the ABOUT text debate; some specifics

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Adam Cadre

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Nov 21, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/21/00
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[Spoiler alert: the following post discusses how my games begin. If
you haven't played them and would rather be surprised, play the games
first and read the post later.]

So Stephen Granade said it'd take years of retraining before he'd be
able to accept IF games that don't launch right into the story upon
startup, and I gleefully began my reply. "Well, I'll be happy to
provide at least a couple weeks' worth of that! For I am one of the
questions-and-menus people, as you can see from Photopia and Varicella
and 9:0--

"--well, not 9:05, but Shra--

"--hrm."

So it appears that for all my menu advocacy posts, I've been all over
the map when it comes to how my own games have begun. Photopia asked
a couple of questions; Varicella presented the player with a menu;
9:05 dove straight into the story; Shrapnel had a special-effect title
screen. Which is best? As with conversation systems, it all depends
on the game.

What's the first thing you want the player to see? For Shrapnel, I
wanted it to be fragments of text blinking by just slightly too fast
to read, while the player was still off guard; beginning with a menu
would have given the player time to say, "All right, whatever this
game has in store for me, I'm braced for it! Ready, set... go!" 9:05
was a similar case. From the get-go, hurrying the player along is the
key. "No time to dawdle over questions and menus -- you're late late
LATE!" Before you're allowed to type a single key, the phone has
already rung three times; providing some prep time would have been
utterly counterproductive.

But what was the first thing I wanted players to see when they loaded
up Varicella? Not seven paragraphs of introduction. No, I wanted them
to see "Varicella by Adam Cadre" and a sizeable menu of choices. Why?
To give the player the following cue: "Hi there. Welcome to the game.
Your computer is about to become a Varicella machine, and you need to
be prepared. Here are some notes to read and some options to set --
and while you're at it, why don't you close your other apps, get out
your notepad, maybe visit the bathroom while you're up and about?
Because you're gonna be here a while." And once players have really
settled in, *then* I can hit them with seven paragraphs.

The threat of the seven paragraphs was also the reason that Varicella's
menu includes an option to restore right away. This was a game, I
thought, that most folks would be playing over the course of a couple
weeks or more, with lots of saving, lots of restoring, and little
inclination to look at the three-screen-long intro every time they
wanted to boot up their old saved game. With Photopia and 9:05 and
Shrapnel, I didn't care about that -- those games are meant to be played
in one sitting. If you're saving and restoring, you're sorta missing
the point.

Then we have the tenor of those seven paragraphs to consider, which
figured into my decision to put the notes in a menu instead of in a
piece of ABOUT text to be called up any old time. If the voice used
in Varicella had been, "Hey, folks, it's me, Adam, and here's what's
going on in our little story here," then it might not have been
disruptive at all to interrupt the tale to say, "Hey, folks, it's me,
Adam, and here are some special verbs you might want to try." But
Varicella makes heavy use of a filter character; while the PC, Primo,
is not actually narrating the tale, everything is filtered through his
perspective. And while I'm in Piedmont, that's the only way I can
talk. If you want to me to slip out of storytelling mode, you'll have
to meet me outside the world of the story. At least in this case. In
I-0, I was already cheerfully butting in with meta-comments, so a few
more wouldn't have hurt a thing. Again, it depends on the game.

Right now I have a number of IF projects I'm sporadically working on,
and loathe as I am to talk about stuff I haven't finished, I think that
by changing a few details here and there I can share my reasoning on
how to start them.

One is a huge graphical project. The Glulxe window needs to be set to
certain dimensions or the opening movie looks awful. This project
begins with a menu, so that in the course of offering the option to
restore a saved game or look at the credits, I can also say "Set your
window to the dimensions of this box!" *before* the movie begins.

One is regular text IF, but begins with a menu because there's a
separate mini-adventure included so that players can get used to the
stranger verbs. Why not use the old technique of having players use
>FLOOBLE for something really easy at the beginning of the game, in
order that they achieve mastery of >FLOOBLE in time to be able to use
it when it's really important? Because I know *exactly* how the main
adventure should go, and there is no space for that sort of thing.
So rather than dilute the effect of the story I have in mind, I have
a menu which offers "practice" in addition to "play".

A third is another text-only game for which I decided not to offer a
menu. Why not? Because I want the first thing the player sees to be
an in-story question: "Hey, baby, what's your sign? >> " (No, that's
not the actual question. But you get the idea.) That should be the
*first* question the player is asked, not the third or fourth. So no
menu, no configuration questions -- straight to putting the player on
the spot.

This game also has special instructions, which will be included in a
separate readme file. I also included readmes with 9:05 and Shrapnel;
do people actually read these things? Do they read them before playing
the game, or during play? Me, I always read instruction books cover to
cover, sometimes more than once, before I actually load up a game I've
bought... but that's another debate, I guess.

-----
Adam Cadre, Sammamish, WA
web site: http://adamcadre.ac
novel: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060195584/adamcadreac

Gunther Schmidl

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Nov 21, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/21/00
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> This game also has special instructions, which will be included in a
> separate readme file. I also included readmes with 9:05 and Shrapnel;
> do people actually read these things? Do they read them before playing
> the game, or during play? Me, I always read instruction books cover to
> cover, sometimes more than once, before I actually load up a game I've
> bought... but that's another debate, I guess.

I do read them beforehands; I also know many people don't. The alphatesters
for AtWCtW didn't even though I specifically asked them to (that means YOU,
tufty!) and promptly missed half the game.

-- Gunther

Daniel Barkalow

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Nov 22, 2000, 12:31:44 AM11/22/00
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On Tue, 21 Nov 2000, Adam Cadre wrote:

> This game also has special instructions, which will be included in a
> separate readme file. I also included readmes with 9:05 and Shrapnel;
> do people actually read these things? Do they read them before playing
> the game, or during play? Me, I always read instruction books cover to
> cover, sometimes more than once, before I actually load up a game I've
> bought... but that's another debate, I guess.

I always used to open the box a game came in and read the manual before I
got the game installed (or while it was installing). Unfortunately, this
time period no longer exists. In order to have me read a readme that's not
part of the zcode file, I think it would have to appear when I entered the
directory with the game or something; although I might notice if I was
unaccountably clueless and look for documentation before starting over.

-Iabervon
*This .sig unintentionally changed*

Richard Bos

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Nov 22, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/22/00
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Daniel Barkalow <iabe...@iabervon.org> wrote:

> On Tue, 21 Nov 2000, Adam Cadre wrote:
>
> > This game also has special instructions, which will be included in a
> > separate readme file. I also included readmes with 9:05 and Shrapnel;
> > do people actually read these things? Do they read them before playing
> > the game, or during play? Me, I always read instruction books cover to
> > cover, sometimes more than once, before I actually load up a game I've
> > bought... but that's another debate, I guess.
>
> I always used to open the box a game came in and read the manual before I
> got the game installed (or while it was installing). Unfortunately, this
> time period no longer exists.

I dunno, IMO the fact that a game is uploaded as an archive file rather
than just the game file is usually enough to hint that there is extra
documentation; and when there is, I treat it as if it came in the box,
and read it first.

Richard

Dennis G. Jerz

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Nov 27, 2000, 3:00:00 AM11/27/00
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"Gunther Schmidl" <gsch...@gschmidl.freeserve.co.uk> wrote in message
news:8vec3j$8ap$1...@newsg2.svr.pol.co.uk...


> > This game also has special instructions, which will be included in a
> > separate readme file. I also included readmes with 9:05 and Shrapnel;
> > do people actually read these things? Do they read them before playing
> > the game, or during play? Me, I always read instruction books cover to
> > cover, sometimes more than once, before I actually load up a game I've
> > bought... but that's another debate, I guess.
>

> I do read them beforehands; I also know many people don't. The
alphatesters
> for AtWCtW didn't even though I specifically asked them to (that means
YOU,
> tufty!) and promptly missed half the game.
>
> -- Gunther

I ran into some problems playing some comp games that I installed directly
to my Pilot... by the time I got around to playing those games, I was no
longer at my computer. Hence, the genie game that many people raved about
was completely incomprehensible to me.

I much prefer it when authors find creative ways to put their instructions
into the game. Nelson's Jigsaw just out-and-old told you what commands you
could type in order to operate the enigma machine.

If the interface is so complex that it is impossible to explain the
intricacies of the game within ordinary gameplay, then perhaps the author
doesn't really want to write "interactive fiction," but wants to write some
other kind of game.

>

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