General Game Polishing

People seem to hate stock responses. (This dangerous act would achieve little), and also seem to love implementing things that are irrelevant. (SMELL KNIFE).

What are some commands that SHOULD have a response for each object (or just commands that should have a response). What are some times when stock responses are fine?

Example: I had a beta tester suggest that “fart” be implemented, and have varying levels of description based on whether they were in a full bath tub or not, and likewise ask that a bathroom have implemented toilet paper, towels, soap, and shampoo (though none are relevant to puzzles or plot). I created a stock response (while [noun] is here, it isn’t important), and he didn’t like that.

My worry is that too much detail would imply that these things are more important than they are, and lead to many red herrings.

Anyway, what I’m looking for here is a list of commands that SHOULD have specific details (touching, rubbing, smelling, tasting for each object), should every piece of scenery have a specific detail on attempts to push, pull, pick it up, look under it, etc? What are people’s thoughts on this?

There’s two things here: the stock responses, and general responsiveness.

Stock responses are designed to be generic, and often don’t fit in well with the rest of the writing in a game. If your main character is a noir dectective with an eye for the ladies, there’s no way that “That dangerous act would achieve little” is an appropriate response. (There’s a secondary factor in that players don’t often try things that they think will accomplish little, so in that respect I think the default is a little misleading.) Sarah Morayati’s also made some good points on default messages and how weirdly they conflate character and player (http://www.sarahmorayati.com/2010/06/default-parser-messages-do-they-need-an-overhaul/).

Well-crafted parser defaults will save you a load of work, because they won’t throw players out of the story nearly as much as the standards.

Let’s assume then, that you’ve got well-written, in-character parser messages implemented.
The degree to which I expect implementation of specific messages for objects depends on:

  1. how important the item is
  2. how likely an action is to occur to a player, and how much it would make sense in that world
  3. how much sense the default response makes to a certain action

So if you’ve got a torch that you can carry around, and a dark room, and I try to light the torch, I am going to be very, very unhappy to see “This dangerous act . . .” because dammit, a lit torch would achieve something - something I’m trying to achieve! This kind of response is the most crucial, because the default responses here makes it feel like the author didn’t consider other solutions to puzzles than the correct one, and it doesn’t feel like fair play.

Whereas if you’ve got a room with a window, and when you look out the window, you see the sky over the forest, I don’t expect any unique response to >TAKE SKY.

I do expect to be able to EXAMINE anything mentioned by the game. The description might be a conglomeration: if you’re in a forest, the description of trees in one location and another could be identical, but I generally feel like “You see nothing special about the trees.” is a let down. Because, really? There’s nothing significant you can tell me that would shed light on my character, my emotional state, the situation at hand, the other dangers of the forest, whether it’s the kind of forest Bambi lives in or the kind around Baba Yaga’s hut, whether it’s midwinter or August - nothing relevant?

Verbs/actions that are suggested by the game should be implemented, so if your game has a lot of fart jokes, it’s good polish to add it as a verb. Generally, touch/smell/taste are suggested either by the text or by the object itself. Food, drink, and icy telephone poles should respond to taste; fluffy animals should respond to pet; garbage heaps and truffle fries should response to smell. Otherwise, your finely written defaults should be more than adequate.

I am tickled when I try an action that falls outside of “fair play” and it works. Lateral thinking, puns, idioms, emoting verbs - all these make me very happy as a player. For example, let’s say you’re writing a story about slavery, and the character is a slave who’s just escaped. I don’t expect a response to >TASTE FREEDOM, but I’ll squeal happily if one shows up. But that’s icing, and there’s no way you’re going to catch everything, so I wouldn’t worry too much about this category of embellishment.

In a normal game, I would never type >FART unless strongly hinted to by the game. I think your response to towels/shampoo/etc. is just right, assuming those things wouldn’t be useful in the situation you’ve written. I’m not a big fan of the phrase “not important”, because those things may be, to the character. I never think “That fluffy towel I use to dry myself every morning is unimportant!” However, a firm redirect is entirely appropriate. The redirect could even be the same for all the bathroom clutter. Most IF isn’t a simulation; just because you can implement a top and bottom sheet with various blankets for your entirely unimportant bed doesn’t mean you should.

Something that may help for more important objects - Juhana has an extension that let’s you “analyze” an object - it’ll run through the list of commands, and show you the responses in one block. You can add your own commands to the list, too. That makes it easy to read through pretty much all the text produced for an item at once, and catch any horrendous errors.

That’s pretty general, but it varies depending on the game. I generally cut a little more slack for larger games, or those that are clearly trying for an old-school, minimal aesthetic.

To answer your question first, I think it’s one of the (many) cases where the only correct answer is “it depends.”

To respond to the sentence quoted above: personally, I only hate stock responses when they overstep their bounds of presumption (for example, the default Inform 7 response to throwing anything at a living thing is wince-inducing, especially for certain characters, and especially for harmless actions like THROW FRISBEE AT DOG).

I’m partial to stock responses which don’t characterize the protagonist in any way. Frankly, I’d prefer a flat-out refusal (“Nah.”) to a response that presumes something about the protagonist’s personality, unless it’s been written specifically to characterize by the game’s author.