How much detail in unimportant locations?

Hey All–

Let’s say you start a game in a hotel room, and you want the player to leave that hotel room and go out into the hotel, where the action will be. You get some basic information about yourself and why you’re here in this hotel room, but nothing else will happen here (at least for now) and the player should get to exploring the hotel.

How much detail should an author provide in this unimportant location? Descriptions of your luggage? The bathroom? The TV and the desk? Let the player futz around with all this for verisimilitude? Or is this just wasting time that could be spent getting to the action? It’s easy to create a reason why you should leave (You’re going to be late for your meeting with the PI in the bar if you don’t get going!) and keep reminding the player of this if they want to mess around in the room, but how much detail do players want here? Can I get some opinions?

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Hmm, this is tricky, because I think there are two things pulling this question in opposite directions. On the one hand, if this is purely an interstitial location where there’s no real environmental storytelling potential to be had (it’s an anonymous hotel room!) and no action or interactivity – plus the possibility of a bunch of fiddly stuff for the player to mess around with which would take implementation time to no clear end – I’d be tempted to just bottom-line things and mention as few concrete nouns as possible:

The hotel room doesn’t seem to have anything obviously wrong with it, which is a relief given how your morning’s started out, and how stressful this interview is likely to be. The door to the corridor is to the south.

And then just implement a single scenery item for the door/bed/luggage/tv/desk etc. that says “you don’t have time for that now.”

The countervailing issue, though, is that this is pretty boring and low-effort, and it’s nice to have a game’s opening scene offer something of interest, and indicate that there’ll be richly-implemented interactivity to come in the rest of the game. And starting out in an underimplemented location that screams “I’m boring!” might not be the best introduction.

Rather than try to square the circle I’d probably be tempted to evade the issue by starting closer to the action; in medias res can be tricky in a parser game since the player often likes a few turns to get their bearings, X ME and check inventory, and so on, but maybe put them in the descending elevator going down to the lobby, so in a couple turns the doors ding open and they’re thrust into a location that’ll be a little more interesting? Then if the hotel room is important later, you can always let them choose to go back into the elevator and head up to check it out, at which point the low-effort implementation won’t be an issue.

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The stuff in the room is an opportunity if you have things you want the player to know about the protag via environmental storytelling… However, it seems like one of those things where if you need it, you know you need it.

I think in most cases Mike’s elevator response will work the best.

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I’d say it depends on the rest of the work. The intro location teaches the player what they’re going to be doing—is this a piece where you’re supposed to examine every noun for clues (in which case you might hide the character’s wallet under the bed and not let them leave without it, since their room key is in there) or a piece where you’re supposed to keep the action moving and not worry about background details (in which case you might forbid interacting with the scenery in the first room at all, because you’re running late)?

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I have a reason for wanting to start the story here, but it isn’t particularly a “gotcha” game where players need to seek hidden things. It should be pretty obvious when you’re supposed to do something with something (at least I think so; stuff like this can always change partway through writing). But that won’t be obvious at first.

My question is more about preferences for realism. There are players who shall go unnamed here who really want all the realistic bells and whistles, even when they already know they should go elsewhere. They simply like opening every drawer and interacting with the game world in small ways because it immerses them.

Then there are folks who get impatient with this, and only do all that as a matter of lawnmowering to make sure they didn’t miss anything and are then annoyed when they don’t find a key anywhere.

Of course most of us fall somewhere in between those. I’m curious how many tip toward one side or the other.

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In that case: I tip toward writing, and would likely implement some things in the room. Not for the sake of realism, which is not high on my list, but because I think text in a text game can add a lot. Personally, I would use it to talk about the situation rather than the room, for setting up some of the narrative. Unless this is a very special hotel room, we probably know what it’s like spatially.

I think the important thing is to let players know that this setting and character information won’t help them win the game, since some players are primarily concerned with that. They’ll likely get annoyed if they feel like they need to read everything.

I’m not talking about a lot of text mind you. A sentence or two each, maybe grouping some items logically.

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To me, realism feels like the wrong word. Is it realistic for someone who’s late for a job interview to search every drawer in their hotel room and make sure there’s nothing in the fridge before they leave?

I don’t know a good term that I’d use instead, but to me, it’s about fitting the style. When the fairy tale says that the monster always appears on October 31st, you don’t ask “is that the Julian or the Gregorian calendar? if it’s Gregorian does that mean the fae care about papal bulls? if it’s Julian does that mean it’s actually not coming on Halloween at all, by its own reckoning?” That’s just not a question that makes sense with this genre of story. It’s realistic, perhaps, but doesn’t fit the rules that the author is playing by.

Or in other words—in my opinion, it doesn’t matter if in real life you could turn on the taps, plug up the drain, and let the hotel room flood while you go to your interview. Because, would you? Would this protagonist do that?

So to me, the question I’d ask is—is this the kind of game where the protagonist does that? Jigsaw, for example, is absolutely the sort of game where White frantically searches every drawer before leaving, and it establishes that in the first scene. Then it maintains that rule for the rest of the game.

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If things like the bathroom, for example, are unimportant, I’d rather be redirected away from them than get a description of a regular old bathroom. E.g., “There’s nothing you need in the bathroom right now! You’re running late!” On the other hand, I would enjoy being able to turn on the TV and get a brief description of what’s on, because that’s an opportunity for an interesting or amusing detail. Whereas interacting with the bathroom very likely is not—but if you give me a bathroom in a game, I am going to examine every inch of it, because I can’t help myself. So if it’s not at all important I’d rather not have the chance to waste my time on it. :smile:

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Even within this realm, there’s the halfway spot where the thing is they just want acknowledgment the thing is there. Like if I’m in a hotel room and OPEN DRAWER gives ‘You can’t see any such thing’, the feeling is ‘Hm, there’s a danger this is going to suck,’ or if I want to judge faster, ‘This sucks!’.

Even the easiest path (bundle many props together into a ‘You don’t need to fiddle with this’ ala @DeusIrae’s advice) is a step up on that – and you can still write in a way to poke in info on how the game may need to be played later.

e.g. ‘I don’t need to rifle my own stuff. But there’ll be plenty of other-people’s-room-rifling ahead today.’

This is a message that fobs off a ton of pointless deep implementation for you, still acknowledges the thing is in the room, makes the player have more confidence in the world, and tells the player how to play now and how to play later.

Like @kamineko said, every interaction is an opportunity to give the player something about the protagonist. Really it’s an opportunity to give the player whatever you want and what they need at that moment. I tend to make rooms like this by starting with what’s expected to be there, and tilting the focus to what I can use to get what I want done.

-Wade

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I would go for minimalism and cut out everything that isn’t important or serving some purpose. If the only purpose of the hotel room is as a place to start before entering the first important room, then put the hotel room in the prologue and start play in the next room.

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The first room is the most important room of the whole game, as it sets the scene, the atmosphere and the style of the game. So, I wouldn’t discard it completely. If the room itself is not important, then you could have minimal furniture. You certainly need a bed, a bedside table and maybe a wardrobe of some sort, but you could skip the bathroom.

When describing the furniture, you could hint at the style of the hotel, so that you know what’s to come. By that, I mean is this an el cheapo, rat-infested hotel, a five-star deluxe hotel or somewhere in between? The responses only need to be minimal, but a minimal response is better than “You see nothing special”, as this looks like lazy programming.

The responses can also suggest that you shouldn’t be wasting time exploring your hotel room when there are more important things to be done outside. Depending on the style of game, this could be done in a tongue-in-cheek or humorous way.

To summarise, I’d suggest minimal responses that conditionally emphasise the importance to stop wasting your time in the hotel room. That condition will no longer be relevant when you return to the hotel room later in the game.

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Think of it the other way around: The player will decide based on how detailed your description is how important the location might be. If the PC (and you) want the player to GTFO, make that part of the description.

This hotel room is so claustrophobic that the door to the hallway seems to beckon with greener pastures (or potentially less brown shag carpet.)

It’s common advice not to describe anything superfluous you don’t want the player to fixate and EXAMINE and push and pull to waste time on.

Don’t worry too much on “setting tone” in the first room. If the starting room is just a liminal space, it’s totally fine to indicate this by not overwriting the description.

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>LOOK UNDER DESK
>LICK CHEWING GUM

In this case though, I agree with @kamineko . Use the room to set up the story ahead, the protagonist’s character and priorities. Object descriptions can impress the urgency of the situation on the player, or trigger a memory.

Or:
I was also thinking to tweak X into an action verb just for this room. The very first X [anything] could have the PC searching through the entire room one last time, finding and pocketing the one item they forgot (the wallet under the chair), and exiting the room.

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I’d say setting tone is important but rather grating if kept up. Wouldn’t Initial Description work in this case? You have long tone setting descriptions when you first visit the room, but once visited, you go by perfunctory description of exits and objects.

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Aside that in my case, the initial room isn’t unimportant, at least map-wise, I think that the level of detail for setting the mood, scope, objectives &c. in the initial room is best given to items around.

Narratively talking, there’s the risk that the player leaves your unimportant initial room, esp. never to return here, ending in a mild violation of Rule 4 of bill of Player’s rights: “To be able to win without knowledge of future events”
(the player starting the actual story with partial understanding of the background/mood, not a lock-out as the example given in the BoR, but surely complicate the player’s understanding of the narration and/or what to do)

The OP know how I solved the issue above (needed because of the rather unusual setting & circumstances), so I suggest implementing somewhat similiar, of course adequate to the more mundane setting of the hotel room. For example, if the PC is to be interviewed by a P.I. surely s/he has written in advance notes about what is to be interviewed (I think is a good and consistent mean of delivering story background), and blocking the PC’s exit from the hotel room until has reckecked the notes can be a valid solution.

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

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You could implement some items in relation to the current situation, for example the bathroom could have a comment of “You checked the mirror earlier and are looking really smart for the interview.”

Further investigation (is it possible to conditionally count how many examines have been done in a room?) could add a “The interview is at [location], you are ready to go there.”

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Or add loads of implementation but then have a time limit. Not overall, but just on the first room. Then after you leave there needs to be no timer.

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If you think about the uber starting description:

You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.
There is a small mailbox here.

That doesn’t do any spectacular world building or goal-setting at all. What the heck is this game about? Mail? It’s pretty generic in the sense of who hasn’t seen a house and a mailbox before? And how many people return to this location in a play through? I

I basically think of it as Zork’s “title splash” screen with a unique ‘view credits’ option thematically since they weren’t using graphics. The specific non-descriptness is what kind of urges the player forward after initial tutorial experimentation with the mailbox.

While I know some games have well-written info dumps as intro, nothing holds me at arm’s length like a giant wall o’text right at the beginning. I’m weird like that though.

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While I’ve talked long enough about my own philosophy on starting rooms, I also want to add an example before I overstay my welcome. The point of the starting room in Death on the Stormrider is to establish a couple things:

  • Anything that gets a separate paragraph can, and probably should, be interacted with. Each room usually has 0-2 things like this.
  • Anything that doesn’t get a separate paragraph is scenery that you can examine for flavor but won’t be hiding any vital clues.
  • The main goal of the gameplay, the primary thing you do in this game, is going to be opening doors.

These three points need to be emphasized from the very start, since they fundamentally define how the player interacts with the game. The mechanics mean there are a lot of rooms (since I needed to carefully control the routes NPCs can take from place to place), so I want to teach the player right away that it is a game about examining things for clues, but it’s not a game about hunting for nouns in room descriptions, and whenever you see a closed door your goal should be to open it.

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