I’ve been trying to notice the conventions of room short names, the heading printed above the room description and in the status line. I’ve been playing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which uses very terse room names of one or two words, while Adventure and Zork seem to use both prepositional phrases and noun phrases.
I wonder if players pay much attention to the style that a game uses for its rooms’ names. I would think consistency in the same game would be important, at least. Do terse room names make the game feel less professional? For my part, I kind of like long room names in full phrases, with adjectives where applicable. They sound more atmospheric, and give a mental sketch that the paragraph of the room description develops.
I’d say, you know, “whatever is most appropriate to the writing style of the rest of the game,” but will note that the middle of the road seems the most natural to me. The really brief names don’t so much sound unprofessional as uncreative.
As it happens, I’ve been thinking about this lately too.
I think a preposition is a weak lead for a heading. Most of the time it’s just verbiage and should be omitted.
I’m fine with the participle example you used only because it gives information beyond “standing”. If the location is a cave or kitchen, you’re standing there, but if you’re fifty feet in the air, the participle specifies falling or flying.
I’m fine with the one-word headings as well if the space is common enough. If you’re in your kitchen, and it’s the only kitchen in the game, “The Kitchen” is fine.
One thing that does bother me is reading room names in Inform 7 Source Code that’s capitalized like it’s in A Heading. That just looks stupid in the code, and further more screws up prose from
Instead of going nowhere, try listing exits.
and getting something like
because the coder wrote it the way headings appear
The Kitchen is south of Backyard. Backyard is outside of Vast Cavern.
not appreciating that headings are a special case (pun intended)
The kitchen is south of the backyard. The backyard is outside of the vast cavern.
(For the record, I use a printing-the-name-of rule for room headings that puts room names into title caps.)
True story: in Byzantine Perspective, all of the room names start with “the,” and have printed names that leave off the first “t,” like “he Chalice Room.” This is so that I could hardcode the proper case in the descriptions that referred to other rooms, which were largely generative, such as (spoiler for BP) “Though you can see t[the truename of the room the way from Over There] in front of you, you are stopped by an invisible wall.”
Whatever works best for the game. A noir thriller might benefit from terse titles; a lavish historical drama might beguile you with long, detailed place names; a game less interested in geography might include different information altogether.
Similarly, in TADS 3 it’s important to set the DestName of a room, or listing exits will get you something like, “You could go west to the trafalgar square.”
I’m not so sure; or at least, a bit of variety in the length or syntax of room names can’t hurt, can it? If every room has a one-word name, or if every room name is article-adjective-noun, it’s too monotonous – unless you actually want the setting to be monotonous with very similar rooms, because it suits the story.
But I don’t think I like very long room names. First, they make mapping more awkward: either you write the full room names on the map (and it’s longer to write and harder to make the map look pretty), or you don’t (and the map is incomplete, and sometimes you can confuse two rooms with similar but not identical names). Second, if you really have so much to say about your room, why not just put it in the room description? Room names should be summaries, not whole descriptions of what is or what happens in a room. I’ve already seen (very rarely) a room with a name longer than the (very short!) description, and that’s just ludicrous.
Room names are the only thing about the room that players will see when they play using “brief” or “terse” mode, and the player character has already been in that location. They also stand out in the mind more clearly than the long description. Therefore, I think room names should be descriptive enough to give a general sense of the room. The preposition or participle in the beginning of the room name helps to convey relative direction and position without very many words, and I think it’s helpful to see that in the status line header, when appropriate.
But I pretty much agree with this. In general, useless words are a hindrance to any kind of writing, and the preposition in a room name like “In the Kitchen” is pretty useless. The only reason to include the word “in” there would be to be consistent in style because other room descriptions have good reason to begin with prepositions. But I gather from this thread that consistency in the format of room name’s isn’t a great concern to anyone, which is good for the prospective IF author to know.
An example where the verbose room name with a prepositional phrase would be greatly superior to a shorter name would be something like “In Front of the Great Gates”. The relative position expressed makes it more atmospheric. Even something like “Upon the Mountain Plateau” sounds better to me than just “Mountain Plateau” even though the word “upon” doesn’t do much. It just makes the landscape seem somehow bigger and grander, to me. But there are many times when the prepositions truly add nothing, I admit.
It was never entirely clear. I suspect it was a mixture of 1) possibly Doing it Wrong and 2) having such text substitutions working a couple of layers deep (for example, the printed name of a room was defined by the “truename” of a different room), and at any rate for whatever reason it wasn’t working and I didn’t know how else to fix it.
Atmosphere is a fine reason to include something. I generally think there’s a lack of variation that’s an issue, though. There’s only so many places you can be in a forest - in the forest, on a narrow path, under a great oak - eventually, you’re going to be recycling stuff. A series of rooms where you’re “In a Cottage”, “In a Meadow”, “In the Kitchen” - it’s boring.
Generally, I want the room to give me the “feel” of a place. “Kitchen” doesn’t do that nearly as well as “Sunny Kitchen” or “Cramped Kitchen”, so I generally vote for room names that convey a sense of the description, and how the description would be interpreted.
You could include player state to make things a little more interesting: “Bleeding Out in the Emergency Room”, “Apoplectic in Control Dam #3”. That could be kind of fun, in a “here’s your status report” kind of way.
I would prefer it if the prose carried all information. And this isn’t just because Club Floyd and many interpreters and transcripts cannot display status lines. Frequently, I simply don’t see it because I’m not in the habit of constantly checking the top of a page when reading a book.
The status line is too game-y. Granted, this is an aesthetic judgment on my part. Although I appreciated Bronze’s compass rose (which was part of the status line), I can’t remember anything else of importance being up there. The rose was the only thing I remember ever needing it for. And, usually, I prefer works that dispense with a map entirely, obviating the need even for the rose.
I’ve had a few more thoughts on the subject, and I’ve come up with a rule for formatting room names that I think I’ll use for myself, in my many projects that probably will never get finished.
First of all, when a room name is simply a noun (with or without modifiers), the assumed relationship between the PC and the noun given in the room title is that the character is in the named noun. So, obviously, a room called “The Kitchen” means that the player is in the kitchen, and a room called “A Field” means that the player can be anywhere within that field, and it doesn’t matter where. For these situations, which probably make up the majority of room names, there is no good reason to insert the word “in”, or any other preposition, in front of the noun. The player mentally supplies the preposition. The room names make imply sentences like “(You are in) the kitchen.”
Right. In the example, it wouldn’t be good style to name all your forest rooms “The Forest.” Therefore, some rooms in most games will instead be named after a feature in the PC’s vicinity. However, it would be inconsistent to simply use nouns for these titles as well. If the same rule were applied “The Oak Tree” would literally be saying that the PC is completely enclosed within the tree’s girth. Although the player is unlikely to come to that conclusion, and the long description should give the true relationship of the oak tree to the area being described, “The Oak Tree” as a header is still too vague to give any sense of the PC’s location. Therefore, a preposition is needed to clarify the PC’s space-relationship to the tree. “Under the Oak Tree” or “Near an Oak Tree” would both be appropriate. Now, the rule for forming an implied sentence out of the room name is a little different. If there’s no preposition or participle before the noun, then “You are in” is mentally added, as I noted above; but when a preposition or participle comes at the beginning of the room name, it overrules the absent “in”. The assumed sentence would be “(You are) under the oak tree.”
Following this rule, if you’re implementing a house, you could name every room simply “The/A Room.” However, if you wanted to let the player climb up the chimney and stand on the roof, the room representing the roof would have to be something like “On the Rooftop”; simply “The Roof” wouldn’t be adequate.
Is the oak tree important? If it isn’t, then it’s “a” oak tree, and so “under” or “by” would be fine. But if it’s important, meaning it’s “the” oak tree, then leave the preposition off. Because if an important plot point is getting to the mana tree, describe the place as “The Mana Tree”, rather than “At the Mana Tree” which reduces the important of being there.
I’m not sure I agree. I would never see “The Great Tree” and think I must be in it. “At” might be a better preposition for how I interpret room names. Unless I’ve just gone in from an outside location, “The Great Tree” is a landmark, not a containing object.
Also, I think it can invite some confusion - if you’re “Near the Great Tree”, do you need to move closer to do stuff? I don’t know, I think it usually works, and sometimes it’s necessary, but normally I think context is enough.
I don’t necessarily write room names as implied “you are…” phrases. (I also title-case them, consistently.) It’s essentially a section title:
If I have to use the room name in a sentence, then of course I have to adjust the capitalization. I don’t think I’ve done this much; if I did, I’d add a separate “sentence-name” property. That could be lowercase and use appropriate prepositions, or any other variation I needed to fit into a sentence.
I guess I think of room names as their own set of things, to be disambiguated (for reading, not for typing). “Rooftop” might make sense if the game was focussed around a single building. “Roof” probably wouldn’t work, but “Gymnasium Roof” might, or “Roof of Gymnasium”. There are some subtle connotations about how important the locale is, how interesting or exciting it is to be there, whether the roof (as an object) was interactable in any other locale… etc.
Hmm… I can sort of see how a preposition might de-emphasize the noun in the room name somewhat. But “At the Mana Tree” more correctly gives an identity to the location itself, because “The Mana Tree” is not the name of the area that the PC is inhabitting when he can interact with the tree in the same way as “The Kitchen” is indeed the name of that area. What I was sort of trying to say in my previous post is that, in my opinion, a room name should be prefixed by a relevant preposition when it’s given in terms of an important object in that area, rather than as a pseudo-propper name for the area of the PC.
What about a room called “The River”; would the title alone suggest that the PC is standing or swimming in the water, or that he is merely by the bank? This might be a situation where genuine confusion could be possible, if the game had both a location in which the PC is near the riverbank, and another location in which the PC is in the middle of the river, especially when the game is being played in Brief mode.
But I think you’re right that “at” would be a much better preposition than “near” in reference to any sort of landmark. “Near” coudl indeed be ambiguous. It sort of implies that there’s another room closer to our tree. The only point I kind of disagree with is that context is usually enough. I guess it comes back to what you want the room title to achieve. I prefer it to create a skeleton image of the room itself, since it’s much more memorable than the room description, but others would rather leave all description to the… description.
But yes, getting the right connotations into room names is more important than formatting them all according to some formula. Whatever form gives the best impression, according to the effect that the author is trying to produce, is really the best for any given room in any game.
Somewhat OT: I agree, except that I don’t think it’s a question of being game-y or strictly an aesthetic judgment. It’s a question of where my attention is, and that happens in games as well as books. I’m looking at the prose, not the top of the screen, and if something happens at the top of the screen I’m not going to see it. Sometimes literally; in the Reliques of Tolti-Aph, in which a song pops up at the top of a screen in a new window, I wouldn’t have noticed it if I hadn’t been reading a hint file that told me a song was supposed to be there, and even then I had to scan around a bit.
This is a lot easier when the change in the status line is visually drastic enough that it forces itself into my peripheral vision; I just played a bit of ROTA in quixe, and that wasn’t a problem, because the song shows up in a different color and with a border. (Which didn’t happen in my original interpreter, Spatterlight I think.) Similarly, when I’m playing Nethack I’m usually watching what’s happening around the @ sign, and I notice changes in the status line when the number of digits in something changes and pushes everything to the right or left.
But in general, the principle is that when I’m driving, I don’t notice the odometer, because my eyes are on the road. If a light goes on on the dashboard, that usually catches my eye. (I do like the compass rose, as in e.g. A New Life, because that’s something I can quickly look up and check when I get to a new room.)
I think the best format also depends on the type and mood of the game. “In the Magnificent Gem-Filled Cavern” gives a nice opulent feel to a fantasy game, but my game is set on a spaceship, and “In the Cramped and Antiseptic Crew Quarters” doesn’t quite work. The setting is businesslike, so the descriptions should be too. (Also, some of the doors are labeled; the room names should match the labels and of course the labels are the most concise form of the name.)
More subtly, it should also depend on the narrator. A no-nonsense businessman will pay less attention to his surroundings than a mooning poet.