Designing Kitchens and Bathrooms

Part of the game I’m currently working on takes place in the player’s house. Logic dictates that a house should have a bathroom. Nothing important in my game takes place in the bathroom, and I’m wondering just how much detail I should put into a room that doesn’t add anything to the plot?

The average bathroom has a mirror, a sink, a toilet, a towel, and a bathtub and/or a shower. Does everybody program all those objects into every bathroom in every game?

I’ve come up with two other solutions. The first would be to make the bathroom inaccessible, but that doesn’t seem very realistic (how many of you at home right now have non-functioning restrooms?). The other solution I came up with would be to simply return a blurb (“You do your business.”) and then move the player back out. Does that seem reasonable, or cheap?

The same question applies for kitchens. Do I really need to create a stove, an oven, a fridge, a microwave, cupboards, a sink, cabinets, etc. for a room where no real action takes place?

You could just make the restroom inaccessible with the message “You don’t need to go to the bathroom” or something like that. For the rest, my advice would be don’t don’t don’t clutter up the game with complex implementations of a lot of stuff that isn’t actually needed. If you have twenty-seven openable drawers full of cutlery, a lot of players will open all twenty-seven drawers, under the assumption that there must be something plot-important in them. When it turns out that there isn’t, they’ll be very annoyed.

This makes sense from a writing standpoint too. In read-only fiction, if I read “Chris walked into the kitchen. It had a stove, a refrigerator, twelve drawers, and four cabinets,” I’d assume there’s something special about them. No different in IF. If the room description reads “The kitchen is done up in gleaming white. There is a knife on the counter,” that’s a perfectly natural description. – You might want to include scenery objects for all the features, so that when the player types “open refrigerator” you give a response like “Of course there’s a refrigerator in the kitchen, but you don’t need to do anything with it”; and you could implement descriptions for these things, for extra atmosphere. But implementing tons of stuff will just draw the player’s attention to that stuff, and if no real action takes place there then that’ll be distracting. (In fact, if the kitchen is just there because houses have kitchens, that’s distracting in and of itself; I tend to assume every implemented room has some kind of purpose. Compare read-only fiction again; if no action takes place in the kitchen, the kitchen will be left implicit.)

To see an example of the problems overimplementation can cause, try “The Blueprint” from the JayIsGames interactive fiction competition. It implements your clothing down to your socks and underwear, which just confused the heck out of me at the beginning of the game; I had no idea what I was supposed to do with the clothing. It turns out, nothing (of course it didn’t help that it started with a light puzzle with a non-obvious verb solution, so I was trying to work out how to combine my inventory to get light). Just because a game doesn’t implement the PC’s clothing doesn’t mean that the PC is naked.

If they’re useless and boring, I think you just shouldn’t implement the bathrooms/kitchens/whatever – and not mention them in any room descriptions, either, so that the players won’t want to go there.

I wouldn’t find it unrealistic or illogical: in IF, you should only implement what’s useful for the story or for the puzzles, or interesting, or funny, but it would be totally impossible to implement every object of every room which should logically exist. Imagine if your game is set in a big city: you can’t create every object of every room of every house of the whole city! And even if you could, you should logically be able to leave the city in any direction, which means that you should implement the whole world in great detail, too, and even the universe. And anyway… why waste an awful lot of time on things which will be boring for the player?

Or you could just implement a single scenery object and redirect all kitchen object words there, e.g.:

[code]The kitchen-furnishings is scenery in the kitchen. It is privately-named. Understand “cabinet/cabinets/refrigerator/drawer/drawers/oven” as the kitchen-furnishings.

Instead of doing something with the kitchen furnishings:
say “The kitchen is beautiful, but you don’t need to cook anything right now.”



That was exactly my thinking – I just wanted to make sure that type of solution wouldn’t annoy players. I can’t imagine it being more annoying than (like you said) having 27 searchable-but-irrelevant objects.

e_to "You enter the bathroom and, like Elvis, take care of business. When finished you flush, wash and dry your hands (even though nobody was looking -- good job!) and re-enter your bedroom.",

This is more or less the solution Eric Eve used in The Elysium Enigma, the main difference being that instead of telling you what you did there the blurb told you that the bathroom had all the expected fixtures and explained that there was nothing of importance that would be accomplished there. I rather like this solution.

When I’m playing a game that has a kitchen and bathroom, there’s just one important thing I expect to find there: water.

If you can think of a potential solution to any problem in your game that would involve water, I recommend being very careful to satisfy the player in one way or another that the bathroom either is or is not an acceptable means of solving the problem. A possible method would probably be to have no portable watertight containers, preventing the transport of water away from the faucet.

If that would be too complicated, the best thing is probably just to avoid mentioning the bathroom. Unless something else about the game reminds the player that there should be one, I would not expect most players to complain about its absence. Static fiction is full of situations where various characters probably need to go to the bathroom, and people rarely object when that detail is left out.

I agree with the recommendation to skip these if you can.

When I do have stuff I want the player to encounter in a kitchen/bathroom (say there’s an important object on the kitchen counter) but I don’t want to spend a lot of time hand-rolling a new set of furnishings, I rely on some template code that provides fairly bland default responses in order to turn the player’s attention back to what I want him to notice. My Modern Conveniences extension shows one way to do this. [/self-plug]

Man, I would hope that you’d have the player take care of business like Bachmann-Turner Overdrive rather than Elvis. That would be the meanest deathtrap ever.

…seriously, it probably depends on the tone you’re trying to achieve whether you should have the player auto-poop or just prohibit them from entering the bathroom with a message about how you don’t need to go. I wouldn’t look askance at the latter. (Did I just use the words “seriously” and “auto-poop” in the same sentence?)

The main caution I’d give about auto-pooping is that this kind of narration can be pretty jarring if the game is otherwise heavily simulated: say in one puzzle you’ve got the player meticulously measuring out quantities of different liquids and heating them in a cauldron with the correct type of silver utensil to produce the anti-werewolf potion; he’s then going to expect that the bathroom be simulated with the same degree of attention to liquids and containment. In that case, it’s better to leave the bathroom out entirely (in terms of managing player expectations) than to provide one that’s simulated at a much higher level than the rest of the game world.

(This was something that totally bugged me in a certain mystery-horror game from a few years back: there were some areas where it was important to search meticulously every item of furniture in case there was something important in a drawer or under a bed, but then there were also whole rooms that the game auto-narrated me out of investigating. This was frustrating and made me wonder whether I was doing something wrong that meant I couldn’t access those rooms, or what.)

Minimalism. The shorter and simpler the more interesting.

You can create really great situations with a very small amount of text. The more you write, the more bored your audience will be, unless you’re Shakespeare (actually maybe not even then). Also the player should have a clear idea what to do, and don’t overload the player with details in the beginning, keep it simple, and keep the map simple too.

Everything depends on the game, of course, but I’m a big fan of what ektemple mentioned above, the “single scenery object” that sucks all relevant nouns into a singularity of polite refusal and back-to-business.

That’s for starters. I think it’s critical, though, to have picky testers who slam against boundaries and to pay attention to what they attempt in these rooms. Depending on the game, there may be very reasonable attempts (or solutions) that involve basic fixtures, surfaces, or even just the presumption that you can store something in a fridge or cupboard. If the game justifies deeper responses to such things, be sure to include them.

I think not allowing somebody to enter the bathroom is jarring and rather bizarre. However, it really isn’t hard to ‘include’ the bathroom in a way that makes it clear it’s not important to the story.

enter bathroom
It’s a pretty typical bathroom decorated in inoffensive shades of blue. Do you need to use the bathroom?

use bathroom
After you’re done taking care of things, and have finished washing your hands, you leave the bathroom.


or something like that. The bathroom is there, and it works, but clearly there’s nothing important in it. Nevertheless, exploring the bathroom doesn’t break the mood of the story.

I don’t know, if I saw that my reaction would be “Why is the bathroom implemented? There must be something useful I can do in there.” Perhaps along the lines of (mild spoiler for Raising the Flag on Mount Yo Momma)

the plant in Raising the Flag on Mount Yo Momma, which is there so you can dispose of drinks that you don’t want.

Though perhaps the lack of objects in the description would get me to not do anything. But that leads to another problem – this solution basically requires a bland description of the bathroom, and that can be jarring if the description of the rest of the house is detailed and vivid.

I don’t know, the more I think about it the more I think that maybe the solution is not to include the bathroom at all. In read-only fiction, you don’t hear so much about the bathroom, because going to the bathroom is mundane and unremarkable for the most part, and it doesn’t break our suspension of disbelief if a character never goes all day – that’s the sort of thing that would have to be brought to our attention. Ditto for IF; if I have things to do in the house, I’m not going to stop and say, “Hey! There’s no bathroom!”

Or maybe you get to the bathroom by xyzzy. That’s how mine works.

Ever since I was a kid, that has bothered me about the game Clue.