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Before you buy.
Color me indifferent. The world has room for any sort of work based on
any sort of environment, no matter how beaten to death 'tis. Just make
I would recommend avoiding things that seem to Hitchhiker-ish, like,
say, a parnoid android, although Marvin wasn't really paranoid, just
If 't were me, I'd go through the archive and at least look at the space
operas, both parodies and serious. The serious will give you good
riffing, the comic will inform you of how to avoid the overdone.
Also, make sure you look at "Planetfall", "Hitchhiker's Guide To The
Galaxy" and other Infocom space opera stuff.
I don't know; which spaceship-settings do you mean?
Or: "Yes, of course. Everything is cliched."
Just about any setting you can define in one word has been done. Cave
games have been done. Dragon games have been done. Detective games have
You're not going to be judged on the setting you pick, but from how
distinct it is from other people doing similar things. This involves a
certain unavoidable amount of research.
Let's see.. Planetfall and Stationfall, certainly. Legend (to some
It's not so much spaceships, of course, as it is sci-fi settings in
general. Legend has scenes on spaceships, on planets, and on space
stations, but they all have a consistent feel.
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the
> Quentin.D.Thompson <stup...@my-deja.com> wrote:
> > My questin is this: Are spaceship-settings cliched?
> Let's see.. Planetfall and Stationfall, certainly. Legend (to some
> extent). Glowgrass?
Also: Deep Space Drifter, Hitchhiker's Guide, Arrival, Sea of Night.
(Not trying to be discouraging. Just stating the facts, ma'am.)
I was going to do one myself. Fortunately, my setting and tone are probably
different enough from yours that it doesn't matter (eh, who am I kidding, I'll
never write the damn thing anyways). But to get to your question, the
spacecraft scenario _has_ been done on occasion (stationfall, snowball,
DS Drifter, some of LGOP).
The problem is not setting but mediocrity. We could probably have hundreds of
works set in space and on spacecraft before people get tired of them, as long
as they're all reasonably distinct. The problem with the most cliched genres
(cave crawl/set at a college) is that a lot of them are done badly, and
they all tend to have the same goals (find all the treasure and kill evil
things/graduate). Fortunately, there are lots of good reasons to be in space
and lots of distinct space-type settings that it's not likely to run dry if
tapped by authors with skill.
Oh, and one more thing. If you can, avoid a puzzle where you throw/spray/shoot
something to go in the opposite direction. It was already done in Starcross and
Zork 0. <g>
I wouldn't worry about this too much - every potential "story" can pretty
much summed up as "a cliche" these days....and if you don't believe that,
just go down to your local movie rental store to see how many copies of the
same plot you can find with different titles. But I truly think that people
who tend to complain about "cliche writing" are actually trying to express
their boredom with the story, simply because it wasn't a very pleasurable
experience for them - maybe the puzzles were too mechanical in feeling, the
characters were dull, or the story was blandly expressed...things like that.
What matters most is the effort you put in to providing entertainment for
the reader, or the "player" in this case, so that they will care enough to
appreciate the actual experience of your work. Your real efforts should go
mainly into plot development, character development, and then making any
puzzles fit the storyline in a reasonable manner....and don't worry too much
about whether or not you're "treading similar ground". Sure...maybe you
might have a "bland setting" or a "cliche plot", but as long as the player's
experience with the story is generally enjoyable, most people won't have a
problem with it.
For example, if your "paranoid robot" is very entertaining to deal with, is
not simply "irritating" as a game puzzle, and the puzzle of the robot itself
actually serves to advance the plot of the story (during the course of
solving the puzzle, and not after it) - I don't think there's any potential
problem with this kind of thing at all. (Just from examining your proposed
game description....I think maybe you've been recently inspired by watching
"Lexx" - am I right?)
From what I've experienced - using "humor" is probably the best available
device in IF to help the player overcome the "irritating" factor in puzzle
solving, turning a a bland, frustrating experience into an enjoyable one.
Using "suspense" is another great plot device that fits well in this genre,
turning a puzzle into an emotionally driven panic for the player. Most of
the best I.F. I've ever played used these kinds of elements liberally,
creating "tension, resolution, and occasional comic relief" for the player.
Nothing bores me more than playing a game just to "solve a bunch of
irritating puzzles" that barely make sense, since there's no real plot that
actually involves the player from the word go! I've seen far too much of
this kind of thing lately in game submissions, and this should be avoided as
much as possible. Plot can be introduced and written into every element of
your story, not necessarily waiting for the player to advance it on their
own (as opposed to: solve a puzzle=see a little bit more of the plot=not a
lot of incentive for the player to finish a particularily hard part of the
game, since they have nothing to egg them on).
To see some examples of what I'm talking about, take a look at some of the
following games....."Hunter, in Darkness" by Mr. Plotkin is an excellent
example of very "player involving" storyline writing. "I-O" by Mr. Cadre is
another very good example of this. If you want to go back in history, this
kind of writing is evidenced in "Planetfall" (Infocom). and also notably so
in "Suspended" by Mike Berlyn (Infocom).
Good luck with your new project
Thanks Don, and thanks to all of you for the various viewpoints and
suggestions. But, for the record, the paranoid robot was an idea I'd come up
with while listening to Radiohead's OK Computer album (there's a track on it
called "Paranoid Android" :-D). I'll make sure to check out the various
pre-existing works, but how many freeware ones are there? I recall "Tossed
Into Space", which was quite fun, and an Inform game, rather simple, whose
name I can't recall right now. Does anyone have a better memory than I here,
or a wider playing range? [By the way, thanks for clearing up the confusion
about cliched settings.]
Quentin.D.Thompson. [The 'D' is a variable.]
Lord High Executioner Of Bleagh
(Formerly A Cheap Coder)
I've wondered how much that song/album owes to HHGTTG. Dunno if it is just a
coincidence, but The Paranoid Android connection is obvious, and the
phrase"OK Computer" appears a couple of times in the HHGTTG text...Hmmm...
Yes, I've seen that before. I've also seen fairy stories and stories with
odd use of language before, and I've played "Hunt the Wumpus". The
important thing is what people do with the settings.
If you think "I'll put a game on a spaceship - that's interesting" you're
likely to write a bad game. If you think "I've got some neat ideas that
would fit together well on a spaceship", you're on the road to writing
a good one.
>this connexion, I'd like your suggestions on the setting of my second Inform
>game, tentatively entitled "4924". This is a comic game, a parody of the
>"space-opera", in which you're an engineer on board a mining vessel, who has
>to solve or face a number of problems, including fixing a paranoid robot,
>unearthing a piracy operation, and earning the gratitude of the very
>Victorian passenger on board. :)
Parodies can be good. (If nothing else, when writing a parody, you have
to do a bit of thinking about what you're parodying.) I've seen paranoid
robots done before. If you just wanted to use a paranoid robot for no
particular reason, forget it; if there's something neat you want to do
with it, that's good.
My questin is this: Are spaceship-settings
>cliched? Have they been done previously and outstandingly (or done to death)
General rule: Everything has been done previously. Nothing has been
done to death. Not even semi-silly medieval settings with cute
anachronisms or dark future settings or alma mater settings.
If you've got a story that can be put nicely on a spaceship, that's good.
If you think spaceships are neat and you can put a story on one, that's
bad. It's like fan fiction. If you want to write a Jean-Luc Picard
story because you can do something interesting with the character, it
could be good. If you're just taking advantage of the fact that your
audience knows Picard, so you don't have to do any character development
or explaining, it's gonna be bad.
Of course, I'm not saying anything new here....
Even if a game's setting is cliched, there's no reason why it shouldn't
be worth writing and playing. Cliched done-to-death puzzles can be
annoying and tiresome, and an unoriginal plot can sometimes be hard to
take seriously, but I don't think that a game's setting (at least in a
very general sense) should ever affect its worthiness. If it's well
written, coherent and genuinely challenging, it's a good adventure.
I'm actually working on a piece of science-fiction comedy IF myself, at
the moment ("Back on the Orion Express"), and the fact that I'm doing
something in a fairly established genre (in terms of either IF or normal
dead-tree fiction) doesn't really bother me at all - I'm just being
careful to maintain originality in plot and style, just as I would if I
were writing a book, whilst striving to come up with some original and
interesting puzzles. I'd like to think that the game, when finished,
would be judged on all that, rather than being dismissed for its genre.
The only thing in your posting that creaks, to my eyes, is mention of
mining ships, paranoid androids and (you know my methods, apply them)
Sherlock Holmes; all these seem somewhat derivative of existing,
well-established science-fiction comedy (Red Dwarf, Hitch-Hikers Guide,
Robert Rankin) and - at least if you're aware of the originals - could
come across as weak rehashings. If you're unfamiliar with the above and
are approaching said subjects from a completely fresh angle, though,
it should make for an interesting adventure.
Not even alma mater settings? Are you sure? :)
-- Excuse me while I dance a little jig of despair.
OK, not really. He was deliberately wasting your time. ;-)
Seriously, though, I agree with David. In fact, I'd be willing to
bet that within the next five years there will be a game set in a
college environment that gets a Xyzzy nomination.
I'll even start the review: "When I first loaded this game I thought,
'oh no, another college game.' But it is so much more..."
Alma Mater Comp? OK, I've gone too far. :-)
I've heard that there are some quite explicit HHGTTG refs in the album art,
but I'm not sure about that (something about the number 42 in binary).
See, what you don't know is that I spent my sophomore year wedged in a
pitch-dark steam tunnel underneath CMU.
Just one data point: one of the fits in "Losing your Grip" ahs a college
setting, and I don't think you can call that game very cliched or old-hat.
Working titles for you Z:
Sophomore, in Darkness
A change in the major
I was going to say, "if *you* write it, they will come." But since
this IS a college genre, the likelihood for juvenile humor was just too
Erm, I think this game's already been written, and its title is "So Phar."
Quentin.D.Thompson. [The 'D' is a variable.]
Lord High Executioner Of Bleagh
(Formerly A Cheap Coder)
I wondered if my new "titles" would cause a bit of confusion. Hence the
leaving off of So Far, since that had been done. Ah, well.
I meant within the NEXT few years. So even though there ARE great games
in increasingly cliched genres, each successive game in that genre
becomes more and more difficult to do well.
Fantasy comp '00? :-O
Given that in the past three years there have been two nominees with
such a setting (one of which was a winner in both categories it was
nominated for), I'd say that's a moderately safe bet...
("Night at the Computer Center" by Bonni Mierzejewska (Best Setting
1996); and "Kissing the Buddha's Feet" by Leon Lin (Best NPCs (winner)
and Best Individual NPC (shared winner) 1996). Several other nominees
have featured individual scenes at universities.)
: Dylan O'Donnell : "The sun has gone. It must be brought. :
: Forgotten Office, Demon : You have a rock." :
: http://www.fysh.org/~psmith/ : -- Dan Schmidt, "For a Change" :
Digressing a little, I've just been thinking about the various genres as
they're represented on Baf's Guide to the Archive: most genres boast of at
least 20 entries, except for three: religious, educational and - surprisingly
- romance. Most of the 'religious' games out there are pretty mediocre,
except for Pastoral Pitfalls, and I know that someone's working on
educational I-F. But considering the generally positive response to
romance-oriented works of I-F (Plundered Hearts, Muse, and arguably A Moment
Of Hope), I'm surprised more people haven't taken up the genre. Which brings
me to my none-too-original suggestion: The Romance Mini-Comp.
Quentin.D.Thompson. [The 'D' is a variable.]
Lord High Executioner Of Bleagh
(Formerly A Cheap Coder)
KTBF was pretty good, but I didn't stick with it. The "in your
face" action was highly amusing but too "stressful." Best NPC? Really?
Maybe I better go back and check out their nuances.
I was hoping not to imply that games in the college genre were never
successful. My point was only that with each successful work it
becomes a little harder to write another good one in its genre, but
that it usually seems to happen.
Jim "The Nuance Misser"
>I was hoping not to imply that games in the college genre were never
>successful. My point was only that with each successful work it
>becomes a little harder to write another good one in its genre, but
>that it usually seems to happen.
Perhaps. Though I think it might be useful to distinguish between setting
(the specific physical environment, eg. "Grand Place, Brussels" or "the deck
of a luxury cruise ship") and genre (the type of story being told, eg.
mystery or science fiction.) Similar settings can be vastly different in
effect, depending on the manner of their description; I don't think we've
nearly exhausted the range of possibilities in either genre or setting,
which means that the combinatorics are *really* in our favor.
Speaking of setting, though, I think there must be a reason that people are
drawn back over and over to caves and college campuses (no, not just lack of
imagination.) One thing I miss in much current I-F is the sense of
edge-of-the-seat wonder that I associate with "Zork" and the "Enchanter"
trilogy: the settings of those games are inherently compelling. Caves are
numinous; one tends to have the feeling that one's presence is felt. And
there's also something creepy and fascinating about knowing that all the
props (rusty machinery, push-buttons, key-wearing unicorns, etc.) have been
put there for a purpose. The idea that our world is explicable by teleology
rather than etiology -- that is, that things are created to some end, rather
than as a result of some beginning -- has pretty much gone Out, but the
concept retains its unscientific charm.
Now, we as a community seem to be growing out of doing things that way; the
pull is towards more sophisticated plotting, richer characterization, more
accurate mimesis. Most of the I-F I've played recently contains a story
that is miles better than the one in "Enchanter" -- and I would be hard
pressed to pretend that "Zork" even has a plot. And in a story-centered
world, one feels called upon to justify the presence of the items one
Still, the ability to conjure the genius loci is one of I-F's special
strengths. I think it's the desire to do that (combined with the
irresistable impulse towards the in-joke) that makes the campus such a
perennial object of I-Fification. Personally, I rank my alma mater high on
my list of Unique and Curious Places -- along with the labyrinthine basement
of the church I attended as a child; some buildings on a deserted Scottish
farm; and a patch of old-growth forest in Washington State. Old places,
partly familiar and partly strange, possessing features for which the reason
has been lost. I find myself fascinated with things that are obviously
intentional, but not obviously explicable. (Unreadable "alien" writing in
science fiction suggests itself -- sure, it's a cliche, but there's
something intriguing about a sign that no longer signifies.)
What I'm talking about isn't simply "atmosphere". I realize that reviews
still assign points for that. But I would consider, for instance, "Muse" to
have a fair amount of atmosphere, without the sense of place being itself
significant; probably the best positive, post-Infocom examples of what I
have in mind are "For a Change" and "Change in the Weather."
So when it comes to setting, I think what I'm looking for is something that
works in the context of the story it has to contain, but is also an
interesting place to spend some time. Something with character of its own,
showing vestiges of its history. Let the place be realistic if you like,
but let it not be generic.
>Digressing a little, I've just been thinking about the various genres
>as they're represented on Baf's Guide to the Archive: most genres boast
>of at least 20 entries, except for three: religious, educational and -
>surprisingly - romance. Most of the 'religious' games out there are
>pretty mediocre, except for Pastoral Pitfalls, and I know that
>someone's working on educational I-F. But considering the generally
>positive response to romance-oriented works of I-F (Plundered Hearts,
>Muse, and arguably A Moment Of Hope), I'm surprised more people haven't
>taken up the genre. Which brings me to my none-too-original suggestion:
> The Romance Mini-Comp.
> Any takers?
I'll take you up on your digression! Maybe in a different direction
I'm working on two religious IF titles that will hopefully be ready
for IF Comp 2000! I have one story-boarded and a small part of it
already in TADS. The second still needs some work "on paper." I hope
that they will be enjoyable, not "mediocre."
The biggest time hit for me now is learning how to write IF.
Different topic, I'm curious about the Xyzzy Awards. Does someone
have a good URL that gives a broad overview of it? Eileen's web (xyzzy
news) doesn't have a lot of details about it (basically, it look like
your IF is entered by merely uploading it to the IF FTP site - but is
that all that needs to be done? Any limitations or restrictions?).
| One thing I miss in much current I-F is the sense of
| edge-of-the-seat wonder that I associate with "Zork" and the
| "Enchanter" trilogy: the settings of those games are inherently
| compelling. Caves are numinous; one tends to have the feeling that
| one's presence is felt. And there's also something creepy and
| fascinating about knowing that all the props (rusty machinery,
| push-buttons, key-wearing unicorns, etc.) have been put there for a
| purpose. The idea that our world is explicable by teleology rather
| than etiology -- that is, that things are created to some end,
| rather than as a result of some beginning -- has pretty much gone
| Out, but the concept retains its unscientific charm.
| Now, we as a community seem to be growing out of doing things that
| way; the pull is towards more sophisticated plotting, richer
| characterization, more accurate mimesis. Most of the I-F I've
| played recently contains a story that is miles better than the one
| in "Enchanter" -- and I would be hard pressed to pretend that "Zork"
| even has a plot. And in a story-centered world, one feels called
| upon to justify the presence of the items one scatters around.
| ...probably the best positive, post-Infocom examples of what I
| have in mind are "For a Change" and "Change in the Weather."
[Sorry for the long quote]
Actually, I must admit that one of the reasons for the weird language
in For A Change was so that I could sneak in a world with rusty
machinery and key-wearing unicorns without people getting on its case
for not having those expected-in-the-late-90's traits of sophisticated
plotting, rich characterization and accurate mimesis. In some sense,
the high-falutin' language stuff was sugarcoating so that what was
basically a puzzle game would go down easier. That's not the whole
story, obviously -- the language, hopefully, worked as more than a
gimmick -- but it was something I thought about partially in those
Dan Shiovitz in his review said
| It felt too often like the author was designing by "wouldn't it be
| cool if?" and not "it would make sense for the world that"
and he's exactly right (except for the 'too often' part, arguably :).
Of course there's no good reason for that glass cube to be
sitting there, for example. Ideally a game would satisfy both of
Dan's criteria, but that's really tough to do (another reason why I
thought Hunter, in Darkness was so great). I do think it would be
sad if authors threw away their it-would-be-cool-if ideas because
they couldn't figure out how to make the games live up to late-90's
standards of mimesis.
Dan Schmidt | http://www.dfan.org
>I do think it would be
>sad if authors threw away their it-would-be-cool-if ideas because
>they couldn't figure out how to make the games live up to late-90's
>standards of mimesis.
As I understand it, this is how fantasy is built: the author is allowed to
change certain rules of the universe as she likes, as long as the result is
internally consistent. Imagination is given its day, and then logic
follows. That takes self-discipline -- a lot of invention goes into the
creation of a world-from-scratch, and one may need to do real-world research
to figure out what follows from one's premises.
My feeling with "For a Change" was that I was experiencing a slice of a
well-created world, even though my guess is that you didn't actually come up
with a backstory for how everything got where it was. The language
definitely helped with that, and the allusiveness of the descriptions. It
seemed that there at least *could* have been an (internally) rational
explanation for everything in the "For a Change" landscape. The rationale
was just hidden from view.
>In article <82kcc7$gle$1...@nntp2.atl.mindspring.net>,
> "Emily Short" <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
>[about cliched settings, etc.]
>I think the thing about campuses (campi?) is that they tend to be an
>excuse for a series of in-jokes, which raif regulars don't care for
>unless they're RAIF in-jokes. Rightfully, too: If it's a bunch of
>in-jokes for a particular audience, leave it to that particular
>As for the cave crawl, a lot of that may have to do with the numerous
>ADVENT knock-offs. A lot of games did little but recycle ADVENT.
Naturally, I understand that. I didn't mean to suggest that I was crusading
for a return to campus and cave-crawl games per se. (God help us.) And
when I mentioned "the irresistible impulse towards the in-joke", I meant it
in the same way one might speak of "an irresistible strain of Spanish
My point was that in trying to evolve away from certain cliches, we may
forget what made the originals so wonderful. We have (well, *I* have) spent
a lot of time lately talking about the weaknesses of I-F relative to
literature; here, on the other hand, is one of the strengths. Location
dominates a player's impressions in a way that it need not dominate a
reader's. Moreover, when I'm reading a story, I sometimes find
overelaboration of place an unwelcome distraction from the progress of the
plot. There is no such danger in I-F.
That being the case, I enjoy playing games in which setting is a large part
of the story's attraction -- because it is beautiful, or frightening, or
rich in history, or otherwise suggestive. Easy to do with a cave; harder,
but not impossible, with a living room. But I think it's worth trying,
since we're moving towards the sorts of stories that may occur in living
I think the thing about campuses (campi?) is that they tend to be an
excuse for a series of in-jokes, which raif regulars don't care for
unless they're RAIF in-jokes. Rightfully, too: If it's a bunch of
in-jokes for a particular audience, leave it to that particular
Interestingly, a number of the comp entries seem to have been marked
down for having *raif* in-jokes. I have no idea what the percentages
are, but I would imagine that you're still alienating a fair percentage
of your IF audience by putting in raif/MUD humor.
As for the cave crawl, a lot of that may have to do with the numerous
ADVENT knock-offs. A lot of games did little but recycle ADVENT.
Dragons...well, I remember a *number* of publishing houses in the '80s
which sent out author's guidelines that included the prohibition "NO
> My point was that in trying to evolve away from certain cliches, we
> forget what made the originals so wonderful. We have (well, *I* have)
> a lot of time lately talking about the weaknesses of I-F relative to
> literature; here, on the other hand, is one of the strengths.
> dominates a player's impressions in a way that it need not dominate a
> reader's. Moreover, when I'm reading a story, I sometimes find
> overelaboration of place an unwelcome distraction from the progress of
> plot. There is no such danger in I-F.
It's still possible, but not in the same way it is in F.
> That being the case, I enjoy playing games in which setting is a large
> of the story's attraction -- because it is beautiful, or frightening,
> rich in history, or otherwise suggestive. Easy to do with a cave;
> but not impossible, with a living room. But I think it's worth
> since we're moving towards the sorts of stories that may occur in
You are in the living room.
There is a nasty little dwarf here!
> THROW AXE
The dwarf vanishes in a cloud of greasy, black smoke, which stains your
plush pile carpet.