Which exits to describe? How many is too many exits?

In another post, many people mentioned they like to have possible exits listed in the room descriptions.

What do I do when I encounter situations with a wide-open area? E.g.:

"You are on a field. etc.

West is a campground, northwest is a highway, north is a stream, northeast is a lake, east is a beach, southeast is a house, south is a road, southwest is a fire pit."

Too verbose? Am I listing too many exits? Should I select only important places? Should I only list N, S, E, and W locations? Should I add artificial barriers to the map (e.g. a fence) so that movement is not so free?

Sometimes it’s entirely okay to say “paths lead off in all directions.”

Sometimes it’s entirely okay to say it when it isn’t even 100% true.

Sometimes it’s not. Whatever reads well and plays fair, really.

That example is a bit verbose (for me). Perhaps the use of ‘negative space’ here would be a better approach - list where you can’t go rather than where you can?

Maybe thinking about the layout is more important than the wording? I don’t know - maybe you already have done that, and have a great and really clever layout of things - but your example sounds like it might use a bit of tidying up at a lower level than the words.

In general, I agree with Ghalev.

Can you work the exits into the description in a fairly concise manner? “The highway stretches as far as you can see to the north and south. A dented sign with a couple bullet-hole indicates that campgrounds are west, and fire pits southwest.”

Too many incongruous elements is confusing, though; I have a hard time picturing what that location could possibly look like. (To get from the campground to the lake, campers have to cross a highway? Yikes.) So part of it’s layout, and part of it’s finesse.

I am very fond of the Exit Lister extension in addition to mentions in the description, because after I finish reading, I can glance up and get a summary. It saves you from the ultra-short list at the end of a description for lots of paths.

I agree with Trumgottist that the problem may be Too Many Rooms – though I suppose shortcuts make me happy, all things being equal. That is, I’m not sure it’s better to make the player go west and then north to the highway.

Actually I don’t even really mind the big listing of exits, as long as it’s broken off at the end. It’s OK by me if you have some functional prose at the end of your room description. But gravel is right that it’s nice to work them into the description.

gravel’s recommendation of Exit Lister is good, and you can use it to allow the player to control whether a list of exits is printed at the end of every room description; something like this:

Last report looking rule: if exit listing is enabled, list the exits.

Then, when the player types “exits on” the exits will show up automatically, and when they type “exits off” the exits won’t show up anymore. (I’m not sure whether it’s actually a good idea to make this a report looking rule.)

UPDATE: I was actually thinking of Gavin Lambert’s Exit Lister, which prints the list of exits at the end of the room description.

I think you can get away with one, maybe two “hub” rooms in a game. It doesn’t take much to make the world easily navigable. But they need a reason for existing.

In your example, you could make it clearer and more interesting by writing descriptions that logically connect neighboring areas:

Because a hub mainly exists to provide access to other parts of the map, it description should probably consist mostly of geography, and needn’t give the room itself as much independent character as other places.

Someone pointed out on another thread that the extension that lists exits in a room description is Exit Lister by Gavin Lambert, not Exit Lister by Eric Eve (which may be hackable to put exits in the room description, as I posted above, but it’s surely simpler to use Gavin’s extension).

Also, Mike makes a good point about the room description of the hub – his description is nice and tells you where you can go.

My own personal view – and this is based on very limited experience writing IF but extensive experience playing it – is that, with rare exceptions, you should either tell the player explicitly about all of the exits, or, if there are exits in almost every direction, include a general statement indicating that it is possible to go in lots of different directions. As a player, I generally get pretty annoyed if a room has only two doorways and the only way I can find them is by first bumping into a bunch of walls.

In terms of how to list the exits, the two polar approaches are to include a laundry list at the end of the room description or to work the necessary information into your prose. There’s something to be said for both approaches. The former is certainly inelegant as a literary matter, but it has the advantage of making it very easy for the player to see at a glance where he can go (which may or may not be what you want). The latter approach may be less convenient for the player, but can be more enjoyable if done well. If not done well, it can seem even more contrived than the laundry list approach. Ultimately, its a question of what works best in light of the situation and your own writing style.

Of course, there are exceptions to the principle that you should tell the player where the exits are, such as situations where they would not be obvious to someone actually in the room. Another exception might be where a particular effect depends on the exits not being described. For example, I have used a location where I want to throw the player into a momentary panic by causing him to think that he has wandered into a dreaded “twisty little passages” maze (in fact, there is no maze). The way I implemented this is by having a single room described as the desert. I tell the player that the sand extends endlessly in all directions. In fact, all directions except two lead right back to the same desert room. To keep the illusion from being exposed too easily, I block any objects from being dropped, explaining that the shifting sands would cover up any dropped objects and they would be lost forever. I also include a warning that the desert light sometimes plays tricks with the eyes, and a chance of one of several mirages appearing during each turn the player is in the desert. The effect is that the player seems to be wandering around in a vast desert until he chances upon one of the exits. Obviously, this effect depends on not telling the player where the exits are.

  Robert Rothman