Diegetic hinting

I have a to do list in my current work in progress that was mostly for silly fun but I’m going to adapt it to give more guidance.

A rare example of diegetic hinting in retro adventures is Subsunk, where many room descriptions embed some kind of subtle clue about the puzzles in the environment. Then again, those are easy to miss unless you are familiar with how submarines work. :thinking:


Thing is, you could potentially have diegetic hint menus or hint files or whatnot. Say that the entire game is set inside a fictional computer database, and you play the game by interacting with the database (Her Story comes to mind as an example). In a situation like that, you might be able to integrate even a very technical hint menu into the game in a way that’s diegetic. (I can’t remember if Her Story actually does this, but it feels like something it might’ve done!)

I kind of did something similar for Deus Ex Ceviche. The game is about managing a temple full of sci-fi tech, and the out-of-game walkthrough is presented as the Holy User Manual. But the walkthrough isn’t written with full commitment to the fictional framing. If I had spent more effort writing it, though, I could’ve made it 100% diegetic.

Eat Me has multiple hint systems. It uses the THINK command, but there’s also a library filled with medieval cookbooks that contain hints in the form of recipes. There’s an out-of-game walkthrough too, which is just a bare-bones list of instructions, but I could’ve kept the theme going by formatting the walkthrough as a dinner menu. In retrospect, honestly, that’s what I should’ve done.

I think somewhere around this level is the sweet spot for me. It can be tricky, but if the author manages to extend the game’s premise/theme to encompass even the hint files, that adds an extra level of polish that can make everything pop.


I think, if you mean with in-game that it’s not in the manual or so but rather integrated into the game then it’s not synonymous with diegetic. But if you mean in-game like it is used similar in “in-character” or “in-world” then it’s synonymous. Or? Anyway we are talking about in-story clues, is that correct?


  • an NPC
  • a book, sign or other text
  • a description of an item, room or so
  • some more obscure hints like same colour of two related items, or placing an item near an other related item
  • anything else?

I don’t think I’d call that diegetic hinting so much as just, puzzles with clues. The player doesn’t have to explicitly ask for a hint to get it.

Nevertheless, it is the exact meaning of diegesis: the fact that it is not only the player who is informed of something, but the character being played as well. It depends on whether the descriptions are “narrated” by an omniscient, independent being, or on the contrary, they are conveying the perceptions of the character within the story (actually, these are not exclusive). This distinction was rarely explicit in old school games, but there are some instances of it. In literature the distinction has existed, well, probably since the IV century BC.

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Right; my disagreement isn’t with the word diegetic but with the word hints. To me, hints are something extra that the player turns to when they’re stuck, not just the presentation of the puzzle itself.

For example, I wouldn’t call the words FEE FIE FOE FOO written on the wall in Adventure a hint system; that’s just part of the puzzle.


Yes, I don’t disagree with that. What exactly makes information a hint should be defined as well. If it requires deliberation on the part of the player to generate a hint, then hardly any of these can be called diegetic, by definition. If it is something that the player can come across by chance and the connection to a puzzle has to be made in their mind, then some leeway is possible. This is an interesting subtlety you are pointing out.

When I used the word “guidance” in my original post I may have been better served using the word “clueing” instead.


Yeah, the quadrants can maybe usefully be defined by clues vs hints, then diegetic vs nondiegetic (though I can’t think of a nondiegetic clue, in this scheme).

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I can think of a game that has a clue in its blurb: Indigo. But in this case, I’m pretty sure the same text appears in the game. If there were a clue that showed up only in the blurb, or only as part of a feelie, maybe that would be a nondiegetic clue.

I think TVTropes calls it an “interface spoiler”, when something about the mechanics or interface of the game suggests the solution. For example, in Death on the Stormrider, objects you need to interact with get their own paragraphs in the room description; anything that doesn’t get its own paragraph is just scenery. So when you-the-player see that the crates in the cargo hold get their own paragraph, you know that it’s useful to interact with them, but Zagin-the-character has no way to know that.

(Not that I’m saying it’s a bad thing. Zagin-the-character could pick out dozens and dozens of objects in any particular room, but it’s a game where only a handful of them will be implemented for the sake of my time and your-the-player’s sanity.)


I hate to cite myself, but The Portrait has digetic hint in form of PC’s thinking (easily noticeable by italics and first-person)

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

I did make an attempt but was summarily told it was wrong. I deleted all that because mod powers. Apparently there’s right opinions and wrong opinions about how you refer to things.

A “hint command” is hard to qualify on the surface because the player is lifting their head up from the text and calling for assistance. However, if the hint command calls up an in-game computer that speaks to you in the world of the story, the hint system is quasi-diegetic. Maybe instead of HINT you type ASK FLOYD HOW TO FROB THE SHNEEDLE which is a legitimate bit of story material - it’s not just the player requesting a hint, it’s the PC in-world asking for help as well.

My main point was a hint is diegetic if it involves the game world like a scribbled note on a desk with a safe combination. The parser prompting the player to “Type DIAL ### to enter the entire safe combination at once” when they’re fiddling with it is a non-diegetic hint since ostensibly the PC wouldn’t need to be told how to communicate with the game world in this way.


I liked the diegetic hints in The Basilisk and the Banana! The PC (Hermes) can ask Zeus for help, and he’ll give you a nudge in the right direction.


The cat in Oppositely Opal.