Beginning in the middle of the action: is it a bad idea?

So for the game I’m sort of halfway planning, I had the idea of starting the game, against IF tradition, in the middle of an action-oriented sequence. I’m not entirely sure it’s a good idea, though.

I know if this were a piece of static fiction, I’d consider it the strongest opening. I’m relatively sure I can set the thing up so there’s no problem with it being too hard to understand what’s going on. My concern is that in IF, players typically want to spend their first few turns poking around, testing the depth of the implimentation, XYZZYing, etc, before commiting to the story.

I’m wondering: are there any games you’ve played that effectively begin in the middle of a relatively suspenseful or fast-paced sequence? A timed sequence? A conversation? In general, do you as a player tend to reserve those first few turns for getting your bearings and/or messing around in an unmimetic fashion? Are there cases where a particularly compelling opening sequence has caused you to want to act in character right away?

It seems to me that the biggest concern would be making sure that the player can know what they need to do. It’s true that players often poke around a bit at the beginning of a game, and seasoned IF players are frequently doing exactly what you say (XYZZYing, etc), but new players are often trying to figure out how to communicate with the parser. A new player could be very turned off by being thrown into an action scene and possibly insta-dying before they can figure out how to interact. So unless you’re aiming for a masochistic audience, it’s crucial that the writing prompts correct action, possibly even heavy-handedly. I’d be sure to beta-test thoroughly with some non-IF-playing friends unless you specifically don’t care about the audience outside of this community.

This is more of an example of comedy than action per se, but I though Taco Fiction (the winner of the recent Comp) did an excellent job of setting up the action scene, which I suspect worked for players of all levels of experience. (Of course, the game immediately scrapped those expectations hilariously…)

You’re pretty much right: it’s a good dramatic choice, and it’s likely to be tricky in IF.

The main issue is if you equate ‘fast-paced action scene’ with ‘difficult gameplay’. Usually in IF, things should work the other way around: the fast-paced scenes should be forgiving, and the difficult stuff (if you want it) should take place when the player has more breathing space.

I’d say: start in an action scene, but follow the rules of heroic action. In story-oriented, mechanics-light RPGs, a common rule is that there’s no question whether the hero is able to do the Heroic Thing: the interesting questions are about how, at what cost, what it means, etc. So, for example, if you start out in the middle of a fight, and the hero needs to win the fight for the plot to advance, try and make sure that more or less everything the hero could plausibly do will lead to them winning. (A lot of this is likely to involve steering them towards useful actions, which is a subtle and difficult art.)

A good player will, I think, usually commit to an action scene by being more action-oriented rather than examining everything and poking the implementation: that’s just part of the willing suspension of disbelief. But you need to signal to the player that this is the kind of scene that’s going on, which is a strong-writing thing. There are lots of ways to do this (write less descriptively, more tersely, emphasis on things that the player needs to react to), but it does place extra demands on your writing in the first screen, which has very heavy demands on it already.

C.E.J. Pacian writes some excellent action scenes, although I can’t think of one that opens a game. I’d also look at Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home, which eases the player very quickly into action.

Mentula Macanus: Apocolowhateverthehell starts in the middle of an action scene and then flashes back. It cues what you have to do pretty well (I mean, I died a few times before I got it right, but that’s because I’m bad at this).

The Act of Misdirection also does this, I’d say, and pretty much everyone agrees that the opening is the best part – though I like the other parts too. It also does a pretty good job of cuing what you need to do, partly because it’s the sort of action where you can extemporize and stall for time. And it definitely made me want to act in character. As tove said, Taco Fiction also did a good job of motivating you like this, up to (at a critical point) giving you a script for your next eight actions or so.

I prefer an opening sequence that pushes me through some pretty well-cued actions to the typical “Go examine ten objects and look through five rooms so you can find the puzzle” IF opening. (That may be an unfair characterization.) So go for it, I say!

NB: Corrected the typo in the first word of the post.

Note: Mentula Macanus is not for the weak of stomach. And I mean ‘stomach’ in Victorian sense.

Another vote for Mentula Thingy-with-the-dick-jokes game. The opening action bit works very well in that, I think. And to echo Maga’s praise of it: as a bonus, it would be offensive to those fun to offend.

Another one I liked was John Kean’s Yes, Another Game with a Dragon! … a very solid use of opening action-sequence (complete with a mild puzzle, but very very guided).

Gah. I could swear I remember at least one of those, but it’s hanging at the tip of my brain :frowning:

There are a lot of games where there’s a conversation more-or-less immediately, but I can’t remember any that begin in the middle of one …

In every game, I try to play the way the game seems to be built for. If it starts in Tone X and Mode 4 and Mood 8 using props and costumes from Genre H, that’s the code I punch into the keypad on the side of my head.

Whether I stick with a game depends in part on whether it’s well-made and in part on whether I enjoy it’s intended (or apparently-intended) alphanumeric combination :slight_smile:

Hunter in Darkness begins in the middle of a tense scene, although it’s not exactly an action scene.

Photopia begins in the middle of a timed sequence and a conversation, doesn’t it? Though it’s not a puzzle really. Seriously, I think it’s a good model for this.

Starting with a timed sequence you can die in is very risky, because it can basically go experiment-die-experiment-die-ragequit, and you might not hold your audience even that long. You could try Lurid Dreams for one of these, though the opening textdump is too long for it to count as in medias res (also it’s kind of a big sequence of timed puzzles).

The Hours (from the recent IFComp) starts with an action sequence, too, which when you complete it takes you to an area where things are much more leisurely, though it’s not in medias res; the game follows sequentially in your subjective timeline. You can die in this one, but you have to try pretty hard not to get the right commands at the beginning. I found this effective but I don’t know if anyone else liked this game as much as I did.

All Roads is a good in medias res opening, though the whole game takes place in medias res. But the opening works partly because it doesn’t give you a puzzle to solve.

All told, I think the challenge is making it pretty clear what you’re to do. If the mediasness of the res is gripping enough, you won’t have to worry about the player’s desire to poke around and xyzzy (I’m kind of sympathetic to the Pacian game that responds to xyzzy by killing you off with a score of -20). A good action sequence can capture our interest at the beginning, and we can worry about xyzzying later.

This is all extremely encouraging.

I actually hadn’t intended for it to be a difficult sequence, and since it’s the beginning of the game, I feel comfortable having the protagonist’s inner monologue tell the player what to do fairly directly, not unlike the opening to Taco Fiction. (It’s also a short sequence, so hopefully the heavy-handedness won’t have time to get annoying). I’ll probably permit death-by-obviously-unwise action (>HUG ASSASSIN) and possibly death by extremes of inaction, but I’m thinking that rather than establishing agency by having a lot of ways to fail, I’d just cheat a little and have most reasonable actions during the first scene work out.

Incidentally, of the titles mentioned I’ve only played Photopia, Hunter In Darkness, and Taco Fiction, but will check out the others and anything else that turns up on this thread. Beginning with an Act of Misdirection, if the opening’s so well regarded.

One lesson I learned from The Hours was that an in media res beginning can potentially put the rest of the story at a disadvantage. The heavy action in Alexandria left some players with a downer feeling when the game turned to intrigue in the middle of the game (though the action returned at the end). In retrospect, the pacing as a whole was steady, but the tone of the fast beginning could not be completely maintained as the conspiracy unraveled. All Roads succeeded in this aspect, I think, because it was able to maintain the tone it started with.

When you start your game, you have to ask yourself if your pacing AND your tone can be maintained. Choose your beginning carefully.

I remember Pytho’s Mask dropping you right into the conversation at the beginning, but when I went back to check, you actually start will full freedom and you can have the obvious conversation whenever you want.

I’ve noticed that in IF you can play with time a lot. A critical moment that would take only seconds in real life can be extended for quite a few turns without feeling awkward. It’s possible to create a sense of urgency with every-turn messages even if they don’t actually result in any actual harm to the PC. Of course some savvy players may type “z” repeatedly just to see if anything will happen, but I consider that an intentional breaking of mimesis.

Another good counterpoint is Heroine’s Mantle, which has a lot of heavy action scenes that are intended to work as a fast-paced superhero/spy plot, but makes most of them critical (and often quite difficult) puzzles.

In that case, I’d be tempted to have “z” secretly be the only thing that can bring about the harm threatened. :sunglasses:

If you start with a multiple-choice question, you can make it very clear what to do right away; starting in the middle of the action is no hinderance. All of our games at Choice of Games start in the middle of action. (Our games are nothing but multiple-choice questions, but there’s no reason you couldn’t ask a few multiple-choice questions and then move on to a parser game.)

This is essentially what happens in Calm: the game starts with a little bit of drama and a quick multiple choice conversation, this way the player has an ease in to the dangers of the game-world before the full game starts at a slower pace with a flashback. I’m not sure whether it was the best choice, but framing the game as a story told from a known future gives the player a clear idea of where they’re eventually going to end up.

Well, it’s better to “z” some turns and to find out whether there really is a limit or there isn’t, and what sort of limit it is, than to spend lots of turns pursuing some action or other which will lead me to an endgame past UNDO. Whenever I think there’s a limit, I ALWAYS “z” to see if it’s real. I’ve had too many rugs pulled from under my feet, thank you very much.

Incidently, it doesn’t stop immersion any more than save/restore/undo. Not for me.

I’d like to mention one of my favourite beginnings too: Augmented Fourth. It starts with a sort-of action sequence with limited options for the player. It also suggests possible things to try.

Agreed. It’s porn, and the people that think it’s funny to offend others using porn, I pity. They know not what they do.

I was thinking the same thing for a game project.

I guess you should make sure the story and the action are the main thing, and propose the player only 1(continue…) or 2 choices at each step to keep the fast paced action running.
The player should know clearly what he can and can’t do and should not have a lot of choices. Since you intend to use it as an introduction it may be a very good one.
I would ask at each turn “do you do X or Y?” and watch the input for these answers only.

So, do you start using the wait-and-restore technique as soon as you see signs that you’re probably being timed, or only after you’ve been forced to restore once and know it’s a timed sequence?

For me this is where it moves into tricky area. I sort of feel that if PC is in a situation that logically would be time-sensitive and the game strongly hints that you should play as though there were a time limit, then the player has no business messing around trying to figure out if it’s a real limit before even attempting the sequence. There may be situations I’m not imagining where that makes more sense, but presumably they’d all be rated “cruel”.