World design in IF

I have various ‘rooms’ - deserts, roads, living rooms, platforms. And I can connect them using north/south/east/west, and up/down.

How do I create a solid world with this?

I want to create something where the navigation gives some spatial awareness. Some holistic design, where the rooms aren’t just hermetically sealed room. I think there is supposed to be some structure or meaning to the overall world design, like that the player is constantly traveling south as the game progresses, or something.

How much should I use mixed directions like northwest?
Should I take into consideration that players naturally assumes that north is forward/op, or ignore this?
Should I let the player be able to travel around larger structures (houses, mountains, lakes) or is this confusing?
Should I create transition rooms with no purpose, like “In front of house” or “bridge”

One thing I have considered is that the distance between rooms varies a great deal. When out in a open landscape, the nearest room might be 1 km away. The study chamber, on the other hand, may be 4 meters from the hallway.

I have googled a bit after maps: - sadly, most of then are just boring boxes, which give no visual indication of the world they are trying to bring to life. … … hummap.gif … ungeon.jpg … index.html … UG-map.jpg … com-items/ … clues.html … em=37&id=3

Sometimes I think about things like this. I once tried to use a scheme where the upper floors of the game used cardinal directions and the lower floor, which was kind of a decaying basement area, used ordinal directions. I had a theory that maybe it would feel slightly more uncomfortable to move around below if the room connections were all diagonal. I’m really not sure if this was noticed at all. I still do try to make my overall maps into pleasing shapes (which is hard to qualify) with the idea that this way the player’s moving around the world has a pleasing pattern too.

…I’ve never heard the term “ordinal directions” for compass diagonals.

Not sure I like it. The ordinal directions should be “northward, southward, eastward, westward…”

That is weird, now that you mention in. I guess it’s a kind of “false opposite” of “cardinal” in this context? I’m not sure.

In my code I label N/S/E/W “orthogonal” and NE/NW/SE/SW “diagonal”.

It’s a good question. And an interesting one. I thought that Pilgrimage in this years IFComp did an interesting thing. ‘Rooms’ are locations and can be a world or an lifetime apart. It’s worth checking out.

I guess another way of tying a map together into an holistic whole is the judicious use of Backdrops (assuming you’re using Inform) and regions.

Finally, I guess it’s all about the text.


I particularly liked the way A New Life did this–there were some parts where you go from one location to another via a twisty path that’s described with several “press space to continue” transitions–simulating transition rooms with no purpose, but not actually putting them in, so the player doesn’t get frustrated trying to knock around them. There were also some other things tying the world together–a hole in one location that came out in another underground one, I think (and that I couldn’t manage to do anything constructive with).

Wikipedia says: “The intermediate (intercardinal, or ordinal) directions are northeast (NE), southeast (SE), southwest (SW), and northwest (NW).” But there’s no citation…

One way to view is to not view it as a series of rooms, but as a whole ie.

This is simplified much but instead of describing just the yards, it describes everything you can see. Now when the player types i a direction you can type something like, “You pass through the small wall that separates the yard from the field you can see more off the rolling fields and off to one side you can make out the closest farm. Gravel under your foot leads your eyes along a path leading between fields.”

I may be miss understanding your request, but my advice is to think of the whole area not just the section the player is in.

You might find this article by Emily Short to be helpful: Laying Out Geography in IF.

Thanks - this looks good!

(stuff deleted from here)

Awesome stuff!

The only problem I see with it is what my Beta testers have complained about in past huge game worlds I’ve designed. They don’t like having to navigate through vast worlds just for the sake of navigating through them. They want to have a reason to go someplace in the game world. Even if it’s not at first apparent. Plus each room needs to be fleshed out with objects the player can refer to, be it just decoration objects in Tads 3 or scenery ones in Inform 7.

My largest text adventure world started off with a sort of “Mystery Mansion” area that was huge in and of itself. Then there were extensive trails in the woods south of it meandering past a treehouse, underground cave system, and back out to a mountain highway which led an enormous distance south to a town with a long east-west street. If you took that street all the way to the far west there was another enormous mansion to explore. If you took it all the way east and north a bit you’d get to a run down abandoned mall project that was over-taken by fantasy world characters. It was just too big of a world for the beta testers to figure out where to go and what to do in what order. Myself, I kind of liked it because it was huge like Colossal Cave and blended in Mystery Mansion aspects plus my own ideas for a huge fantasy world (half blended in with modern things, like the town).

After criticism on the size of it from my players I started building game worlds much smaller and would expand them only once I had a clear defined reason to in the text adventure. It’s up to you of course. I wouldn’t discourage building huge worlds like this. I’m just letting you know how my beta testers felt about it in the past. An example of over use of rooms is my main east-west street in town had rooms representing the street itself but also rooms depicting the sidewalks on each side. I could have stripped out the sidewalk rooms and saved a ton of needless wandering.

As for RPG hunting grounds, I feel the area needs to be huge in that case so the players can explore and find new monsters and dungeons, etc. and not feel limited to just a handful of rooms for that.

A good way to handle expanding your game world is if the player takes a certain plot path, revealing a secret back room and secret trail leading around to the front of an underground hideout. The trail itself isn’t otherwise required in the game world unless you are on that plot line and need a back way into the hideout complex. I also created a large area of the world also plot restricted. If you didn’t take that optional plot path you’d never see any of those rooms. Likewise if you did take that plot-line you’d be restricted from seeing other sections of the map. Sort of like the good vs. evil concept in that if you choose one side over the other then you get to visit one area of the map vs. the other area of opposite alignment.

Similarly, in my beta game “Villain” for example, if you remained the bad guy you’d be restricted from visiting certain shops and establishments in the town (i.e. with the back story that you’d been banned for bad behavior). Thus leaving the player to decide (or not) what they wanted most - to visit those other places and give up being the super villain (at least for a time) or skip those places and be steered towards more relevant room locations instead.

I found a problem with this, though. The players wanted unrestricted access to everywhere in the game world regardless of my intentions. Not only that but they expected to be able to get all the game world objects regardless of alignment restrictions. For example, the villain path in my latest game restricted you to getting a magic lamp in the magic shop but not the magic rope or book of curses. Each of these objects was designed to gradually change the RPG character class (magic lamp for wizards, magic rope for rangers and book of curses for necromancers only). The beta testers didn’t like it so I had to re-think all that and allow them to obtain these other objects as well. That made the game world less restrictive to players in a huge way but wrecked my plot-path devices in that now you could be a wizard/ranger/necromancer and villain (maybe not literally all at the same time but it did open up more problems for me as a programmer).

I do hope you asked her for permission first before taking her work converting it into a different format and distributing the converted format?


Had someone asked, I would have mentioned that there is a more up to date and better formatted version of that article, with much more recent references, included in the IF Theory Reader ( … 51190.html ) which already has a free downloadable pdf. The book also contains lots of other useful goodies.

That said – please don’t repackage and redistribute my writing in the future unless you’ve asked me. (Especially not unattributed – I don’t know for sure what you’ve done about that here.) When asked, I typically do grant permission for people to do translations and reprints of my past work, and in the case of this particular article, it’s not a huge deal. But there are some parts of my blog I’m considering reworking for more formal publication. Having pieces of it circulating without copyright assigned to me would threaten my ability to do that, I’m told.

Peter: Most of my actual games are licensed with an explicit CC-BY-NC-ND license (, except Bronze, which also permits derivative works. You, the IF archive, and everyone else are in the clear to share those around, as long as my name stays on them, no money changes hands, and no significant changes are made.

The epub seems to end with the lines,

FWIW. So he did redistribute an article which he didn’t write in a different format than it was written in (purely cosmetic changes for better performance in his personal ePub reader, it appears) and proceeded to redistribute it in a thread in a forum where the author frequents - said author not having been contacted about this proposition. I get why this is not a good thing. It would be worse if it had actually been unattributed. As far as I can tell, it wasn’t. This is worth stating here in this explicit manner so that other people don’t think, or assume without even opening it, that Spoff had omitted those very important final lines.

Weren’t we talking about an article? Not that it makes much of a difference, but since you addressed that bit to me, I’d like to get your meaning.

Cool. I wasn’t actually able to get the zip to open, which is why I couldn’t check whether or not it was attributed.

We were, yeah – I thought maybe your “seriously?” maybe meant that you disliked the suggestion that people should ask permission to redistribute stuff, so I wanted to clarify that at least as far as my games are concerned, your collection is totally fine. If that’s not where you were going with that, then never mind. :slight_smile:

I do frequent these forums, but I don’t always have time to read all the posts, so it’s easy for me to miss stuff where people might assume I would weigh in; I didn’t in fact hear about this thread until someone separately emailed me.

Fair enough, so I should also clarify that I do not dislike the suggestion that people should ask permission to redistribute per se - copyright and intellectual property are serious stuff. it just felt very odd, in this context, to bring the issue up, considering what Spoff actually did and the spirit in which he did it.

In fact, I’m sad that someone thought that this was enough of an issue to e-mail you separately.

Bah, maybe I’m still sore about what happened to my collection online. If you haven’t read about it yet, someone declared that the whole thing was violating copyright and MEGA suspended it. So again - maybe I’m just sore about that still.

It’s just not an atmosphere I like.

EDIT - ANYWAY! Original topic! World design in IF! Take two! Since you’re here and you said the article in question has had an update or two, could you maybe link to it? :slight_smile:

Hey Emily, I did consider asking you first, but I judged I was acting within ‘fair use’. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t. The buttomline is that the publishing went against your wishes, and this was not my intention. And with you having a presence on the forum, asking you would have been a good idea, with social norms and all!

Thanks for drawing my attention to IF theory reader! Since it contains an updated version of the article in my epub, I saw no reason not to delete my upload.