Describing room directions

What do you think? Is it usually better to describe all the possible rooms and directions that you can enter into from where the player is at?

So when you enter a room, immediately you’re introduced with a list of rooms/doors you can go into.

Or do you think it’s better to let the player learn where everything is on their own?

I like a hybrid method: exits can go in the description if there’s a good place for them, but they can also be omitted and left to an EXITS command or “you can’t go that way” message if they would interrupt the flow of the prose too much.

It’s better to describe all the exits. Forcing the player to try all the directions and crash into the walls in order to find out the valid exits is very uncool. You don’t have to do a straight list, you can work them into your room descriptions, but they need to be in there. (Some more on the difference between integrating an exit into the room description and giving it its own paragraph in this excellent thread on room descriptions.)

Draconis, if the EXITS command starts on and you can turn it off to stop the game listing the exits, that’s fine; but if a game makes me type EXITS every time I enter a room in order to find out where I can go it annoys me. I don’t even like it when the game makes me remember which direction I went to to get to a room, so I can type the opposite to get back. It’s very unmimetic and immersion-breaking (most of the time) to hide the exits from the player; we don’t navigate about in our ordinary lives by crashing into walls until one of them turns out to be a passageway.

Some older games used not to list all the exits and I can’t stand playing them. I got brickwalled in Losing Your Grip for a while because I didn’t realize you were supposed to be able to go south from a balcony on the east wall (or maybe west).

I did a thing where the game described all exits explicitly after the player crashed into a wall (“going nowhere” in inform parlance.)

True. I tried to mitigate that in Scroll Thief with GO BACK, GO TO ANTECHAMBER, the compass rose, etc, but it still wasn’t entirely successful…

…because of this problem exactly. I didn’t realize that a player with a screen reader wouldn’t have the compass rose and thus wouldn’t notice that a certain room had a second exit. So yeah, it’s a balance. The player needs some way to navigate, but too many exits in descriptions will make your text look formulaic.

My opinion: someone who is familiar with parser IF will be used to seeing compass directions incorporated into the room descriptions (or somehow visible on the screen, in a compass rose, for instance), and so they won’t be put off by their presence. Directions don’t have to be listed mechanically…it’s nice to fit them into the flow of the description. On the other hand, someone who is not used to parser IF really needs the directions–they won’t know to try “north” to see whether they run into a wall. So either way I think it is safer to include them on the screen somehow.

I suspect that if I were playing a game and it didn’t have the directions incorporated somehow, I would stop thinking about the story and start thinking about the mechanics instead (now which direction was that other room?). It would disrupt the flow of play.

EDIT: I don’t think you have to say what all the exits lead to…for instance, “A door leads west into the study.” But I would definitely mention that there is an exit to the west.

Yeah, I’ll definitely make sure to include room exits in my description of each room. I just wonder how jarring it would be to include the actual directions (north, south, etc) in there as well. Its likely that its necessary regardless of that but I wonder if I should, if there’s a way, to change the name of north and south to straight and back, west and east to right and left. I couldn’t use up and down because I’m already using those.

I maked a thing where it puts a cool narrative phrase (that varies) in a banner line that indicates where the exits are.

If you’re interested in such a thing PM me and I’ll send you the code I use for it.

Like, 80-95% of it is directly scavenged from the documentation anyway so it’s no secret.

Obviously there’s plenty of room for variation, but speaking purely personally

  1. I generally like having exits explicitly listed in the status line or similar, or otherwise where they are easy to find. Although one might think that explicit listing in the status line makes them “too obvious”, I generally find that the additional ease of knowing where you will find them makes them less intrusive, and it can sometimes make room descriptions more natural. It’s especially helpful when you have to navigate quite a bit around a fairly large map. With big spaces, it’s also worth considering some explicit form of graphical mapping.

(This is part of a more general issue. I think it’s often thought that it would be more “natural” to hide “implementation details” like exits or statistics, as if making them too explicit was likely to be “anti-immersive”. That seems logical, but in fact my own experience is that they are paradoxically less intrusive when they are easily available. Something like an “EXITS” command is, in my view, the worst approach, because it forces the player to do something which is obviously not a “in-game” action.)

  1. Whether or not they are listed in the status line, I always want an attempt to go somewhere I can’t to tell me where I could go. Never just “You can’t go that way.” Always at least “You can’t go that way. You could go north, south, or east.”

  2. I quite often want to be reminded, if it can be done not-too-intrusively, of where exits go, at least once they have been explored. If I have never been there, I’m happy with “A passageway leads east.”, but once I’ve been down it I would rather that was “The passage to the kitchen is east.” More work for authors, I realise. Less for me.

  3. (A bit OT) Where there is more than one reasonable “direction command” for a given exit, I like it if all of them are implemented. For instance, if I am told that “You are in the shed. The door out to the garden is east.” I want GO EAST, GO OUT, EXIT and ENTER DOOR all to work. Inform is particularly obsessed by the idea that you can EXIT a bed but not a shed, and needs to be made to behave, though perhaps that’s not totally straightforward.

  4. (A bit more OT) In any reasonably large game where there is no good reason not to have it, I like to be able to GO TO [a place]. I don’t have great spatial awareness, and I’m not that keen on making maps unless I have to, so for me this is a great convenience.

  5. I hate undescribed exits. That’s not at all the same thing as a hidden exit (a secret door or whatever); those are fine. To me an undescribed exit is just an annoyance pretending to be a puzzle.

  6. I hate any attempt to obfuscate directions. “There is a small door to the right as you face the high altar.” Sure, if I think about it, an altar would normally be at the east end of a church, so the door to the right must be south if one is facing east. But much better to be explicit.

Some of the previous are addressed in the “easy doors” extension by one Hanon Ondricek - especially if you prefer door/portals that are not directions. You can make a “door” called “Path to the Beach” (GO PATH, ENTER BEACH…)

I recommend over-describing exits, rather than under-describing them. I am reading transcripts where several players have totally missed an exit from a room, even though it is mentioned each time the player types >Look, AND it is listed in the Exits on the status line above. As a consequence, they wander all over the environment, unable to make progress and frustrated because of it.

On my next pass, I plan to rewrite some room descriptions so that the exits are actually “weenies” (in Disney parlance), i.e., things that look so attractive that you feel drawn towards them. … -a-weenie/


I’ve never heard about “weenies”, but the concept is something I’ve always liked. I never liked the “oh by the way here are some cardinal directions to go” or the status line menu directions or compass rose. Those break mimesis or are just very boring.

I always liked it when there was a reason to notice an exit.

  • Smells wafting from the kitchen to the north.
  • A dread silence is noticeable to the south.
  • The bubbling sound of a brook to the east.
  • Bright sunlight shines through the portal to the west.

Or something written with skill and talent. (;

David C.