[general] The Prose Medium and IF

25 views
Skip to first unread message

Jim Aikin

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 4:41:04 PM1/6/08
to
Since our WIP is intended for newcomers to IF, I asked my ex-wife, who
has never played _any_ text-based games, to try it out. Here is an
edited version of her response:

"I was easily able to download the interpreter and open the story. I
read through the instructions and sample, and got to a point where I
moved compass-wise to the window and a painted-shut garage door, and
realized I had to find a key. I must admit I prefer visual puzzles to
verbal puzzles, or visually pleasing surroundings. It's 'work' for me
to visualize where I am with only a verbal description."

This suggests to me that if we want to entice more people to try (and
enjoy) IF, we may need to put a lot more effort into providing evocative
descriptions of the places and objects in the games.

I plead guilty to writing terse descriptions of rooms in the classic
post-Adventure mode. Here is the entire description of opening location
of the game she tried playing:

"The sidewalk runs east and west. To the south is a busy street, to the
north a tall fence. Just ahead to the west the fence ends, and beyond
the corner of the fence is Mrs. Pepper’s driveway."

To be sure, this follows a three-paragraph intro that's more
interesting. But at no time during the development of the game did it
occur to me (nor, I'm pretty sure, did it occur to my co-author) that
this room description was utterly, baldly inadequate. Nor did any of the
testers (who are experienced IF players) complain.

I expect that experienced IF players may complain that they don't want
to read long, boring room descriptions -- and especially not
descriptions that mention half a dozen irrelevant objects that you can't
interact with, but have to examine to learn that they're irrelevant.

The question is, who are we writing for? Are we writing exclusively for
the tastes of the tiny community of a few hundred people who are
currently playing the games? Or would we like to appeal to a broader
audience?

There are ways to approach this problem. For instance, a game might
implement a "capsule" mode that would be halfway between "verbose" and
"terse." In capsule mode, the room description would resemble old-style
IF, mentioning only a few salient features, while verbose mode would
provide a more colorful, immersive experience.

What do others think of this line of thought? I'm curious.

--Jim Aikin

Victor Gijsbers

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 4:58:12 PM1/6/08
to
Jim Aikin wrote:

> "The sidewalk runs east and west. To the south is a busy street, to the
> north a tall fence. Just ahead to the west the fence ends, and beyond
> the corner of the fence is Mrs. Pepper’s driveway."

I think the problem with this room description is not that it is not
evocative enough; the comments of your wife give me the same idea.
Adding more stuff in the description just makes it _harder_ to visualise
something, doesn't it? You have to visualise more.

The problem with the room description is that it describes a highly
complex geometrical situation, without helping the player to easily
construct a visual mental model. Seasoned IF player probably have
developed skills that quickly allow them to map a description like the
one above onto a mental grid; but I must say that I too would have to
reread your description a couple of times to get the picture clear.

After all, you are describing the relative locations of five different
landmarks (hard enough to make sense of quickly), and THEN you add the
clause "just ahead to the west", which involves the character's spatial
orientation and a revision of one of the original five landmarks. The
"beyond the corner of the fence" is even more taxing, partly because I
don't know which of the two corners you are referring to.

I just think you are putting too much new spatial information in your
room description, rather than putting in too little visual detail.

Regards,
Victor

Jim Aikin

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 6:01:00 PM1/6/08
to
Victor Gijsbers wrote:
>
> I think the problem with this room description is not that it is not
> evocative enough; the comments of your wife give me the same idea.
> Adding more stuff in the description just makes it _harder_ to visualise
> something, doesn't it? You have to visualise more.

I guess I'd have to disagree with that conclusion, and in pretty strong
terms. Let's compare two cases. Visualize (a) and (b) and tell me which
is harder:

a) "You're standing in front of a small white house."

b) "You're standing in front of a small white house with a red tile
roof. The chimney tilts a little at the upper end, in a way that's
either rakish or alarming (depending, perhaps, on whether you're the
homeowner, which you're not). Window-boxes full of bright red tulips are
mounted below the twin windows on either side of the yellow dutch door."

I would expect that the main reason that more IF authors don't do the
latter ... well, there may be several reasons. First, the traditions of
the medium date back to the days when 64K was a generous allotment of
memory. Second, not thinking about the writing very much, because you
know players will just skim it in any case. Third, as I mentioned
before, any noun in a description is an invitation: 'x tulips', 'x
window-boxes' 'x windows', 'x chimney', 'x dutch door', 'x roof' --
multiply that by 50 rooms and it's a lot of work to implement, with no
gain whatever in terms of gameplay.

> I just think you are putting too much new spatial information in your
> room description, rather than putting in too little visual detail.

You may be right about that. Time to go back through all the room
descriptions....

--JA

Victor Gijsbers

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 6:14:10 PM1/6/08
to
Jim Aikin wrote:

> I guess I'd have to disagree with that conclusion, and in pretty strong
> terms. Let's compare two cases. Visualize (a) and (b) and tell me which
> is harder:
>
> a) "You're standing in front of a small white house."
>
> b) "You're standing in front of a small white house with a red tile
> roof. The chimney tilts a little at the upper end, in a way that's
> either rakish or alarming (depending, perhaps, on whether you're the
> homeowner, which you're not). Window-boxes full of bright red tulips are
> mounted below the twin windows on either side of the yellow dutch door."

For me, the first.

I can visualise a small white house quite easily; it becomes a lot
harder if I have to tack on a red tile roof, a chimney, window-boxes
with tulips and a yellow door. Just trying to keep all the details
together in one coherent picture makes my head hurt. (Well, not really,
but you know what I mean.)

Perhaps we mean different things when we speak of "easy to visualise",
or perhaps our minds just work differently?

Regards,
Victor

Jim Aikin

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 6:24:12 PM1/6/08
to
Victor Gijsbers wrote:
> Jim Aikin wrote:
>
>> I guess I'd have to disagree with that conclusion, and in pretty
>> strong terms. Let's compare two cases. Visualize (a) and (b) and tell
>> me which is harder:
>>
>> a) "You're standing in front of a small white house."
>>
>> b) "You're standing in front of a small white house with a red tile
>> roof. The chimney tilts a little at the upper end, in a way that's
>> either rakish or alarming (depending, perhaps, on whether you're the
>> homeowner, which you're not). Window-boxes full of bright red tulips
>> are mounted below the twin windows on either side of the yellow dutch
>> door."
>
> For me, the first.

Erm.... I assume you mean the first is easier for you, not harder,
right? Perhaps I should have phrased my question the other way.

> I can visualise a small white house quite easily; it becomes a lot
> harder if I have to tack on a red tile roof, a chimney, window-boxes
> with tulips and a yellow door. Just trying to keep all the details
> together in one coherent picture makes my head hurt. (Well, not really,
> but you know what I mean.)

No, I'm afraid I don't. If you can't keep five different elements of a
simple, coherent visual picture in your head at once ... I'm at a loss
for words. Really. I don't understand why that would be even faintly
difficult, or why you would prefer to avoid it.

I could speculate that perhaps you prefer vagueness because it saves you
the trouble of visualizing anything at all, but I'm not sure that's what
you're saying, and I certainly don't want this to degenerate into an ad
hominem discussion. Can you clarify what you mean?

--JA

George Oliver

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 6:30:44 PM1/6/08
to
On Jan 6, 1:41 pm, Jim Aikin <midigur...@sbcglobal.net> wrote:
> This suggests to me that if we want to entice more people to try (and
> enjoy) IF, we may need to put a lot more effort into providing evocative
> descriptions of the places and objects in the games.
>
> [....]

>
> The question is, who are we writing for? Are we writing exclusively for
> the tastes of the tiny community of a few hundred people who are
> currently playing the games? Or would we like to appeal to a broader
> audience?

What you're saying is that more detail in descriptions (maybe you mean
only room descriptions, but I suspect this includes all descriptions)
will appeal to people like your ex-wife who haven't played IF. For
some people this probably is true. But she admitted she prefers
"visual puzzles" to verbal puzzles, and honestly the more detail you
put in a description the more confusing it's going to get for her.

In prose you can have the most difficult, complex passage -- but you
have an out, because there is another paragraph, another sentence, and
the reader just has to keep reading to make the transition.

Put that difficult passage in IF and not only does the reader have to
process the information, they have to figure out how to make the
transition. That can get really difficult.

I think in writing for interactive, minimalism is a good choice.

Some middle ground between terse and verbose sounds like a good idea.
Pulling spatial information out of the description and putting it in a
status bar or mini-map window helps too. You could have objects and
exits listed, so as the player goes along in a single room they don't
have to worry about re-orienting themself.

George Oliver

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 6:36:14 PM1/6/08
to
On Jan 6, 3:01 pm, Jim Aikin <midigur...@sbcglobal.net> wrote:
> Let's compare two cases. Visualize (a) and (b) and tell me which
> is harder:
>
> a) "You're standing in front of a small white house."
>
> b) "You're standing in front of a small white house with a red tile
> roof. The chimney tilts a little at the upper end, in a way that's
> either rakish or alarming (depending, perhaps, on whether you're the
> homeowner, which you're not). Window-boxes full of bright red tulips are
> mounted below the twin windows on either side of the yellow dutch door."

(B) is harder for me to visualize, not only because there are more
details to process, but the description itself is somewhat confusingly
written. On the other hand I find (a) to be, though simple,
evocative.


Poster

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 6:56:11 PM1/6/08
to
In article <flrhtf$lmv$1...@aioe.org>,
Jim Aikin <midig...@sbcglobal.net> wrote:

> Since our WIP is intended for newcomers to IF, I asked my ex-wife, who
> has never played _any_ text-based games, to try it out. Here is an
> edited version of her response:
>
> "I was easily able to download the interpreter and open the story. I
> read through the instructions and sample, and got to a point where I
> moved compass-wise to the window and a painted-shut garage door, and
> realized I had to find a key. I must admit I prefer visual puzzles to
> verbal puzzles, or visually pleasing surroundings. It's 'work' for me
> to visualize where I am with only a verbal description."
>
> This suggests to me that if we want to entice more people to try (and
> enjoy) IF, we may need to put a lot more effort into providing evocative
> descriptions of the places and objects in the games.
>

Evocative, yes, but making something memorable does not rely JUST upon
description, but in the way an object responds to the player. Richness
in action; concise and incisive descriptions.

I agree that directional information is best placed elsewhere, like on a
status line, although a room description should not be utterly bereft of
it. Rather, the room description should describe directions in a more
natural sense: "Up ahead is a weathered mahogany door and crouching at
either side are dark, narrow alcoves." The status line would show exits
to the N NE and NW.

-- Poster

www.intaligo.com Building, INFORM, Seasons (upcoming!)

sge...@hotpop.com

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 6:57:26 PM1/6/08
to
I'm with Jim on this (though I think I see Victor's point). It is
easier for me to picture something (or understand someone else's
picture) if I am given an evocative description (Jim), but it takes
more mental effort to visualise something you are given a lot of
detail about (Victor). Personally, I think an evocative description
wins hands down every time. I love games, and believe me when I say I
think gameplay is important, but the unique thing about IF is the
story. I can get the same sort of gaming pleasure I get from solving
an IF puzzle from many video games, but the story experience you get
can only be acheived elsewhere by reading a book. Some people might
argue that many modern video games also give you a story, and they do
to some extent, but they would find it difficult to achieve the kind
of depth possible with text. It is like the difference between reading
a book and watching a film (sorry, movie in American). If you read the
book first, the film is often disappointing, because it cannot match
up to the wealth of detail supplied in the book.

What I am trying to say is that, in my opinion, the story is more
important than the gameplay. This may spark some controversy, but that
is what I think. So, the terse description of the street is poor
because it is written for gameplayers, not as if it were a real street
you were trying to describe. Some compromise is inevitable, but I
think this description is aimed firmly at making it easy for the
player to type in a direction, rather than conjuring up a picture in
their mind.

To return to the example:


"The sidewalk runs east and west. To the south is a busy street, to
the
north a tall fence. Just ahead to the west the fence ends, and beyond
the corner of the fence is Mrs. Pepper's driveway."

A quick re-write:
"You are standing on a sidewalk that runs east-west, looking south at
the busy street where traffic races past at speeds fast enough to
break the law, but slow enough for the police to ignore. Behind you,
to the north, is a tall wooden fence with a strip of spikes attached
to its top to deter intruders. A little further down the sidewalk to
the west, the fence ends, and Mrs Pepper's driveway begins."

Now this is not great prose, I admit, but I think it gives a better
picture. It introduces only one new thing to examine (the traffic),
but the description for the fence is already there, meaning a bit less
work. It also brings the player into the scene ("You are
standing..."), which the original does not.

I am not saying my version is better, but I think every description
should be written to evoke a picture in the player's/reader's mind,
not just tell them the layout of the game map.

Jim Aikin

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 7:12:39 PM1/6/08
to

<sighs deeply> I give up. If you honestly think (b) is harder to
visualize, while (a) is more evocative ... I don't know what to say.
Almost any response I could think of would be no more than a personal
insult, and I don't want to go there.

To me, as a writer, what you're saying is rather like, "I prefer comic
books. Picasso, Klee, Dali -- those guys make my head hurt." See, that's
as close as I can get to not insulting you. Sorry.

--JA

James Cunningham

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 7:50:11 PM1/6/08
to

To me, what you're saying seems rather like, "I have no imagination and
need to have every painstaking detail fed to me in order to visualize
it. If someone mentions a white house, I'd at a loss to think of
anything unless they told me, for example, what color the door was and
to what length the lawn was cut." I'd like to say more, but that's as
far as I can go without insulting you. Sorry.

Best,
James

Khelwood

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 8:12:33 PM1/6/08
to

(A) can evoke whatever the reader happens to associate with small
white houses (and for an IF reader there's likely to be quite a strong
association). (B) evokes a feeling of having to read a tedious passage
of waffle in order for the author to show off his writing chops.
Detail is good if it's interesting or makes some kind of point, not if
it's just "I'll put some irrelevant nonsense in here so that the
reader can visualise it."

Jeff Houck

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 8:22:02 PM1/6/08
to

I doubt seriously that there is a *correct* answer. People process
information according to a bewildering number of mental "rules" and this
is the bane of the writer or IF author. What works for one, may not
for another...
Personally, I find a combination of the two works best for me. I don't
require a verbose description of the house because I can visualize one
quite readily having seen quite a few in my lifetime and having an image
ready to conjure up.
On the other hand, if you were to describe a chemistry lab in terse
terms, I would have issues visualizing it. Why? Simply because I haven't
been in many chemistry labs...
My rule of thumb is to write somewhat terse descriptions *unless* there
is a clue or significant item I want the player to investigate.

Jason Dyer

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 8:27:56 PM1/6/08
to
I find this "all one or the other" attitude puzzling. I have found
both short and long descriptions to be evocative and both have their
purposes.

---

From _The Sound of One Hand Clapping_ by Erica Sadun:
Windswept Field
You are standing amidst the tall grasses in a windswept field. Above
the sky is blue. A small kill winds its way around granite boulders
down the mountain. Purple and white peaks surround you on all sides,
as does the forest. Within the greens of the summer mountain are the
brown scores where loggers were and will be again. Blue herons pass
occasionally overhead and gentle deer stop -- to eat the summer
berries or drink from the kill water. Small frogs jump in and out of
the kill and insects skim over the top, never breaking the surface.
There are grey and silvery fish darting below the sun bleached rocks.
You are surrounded on all sides by wild bushes. A narrow thorny gap
lies to the west.

From _Beyond Zork_ by Brian Moriarty:
Hilltop
The horizon is lost in the glare of morning upon the Great Sea. You
shield your eyes to sweep the shore below, where a village lies
nestled beside a quiet cove.
A stunted oak tree shades the inland road.

---

Different pieces of prose have different densities and rhythms. It's
individual based on the writer. I'd never want to kill that with some
hard rule.

(I agree that the original room description Jim quoted is weak and
could be improved. However, I think the short description of the white
house is fine.)

-- Jason Dyer

sge...@hotpop.com

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 8:28:10 PM1/6/08
to
This is becoming a bit nonsensical now (I know, it's late). "A small
white house" tells me very little. I am playing this IF game for the
author to tell me a story. Is it a futuristic white house that hovers
an inch above the ground and can cook, clean and gratify my every
desire? Is it a cottagey white house with ivy round the door and birds
nesting in the thatched roof? Is it a spooky white house with broken
windows, banging shutters, and a door hanging off its hinges leading
to a menacing passageway? Stories are about guiding the imagination of
the player/reader/listener. This is not done by writing "a tedious
passage of waffle", but helping the reader visualise the scene is not
"irrelevant nonsense" by any stretch of the (healthy and able to
visualise almost anything you care to present it with, thank you)
imagination.

Jason Dyer

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 9:06:24 PM1/6/08
to
On Jan 6, 6:28 pm, sger...@hotpop.com wrote:
> Is it a cottagey white house with ivy round the door and birds
> nesting in the thatched roof? Is it a spooky white house with broken
> windows, banging shutters, and a door hanging off its hinges leading
> to a menacing passageway?

I think the personality type that can work with the simpler
description doesn't care which type of house it is; they just pick one
of the above and run with it.

If I can make a musical analogy: in baroque music some composers were
perfectly happy specifying "loud" or "soft" for a particular section
and letting the musicians run with it however they desired. As
classical music developed composers tried to exert more and more
control over their pieces, to the point where sometimes every moment
was choreographed.

I've written music almost entirely free of markings, because I want
the performer to interpret however they see fit. I've also written
music where I had to invent my own notation to convey the precision I
need.

Neither is wrong: sometimes authorial control is important, sometimes
it isn't. If anyone visualized the white house as a futuristic HOUSE
OF THE FUTURE I do see a problem; I would guess given the minimalism
readers would default towards realism.

I'm ok with the level of spookiness of the white house being entirely
a personal choice. If you're intending a horror story, more details to
convey that are important.

-- Jason Dyer

Jim Aikin

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 9:30:23 PM1/6/08
to
Khelwood wrote:
>
> (A) can evoke whatever the reader happens to associate with small
> white houses (and for an IF reader there's likely to be quite a strong
> association).

An association, yes. A visual image, no. And a corollary of the point I
started out by addressing was that the newcomer to IF has _no_ such
associations to go by. The discussion has broadened (or devolved) since
then.

> (B) evokes a feeling of having to read a tedious passage
> of waffle in order for the author to show off his writing chops.
> Detail is good if it's interesting or makes some kind of point, not if
> it's just "I'll put some irrelevant nonsense in here so that the
> reader can visualise it."

This is interesting. Perhaps not extremely surprising, but interesting
and a bit sad. It would appear that there are people in the IF author
community who are actively hostile to good writing.

Please don't misunderstand. I'm not saying that my little description of
a white house was good writing. I dashed it off in about 15 seconds,
solely as an illustration of how detail might be added. (I do rather
like the description of the chimney, though.)

Whether the details in it are "irrelevant," as Khelwood is quick to
claim, would depend on the game. Since the game doesn't exist,
characterizing the details as irrelevant is surely premature. There
might be a golden key hidden in the window-box, beneath the tulips. The
chimney might fall and kill the player character. We don't know.

My suspicion, which I would be happy to see proven wrong, is that the
kind of dismissive attitude to which Khelwood gives voice in the passage
quoted above is probably not unique to him, but is shared more or less
broadly within the IF authoring community.

It could be argued that such an attitude, if it exists, is responsible
in no small part for the extremely limited audience enjoyed today by
text-based games. It was in the interest of testing such an assertion
that I started this thread.

Or, to put it in plain language, readers don't respond well to bad
writing. Of course, we can talk about what constitutes "bad writing,"
but I claim that inadequate or confusing descriptions of the places in
which the story takes place would be very near the top of any
well-considered list.

Conversely, good writing provides vivid detail. In fiction, at least,
good writing evokes emotion in the reader through the writer's careful
choice of details. I don't think it's possible, really, to disagree with
that, and I don't think it matters in the least whether the fiction is
static or interactive.

--JA

Khelwood

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 10:10:32 PM1/6/08
to

I am not hostile to good writing. I am a little hostile to assumptions
such as "brief = bad" and "readers need things described in detail in
order that they visualise it correctly".

Re "characterizing the details as irrelevant is surely premature.


There might be a golden key hidden in the window-box"

In that case the apparent choice you offered, between descriptions A
and B, is a choice between a description that leaves out vital
information, and one that includes it. That didn't seem to be what you
were asking.

S. John Ross

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 10:49:05 PM1/6/08
to

> What do others think of this line of thought?

"Brevity is wit."


--
|| S. John Ross
|| Husband · Cook · Writer
|| In That Order
|| http://www.io.com/~sjohn/bio.htm

David Fisher

unread,
Jan 6, 2008, 11:05:38 PM1/6/08
to
"Victor Gijsbers" <vic...@lilith.gotdns.org> wrote in message
news:47814ef5$0$85790$e4fe...@news.xs4all.nl...

> Jim Aikin wrote:
>
>> "The sidewalk runs east and west. To the south is a busy street, to the
>> north a tall fence. Just ahead to the west the fence ends, and beyond the
>> corner of the fence is Mrs. Pepper’s driveway."
...

>
> The problem with the room description is that it describes a highly
> complex geometrical situation, without helping the player to easily
> construct a visual mental model.

Some people seem to find descriptions using compass directions easier to
visualise than others; it's still hard for me to do. I know it's been
brought up before, but particularly for beginners, I think it can be a good
idea to describe things in the terms they are used to thinking in
(left/right/in front, etc.) ... although this can mean a lot more work,
since you need to adjust the description depending on the direction the room
was entered from.

Assuming the player entered from the east:

"You are on a sidewalk on the right side of a busy street. A tall fence
comes to an end just ahead of you, where you can see the start of Mrs.
Pepper's driveway."

David Fisher


aaroni...@gmail.com

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 1:04:26 AM1/7/08
to
There's an IF convention that goes something like "If it's not
mentioned, it's not important." Say I enter a room reading "You are
standing before a small, white house." An experienced IF player knows
they're not likely to get a response from "examine shingles," even
though their mental picture might include them.

The corollary convention is "If you mention it, it should be
important." If you add on a sentence about a window box full of
tulips, that should be there for a reason, not just to pad the text.
Are the tulips part of a puzzle? Do they say something important about
the person who occupies the house? Are they part of some recurring
theme or imagery we're making use of as an artistic device? In all
three cases, they should be implemented, with responses to attempts to
take them, smell them, etc. You've gone out of your way to tell the
player that their imaginary white house differs from yours in this
important respect; not fully integrating this detail into your
environment is abdicating some of your responsibility as a
storyteller.

--Aaron

Jim Aikin

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 1:23:28 AM1/7/08
to
aaroni...@gmail.com wrote:
>
> The corollary convention is "If you mention it, it should be
> important." If you add on a sentence about a window box full of
> tulips, that should be there for a reason, not just to pad the text.

Agreed, but with the proviso that "important" doesn't necessarily mean
"important for solving a puzzle." It can, and often should, mean
"important for providing an immersive experience by adding atmosphere
and three-dimensional vividness."

> Are the tulips part of a puzzle? Do they say something important about
> the person who occupies the house? Are they part of some recurring
> theme or imagery we're making use of as an artistic device? In all
> three cases, they should be implemented, with responses to attempts to
> take them, smell them, etc. You've gone out of your way to tell the
> player that their imaginary white house differs from yours in this
> important respect; not fully integrating this detail into your
> environment is abdicating some of your responsibility as a
> storyteller.

In general, I agree. OTOH, it's a lot of work to let people smell the
tulips. TADS 3 implements a Decoration class, which is quite useful in
this respect. You can add any sensory features you like to a Decoration
-- a description, a smell, or whatever. Anything you haven't implemented
gets the default response, "The tulips aren't important." (Of course,
you can also change the default response.)

It's impossible to implement _everything_ that might be found in an
environment, nor would it be desirable. If nothing else, it would be
boundlessly frustrating for the game player, who has to examine
everything to determine that it's not important.

But I do think that an immersive experience starts with a solid,
readable room description in all of the major rooms, coupled with good
descriptions of most of the primary objects in the room. Even if a
fireplace is a Decoration, it's a _particular_ fireplace, not a generic
fireplace.

If there is a printer on the desk in an office in a game, maybe it's a
generic printer. Printers are mass-manufactured. But a fireplace isn't,
usually: It's built brick by brick, and its appearance says something
about the personality of whoever lives in the house.

--JA

Jim Aikin

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 2:05:11 AM1/7/08
to
S. John Ross wrote:
>
>> What do others think of this line of thought?
>
> "Brevity is wit."

Shouldn't that be, "Brevity is the soul of wit"?

If brevity were wit, stand-up comics could make a living reading aloud
from collections of haiku.

Actually, a work of IF in which every description was a haiku might be
interesting ... at least, if they were decent haiku.

>l

The forest path ends
at a sheer rock face. Southward
lies the only route.

>x rock face

Lichen-dotted stone
in which a crude inscription
is deeply chiseled.

>read inscription

"Seek not the serpent
in the depths of the blue lake.
It soars on gold wings."

>s

A rainbow membrane
blocks the path. As if rubber
it flexes, repels.

>u

You find few footholds,
yet ascend precariously
to a dizzying height.

--JA

JDC

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 2:24:26 AM1/7/08
to
On Jan 7, 2:05 am, Jim Aikin <midigur...@sbcglobal.net> wrote:
> S. John Ross wrote:
>
> >> What do others think of this line of thought?
>
> > "Brevity is wit."
>
> Shouldn't that be, "Brevity is the soul of wit"?

I've usually seem it as:
"Brevity is ... wit."

-JDC

JDC

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 2:33:13 AM1/7/08
to
On Jan 6, 9:30 pm, Jim Aikin <midigur...@sbcglobal.net> wrote:

> Khelwood wrote:
> > (B) evokes a feeling of having to read a tedious passage
> > of waffle in order for the author to show off his writing chops.
> > Detail is good if it's interesting or makes some kind of point, not if
> > it's just "I'll put some irrelevant nonsense in here so that the
> > reader can visualise it."
>
> This is interesting. Perhaps not extremely surprising, but interesting
> and a bit sad. It would appear that there are people in the IF author
> community who are actively hostile to good writing.

My reaction depends a lot on what is currently happening in the work.
At the beginning, when the scene is being set so to speak, a longer
and more florid passage can be good. Similarly for a longer passage in
a coda. But if I am in the middle of solving an intricate or timed
puzzle, or moving around a large map, I would react more like
Kelwood's comment to a lengthy passage with a lot of detail. I guess
what I am saying is that an overly descriptive passage can disrupt the
flow of the game if it is inappropriate to the pacing, but I certainly
enjoy evocative passages when they fit the mood.

_JDC

Eric Eve

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 3:49:43 AM1/7/08
to
"Jason Dyer" <dit...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:cd3abb04-59b6-4fcd...@f47g2000hsd.googlegroups.com...

>I find this "all one or the other" attitude puzzling. I have found
> both short and long descriptions to be evocative and both have
> their
> purposes.

Quite so.

[snip examples]

> Different pieces of prose have different densities and rhythms.
> It's
> individual based on the writer. I'd never want to kill that with
> some
> hard rule.

I'd agree with that too.

But it's not just a question of different authorial styles, it is,
as you suggested with the word "purposes" above, a matter of what
kind of game the description is being written for.

> (I agree that the original room description Jim quoted is weak and
> could be improved. However, I think the short description of the
> white
> house is fine.)

It's fine for a puzzle-oriented game with minimal plot, or perhaps
for a more story-oriented game in which the house functions as no
more than a landmark as the player character passes by on his/her
way to where the main story is going to occur. The longer
description might be more appropriate in a story-oriented game in
which much of the action is going to take place in and around the
white house. In other words, no one can decide which description is
better irrespective of the context in which it occurs.

Another point that I don't think has been made in this thread is
that, quite apart from the needs of game play, people generally find
it harder (more tiring and less appealing) to read a lot of text on
a computer screen than on the printed page. Moreover the physical
space available for a room description (or any other kind of
description) in a work of IF is to some extent limited to what will
fit in an interpreter screen, since it's in general a little
tiresome for readers of IF if a description extends over one
screenful. These two factors make brevity more necessary in IF than
in static fiction, quite apart from the need to focus the reader's
attention on the essentials for game-play purposes.

The ideal room description is one that manages to be simultaneously
economical (which doesn't necessarily equate to minimalist),
evocative and clearly informative (in terms of game play). That's
not impossible, but it's a hard trick to pull off in every room
description in a game, not least because the devices one may use to
achieve it in the first couple of room descriptions may start to
seem a little tired if repeated throughout a game with a large
number of rooms. There's only so many ways, for example, one can
work clearly marked exit directions into a room description that
reads as naturally-flowing prose!

In practice, room descriptions in IF are likely to be some kind of
compromise between elegance and functionality. But where the right
place for that compromise lies depends both on authorial style and
on the nature of the piece. There's no one right answer that suits
all games.

-- Eric

Blank

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 7:25:03 AM1/7/08
to
Jim Aikin wrote:
> Since our WIP is intended for newcomers to IF, I asked my ex-wife, who
> has never played _any_ text-based games, to try it out. Here is an
> edited version of her response:
>
(snip)

>
> "The sidewalk runs east and west. To the south is a busy street, to the
> north a tall fence. Just ahead to the west the fence ends, and beyond
> the corner of the fence is Mrs. Pepper’s driveway."
>
> To be sure, this follows a three-paragraph intro that's more
> interesting. But at no time during the development of the game did it
> occur to me (nor, I'm pretty sure, did it occur to my co-author) that
> this room description was utterly, baldly inadequate. Nor did any of the
> testers (who are experienced IF players) complain.
>
> I expect that experienced IF players may complain that they don't want
> to read long, boring room descriptions -- and especially not
> descriptions that mention half a dozen irrelevant objects that you can't
> interact with, but have to examine to learn that they're irrelevant.
>

I think part of the problem is that we write room descriptions as a
spatial map and thus think of them as static chunks of text. After all,
the 'real' geography can't change, can it? Where there are variations in
a room description they're usually minimal: noting whether a door is
open or closed - that sort of thing.

But really a room description should be cueing the player about what's
significant (to the plot) in that place, at that time. So really the
text is not "what the player can see", but "what the PC has noticed."

Every detail should be there for a purpose: "You see a white house" is
absolutely fine if all the plot needs at that point is for the player to
be cued about, say, the possibilities of shelter or nearby inhabitants.
I could imagine a game where no matter which direction the player
approaches the village from, the first few dwellings are described
rather vaguely: "A low, half-timbered cottage", a "narrow building,
built from the local granite" and only later would details like every
window having stout shutters, small dollies made of hawthorn and hanging
bunches of garlic be mentioned. Perhaps only after meeting the local
aristocracy...

To go back to your street description; I realized that I actually didn't
bother remembering the full geography, even for that little scene. I
interpreted "busy traffic" and "tall fence" as "can't go that way" and
forgot about them. Maybe I was wrong and I could cross the street, but
right now I want to go investigate Mrs Pepper's place. That
interpretation is the result of being around IF for a little while and
learning its conventions, and as such is perfectly legitimate. Movies,
text and comic books all have their own conventions.

I do think though that the acceptance of compass-navigation as the
least-worst solution has blinded us to how unintuitive and downright
ugly some of the resulting descriptions are (ahem. not intended as a
criticism of that description per se!) and I think that that alien
spatial reference system is part of the reason that newcomers have
trouble. With the compass-stuff stripped out, it could read something like:

"You turn off from Lampert street. The sidewalk feels very narrow;
traffic thunders past in a constant steel stream, forcing you to walk
close to the wooden fence. Mrs Pepper's driveway is just ahead."

Which I find easy to visualise: you're on your way to Mrs Pepper's place.

I think compass navigation is one of IF's problem areas but has been
overlooked in favour of trying to work out a decent conversation system
or making the parser a bit smarter. Not that this problem's trivial:
it's easy enough to >GO TO MRS PEPPER'S, but what if you can cross the
road? >CROSS ROAD? >DODGE TRAFFIC? >JAYWALK? You end up with every
travel decision having its own unique command which might well be worse
than the original problem. I'm still thinking about this.


--jayzee


> The question is, who are we writing for?

>Are we writing exclusively for
> the tastes of the tiny community of a few hundred people who are
> currently playing the games? Or would we like to appeal to a broader
> audience?
>

> There are ways to approach this problem. For instance, a game might
> implement a "capsule" mode that would be halfway between "verbose" and
> "terse." In capsule mode, the room description would resemble old-style
> IF, mentioning only a few salient features, while verbose mode would
> provide a more colorful, immersive experience.
>
> What do others think of this line of thought? I'm curious.
>
> --Jim Aikin

Victor Gijsbers

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 7:27:37 AM1/7/08
to
On 7 jan, 03:30, Jim Aikin <midigur...@sbcglobal.net> wrote:

> > (A) can evoke whatever the reader happens to associate with small
> > white houses (and for an IF reader there's likely to be quite a strong
> > association).
>
> An association, yes. A visual image, no. And a corollary of the point I
> started out by addressing was that the newcomer to IF has _no_ such
> associations to go by. The discussion has broadened (or devolved) since
> then.

Just a couple of words here, although I don't think this issue is the
heart of the thread. Unlike a picture, a photograph, or something you
see in real life, a mental visual image is always a _determinable_,
never a _determinate_. This means that when you visualise something,
there will always be details left that or not determined, that might
still be determined by further acts of imagination.

Let's do an experiment. Visualise a white house.

How many windows are visible in your visualisation? Presumably, this
question has no answer: you did not visualise any specific number of
windows. If you did, you can find another question to which you did
not visualise the answer. (Which colour are the window sills? Are the
windows open or closed? Can you see any plants through the windows?
Anything else of the interior? The windows on the other side of the
house?) You can decide on the detail and add it to your visualisation,
making it richer. No such thing could ever happen with a picture or a
photograph.

So, yes, "You see a white house" evokes a mental image, just as a more
definite description would. This mental image is rather abstract; but
_any_ mental image is somewhere on the line between abstract and
concrete, none is ever completely concrete.

Is concrete better than abstract? Determinate better than
determinable? I doubt that there is a clear-cut answer to that
question.


> > (B) evokes a feeling of having to read a tedious passage
> > of waffle in order for the author to show off his writing chops.
> > Detail is good if it's interesting or makes some kind of point, not if
> > it's just "I'll put some irrelevant nonsense in here so that the
> > reader can visualise it."
>
> This is interesting. Perhaps not extremely surprising, but interesting
> and a bit sad. It would appear that there are people in the IF author
> community who are actively hostile to good writing.

You draw a big conclusion (and a negative, cynical conclusion) from
awfully little evidence. What Khelwood seems to be saying is that, for
him, visualisation is not a good as such, but only a good if it is
means to 'the interesting'or 'the point'. This is nor absurd. It is
not active hostility to good writing. If good writing is writing that
has something interesting to say and makes this point clearly and
succinctly, then Khelwood is actively advocating good writing. He is
telling us that we should only add visual detail if this detail serves
the point of the writing.

What Khelwood is saying, or rather, what I am saying under the banner
of Khelwood, is that Corman McCarthy's lush, apocalyptic descriptions
of the natural surroundings in "Blood Meridian" are fully justifies
because they enhance the central theme of the book; and that, at the
same time, the lack of such visual detail in Philip Roth's "American
Pastoral" is justified, because adding it would not enhance his
central theme, or at least not as effectively as the long interior
monologues which he actually provides.


> Conversely, good writing provides vivid detail. In fiction, at least,
> good writing evokes emotion in the reader through the writer's careful
> choice of details. I don't think it's possible, really, to disagree with
> that, and I don't think it matters in the least whether the fiction is
> static or interactive.

Good writing provides vivid detail, sure. (Although even here there
are exceptions, and the importance of the details might vary from work
to work. Does Paradise Lost invoke emotion through a careful choice of
details, of through the sheer magnificence of the style?) But that
detail does not have to be visual, which seems to be your unspoken
assumption in this thread.

That seems to me the heart of the matter in this thread. You are
talking about visualising, and apparently some people don't think
visualisation is as big a deal as you do. But that doesn't mean they
dislike good writing. It just means that when they read, it's not the
_visual_ details that stick with them. (I cannot for the life of me
remember what Isabel Archer looks like, for instance, even though I'm
sure Henry James painted her portrait many times and with many
carefully chosen words.) It might be the details of psychology, of
abstract argument, of the sound and texture of the language, of mood,
of events--many things apart from the visual.

If you ask me to choose between a description that gives me visual
detail about the white house, and one that gives me historical detail
about the white house, I might well choose the latter. Does that mean
that I am actively hostile to good writing? Of course not.

Kind regards,
Victor


P.S.
And just to put your final doubts to rest: my living room walls are
currently adorned by Klee and Kandinsky, not by Mickey Mouse and
Spiderman.

Blank

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 7:58:05 AM1/7/08
to
George Oliver wrote:
(snip)

> Some middle ground between terse and verbose sounds like a good idea.
> Pulling spatial information out of the description and putting it in a
> status bar or mini-map window helps too.

Yes, I'm hoping that the I7 developments will lead to easier ways to
display images and manipulate the game UI so we can use text for its
strengths and not force it to be jill-of-all-trades.

Jeff Houck

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 9:08:24 AM1/7/08
to


LOL! I think you're on to something Jim! I rather like it...

Eric Eve

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 9:37:16 AM1/7/08
to
"Blank" <bl...@nowhere.com> wrote in message
news:478218f6$1...@news.kcl.ac.uk...

> I do think though that the acceptance of compass-navigation as the
> least-worst solution has blinded us to how unintuitive and
> downright ugly some of the resulting descriptions are (ahem. not
> intended as a criticism of that description per se!) and I think
> that that alien spatial reference system is part of the reason
> that newcomers have trouble. With the compass-stuff stripped out,
> it could read something like:
>
> "You turn off from Lampert street. The sidewalk feels very narrow;
> traffic thunders past in a constant steel stream, forcing you to
> walk close to the wooden fence. Mrs Pepper's driveway is just
> ahead."
>
> Which I find easy to visualise: you're on your way to Mrs Pepper's
> place.

I see your point; your version reads more naturally as a description
of a place (in this instance). In other cases it might be harder to
give a description of an area (especially an outdoor area) without
recourse to compass directions. You could describe what's ahead, to
the left and to the right of the player character, I suppose, but
this makes an assumption about which way s/he's facing, and if the
description has to change with the character's orientation that's
not only harder work for the author but potentially more confusing
for players (at least, I'd find it so). Also with a left/right/ahead
system it becomes a little artificial to say "Behind you, you
see..." or some such equivalent, and there's no economical way of
referring to the equivalent of northwest, southwest, northeast and
southeast.

Of course, compass directions look more artificial when it's an
indoor location being described.

On the other hand, as you say, compass-navigation does seem to be
the least bad solution for moving the player around. For one thing,
it's economical and can be relied up to use a set of standard
commands. In the general case it's probably less confusing than most
of the obvious alternatives; and despite what some people say, it's
really not *that* unintuitive. We may not orient ourselves by
thinking consciously in terms of compass directions in real life
(though I think there are situations where we may do, particularly
when navigating an unfamiliar area on a large scale), but we don't
have any difficulty understanding what going in a given compass
direction means.

The problem is that once compass directions are used for navigation,
they almost have to feature in room descriptions in order to make it
clear to the player how the features of the location, and
particularly the exits, are oriented, and that can make for unwieldy
prose.

> I think compass navigation is one of IF's problem areas but has
> been overlooked in favour of trying to work out a decent
> conversation system or making the parser a bit smarter. Not that
> this problem's trivial: it's easy enough to >GO TO MRS PEPPER'S,
> but what if you can cross the road? >CROSS ROAD? >DODGE TRAFFIC?
> >JAYWALK? You end up with every travel decision having its own
> unique command which might well be worse than the original
> problem.

Quite; the danger of ending up with something worse than the problem
you were trying to solve is very real. Not only are the possible
alternatives you mention non-standard (in the sense that the player
may have to guess what they are), they are also more verbose (GO TO
MRS PEPPER'S is a lot more typing that W.W.N.N. to end up in her
front porch, if that's what you're aiming for).

It's true that one could have equally terse abbreviations for left,
right, ahead and back, so that the above would become A.A.R.A say,
but I do think such a system is actually harder to use and more
confusing in practice than compass directions (as well as offering
no obvious equvalents to NW, NE, SE, and SW).

In other words, I don't think it's just inadvertance, inertia, or
overlooking the issue in favour of others that have prolonged the
life of compass navigation. I think that (as you indicate) overall
it just is the least bad system for navigation (or even the best
system for navigation) by quite a long way (which doesn't mean it
can't be supplemented by commands like GO TO MRS. PEPPER'S or CROSS
THE ROAD where these can be implemented naturally). Given that, it's
hard (virtually impossible, in fact) to avoid the need to work
compass directions into room descriptions, however awkwardly that
can make them read.

Nor do I think the problem can really be solved by listing the exits
separately from the room description, in the status line or as a
separate paragraph (helpful of either of these may be as an
additional navigational aid). A list of exits in the status line,
say, is only of limited use if I can't see how the directions relate
to the location that's being described.

-- Eric


dave e

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 10:11:29 AM1/7/08
to
On Jan 6, 6:01 pm, Jim Aikin <midigur...@sbcglobal.net> wrote:
> Victor Gijsbers wrote:
>
> > I think the problem with this room description is not that it is not
> > evocative enough; the comments of your wife give me the same idea.
> > Adding more stuff in the description just makes it _harder_ to visualise
> > something, doesn't it? You have to visualise more.
>
> I guess I'd have to disagree with that conclusion, and in pretty strong
> terms. Let's compare two cases. Visualize (a) and (b) and tell me which

> is harder:
>
> a) "You're standing in front of a small white house."
>
> b) "You're standing in front of a small white house with a red tile
> roof. The chimney tilts a little at the upper end, in a way that's
> either rakish or alarming (depending, perhaps, on whether you're the
> homeowner, which you're not). Window-boxes full of bright red tulips are
> mounted below the twin windows on either side of the yellow dutch door."
>

I would argue that neither of these are effective for IF as the
following:

c) "You're loitering suspiciously in front of a well maintained
bungalow located in a suburban cul-de-sac. The absence of any SUV
suggests that the homeowner is out. The yellow dutch door is north,
but probably locked. You might need to go northeast, around to the
back of the house, and jimmy a window."

This describes the location, the exits, and suggests possible motives
for your character, without introducing too many nouns which have to
be implemented.

Dave

Dutchy (Rhian)

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 10:44:12 AM1/7/08
to
I have been reading through the thread and so far my conclusion (and
experience) is that it's all a matter of taste.
I love colourful descriptions and ellaborate scenes in writing/fiction
in general, but it does need to be in a supporting role.

My view of this discussion is that it all boils down to taste. Some
prefer brief descriptions and let their imagination do the rest,
whereas others might want more to get a better feel of the environment
they are emmerging themselves in.

It really is a pity that the community gets smaller and smaller. But
unless there is a simple, easy accessable, everywhere usable way of
playing IF, I think this form of art will become extinct in the next
decade or two. Somehow I still have my hopes up for a Nintento DS port
for playing IF (virtual keyboard on on of the screens) for example.
That would make things a bit more accessable, provided that there is
not too much typing involved or the players get too quickly bored with
it.

At the same time I'm thinking about how e-books are 'suffering' under
the lack of ease of access. The devices that make it portable (as
portable as a regular pocket book) are way too expensive. IF (with a
save state option) would be a great way of experiencing fiction whilst
being on the train to work for example.

So far I haven't written any IF recently (the last one was about 20+
years ago in basic), nevertheless I'm of the opinion that if only 1
single person likes my creations, it's fine with me. I'm writing for
the writing, same with everything else that is put into the world as a
result of a creative expression.

Just my thoughts. :-)

Rhian

Bert Byfield

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 10:52:46 AM1/7/08
to
>> What do others think of this line of thought?

You can't write one book that will please all people.

J. J. Guest

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 11:13:31 AM1/7/08
to
Surely there is no need for a description to contain a half dozen
irrelevant items? The above examples suffer from this because they are
simply a list of the location's constituent parts, but this is not the
only way to describe something. You could describe the room in terms
of what it means to the player character (giving something of its
history), or how he or she feels about it, even going off on the
occasional digression, and do all of this using only those nouns that
are relevant to the puzzles or plot. It is hard to think of examples
off the top of my head, but Emily Short's Bronze springs to mind; many
of the descriptions there are used for exposition of the back story,
giving us a clear picture of the heroine and her life, whilst being
also very economical; giving us only those physical details which are
strictly relevant to the story or which give atmosphere. The humourous
descriptions of objects in Graham Cluley's Humbug are also worth
looking at; the few pertinent practical details are interspersed with
rambling, silly, and very amusing anecdotes.

Blank

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 12:02:07 PM1/7/08
to

Agreed. I think it's something to do with the scale, because where they
really grate on me is trying to describe small interior spaces: "The
floor of the cottage kitchen is littered with smashed crockery and
jagged glass. The back door is open to the east, and a low archway south
opens onto the living room. The grange to the north* appears to be out."
(*let's pretend the grange is a secret entrance, so we have to clue its
direction.)

But then interior spaces are usually modeled on a grid anyway so
semi-cardinal directions aren't necessary. Ideally the exit lister would
list the names of known destinations as well as the direction, and we'd
enable GO TO travel (perhaps not even full-blown pathfinding, just being
able to >GO LIVING ROOM in the above example would be good).


> On the other hand, as you say, compass-navigation does seem to be
> the least bad solution for moving the player around. For one thing,
> it's economical and can be relied up to use a set of standard
> commands.

Again, agreed. The trouble is, that for all its good points and its
practicality, I think it is (a)making us write ugly stuff, and
(b)turning off new players. We're all united in agreeing that it's not
what we want, but we've been busy doing other things.

> In the general case it's probably less confusing than most
> of the obvious alternatives; and despite what some people say, it's
> really not *that* unintuitive.

It's that lump in the cinema seat, it's that click in the CD player,
that stain on the page that yanks you back into the present. At least
those other examples were where the system was broken, but in IF we've
got to darned well /like/ the flaw and think it's almost cute.

> We may not orient ourselves by
> thinking consciously in terms of compass directions in real life
> (though I think there are situations where we may do, particularly
> when navigating an unfamiliar area on a large scale), but we don't
> have any difficulty understanding what going in a given compass
> direction means.

What I'm saying is that it increases the overhead. And every bit of the
player that's thinking "East - so I'm kind of going round that way and
the butler's pantry is over *there*" is keeping them that little bit
distant from the story. Which is not what any writer wants.

>
> The problem is that once compass directions are used for navigation,
> they almost have to feature in room descriptions in order to make it
> clear to the player how the features of the location, and
> particularly the exits, are oriented, and that can make for unwieldy
> prose.
>

If they have to read "the library door is on your right", look at the
status bar, work out that it's west of them and then type "w", sure. But
we watch which way they're facing and map the relative directions onto
the compass directions behind the scenes.

>> I think compass navigation is one of IF's problem areas but has
>> been overlooked in favour of trying to work out a decent
>> conversation system or making the parser a bit smarter. Not that
>> this problem's trivial: it's easy enough to >GO TO MRS PEPPER'S,
>> but what if you can cross the road? >CROSS ROAD? >DODGE TRAFFIC?
>> >JAYWALK? You end up with every travel decision having its own
>> unique command which might well be worse than the original
>> problem.
>
> Quite; the danger of ending up with something worse than the problem
> you were trying to solve is very real. Not only are the possible
> alternatives you mention non-standard (in the sense that the player
> may have to guess what they are), they are also more verbose (GO TO
> MRS PEPPER'S is a lot more typing that W.W.N.N. to end up in her
> front porch, if that's what you're aiming for).
>

I take my hat off to those who can remember long strings of directions.
I always have to do it one command at a time anyway. Besides, GO TO MRS
PEPPER'S is an expression of what I want to do: I stay within the story
while I'm typing that. Whereas "where's the bloody library - er, EXIT -
drat*, OUT, SOUTH" is me wrestling with the mechanics of the system.

*sorry, couldn't resist.


> It's true that one could have equally terse abbreviations for left,
> right, ahead and back, so that the above would become A.A.R.A say,
> but I do think such a system is actually harder to use and more
> confusing in practice than compass directions (as well as offering
> no obvious equvalents to NW, NE, SE, and SW).
>

I think the best thing is to provide different ways of navigating so
that different players can use what suits them best, rather than the
current one-size-doesn't-fit-all approach. The downside is that it's
more work for the author - but I7 is already providing some of the
tools, and it may be that this is an area where the library could do a
lot of the heavy lifting.

> In other words, I don't think it's just inadvertance, inertia, or
> overlooking the issue in favour of others that have prolonged the
> life of compass navigation. I think that (as you indicate) overall
> it just is the least bad system for navigation (or even the best
> system for navigation) by quite a long way (which doesn't mean it
> can't be supplemented by commands like GO TO MRS. PEPPER'S or CROSS
> THE ROAD where these can be implemented naturally). Given that, it's
> hard (virtually impossible, in fact) to avoid the need to work
> compass directions into room descriptions, however awkwardly that
> can make them read.
>

-- oops gotta go! thanks for your thoughts,

Jayzee

Jim Aikin

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 12:19:26 PM1/7/08
to
dave e wrote:
>
> I would argue that neither of these are effective for IF as the
> following:
>
> c) "You're loitering suspiciously in front of a well maintained
> bungalow located in a suburban cul-de-sac. The absence of any SUV
> suggests that the homeowner is out. The yellow dutch door is north,
> but probably locked. You might need to go northeast, around to the
> back of the house, and jimmy a window."

I agree that this creates a strong context. I hope you write a game that
uses it as a springboard! (Though if the PC is carrying a jimmy, as he
would be, suggesting where he should use it might be a bit obvious.)

Note, however, that "suspiciously" is being misused. This locution
refers to an exterior point of view: The suspicion would be in the mind
of someone who observes you loitering. If you mean that the viewpoint
character is himself suspicious of something (and I don't think you do),
you need to phrase it in a different way.

--JA

Jim Aikin

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 12:23:00 PM1/7/08
to
Blank wrote:
>
> I do think though that the acceptance of compass-navigation as the
> least-worst solution has blinded us to how unintuitive and downright
> ugly some of the resulting descriptions are (ahem. not intended as a
> criticism of that description per se!) and I think that that alien
> spatial reference system is part of the reason that newcomers have
> trouble.

Thank you. You said it better than I did. That may be the heart of the
problem.

--JA

Kathleen

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 12:53:40 PM1/7/08
to
Jim Aikin wrote:
> A rainbow membrane
> blocks the path. As if rubber
> it flexes, repels.

Actually,,. I found your haiku's far more engaging than any of the
previous examples so far. Perhaps it's because the strict restrictions
of a haiku made you choose your words very carefully and so you pack a
lot of punch in each word?

Haiku Comp anyone?

I think the happy medium is to reduce the description to the smallest
amount of text needed to produce the visual/emotional response
required by the work, but reduce no further. That could leave you with
a terse "small white house", or gushing text about raging creeks,
towering mountains and singing sparrows. And I don't see why you
couldn't have raging creeks in one room, and a small white house in
another. In fact, the very simplicity of the house description makes
it stand out in stark relief from the busy, colorful background. It
would almost feel spotlighted at that point.

Kathleen (of course, you will find as many opinions as there are
readers and authors!)

S. John Ross

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 1:08:41 PM1/7/08
to

>> "Brevity is wit."
>
> Shouldn't that be, "Brevity is the soul of wit"?

I can't tell if you're serious :)

S. John Ross

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 1:10:59 PM1/7/08
to
JDC wrote:

>>> "Brevity is wit."
>> Shouldn't that be, "Brevity is the soul of wit"?
>
> I've usually seem it as:
> "Brevity is ... wit."

Yeah, that's the way they did it on the Simpsons, years ago and it's
most often used that way. I've always preferred the joke sans ellipsis,
though. More punch :)

J. J. Guest

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 1:43:56 PM1/7/08
to

Ron Newcomb

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 2:00:29 PM1/7/08
to
> > and I think that that alien
> > spatial reference system is part of the reason that newcomers have
> > trouble.


I wrote as much in my IFDB review of Lord Bellwater's Secret.

As for the "more nouns == more required Examine commands" problem Jim
or someone mentioned up-thread, we could do worse than completely
strike Examine from the I-F vocabulary.

--Ron


Emily Short

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 2:15:28 PM1/7/08
to

If you want a test of the proposition, try "Adventurer's Consumer
Guide" and then come back and tell us whether you think it's better by
dint of having no EXAMINE.

My own feeling was that this put a horrible burden on the rest of the
system (inventory listings get very very long in order to convey every
important fact about the objects, for instance). So, for me, the lack
of EXAMINE impeded the interaction in something that was otherwise
quite a solid game.

Ron Newcomb

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 3:05:56 PM1/7/08
to
On Jan 7, 11:15 am, Emily Short <emsh...@mindspring.com> wrote:
> On Jan 7, 2:00 pm, Ron Newcomb <psc...@yahoo.com> wrote:
> > strike Examine from the I-F vocabulary.
> If you want a test of the proposition, try "Adventurer's Consumer
> Guide" and then come back and tell us whether you think it's better by
> dint of having no EXAMINE.

I'll try it out.

-R


Eric Eve

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 3:43:56 PM1/7/08
to

"Blank" <bl...@nowhere.com> wrote in message
news:4782...@news.kcl.ac.uk...
> Eric Eve wrote:

>> Of course, compass directions look more artificial when it's an
>> indoor location being described.
>>
>
> Agreed. I think it's something to do with the scale, because where
> they really grate on me is trying to describe small interior
> spaces: "The floor of the cottage kitchen is littered with smashed
> crockery and jagged glass. The back door is open to the east, and
> a low archway south opens onto the living room. The grange to the
> north* appears to be out." (*let's pretend the grange is a secret
> entrance, so we have to clue its direction.)

At least with this example there are standard commands that ought to
work as alternatives to compass directions, namely GO THROUGH BACK
DOOR, GO THROUGH LOW ARCHWAY and (once the player figures it out)
ENTER/GO THROUGH GRANGE. These really *ought* to be implemented in
any case, quite regardless of whatever other navigation system is in
operation.

The problem I can see is, not that it would be all that difficult to
make this space navigable without compass directions at all, but
that players used to using compass directions might not be happy
about being forced to type
GO THROUGH BACK DOOR, or GO THROUGH LOW ARCHWAY when they could just
type E or W.

I suppose it would be possible to provide alternative room
descriptions that provide or suppress compass directions according
to some player-declared option, but quite apart from the extra work
this could give game authors, I can see another problem here.
Suppose one stripped out the compass directions from your example:
we'd be left with:

"The floor of the cottage kitchen is littered with smashed crockery
and

jagged glass. The back door is open, and a low archway
opens onto the living room. The grange appears to be out."

This doesn't read too badly, but it doesn't give any sense of the
relative positions, directions, or orientations of anything. This
leads me to another thought: why would we want such a sense? To help
us navigate, or to help us visualize the scene?

It may be that the sensibilities of people who find compass
directions in rooms descriptions objectionable have been formed by
reading (static) prose fiction. But this is a different medium, and
whereas in some instances it may be important to give the reader an
idea of relative positions and orientations (in a detective mystery,
perhaps, where such details are important for solving the crime),
often that isn't all that necessary. The reader of a novel might
want to know roughly what a room looks like and what it contains,
just to get some feel of the place, but the reader doesn't need to
navigate, and has no need of the kind of orienting information
that's vital for playing IF. So to some extent I feel that part of
the problem maybe the application of the aesthetics of one medium to
a different medium that has different requirements.

But to return to the cottage kitchen example. It would be
*possible*, I think, to restore the (relative) directional
information to the room description without recourse to compass
directions, but it would be hard to do so with equal precision and
economy:

"The floor of the cottage kitchen is littered with smashed crockery
and

jagged glass. The back door is open, and through the wall to the
right of it a low archway
opens onto the living room. The grange, placed opposite the arch,
appears to be out."

IMHO this is worse than your original with compass directions.

Incidentally, the title of this thread is 'The Prose Medium and IF",
but I think this title may contain a misconception. Is prose a
medium? Speaking in prose is one thing, reading prose fiction
another, and playing IF another; regarding all three as the same
medium under the rubric 'prose' may be more confusing than
enlightening. Treating a work of IF as prose fiction (meaning an
idea of prose fiction largely shaped by the conventions of the
modern print novel or short story) is potentially misleading as
treating some ancient text (say the Gospel of Mark, to take an
example from my own academic discipline) this way. An ancient
manuscript like a gospel was most likely a script for oral
performance; a modern novel is designed to be read silently; an work
of IF is designed to be interacted with. The constraints of the
medium affect what works well in each case.

That means we simply have to accept different conventions in
different media. Of course, we don't necessarily have to have
accepted precisely the conventions we have. For example, an
alternative to working compass directions awkwardly into room
description prose might be to incorporate them parenthetically:

"The floor of the cottage kitchen is littered with smashed crockery
and

jagged glass. The back door [east] is open, and a low archway
[south]
opens onto the living room. The grange appears to be out."

With this style it would be easier to remove the direction tags from
the display if a player found them distracting and preferred typing
GO THROUGH BACK DOOR to the briefer E.

The downside is that it might be hard to keep this up consistently.
It would work fine for most indoor locations, I think, but some
expansive outdoor locations might more naturally incorporate compass
directions into their descriptions.

"You stand on the western shore of a large, placid lake. Off to the
north low-lying clouds shroud the top of a distant mountain. Further
west a heavily wooded slope rises gently for the best part of a
mile. A dirt track runs back towards the quaint little village to
the south."

I'm not claiming that's great prose, or even particularly good
prose; I'm just suggesting that it's the kind of situation where it
would more natural to include the compass directions than to write:

"You stand on the shore of a large, placid lake [east]. Low-flying
clouds shroud the top of a distant mountain [north]. Opposite the
lake a heavily wooded slope [west] rises gently for the best part of
a mile. A dirt track urns back towards the quaint little village
[south]."

So maybe one would only use the parenthetical convention for indoor
locations?

> But then interior spaces are usually modeled on a grid anyway so
> semi-cardinal directions aren't necessary.

That's generally true (though there can be exceptions).

> Ideally the exit lister would list the names of known destinations
> as well as the direction,

This would be cumbersome in the status line, but the TADS 3
exit-lister already does this as standard in response to an EXITS
command and when the player enables the option to have a list of
exits appended to every room description. I've imitated this
behaviour in my I7 exit lister extension (which provides a similar
EXITS command, and would allow game authors to append a similar list
of exits to room descriptions).

>and we'd enable GO TO travel (perhaps not even full-blown
>pathfinding, just being able to >GO LIVING ROOM in the above
>example would be good).

As an alternative that makes good sense (provided we also allow
standard compass direction travel for those that want it). Indeed,
I've tended to implement that kind of thing in my own games,
although not totally consistently. Sometimes you can get this almost
for free if you define a suitable door. E.g., if there's an object
called the 'living room door' then (at least in TADS 3) GO TO LIVING
ROOM, is interpreted as ENTER LIVING ROOM DOOR, which takes the
player char through the living room door into the living room.

>> In the general case it's probably less confusing than most of the
>> obvious alternatives; and despite what some people say, it's
>> really not *that* unintuitive.
>
> It's that lump in the cinema seat, it's that click in the CD
> player, that stain on the page that yanks you back into the
> present. At least those other examples were where the system was
> broken, but in IF we've got to darned well /like/ the flaw and
> think it's almost cute.

I'm not 100% convinced by this. It's only self-evidently a flaw if
we insist on judging the aesthetics of IF by the standards of other
media, but I don't think that's reasonable. To the extent that it
becomes an accepted convention of IF, it's far from self-evident to
me that the mechanics of compass navigation is any more likely to
yank anyone back into the present when playing IF than is the
mechanics of page-turning when reading a book. The latter is so
familiar that we take it for granted without giving it a second
thought, but it is nevertheless part of the conventional skill of
novel reading (a skill that might not have been anything like so
self-evident to an ancient reader used to manipulating scrolls
rather than codices for literary works, for example).

A click on a CD player is a self-evident fault, since the click is
quite obviously not meant to be part of the musical performance
we're trying to listen to, and we're used to listening to CDs that
reproduce sound with a fair degree of fidelity. A lump in the cinema
seat is a self-evident fault, since it's clearly no part of any
convention of film-making or film-watching, and lumpy seats are no
part of the convention of comfortable seating. A stain on a page is
a self-evident fault, since such stains are no part of the
convention of printing or reading, and clearly detract from the
visual appearance of the page (when we're used to the convention of
regarding an aesthetically anf functionally pleasing printed page as
being sharp black type on a clean pale background). None of these is
a valid analogy for the use of compass-navigation in IF, which is a
convention of the medium, and has become so because it has proved
functionally useful in ways that clicks in CDs, stains on pages, and
lumps in cinema seats have not.

> What I'm saying is that it increases the overhead. And every bit
> of the player that's thinking "East - so I'm kind of going round
> that way and the butler's pantry is over *there*" is keeping them
> that little bit distant from the story. Which is not what any
> writer wants.

I'm not convinced by this, either, at least, not in the general
case. If the player is keeping a mental or paper map of the layout
of an area, I think it's actually *easier* if this is associated
with compass directions. It actually comes quite naturally to most
people to look at a map on a page and think of the top of the page
as north. Operating with such a mental or paper makes typing E to
get to the butler's pantry arguably the *least* intrusive mechanism.
Hitting two keys, E and RETURN, is almost instantaneous. Typing GO
TO BUTLER'S PANTRY <return> not only takes longer, but is more prone
to typos, the parser's responses to which are more likely to
distance the player from the story.

> If they have to read "the library door is on your right", look at
> the status bar, work out that it's west of them and then type "w",
> sure. But we watch which way they're facing and map the relative
> directions onto the compass directions behind the scenes.

I'm not 100% sure I understand what you mean, but on any
interpretation I'd personally find this ten times more confusing
than what we have now. If I want to keep a mental map of a place,
it's actually easier for me to think in terms of absolute directions
rather than directions relative to which way I happen to be facing.
If NORTH were reinterpreted to mean 'whichever way I'm happening to
be facing now' I'd quickly get absolutely lost.

Also, *how* do 'we watch which way they're facing'. At present this
simply isn't part of the world-model; and I suspect that trying to
make it so would just make everything more confusing to authors and
players alike.

Of course, this may be a situation where individual psychologies
differ. Relative directions would quickly confuse the hell out of
me, but maybe other people find them easier (although I think Mike
Roberts's Rat In Control experiment suggested that I'm not alone in
my preference).

> I take my hat off to those who can remember long strings of
> directions.

Well, I am the co-author of this particular game, so it's perhaps
not so surprising that it's layout is rather familiar to me!

> I always have to do it one command at a time anyway.

That's what I normally do when I'm playing IF too. My point wasn't
about about entering multiple commands at one prompt, I was simply
abbreviating the way I was representing a series of commands.

> Besides, GO TO MRS PEPPER'S is an expression of what I want to
> do: I stay within the story while I'm typing that.

Possibly, but what do you mean by MRS PEPPER'S in this context. Her
drive? Her front yard? Her front porch? Her house - if so which part
of it? How is the parser meant to know what you had in mind?

Whereas "where's the bloody library - er, EXIT -
> drat*, OUT, SOUTH" is me wrestling with the mechanics of the
> system.

So is:

>GO TO LIRBARY
The word 'Lirbary' is not necessary in this story.

>OOPS LIBRAYR
I don't understand the word 'librayr'

Of course, you may be a good enough typist that this doesn't afflict
you. In any case, as I've said above, I've nothing against
implementing this kind of command alongside compass navigation. I'm
just not convinced that all players will automatically find it
preferable.

> I think the best thing is to provide different ways of navigating
> so that different players can use what suits them best, rather
> than the current one-size-doesn't-fit-all approach.

Quite - so it turns out we're pretty much in agreement on that
point!

> -- oops gotta go! thanks for your thoughts,

And for yours!

This is a bit of a rambling reply, I fear; perhaps I'm just think
out loud a bit too much here!

-- Eric


David Fisher

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 4:48:19 PM1/7/08
to
"Eric Eve" <eric...@NOSPAMhmc.ox.ac.uk> wrote in message
news:flu2to$gam$1...@frank-exchange-of-views.oucs.ox.ac.uk...
[...]

> I can see another problem here. Suppose one stripped out the compass
> directions from your example: we'd be left with:
>
> "The floor of the cottage kitchen is littered with smashed crockery and
> jagged glass. The back door is open, and a
> low archway opens onto the living room. The grange
> appears to be out."
>
> This doesn't read too badly, but it doesn't give any sense of the relative
> positions, directions, or orientations of anything. This leads me to
> another thought: why would we want such a sense? To help us navigate, or
> to help us visualize the scene?

At the risk of sounding heretical ... apart from the navigation issue, is it
really necessary to provide the relative positions of everything? Does it
ultimately matter if the player doesn't know if the living room east or west
of the kitchen? They are free to visualise other details of the scene
however they like; perhaps they can be free to imagine the layout as well.

I guess one good reason for providing relative positions is to allow players
to head in a general direction, eg. to find their way to a particular,
distant location. But this might not always apply. If they are exploring a
small area of a village, for example, it seems like enough to me to know
that the main street connnects to "Smith" street, which gives access to the
bridge and the mill. I don't really need to know their relative orientations
...

As for navigation:

I vaguely remember a post in the archives that mentioned a MUD technique of
using abbreviations of location names mentioned in the text. Something like
this:

The floor of the cottage kitchen is littered with smashed
crockery and jagged glass. The back door is open, and a
low archway opens onto the living room. The grange
appears to be out.

> bd
(back door)
You walk through the back door and into the garden.

... and if the abbreviation was inappropriate (eg. "lounge"; "L" is taken):

> lo-
(lounge)

-- or something like that, maybe?

I guess players might still miss being able to easily enter a sequence of
directions, though ("N. E. NW. S").

David Fisher


George Oliver

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 5:09:15 PM1/7/08
to
On Jan 7, 1:48 pm, "David Fisher" <davidfis...@australiaonline.net.au>
wrote:

>
> As for navigation:
>
> I vaguely remember a post in the archives that mentioned a MUD technique of
> using abbreviations of location names mentioned in the text. Something like
> this:
>
> The floor of the cottage kitchen is littered with smashed
> crockery and jagged glass. The back door is open, and a
> low archway opens onto the living room. The grange
> appears to be out.
>
>[....]

>
> I guess players might still miss being able to easily enter a sequence of
> directions, though ("N. E. NW. S").
>
> David Fisher

Indeed, though often it looks something like:

> The floor of the cottage kitchen is littered with smashed
> crockery and jagged glass. The back door is open, and a
> low archway opens onto the living room. The grange
> appears to be out.

Back Door (bd) Low Archway (la) Grange (g)


If your newsreader doesn't preserve that spacing, the exits would be
separated by tabs and printed as one line. Those exits will have
multiple aliases not immediately apparent to the player -- for
example, Back Door;back;door;ba;b;d;bd;bac;do;doo -- and usually
typing 'out', 'o', or 'leave' repeatedly will return you to some
central or outdoors location. Of course, the exits can have compass
directions as aliases as well, so it could look like

Back Door (n) Low Archway (e) Grange (s)

Jim Aikin

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 6:10:01 PM1/7/08
to
J. J. Guest wrote:
> Surely there is no need for a description to contain a half dozen
> irrelevant items?

There may be such a need, yes.

William Carlos Williams said once (of his poetry), "No ideas but in
things." This principle is very applicable to IF. Things (nouns,
objects) are of the essence.

Because of this, attempting to convey an impression of a location
without mentioning any things is almost bound to be weaken the impression.

--JA

David Fisher

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 6:09:08 PM1/7/08
to
"George Oliver" <georgeo...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:b3cf5740-daee-412b...@e10g2000prf.googlegroups.com...

> On Jan 7, 1:48 pm, "David Fisher" <davidfis...@australiaonline.net.au>
> wrote:
>>
>> As for navigation:
>>
>> I vaguely remember a post in the archives that mentioned a MUD technique
>> of
>> using abbreviations of location names mentioned in the text.
...

> Indeed, though often it looks something like:
>
>> The floor of the cottage kitchen is littered with smashed
>> crockery and jagged glass. The back door is open, and a
>> low archway opens onto the living room. The grange
>> appears to be out.
>
> Back Door (bd) Low Archway (la) Grange (g)

How did that feel to play? Did you miss having compass directions, or find
any other disadvantages?

(Not sure whether to post this in this or the "Alternative to compass
directions" thread now ...)

David Fisher


Ron Newcomb

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 6:35:04 PM1/7/08
to
On Jan 7, 12:43 pm, "Eric Eve" <eric....@NOSPAMhmc.ox.ac.uk> wrote:

Ooo! A nice, meaty post!

> that players used to using compass directions might not be happy
> about being forced to type
> GO THROUGH BACK DOOR, or GO THROUGH LOW ARCHWAY when they could just
> type E or W.

Sounds like a tradeoff between extra mental load (memorizing which
compass directions links to which destinations) vs. extra typing.
David Fisher mentions abbreviating the destination names. The first
letter of each destination name could be bolded as a hint. Besides,
GO NORTH itself used to be canon before the abbreviation was.

> This doesn't read too badly, but it doesn't give any sense of the
> relative positions, directions, or orientations of anything. This

David Fisher wrote:
>At the risk of sounding heretical ... apart from the navigation issue, is it
>really necessary to provide the relative positions of everything? Does it
>ultimately matter if the player doesn't know if the living room east or west

Amen, David. We need more heresy 'round here.

> whereas in some instances it may be important to give the reader an
> idea of relative positions and orientations (in a detective mystery,

Then that's a genre convention, not an I-F one in general.

> It may be that the sensibilities of people who find compass
> directions in rooms descriptions objectionable have been formed by
> reading (static) prose fiction.

Nope. It's the "WTF, I'm confused" yardstick we, including Jim's ex-
wife, are using. Compass directions for logical navigation is using a
different side of the brain than appreciating evocative phrasing and
its emotional attachments. Mixing the two easily produces cognitive
dissonance.

>> I take my hat off to those who can remember long strings of directions.

Ditto. But, like becoming a human calculator, I don't want to put in
the time to learn it myself.

> > broken, but in IF we've got to darned well /like/ the flaw and
> > think it's almost cute.

Ditto. I don't think veterans are aware of just how jarring North is
in a description, especially one that tries to set a mood. It's like
trying to work in a mention of how much each object in the room
weighs.

> I'm not 100% convinced by this. It's only self-evidently a flaw if
> we insist on judging the aesthetics of IF by the standards of other
> media

Again, us newbs are judging by our WTF response.

> me that the mechanics of compass navigation is any more likely to
> yank anyone back into the present when playing IF than is the
> mechanics of page-turning when reading a book.

How about if that book said "Please turn the page." at the bottom of
every page? And that sentence was worked, even skillfully, into the
prose at the bottom of every right-hand page?

> If the player is keeping a mental or paper map of the layout
> of an area,

Nobody makes maps of their video games anymore. Or of their D&D
campaign's dungeons. It's tedious and error-prone. I-F itself has
already taken quite a downturn in requiring that activity as well.

> Typing GO
> TO BUTLER'S PANTRY <return> not only takes longer, but is more prone
> to typos, the parser's responses to which are more likely to
> distance the player from the story.

Again, a valid point, but addressed above.

> Possibly, but what do you mean by MRS PEPPER'S in this context.

"Does the player mean..." is a handy I7 rule.

>Whereas "where's the bloody library - er, EXIT -

GO TO LIBRARY never has this problem. Only north, north, east, south,
east, x library.

>GO TO LIRBARY

There's a Mistype extension for the I7 author.

>This is a bit of a rambling reply, I fear; perhaps I'm just think
>out loud a bit too much here!

Twas a good post. And, at the risk of undermining my own purpose, let
me throw you (and everyone) an idea to chew on:

> "You stand on the shore of a large, placid lake [east]. Low-flying
> clouds shroud the top of a distant mountain [north]. Opposite the
> lake a heavily wooded slope [west] rises gently for the best part of
> a mile. A dirt track urns back towards the quaint little village
> [south]."

Color-code the directions in the compass rose (north is always blue,
like the arctic, yellow is always east, for the rising sun, etc.) ,
then color-code the places mentioned in the room description to
match. The above example would have "lake" in yellow, for example.

As long as it's not cartoonish colors (so, navy blue and brownish-
golden for black text on white, for example), it's a good hint, and
eventually, the compass rose won't be needed.

(apologies to our southern hemisphere friends)

-Ron


S. John Ross

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 6:43:29 PM1/7/08
to
Jim Aikin wrote:
> J. J. Guest wrote:
>> Surely there is no need for a description to contain a half dozen
>> irrelevant items?
>
> [...] attempting to convey an impression of a location

> without mentioning any things is almost bound to be weaken the impression.

To be fair, there is a (potentially critical) difference between
"without mentioning any things" and "a half dozen irrelevant items."

I think the trick is that, in truth, virtually everything is relevant in
some way to those things in proximity to it. Anything can shed light on
a character or place, anything can be a clue or a misdirection (or
both). The solution isn't to overload on detail or to avoid it
absolutely, but rather (as always) to carefully select each detail for
its function - even if its function is exposition or atmosphere, and to
demand of your own design that every detail punches its own weight.

The usual disclaimer: I'm a sourcebooks-and-adventures game writer, not
an IF guy, so apply salt in big grains. But I do think this is one of
those cases where the principles apply across boundaries.

Emily Short

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 7:18:59 PM1/7/08
to

I should add that this is probably not a conclusive demonstration --
there are probably other kinds of game one could write in which the
absence of EXAMINE would bother me a little less. But I do think it's
a good, working example of the kinds of annoyances one can run into
with descriptions stripped out, even when the rest of the game is
solid.

Emily Short

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 7:31:34 PM1/7/08
to
On Jan 7, 12:02 pm, Blank <bl...@nowhere.com> wrote:

> I think the best thing is to provide different ways of navigating so
> that different players can use what suits them best, rather than the
> current one-size-doesn't-fit-all approach. The downside is that it's
> more work for the author - but I7 is already providing some of the
> tools, and it may be that this is an area where the library could do a
> lot of the heavy lifting.

I've discovered that my own preference is to have compass directions
and a GO TO command in combination, and then also (at least in an
exploration-heavy game) some indication of exits in the status bar,
ideally designed to indicate which exits I've already explored and
which I haven't. The prose can then afford to belabor the whole
question of directions a little less.

But I'm with you on the play effect of GO TO: as a player I don't
usually think, "okay, now I need to go west and southwest twice and
then south", and being able to type a command that's closer to
expressing my actual intention is more pleasing. This is, I think, the
same reason I've come to prefer a TADS 3-style prompt for guided
conversation, rather than a numbered menu: even if it's more typing
for me to enter

>ASK FRED ABOUT SEDITION

than

>2

the former is a much more interesting command and much closer to what
I think I'm doing, as a player, so it maintains a certain sort of
mental engagement.

But that's just my own experience; it's pretty clear one size doesn't
fit all, on this one.

Poster

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 8:04:22 PM1/7/08
to
In article <flrqpm$epg$1...@aioe.org>,
Jim Aikin <midig...@sbcglobal.net> wrote:

> George Oliver wrote:


> > On Jan 6, 3:01 pm, Jim Aikin <midigur...@sbcglobal.net> wrote:
> >> Let's compare two cases. Visualize (a) and (b) and tell me which
> >> is harder:
> >>
> >> a) "You're standing in front of a small white house."
> >>
> >> b) "You're standing in front of a small white house with a red tile
> >> roof. The chimney tilts a little at the upper end, in a way that's
> >> either rakish or alarming (depending, perhaps, on whether you're the
> >> homeowner, which you're not). Window-boxes full of bright red tulips are
> >> mounted below the twin windows on either side of the yellow dutch door."
> >

> > (B) is harder for me to visualize, not only because there are more
> > details to process, but the description itself is somewhat confusingly
> > written. On the other hand I find (a) to be, though simple,
> > evocative.
>
> <sighs deeply> I give up. If you honestly think (b) is harder to
> visualize, while (a) is more evocative ... I don't know what to say.
> Almost any response I could think of would be no more than a personal
> insult, and I don't want to go there.
>
> To me, as a writer, what you're saying is rather like, "I prefer comic
> books. Picasso, Klee, Dali -- those guys make my head hurt." See, that's
> as close as I can get to not insulting you. Sorry.
>
> --JA

I would go even further than that, Jim. I would suspect that the people
who chose B fall into into two camps:

1) They don't want to actually visualize the scene because that gets in
the way of the plot. This mindset chooses not to stop and smell the
roses. That's fine, although not to my liking.

2) They are actually, literally, incapable of visualizing something of
that detail.

In any case, the use of the word "evocative" is misconstrued. "A small
white house" cannot be evocative because its generality suggests
nothing! There is no lyricism or poetry its description; there is
nothing to differentiate it from the many small white houses that we
have all seen our entire lives. To thus say that a generic description
is evocative, basically puts all of writing on an altar and sacrifices
it.

Honestly, folks. If generic sentences evoke for you, then anything
beyond "See Spot Run" is wasted!

-- Poster

www.intaligo.com Building, INFORM, Seasons (upcoming!)

Poster

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 8:06:42 PM1/7/08
to
In article
<0349b2dd-6214-4542...@j20g2000hsi.googlegroups.com>,
sge...@hotpop.com wrote:

> I'm with Jim on this (though I think I see Victor's point). It is
> easier for me to picture something (or understand someone else's
> picture) if I am given an evocative description (Jim), but it takes
> more mental effort to visualise something you are given a lot of
> detail about (Victor). Personally, I think an evocative description
> wins hands down every time. I love games, and believe me when I say I
> think gameplay is important, but the unique thing about IF is the
> story. I can get the same sort of gaming pleasure I get from solving
> an IF puzzle from many video games, but the story experience you get
> can only be acheived elsewhere by reading a book. Some people might
> argue that many modern video games also give you a story, and they do
> to some extent, but they would find it difficult to achieve the kind
> of depth possible with text. It is like the difference between reading
> a book and watching a film (sorry, movie in American). If you read the
> book first, the film is often disappointing, because it cannot match
> up to the wealth of detail supplied in the book.
>
> What I am trying to say is that, in my opinion, the story is more
> important than the gameplay. This may spark some controversy, but that
> is what I think. So, the terse description of the street is poor
> because it is written for gameplayers, not as if it were a real street
> you were trying to describe. Some compromise is inevitable, but I
> think this description is aimed firmly at making it easy for the
> player to type in a direction, rather than conjuring up a picture in
> their mind.
>
> To return to the example:
> "The sidewalk runs east and west. To the south is a busy street, to
> the
> north a tall fence. Just ahead to the west the fence ends, and beyond
> the corner of the fence is Mrs. Pepper's driveway."
>
> A quick re-write:
> "You are standing on a sidewalk that runs east-west, looking south at
> the busy street where traffic races past at speeds fast enough to
> break the law, but slow enough for the police to ignore. Behind you,
> to the north, is a tall wooden fence with a strip of spikes attached
> to its top to deter intruders. A little further down the sidewalk to
> the west, the fence ends, and Mrs Pepper's driveway begins."
>
> Now this is not great prose, I admit, but I think it gives a better
> picture. It introduces only one new thing to examine (the traffic),
> but the description for the fence is already there, meaning a bit less
> work. It also brings the player into the scene ("You are
> standing..."), which the original does not.
>
> I am not saying my version is better, but I think every description
> should be written to evoke a picture in the player's/reader's mind,
> not just tell them the layout of the game map.

This is why a status line showing possible directions from the room is a
good idea, for it takes the burden from the text. The text is then free
to allude to directions, but it does not carry the weight alone.

--Poster

chipjack

unread,
Jan 7, 2008, 9:43:54 PM1/7/08