Research

How much research do you do when writing interactive fiction?

An anecdote: Melv and I were writing a puzzle in Calm that involved smothering some barbed wire in order to climb over the top of a fence. We both agreed that a mattress would do the trick. I also thought that a door mat would also work. Melvin thought that a mat would be too thin and the barbs would stick through. So we cycled to the other side of town with a door mat wedged between my brake lines. We eventually found a barbed wire fence with no onlookers. I placed the mat over the wires and scrambled over into an overgrown lot beyond. The barbed wire didn’t penetrate the door mat and so a door mat was implemented in the game as a smothering item.

Depends on the piece, but always some. Sometimes lots. Sometimes not lots.

My current hardboiled detective huge-o-gigant-o WIP has involved a ton of research already and there’s more to come (it’s a tie-in with Fly From Evil, which has been responsible for absorbing many of my bookshelves with its ravenous need for research material).

My current small-piece WIP about using magic to get rid of cottage cheese has been less demanding in terms of research (although there’s still been a little).

For two examples.

If I find myself reading about physics or chemistry for a puzzle design, I consider it a warning sign. Doesn’t always stop me or even slow me down, but boy-howdy I feel warned.

The Internet makes research so easy I sometimes don’t want to call it research.

For my WIP, I researched locations using Google Street View, wildlife information sites, and online weather data. The game starts in a trailer, so I looked at mobile home sales sites to create the name and description of that. It makes a very small part of the game, but I wanted the place to feel real, and not like the bizarre hodgepodge of locations you might find in Dora the Explorer or just about about any Zork game. I’ve looked up product information for a couple objects in the game, to find out what names they’re called by and what they look like.

I’m all in favor of real research, but I’m too lazy to do that sort of thing. Although I have an idea for a cover-art photograph that will take some legwork…

For a lot of things, yeah. But … there are still so many things you can only get by digging into the stacks, and quite a lot of really juicy things you can only get via live interviews (my favorite type of research, for a variety of reasons).

That’s what I mean. That’s real research. The sad thing is that I have an access card to an Ivy League university library, which is two blocks from my office. And the closest thing I’ve done to research there is check out “Twisty Little Passages.”

Sounds like pretty tasty research opportunities there…

There’s some good ideas here: I had planned to write a game with a scene in Guyana, but I’ve never been there. Google maps, however, links to a fine series of photographs of the place.

Does anyone else find it really obvious when an author has so obviously researched something (rocket-propelled grenade launchers, snowboarding, making pastry etc.), and they come across as mostly trying to show off everything they learned about subject x regardless of how integral it is to the plot?

Yes, that’s a form of bad writing, punishable by wedgies. :slight_smile:

You can certainly over-research. (The worst offender I know is Harry Turtledove, who does huge amounts of rather focused research and is a lot more interested in letting you know how much research he’s done than in anything else. Okay, fine: he’s not writing for me, he’s writing for military history wonks and the reactionaries who love them.)

My worst inclination is language research. When I was testing The King of Shreds and Patches, I kept wanting to squish vocabulary and idiom that wasn’t plausible Shakespearean English. Jimmy Maher very sensibly told me to stop it and just worry about non-period things. Now I’m doing something that’s closer to Chaucerian and wasting copious time on language stuff. NO. BAD.

Whatchoo talking about? If someone who wasn’t me was writing an IF that was all “Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote, The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,” that would be awesome.

For The House of Fear, tons. Right up until the end I was discovering new facts that forced me to rewrite. That’s the nature of historical fiction.

And I still haven’t satisfactorily answered the question of whether an Englishwoman living in France in the 1930s would think in meters or feet.

(And I would play a Chaucer English game forever. Is it something in the vein of Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog?)

Nah; lamentably I don’t have the chops to write passably-fake Chaucerian English, deeply entertaining though that would be. I’m just trying to avoid vocabulary, senses of words, etc. that aren’t period, in an attempt to make the writing feel a little less anachronistic. It’s not really a good investment of time and energy, but it’s highly entertaining.

It depends how long she’d lived in France. If she grew up in England it would probably be feet and yards. I know an Englishwoman who grew up under imperial measurement and still hasn’t fathomed the mysteries of Celsius despite the fact that the central heating control for more than thirty years has been in Celsius. If an Englishwoman in France did think in meters, she’d think in metres.

That’s a pet peeve of mine. When people speak French in a story written in English, and the reader is expected to understand, their words are translated into modern English. When animals talk to each other in a story that’s not about talking animals, their speech is expressed in the reader’s language. Why not do the same for old languages?

I guess it’s less annoying if the language is consistent and not obviously made up, though, so if you’re going to use it, I applaud your research. As long as it’s still comprehensible to the modern reader…

Now that’s just spelling. That would bug the hell out of me.

I love reading French-American Creole - it’s French with reasonable spellings!

Yes, yes, totally agree. The hope is that things should read like natural modern English, just with a smaller vocabulary. (Much as I love a lot of archaic Chaucerian words, it’s really awkward and annoying when writers shoehorn random archaisms into the text.)

Things I have researched for my WIP:

– nautical speed and sample floor plan of a luxury yacht
– recipe for a gimlet cocktail
– content of World War II propaganda posters
– mating behavior of pigs (YouTube can show you anything)
– common methods of non-violent protest
– growth zones of kudzu
– contemporary opinions of Noah Webster
– patterns of Phoenician colonization in the ancient Mediterranean
– espionage tradecraft in the LeCarre tradition
– appearance of a condor taking off

…and a lot of other things. In the vast majority of those cases I was going for breadth rather than depth: I didn’t need to know everything about the topic, just a representative example, or some visuals to help me write a persuasive description of something I haven’t seen myself. Often I’ll stick a URL in the source text so I can get back to the research material later if I need to double-check something.

I’m eagerly awaiting that WIP to be finished.

And no, it’s not because of the pigs. Sheesh.

Or because I’d rather wait to find out what a “kudzu” is rather than google it.

I was curious so I looked it up. A ‘forgotten founding father’ who ‘invented American nationalism long before the American nation came into existence’, apparently.

This seems like a reasonable extent for research. I find it quite easy to get distracted: I’ll start reading about Edwardian patents, Esperanto grammar or the early life of Antonín Dvořák and then look up some time later and wonder how I got there.

Coincidentally, I learned what a kudzu was from a game. In this case it was the postapocalyptic roguelike Caves of Qud. I won’t tell you what it is, but I will recommend avoiding the command >HUG KUDZU.

It will come to you. Literally.

I do enough to make the game feel realistic, which is a fair amount but not a crazy amount. The interweb is all I need, 99% of the time. For stuff I haven’t been able to find, I’ve either adjusted the setting slightly or worked something into the character’s psyche so that the problem doesn’t come up.