Recently, a fella on Twitter wanted to know what makes a good opening in a VN/IF project. I replied with a brief explanation, but after that, I decided to take some time to give examples. So I then dissected various 1st scenes & 1st lines of 8 different games. Finally, to conclude, I brought it all together with a comic explaining more. My brain’s hyperfocus dial went on overdrive and I did a lot of stuff lol.
Figured I’d share the things I made in case they can be helpful to others too! First, here is the comic about a good text-based game’s opening (if at any point the text is too small, feel free to open the image in a new tab to zoom in!):
Hope this is helpful to some of y’all! The original reply thread with this stuff is here.
I’m super to hear what others think of this! HOWEVER, I’m still Sick And Suffering immensely so idk how active I’ll be in responding? I can barely reply to brief emails atm b/c my brain’s cognitive functions are literally disintegrating before my eyes! In a few hours, I may entirely forget I posted this (I wish that was a joke but unfortunately it’s not)! I will try my best to keep an eye on the discussion, but I can’t promise anything, sorry.
Alright fellas, that’s all I have for you today. Thanks for reading!
(What do YOU think makes a good opening for a text-based game. Let’s share thoughts together!)
Bez is right - the opening needs to set up what sort of game to expect. It means players who won’t like your game leave before they get upset or disappointed, and those who should be playing your game rather than somebody else’s can build up anticipation for what’s next.
Interactive fiction may have fewer control-based issues than most other genres, but it’s wise to pay attention to these. I changed my opening to include explicit advice for how to select a choice after one of my play-testers couldn’t get past the first screen of my original all-story opening. Don’t introduce them all (or at least make sure there’s an option for getting all possible controls rather than throwing 50 possible commands on the first screen) but do make sure there’s enough so people can at least make a start.
This is fantastic. I just spent a few minutes with my Spring Thing entry looking at your comic and thinking about what I had done right and wrong in my opening. It’s always really helpful to have a rubric to check your work against.
Another thing I think is critical in openings: Do NOT have typos or grammatical problems in your opening. Some will probably always slip through elsewhere, but not in the opening. That needs to be perfect. Once players are invested, they will probably forgive an awkward sentence or a small typo, but not at the outset. I have several good writers comb through my opening text to make absolutely sure it’s spotless.
It’s really good to see a comic and topic like this. I certainly struggle with having a good opening. That devil’s advocate says “What does the opening matter if the main story’s lame?” or “Don’t over-promise” or whatever.
I do want to make sure that people who might not enjoy it feel OK passing on it without apologizing prematurely e.g. a chess-based text adventure game. I’m not going to apologize for writing it, but I recognize it’s not some people’s taste, and I don’t want or need to empathize this.
I think one other big problem I had was saying “Well, I don’t want my intro/blurb to feel like an ad or commercial.” Yet at the same time, we do need to advertise our strengths, and our story’s strengths, and there are ways to do so ethically and in a way that won’t leave readers feeling forced or jarred.
So the original comic and the overall discussion were quite helpful–in fact, I was putting off my introduction for my Spring Thing game until now, and I got some good hacks in at a first draft. I suspect I’ll have to fine-tune them, but the start is important, and I should probably re-read this in a week so I have another take.
tangent on first impressions in general
This is a tangent but I’ve also struggled with making or processing or being deceived by first impressions on a personal level. It’s frustrating for me to get a good impression of someone that goes downhill quickly, and I’ve learned over the years that people pull tricks to make good first impressions. So saying “how do I make the best first impression/intro” doesn’t feel right, and I appreciate the question being reframed as “How can I show what makes my work unique and useful?”
So there’s inherent risk in getting suckered by a good first impression, but that doesn’t excuse me from trying my best to give one. And I’m glad to have help with this above and beyond “If you don’t put your Best! Foot! Forward! you’re not truly motivated.” or “If you don’t believe you deserve to make a first impression, you don’t deserve to!” I really prefer that “Hey! Trust me! You might really enjoy this more than you think!” but of course when it’s from someone I don’t know, I need something more specific and engaging. And I’d like to give it, too.
This is a great point. I had a review of WHHoGG that said my blurb oversold the game, and I really took note of that, because ick. I really do not want to be that guy. So it’s important to weigh what you promise with what you deliver. Blurbs and intros ARE ads, and despite my distaste for having to sell myself (I suspect myself sometimes of a princess-y tendency to think I shouldn’t have to do that), we do need to hustle to get attention. But we also need to do so honestly.
So… Thoughts on media openings as opposed to text openings on games that are otherwise primarily text based? i.e. starting with a short video, or comic strip, or some images and music? Even a voice over with montage slide to set the tone? Invoking the spirit of this part of Fallout 2’s intro sequence here.
Does the fact that the game is text mean we should stick with strict text openers?
Tangential thoughts on cultural blindspots
Ironically, I was reading an article discussing this just this morning.
Some things simply don’t translate. Because links don’t work in these dropdowns:
Thank you @HanonO
[ - monospace/code formatting won’t transform into clickable links! You want it inside the details tags, but not </> with backticks]
I am all for it, as long as it isn’t accidentally misleading the player into thinking that’s what the game will be like. Sometimes I like to spice things up a little by choosing an IF game that’s augmented with art or some such, and it’s disappointing if that doesn’t carry through into the game itself. I like to put my cover art at the beginning of the game, and I hope that doesn’t mislead people into thinking that the game will be illustrated.
I hope not. I love to see creative use of other media that enhances an IF experience.
It could be a great device, sort of like black-and-white to color in the Wizard of Oz. It could be a really effective way to tell two different parts of a story. In fact, I’m sure I’ve seen this done, but I can’t remember what game.
Yes, with Vorple you can output arbitrary HTML and thus include videos or other JS games. It will take some integration work. You could also imagine the external game influencing the story but that’s a lot more work.
If anyone wants to try this, I’m happy to help (I’m a JS dev and love to mix Inform & JS).
I’d love to hear what games people feel have the best openings (even if the rest of the game doesn’t live up to that). What games did a stellar job of sucking you in, and why?
Right off the bat, I’ll propose something I played recently at @DeusIrae 's prodding: Will Not Let Me Go, by Stephen Granade. From the first few seconds, I was hooked, because you instantly realize how awful and sad the situation is.