In discussion with some beta testers of my games and authors of games I’m beta testing, I’ve been wondering about how much to say in a parser game.
My ideal has tended to be to never fill up more than a whole screenful if I can avoid it (which obviously depends on the screen, but I’d say several paragraphs).
Looking back at the most popular games on IFDB, it looks like most of the games even until fairly recently have the same kind of guideline. Counterfeit Monkey, Anchorhead (outside of the intro), Superluminal Vagrant Twin, Violet and Lost Pig all fill up just a couple of paragraph’s worth at most of text.
But there’s not necessarily an inherent reason to have less text; it seems like a matter of taste.
And I wonder if it’s changing recently. The Wizard Sniffer is fairly verbose; Alias the Magpie has a lot of screen-filling events and dialogue. According to Cain has between 50% to 100% more description per action or room than many of those earlier games I mentioned. Amanda Walker has some short-description games, but some very popular long-description games.
It doesn’t seem like a total shift, since there are still popular concise games. But I’m wondering what people’s tolerance/sweetspot is.
How much text do you like to see per action/room when playing? How about when writing?
I’m usually fine with long narrative bits, as long as it’s not delivered in one giant bulk, and I’m aware of both how many sections remain, and that each section will be of approximately-equal length.
Otherwise I try to limit shorter action responses to one sentence, sometimes two (if necessary).
Also, I try to space out action responses across several lines, to make it easier to see what is business-as-usual and what is new. Sorta like what MegaMek does.
I love long elaborate room-descriptions with sensory details like scents, textures, lighting,… like the PC has just stepped into a smoky treasure chamber straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Mind you, after the first passage through that room, the description should be snipped down to a more utilitarian length.
When it comes to one-off action-scenes or pre-written dialogue, I don’t mind multiple screens at all. Quite the contrary, I consider them a reward. Leaning back and leisurely but thoroughly reading a few pagesworth of exciting action or though-provoking conversation or heartfelt emotion satisfies the book-reader in me.
EDIT: I forgot about Journals or Encyclopaedias or Magic Tomes. I could read those for pages on end, forgetting that they’re actually a part of that game I was playing.
I get grumpy when a reference work in an IF-piece just happens to have only two entries about the specific topics I need for the puzzle at hand. So much opportunity for backstory and worldbuilding just wasted.
And don’t get me started on a Library where I can’t READ BOOK…
The quality of the writing is a lot more important than the length of the text but much long-winded writing tends to be worse than some of the more concise passages I’ve read.
I used to think people liked comprehensive descriptions but I’ve realised since that I don’t often enjoy reading them myself and that it’s much easier to write good short descriptions than equally good longer ones. You might of course be above that because your prose is impeccable either way.
Or, to put it differently: I personally like to read and write terse style, but then again my work is not terribly popular.
Today I’m not sure about handling multiple-screen wall of text, because the majority of ‘terp are variable-sized (gargoyle, Qtads, gfrotz &c.) and easily bigger than the good ol’ 80x25 and OTOS (S=Side) the mobile environment has often screen smaller than 80x25, so I think that the good ol’ “press a key” can easily become a sort nuisance, and for “walls of text” one must nowadays rely on terp’s pausing prior of scrolling, admittely not the optimal solution.
on readables, I’m trying to rein in, because, well, the works will remain WIP forever (I actually have a library in the high 1000s…), so I’ll start to implement books after books…
My solution to the library problem lies in the spine: the player/PC can X bookshelves, got a list of promising titles, to be READ or perused… (the same concept apply to a lower level, X reference get a list of promising/relevant entries, to be LOOKed UP ABOUT; I think I have discussed this solution in another topic here…)
Best regards from Italy,
How big is a screen? The same length as a piece of string maybe
I don’t like walls of text, and favour micro interactions, where I break up text with interactivity, even if that just means saying
continue. Better to have a micro choice though, if possible.
If your overall word count is up there, then you should be ok.
caveat confession: I’m not a writer.
Yes, I agree with you on that point. I didn’t mean to say that I want to be able to READ BOOK and, as a response to that command, have 20 pages to read screen after screen. I too prefer CONSULT or LOOK UP to navigate the reading material. However, if a particular entry in the Magic Tome happens to be three screens long, I don’t mind a bit.
I think I conflated two things in my previous reply:
-I like reading through long blocks of text, a screen or even multiple screens long.
-I also like works that are verbose as a whole, that offer a great deal of text to read in general, whether that text is broken up by commands or not.
Perhaps. But, and here I somewhat go against my stated preference for verbose games and responses within games, it’s incredibly difficult to write exquisite short and sparse descriptions.
Descriptions so fine-tuned that they manage to bring all the salient details to the player’s attention while at the same time maintaining an overarching tone and atmosphere for the work as a whole. That’s a form of sharpened craftsmanship I stand in awe of.
The example that always comes to mind when I think about such short, beautiful, and efficient prose is Emily Short’s Metamorphoses. The whole game has this, and the introductory scene in particular.
I like it all. Give me concise and vivid and I’m happy. Give me long paragraphs and I’m also happy.
It really depends on the quality of the writing. Short and concise can be a bummer if things are underdescribed , or if it feels too bare-bones. Long and wordy is irritating if the writing isn’t very good, and if there isn’t a good reason for all that text.
As we all know, I tend toward the verbose, and I’ve gotten dinged for it, so it is difficult to find the sweet spot for a given game.
Yeah, this is where I come down - so long as the prose is good it’s hard for me to get too much of it. Sometimes long passages without choices in a choice based game can make me antsy since it can make me feel disengaged - but not always, since for example I was at the edge of my seat throughout January. So maybe this is just restating the initial point.
I do think the style of game matters here - if it’s a puzzley game where I’m poking around in a bunch of complicated machinery, short, to-the-point description is preferred. But even then if I got a two or three screen cut scene after solving the puzzle that would be fine by me.
(Much like Amanda, though, I think my games and writing are generally somewhat prolix so maybe take with a grain of salt!)
Since “popular” is in the topic title, I should confess that I know hardly anything about what is and isn’t popular. I think looking at recent winners of comps and highly rated games would be the best way to determine that.
Speaking for myself, I think it is fine for a piece of writing to not be for everyone. Most of the things I like best seem specific to my tastes, rather than broadly likable. I recently gushed enthusiastically over Planescape: Torment. Not everyone is going to enjoy that or Zork, for that matter, which I am also known to appreciate.
From a design point of view–which is a different perspective!–I think it’s important to consider the utility of a passage of text. For instance, a long and beautifully written room description is a failure if a player has to hunt for available exits each time they enter the room, long after the shine of the writing is gone. That’s tedious. It’s a good idea to use initial, first-time descriptions for an overall impression, then focus on usefulness for subsequent descriptions. A puzzle involving several levers that requires repeatedly printing elaborate descriptions of each lever will likely sour the most patient player.
A passage that considers the reader’s time and interest while recognizing the demands of gameplay will go far in pleasing an audience, I think. In general, good writing is tailored to medium, audience, and occasion. That applies to poetry, professional writing, interactive fiction, etc. etc.
I’m in the camp with @DeusIrae - “if the writing is great, give me moar” but I get really antsy with any interactive fiction that doesn’t seem to be conducive to letting me interact.
I think text dumps/“cutscenes” definitely have a place, often as a reward for completing a puzzle or as the result of a long sequence of events. TL;DR: Verbosity is great when the player asks for it or earns it - often later in the story.
I personally don’t like an initial out of world lore-dump right at the beginning since I feel that learning about a world is best handled through interaction. I know some people love backstory and world building but if I need to watch a TEDtalk about history the author thinks I need to know about the setting I’m almost always in my head going “couldn’t they have found ways to let me discover this myself?”
Exception: reading material in world. If I interact with a newspaper that is several pages long and contains useful information that’s a choice I can ignore instead of being forced to listen to a narrator drone for five minutes while I’m frozen in place in my apartment awaiting the stage lights to come up before I can do something. If all the rich expository detail comes from stuff I can examine, that’s interactive.
Even just a short bit of interaction before the lore dump is preferable. Establish that the story is interactive before presenting the first chapter of the novel the PC wasn’t directly involved in.
I am obviously very verbose in my normal writing, but it’s always stronger when I polish down to just the few necessary words. The best line to straddle is to trust the player’s imagination to create detail instead of spelling out the color of the wallpaper for them.
Unless, of course, the wallpaper color is important plot or puzzle wise, all rational caveats apply…
Purple. Text wallpaper needs to be purple. No exceptions.
My brain just skips over anything verbose, which I’ve become to realise might be due to my aphantasia, and probably explains why I much prefer concise old text adventures to anything verbose like Infocom and modern Inform games. I guess it’s probably influenced my choice in fiction… I’ve never been drawn to the word soup produced by the writers of long flowery text… I think my brain just skips over the dialogue and descriptions.
That’s a long way of writing… I don’t think whatever you do will satisfy everyone. (But yes, the trend seems to be towards waffling on in games these days.)
In this case, perhaps the text dump about world and lore ought to be in a .pdf feelie…
Best regards from Italy,
I like feelies a lot. Just don’t require me to read a supplementary novel about the history of the planet your game is set on as a prerequisite to understand the plot.
Unless that volume is copy-protection/puzzle solving etc…
The plot may be epic and involve all that historical background, but if I’m just going to be initially looking for keys to unlock doors, I’d rather get on with it and leaf through an extensive feelie if I appreciate the world and am curious to know more.
Notice how in the game MYST you never read those books dropped on you? You (by magic) jump inside and start doing things in the world instead of reading it.
Yes, I know MYST books are their own special magical things you don’t read, but metaphorically!
For me, be as expansive as you dare, just be ready to program to every noun you mention.
Yeah, this is my preference as an author, but it makes the implementation expensive, too.
Aaron Reed’s book ‘Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7’ includes, early on, an example of how creating interactive fiction is low-cost compared to a film. A sentence about a flashy starship doing something in space is already costing a pile of CGI-rendering money in a film, whereas to the IF author it might be 20 words.
Since I implement pretty much everything, I keep thinking back to this example, as I realise that while it’s cheaper than a movie, if you implement the mentioned bits of the starship to some degree, it’s not cheap for an IF author in time/work. It’s also way more work to revise a strongly implemented game than straight writing, (presumably hence Zarf’s self-analysis that his IF writing is all first draft, as the cost to revisit is too great, paraphrased by me here from someplace).
That is better, but also exhausting.
I tend not to want/need too much atmosphere and certainly when I tried to review all the IFComp games, the ones that erred on the side of verbosity generally got to me a bit. So that is my bias.
If there’s a big game, I’d certainly like optional verbosity. Sort of like how there is VERBOSE for room descriptions. Certainly when attacking a work I like playing through it first and then working out the details later, once the whole “omg how do I get through” is over. I’d like to see more, and there might be more, because now I can flip an option to have more to read.
Giving the player the verbose-narrative option is not trivial, though, because that would mean a lot to check in terms of making sure the short text 1) didn’t leave puzzles unhinted or 2) made certain tricky puzzles too obvious, but having things to optionally CONSULT or LOOK UP (along with a list of what you’ve consulted and looked up) can help.
As my preference is generally just to plow through text and say, okay, I’ll look back when needed, that’d be my choice. And I can, because I usually keep a transcript.
But it is more work for the author, and you can only cater to the player so much, because at some point flexibility becomes overwrought people-pleasing.
Are you including “cutscenes” in this? I don’t think cutscenes need to be brief but I don’t think starting with a lot of text is fun.
If it’s a puzzle, verbosity annoys me. The key thing for me is that when I’m trying to do something specific, like figuring out how to get past a door, I don’t want to have to parse extraneous text; otherwise, I have no objection to verbosity.
The games you’ve mentioned are almost all puzzlers or mechanics-focused - Counterfeit Monkey’s a puzzler, Anchorhead’s a puzzler, Superluminal Vagrant Twin is extremely mechanics-heavy and you interact with the game completely different than the others, Violet is a puzzler, and Lost Pig is stylistic.
If I’m kind of strapped in for the ride, I don’t mind longer texts. The Spectators, for example (on the mind because I just watched somebody replay it) sometimes drops several paragraphs’ worth of text all at once but it’s appropriate and well-written, and it’s not a puzzle game, and the parts that are interactive are fairly terse. So I think it depends on what you want your game to do?