Edges of the World

I’ve got a couple WIP that take place outdoors, and I’ve been thinking about how to delineate the edges of the world - the points at which the player can go no farther.

As a player or author, how do you like this to be handled?

I can think of a few ways:

  1. Just not implement exits in directions you care about, and let the default handle errors, even if it makes sense the player would be able to follow a highway farther north. Easy, but potentially frustrating for the player.
  2. Create reasons a player doesn’t want to go that way. Can be nonsensical, in addition to dictating motivations.
  3. Create physical blocks to head the player off: rivers, canyons, roadblocks, etc. Not bad assuming the responses make it clear that player shouldn’t direct energy toward the blocks.
  4. “Fake” movement, so it appears the player is wandering farther into the woods or down the road, when in fact they’re not.

I tend to hate 1 and 4, and find 2 and 3 threadbare but acceptable. Is there a better option anyone’s encountered, or a game that just handles this with total grace?

I-0 did this nicely by reminding the player of the dangers of wandering aimlessly in the middle of the desert:

The circling vultures overhead give you second thoughts.

Enchanter created the illusion of walking away from the castle by making the path neverending in one direction, which was cute but annoying when you realized it and had to walk back.

Spellbreaker did the infinate directions with the sky and middle of the ocean, where you effectively just get lost.

Sorcerer made every other direction deadly. Probably not the way to go with it.

You might change the error message somewhat.

Large Plain
You are in a large plain. To the south there appears to be some kind of city. To the north is the wreckage of your plane.
There doesn't seem to be anything worth exploring to the east.

I don’t have any useful alternate suggestions, but I wanted to say that, as a player, I find 2 and 3 just fine, and I think a combination of them is probably the way to go (unless you hit upon some novel way to deal with it).


I’ve only played The Edifice for a couple of turns, but I was kind of fond of this response:

In effect, going the wrong way ends in losing the game, but instead of describing it as death, it’s as mundane as it would be if you refused a challenge in real life. On the other hand, maybe it discouraged me from playing more.

I tried something like this in a game I was working on years ago. It was something like:

At the time I believe I thought this was reasonable, but now I think it messes with the idea of time passing in the game too much.

The alternate endings are interesting. I kind of like that, especially if there’s enough foreshadowing that the player isn’t just blindsided.

Set your game inside a sphere. Wander too far in one direction and you arrive at the farthest point in the other direction.

Well, okay, not something that will work for every game, but I think that linear or circular co-ordinate systems can be a way to create “soft” boundaries. Your world isn’t infinite, but the directions the player uses reach every part of it in a naturalistic fashion.

Alternatively, get rid of directions altogether and just have a list of locations to visit or paths to take. There’s no sense of “I might be able to go north” and instead a more natural sense of “I’m in a city, at the hospital, and I might learn of another important location at any time,” or “I’m in a room with a door, stairs and a fire exit.”

Yeah, I think this can work well if it’s done right, but, as an example, a similar situation in Legion was presented as a winning ending. I believe I’m not the only person who stopped playing at that point under the impression that I’d seen everything.

I was thinking about setting a game in the city at one point, but I couldn’t get over the idea of how many places a PC in a city might think to visit. Has anyone done this successfully?

In graphical adventure games, it’s not uncommon to link locations with a map (with locations added to it during the game when the PC get a reason to visit another place) instead of having a fully connected world. I guess something similar could be done in IF, if you don’t want to abandon the cardinal directions altogether:


You leave the park. Where do you want to go? (CAFÉ, HOSPITAL or HOME)


Hospital Reception

This is a busy place, with people lining up at the reception desk. Some doctors are walking down a corridor to the west, there’s a restaurant to the north and toilets to the south. The exit is right where you came in, to the east.

Or connect the places by subway and have the PC refuse walking along the street.

Slouching Toward Bedlam did something like this; it’s set in London, but the PC is kind of disturbed and will only go to a few places. There are about four main regions with several locations each; you travel between the regions in a chauffeured hansom cab.

As a gamer I would prefer to see an unambiguous message if I try to go somewhere beyond the scope of the game. It should make me say, “Aha! The solution to this game does not incorporate leaving in this direction.”

From the example of the highway —
BAD: “It’s too far to walk to the next town.”
GOOD: “It’s many miles to the next town.”
BETTER: “You couldn’t get to the next town in time to bring help. You’d better concentrate on finding a solution here.”

The first answer makes me think, “Aha, I could get to the next town if I could find a ride!” and I’d start to search for a bicycle, a horse, or maybe I’d hitchhike.

SOMETIMES BETTER STILL: Check the design to see if the highway even needs to be mentioned. Sometimes, a little tweak to the writing can simply remove elements that draw attention to the artifice. Doesn’t work for every game, but it would work for an awful lot of games out there that provide false apparent choices with neither game nor story payoff :confused:

This feels as if I’m stepping off into that very same trackless territory called Digression, but I’d be very wary with this. A game world needs context in order to feel alive, and it actually - I’d argue - needs these areas that point toward a horizon and a surrounding (complete) environment. Mostly, computers being what they are, these surrounding areas cannot be reached (the only games I know where this is untrue is Elite and, to a lesser extent, Morrowind), but I still need them to be there. Otherwise, it gives me the impression of a big nothingness where something ought to be.

I did not suggest otherwise. I think you’ve misunderstood my post.

I agree, and did not suggest otherwise.

I agree, and did not suggest otherwise.

I have not advocated constructing a world without such details.

Conceded. I think I meant it not as a refutal but rather as a cautionary note. The technique you described is sound, and I mainly agreed (in that it should be used judiciously, or so I interpreted your words to mean). As an author, you often want people to notice something but still not make it accessible, simply to add the sense that the world is large and varied.

Does that make more sense?

Absolutely. The trick (if we dare call it a trick) is to present it as a view of the larger world without specifically presenting it as a tease or false choice.

Right, I see your point. It’s like some of those graphical adventures that saw hundreds of players consistently trying to get past one given piece of scenery, simply because they knew (without reason) that there had to be something significant on the other side. :slight_smile:

A satisfying solution to this problem will depend entirely on the context of the work. We can procedurally generate rooms, create artificial obstacles, bend the PC’s will – and experiment with combinations thereof. The best solution will be one that complements the work.

As long as we don’t cue the player toward an unimplemented room, then we can take comfort in the fact that most players aren’t going to be upset when they can’t travel any direction at any given moment. Reasonable readers are willing to suffer the genre’s limitations as long as we do so with a modicum of grace. (This is why creating artificial obstacles is always more satisfying than letting the default parser response block the player’s movement.)