Detailing Environment? How far to go?

So in this game I’m writing (hopefully in time for IF Comp) there’s numerous things that WOULD be in the environment but which have no bearing on or use in the game.
For instance, a campsite (permanent campsite. 1849 gold rush.)
Logically and realistically, there’d be things like a fire pit, cooking equipment, probably a wood axe, the tent (and in it, cots and a “dresser” sort of thing to hold clothes etc) … and other stuff.
How far is reasonable to go in detailing this stuff? How far is too far? Just tell the player, “That’s not particularly useful.” or something of the sort?
Cuz without those details the environment would feel rather sterile, and the player would notice.
But with all that detail, the player would probably also expect to be able to do stuff with all those items of miscellany, even tho they’re useless to the actual game.

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The way I’m trying to do that in the game I’m pulling together is to include these kinds of things but clearly sign-post that they’re not relevant to the game, and do so with as little effort as possible. So something along these lines:

The campsite is a room.  The description is "This is a very boring campsite with tents, a fire pit, cooking stuff including pots and pans, a wood axe, and miscellaneous bric-a-brac."

The camping bric-a-brac is scenery in the campsite.  Understand "tent/tents/firepit/pan/pans/pot/pots/wood/axe" as the camping bric-a-brac.  Understand "wood/fire axe/pit" as the camping bric-a-brac.  

Before doing something when the current action involves the camping bric-a-brac, say "You've got too much to do today to fuss with your campsite." instead.

Of course, some of the stuff you’ve listed sounds like it could be very useful, depending on your puzzles – especially the axe and the firepit. So those might take some extra work to either implement fully, or give a good reason why they can’t be used.


I think the only “too far” is when you are no longer interested in writing about all of your scenic detail. A gold rush campsite sounds like an interesting location to explore. Remember anything you mention in the description attracts attention to be further examined, so you can conversely leave out anything you don’t want the player to bother with.

Implement only what is interesting to you and necessary for your story. Don’t do extra work because of perceived expectation. I personally couldn’t tell you what’s supposed in a gold rush campsite off the top of my head, so you be the tour guide.

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Personal opinion follows.

What you are writing is a game with a story - which is very different to writing a story. In a story, not every noun has to be chased down to unravel more information. All the information unwraps itself.

Adding into too many redundant nouns (even nouns with messages) tends to make gameplay a chore… If the game has few locations, it’s absolutely fine, but if I’m exploring a large map with many redundant nouns per location, I’d (personally) find it a bit of a grind.

If I’m watching a movie, I don’t have to pause every scene and click the screen to find out more about the set dressing. A few objects that serve no purpose is absolutely fine, but really don’t go overboard, even if you are willing to write hundreds of descriptive sentences, doesn’t mean that hundreds of tangents will be fun for the player.


Go, play Metamorphoses, start crying, and abandon IF forever.

Jokes apart, it is not only how far you must go, but how deep. If there are nouns susceptible of being examined inside an object, you should implement it.

Good luck!

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You can also look at the games Ryan Veeder makes. He has mentioned on one of the Clash of the Type-Ins podcasts how his entire philosophy is to write descriptions that don’t misdirect the player toward anything unimportant. It focuses the story, and cuts down the amount of superfluous implementation that has to be done.

Another thing to take into account is player knowledge. If the player is a modern time-traveler in a gold-rush era camp, they may be endlessly fascinated by all the detail and the descriptions could reflect this, whereas a period character for whom this is old-hat might just comment “Oh yeah, that’s all the stuff we always camp with…” for every scenery object.

Or you could make your time-traveling character oblivious to all of it as well: “Wow, all kinds of cool camping stuff. I don’t know what any of it actually does!”

The thing you want to avoid if possible is the gameplay thunk of “You can’t see any such thing.” for something you’ve mentioned exists, or a system default description for something explicitly called out as notable in other description text.


Those are really really really good points.

One thing I like to do in my code is in the descriptions of objects put brackets around them so they become object references. In the code below, notice how table, chimney, and wash basin are bracketed.

When I do this, it forces me to create those objects or the compiler will fail. This has been real handy to keep me from forgetting to implement something in the description.

The description of the kitchen is "You are in the kitchen of the white house.  A [table] sits in the middle of the room.  A doorway leads to the west and a staircase heads up into darkness.  A [chimney] leads down and to the east is a small window.  Under the window is a [wash basin]."


Came here to say this. Definitely agree!