Should generic text always be customised?

Hi. I’m very new playing and writing interactive fiction and text adventures. I’m specifically referring to text adventures here.

Most games have list descriptions (“special descriptions?”) to show that certain objects are in the room. For example, “A lantern is here.” I was wondering if this sort of thing breaks immersion. Is it generally a good idea to customise these descriptions to fit the mood and theme of your game? Is there some sort of nostalgia factor in seeing the same kinds of descriptions across different games?

I’d appreciate any opinions.


It really depends. Some heavily rely on personalised messages, some love the easy ones. Your decision.

(I’ll delve into detail later, if you like!)


Ah. Are personalised messages a sign that a piece of IF is of higher quality, i.e., are they an actual component of the game?

As a player, you’ve already recognized that the more an author does to customize messages in a text game, the more effective it may be at creating a unique and immersive world.

The default messages do have some value also, covering for you in cases where you may have forgotten to write a custom message, covering events that would occur so rarely that it wouldn’t be worth your time to customize, and serving as a placeholder while you write the rest of the game.


In the end it depends on your preference and on the kind of game you are trying to put toghether.

To me: no, I actually prefer them. They are easily recognisable, hence streamlining UI (big plus in text-based games), and they are plain, which means they won’t add/detract much to immersion.


If you’re talking about objects that are already in the room when the game begins, and that the player can see right away upon entering the room, it’s common to incorporate them into the room description or give them an “initial appearance” that’s tailored to the object.

If you’re talking about a list of objects that’s automatically generated because the player picked them up and then dropped them in a room, the generic phrasing (“A lantern is here”) is probably fine.

If you are asking whether all generic text (not just lists) should always be customized–I would say probably not. Customizing generic text is fine when it helps your game, but it’s definitely not necessary to customize every message, unless the setting or atmosphere of your game is so unusual that all the standard responses are going to sound wrong.

Suppose you have a funny custom message for when the parser doesn’t recognize a word the player typed. A joke response that seems cute the first time may just get annoying as the player sees it over and over and over again. Especially for messages that the player may see many times over the course of the game, I wouldn’t use something that is going to get stale. Sometimes generic messages that don’t call attention to themselves and fade into the background are less likely to break immersion.

(I would definitely customize the response to “x me,” though.)


Hey FalconDew,

I’ve often questioned this myself. I can see the utility, but it also does kind of distract from the story prose in some sense.

For my perpetually unfinished game engine, I’ve toyed with only having room descriptions at first. However, once a player has interacted with an item (primarily by examining it or it’s container), then it is listed below the prose as an obtainable item in a comma delimited list. (Some items would be so obvious that they would be listed to begin with, I’d imagine.) I’ve yet to fully implement this, but the idea sprung from when you drop items in a room. The same item list can be used for both newly discovered and discarded items.

This also kind of relates to compass directions for movement. To the north is a cave, to the south is a river, etc. It’s a bit immersion breaking to read a list like that, but it has utility for helping the player visualize a map without explicitly showing it. I’ve thought of (like the item list) having a path list exposed as the player travels to locations for the first time or examines possible destinations from where they stand. That way the room description isn’t riddled with compass directions if it reads better without.

These lists would be in a different font color/style from the normal prose to kind of separate the story from the gamey text.

Of course, these are just nebulous ideas right now (I’m not sure if they help or hinder a game), but it stood out to me enough to think there might be a better way. Anyway, food for thought.


As @bg already mentioned it depends, for example on player’s preferences. I always had a favor for Scott Adam’s games where exits (and items? I don’t remember) are listed explicitely in a certain area. But if the game author wants that an item is not too obvious, he/she has to “hide” it in the room description (with custom text).

Imagine this:

You are standing in a cave full of golden items: Coins, crowns, necklaces, swords, cups.

There is a holy grail here.

That would spoil it somehow, wouldn’t it?


In more story-focused, “new-school” parser games, as a player I prefer having custom messages as much as possible. In those kinds of games I find getting the Inform default messages jarring because they often have a different tone/voice to them than the game author’s prose, so when I run into one, it does tend to break immersion for me. In more old-school style games, though, I expect the default messages, so they don’t bother me.


On the initial appareance, personally one should also code the unusual case of resetting the initial appareance, e.g. dropping back in their original location things like

Retired Adventurer Grandmaster’s study
[room description]
hooked on a wall is the Legendary Elvish Sword

in their original location, out of respect for the Elders…

more generally, for ease of coding, one initially can implement things, then customize case-by-case, keeping in mind that the use of non-default text can be a clue for seasoned adventurers…

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.


As an author, I completely agree with this. I guess my game solidly lands in the “story-focused new-school” camp… For my IFComp entry I basically stripped all the verbs I did not use (thus also saving on the amount of default messages I would need to customize), and customized nearly all messages which might still pop up, including the responses for “meta” commands like save, restore, etc. Definitely quite some effort involved, but for matching the “mood” of the game, I felt it was well worth the effort.

You have frozen your heroic tale in time.
You have thawed your heroic tale.
The path is clear, onwards with the journey!
>transcript on
The spirits of the realm start chronicling your tale of:
One King to Loot them All
A tale of High Adventure by Onno Brouwer
Is the thirst for a fresh beginning coursing through your veins? no
Are you resolved to depart from this adventure? yes

Thanks everyone! It seems like customising the text is the way to go unless it spoils certain elements (like Pebblerubble described). Appreciate the guidance.


Considering the lack of filename standards by ßtesters, a customised transcript giving at least story name, version & serial (infocom sense, that is, the compilation date) can ease the actual bugfix work, reducing the what-file-is-and-is-done-or-not issue to a simple head [transcript files]

so, this can be an useful customisation (and I think that thanking in a custom SCRIPT OFF is really the just and right thing to do…)

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

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