Room Descriptions and Narrating Actions

Hi, IF authors and readers!

I have two related questions about presentation in parser IF:

(1) If a room description is (re)displayed as the result of the playable character’s actions (for example, because there is now a light source in a previously dark room), should the action narration to be displayed before or after the room description?

(2) If the playable character arrives in a room to find action already in progress, should the action narration be displayed before or after the room description?

Generally, I’d say the order needs to make sense chronologically. I need to flip the light switch before I can see (and describe!) my surroundings, so the report that “you flip the light switch” should come before the room description.


Well, perhaps predictably, I’d say it depends…

In a slow-paced thoughtful game, be it focused on puzzles, on slowly discovering the big-picture story or on a meditative exploration of the game-world, I would prefer the room-description first. It gives a mental grip or handhold, a steady support to anchor the rest of the experience to. The player enters the room, she gets a minute of stability to get her bearings, and then experiences the unstable, changing parts of the story.

However, in a fast-paced action-packed story, perhaps with a chase scene or a fight over multiple rooms, you want the player off-balance. Engagingly written action-passages followed by a short and clear room-description would be better in this case.

(All of the above in my personal opinion of course.)

Edit: And if the action you’re talking about is small, like flipping the light switch or picking something up, then before anything else, like Ardimaster says above.


If the action happens before entering the room, print it before the room description. For example, “You clamber up the ladder.” followed by the description of the tree house.

If the action happens after entering the room, print it after the room description. For example, print the description of the sorcerer’s lair followed by “The sorcerer spins around and glares at you.”

As a rule of thumb, try to avoid printing actions before the room description, as they tend to get overlooked by the player.

1 Like

Nearly always, you want the room description to go from the most static features (landmarks, walls) to less static (furniture) to least static (people, then small portable items). Ongoing activity would be last.

IF systems usually support this by default. For example, in I7, you typically put ongoing action into “every turn” rules, which are displayed after the room description.


Andrew has the right of it, but I think there’s one additional factor that might scramble this a bit, which is the situation where there’s a lot going on, but the least-static features/ongoing activity are impossible to ignore and/or dangerous. Like, sometimes you get descriptions like this, which seem a little weird:

Ancient Temple

The ancient temple looms before you in the moonlight, its cyclopean architecture unsettling to your eye. Gold-filigreed hieroglyphs trace blasphemous oaths across the entryway, written in tongues long lost to the memory of man, and broken statues cast their cryptic gazes far off to the horizon. Vegetation, so lush in other parts of the jungle, shuns this place, with only a sickly, greenish-purple creeper of ivy venturing to cling to one one of the collapsed buttresses.

The bones of a previous explorer of this dread fane lie, unburied and unhallowed, to one side of the fell clearing, with a worn satchel lying close by. As you scan the remainder of the area, you notice a gleam of moonlight reflecting off of some shiny object in the tall grass near the path back into the jungle whence you came.

You also see a shoggoth the size of an elephant gibbering in rage as it charges at you.

When something like that is going on, I think it’s often best to preempt the regular description with a much cut-down version, and return to the usual level of detail once the danger is resolved.


Minor point, if the change in the room happens because of action elsewhere (e.g. the stereotypical “pull the lever in room A and something happens in room B” the change ought, IMVHO, to be after the text description (aside that is also a case for adaptive prose, but i fear that this led to opening another can of worm (the noticeability of the changed prose in a long, say >6-7 lines, room description)

of course, I agree with Rovarsson, because I’m indeed focused on “slowly discovering the big picture story or [and, I add…] meditative esploration [and understanding, I add again] of the game-world”… If my coding isn’t soooo slow…

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

1 Like