Adventures in Interactive Fiction

Success is North of Failure

Creative Challenges

I consider myself to be a good writer, in the conventional sense.  I know that I enjoy reading what I write, and the fact that my words put a roof over my head and food on my table seems to be at least somewhat of an indication that I’m not bad at it.  So writing IF, a game form that I immensely enjoy playing, has always seemed like a natural fit.  The thing that has typically kept me from succeeding is the programming aspect of things.

Inform 7, of course, was the solution to that particular problem, and while I’m certainly not all that strong in it yet, it has definitely made the lack of programming knowledge less of an obstacle.  It also, unfortunately, makes clearer the specific challenges of writing for IF.

If you’ve read even two entries of this blog, you already know what I am about to tell you:  I am extraordinarily verbose in my writing.  I tend to think that this works for me, and is just my particular style.  However, verbosity doesn’t lend itself all that well to IF – as much as I love to read, I can’t stand huge info dumps in games.  If a game requires me to read a long entry in a book *coughs politely at Anchorhead* I’ll probably just skip the reading and hope that I can acquire any necessary information by skimming, or through some other means.  (I should note that I actually quite enjoyed Anchorhead, even if I never was able to get past the well on my own.)

Because I’ve lost momentum on my game, especially as far as the puzzles are concerned, I figured I’d get back into the groove by finishing up some room and object descriptions.  The benefits are twofold – I’ll have a fuller game world to weave the story and puzzles into, and I’ll burn off some of this excess creative energy.  Yet, after staring at the screen for an hour, and idly cleaning up some of the existing game text, I still can’t figure out how to write the living room’s description.

You know those horrible math puzzles (which are second only to sliding puzzles in my list of Ways to Torture Jules) where you are given a 3×3 grid and a set of numbers, and have to put the numbers into the grid in such a way that both the columns and rows add up to the same number?   The creative portion of IF writing feels a lot like that to me.  These are my ideas of the key components of good game text (feel free to disagree or expand):

  • Quality
  • Succinctness
  • Relevancy to gameplay
  • Relevancy to plot

As you might imagine, it’s the second point with which I have the most trouble.  For instance, I am currently trying to write the description for a dining room.  I have this very clear, wonderful image in my mind of how the dining room looks.  I know exactly where it is in relation to other rooms, and I know the role it plays in the story.  I just don’t know how to tell the player without taking four paragraphs to do it.  I’m also struggling with how to add in important information, such as “The kitchen is to the west, and the living room is to the south” while maintaining the narrative flow.  In my 3×3 puzzle analogy, the columns add up to descriptive, the rows add up to practical, but I’m supposed to be striving for “natural” in both.  I’m half (OK, only quarter) tempted to just stick my tongue out at the player and say “It’s a dining room.  People eat here.  People cook to the west and watch TV to south.  Get over it.”

Or, I could keep plugging away at it and try to hit the right balance.  I probably have a better chance of getting past the well in Anchorhead, though 😉


May 18, 2008 - Posted by | Game Progress | , , , , ,


  1. You may want to consider Emily Short’s “Introductions”. It allows you to introduce a room or an object with different prose than its normal description; the player will see your introduction the first time they enter a room, and upon further examinations or entrances you can give them something more terse. I think it’s worked well in the games I’ve played which use that technique.

    Comment by Christopher Armstrong | May 19, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thanks for the suggestion, Christopher, I’ll definitely check that out. I’m currently using a maze of [if unvisited] rules, so if this makes it any more graceful, definitely worth a look.

    Comment by Jules | May 19, 2008 | Reply

  3. I’m also a professional writer, and I too have a tendency to be verbose. My first suggestion is, write whatever the heck you feel like writing! There are no rules about how long a room description ought to be.

    My second suggestion is, have you ever thought about writing conventional fiction instead? I’m finding it very liberating. I can do a complete story in 1/10 of the time it takes to write IF, there are no bugs to fix, and I control the flow of the text.

    I have some opinions about I7 and the whole question of coding vs. writing, but I will tiptoe away quietly rather than share them.

    –Jim Aikin

    Comment by Jim Aikin | May 22, 2008 | Reply

  4. Conventional fiction has always been an elusive goal for me. It’s that lack of focus thing, or perhaps a lack of direction; I can’t seem to flesh an idea out from concept to completion. I have managed to finish exactly one short story, which I (modest being that I am) think is quite good. Everything else languishes in a state of half-completion, waiting for the day that I’ll just lock myself in a room with a computer (sans Internet connection) and a bunch of Pink Floyd CDs 😉

    Comment by Jules | May 23, 2008 | Reply

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    Comment by zgdphb unyim | September 10, 2008 | Reply

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