Do you have any 'rules for game design' that are objectively false but you still cling to?

I was looking at a lot of recent Inform 7 threads and thinking, ‘It would probably help people to make a small and simple game first before trying something big and complex.’

And this has been my philosophy for a long time, to start simple and work your way up.


tons of people have made complex and beautiful games as their first entry. For instance, John Ziegler’s Prince Quisborne game in this competition, or Violet, or Mike Russo’s Eleusinian Miseries. This clearly shows that it is quite possible to make an amazing game in the first go.

Do you have anything like that? Any ‘rules’ that must be followed in you mind, but in reality they don’t always apply?


I was going to say, I do think there’s a nub of good advice in there, because you do learn a lot by finalizing and releasing a game, but yeah, I cheerfully violated the broader rule and I think it worked out OK for me and for many others!

I don’t think I hold to to many game design rules in general, just because there’s such a diversity of successful IF pieces that take radically different approaches to basically every design element you can imagine.

I do have like an inverted belief, though, where I think intellectually it’s the case that making games more accessible and providing more on-ramps into IF, and especially parser IF, is pretty much always and everywhere a good idea. But I personally am not super energized by that (like, God bless the folks who have been working on story mode approaches for Inform games, but it’s just not my thing).


This has to be human nature about a bunch of things. Reducing red meat consumption, giving up soda, or composting all come to mind personally, but I have also done exactly zero to advance any of those despite intellectually agreeing with all of them on both ethical and practical grounds.


Yes, I have such rules:

The games I wanna make must make me proud and must be remarkable (for myself; I don’t care much about someone else’s judgement). They must be somewhat complete and well-polished and excite me.

So I prefer a cool design on a sheet of paper over a small but runnable game.


I don’t have many rules, really. My only hard and fast beliefs have to do with player friction (clearly identified exits, things, the like). I am open to being proven wrong by a good game, of course.

Speaking of which, I think we’d do well with fewer prohibitions generally. Unless somebody wants to write a convincing Rosebush article about one, I don’t care for limiting creators in this way.

Story mode, as I’ve always imagined it, is an improvement on my practice of publishing transcripts and source code, ie providing a readable version of the game. It’s an alternative for players who can’t or won’t enjoy parser gameplay. There are places on the internet where that’s basically everybody. I go to those places! I never pictured people who like playing parser games choosing it as an alternative. It isn’t for them.


While I understand that dice rolls tap into a deep psychological fun button in the human brain, I try to avoid them as much as I can for turn-based game design, in favor of forecasting consequences for the player to plan around in a deterministic fashion.


I don’t have any that are false that I cling to, but several I’ve adopted after making those mistakes. A: Don’t drop the player in and expect them to figure out the first step. Give a mini goal or something. B: Don’t create an arbitrary inventory limit on the player for the entire game because it will make people furious. It can work for an occasional puzzle, such as if the player is tied to a chair and…can only pick up one thing with their teeth. Or has to figure out how to pack a selection of objects in bags of specific capacities. While inventory limits might be realistic since nobody IRL can carry the amount of stuff they usually do in IF it’s best to hand wave that trope for playability unless necessary.

There’s no reason you can’t break rules, but ideally you want to be familiar with a rule and keep in mind why it’s a rule if you’re going to break it purposefully.


Yeah usually for games I keep inventory limits off by default but for I Am Prey, I specifically had inventory limits on to incentivize the player to adopt the protagonist’s sense of focus and prioritizing, and hint that it is not necessary to take anything but suit pieces to complete the game.

In a game where the player needs to collect all sorts of various and yet-to-be-known items, inventory limits are often an unnecessary burden.

This, exactly. Rules are completely arbitrary, but you need to have intent and understanding for why people might assert something as being a rule in the first place.

I’ve often been told by teachers that “You must learn and master the rules before you can break them”, but they never explained that it’s because you must learn why the rules were put in place, which I feel is far more useful.


One way to make this work in a game is to perhaps have items which are nothing but inventory clutter mention this in the description when held like “You really don’t have any reason to carry around this tablecloth.”


:memo: :star_struck:
I’m stealing that for the 1.0 version, thank you.


You totally crack me up. I am blatantly going to steal this as well :smiley: .


What can I say. I wanted to create a parser game. I read the documentation. I read Jim Aikin’s book. I read other books. I gathered the Inform7 wisdom spread around. I talked to helpful people on this forum and elsewhere. Hell, I even read the SR cover to cover, just to try and understand how Inform7 works as it does.

So I tried to make this game. And I had a story. And I tried to do it in the “traditional” way. Using the standard commands, adding some alternate Understand statements, to provide the “vibe” I was going for. Adding in the usual “Before”, “Instead”, and “After” rules. And the story got fragmented, and disappeared in the bloated code. It did not work out for me.

So I threw out the SR. I created my own small set of commands, creating my own “Check”, “Carry Out”, “Report” rules for them. My game is a little game struggling to get out of Inform7. No doubt I broke several rules on Inform7 game design. But it worked for me. I could concentrate on turning my story into a game. I could do things with it I thought not possible at all.

So on a general level what I did is “false”, but for this specific case it works like a charm, and I am very happy with the result. I know not everyone likes what I do, but I am content. I got to tell my story in the way I wanted to.


Actually, although the proof may be against these, pretty much all my rules are not very popular:

  • NPCs are hard to get right, include less of them but make them worth it.
  • Story comes after puzzles. That’s how my cookie crumbles.
  • DEFINITELY make the game cruel. It’s more interesting that way.
  • Randomisation? Obviously! Otherwise it becomes a follow-the-walkthrough-if-you-get-stuck kind of game with no brain involved. I usually end up becoming that kind of person.

… Hmm, that’s all of my rules for games really.


I have only one rule:

Rule 1: The game must be fun to play*.

If I break that rule, then I don’t publish it.

* By ‘fun’, I mean ‘enjoyable’, not ‘funny’, although a bit of humour always sneaks into my games, even if they’re meant to be serious.


Just to be clear, when I created the readthrough mode: I was not hoping that anybody would use this mode rather than play the game. I made it for my parents, because without it they would never see the story of Prince Quisborne’s adventures. It was with at least a tiny bit of reluctance that I made the mode available in the public version of my game, because I would much rather the game get played than read! But based on my situation with my parents, I projected that there might be many more people out there who would simply never engage with the game at all unless the mode were in existence (perhaps even a parser-fearing choice game player that’s judging this competition…)


I never understand why DROP items is a thing. It’s not like games have items that hurt players if carried.

My impulse is to just take everything all at once, always. Therefore Inventory Limit = Evil.


Ah, see, that’s where I become the opposite of you. But, you know, in all honesty, a form of limitless inventory (a limitless bag, for example) is a good idea.


It’s sometimes a lifesaver when you’re stuck in a hopeless disambiguation situation otherwise: drop one of the conflicting objects in another room and then come back…
Or you suspect you don’t have need of it, and you just want to look at a streamlined inventory list…


Or you need to put an item somewhere for a puzzle!


The only thing I can think of is mapping a maze. :thinking:

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