Are static objects REALLY that important

(Finn Rosenløv) #1

This was originally posted by Lumin at the Adrift forum. I have taken the liberty of copying it and post it here since I would really like to hear what other people think.
So here goes:

I know even to suggest such a thing is borderline sacrilege for much of the IF community, but bear with me here.

Do we as a community put waaaay too much importance on describing every noun? That doesn’t seem to be something the writers of classic IF concerned themselves with very much, but now failure to do so is considered an immediate indicator of a bad game with lazy writing.

But if a room–like, say, the player character’s kitchen–is at least passably written, do you really feel it’s necessary to examine every individual appliance to be able to envision your surroundings? Nine times out of ten, a kitchen is just a kitchen. Sure, I might sigh a bit and then dutifully go down the list typing x fridge, x counter,x oven, x stovetop, x cabinet, x sink, x dishes, x drawers, x floor, and then so on and so on with the sub-objects, but that’s mainly out of fear I’ll overlook some tiny yet absolutely-necessary-to-win-the-game detail tucked away in an insignificant sub-sub-object somewhere. If I had the author’s assurance from the get-go that everything important would be up front and self evident, you can bet I’d take just a second to rifle through anything openable and then breeze right through to more interesting areas of the game, and you can bet I’d be grateful for it.

And that’s just speaking as a player. As an author, I have found that there is nothing at all that saps my will to live like being in the zone, making my little map, writing out ten rooms and then realizing I’ve got to go back and create and describe 100+ objects…and that’s not even counting the actually important ones that will need more detail.

For an example, here’s a room chosen at random from my Open World WIP:

At a Crossroads
You stand before a weatherbeaten signpost at a junction in the Old King’s Road and and survey the countryside unfolding for miles all around you. East and west, a wide, dusty path crosses the main road and leads through fields of brown stubble, graced here and there by freshly cut piles of golden hay that all but glow in the sunlight and permeate the air with their warm fragrance. Northwards the flat land begins to slope down and become dotted with trees until it runs up against the barely visible gleam of a lake, while to the south it rises into green hills, then further on and up into the distant Greyholm Mountains, wreathed as always in a smoky haze, the only thing which mars the vivid blue of the sky on this bright, cloudless day.

Obviously, this isn’t a very important room. I think it does an okay job setting the scene, but it’s only purpose is to take the player from Point A to B, C, D, or E. Yet just at a glance there’s a dozen insignificant objects I’m required to describe, and God help me if I accidentally include nouns in any of their descriptions.

Only one of these objects actually matters.

So, here you go, Player, I’ve amended it like so:

At a Crossroads
You stand before a weatherbeaten signpost at a junction in the Old King’s Road and and survey the countryside unfolding for miles all around you. East and west, a wide, dusty path crosses the main road and leads through fields of brown stubble, graced here and there by freshly cut piles of golden hay that all but glow in the sunlight and permeate the air with their warm fragrance. Northwards the flat land begins to slope down and become dotted with trees until it runs up against the barely visible gleam of a lake, while to the south it rises into green hills, then further on and up into the distant Greyholm Mountains, wreathed as always in a smoky haze, the only thing which mars the vivid blue of the sky on this bright, cloudless day.

You’re welcome! Now you can continue on to fish at the lake or visit a farmer’s market or discover the secret of the mountains instead of whipping out the ol’ magnifying glass and examing each individual straw in the haystacks just in case I’ve hidden the needle required to beat the game there.

And now I can move on to describing the rest of the world! Just…400 or so more rooms to go… :wink:

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(Peter Piers) #2

Not something the writers of classic IF concerned themselves with too much? Some of THOSE guys would force you to EXAMINE and SEARCH every item you could see in the room description, and sometimes try meaningful interactions with items you didn’t even think were implemented.

What Infocom in particular did, and Andy Phillips in particular also does, is mark some objects as “Yes, this exists, but don’t worry about it at all, concentrate on other objects” (this has a shorter name, but I don’t know what it is). Any interaction, INCLUDING examine, gives a response like “That’s not something you need to concern yourself with”. That’s the author going “I didn’t want to/have to implement this. I acknowledge that you, the player, can see this in the world I’ve created, and that you would try to interact with it, but don’t worry, it’s not important, best to focus on something else”.

In some games, especially big games, this isn’t just a nicety. Every noun being implemented increases trust in the player, especially if the game is puzzly - the player needs to trust a solid implementation if he’s to try stuff, and trying is the key to puzzle-solving. And some nouns being implemented in this “Don’t bother with me” fashion clearly states that you should experiment with something else, which reduces the frustration because suddenly you haven’t got 200 interactibles at your disposal for solving this puzzle, only 50.

I’ve felt the frustration, speaking as a player, of being forced to examine every little detail. I think it’s up to the author to gently nudge the player towards what can be SEARCHed, LOOKed UNDER. But it passed, because it’s an integral part of IF, really. Many of us were rewarded, by the old games, for being nosy packrats. Some games, more recent, poked fun at us for that, and we enjoyed the joke. Some, like “Adventurer’s Consumer Guide”, did away with EXAMINE altogether, which generated a crazy amount of text but I felt worked really well.

I guess my point is, examining every little thing comes with the territory, and many IF games expect the player to do so, because that’s what we’ve been TAUGHT to do. If in a certain game that behaviour isn’t appropriate, it’s up to the game itself to teach the player not to worry about examining everything. It will always depend on the game. Second-level and third-level noun implementation is always appealing to a player, except for when it adds to the frustration.

What I think is really a bad idea is the game “Biscuit”, where you have a TON of interactibles and they all seem to be mostly red herrings, though that particular game also has a lack of a specific goal. It’s the best example I can think of where some serious pruning or guidance is mandatory.

As for your example, I think that’s an extreme that not a good solution either. For one thing, implementing only a single thing that you, the author, think it’s important… the PLAYER doesn’t know what’s important or not, that’s why he has to explore. And as he does, to find so many things unimplemented, not even in the barest way, he starts to lose confidence in the game. What the hell kind of a game world is this, he asks, that describes things that it doesn’t recognise, not even to say “Piss off and look elsewhere?”.

The art of writing descriptions will help here. A good room description has many jobs to do: describe what’s available, sure, immerse the player in a world, ok, but also gently guide the player towards what’s mose important, and possibly deftly conceal an important item for the player to discover. This particular description… maybe I’m jaded, but it seems too full of things, atmospheric details that wwould have worked best in a separate paragraph (more dynamic) that was to be displayed only the first time the player LOOKed at, or entered, this location. That way you have atmosphere, description, and a shorter room description left to do its practical job well.

And I was saving what I feel is most important for last: keyword highlighting, used in many games.

I think this is a baaaaaad idea, but it seems to be gaining acceptance, so I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss it a bit. If I see a room description with highlighted keywords, pretty soon I’m not bothering much about all the REST of the text. A lighthouse is described but not highlighted; why should I even bother to include it in my fictional rendering of the world, if it’s not interactible? The experience of playing IF ceases to be exploring a new world, but rather entering an empty room with a few glowing shapes, that render the background invisible, unnecessary.

Then again, if everything else IS implemented as well, not just the highlited ones, why bother? I might as well turn off the damn thing and be done with it.

Of course, if done right, like everything else, it works… “Blue Lacuna” certainly did it right. Not too many highlighted items in any given room description, and they were only the items critical for advancing the plot, or particularly noticeable for whatever reason. Everything else was still fully interactible, as far as necessary.

In the end, I suppose it always, but always, boils down to how well you do it. You can get away with murder if it’s fun enough to play. Many people have.

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#3

Every item in the story should have a purpose. Some will be there to be interacted with, some will be there just to express something about a room or character. But everything should have a purpose.

Everything mentioned in a room story should be implemented. Therefore only mention things with purposes. Sometimes this may mean vague descriptions, but not too vague either. This is one of the areas where talent and practice are needed. No shortcuts.

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#4

Depending on the game, the answer can be a kind of compromise: significant and interesting items should have their own descriptions, whereas insignificant but present objects can have a more generic (but room specific) description. So for instance, in the dream of the bedroom in Andromeda Dreaming, the bed is absolutely not important so examining it will yield the dream-appropriate response “You suppose there must be furniture in your room but you can’t focus on that now.”, as will attempting to examine any unmentioned but likely objects, such as a chair or desk.

It’s a shortcut, but I think scene-appropriate. Likewise, implementing every item in a kitchen or bathroom is absolutely not necessary when interactions with presumed objects in these places can be headed off in a way that is still satisfying to the story.

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#5

This paragraph makes me feel that the art of writing a good room description is under-appreciated by the original author. If the fridge, the oven, the counter, and so on, do not need to be examined … why mention them in the first place? A good room description need not be a list of the biggest things in the room.

This room description tells you nothing about what is in the kitchen, and yet it tells you something very important.

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#6

That’s a fine room description Victor, but player’s are still going to type ‘X TOASTER’. What then?

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#7

Then the default library response would be entirely appropriate!

Also, the player would learn something about the game – after a few such interactions, it has become clear that vaguely implied objects will not be implemented, and the player will stop trying to examine them.

I would judge that this room description sort-of forces the author to implement at least a location specific smell response, as well as a sink. But these are interesting precisely because their description can be used tell us something more about the relation between the PC and his ex-boyfriend.

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#8

I think the issue here is: do you want to make a game that follows the pacing and interaction style of standard parser-based IF?

If the answer is ‘yes’, then yes, you really do need to implement every fucking object that you mention.

If the answer is ‘no’, you’ve made your life easier in one regard, but you now have to deal with an entirely separate challenge: justifying why you’re not making your game CYOA. If every room only has one or two things that you can do something with – taking ‘do something’ to include examining a scenery object – then why do you need the complicated apparatus of the parser to allow the player to do those two things? Much more straightforward to just have a couple of clickable links.

Now, if you want to do something else with the parser - some kind of complicated set of manipulations that doesn’t involve tinkering with medium-sized dry goods - I’m all ears. I absolutely want people to be making games like that! But once you’re making things like that, I suspect that things like a room-based map and meticulous description of environment will no longer be a very high priority. Descriptive work would be better-dedicated to whatever the basic stuff of player interaction is - whereupon you’ll damn well need to implement all the mentioned features of that.

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(Marshal Tenner Winter) #9

I can see all the points raised here. In my opinion, everything should be described and implemented in an attempt to make a full story-world. It’s up to the player to decide what’s important. Plus, the added descriptions allows the author to add more to the story world. If the game takes place in the 1800’s then the kitchen description will be much different than a 1970’s kitchen. Again, it would add to the story world. With proper clueing, the appropriate items can be determined. It gets under my skin to create something in the game just to add to the story world, and have a player say “well, it’s there, so I’m sure I’m going to need to take it.” :ugeek:

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#10

All If has what I call “imaginary boundaries”. These encompass the writing, parser, and world model. The writing boundaries in IF are a cornerstone to its attractiveness. You write a block of text, intentionally leaving some things out. The things you’ve left out are mentioned directly or indirectly. If you mention them directly, you probably need to implement them. If you mention them indirectly, you’d better have a good reason not to implement them. The parser’s boundaries are well-known. Guess-the-verb is one of the most notorious accidental flaws in authoring IF. The boundaries of the parser can be alleviated with extensive user testing that helps you either offer cues to the player or outright declaration of the previously hidden verb. The world model boundaries are simpler. You have a set of locations that generally make up a perceived larger world. In order to keep the player thinking within your boundaries and not interested in the larger world, you just need to make the compass rose do its job. Barriers, long roads to nowhere, and feigning disinterest are all time-tested methods for a well-bounded world model.

I think the larger issue you bring up is quality. If you want your works to be considered well-written and well-implemented, all of the little nitpicking implementations are required. You must set your boundaries well in all phases. If you don’t, reviews will be damning.

David C.
www.textfyre.com

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#11

"And I was saving what I feel is most important for last: keyword highlighting, used in many games.

I think this is a baaaaaad idea, but it seems to be gaining acceptance, so I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss it a bit. If I see a room description with highlighted keywords, pretty soon I’m not bothering much about all the REST of the text. A lighthouse is described but not highlighted; why should I even bother to include it in my fictional rendering of the world, if it’s not interactible? The experience of playing IF ceases to be exploring a new world, but rather entering an empty room with a few glowing shapes, that render the background invisible, unnecessary."

I used to have the same philosophical problems with highlighted text in IF; I thought they distracted from descriptions and suggested the unhighlighted text was irrelevant. I don’t think that now.

I think the old philosophy was wrong because it viewed IF as a game. I don’t hink it should be. If is part game and part fiction. Seeing IF as solely as a series of objects to examine, visit, and manipulate via highlighted text is, I think, wrong. If you are concerning yourself with highlighted text only, you are ignoring the story part of IF. You should want to read the text, both unhighlighted and highlighted, so you can appreciate the prose and follow the story, not just solve the game. Why bother with IF at all if you don’t want to read?

Neil

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#12

Hey all,

I don’t usually post here, but Finn told me he’d made this thread so I guess I kind of have to now! :slight_smile:

The thing about standard IF is, it’s all about illusion. You herd the player from one meticulous set piece to another, you control what they see and when, and it’s all aimed for maximum emotional impact. It’s extremely detail oriented, because it has to be…you have to distract the player from the fact that the parser doesn’t really give them any special freedoms, they’re trapped in a (very pretty, very elaborate) box while you tell them a story, occasionally asking for some specific input to move it along. But that does lead to compromises–deliberately neutering the descriptions you do write to keep from having to write more, and maybe even this whole sort of lonely, claustrophobic feel a lot of IF has, where you spend so much of your time creeping around on tiny maps in interior locations.

Of course, quality over quantity and all that…there’s been plenty of games I’ve had great experiences with that probably consisted of less than ten rooms, and if I was writing a game myself there’s no way I’d be able to go much larger and expect to actually finish. But sometimes, a lot of the time, actually, I do get an urge to work on something different. I want to write a game that’s big and…epic, I guess? (Even though that word is horribly overused…)

Except I’ve learned to immediately squash those urges because they only lead to me getting hopelessly bogged down in the insane levels of minutae expected for an IF game to be even barely accepted by the kind of players that tend to write reviews, and then inevitably abandoning the whole thing in disgust and flushing untold hours of my life down the drain along with it.

But what I’ve done now is identify scenery objects as the least important elements of the game that generate the most headaches and apathy for me as a writer (and often as a player), and so I’ve decided that I’m done with them. It’s…just so liberating! Writing is actually fun now! And it’s unbelievable how much faster progress is coming along on my WIP. You guys should try it sometime.

Oh, and I’m not really concerned with getting slammed by reviewers, because of my game’s setting and subject matter. There’s no symbolism or Deep Meaningful Social Commentary or exploring anybody’s relationship with anybody–there’s a fantasy world, and the player has adventures in it. You guys are all guaranteed to hate it anyway so I might as well write it how I want to. :wink:

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#13

I guess I only really don’t like it when I examine something and I’m told it’s not there or not important when the rest of the text is telling me it really should be important, at least a little bit.

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(mostly useless) #14

Based on this, I’m assuming a lot of the described features also appear in other locations in the game. Countryside, path, fields, stubble, hay, sunlight, trees, lake, hills, Greyholm Mountains, smoky haze, sky - most, if not all of these I would expect to be visible from, and mentioned in the descriptions of, various nearby locations. I don’t know the Adrift equivalent, but in Inform you would make these ‘backdrops’ (basically scenery objects that are replicated in all of the locations where they should appear). Then the task of writing all the descriptions is less weighty than it first seems, because you’re basically taking care of a lot of scenery at once.

If, on the other hand, all those objects are unique to the Crossroads, which you described earlier as an unimportant room in a 400+ room game, then I’d say you have way, way, way too many things in that unimportant room. :smiley:

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(Peter Piers) #15

You are entitled to your opinion. IF in fact has space for story, game, game WITH story, story WITH game, and a perfect mix of the two.

Play “Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina”, or an Infocom title like “Zork”, or “A Change in the Weather”, and talk to me again about not just wanting to solve the game.

You’re right, I don’t want to read. I do not play IF to read. I play IF to construct in my mind a world that springs from the sentences I’m reading. Reading is not an end, but a means. Does not mean that I don’t appreciate good prose, but I don’t experience IF to become submerged in prose. Which is what new-schoolers seem to feel is all right and proper, and leads to extensive purple-prosed navel-gazing.

Also, don’t you think your last sentence is more than a tad provoking? I’ve been biting myself not to answer in anger throughout this post.

Finally, I find that the highlighted words detract from the prose (in direct contradiction to your point of view, but hey, it’s subjective, so it’s ok). Try reading a book with highlighted nouns. In order to properly emulate an IF experience, it has to be a lot of nouns highlighted, everything you consider to be relevant to the story, especially character names.

A room description is a little room in my mind, colourful, vibrant, full of objects or feelings or colours or abstractions. A room description with objects highlighted, poorly done (which is the only way I’ve seen them done since Blue Lacuna), is a gray limbo with a handful of very bright objects shouting “LOOK AT ME! DON’T BOTHER ABOUT THE REST!”

After all, the point of highlighting them is giving them more importance. How can you possibly enjoy the prose as a whole when those individuals keep raising their hands, shouting “PICK ME! PICK ME!”?

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(Hanon Ondricek) #16

My honest opinion: If the author doesn’t care to write extra description of static objects, they should be writing standard non-interactive fiction, or CYOA where the choice of what to actually do is more controlled. The point of parser fiction is to give the reader license to explore the world. If the author isn’t prepared to fill in that detail, that limits the interaction that can be had.

I am by no means saying a game is bad if someone doesn’t describe DUST separate from BOX if they mentioned “a dusty box is here” but text is the reader’s reward for being inquisitive.

I also agree that keyword highlighting by default sort of kills the interactiveness. It shows me exactly how big the implemented part of the world is, which serves to destroy a good part of the immersion. I’m just going to lawnmower through the highlighted text, examining what the author has pointed out as important.

I think keyword highlighting is a great option for a new player or someone who is stuck to toggle on as a subtle hint system.

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(Hanon Ondricek) #17

Here I would examine SIGNPOST, PATH, LAKE, HILLS, MOUNTAINS.

I would tell I7: Understand “junction/old/king’s/kings/road/country/countryside/fields/brown/stubble/pile/piles/hay/fragrance/land/trees/smoky/haze/blue/sky/cloud/clouds” as crossroad vista - scenery (which would be a slightly modified description of the whole room, and cycling random variations of “You take in more of the details surrounding you/You start to look, but are distracted by a bircall…(etc)” which should mostly apply for any of these tiny random details the character decides to look into. That keeps them from getting knocked out of the mood by a default message.

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#18

I’m not planning to leave in the default message, I was going to put something generic like ‘You contemplate your surroundings’ in there.

Originally I did consider compromising and only describing major features (the mountain, etc. as HanonO suggested) but then I thought of the player who’s still going to be stuck feeling like they have to examine every little thing because they don’t know which ones have descriptions. I really think all or nothing is the only way to go in this situation.

And I’ve heard the ‘might as well make a CYOA’ comment a couple of times now, which I honestly don’t follow. IF and CYOAs are about as apples and oranges as you can get. And getting a generic message when you examine certain objects doesn’t exactly invalidate everything else you can do with the parser.

I don’t know, I read that room desc and there’s enough details that I get a very clear idea of the road and surrounding countryside in my head. If being unable to read descriptions of scenery objects that have already been described is really such a complete deal breaker for a player in an extremely large game with plenty of other, more interesting things to do, then I guess I’ll just have to try and live with them not playing, though I admit it seems like a bit of a kneejerk reaction I don’t entirely understand the reasoning behind.

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#19

Geeze, I didn’t expect anyone to get angry at my opinion. I’m not attacking you. Heck, I used to agree with you. Reminds me of debates over which authoring system is best. It’s only my personal opinion. No, I didn’t mean my last question to be provoking. Sometimes things come across the wrong way when one writes. I apologize to you and anyone else who took it the wrong way and found it offensive. This is exactly why I hesitate to post on forums, and why I tend to stick to questions on this one.

I simply just disagreed with your advice to writers that highlighting text is a bad design choice. This advice was based on your opinion, not an objective consensus. I just no longer support that view, and I tried to explain (probably poorly) why .

"Does not mean that I don’t appreciate good prose, but I don’t experience IF to become submerged in prose. Which is what new-schoolers seem to feel is all right and proper, and leads to extensive purple-prosed navel-gazing. "

I don’t know why new schoolers are wrong for wanting to read and write a story. They write what they nlike. And some players like it, too. And some don’t. Sure, not many of it is done well, but you can say that about most IF. That’s not a problem with the technique, it’s a problem with writers not doing it well.

“After all, the point of highlighting them is giving them more importance. How can you possibly enjoy the prose as a whole when those individuals keep raising their hands, shouting “PICK ME! PICK ME!”?”

I wonder how many players feel that way. Is it really that hard to ignore highlighted text? Full disclosure: I actually can’t see, so I don’t know how hard it is to ignore. I figured it would be like reading a textbook. The important words are boldface, but they don’t distract from the text.

Neil

wt

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#20

Playing IF is a pretty leisurely activity. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone in such a rush that they’re already skimming text the first time through a room…and if so it seems like that would be more of a barrier to getting properly immersed in a game than any of the other issues we’ve discussed. Peter does seem like he has a pretty specific taste in games though, and that’s fine…people should write what they want and play what they want, but no need to get all worked up about it. I didn’t see anything that I would call provoking in Neil’s original post.

…though in the last one he did just kind of open another can of worms. Are there a lot of blind IF players? I don’t know why it never occurred to me it might be a relatively large percentage, my mom was blind too and I would always try to get her into playing IF or MUDs. That kind of makes any little bolding or color coding tricks basically useless for those players as far as saving time goes, though I do at least intend to state in the ‘Read this before playing’ bit in the intro what the deal is with the (lack of) scenery objects, I’ll just have to be careful to make sure not to use the bolding as a crutch and make sure anything really important is indicated in other ways as well.

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