What kind of stuff do you avoid putting in your games?

I realized today that I really dislike putting empty rooms in my games, like ‘corridor’ or ‘path’ or ‘street’. I still have them sometimes, but I like every room to have something important in it. Looking back, that’s led to me having very dense games (in the sense that it’s hard to go anywhere without getting a lot more tasks to do). I think it’s because I worry that players will get bored if they have to go through nondescript locations.

Also, I don’t like putting diagonal directions in my games because I was traumatized by the opening moves of the game Jigsaw which require you to go SOUTHWEST or SOUTHEAST or something to get behind a tent.

Also, I avoid menus because I used to play on the Frotz app on the iPad for years and I always had a lot of trouble with menus and ‘press any button’ before someone (iOS or the app maintainer) improved it.

Is there anything you avoid putting into your games? And why?


Undo prevention to avoid being tarred and feathered. (And hunger daemons and complex mazes for the same reasons.)


I’ll have to think a little bit about what I believe doesn’t belong in my games, because (apart from my latest game) most of my releases have been experiments to see what I CAN do (as opposed to anything I was trying to streamline). So far my text adventures have avoided anything resembling a maze, because a lot of players reacted harshly to the twisty narrow hallways of the dungeons in my RPGs.

Nowheresville had a lot of empty junctions in it compared to relatively less rooms with actual things to do. While I do feel like that contributed to the game’s atmosphere of wandering around a desolate town, it also made the game feel empty. This probably led most players to not see everything we included in the game, because we had trained them that most details were irrelevant.

With Hinterlands: Delivered! (which I actually started making BEFORE Nowheresville but finished long after), I tried to avoid that problem by clustering the important rooms around a smaller number of junctions with exits leading in more directions. There ARE some superfluous rooms (the barracks and most of the tenements), but they were rooms I added consciously to make the town seem a little more lived-in and less like a game map (and to serve as red herrings).


Not to change the subject, but one thing I do try to do when I build games is use up & down directions. I find vertical movement prevents a two-dimensional “flatness” to the map, and adds to the sense of exploration.


I kinda dislike “you can also see…” so I usually try to avoid it by writing custom descriptions except in cases where the player’s already picked something up and put it down somewhere it doesn’t belong.


Fun thread! I’ve only written one game and started work on another.

I like dense geographies, too. There was only one filler room in RTE: the hallway inside the trailer. I detest mazes and would never dream of making one, unless it was something like the weasel village in Starcross.

Really, though, I write what interests me and avoid what doesn’t. I would never make a puzzle with a bunch of identical things because that doesn’t interest me. Or do something with a rope, or build a complicated machine. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but I have different interests as both player and author.

There’s always a danger that a problem will be more interesting to write than it will be to solve, and I really try to look out for situations like that. It seems like an easy trap to fall into.

I don’t like large inventories. I think they get overwhelming for the player after a while, and it’s very hard to do satisfying responses involving them across the world of the game. If you let the player carry around a wrench, they will probably try to use it on everything. If I can’t do varied and interesting responses, I’d rather not do anything at all.

Probably the biggest thing that sets RTE and the new WIP apart is my aversion toward impersonal narrative voices. That is, the narrator of RTE is a person, and so is the narrator of my Cave Game™. I prefer this approach for the time being. Also…

Both default responses and default locale descriptions interfere with my narrative voice. Since I want everything to read as one unified thing, I invest a lot of time in stuff like this. Lots! I wrote a bunch of things twice for RTE, once for the OEW (orange-eyed woman) and again for D.


What does OEW mean here? I searched the forum and this is the only time it occurs.


Orange Eyed Woman, I believe - the initial PC in Drew’s game.


Yes, sorry for that! I’ve made an edit.


Sadly, I am bad at designing games that could be ‘good’ (I have like 14 ideas for 10 hour games, 3of which I’ve mapped out/am mapping out), but - yeah, lots of empty rooms. Damn!

Also I would agree I don’t like enormous mazes, unless it has a cool twist - for example, the airport maze in Bureaucracy. I’ve never gotten to this, because of a bug that makes it impossible to win the game early on; but looking at the code apparently there’s a maze which goes:

Look at your current terminal. Look at your last terminal. Subtract your current terminal number from the previous terminal number, even if that makes a negative number.
Take the ones digit. If it is a 0, go north. A 1, go south. 2, east. 3, west. Etcetera etcetera (NE, NW, SE, SW, UP, DOWN).
Apologies for the inconvenience. Our system is very complex and not worth trying to use. Have a nice day.

I like that because it has a distinct feeling of knowing that it should be under control if you just do the right thing, and less of an “Oh I’ll wonder about randomly until I find something” feeling.


Which version were you playing? I beat bureaucracy a couple of years ago.

Sorry for the off-topic question!


I just downloaded the COMPILED file from the historical-source GitHub page. Which one do you have?

To bring it back to the topic as well, I like a few empty rooms to add more time to stop and think (sounds ridiculous, I know) but I just do. Anyway, not too sparse (like my ideas!) but not very compact.

Advice to Infocom fans

I wouldn’t grab games from there unless you know what you’re getting. r160 is an internal, unreleased version. Those usually have serious bugs. You’re looking for r116, which I can guarantee is beatable.

I have the impression that you are a fellow fan. Since these games take up so little space, I encourage you to maintain your own archive of all available Infocom materials. You can find multiple versions of playable releases and sources linked at Zarf’s Obsessively Complete Infocom Catalog. In every case, I strongly recommend playing the Materpieces version–Zarf has helpfully labeled these. I’d also grab scans/images of all documentation. There are multiple iterations at both Infodoc and MoCAGH. MoCAGH has both folio and gray box editions of games, which are interesting to look at.

All of the Invisiclues were ported to z-code, so you may want to download those, too.

Don’t forget the maps and back issues of the New Zork Times.

Still want more? Check out the Infocom Fact Sheet!

That isn’t to say that there aren’t good mazes (and things that look like mazes but are actually puzzles), but I don’t think I’d have the confidence to try something like the weasel village. We’ve all been burned by mazes before.


Me neither. I couldn’t play Cragne Manor through because the inventory started to totally overwhelm me. I have no idea how Mike kept track of all that in his Let’s Play.

A huge inventory probably contains a lot of red herrings, too, and while I’m fine with a little of that, a lot of it is a no for me.


It was all the coffee cup. I forget how much of this made it into the LP itself, but often when I was stuck on a puzzle the cup said was solvable, I’d leave the location, drop my whole inventory except the cup, then come back and see if the coffee’s response had changed, which was an easy way to divine whether I needed to actually look through my inventory or if I just needed to poke around a bit more.

Usually that was enough, but a few times I even used the cup to figure out which item of a few likely candidates was going to be of use. It was super handy!


I try to avoid places with nothing to do. They can be empty at first glance once in a while, but in that case there should always be something to discover later on. I like to believe I’m doing alright in this regard.
I also try not to grow the inventory too large, for example by giving items more than one role, but I am not very successful at this, as the player will end up carrying twenty or so useless items by the end if my games nonetheless.

I leave things out that might get me into trouble with powerful individuals or organizations. I also tend to have scrouples trampling on the powerless, so I entertain hopes for my games not ending up very provocative to the social margins.


NPC dialogue and conversation. My dialogue-writing skills have improved since Scroll Thief (it would be hard for them not to, but getting into LARPing did help a lot) but there’s a reason the NPC interactions were by far the weakest part of that game. I’ve never figured out a way to make a conversation system feel satisfying in the sort of puzzle-boxy parser games I like to write, so now I’ve started avoiding them as much as I can.

The one I’m working on for IFComp makes a mechanic out of being unable to speak and we’ll see how that turns out.


Or rather, to clarify: reducing “conversation” to GIVE and SHOW, actions that pertain to the medium-sized dry goods that inhabit a parser world.


At the risk of being controversial: I avoid using Chekhov’s Gun as a structure for planning things in a game. There’s an enjoyment and mechanical reward for having an environment which is slightly larger than it needs to be, with slightly more interactivity than necessary. I don’t like to call them “red-herrings” or “decoys”. They’re just things that would be in the environment normally, and if that makes your investigations a little more difficult, then finding your goal will be that much more rewarding. Some things I might hesitate to add (because they will spiral out quite a bit more than others), but I like to do the usual Valve-style “create guideposts for the player” method, but then add extra pockets and side-tangents of interactivity, too.

That’s just me, though. I’ve heard plenty of people argue the opposite.


To me there’s a difference between set dressing (this cave has stalactites and dripping water in it, which don’t impact any puzzles whatsoever) and red herrings (this cave has a hurdy-gurdy in it, which doesn’t impact any puzzles whatsoever).

Or, in other words, the difference between having a book on the set of your play that never gets read, and having a loaded gun on the set of your play which never gets fired.