Frustrated with Choices

I know this sounds ironic, considering the medium, but I feel so bogged down by all the choices I can offer the player. It would be so much easier for me to write a linear and–and yet, I want to give my readers the capability to think about the problems and explore.

There seems to be no end to all the design elements I can offer in IF, and all this possible content is bogging my narrative down. I changed my draft into a more linear form of fiction, and so far it’s gone more seamlessly, it’s so much easier for me to tell stories that are linear, yet I would still like to give my readers the capability to explore.

I don’t know how to eliminate all the excessive content ideas that keep popping up in my mind, and all these ideas are bogging down the project. What is the best way of balancing story with interactivity? I’ve asked a similar question before concerning puzzles, but this riddle has more to do with all the choices this medium can offer. Where is the best place to draw the fine line between telling a story and providing good interactivity?

Whether or not your story is linear, it has to feel interactive or players will hate it.

Rameses and Photopia are good examples of linear storytelling in IF.

Both are heavily railroaded while encouraging players to derail the narrative. In a game like this, you have to anticipate everything a player might try, so you can refuse them in a rewarding way.

This is a good general strategy - you can have a fun time in Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom just typing nonsense into the prompt - but the stakes are higher when your player has nothing else to do.

“Linear” is a sick bird. All games give some kinds of choices to the player, and reserve some to the designer. Decide which is which.

  1. Think about which player choices are interesting and which are important to the story. Focus on those.

  2. Think about the kinds of interaction that would be enjoyable and well-suited to an IF format. Focus on those.

Also, dude, you’re spending way too much energy on stressing out about every single thing you can find to stress about. Chill out. You’re not going to produce a masterpiece on your first try. Write some short stupid games. Write a game with no gameplay at all, just a bunch of scenery or random events or whatever. Write a game that will make no sense to anybody else but makes you smile. Just get into the habit of writing, and of having fun writing. Thinking about design theory is valuable, but it’s worse than useless if it’s what you do to procrastinate.

In the vein of offering some practical advice that I myself am having some difficulty accepting…

Good writers read. They read a lot. When they’re standing in line at the grocery store, they read. While they’re waiting for their car to fill up with gas, they read. Great chefs eat. They sample everything, no matter how crazy. Everyone isn’t a prodigy. We don’t all take to this medium like Maga, Zarf, Emily, Graham, Mike, et cetera ad nauseum. While they all have different “strengths”, I’m going to assume that they all have one thing in common.

They play a lot of IF.

Play a lot of IF. Note those things that you tried and didn’t work. Note those things that you tried and didn’t work like you wanted. Read transcripts. Club Floyd is both educational and hilarious. Figure out those things that you can write a universal reaction to and respond to those. Figure out those things that require special attention and respond to those. Hopefully you get the idea.

You can’t just let the player run wild through your world. You can’t possible anticipate or program everything they might do. You have to guide them gently and as invisibly as possible. Take the following example.

You're standing on the front lawn. An autumn sun lends some warmth to what would be a chilly breeze as it brushes gently across your face, disturbing the overgrown grass. The flowers that you planted last year for your mother have bloomed beautifully, seemingly in reverence to her passing. The flower beds are ringed in large pieces of sand stone and filled with pea gravel. The front door of the house is north, offering the bittersweet recollection of a time you haven't reflected on in months.

Not a great example. But what can we reasonably expect the player to do here?

  • Examine flowers
  • Examine sand stone
  • Examine gravel
  • Get gravel/stone

And what are they probably not going to care less about?

  • Examine grass
  • Examine sun
  • Sniff breeze
  • Get grass
  • Scratch arm
  • Check watch

Your problem isn’t what your players might possibly do or try. Sometimes they’re going to get a nonsensical response from the interpreter. Your problem is writing prose that makes sense, that leads the character in the direction that you want them to go while at the same time accomodating the obvious things that the player might try to do. There will always be people out there who try to do stupid things, (hopefully) knowing that they won’t work.

I’m going to go ahead and promote Aaron’s book again here. He discusses, encourages and provides examples of what to emphasize and when. The way you write is going to dictate a lot of what the player does. Not their whims.

The truth of the matter is that people want to play your game. They want to get through the story. They want to see what all you have to offer them in the way of a playing experience. If they try to do something that makes sense, something that it seems viable they should be able to do and can’t do it, they may complain. Otherwise, you can’t stress it.

You see a brick wall.

I’m not going to examine the bricks. I’m not going to count them. I’m not going to examine the mortar to make sure they used appropriately sized spacers for the size of the bricks and the intent of the application when they were doing the masonry. I’m going to check my inventory for a rope or some dynamite. I might poke the wall a couple of times to make sure there isn’t a secret passage. Then I’m gonna find something better to do.

So again… How you present it dictates what the player will do far more than your anticipating their every whim. Play some games. Run some beta tests. Find out what players are likely to try and what they aren’t.

Go from there.

[Edited to get a cooking reference in there.]

Ugh, I wish that were true. I distinctly recall having to implement a room’s featureless white walls because some people could not accept that they were indeed featureless.

That gets into the uniquely IF-specific art of writing descriptions without mentioning any nouns you don’t want to implement.

Adjectives, too … If you take the time to specifically mention that the walls are both white and featureless, that’s two points of detail, thus proving they must be critically important to a puzzle at some point :slight_smile:

I do think the IF community suffers a bit from overcompensating for the missing nouns of past ages, though. To me, the worst offender is Zork III, which, in the opening room, describes shadows as “strange” and then refuses to admit they exist. Well, I guess that (and directionless light casting shadows) is a form of strange …

But the other extreme, where people feel they need to pander to commands like “smell the upholstery” when all the room mentioned was “furniture …” well, there is a fine line, somewhere :slight_smile:

I so agree with you.
But it’s also a matter of the player not being able to distinguish between what is scenery and objects. In the “golden age” it was easy to see what was what since object s was usually listed: “You also see”: etc. etc.
But is it “fair” to complain about a lot of text? (not that I’m saying it’s happening here)
Although I’ll admit that some descriptions can be overwhelming, isn’t the idea of a text adventure that the author creates an atmosphere, a little like the author of a book?

Hopefully far better than a book, but some of the same principles apply, including the twin wonder-powers of focus and brevity. Prosy meanderings (whether in style or amount) are a bit like butter: they can make things delicious when applied expertly, but with a heavy hand they’ll just make things fatty and bland. More to the point, an unfinished game pleases no one, and injudicious pursuit of so-called “deep” implementation can trap a game in eternal development, essentially destroying it.

I’m also new in using Inform and making IF games, and I totally understand how you felt. I myself also want to make the game interesting with choices, so when I write a room that is a cave, I linked 2 soon to be 3 other rooms to my original room. Perhaps this coding of what I did will explain better what I’m trying to say:

[code]The cave is a room. It is east from the deer trail. “After a while, you see that it’s the enterance to a cave of unsure death. Water dripp don and echoed throughout the rock cavern you are in. As your eyes adjust to the darkness, you see that the cave wall is covered by a fine layer of moss and algae. Three dark passage ways lead deeper into the cave. The first passage is east, just infront of you. The second passage is southwest with a narrow opening and the third is north of you. Which passage way will you take?”

Passage 1 is a room. It is east from the cave. “As you walk deeper into the passage way, you begin to hear a high pitched twitering and something akin to swooshing of wings. Wondering what is a head, you picked up your pace. Your footsteps rang on the solid rock ground and the air is tight with the closeness of the rock walls on both sides of you. After what seamed forever, you came to a dark cavern. inmidiately, a stentch hit your nose and looking up, you can just make out the fluttering shapes of thousands of bats from a thin ray of light coming from one side of the cave. Looking around, you see no other way to continue. Seeing no point staying in the reeking cavern for much longer, you decide to return to the cave by heading back west.”

Passage 2 is a room. It is southwest of the cave. “Though the crack in the wall doesn’t look like much seen from where you currently stand, you decide to give it a shot anyway. The slimness of your form now came in handy as you barely managed to wriggle through the gap. As you head down the passage way, you are forced to shuffle sideways like an over-sized crab. Suddenly, you feel a slight stiring in the air. You walked on eagerly. It wasn’t long before the passage way came to an abrupt end and you find yourself looking into a large cavern. The walls of the cavern is barely covered with moss like the outside and faint carving can dimly be seen on the rock walls. A thin layer of sand covers the ground. Heading forward, you encountered something with your foot. Banding down, you could see a square shape lieing in front of you. You nudged it slightly with your foot and something inside rattled.”

A wooden crate is here. “As you examine the object infront of you and ran your hands along its sides, you found that it was made of a sturdy material, perhaps wood.” The description is “Upon further examination, you discover that there is indeed some other object in the crate’s deaths.”

After examining the crate:
say “Reaching your hand into the crate, you came across an object and drew it out gingerly. To your surprice, you see that it was a rusty oil lamp. The oil lamp is rusty and it gives off a metallic scent. There is a rounded handle, which you used to hold the lamp steady. Shaking it, a slight swooshing told you that there was still oil in the long abandoned lamp.” [/code]

I hope this helps, I find this the easiest way in creating choices, but of corse more experienced writers than my self probably have an even easier way of making choices for the player. I hope this helps.


Well, yes and definitely NO.

In my game there is an abrupt cul-de-sac where the player finds him/herself in a white and featureless corridor. There’s no pointing that out but it’s fairly obvious you have to do something with the white and featureless walls in the white and featureless corridor. (Well, tbh the game doesn’t point at the walls, but c’mon, they are all there is in the white and featureless corridor, why don’t aim at those?).

Fact is: rarely players have addressed the walls ingame before resorting to the walkthrough. As in “nobody except betatesters”, who obviously were to good to find such a flaw in my game.*

So, release 3 now shows dark spots in the wall and better clues the puzzle.

My game was (is!) flawed by how it resorts to long descriptions where shorter ones would be better. Often, exits are named inside walls of text and a lot of scenery is there just for the purpose of being… well, scenery. This, the average player doesn’t like. It’s better to avoid showing glowing cracks in the floor if those are not a medium to solve a puzzle.**

Giving choices imo means:

  1. dropping here and there an alternate solution to a puzzle (or give a better response for failure than “you can’t do this”;
  2. allowing the player to face two or more puzzles at once, thus giving him a tiny resemblance of non-linearity.

As addicted as I am to regular writing/reading, this is the parts I have more difficulties in. In a book you can talk three pages about a buffet for a dinner (The Buddenbrook, anyone?), still, no one will have the chance at examining/interacting with any of the 146 dishes.

  • Sometimes, intelligent and sharp betatesters are not what you need. Mine were far to accustomed to hard IF. They were too bright an imaginative. None pointed out the cyanotic light that sent many so off the tracks. None stuck in that white and featureless corridor too much. They just went in and… opps! they solved the game. I remember Joel Webster writing comments in the transcript actually anticipating how a puzzle, who left many puzzled (ehm…), was going to be solved. I will ask him to be my betatester forever, cause he shoveled out so much s**t from my game that I oughta pay him – yeah, you don’t want to know how bad it was in the beginning! – and he gave me so much strength with his participation that I just went ohwmygad! Next time, though, I want some more “dumb” testers, also, or else I’ll keep satisfying only the strong ones :slight_smile:

** I love how my game has been both heavily downgraded by its purple prose (altho I’m not quite sure I wanna dig it: purple prose is a thing, over-describing is another) and loved for the atmosphere that purple prose gave it. You know, you can’t quite be liked by everyone, but sometimes it’s really hard to understand how things go out there… so the best is to stop worrying and just do it.

Apparently the smiley didn’t translate to your monitor. I’m sorry you didn’t find the joke funny, but your response wasn’t exactly a knee-slapper, either.

I remember that puzzle very well, and I played the very first release. You also had a sort of PDA-encyclopedia thing where the walls-puzzle was hinted at, so when I went in I expected to do some wall-interacting.

But even in your example you left out a way for the player to know WHICH wall he was supposed to interact with. I completely missed the eastern section of the map, because I’d been there, checked the eastern wall, saw nothing, saw no indication that there would be anything else to do there, moved west. Then when I moved west and I found a wall that I could interact with - the WESTERN wall - I thought ok, this is the one, and completely forgot about the other cul-de-sac, thinking it was just that.

Because heck, I’d think there would be SOMETHING in the description about featureless white walls and ONE of them having a dark spot. Otherwise the player has to blindly examine every wall. That’s not good.

It’s like in the game “Building”. There’s part of a room description that goes “There’s something strange about the eastern wall.” Examining that wall gives “There are some words written on the dusty wall”, and proceeds to tell you the message on said wall. And I’m left thinking, what, is THIS what was so strange about the wall? Couldn’t the game just tell me there was something written there? Is there something else to this wall? Something that’s ACTUALLY strange?" I ended up spending a lot of time butting heads with that bloody wall, which, as it turned out, was just a piece of scenery with writing on it, nothing more.

Ouch. Why are you taking this personally? :open_mouth:
I saw the smiley but I didn’t understand it was aimed at me. That’s why I try to add something to the subject.
I didn’t mean to be funny, or to make fun at you. Sorry :frowning:

Indeed. That’s why I’ve added non-scenery dark spots in the final release (out soon!). It was a mistake, nothing to add here. Also, the puzzle is hard enough even if you don’t have to struggle finding WHERE to solve it.
Ah, and yeah: trying many objects to discover which one is the right one is VERY BAD design.
Rookie mistake.

Another bad design example. Many times I’m forced to examine the GLASS BOTTLE to see what’s inside. And this is idiotic.
To bad, there is a deep and spanning chasm between what one wants to be and what he is. That’s why I’ve put some of those in my game, also. And probably will still do in ages. Rewriting is the trick, sometimes.

[code]Something in the pond catches your attention.


A giant tentacular water dragon is spitting lava streams into the air.


Well, there’s also the floor. A corridor surely has a floor. And a ceiling – in fact, if I remember correctly, the ceiling was specifically mentioned, and that’s what I tried to interact with.

In general, even if something is implicitly there, I don’t assume I need to interact with it unless it’s explicitly mentioned. I won’t assume that the walls are implemented if they aren’t mentioned any more than I’d assume that my clothing is.

Infact. It ended up being a lil bit like the 3 game. And I hope I’ve corrected it. But… if you looked at the right walls… :slight_smile:
Lesson learned (I hope.)

I had a playtester give up after finding that he could interact with neither the walls nor the floor nor the ceiling of the featureless white hall.

The moral of which is “don’t make the player walk down a featureless white hall to get to most of the interesting stuff.” Lesson learned. (But the point is that I don’t think you can actually count on the player focusing on the more interesting stuff, nor can you count on the player putting up with boring actions that don’t yield good replies.)

No, there’s nothing personal about it; I just found it slightly creepy.

A false dichotomy is holding you back. I believe you are equating ‘linear’ with ‘write what you feel’ and ‘interactive’ with ‘serve the players what they want, capability to explore’. So when you start to write interactively, you start to become service-oriented and start to try to fill in all the possibiilities, and lose sight of what you feel is the right story story to tell. I have had this trouble, too.

My solution was to break the dichotomy. I just have to write ‘linearly’ and write what I feel, but do it multiple times in parallel. At no time am I thinking about serving the player what they want when it comes to the storyline – I only really focus on that when I am thinking about puzzles and other types of game navigation mechanics – are they fun? I ask myself this quesiton all the time. But when thinking about the story, I only express what I want. Therefore, I only write the things I am passionate about. I just have to find multiple such things that can run in parallel.

Writing a text adventure is a potentially exponentially-increasing workload — your successful completion depends primarily on your ability to control that exponential growth of possibilities, AND on your ability to slog through all the gruntwork that you don’t feel you can avoid. You need to make multiple choices that can each independently conserve your writer’s passion about the truths you are telling as far through that process as possible: if you can do this it will narrow the field AND preserve your desire to work. So banish the player from your mind and find something to say that you genuinely feel can go different ways, all of which you, personally, feel interested in and passionate about exploring. Discard possibilities you don’t feel passionate about, even if they are very logical outcomes (just conveniently block them with a single throwaway response so the player won’t feel the game is incomplete, that’s the minimum service I perform to openly signal unimplemented paths – the players will get it, you just didn’t want to implement that path – make the reason why it is blocked halfway-believable and they’ll be with you).

I don’t know, it might not be the best advice – I am still on my first i7 game and the interactive storytelling is still the hardest part, by far – but it’s the best advice I got. When there is an infinite field of possibility, you can’t analyse it inch-by-inch: you have to use your passion as your guide.