Definition of "pacing"

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David Fisher

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Aug 10, 2007, 10:41:20 AM8/10/07
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I was trying to write a definition of "pacing" in the IFWiki (here:
http://www.ifwiki.org/index.php/Pacing ), and I feel like I am missing
something. Maybe I'm just tired ...

Anyway, here's what I wrote:

Pacing is to do with the player's sense of "continuing action"
throughout the game. When the pacing grinds to a halt, speeds
up too much or is too inconsistent, gameplay suffers.

Puzzles are often used to control the pacing of IF games,
although a sense of feeling "stumped" by a puzzle can also
undermine it.

How would other people define "pacing" in regard to IF?

Thanks,

David Fisher


Lodestone

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Aug 10, 2007, 11:28:45 AM8/10/07
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Hallo David,

Is it a strict definition of pacing you're looking for, or a
discussion of pacing effects and techniques?

> Pacing is to do with the player's sense of "continuing action"
> throughout the game.

I think this is quite a good definition, as definitions go. But as
some of the discussions you've linked to indicate, there's also a
question of the pacing of *decisions*, and the pacing of *plot
events*, as well as the distribution of puzzles and puzzle
difficulties throughout the game.

I would say that pacing is the player's sense of passing events, which
can be actions, decisions, plot points, puzzles . . . -- the sense
that *things are happening* or that *something is going on*.

> When the pacing grinds to a halt, speeds
> up too much or is too inconsistent, gameplay suffers.

I think this is simplistic, and also misleading following directly on
from a definition -- it implies that pacing control is all about "good
gameplay", and that the only ways it can be modified are to speed it
up or slow it down.

But pacing, in IF as in static fiction, is an integral part of writing
(though in IF we have more techniques). It is true that games get can
stuck in the doldrums if things don't coninue to happen, and that we
can get acid whiplash when things whizz by. But these can also be
genuine gaming decisions -- making a sequence of events shoot past can
have great effect -- for example, in the endgame of Earth and Sky 3
where continuous and unrelenting action is essential; at the other
end, I'm currently planning out an art piece the premise of which is
that nothing much happens, or, indeed, *can* happen.

So pacing isn't about finding a golden mean of "moderate pace", though
finding a moderate pace is an essential technique in writing. Pacing
is something to be managed for good gameplay but also exploited to
literary effect.

> Puzzles are often used to control the pacing of IF games,
> although a sense of feeling "stumped" by a puzzle can also
> undermine it.

I think it's worth saying *why* puzzles do this -- is it because they
impede the onset of plot events? Give the player something to interact
with between cut-scenes? Something else? -- and also that puzzles
themselves are something to be paced. If you want well-plotted IF, you
don't want to have to deal with a load of puzzles, then get a plot
dump, and then finish the game with an incredibly easy puzzle. You
also don't want to launch the game with a really difficult puzzle,
with everything that follows being boringly easy.

Hope this helps!

Lx.

Andrew Plotkin

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Aug 10, 2007, 12:08:12 PM8/10/07
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Pacing is the rate at which the player encounters new game elements,
as compared to the rate of his actions.

("New game elements" don't have to be story-events; they are anything
the player has to assimilate.)

("Actions", not "commands". The player might type several movements, a
get, and a drop command in order to do one logical action. If he
encounters several new elements during that action, then the pacing is
very rapid, probably rushed! Imagine new things popping up
unexpectedly as you type "e" "n" "n" "e" "d" to zip across the game;
you would probably zip right past the first few.)

(The beginning of the game is the trickiest for pacing, because
*everything* is a new game element that the player has to assimilate.
But, at the same time, the first "look" and the first "inventory" are
logical actions -- as are all the early "examines" -- so those
new elements are spread over many actions. It's tricky because the
*player* decides how many actions to spend orienting himself. So
you're balancing a fixed number against a player decision. The trick
is then to seduce the player into hitting those elements one at a
time, without feeling overwhelmed or confused by any one of them, not
missing any, and then getting on with the story when he's fully
oriented.)

(I guess that applies to the pacing of the whole game, not just the
beginning.)

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
When Bush says "Stay the course," what he means is "I don't know what to
do next." He's been saying this for years now.

steve....@gmail.com

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Aug 10, 2007, 9:11:19 PM8/10/07
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Pacing can mean several things; your definition is right of course;
Andrew's reformulation of your definition is equally correct of
course.

But when people talk about pacing, they're talking about aesthetic
effects. It is indeed the rate at which the new enters the
presentation, to borrow from Andrew's definition, but really it's the
strategical decision to modulate the pacing to a specific effect.

My definition would be something like:

Pacing is the quality in which the narrative unfolding or the
modulated frequency of events is geared towards an aesthetic effect.

David Fisher

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Aug 10, 2007, 9:22:23 PM8/10/07
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"Lodestone" <harry.l...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:1186759725.8...@x35g2000prf.googlegroups.com...

> Is it a strict definition of pacing you're looking for, or a
> discussion of pacing effects and techniques?

I was mainly concentrating on a definition, for now (plus a small bit about
puzzles and pacing).

>> When the pacing grinds to a halt, speeds
>> up too much or is too inconsistent, gameplay suffers.
>
> I think this is simplistic, and also misleading following directly on
> from a definition -- it implies that pacing control is all about "good
> gameplay", and that the only ways it can be modified are to speed it
> up or slow it down.

True - I'll remove that bit ...

>> Puzzles are often used to control the pacing of IF games,
>> although a sense of feeling "stumped" by a puzzle can also
>> undermine it.
>
> I think it's worth saying *why* puzzles do this -- is it because they
> impede the onset of plot events? Give the player something to interact
> with between cut-scenes? Something else?

Here is what it says now:

Puzzles are often used to control the pacing of IF games,

mainly because they require thoughtful decisions from the
player. Andrew Plotkin writes in _this_ RAIF thread,
"Anything the player has to stop and think about doing
is effective pacing."

Players have reported a difference between having to go
away and think about a puzzle (in which case the game feels
"suspended" and the pacing is unharmed) and feeling
"stumped" by a puzzle, which can make the pacing grind
to a halt. (See _this_ RAIF discussion thread).

Anyone who wants to is free to edit the IFWiki page:

http://www.ifwiki.org/index.php/Pacing

David Fisher


DJ Hastings

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Aug 10, 2007, 10:08:45 PM8/10/07
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Are you saying that if the author did not gear these things toward an
aesthetic effect, the game has no pacing? E.g., if an author throws
puzzles together randomly and doesn't even consider pacing, would it be
incorrect to say that "the game's pacing was off?"

steve....@gmail.com

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Aug 10, 2007, 11:09:38 PM8/10/07
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On Aug 10, 10:08 pm, DJ Hastings <dj.hasti...@wavecable.com> wrote:
> [1] Are you saying that if the author did not gear these things toward an
> aesthetic effect, the game has no pacing? [2] E.g., if an author throws

> puzzles together randomly and doesn't even consider pacing, would it be
> incorrect to say that "the game's pacing was off?"

[1] Meanings plural, see above.

[2] No, see above.

DJ Hastings

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Aug 11, 2007, 12:55:48 AM8/11/07
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I was asking specifically about *your* definition, although I failed to
say so. I just wanted to make sure I understood what you were saying.
Sorry about the confusion.
-DJ

Emily Short

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Aug 11, 2007, 7:41:07 AM8/11/07
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On Aug 10, 3:41 pm, "David Fisher"
<davidfis...@australiaonline.net.au> wrote:

> How would other people define "pacing" in regard to IF?

I largely agree with zarf's remarks, though I would add that I also
factor in what percentage of the player's actions irreversibly alter
the game state.

This isn't entirely de-coupled, since often a major change in game
state means that we get access to new territory, see a cut-scene, or
otherwise get a wodge of new material; but sometimes, especially in
works that focus on plot or conversation, there are moments of
decision that are quite important but don't immediately present lots
of new text to read or new space to explore. All the same, if player
realizes he's making an irreversible decision or plot-advancement,
this tends to affect the perceived pace of the game.

In particular, I find that people complain about being asked to
advance the plot too frequently or when they haven't been given enough
time to investigate the surrounding environment. I think "Fate" would
have been a good deal weaker without its puzzles -- though I think
Victor felt they were a bit old-school -- simply because they gave the
player some time to explore and the chance to become more invested in
the situation. Similarly, though I complained a bit about the overly
game-ish content of the puzzles in "Elysium Enigma", I do think that
*something* was needed there, to allow the player to become rooted in
the game world. I didn't want the game to be shorter, just more
focused on the kind of interaction that mattered to the kind of story
it told, rather than distracting me with cat and fishing rod puzzles.

The need to space out the choice-points or major plot developments is
one reason I find choose-your-own-adventure stuff (even serious,
carefully-written CYOA with interesting dilemmas) to be less effective
and engaging than IF. Similarly, I'm a bit dubious about Chris
Crawford's arguments in "Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling",
which seem to imply that he'd like to strip out all the puzzling and
problem solving and exploring in order to arrive at a purer, all-
choice form of interactive story. I can understand what motivates this
idea, and I *don't* think that the interstitial material always needs
to be difficult or serious puzzle-play. But I do think the crisis
points where the world changes need to be spaced out a bit in order to
have maximum effect.

steve....@gmail.com

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Aug 12, 2007, 4:04:39 PM8/12/07
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DJ Hastings wrote:
> Sorry about the confusion.

Not at all. You'd be right to say "the game's pacing was off" -- but
you'd also be right (and probably more precise) to say "the game had
no pacing: the material was presented willy-nilly" or "the designer
paid no attention to pacing."

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