Amateur Author Annoyances [LONG]

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Michael Coyne

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May 2, 2003, 5:25:33 PM5/2/03
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I decided to jot down a few things I've noticed in a lot of the amateur
games I've tested or tried out. I've tried these games for reasons I
can't entirely fathom; admittedly, it's easier and leaves fewer
disfiguring scars than self-flagellation. It is not necessarily any
less painful though.

This is not intended to be a "You know you're dealing with an amateur IF
author when..." list. It is intended to be useful to new writers, to
know some of the things that scream "WARNING: Amateur author ahead,
proceed with Caution." I have also, in a couple of spots, mentioned
ways to avoid the behaviour in question or even how to specifically
avoid it in your game code. I've mentioned Inform only because it's the
IF-programming language I'm familiar with.

I don't claim any special knowledge of amateur mistakes. Comments,
corrections and additions are welcome. If this post evinces enough
interest in the subject, I may compile this into a more formal list, or
possibly we could have some collaboration on an 'Amateur Author FAQ'.
The posts around here from people asking 'how do I avoid making newbie
mistakes' are frequent enough that this might be appreciated.

I am aware that some of the observations I make are duplicated in other
"Beginner" documentation. However, all the observations I am making are
based on things I have seen in games, not things I have read in
tutorials or author advice.

I realise I have never released a game, and thus my qualifications to
expound on the errors of others may be suspect. So please, no
complaints on that score for now--I'm aware of the hypocrisy.

All of the sins catalogued below are meant to be WARNINGS for AMATEUR
AUTHORS. I know that there are legitimate artistic reasons for breaking
certain rules some of the time--that's all well and good, but I think
amateurs should be steered away from trying to do that. Picasso did not
start out by painting all those really weird perspective paintings. He
learned to paint first, and then experimented once he had mastered the
medium.

I also realise that if I ever release a game and commit any of the
below-mentioned sins, I will be flamed out to the back of beyond.

Well, it's a risk I'm willing to take, so onward we go.

This is my first crack at this, and it's all off the cuff, so there will
be many rough edges. Readers are advised to bring sandpaper.

AMATEUR AUTHOR TELLTALES:

Please note that the spelling mistakes and so on in the fake 'example'
games are included purely for effect. Any spelling mistakes in the
other portions are my own typographical errors.

Also note that I have used the generally accepted practice (at least by
me) of using the words "he" "him" and "his" in a gender-neutral fashion.
I'm fully capable of wasting enough space as it is without the added
weight of fussing about typing 'his or her' everytime. If anyone gets
his nose out of joint over that, there's always Search and Replace.
Just make sure you don't change every occurrence of "this" to read
"ther" by accident.

On with the list.

--
1. POINT PROFUSION (or SCORING SURFEIT)

For some reason, amateur authors like to have games with absolutely
massive numbers of points. I'm not sure whether this is because it
makes the game look bigger or better or what. It strikes me as very
adolescent: "My game is so awesome!!! It has ten times as many points
as Zork II."

Rather than have a game with 100 points maximum, the amateur will have
the number of points be, say, 10000, and every time the player does
anything he receives 100 or 500 or 1000 points.

SOLUTION:
If you never award < 100 points for any action, follow this algorithm:
- take your maximum score and divide it by 100.
- take your awarded points, and divide them all by 100

--
2. SYNONYM SICKNESS

a) Lack of synonyms for objects mentioned as being present
b) Objects mentioned but given different 'name' properties, eg. "You can
see a toolbox here", but 'tool' and 'toolbox' don't work to refer to it,
only 'box'.

SOLUTION:
MINIMUM: the name used to describe the object to the player MUST work to
refer to it (e.g. the toolbox above)

BETTER: all the words used to describe the object, including adjectives,
should work, e.g. 'shiny red toolbox' should generate matches for
'shiny', 'red', 'tool', 'box', 'toolbox'

BEST: you should also match reasonable synonyms that you DON'T mention
in the text (e.g. 'chest' 'tools'). Use a thesaurus and check for synonyms.

--
3. TEXTUAL TRUNCTIONS (a.k.a. hard carriage returns in displayed text)

This room is pretty
big, you cant see
any exits to north
or south but there
might be a door
east or west.

I think this error stems from working with IF-languages that don't
automatically word-wrap for you. I've seen this in a lot of ports to
Inform. It may also stem from a desire to avoid having lines in the
source code file that run off the editor screen.

INFORM SOLUTION:
Beginners: if you want to wrap your printed text so that it appears
nicely in your editor, just hit enter in the string. Inform interprets
this whitespace as simply a space. Works beautifully. Let the player's
interpreter worry about wordwrap--it knows how wide his window is. You
don't.

--
4. EXCITING EXCLAMATIONS!!!

You are in the bank.
There is a crazed person
here running toward you!!!

> x person
You can't see that here.

> x crazed
You can't see that here.

Oh no!!! The crazed person just
shoved it's ax in your head
now you're dead!!!!

The profusion of exclamation points in amateur writing (both IF and
non-IF) is always astounding. It may stem from a desire to turn bland
unoriginal text into more exciting EXCLAMATION-POINTED text. Any
writing can be made more exciting with exclamation marks, can't it?
(Some would argue that's reason enough to sprinkle them all over this
document).

SOLUTION:
Exclamation marks tend to be overused. Use them sparingly, and don't
use more than one at a time. Please!!!

INFORM NOTE:
Note that there *should* be exclamation marks sprinkled all over your
Inform source code file. If they're not inside printed text, they're
COMMENTS and comments are good.

--
5. ABERRANT ARTICLES (or Definite Article Errors)

Torcher Chamber

You can see a Lord Blackadder here.

I don't really understand how these sorts of errors can exist.
Presumably the author runs through his game while developing it. If I
notice this as a jarring error, why doesn't he?

(Another problem apart from the definite article error is the lack of an
initial description. Even if the article is correct, the message "You
can see Lord Blackadder here." smacks of laziness. See below.)

--
6. ORAL OFFENSES (or Abuse of the Player)

This is something that seems so adolescent and immature, and yet you see
it from authors who, by several other measures, appear to be adults. An
overwhelming tendency to insult the player when he does something that
the author doesn't want to permit.

Why do authors do this? What goes on in their head that tells them
these abusive responses will be appreciated?

Most players can tolerate mild sarcastic comments, especially if they do
provide useful feedback:

> fire arrow
It would be difficult to do that without a bow.

But downright abuse should be out:

> cut thread
You cut the thread.

<lots of other things done in between, puzzles figured out>

> cut thread
You already did that!!! PAY ATTENTION!!!

SOLUTION:

The people playing the game are your CUSTOMERS. Admittedly, you're not
getting paid for this IF work most of the time, but you want it
well-received and well-reviewed. Don't insult your target audience.

In the example above, if you're going to respond with more than a "But
you've already cut the thread." message, at least be clever and original
about it, rather than simply heaping abuse on the player (ObPython
reference to UC Twit of the Year goes here):

> cut thread
You cut the thread.

> cut thread
You painstakingly retie the piece of thread back to the spool, and cut
it again, gaining yourself vast amounts of satisfaction.

(note: the above makes no claim to be either clever or original, but may
serve to indicate the idea).

--
7. ENCUMBERING EXPOSITION

I've seen many games with massive exposition in the introductory text
explaining everything that has happened in the player character's (PC's)
life to bring him to the point he is currently at as the story opens.

This is a tricky one, and is less indicative of an amateur IF author
than it is just of an amateur author in general. It's very hard to get
right--striking the balance between giving the player the information he
needs in order to understand who he is and play the game with some sense
of that, but also avoiding having things sound like "the story so far...".

There are two extremes. You can relate everything that has happened to
bring the PC to this point, or you can relate nothing at all. There are
some very excellent games in the latter category, but there are not very
many good games in the former.

Remember, as the author of the piece, it's important that *you* know and
understand exactly how the PC got to where he is. What you need to
decide is how much of that the player needs to know.

Try to avoid the need to relate everything that has happened to the
player until now.

This is bad:
(based on an exposition-heavy game I have seen, but translated to
Planetfall universe for example purposes):

Your big moment has finally come. After much struggle and study, you
managed to win a scholarship to Stellar Patrol University. You have
graduated and attained the rank of Ensign Seventh Class, and after all
your hard work and study, you have been assigned to the Stellar Patrol
Ship Feinstein for its voyage to a far-away planet that was recently
discovered by Stellar Patrol patrols. But there was a massive accident,
and the ship is going down. Your job is to escape from the ship before
it explodes.

Deck Nine
This is a featureless corridor similar to every other corridor on the
ship. It curves away to starboard, and a gangway leads up. To port is
the entrance to one of the ship's primary escape pods. The pod bulkhead
is open.

>

Compare that to the *real* way in which Planetfall opens, which I think
is a pretty good example of a game with light exposition, which handles
it pretty well. Way back when, I was able to start playing Planetfall
the day I got it, without having glanced at the documentation and
feelies, and know exactly who I was, my position on the ship,
everything. And all this in a relatively short opening paragraph:

Another routine day of drudgery aboard the Stellar Patrol Ship
Feinstein. This morning's assignment for a certain lowly Ensign Seventh
Class: scrubbing the filthy metal deck at the port end of Level Nine.
With your Patrol-issue self-contained multi-purpose all-weather
scrub-brush you shine the floor with a diligence born of the knowledge
that at any moment dreaded Ensign First Class Blather, the bane of your
shipboard existence, could appear.

Deck Nine
This is a featureless corridor similar to every other corridor on the
ship. It curves away to starboard, and a gangway leads up. To port is
the entrance to one of the ship's primary escape pods. The pod bulkhead
is closed.

>

And then the game makes you wait around, scrub the floor, bump into
Blather, the Blow'k-bibben-Gordo ambassador, until eventually, the
massive explosion rocks the ship, and you know the imperative is on you
to escape.

What does the Planetfall opening tell you? It tells you everything you
need to know in order to play and enjoy the game, and, significantly
VERY LITTLE MORE. The information about Blather could arguably not be
needed, but it's pulled in again at the end of the game to tie
everything together neatly--those two parts of the story bookend the
game beautifully.

A useful exercise is to take every sentence in your opening and figure
out what it tells the player about the game, and his role in it.
Evaluate each sentence's effectiveness and decide whether it
communicates meaningful information to the player.

Evaluate your opening against the four W's (Who, What, Where and Why.
There's also When, but the immediacy of IF makes it less of an issue for
most works). How well are they answered by the time you get to the end
of the opening? As an example, let's try that with Planetfall and see
how it stacks up.

1) Who? You are a lowly Ensign Seventh Class.
2) What? You have been assigned to scrub the deck.
3) Where? You're aboard the Feinstein, a Stellar Patrol ship.
4) Why? You're scrubbing the floor because you're following orders.

All the questions are answered, and with a brief paragraph, the player
knows a lot about who he is and what his immediate goals are.

It's a good idea to check the opening text of many different IF games,
of many varied styles, and see how effectively they communicate the
opening situation to you, without overloading you with weighty exposition.

Trinity is another very good example of a concise opening that conveys a
lot of information.

--
8. SHOCKING SPELLING AND GRISLY GRAMMAR

A basic command of English (or whatever language you're writing in) is
essential. The IF community is full of well-read players and authors.
If your game suffers from poor language and grammar, it will definitely
not rise to the top of the pile. There is so much IF that's very
well-written that if your game isn't, I don't think it's overreacting to
say it's doomed to insignificance. The odd typo is tolerated but
consistent poor grammar, spelling and diction will annoy most of your
players. As for the rest of your players, they will be members of the
militant wing of the (to spoof Planetfall) "Speller Patrol" and will
immolate you in the fires of scorn and derision on Usenet.

Leniency (or burn cream) is given to those whose first language is not
the language in which they're writing, but in general:

If you lack confidence in your command of the chosen language, ask
people to review it for writing style, spelling, grammar, etc.

Running your game through a spellchecker is difficult, because it's
source code, right? Well, turn on the scripting facility of your
interpreter, run through your game, performing all the actions to win
the game, and trying to examine all the objects. Then take the
transcript generated, and run *it* through your spellchecker. This will
ensure at least that anyone who runs through most of the standard things
in your game won't encounter any glaring errors.

Remember though that spellcheckers never catch homonym misuse, e.g. it
won't flag:
You can see that their is a piece of paper here.

Grammar checkers might catch that, but they make enough other mistakes
that they should probably be avoided. Though there are a few works of
IF I've seen which are so bad already that running through the grammar
checker would definitely have been an improvement.

On another grammar-related note, specific to a lot of Inform games: if
you're going to use the -ize endings of words like "realize", then
please define DIALECT_US in your code, so that we don't have
incongruities like:

You struggle to read the piece of paper, but you don't recognize the
language used.

> study paper
That's not a verb I recognise.

(anyone else care to comment on this in other languages? I'm not sure if
this problem occurs in those or not)

--
9. PLAYER PERUSAL

(included for Aris Katsaris, but for the record, I agree)

Not implementing anything other than the default response for 'examine
me' smacks of a lazy or amateur IF-writer, as well as a poorly-developed
PC for the story.

And no, I'm not trying to start this argument again.

SOLUTION:
Think about who your PC is. Is he male or female? Tall or short? Ugly
or attractive? How is he dressed? How is the response you print from
'examine me' affected by the PC's opinion of himself?

Oh, one other thing: much as it's bad form to insult the player, it's
very cliché to have all the NPCs in the game treat the PC like dirt, or
refer to him as ugly, smelly, dirty, whatever. Unrealistic too. In the
real world, there are lots of helpful people, so if the PC is in a
generally nonhostile environment, your NPCs should at least be civil
towards him.

--
10. LACONIC LOCATIONS

Many games seem to operate from the idea that giving a location a name
is sufficient for fully describing it. It's not.

Yes, if you say "You're in a bank." most players will be able to imagine
what a bank looks like. But the point is: we want to know what *this*
bank looks like, how you the author have envisaged it.

Also frustrating are room descriptions that all begin with "You are
in..." and the idea of variety is to start a room with the description
"You are standing in...".

One of the worst I've seen recently (paraphrased to protect the guilty):

You look around. The only way out of here appears to be North
as there is a wall to the south. East and West do jack-all for you.

Another one:
You check your surroundings. You can go east or west. Southward appears
to be blocked.

> north
Didn't you read my instructions? You CAN'T go south.

The key problem with the last one is the use of "appears to be blocked"
which implied to me that there was a barrier there that could be
circumvented. Not the case. You just couldn't go south. No mention of
what the apparent blockage was, of course.

SOLUTION:
Be imaginative when describing your locations. If you have trouble
knowing how to describe things, observe the world around you. Look at
pictures that resemble the locations in your games. Try to describe
them to someone else, or have someone else describe them to you, and see
how much of a picture you receive based on just the description.
--
11. ACTION ADVANCEMENT (via Location Descriptions)

This is another one I've seen quite a bit. Here's a quick example to
explain.

We've got your average run-of-the-mill IF game. We're standing beside a
car. There's only one way to get through the second-story window above,
and that's by standing on the hood of the car when it explodes. So the
amateur writes the "Second Floor" location of the house like so:

Second Floor
The car has exploded, and you are
in the second story of the house
where you were blown by the
exploding car.

>


SOLUTION:
NEVER put plot action into the room descriptions. It doesn't matter if
the given plot action is the ONLY way the player could EVER get into the
location; do you want the player to see it every time they say 'LOOK' ?
Also, what if, 37 room locations later, you decide that you do want
the player to be allowed back into that location. So you put a link
from the hallway back into the second story room. Guess what? If you
don't remember that location which you wrote two months ago has a
plot-centric description, you'll be in trouble.

--
12. INSIPID INITIALS

I don't mind seeing "You can see a <whatever> here" a few times in a
game. I also don't mind seeing that for things that the player has
dropped in a room. It's nicer if everything has a describe routine, but
that's a lot of work. As well, if you have a describe routine for
everything, and a player drops everything he has in a room, it makes for
a very lengthy pile of text when he types 'LOOK'.

What I *do* mind seeing is objects that are still in their initial
location being described as merely:
"You can see a <whatever> here."

It's not really reasonable that all these things are just lying around
to begin with, but throwing that aside, let's see some originality in
describing them. Have them sitting on the table, discarded on the
floor, lined up in a row, anything.

Along with this idea, let's introduce some sense into the locations
where you find things. Far too many games seem to get all the puzzles
created and then the objects needed to solve those puzzles strewn about
the map at random. Why is there a wrench in the kitchen? Why is there
a flask of acid in the bedroom? Invent reasons for why things are where
they are. Put a leaky faucet in the kitchen, explaining the wrench. Or
put things in places that make sense. A wrench in the toolshop, acid in
the laboratory.

The cardinal sin in initial descriptions is doing this for NPCs. How
boring is it if everytime Jack is in the room and you issue a Look, you get:
"You can see Jack here."

It doesn't take much to change the game to make it look like so much
more than just the standard library with some rooms tacked on. Even a
simple:
"Jack is lounging against the sofa here, looking bored."

does wonders for adding realism to the game. Preferred is doing a
switched random(x) statement of some kind, so Jack does slightly
different things every time the player issues Look.

--
13. MANGLED MIMESIS

This is just a brief one--I've noticed lots of games break their mimesis
through deliberate and forced injection of the author's voice. One
example I saw recently makes tantalising references to:
"... but what exactly is it for?
Only the game author knows!!!"

upon examining an object.

Or, worse yet, upon trying to attack an NPC:
"If you keep trying to do stupid
things like this, I will find you
and kill you personally."

This was *not* said by the NPC, but by the game itself.

For me, nothing pulls me right out of the environment of a game worse
than this.

There are also incongruities of technology and culture, say where a
dungeon contains a copy of a modern magazine, or a modern naval vessel
has, for some inexplicable reason, a 150' tall wooden mast.

There may be artistic reasons for doing this sort of thing, say in a
game involving time travel or some sort of really warped technological
world. However, if you're trying to write a game with a consistent
setting, make sure you understand the level of technology appropriate to
the setting.

--
14. ACTION ABORTION

Trapping actions in order to disallow them and provide the "correct"
syntax. This one really annoys me. When I type a sequence of commands
in an IF-game, I can understand if they don't have the right effect.

But if I type:

> sit on rug
Psst, try STAND ON RUG instead

or
You can see a cannon here.
> put cannonball in cannon
Hey!!! Use LOAD CANNONBALL IN CANNON instead.

I get extremely irritated knowing that the author anticipated my typing
the "wrong" phrase, obviously knows what I wanted to do (because he
suggests the proper phrase), but doesn't bother to do the right thing
for me.

SOLUTION:
If you're going to bother to catch the alternate way of phrasing the
action, and tell me the correct one, why not just have the "incorrect"
one work, and keep quiet about it?

--
15. CLOSEMOUTHED CHARACTERS

NPCs that do nothing unless the magic words are said to them
e.g.

You are in the queens torcher
chamber. Baldrick is running
around and screaming let me
out let me out!!! he's in prison
for meeting the queen the
other day then he didnt bow to
her. So she told him to and
he did but not low enough!!!

You can see a Lord Blackadder here.

> ask blackadder about baldrick
There is no reply.

> ask blackadder about queen
There is no reply.

> blackadder, tell me about baldrick
There is no reply.

> talk to blackadder
That Baldrick is going crazy!!! We
have to find a way to get out of here
and YOU have to do it."

SOLUTION:
At the minimum, give your NPCs a default response to Ask and Tell.
Personally, I don't like the "I don't know anything about that." type of
response. That clearly says to me, as a player, "Here's a hole in the
game." I prefer something like "You're busy worrying about that when
we've got to escape this prison cell?" Something that works in the
context of the game, and the context of the NPC, and why they're there
with the player.

Try to predict the reasonable topics of conversation that the player
might initiate with the NPC, and program responses in for them.

Think about the objects the player is likely to have when they meet the
NPC, and have the NPC respond meaningfully to the more important ones.
And create a nice default response for being shown the rest of them.
"~So you've got a <whatever>,~ sighs Lord Blackadder. ~Too bad it
doesn't help us get out of here.~".
--

Well, that's about it for now, as my brain and fingers are running first
and second for "most tired body part" and my behind is bringing up the rear.

Comments and questions welcome. Flames less welcome, but this is Usenet.


Michael
--
Replace AT and DOT with appropriate characters to reply via e-mail
coyneATmbDOTsympaticoDOTca

James Glover

unread,
May 2, 2003, 7:03:30 PM5/2/03
to
On Fri, 02 May 2003 16:25:33 -0500, Michael Coyne
<coy...@mbDOT.sympaticoDOT.ca> wrote:

> I decided to jot down a few things I've noticed in a lot of the amateur
> games I've tested or tried out. I've tried these games for reasons I
> can't entirely fathom; admittedly, it's easier and leaves fewer
> disfiguring scars than self-flagellation. It is not necessarily any less
> painful though.

Useful, although I'm pleased to say I'm not making any of them, yet I'm
sure I'll commit other crimes.

On the topic of mimesis. I currently have plans to temporarily introduce a
puzzle which on close analysis is slightly unrealistic. This wouldn't be
obvious to the player when they were presented with the puzzle, but with
the benifit of hindsight it seems slightly odd. (Some players would
probably not even notice)

Current plans are to implament the puzzle. (Whilst looking for
alternatives. I have just realised that The actual basis behind the puzzle
hasn't been fixed, so I can easily take a completely different approach.)
I was wondering, how do people feel with such, less obvious, breaks with
mimesis. (Unfortunately I'm quite pleased with the puzzle concept, yet I
guess I can use it in another game where there would be no problem.)
--
James Glover
E-mail: ja...@jaspsplace.co.uk
Web: http://www.jaspsplace.co.uk
MSN: ja...@jaspsplace.co.uk
ICQ: 75440795
http://www.rpi.edu/~taylok2/tsuduku/001.html <Tsuduku

Jim Aikin

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May 3, 2003, 1:23:05 AM5/3/03
to
Great topic. I'm sure we all have our favorite horror stories.

> I realise I have never released a game, and thus my qualifications to
> expound on the errors of others may be suspect. So please, no
> complaints on that score for now--I'm aware of the hypocrisy.

Au contraire. Any intelligent reader is qualified to be a critic.

> AMATEUR AUTHOR TELLTALES:

Note that virtually all IF is written by amateurs. I'm sure you're using
"amateur" in an attempt to be kind. What you really mean, I suppose, is
"third-rate."

> BEST: you should also match reasonable synonyms that you DON'T mention
> in the text (e.g. 'chest' 'tools'). Use a thesaurus and check for
> synonyms.

Up to a point, I'd agree. There's a certain difficulty, however, that
arises when rather similar objects (such as a leaflet, a pamphlet, a
letter, and a notebook, let's say) are all available in the same area. One
wants, insofar as possible, to avoid overlapping nouns, so as to avoid this:

> take book
Which book do you mean, the notebook, the pamphlet, or the encyclopedia?

It's better in this case to avoid allowing the use of the word 'book'
entirely, or to allow it to be used only with reference to one object.

> 4. EXCITING EXCLAMATIONS!!!

Did you ever read "Bonfire of the Vanities"? Terrific book! But about half
the sentences end in exclamation points! Very distracting!

> If you lack confidence in your command of the chosen language, ask
> people to review it for writing style, spelling, grammar, etc.

"People" is a big category. Since I'm a professional editor, naturally I'm
prejudiced, but my experience has been that even the pro writers I edit are
sometimes shockingly lax about parallel structure, dangling participles,
pronouns without antecedent, and sloppy homonym errors. Expecting that
either your kid sister or an unpaid beta-tester will provide a safety net
is expecting quite a lot.

> 9. PLAYER PERUSAL


>
> SOLUTION:
> Think about who your PC is. Is he male or female? Tall or short? Ugly
> or attractive? How is he dressed? How is the response you print from
> 'examine me' affected by the PC's opinion of himself?

And how might the events that occur during the course of the story change
the PC? 'x me' will sometimes need to look at a few variables before
printing out a response.

> NEVER put plot action into the room descriptions.

This is a very important point. There's an easy way around it, though. Give
your room object a variable, and ... okay, here's some pseudocode:

dining_room: room
first_time_here = 0
description = {
if (first_time_here == 0) "Whew! It's so good to get away
from Aunt Dorothy and finally get a little peace and quiet! ";
first_time_here++;
"The dining room is a quiet oasis from the hectic activity in
the rest of the house. The big oak table [etc]. ";
}

No matter how often the player visits this room, the opening sentence is
only going to be printed out once. As a side benefit, this makes the
software _feel_ more interactive.

Your final point, about characters who respond poorly to ask and tell,
could be expanded. Nothing irritates me more (well ... very little
irritates me more) than NPCs who are no more than cardboard cutouts. I
recently played the first half of a game, which shall remain nameless not
as a courtesy to the author but because I've made a promise to myself NEVER
to mention this particular author OR his game by name, in which the
following scenario unfolded:

As the game opens, you, the PC, are chasing a certain person. You're a
military type, and your unit has butchered all of this person's companions,
and now you're by yourself, chasing the last survivor on foot. Shortly you
catch him. Whereupon he stands there and does nothing -- doesn't try to
run, doesn't attack you, just waits for you to solve the next puzzle.

That's unrealistic enough, but if you try certain plausible or at least
conceivable actions, the unreality will ascend to a higher level. You can,
for example, try to kill the person. The game will report that you've hit
him hard enough to break his jaw, but thereafter his actions and the
description of his appearance don't change -- he's not wincing, not
cowering away from you, nothing. Perverse creature that I am, I then tried
giving the NPC my sword. And the software gave me a more or less default
response to the effect that the NPC wasn't interested. Hmm ... I've
butchered all his friends, I've hit him a solid wallop, yet he isn't
interested in taking my sword away from me?

It's hard work to code a realistic NPC, make no mistake. Not even the
finest author can possibly consider every combination of dumb actions a
player might attempt. But it's possible to aspire to a higher standard than
this.

--Jim Aikin

Seebs

unread,
May 3, 2003, 4:15:24 AM5/3/03
to
In article <3EB35244.9040008@end_of_spam.org>,

Jim Aikin <darn_those_spammers@end_of_spam.org> wrote:
>This is a very important point. There's an easy way around it, though. Give
>your room object a variable, and ... okay, here's some pseudocode:

>dining_room: room
> first_time_here = 0
> description = {
> if (first_time_here == 0) "Whew! It's so good to get away
> from Aunt Dorothy and finally get a little peace and quiet! ";
> first_time_here++;
> "The dining room is a quiet oasis from the hectic activity in
> the rest of the house. The big oak table [etc]. ";
> }
>
>No matter how often the player visits this room, the opening sentence is
>only going to be printed out once. As a side benefit, this makes the
>software _feel_ more interactive.

Unless the player comes in, say, 65,536 times. :)

Never use increment to set a flag.

-s
--
Copyright 2002, all wrongs reversed. Peter Seebach / se...@plethora.net
$ chmod a+x /bin/laden Please do not feed or harbor the terrorists.
C/Unix wizard, Pro-commerce radical, Spam fighter. Boycott Spamazon!
Consulting, computers, web hosting, and shell access: http://www.plethora.net/

Cedric Knight

unread,
May 3, 2003, 5:59:24 AM5/3/03
to
"Michael Coyne" <coy...@mbDOT.sympaticoDOT.ca> wrote

> AMATEUR AUTHOR TELLTALES:

'Inexperienced' or 'unpolished' are my favoured euphemisms.

> 7. ENCUMBERING EXPOSITION
>
> I've seen many games with massive exposition in the introductory text
> explaining everything that has happened in the player character's
(PC's)
> life to bring him to the point he is currently at as the story opens.
>
> This is a tricky one, and is less indicative of an amateur IF author
> than it is just of an amateur author in general.

Are you sure you mean it that way around? I would have said that long
'cut-scenes' at the start of, or during, a story are a sign of someone
with writing ability who hasn't experience in structuring or pacing an
IF game. (As an example I would cite 'ID thief' from Comp2003 which I
think generally scored highly - 13th - because of imaginative writing,
but poorly from me because of interactivity issues and the way it would
work better as a short story.)

It is true that 'expository lumps' or 'infodumps' are a problem in genre
fiction (& Proust :) but the nature of them is slightly different: there
it is a stretch of dialogue with no action; in IF it can be a stretch of
action with no *inter*action. The common factor is when these
diversions feel uninteresting or irrelevant to most reader's concerns (I
wanna know if Geordi gets off with Deanna, not all this treknobabble).

Which needs to be balanced with this:
> 9. PLAYER PERUSAL


>
> SOLUTION:
> Think about who your PC is. Is he male or female? Tall or short?
Ugly
> or attractive? How is he dressed? How is the response you print from
> 'examine me' affected by the PC's opinion of himself?

IMO it is still, and will always be, acceptable to have an Everyman
player character. The PC is then a displaced fantasy version of the
player, and the narration needs to start in a realistic present day
setting. 'Examine me' is then non-committal or disabled. What the
author should not then do is combine this clear-cut choice with any
assumptions elsewhere about the PC's appearance, sex, sexuality, skills
or attitudes, just as the author should make no assumptions about who
will play the story.

But this approach is now rare, and if you are involving the PC in a
complex history and plot, they need to be fleshed out to some extent,
mentally as well as physically, by events early in the narration.

> 10. LACONIC LOCATIONS

Yes, there are some dreadfully uninformative descriptions out there.

I don't think location text needs to be *long*, just (1) vivid or
memorable and (2) functional in such a way that the player can inspect
or otherwise access anything that they might want or need to.

Thanks for the essay!!!!! :)

CK

Cedric Knight

unread,
May 3, 2003, 6:04:38 AM5/3/03
to
"Seebs" <se...@plethora.net> wrote

> Jim Aikin <darn_those_spammers@end_of_spam.org> wrote:
> >This is a very important point. There's an easy way around it,
though. Give
> >your room object a variable, and ... okay, here's some pseudocode:
>
> >dining_room: room
> > first_time_here = 0
> > description = {
> > if (first_time_here == 0) "Whew! It's so good to get away
> > from Aunt Dorothy and finally get a little peace and quiet! ";
> > first_time_here++;
> > "The dining room is a quiet oasis from the hectic activity in
> > the rest of the house. The big oak table [etc]. ";
> > }
> >
> >No matter how often the player visits this room, the opening sentence
is
> >only going to be printed out once.

...


>
> Unless the player comes in, say, 65,536 times. :)

This is something I particularly look out for as a beta tester, you
know. After the first million moves or so, I've found 16-bit overflow a
fairly common programming error even in relatively bug-free works.
There's nothing worse than a room reminding you inappropriately about
the irritations of Aunt Dorothy every 65,000 moves. It really breaks
the flow.

I'm afraid I will be unable to guarantee the same high standards of
testing in future to developers of 32-bit TADS3 files. I might get a
wee bit tired owing to typing 'e. w.' 4,294,967,295 times, have to start
all over again, and thus be too late for the author's deadline.

> Never use increment to set a flag.

You're not a computer science graduate, by any chance?

CK
:)


KF

unread,
May 3, 2003, 7:07:06 AM5/3/03
to
An excellent run through of the pitfalls that befall any writer of IF,
you don't have to be new to make most of them.

Michael Coyne

unread,
May 3, 2003, 9:57:35 AM5/3/03
to
On Sat, 03 May 2003 10:59:24 +0100, Cedric Knight said to the parser:

> "Michael Coyne" <coy...@mbDOT.sympaticoDOT.ca> wrote
>
>> AMATEUR AUTHOR TELLTALES:
>
> 'Inexperienced' or 'unpolished' are my favoured euphemisms.

Yes, but then I'd miss out on the alliteration, and break the tradition of
all my headlines : )

>> 7. ENCUMBERING EXPOSITION


>>
> Are you sure you mean it that way around? I would have said that long
> 'cut-scenes' at the start of, or during, a story are a sign of someone
> with writing ability who hasn't experience in structuring or pacing an
> IF game. (As an example I would cite 'ID thief' from Comp2003 which I
> think generally scored highly - 13th - because of imaginative writing,
> but poorly from me because of interactivity issues and the way it would
> work better as a short story.)
>
> It is true that 'expository lumps' or 'infodumps' are a problem in genre
> fiction (& Proust :) but the nature of them is slightly different: there
> it is a stretch of dialogue with no action; in IF it can be a stretch of
> action with no *inter*action. The common factor is when these
> diversions feel uninteresting or irrelevant to most reader's concerns (I
> wanna know if Geordi gets off with Deanna, not all this treknobabble).

Good point, Cedric.

To clarify: I wasn't talking specifically about lengthy cut-scenes at the
beginning of works, I was talking more about the excessively expositional
nature of some of them... that is, when the author knows of no way to dump
all that information out short of listing it all. "This happened, then
this happened, then that." That breaks the cardinal rule of "Show, Don't
Tell" in literature.

Rather than relating a bunch of expositional text, you can give it
immediacy by crafting your introduction into more of a story structure.
Of course, that becomes more difficult, as in the example I gave, where
the exposition covers many years.

There are ways in fiction to convey a lot of information very subtly, but
it's difficult to explain exactly how. You read an introduction, and
realise you know a lot about the character, but weren't specifically told
a lot of things.

> Thanks for the essay!!!!! :)

Thanks for the input, and the exclamations. If only your sentence had
been longer, I'm sure you would have blessed me with a line break too. : )


Michael


Michael Coyne

unread,
May 3, 2003, 10:13:05 AM5/3/03
to
On Sat, 03 May 2003 05:23:05 +0000, Jim Aikin said to the parser:

>> AMATEUR AUTHOR TELLTALES:
>
> Note that virtually all IF is written by amateurs. I'm sure you're using
> "amateur" in an attempt to be kind. What you really mean, I suppose, is
> "third-rate."

That's a good point. As I posted a few minutes ago, that breaks my
alliteration. Oh well. Sacrifices must be made.

I was specifically trying to avoid the word "newbie".

Maybe I can call it "First-Timer Foibles" then. Though I've seen some
shoddy efforts from people who release multiple games and just don't seem
to progress in the field.


> Up to a point, I'd agree. There's a certain difficulty, however, that
> arises when rather similar objects (such as a leaflet, a pamphlet, a
> letter, and a notebook, let's say) are all available in the same area. One
> wants, insofar as possible, to avoid overlapping nouns, so as to avoid this:

True, but I think handling parsing of names like that goes along with
enhancing the user experience in general through the use of synonyms.

In a game I looked at recently (the author knows who he is : ) ), the PC
was given instructions to "secure the topsail". Lo and behold at the top
of the mast is a "mainsail", which in naval terms is NOT the same thing.
But no topsail. The words mainsail and topsail did not work to refer to
it, but the word "sail" did.

> Did you ever read "Bonfire of the Vanities"? Terrific book! But about half
> the sentences end in exclamation points! Very distracting!

Yes I did! In mainstream fiction terms, I've also seen this in lots of
poorly written sci fi! But I've seen most of the problems in my post in
works of sci fi! Any popular, well-selling field attracts hacks of course.

> "People" is a big category. Since I'm a professional editor, naturally I'm
> prejudiced, but my experience has been that even the pro writers I edit are
> sometimes shockingly lax about parallel structure, dangling participles,
> pronouns without antecedent, and sloppy homonym errors. Expecting that
> either your kid sister or an unpaid beta-tester will provide a safety net
> is expecting quite a lot.

True, I should perhaps amend that to "well-read people" : )

I also meant to talk a little more about spellcheckers and their implicit
dangers. Personally, I never use them as I find them annoying and
cumbersome--being of British origin, I tend to use words that Microsoft Word,
installed on my work laptop with US settings, doesn't like, and I'm too
lazy to add them to the dictionary.

> And how might the events that occur during the course of the story change
> the PC? 'x me' will sometimes need to look at a few variables before
> printing out a response.

True. That's another thing that annoys me. Something traumatic happens
to the PC: they get injured, or in more comical works, fall into a vat of
custard, say, and their appearance doesn't change. "Clean me" produces
the default response and so on.

>> NEVER put plot action into the room descriptions.
>
> This is a very important point. There's an easy way around it, though. Give
> your room object a variable, and ... okay, here's some pseudocode:
>
> dining_room: room
> first_time_here = 0
> description = {
> if (first_time_here == 0) "Whew! It's so good to get away
> from Aunt Dorothy and finally get a little peace and quiet! ";
> first_time_here++;
> "The dining room is a quiet oasis from the hectic activity in
> the rest of the house. The big oak table [etc]. ";
> }

Good suggestion. I'll just add my refinement for Inform.

Rather than risk the wrap around problem implicit with this, in Inform you
can simply use:
if (location hasnt visited)...

and there you go. I should have mentioned that in my original post, but
well, that's what second drafts are for.

Thanks for the response, Jim.

Michael

Seebs

unread,
May 3, 2003, 1:08:26 PM5/3/03
to
In article <1AMsa.14927$9C6.7...@wards.force9.net>,
Cedric Knight <ckn...@gn.babpbc.removeallBstosend.org> wrote:
>"Seebs" <se...@plethora.net> wrote

>> Never use increment to set a flag.

>You're not a computer science graduate, by any chance?

No. I'm a sometimes maintenance programmer. We're VERY finicky.

SteveG

unread,
May 3, 2003, 4:08:00 PM5/3/03
to
On Sat, 03 May 2003 08:57:35 -0500, "Michael Coyne"
<coy...@mbDOT.sympaticoDOT.ca> wrote:
>On Sat, 03 May 2003 10:59:24 +0100, Cedric Knight said to the parser:
>> "Michael Coyne" <coy...@mbDOT.sympaticoDOT.ca> wrote
>>> AMATEUR AUTHOR TELLTALES:
>> 'Inexperienced' or 'unpolished' are my favoured euphemisms.
>
>Yes, but then I'd miss out on the alliteration, and break the tradition of
>all my headlines : )

I think you may need to break free from your tradition. Unless you can
come up with an entirely different alliterating headline I, for one,
shall remain annoyed. (Not really of course -- I am typing jestfully
but for some reason the resulting pixels appear just as black and
white as ones typed sternfully.)

Not only does the current headline mis-use the word 'amateur' but it
is ambiguous about whether the annoyances annoy amateur authors or
amateur authors annoy others.

Back to your thesaurus, I suggest.

-- SteveG
remove _X_ from my address to send me email

Ricardo SIGNES

unread,
May 3, 2003, 5:59:09 PM5/3/03
to
In article <vk78bvoa7h86g1u67...@4ax.com>, SteveG wrote:
> Not only does the current headline mis-use the word 'amateur' but it
> is ambiguous about whether the annoyances annoy amateur authors or
> amateur authors annoy others.

Annoying Author's SNAFUs.

It's got a good acronym, and the ambiguity is good.

--
rjbs

Scott Royer III

unread,
May 3, 2003, 6:46:42 PM5/3/03
to
Michael Coyne <coy...@mbDOT.sympaticoDOT.ca> wrote in message news:<MjBsa.5325$NC4....@news1.mts.net>...

> If this post evinces enough
> interest in the subject, I may compile this into a more formal list, or
> possibly we could have some collaboration on an 'Amateur Author FAQ'.

Having started my first "real" game (having played around with ADRIFT
and left unsatisfied for Inform), I can tell you that your article was
a good read, very helpful, and defintely should be collected into a
standard article of some sort. Thank you.


> --
> 7. ENCUMBERING EXPOSITION

<snip>

> Evaluate your opening against the four W's (Who, What, Where and Why.
> There's also When, but the immediacy of IF makes it less of an issue for
> most works). How well are they answered by the time you get to the end
> of the opening? As an example, let's try that with Planetfall and see
> how it stacks up.
>
> 1) Who? You are a lowly Ensign Seventh Class.
> 2) What? You have been assigned to scrub the deck.
> 3) Where? You're aboard the Feinstein, a Stellar Patrol ship.
> 4) Why? You're scrubbing the floor because you're following orders.
>
> All the questions are answered, and with a brief paragraph, the player
> knows a lot about who he is and what his immediate goals are.

The initial exposition for my game is quite long and I'm sure that
I'll have to shorten it some. But, IMHO, the initial exposition is
more than just the four W's: It's the description that is needed to
begin full immersion of the player into the story. There's a
difference in immersion factor between just dropping a player into the
middle of a 200 MPH race car, instead of describing how they
accelerated to that point. Quite frankly, when I played Planetfall, I
did not feel immediately immersed into the game; however, the other
example you gave *is* worse ;)

I agree that once should be succinct as possible in all cases, but not
at the expense of the immersion faction.

(Hmmm... can I fit the I-word into this post and greater number of
time?.... )

KF

unread,
May 4, 2003, 2:23:23 AM5/4/03
to
gots...@pacbell.net (Scott Royer III) wrote in message news:<af7eb4cf.03050...@posting.google.com>...
CUT

>
> The initial exposition for my game is quite long and I'm sure that
> I'll have to shorten it some. But, IMHO, the initial exposition is
> more than just the four W's: It's the description that is needed to
> begin full immersion of the player into the story. There's a
> difference in immersion factor between just dropping a player into the
> middle of a 200 MPH race car, instead of describing how they
> accelerated to that point. Quite frankly, when I played Planetfall, I
> did not feel immediately immersed into the game; however, the other
> example you gave *is* worse ;)
>
> I agree that once should be succinct as possible in all cases, but not
> at the expense of the immersion faction.
>
> (Hmmm... can I fit the I-word into this post and greater number of
> time?.... )

You can provide additional background, but as an option which the
player is advised to read. That way the proper start of the game isn't
over long. A lot of games use a start menu to do this.

Darius Katz

unread,
May 4, 2003, 7:59:27 AM5/4/03
to
In article <c1746923.03050...@posting.google.com>,
kf_a...@hotmail.com says...

> gots...@pacbell.net (Scott Royer III) wrote in message news:<af7eb4cf.03050...@posting.google.com>...
> CUT
> >
> > The initial exposition for my game is quite long and I'm sure that
> > I'll have to shorten it some. But, IMHO, the initial exposition is
> > more than just the four W's: It's the description that is needed to
> > begin full immersion of the player into the story. There's a
> > difference in immersion factor between just dropping a player into the
> > middle of a 200 MPH race car, instead of describing how they
> > accelerated to that point. Quite frankly, when I played Planetfall, I
> > did not feel immediately immersed into the game; however, the other
> > example you gave *is* worse ;)
> >
> > I agree that once should be succinct as possible in all cases, but not
> > at the expense of the immersion faction.
> >
>
> You can provide additional background, but as an option which the
> player is advised to read. That way the proper start of the game isn't
> over long. A lot of games use a start menu to do this.
>

I have a distinct memory that The Meteor, the Stone and a Long Glass of
Sherbet had a lot of background info in an invisiclues hint-like manner. That
way it didn't slow down the progress of the story.

-- Darius

R. N. Dominick

unread,
May 4, 2003, 8:18:27 AM5/4/03
to
Darius Katz <d_k...@hotmail.com> wrote in
news:MPG.191f1ee6e...@news.cis.dfn.de:

> I have a distinct memory that The Meteor, the Stone and a Long Glass
> of Sherbet had a lot of background info in an invisiclues hint-like
> manner. That way it didn't slow down the progress of the story.

I have to say that I have a particular dislike for this kind of background
infodumping; it makes me feel like there's going to be a test or something.
The one game where it worked for me was LASH, because it seemed like a
natural introduction, I suppose.

--
R. N. Dominick -- ur...@bookmice.net

Coffeehouse Software -- IF non-productivity in spades!
http://www.bookmice.net/coffeehouse/

Darius Katz

unread,
May 4, 2003, 8:24:42 AM5/4/03
to
In article <Xns9371533093A...@65.24.2.12>, ur...@bookmice.net
says...

> Darius Katz <d_k...@hotmail.com> wrote in
> news:MPG.191f1ee6e...@news.cis.dfn.de:
>
> > I have a distinct memory that The Meteor, the Stone and a Long Glass
> > of Sherbet had a lot of background info in an invisiclues hint-like
> > manner. That way it didn't slow down the progress of the story.
>
> I have to say that I have a particular dislike for this kind of background
> infodumping; it makes me feel like there's going to be a test or something.
> The one game where it worked for me was LASH, because it seemed like a
> natural introduction, I suppose.
>
>

Fair enough. Should it be left out altogether or just implemented in another
way?

-- Darius

R. N. Dominick

unread,
May 4, 2003, 12:24:28 PM5/4/03
to
Darius Katz <d_k...@hotmail.com> wrote in
news:MPG.191f24f21...@news.cis.dfn.de:

>> I have to say that I have a particular dislike for this kind of
>> background infodumping; it makes me feel like there's going to be a
>> test or something. The one game where it worked for me was LASH,
>> because it seemed like a natural introduction, I suppose.
> Fair enough. Should it be left out altogether or just implemented in
> another way?

Hey, I'm just one guy. It's certainly never kept me from playing a game,
to have information presented like that. If it's how you want to do
things, go ahead and do them. No matter what you do, you'll find someone
who disagrees.

tarage

unread,
May 4, 2003, 3:08:54 PM5/4/03
to
On Fri, 2 May 2003 19:03:30 -0400, James Glover wrote
(in message <oprokib4wii5ezju@localhost>):

> I was wondering, how do people feel with such, less obvious, breaks with
> mimesis. (Unfortunately I'm quite pleased with the puzzle concept, yet I
> guess I can use it in another game where there would be no problem.)
>

They're forgivable as long as the rest of the game is sterling. Everyone's
used to flaws and can let a few minor things go. However, if the game orbits
around this puzzle, then I'd fix it. In the latter case, it's obviously not a
minor thing!

~Tarage

Scott Royer III

unread,
May 4, 2003, 4:18:15 PM5/4/03
to
kf_a...@hotmail.com (KF) wrote in:

> >
> > I agree that once should be succinct as possible in all cases, but not
> > at the expense of the immersion faction.
> >
>
> You can provide additional background, but as an option which the
> player is advised to read. That way the proper start of the game isn't
> over long. A lot of games use a start menu to do this.

I'm afraid I haven't progressed in my learning to menus yet, so
please forgive my ignorance (more research, more research!). But this
is used to give the option to "skip intro", such as you find in Flash
websites?

Michael Coyne

unread,
May 4, 2003, 10:18:17 PM5/4/03
to
On Sat, 03 May 2003 15:46:42 +0000, Scott Royer III said to the parser:

>
> The initial exposition for my game is quite long and I'm sure that
> I'll have to shorten it some. But, IMHO, the initial exposition is
> more than just the four W's: It's the description that is needed to
> begin full immersion of the player into the story. There's a
> difference in immersion factor between just dropping a player into the
> middle of a 200 MPH race car, instead of describing how they
> accelerated to that point. Quite frankly, when I played Planetfall, I
> did not feel immediately immersed into the game; however, the other
> example you gave *is* worse ;)
>
> I agree that once should be succinct as possible in all cases, but not
> at the expense of the immersion faction.
>
> (Hmmm... can I fit the I-word into this post and greater number of
> time?.... )

Scott,

Further to my original post, I agree that exposition itself is not bad. I should have
made that more clear. Well-written exposition can be very entertaining to
read, and add a lot of depth to the introduction, and really get you into
the story.

It's the poorly written "data dump" that bothers me more than lengthy
exposition... the lifestory dumped out in a blur of poorly worded "Then
..." "then..." "and then..." type sentences.

One other suggestion to add to what others have said:

Add the option to RESTORE an old game before dumping out all the
introductory text. A good rule might be if the player has to hit a key to
continue more than once before they get to the first prompt, offer a "Do
you want to restore..." option as the first thing in the game.


Michael

Daniel Barkalow

unread,
May 4, 2003, 11:24:27 PM5/4/03
to
On Fri, 2 May 2003, Michael Coyne wrote:

> 5. ABERRANT ARTICLES (or Definite Article Errors)
>
> Torcher Chamber
>
> You can see a Lord Blackadder here.

Baldrick lights his torch and prepares to immolate you.

"No, Baldrick," Blackadder says. "This is a torture chamber not a... oh,
carry on."

-Iabervon (you did say...)
*This .sig unintentionally changed*

Neil Cerutti

unread,
May 5, 2003, 11:16:25 AM5/5/03
to
In article <c1746923.03050...@posting.google.com>, KF
wrote:

If you are good enough, you can get away with horrible crimes for
which lesser authors would get sneered at. For example, in a
famous Russian novel I'm currently reading, the equivalent of an
IF Object is dropped on our hero in chapter 2.

>X OBJECT
It's a letter from your mother. She is a pauper, and lives far
away with your sister, whom you love more deeply than any other
person, save yourself.

>READ IT
(Snip 45 pages of text describing your family history, and
current events, setting up several complex subplots and
introducing twelve new characters.)

You now feel even more agitated.

[Your score has just gone up by 3.]

--
Neil Cerutti

Sam Kabo Ashwell

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May 5, 2003, 1:56:23 PM5/5/03
to
On 5/5/03 4:16 pm, in article b95v89$g2sd8$1...@ID-60390.news.dfncis.de, "Neil
Cerutti" <hor...@yahoo.com> wrote:

And this was the point that I gave up reading C&P.

Wait, your score goes *up*? I'd have imagined it'd sort of be a negative
version of Zero Sum Game, involving your score starting at 0 and dropping
down into more and more negative figures as the plot progresses.

Also, epilepsy daemons would be far more annoying than any hunger daemon.
SKA

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
May 5, 2003, 2:16:58 PM5/5/03
to

The "read-this-first" collection of background information tends to
get on my nerves also. (Even if the author says you don't *have* to
read it first, do you believe him? Will the story leave you confused
and unmoved if you are ignorant of this background stuff? Conversely,
if the story *does* make sense without the background material, why is
the background material present at all? It better not be more
interesting than the story...)

Whether a given infodump can be left out altogether has to be decided
on a case-by-case basis. But if you think it can't be left out, I'd
rather you integrated it into the course of the game, where I'll come
across it in natural-sized bits.

--Z

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
* Make your vote count. Get your vote counted.

Neil Cerutti

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May 5, 2003, 2:18:11 PM5/5/03
to
In article <BADC63E2.A2A%ka...@btinternet.com>, Sam Kabo Ashwell
wrote:

OK, so even great authors can't always get away with it. ;-)

> Wait, your score goes *up*? I'd have imagined it'd sort of be a
> negative version of Zero Sum Game, involving your score
> starting at 0 and dropping down into more and more negative
> figures as the plot progresses.

I figured anything that furthers the plot increases your score.
For example, if you can swallow your ego enough to get a crappy
job, eat descent meals, pay your rent, and stop drinking, your
score goes down.

> Also, epilepsy daemons would be far more annoying than any
> hunger daemon. SKA

Especially when it is used to introduce "dream sequences" that
contain even *more* backstory.

--
Neil Cerutti

Mike Roberts

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May 5, 2003, 3:04:38 PM5/5/03
to
"Scott Royer III" <gots...@pacbell.net> wrote:
> The initial exposition for my game is quite long and I'm
> sure that I'll have to shorten it some. But, IMHO, the initial
> exposition is more than just the four W's: It's the description
> that is needed to begin full immersion of the player into the
> story. There's a difference in immersion factor between just
> dropping a player into the middle of a 200 MPH race car,
> instead of describing how they accelerated to that point.

Have you ever heard the phrase "in medias res"? It means "in the middle of
things," and it's where a lot of good writers think most stories should
start. In other words, a lot of writers would tell you that the 200 mph car
chase is precisely where you should start the story. Or, at least, that you
should start at the first really interesting point of conflict that leads to
the chase.

There's a sort of bootstrapping problem in writing fiction: readers/players
won't care about all of your carefully constructed background material until
after they've started caring about the characters, so your first job is to
generate that interest, not to explain everything. In fact, leaving some
stuff unexplained initially can actually make the reader/player *more*
interested, because they'll want to find out what the heck's going on.
Conflict and suspense are usually much better at creating that initial
involvement than background information.

--Mike
mjr underscore at hotmail dot com

Scott Royer III

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May 5, 2003, 3:45:36 PM5/5/03
to
"Michael Coyne" <coy...@mbDOT.sympaticoDOT.ca> wrote in message news:
> Scott,
>
> Further to my original post, I agree that exposition itself is not bad. I should have
> made that more clear. Well-written exposition can be very entertaining to
> read, and add a lot of depth to the introduction, and really get you into
> the story.
>
> It's the poorly written "data dump" that bothers me more than lengthy
> exposition... the lifestory dumped out in a blur of poorly worded "Then
> ..." "then..." "and then..." type sentences.

I agree with you as to how irritating that can be. Thanks for clarifying.

> One other suggestion to add to what others have said:
>
> Add the option to RESTORE an old game before dumping out all the
> introductory text. A good rule might be if the player has to hit a key to
> continue more than once before they get to the first prompt, offer a "Do
> you want to restore..." option as the first thing in the game.

Another good point. *makes mental note to remember to do that*

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