Setting in IF

I may have came across a discovery today: what I like the most about playing games is exploring and learning about a virtual environment, and what I think I like the most in story is a well-developed setting.

I’m just wondering what you’re thoughts on setting in IF is. I personally really like being immersed in a very detailed fictional environment, and I think I’ve read some posts on this forum that say something similar.

So just how important is setting in IF? Are there games in this medium that tell good stories where setting isn’t the central focus? I know I have a similar attitude when exploring MUDs: I like to really explore the backstory and think about the environment. How much pleasure does manipulating the environment bring to you when you play IF? Or what about exploring various rooms? What do you think about those old classic text-based adventure games where story isn’t exactly the focus, but you read most of the story from the manual, and then explore the environment while manipulating objects to solve puzzles in different rooms? Do you suppose the old way of telling the story and introducing the player to the environment via means of the manual is dead now, or do people still attach similar readmes in their games sometimes?

I think this kind of correlates with my interests in history and the huge adventure romps I read in high fantasy and space operas. I’ve never been a very competitive gamer, but something about thinking about a really interesting setting, both whole you’re playing the game and when you’re taking a break, really appeals to me and my sensibilities.

In one sense, IF began with setting: before there were any puzzles, before there was a plot, before there was even a dwarf or a pirate, there was a cave. In another sense also, setting is the sine qua non of IF: at least in Inform 7 (I don’t know about other languages) the only line of code which is absolutely necessary is a line which defines a room. There can be no action without a place in which it can occur.

To me, exploring a world is a very important part of the experience. Being an old-timer (I guess the proper term is probably old fart) I have no problem playing a game without much in the way of NPCs, and while I like some element of plot I can also live with a more free-form game. Without setting, however, its difficult for a game to capture my attention.

Robert Rothman

Setting is the core of most of what I love about IF, too. That said, the phrase “very detailed” is a tricky sort of thing. A surgically-targeted small set of details can bring a world to bursting with evocative awesomeness, while a truckload of lah-de-dah detail can be a finger-drumming bore. The best details evoke, connect to each other in unexpected and telling ways, and inspire vistas between data-points without literally plodding across them.

Setting is king, but detail is a power tool. Like any other power tool, in the wrong hands it’s just a disaster.

One way of looking at setting is to borrow a term from conventional fiction: In IF, to a very considerable extent, the player is the protagonist and the setting itself is the antagonist. The villain, if you will. The setting as a whole is likely to be a much more effective antagonist than an individual NPC. The latter, even in games with well-developed villains, tend to be rather one-dimensional. The setting can be far more effective in thwarting the protagonist’s ambitions, because the setting is everywhere.

Beyond that, the fact that in IF one has to traverse a rather limited set of locations gives each location a sense of importance. In conventional fiction, on the other hand, the lead character can walk halfway across Europe or spend a lifetime in the court at Versailles without the setting ever becoming the main point of interest.


It never occurred to me to make the connection, but this is also why I love the movie Tron. The plot is ridiculous, the characters are instantly forgettable, but the setting is amazing.

Well, that and the soundtrack.

Actually, there were always dwarves. :wink:

I’m curious what you think of the new Tron movie.

This is also what I loved about it, especially the creativity and inventiveness.

Not strictly true, IMO. The only line of code which is absolutely necessary in i7 is a line which defines something that is internally referred to at least once as a ‘room’. It does not ever have to be referred to externally as a room, nor does it actually have to literally represent an actual room or a literal ‘place’. All it necessarily represents is the printing of a starting title (and/or paragraph) after which more events can be printed. The relationship ‘in’ is not even necessarily implied between the starting paragraph and the events that follow — this relationship can easily be dispensed with in the text. There is no intrinsic reason to confine one’s thinking purely to the ideas expressed in the internal names of variables and classes. Those ideas don’t actually mean anything — they’re just labels on bits of data in memory.

This is why I maintain that ‘setting’, per se, is irrelevant to a study of the foundational structure of IF. What is undeniably relevant is the presentation of a complex of interrelated concepts to explore, which may include (but are not limited to) representations of an interaccessible group of physical places. The sense of exploration is indispensible, I agree — but not necessarily via a ‘setting’.

Heh. I was wondering the same. It seems difficult to describe the sequel accurately aftering cornering oneself into hyperbole regarding the failings of the much-superior-all-around original. 87


Even this isn’t literally true: the source code for my IF Demo Fair project begins thus:

[code]“The Table” by Matt Weiner

Include Undo Output Control by Erik Temple.
Include Basic Screen Effects by Emily Short.

Section - Preliminaries

Attic is a room. [We’ll never use this.]
Instead of looking: stop the action. [Prevents the room name from printing out at the beginning of the game.]
Report undoing an action: [Prevents the room name from printing after undoing.]
say “[bracket]Previous turn undone.[close bracket][line break]”;
rule succeeds.

When play begins:
say “[help text]”;
now the left hand status line is “The Table”;
now the right hand status line is “M. Weiner”.[/code]

which I believe prevents the room name from ever showing up anywhere in the output. [UPDATED: pasted in the extension inclusions, because some of the code needs Undo Output Control.]

But it is true that to define a settingless IF like this in Inform 7, you have to go against the grain a bit.

Good point!

Yup. My WIP isn’t settingless but I do not use any ‘room’ objects (or any derivatives based on ‘room’) to represent the setting. You’re right: it’s against the grain. Therein lies the challenge. 8)


I haven’t seen it. I mentioned to my wife that I’d like to see it, and she saw a preview with Olivia Wilde in it, and she drew an incorrect conclusion that resulted in her suggesting that I don’t need to see it. I’m hoping I can get her to watch the original with me, and then we’ll see if she changes her mind…

I don’t doubt that the original was superior, despite my “hyperbolic” description of its failings. I never said it wasn’t one of my favorite movies ever. If I wanted great characters or plot, I’d read a book.

But I think Daft Punk were a good choice.

I went to see it entirely for Olivia Wilde, though I also enjoyed Jeff Bridges’ playful performance as an aging tech-hippie-visionary, as a kind of bonus to the Olivia Wilde movie (or, more precisely, the Olivia Wilde In That Cute Haircut movie). Plus there was something going on about computers or racing or something. Yadda-yadda Olivia Wilde yadda.

I loved the first one as a kid, for reasons redundant with others’ here. Terrible, terrible movie, but I loved it. Loved the videogame, too, for that matter.

The new one was comparably forgettable as a film and I wonder if I’d have loved it as a tyke. I probably would have. Honestly I literally couldn’t summarize the plot at this point, apart from mentioning Olivia Wilde again. And her hair. And a bit about Jeff Bridges. I couldn’t really summarize the first one either, though, beyond “David Warner played the villain, which is never a bad choice. He was like a … cylinder or something. Red cylinder dude.”

I love both films’ soundtracks.

Yeah, David Warner.

Okay, I’m definitely never seeing the sequel now. Maybe I’ll just get the soundtrack. And if I want Jeff Bridges I’ll watch The Big Lebowski.

  1. But but … ng-in.html :stuck_out_tongue:
  2. I’ve been avoiding pretty much all information about the Tron remake, because remakes in general make me sad and Tron in particular is most delightful as an artifact of a very specific culture and time period. Also, I am slightly embarrassed about my own youthful indiscretions with respect to Clothing That Glows.
    But then, 3. I just looked up pictures of this “Olivia Wilde,” and, eeeee.

My youthful indiscretions with glowing clothing began at age 30, and I’m not embarrassed at all.

Tron Legacy was halfway decent as a movie, in fact. (The original was unapologetically awful, much as I love it.)

I think some early version of the script had the potential to be a fine movie, but then three rewrites and two extra lightcycle scenes were piled on top. Interesting notes keep drifting into the story and then are never referred to again. Oh well.

If you want a condensed injection of the movie – sans story, but with all the style points in under four minutes – I recommend this fanvid: … rks/240249
(Dance Dreams, by bradcpu, music by Lady Gaga and the Euthrymthics)

Watch it full-screen and full-volume.

Truly. As for ‘hyperbolic’, sorry – it was just hard for me to see anything but in a characterisation of Jeff Bridges AKA original Flynn as “instantly forgettable”. He’s not the most original character in the world, granted, but Flynn’s roguish game designer persona is one of the things I’ve always remembered most about the film. Tron’s character was pretty memorable too in his sterling and Dudley Doright-like way. YMMV.

It’s not like Tron was brilliant or anything. But as for the sequel being considered a better movie by some. Er… I disagree completely, of course – but there’s taste for ya. 8)


Ahem: at the risk of making you feel old, and also at the risk of being accused of rampant sycophancy, I saw your Cloak of Light page when I was in eighth grade. My father had seen it somewhere and thought I’d like it, and it was one of my very first glimpses into the wide world of people doing awesome things and posting them on the internet. It made enough of an impression on me that I still remembered your name when I got to CMU and made friends with KGBers and such.

(I’m mostly just frustrated that “wearable electronics” seems to have totally stalled out on “clothing that glows,” since I think there’s a lot of potential beyond that. Mine look like this, by the way, but I am much more proud of the more recent electromechanical stuff, or even the fake electromechanical stuff.)

That’s a clever mashup. Works very well!

The video is a perfect example of what’s wrong with the state of CGI. What you’re seeing onscreeen should be impressive, On some level my brain is telling me “something cool is happening,” but visually it’s just confusing and leaves me disappointed. Maybe it’s like quality of writing in IF: more attention must be given to visual composition and editing. Just because you can have more explosions and laser blasts and swinging swords in-frame, doesn’t mean you should. Just like George Lucas ruined Star Wars by losing the limitations that forced him to be artful. The original Tron took days to render seconds of footage and the live-action stuff had to be hand painted. Not only was the hand-painting beautiful, but the timestaking nature of it forced the designers to be simple and elegant. And the predominating live-action sequences required simplicity and genius in set design.

Sorry to continue the rant here, but I remember seeing some “making-of” stuff about the Matrix and I was impressed by how much of it was on real sets, with real acrobatics (and real wires). You can see the difference in the results. Same with the LoTR movies - huge amounts of effort went into choreography, costumes, sets, and miniatures, and it shows.

I didn’t react that way, either to the video or the original movie.

(Note that the video is itself mashing up and compositing different shots of the movie. It’s not the same visual experience, because it doesn’t have the same goal.)