [a thing]” as searching will add this verb to the Inform dictionary, should you want it.

Inform does not recognise this as a special case of searching by default, though perhaps it should do.

(d) I think redirecting “looking under” to “searching” would be wholly appropriate, unless you want to keep these actions separate. Alternatively, you could redirect it except for some special cases; for instance you could have a catch-all Instead of looking under something, try searching the noun rule, and then write a Instead of looking under the dining table: rule to catch that case.

This runs into the problem you mentioned above (creating false player expectation that looking under won’t work), so perhaps a little hinting might be polite. But looking under a table is a natural human instinct when playing IF, so it probably doesn’t matter in this case.

(As Hanon points out, searching is rather minimally implemented in the Standard Rules except for containers/supporters.)

Thanks for the feedback - considering the answers I guess I’ll end up with:

A set of random lines when trying to search a person. Searchable persons will have to be unconscious - i.e. replaced by an aptly named container while they’re out cold. If working with dispositions searching someone will decrease their disposition temporarily.

Vainly searching in containers or under/on supporters will yield a set of random messages to show nothing is on it. Special feedback for closed containers to hint at the player that the outside of the object is far less interesting than the inside.

Searching non containers - yet anothet set of random messages unless, of course, there’s something to be found.

Special hint (not too obvious) when examining something that searching might be a good idea here.

Oh, and searching is intrusive - so block searching in private playces while people are around. Make that either a wait sequence till an NPCs randomly walks away or make it a puzzle for guards and whatnot. In a library or a bookcase … searching should be ok. It’s kind of expected, actually. :slight_smile:

I see some extra work ahead of me … ^^

While playing, type ACTIONS to see the action name Inform is trying. If you know how the parser is blocking an action, you can create cases where the action is allowed.

So now you can write things like:

The can't take people's possessions rule does nothing when the holder of the noun is unconscious.