How far do you go with scenery descriptions?


I’m just going through my game and attempting to play it as a new player. One thing that occurs to me is how far down the rabbit hole I go with scenery and non-playable objects.

For example, when a player examines a line (rope) tied to a cleat on the boat, it is described as being tied to a concrete bollard, so then I feel I’m obliged to describe the bollard. Then when they examine that it is described as being on the pontoon. Now I have to set a description for the pontoon, which is made of wooden planks on large piles, so then I could start describing the wooden planks… and so on.

What I am trying to avoid is the player saying ‘examine pontoon’ and the game returning ‘you can’t see any such thing’ when they clearly can see any such thing. I find it jarring when this happens because it doesn’t feel natural.

Of course in some parts of the game I have put some objects in as one collective, so whether they type bollard or pontoon or planks they are all captured by one description, but in other cases it’s more natural to have different descriptions.

BTW, I don’t have a problem describing every part of the game because it adds depth and immersion IMO, but I am conscious of leading the player up a cul-de-sac. Is this acceptable?


I would recommend, in that situation, creating the pontoon, but making “planks” and “piles”, etc. a synonym of the pontoon, so it gives the same response. It’s an acknowledgment by the author that he can’t go on forever, but still is trying to make a full experience.


Fully agree.


The craft expectation is that anything mentioned is implemented. Playtesters will check this!

There’s an art to deciding what to mention and what to omit, I think. It’s hard. You don’t want people looking at boring descriptions of things that don’t matter, but you also don’t want spaces that feel weirdly empty or bare.

There are tricks, like treating parts of things like synonyms for the thing, and so forth. But it’s hard. For me, anyway.


What Max said, or, alternatively, having short and generic responses (“A bollard for for tying ships to shore.”) so the player knows not to focus their attention on it. If you don’t spend a lot of time describing it, the player won’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.


Yes, it’s finding that balance. I want the player to feel like they are actually in a marine environment, so it’s important to describe what the saloon looks like, for example. This has to include the table and other non-interactive objects, so I’ve made a point of giving one sentence descriptions only, and in other areas using synonyms. I think I am on the right lines.

Thanks, everyone.


Fully concur & agree with “Kamineko”: both my published work, Creative cooking and The Portrait can be seen as being at the two extremes of unbalanced scenery…

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.


“referential closure” is usually expected in parser input games. Mainly because if something is mentioned and you examine it, it looks silly for the game to not understand the object it just mentioned.

However as @kamineko points out, the art is in the writing of descriptions. Done well, they do not have to be terse. As pointed out, many things can be grouped into one, but sometimes this can backfire, so you might need a few fake scenery items for this.

But in general, yeah, if it’s mentioned, the game should understand the word.


Some games specially indicate objects which can be interacted with, but it can be considered to lose some of the magic. What about marking objects that can’t be interacted with instead?

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Some little tricks to close the loop:

  • Describe a thing as itself, without reference to other things.
  • If A mentions B, then in B’s description, only describe A or other things you want to focus attention on.
  • Or as others have pointed out, make “planks” a synonym for “pontoon” which is a different way of approaching the first bullet point.
  • Subtly indicate “worthiness of attention” by descriptive length. Then if a player goes down a cul-de-sac, it’s by choice.
  • Bait and switch: you can use a character’s experience of an object to redirect attention elsewhere. Instead of describing what the pontoon is and is made of, describe how it sways with the waves and clatters against the boat.