If you only had ten rules to give to a new IF author, what would they be?
NOTE: Please do not ‘call out’ someone else’s game. If you think that one particular game obeys a rule very well, by all means mention it. If you think that a particular game is lousy, please do not mention it. This way, even bad authors can post and learn here without fear of being ridiculed.
Here are mine:
- Thy game shall respond to the command HINT by giving me a hint.
‘Look at this URL for hints’ is not a good excuse when it is very easy to implement an in-game help system. I’m not looking for ingeniously coded situation-aware help, just a hint when I ask for one.
- Thy game shall not contain unnecessary rooms.
Every room or area should serve a purpose. I do not want to have to type three different ‘direction’ commands to get through a winding path. This is just dull, unless something interesting and different, deserving of its own place, happens in each third of the path. Speaking of which,
- Thy game shall use the four cardinal points of the compass as much as possible.
It’s already a huge suspension of disbelief to say that the world is laid out in such a way that you can go due southeast and get from one area to the next. If I tried to navigate my house using nothing but the eight points of a standard IF compass, I would walk into things. Would it be so much to ask that people only use the four cardinal points? It’s a lot easier to build a mental map of a game if you can only go north, south, east, and west. It’s exponentially more difficult if you then have to differentiate between, say, northeast and southeast.
- Thou shalt not write thine own parser, unless thou thinkest that thou is better than the thrice-blessed angels who brought us TADS and Inform.
I have played games written in standard parsers, and games written in custom parsers. Without exception, custom parsers are slower, clunkier, and often useless. Note that this does not apply to standard parsers with ‘a bit extra’. Vorple is above reproach under this rule.
- Thy game shall not offer choice without some way of me telling where it will take me.
In real life, if I write a letter, I generally know, somewhat, what the effect on the recipient will be. I don’t want to have to choose between different versions of ‘I love you’ without knowing which one my love interest prefers.
- Thy game shall not decieve me into thinking that there is a better ending.
If the ending is bad, I want to replay the game and get a good one. Unless there are multiple endings or some in-game commentary on how sometimes the only ending is a bad one, the ending should be at least fairly satisfactory. Again, speaking of which,
- Thy walkthroughs shall tell me how to get each of the endings.
If I’m looking at a walkthrough, it’s a fair bet that I’m no longer interested in the puzzles. I just want to get to the end and see what happens. In that case, just being told ‘there’s a different ending as well, but you’ll have to find it for yourself’ is not helpful. Walkthroughs, it seems, are sometimes a difficult issue:
- Thy walkthroughs shall be as sparse and bare-bones as possible.
Again, if I am looking at a walkthrough, I do not want to be led down a path that fails just so that I can see the hint that tells me how to succeed. I do not want to be told to EXAMINE LOCK if all that I learn from that is that the lock needs a key. Just tell me, straight-up, how to get the key. This way, the walkthrough is a lot easier to read, and it is far faster to get to the exact part with which I need help.
- Thou shalt not make me type long and difficult to spell names without explicitly giving me a shortened version.
If I need to pull the flibbertigibit-o-meter, I should be able to just PULL METER. Please, can we put an end to this curse? The malevolent spell seems to have been traced to the Welsh town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
- Thou shalt not go overboard.
Just because it is possible, for example, to create an extravagant maze, does not mean that it should be done. The best puzzles and stories are the simplest ones. (Note that stripping back a parser to the point where it is almost unuseable also counts as going overboard: it is too minimalist.) Please do not write games where the puzzle lies in learning to operate a fantastically complicated machine, instead of using it in clever ways. These provide no opportunity for intelligent thought, just “I wish that there were a manual here somewhere.”