Whizzard's Guide to Text Adventure Authorship
by G. Kevin Wilson (c) 1994
In this version, I attempt to organize the earlier versions, make the guide more suitable for printing, and such. This version supersedes all previous versions. It attempts to be more profession and useful. This will be the last version of the Guide. From now on, rather than release new guides, a supplement will appear from time to time.
memory of Infocom. Although they
live on, it'll never be the same.
Thanks also to Stephen Granade,
and the rest of the gang at
Note: Please interpret he as he/she whenever being used to refer to the player.
- 1 What does Interactive Fiction mean to me?
- 2 The Three Parts of a Game
- 3 Writing IF as compared to writing a book
- 4 The Elements of Plot
- 5 The Story, or 'Where do I find an idea for a game?'
- 6 The Zen of IF
- 7 The Thirty Six Basic Plots
- 8 An In-depth Look at my 9 Favorites
- 9 Developing your game's Atmosphere
- 10 The other people in your game, NPCs
- 11 The player's good buddies, pets
- 12 Bringing it all together...Writing your first game
- 13 Betatesting
- 14 The gimmick and its place in your game
- 15 Packaging your game with an eye for registration
- 16 Marketing and distributing your game
- 17 Assorted Miscellany [-v1.2]
- 17.1 The Terrible Traps of Object Interaction
- 17.2 Other Things you need to do for your Game:
- 17.3 The Art of the Game Article 1
- 17.4 The Art of the Game Article 2
- 17.5 The Art of the Game Article 3
- 17.6 The Art of the Game Article 4
- 17.7 The NPC and You
- 18 Afterword and Closing
- 19 A List of Useful Addresses
- 20 Other Sources of Info on Text Adventures
What does Interactive Fiction mean to me?
Well, IF means a lot of different things to different people. Hence the title above. This is simply an explanation of what IF means to ME. You may not agree, that's your right.
IF is an art form, a work of love. I use the term to refer to text adventures exclusively. So, IF is to graphic games what books are to Network television. They are geared towards a more cerebral audience. The people that write IF usually have a deep-set love for language and its nuances. We are not satisfied with a few little mouse icons as a user interface. Instead we try to harness as much natural language as we can. Thus, you might be able to type >PICK UP EVERYTHING EXCEPT THE BLOW-UP DOLL, and a good IF game will understand you. Bear in mind, however, that any language, such as English, is hopelessly large. We simply cannot cover every conceivable word, but we try. Also, you should realize that IF has a fairly small market these days. It has been shoved aside by graphic games and given a bad name in the eyes of the new generation of computer users.
My personal theory is that each new generation is being raised with more and more emphasis placed on visual stimulus in the form of television, WINDOWS 3.1, etc. This carries over into their recreation, and so, we are left with a smaller percentage of the populace each year that is literate enough to enjoy a good text adventure and understand the references made in them. C'est la vie. The upshot of this is that, if you enjoy IF, you really need to support the few authors that produce it, or it's going to die out. So be sure to register your games and run out and buy Lost Treasures of Infocom 1 and 2 so that Activision knows what we like.
There are a few requirements for any would be IF author. You need patience, lots of free time, an eye for organization, excellent writing skills, and, most importantly, a spell checker. IF players demand literacy in their games. You need to have a broad background of reading and playing IF. The broader your base, the more ideas you'll find will come to you.
If you carry a small notebook around with you, you'll never forget a good idea that hits you at an inopportune moment. Just scribble it down really quick, and it's preserved for posterity. This is good, because, thanks to Murphy's Law, you will never get a truly good idea when it is convenient for you to do so. Mine like to come in the shower, while I'm shampooing my hair. Something about shampoo in your eyes attracts ideas like flies to honey. You should try it sometime, if you don't believe me.
So, develop your IF background, and carry a notebook. There you go, you're an official IF author. Here's your membership card, and here's how to do the secret handshake. Enjoy.
Anyways, that's a fair view of my impression of IF. Oh, here's a list of my criteria for IF:
- Is it fun to play?
- Does it get my message across?
- Does it allow the player much freedom?
- Are the characters unique and well-done?
- Does it have replayability?
- Does it have a point?
The Three Parts of a Game
Part 1: The Beginning
IF can be split into three distinct sections, the beginning, the middle, and the end. The beginning should be fast moving, short, and attention grabbing. Here is where you will lose most of your potential players. If they get bored early on, then they'll delete the game without ever giving it a chance. I've been known to do this myself. Don't make the initial puzzles too difficult. Don't worry if the beginning is fairly linear in nature, you'll have plenty of time to branch it out in the middle. Also, if your game has no set main character, here is where you should have the player decide on the character's sex. The bathroom approach in Leather Goddesses of Phobos was a good one, or the ticket in Ballyhoo. Try to avoid the generic method of just asking what their sex is though, IF is all about atmosphere and mood. Here is a list of important things to do in the beginning of your game:
- Establish the setting.
- Grab the player's attention.
- Reveal the character's purpose and motivation.
- Establish the character's sex or identity.
- Introduce important characters for later use.
Now that you've done all that, you've got to start giving the player some room to maneuver. There should be several puzzles available to them at any one time. Not all of the puzzles should be mandatory, and several should have multiple solutions that work. I prefer at least one difficult solution and one easier solution. This should be reflected through the points awarded. Also, have some areas that are only available to the player if he solves a puzzle one way, and a different area if he solves it another way. Here's an example:
There is corridor ending in a blank wall just ahead. On the wall is a lever. Examining it further, you see a pair of wings above it, and a fish below it. The lever sticks out at a 90-degree angle.
>PULL LEVER UP
The corridor begins to grind upwards. As it does so, a beam of light strikes the ground before you, gradually widening as the new exit is exposed. Finally, the grinding noises stop, and you are left with a gorgeous view of the blue sky.
You climb up the tilted corridor and find yourself on top of a mesa. Clouds rush by above you in a manner reminiscent of time-lapse photography. They seem to flicker through a variety of shapes familiar to you. Giraffes, elephants, and horses all dance before you in a vast kaleidoscope of the heavens.
There is a pair of wings lying nearby.
> GET WINGS AND WEAR THEM
> FLY (Up.)
You fly up into the sky, reveling in the magnificent feeling of freedom that comes over you. As you climb in altitude, the wax on your wings begins to melt in the desert sun.
You dip and bob on the gentle wind currents, climbing ever higher. Suddenly, the feathers on your wings begin to flutter off as the wax that holds them in place melts. You flail your arms wildly as you plunge screaming down to the ground, to no avail.
** YOU HAVE DIED **
>PULL LEVER DOWN
The corridor begins to grind downwards. As it does so, the rippling effect of light reflecting off of water becomes visible to you. Finally, the grinding noises stop, and you are left with a wonderful view of an underground beach and ocean.
You climb down the tilted corridor and find yourself on top a deserted beach. There is a beautiful ocean stretching out before you in this sunless grotto. Waves lap at the white sands, and seashells litter the beach alongside clumps of pale seaweed and driftwood. Peering into the shallow water just offshore, you can just make out the form of a pentagram.
Wading out into the shallows, you cautiously approach the pentagram, aware of legends that demons or spells are sometimes contained in them. Reluctantly, you step into the center of it. Your eyes are blinded by a bright flash of light. When you can see again, you realize that you have been transformed into an octopus.
Confused at first by your numerous limbs, you gradually get into a sort of motion that involves pulling yourself along.
You are surrounded on all sides by a beautiful coral reef. Your eyes seem to be quite similar to what they were in human form, so you get the colors as well. Tiny fish dart around you, and a succulent crab scuttles past.
You have entered a deeper part of the reef. The coral is less concealing here, and the fish are bigger. Much bigger in fact, for there's a shark swimming right at you!
You try to make a break for the safety of the shallower part of the reef, but your fear agitates the shark, and you end up as a light dish of calamari.
** YOU HAVE DIED **
From that point, the player would either be flying or swimming to his destination. Each path would have its own challenges and rewards. I tend to try to keep the paths at around the same difficulty level though. Once the player has chosen a pathway, make them stick to it. They can always restore an old game and try the other path. That's why you're putting in all these alternate pathways and multiple solutions, replayability. You should design your game so that the player can go through two or three times and see different puzzles and places each time. Here's another list of important things:
- Establish a series of sub-goals for the player.
- Expand on the characters you introduced in the beginning.
- Foreshadow what is to come in the end.
- Branch the story out to allow the player more freedom.
- Provide a unified theme to the setting and descriptions.
- Provide numerous puzzles for the player's enjoyment.
Now it's time to close up all your loose ends, explain anything that you already haven't explained, and send in your Big Nasty™. The Big Nasty™ is the final challenge, be it monster, man, maze, or whatever. This is where you want to ham up your writing and get a sense of urgency going. There needs to be a time limit for this part of the game. The bomb is ticking away its last minute, or the evil Vorlung is about to pull the switch that will transform beautiful Marie into a six-armed monster. The last puzzle shouldn't be all that tough to figure out though. Understand that the player has been through hell to get here. He's flushed and excited, thrilled to be at the end of the game. So you want to make him sweat a bit, but you want to deliver the ending to him as well. Here's an example of a decent ending:
You are in the control room of the alien ship headed for Earth. Looking out its view port, you can see an image of your planet swelling in size as this runaway ship continues on its disastrous collision course. Looking around, you see a chair, or at least you assume that it's a chair. It appears to have been designed with someone far thinner and taller than you in mind. There is a silver globe on the right armrest and a dull black cube in the left.
>REMOVE CUBE FROM ARMREST 6
The earth looms immensely in the view port. Fire begins to trail off the nose of the ship as it begins to enter the atmosphere.
>Look AT DULL CUBE
The dull cube is exactly the same size and shape as the gold cube, except that it seems to be burnt on the outside.
The tip of the spaceship is beginning to melt. The flames lick around the cockpit view port. A small Midwestern town seems to be in for a rude surprise in a minute or two.
>PUT GOLD CUBE IN LEFT ARMREST
The cube fits snugly into the recess left by the dull black cube. Immediately the back of the chair lights up with strange scrolling letters as the ship begins to level out for a more gentle landing in Indiana. You sink, exhausted, to the floor, and begin to wonder how to convince the people gathering outside the ship that you're not an alien invader...
*** YOU HAVE WON ***
So you see, the game above centers around finding a backup navigation cube and getting into the control room to repair things before the ship crashes into the Earth. The last puzzle is simple, but you have a short amount of time to work it out, as shown by the reentry flames. Another good ending is used in Trinity, where you have to cut the wires and prevent the atomic test. Use your imagination and make 'em sweat it out. One more list:
- Use a time limit.
- Create a sense of urgency.
- Keep the last puzzles simple.
Writing IF as compared to writing a book
There's one primary difference, interaction. The player MUST be able to control his own destiny within the context of your story. You really should also put in at least one or two 'happy' endings. Without a worthwhile endpoint, the player is going to feel reluctant to any more of your games, for fear of another poor ending. One nice touch is to have the game post up some suggestions for things the player can go back and try differently. So in my water/wing example, it might suggest that they go back and pull the lever in the other direction. Personally, I am going to try to make my games so that you can never see the entire thing in one run-through. This will undoubtedly upset many people, but I feel that it will eventually become a nice quirk, giving my games a reputation for being worth the money paid for them.
Ack, I've done it again. Way off topic. OK, back on track. I believe that almost any literary technique is valid in IF. Anything you can use in a creative writing class would therefore be appropriate in your game. This includes things like foreshadowing, characterization, repetition (as in something that shows up in several settings as a philosophic theme to your game. For example, litter might appear in many locations in a game about environmental decay.) personification, subtle metaphors, etc. Good writing is good writing. There might be a few techniques that I would use, but I can't think of any at the moment. And that's about the sum of it.
The Elements of Plot
This is a reprint of an article I posted to r.a.i-f:
I found a good description of the elements of plot in, of all places, Vampire RPG. Here are the parts of plot that they mention:
Setting the Scene
I'll look at each of them in turn as they relate to IF.
Setting the Scene - Give the player a few moments to get used to his character before you start throwing things at him. Allow him to 'look at myself' if you want, I find it makes a nice touch to give a physical description there. (If you have a prearranged character that is.) Here's a good point, if you have a long intro, allow the player the option to restore a saved game before you make him sit through it. I try to put the intro a bit into the game, with a relaxed setting for the first scene.
The Hook - Whap! Something happens. His best friend comes running in to ask him to hide him from the police, his spaceship blows up, a murder occurs, etc. Hollywood high jinx did a really crappy job of this. The hook is important to the game, vitally so. Make it dramatic, sudden, and give it the promise of exciting adventure. Tantalize them, draw them into the game. Trinity does a great job of this. [I have had several people send me e-mail verifying this particular statement. One of them was quite certain that his game had died for lack of a good hook.]
Buildup - Give the player some challenges to overcome that in some way relate to the plot. Don't let the player get bogged down in one spot, multiple solutions are great for avoiding this. Get the suspense building up as soon as possible. Give the player a sense of accomplishment as he nears his goal, but keep drawing him into the game. Don't let up at all. As Vampire RPG says, "Do not falter."
Cliffhanger - A cliffhanger is pretty much a teaser. Something that makes the player suck in his breath, and then let it out on the next turn. A decent, but not great, example is Trent's multiple deaths in LGOP. How about a lever that, when pulled, does something, but only after a turn has passed. Just as the player is about to scream in frustration, the world is okay again, and life is wonderful.
Plot Twist - By all means throw in plot twists. They keep life interesting. Maybe the bad guy is just a puppet controlled by an even greater threat. A friend could betray the player. Or maybe the player really DID commit the murder! Switch gears so fast you strip them. The player will sit there with his mouth open for a moment, then he'll be hooked on your game forever.
Climax - OK, enough dilly-dallying, cries the player. I've furled the magic fumongerabob, and bummoxed the mighty spiffywhacker, where's the Big Nasty™? Give it to them. Both barrels. Make their blood run cold as time ticks away until the end of the world unless they stop it. If the player isn't breathing hard, you're not doing your job. Then, if you like, just as the Big Nasty™ kicks up the white flag, he pulls a fast one, and the player has to take him down again. This is your moment to ham it up, don't waste it!
Resolution - The One Ring is molten slag, the damsel is rescued, the government is overturned. Let the player enjoy it with a spectacular ending. (The Rube Goldberg ending in LGOP is classic) This is the last impression your game will leave on the player, make it just as jarring as the Hook so he'll come back for the next one. I've played too many games with a crappy ending in reward for solving fiendish puzzles. It's an unbelievable downer when you finish one of them. Ruins the whole game, But on the other hand, keep it fairly short. Unwind the player, let them relax with a job well done. And, if you want, as a final teaser, throw in some foreshadowing... (A shot of an unnoticed Alien egg.)
As you can see, most of my opinions on the elements of plot are unchanged. Moving right along...
The Story, or 'Where do I find an idea for a game?'
Writers often get asked this question. I don't, but what the hell, it's my textfile. I think the trick to coming up with ideas is to have a broad reading base. The more stories you've seen and read, the more likely you are to understand what makes a story 'good'. So read everything you can get your hands on. Then, late at night, or early in the morning, an idea will hit you. It takes time and a certain mood. Once you get the idea, write it down quick, or you'll lose it forever. Actually, that's just the way I do it. You probably will have some other way to come up with ideas. I suggest that you play your favorite music and read a good book, while keeping a notebook handy. That works for a lot of people.
The Zen of IF
OK, you've suffered through a fair amount of information on writing IF, so I thought I'd take some time out and plug a little humor into this now monstrous manual to Zork, the Universe, and Everything.
The Interactive Fiction Classifieds:
|WANTED:||A good plot. We seem to have lost ours. Inquire at Activision.|
|LOST:||One umbrella. Embellished with the slogan, 'All prams lead to Kensington Gardens.' Great sentimental value. Reward. Lost up in a tree.|
|FOUND:||One battered old text parser. It seems to somehow portray the lost innocence and fun in video games. Appears to have been carelessly tossed aside in the rush to appease mouse-hungry users.|
Text from a bottle found washed ashore near the new Infocom's HQ:
"Help! We are being held hostage in a soulless land filled with gaudy graphics, purposeless quests, and (horrors!) a graphical user interface! Won't that nice gentleman with the brass lantern come to save us, please?"
-The Inhabitants of Zork.
The Bumper Sticker Section
Here's a collection of bumper stickers for text adventure fans.
"Text adventures do it with words."
"Your dungeon or mine?"
"I brake for text parsers."
"Imagination sold and serviced here."
"Danger: A Mind Forever Voyaging at the wheel."
"I keep my mouse where it belongs, in the closet."
"I'm a betatester for Logitech...I drop mice off of tall buildings."
Well, I did say 'a little' humor. Very little. Feel free to send me some jokes and such to flesh out this section.
The Thirty Six Basic Plots
Some years ago, a man named Polti noticed that a few basic plots were fairly commonly used. Later, a person named Loren J. Miller adapted this premise to role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. After reading her work, I brought this article to the Internet.
The Thirty Six Basic Plots in Text Adventures
First of all, The 36 Basic Dramatic Situations by George Polti is the work that this is based on. I would also like to thank Loren J. Miller who published an article in a local gaming magazine. Her article inspired this interpretation of Polti's work. So, without further ado, here are the 36 Basic Plots, replete with ideas for using them. Enjoy, and if you find this useful, send me some mail and let me know. Oh, and if you disagree about these plots, you'll just have to talk to Polti. :-)
- Supplication: A persecutor and a supplicant take a grievance before a power in authority. This can be any sort of court case or any variation on that theme. Personally, this strikes me as a better subplot than a full plot, at least in a text adventure. I mean, sure, Perry Mason is great for TV, but I wouldn't want to play it.
- Deliverance: An unfortunate or group of unfortunates is delivered from a threatener by a Rescuer. This is one of the classic folklore plots. Perfect for text adventures in my opinion, if you use a little creativity. Let's look at the various characters. The unfortunates can be the player, the player's spouse, a friend, a distraught village, or even the population of an entire world, or universe. The threatener can be animate or inanimate. A force of nature is sometimes more threatening than a sinister villain. A whole series of Jaws movies will back me up on this one. You could have a dragon, an army, a robot, an earthquake, a volcano, a hurricane, or a breakdown in the laws of 10
nature. The rescuer is most likely to be the player, otherwise they might feel a little left out of the game. But then, you might think of a nice plot twist and give that role to another character.
- Revenge: An avenger and a criminal duke it out. I really won't dwell on this plot because there are a thousand different ways to use it, and a thousand motives for revenge. Look at any of a zillion cornball action movies for ideas, or better yet, don't. I can't stand those movies.
- Vengeance by family upon family: I'm not sure exactly why Mr. Polti feels that this plot is so different from #3, but I suppose he had his reasons, like maybe a grudge against his uncle or something.
- Pursuit: Fugitive from punishment is pursued by a pursuer. This plot has promise. _The Fugitive_ immediately springs to mind. Also I could see a game of human hunting, in the tradition of all those stories. _The Running Man_ has a similar plot (the book, not the movie.). A nice gimmick for a game would be to allow the player to try it from both viewpoints.
- Victim of Cruelty or Misfortune: This involves unfortunates and a Master or Unlucky person. I assume that it refers to a slave master here, but I wouldn't write about slavery. It disgusts me. But then, an unlucky person meeting with misfortune isn't too bad an idea. _Bureaucracy_ was based around that theme. Maybe the main character is cursed by bad luck wherever they go. Or maybe it's just an isolated incident of spectacularly bad fortune. Whatever the case, the point is that there's no real villain in this plot, just victims.
- Disaster: This one says Vanquished power, and a victorious power or messenger. It seems to me that I'm not looking at this the same way. I didn't think there were any victors in a disaster, although I guess that Polti is referring to the disaster itself, or some sort of metaphorical Nature. Famine, storms, floods, planets being demolished to make way for galactic bypasses...good stuff. Make the player a firefighter, or a rescue pilot, or even a super hero. Then, give them some people to save, or a way to avert the whole disaster.
- Revolt: For this, you need a Tyrant, and some conspirators. Stir in some peasants, evil guards, and shake well. Or maybe the middle class has finally had enough of our bureaucratic government, and the player is a cop protecting the system that he doesn't even believe in anymore. And who says that a text adventure has to be set around a human? Maybe the player is an alien, trying to overthrow our government? All sorts of different angles.
- Daring Enterprise: This involves a Bold Leader™, a Goal, and an Adversary. I would say that this plot has a lot of potential for text adventures. Pick your setting at will. The goal? Nearly anything. I could see the player as the captain of a colonizing ship bound for Mars with a traitor on board, and a meteor storm ahead. This one has the added bonus of having a built-in sequel. :)
- Abduction: An abductee, abductor, and someone who is responsible for the abductee (maybe the abductee himself). This plot would suggest a rescue or an escape. Personally though, I would find a game from the viewpoint of a kidnapper in poor taste. So, I would set it from the abductee or guardian's viewpoint. Watch yourselves if you use this plot. There's a lot of censorship floating around these days. (Thanks Tipper. :P )
- Enigma: You need an interrogator, a seeker, and a problem. Two words, _The Prisoner_. This was the greatest example I've ever seen of this plot, even though I only saw one or two episodes. (I hope to rectify this someday and see the whole thing.) _Amnesia_ was the text adventure version of this plot. However. Everything I've heard suggests that this plot is bad form for a game. Look at _Hacker_. No instructions, and just that stupid login prompt. This plot starts too slowly. Maybe you can develop into this plot, but don't start with it.
- Obtaining: There are two or more opposing parties, a sought-after object, and an optional arbitrator. Gee. Here's an original plot. Go fetch the ring, Bilbo. Bring back the holy Salmon, Mortimer. We need the _______ of Unearthly might, Fred, can you get it for us? Tried and true on one hand, overused on the other.
- Familial Hatred: Here you need two family members that (well duh) hate each other. That's what familial hatred means, after all. Anyways, here's another subplot for ya. The trick with this one is that you have to overlay it onto some exciting story or another. Just plain old hatred doesn't cut it as a storyline.
- Familial Rivalry: Preferred kinsman, rejected kinsman, object of their desire. Shades of _Hollywood high jinx_ here folks. I'm sure that you guys can do better with this one. (Although, I did like the atomic Chihuahua. That was fun, stomping and smashing things.)
- Murderous Adultery: Exactly why this is in a separate category from adultery I may never know. I don't always agree with Polti, but he did have several great ideas. Anyways, you have two adulterers, and the betrayed party or parties. This is a classic for murder mysteries all over the world.
- Madness: Madman, and a victim. Well then, I don't see why the madman can't be his own victim, struggling against the slow fall into insanity. Maybe he's the victim of some exotic poison, working away at his mind. I still like the split personality murder plot, myself. Or any other sort of debilitating madness that the player must overcome. Or how's about this? The player is catatonic, aware only of some fantasy world inside his own mind that is slowly becoming hostile to him. Either he has to escape to the real world, or find a way to truly enter his world before his family pulls the plug on him. I like madness, it's a good plot.
- Fatal Imprudence: Sort of like fatal stupidity. The ambassador to the USSR accidentally leaves a compromising document in a briefcase that is stolen, or a guard watching the crown jewels falls asleep and well, you get the idea. For this one, you need an Imprudent person and a victim or lost object.
- Involuntary Crimes of Love: I suppose this could be classified as Not-quite-Murderous Adultery. Or maybe the lovers are forced to kill someone who stumbles in on their little affair. Use your imagination.
- Kinsman kills unrecognized kinsman: Whoa, Oedipus Rex. Killer, unrecognized victim, and a revealer. Another mystery plot or a nice subplot that adds a poignant touch to any game.
- Self Sacrifice for an Ideal: Hero, Ideal, thing or person sacrificed. Just think of the Civil War, thousands of people gave their lives to free the slaves in the south, even though they weren't really affected by the slavery. Or the American Revolution's quest for freedom. There have been innumerable causes throughout history, and many many more that you could use as the motivation for a heroic sacrifice.
- Self sacrifice for Kindred: Hero, Kinsman, person or thing sacrificed. Not necessarily a blood relation, just someone the sacrificer really cares for and relates to. It need not be the player that does the sacrificing, it could be an NPC sacrificing themselves for the player's benefit, or for the benefit of another NPC.
- All Sacrifice for Passion: Lover, object of passion, person or object sacrificed. Reminds me of _Romeo and Juliet_. This is an excellent plot, but it needs to be garnished with other subplots as well to make a really good game. Really, all plots need that sort of enhancement.
- Sacrifice of Loved ones: Hero, beloved victim, and a need for sacrifice. I'm not really sure what would possess someone to give up someone they love, but I'm sure you guys will come up with something clever. Oh, wait, maybe something about a mercy killing, or maybe the loved one is needed in a greater cause or something.
- Rivalry between superior and inferior: Superior, inferior, object of rivalry. Maybe a boss and an employee are both out for the same girl, or an aristocrat and a commoner both seek the same public office, etc. It's not too difficult to think of other stories for this plot.
- Adultery: deceived spouse, two adulterers. Ah, goody, yet ANOTHER adulterous plot. This guy really has a one track mind. I'll bet he's got incest in here somewhere, by George.
- Crimes of Love: Lover, beloved, theme of dissolution. Hmm, this sounds like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle or some such movie like that. Lover finds out beloved doesn't love him anymore, so he bumps her off. I hope there's at least one good plot in this last batch of 12, or I'm going to look pretty silly.
- Discovery of dishonor of a loved one: Ponder. Could've sworn he used this one already. Anyways, just think of _The Scarlet Letter_ here. This might make an interesting story, but if anyone takes a Victorian romance novel and makes it into IF, I'm gonna come a' gunnin' for ya.
- Obstacles to love: Two Lovers, Obstacle. What sort of obstacle? The tire run? :) Anyhow, this is an element of _Romeo and Juliet_ as well. My plot outline for _The Last Day_ uses this as character motivation. Really, I can't think of anything better to get a player moving than a love interest/promise of nookie in the future.
- An enemy loved: Beloved enemy, Lover, Hater. More Romeo, but there's a good sci-fi movie that has some of this, called _Enemy Mine_. Well, _I_ liked it, anyway. Not necessarily love, maybe strong friendship or camaraderie instead. An inter-racial friendship in the deep South 10-20 years ago. Or, in some places, even today. The hater is going to take his bigotry out on the enemy and lover though, I guar-on-tee it.
- Ambition: Ambitious person, coveted thing, adversary. Man, he was hard up for ideas toward the end. Ambition is nearly always a facet of some other aspect of a person's makeup. There are a few people who simply lust for power, of course. They are called politicians. If you want to write the _Dave_ of home computing, don't let me stop you. Other ambitions center around money, love/sex, desire to avoid manual labor, etc. Maybe you could write a game about a would-be video game designer who's having trouble breaking into the business. ;)
- Conflict with a God: Mortal, Immortal. Hmm, lots of possibilities here. You could send the Angel of death after the player in a variety of settings, like New York, or WWI or II. Or maybe you've been hankering to write the IF version of Job? Don't forget the Greek gods, Roman Babylonian, Pagan, and a zillion others. This one is fun because the player is faced at an initial disadvantage and has to work from there.
- Mistaken Jealousy: Jealous one, object of jealousy, supposed accomplice, author of mistake. Oh boy! _Three's Company_! Seriously, this is an absolutely lame story premise. I suggest you take up writing sitcoms instead of IF.
- Faulty Judgement: Mistaken one, victim of mistake, author of mistake, guilty party. Hmm...the player is sentenced to death for a murder he didn't commit. This sounds like a good start to a prison escape game, where you have to prove you didn't do it, or, alternatively, flee the country.
- Remorse: Culprit, victim, interrogator. _Interview with a Vampire_? The culprit would be confessing a past crime to someone, discussing a victim, or so I would suppose. Of course, I'm not positive on this one. My source gives only a tiny bit of information on it.
- Recovery of a lost one: Seeker, one found. _The Vanishing_ would be a good example to look at. This figures into most action movies as a sub-plot as well. Unfortunately, it also figures into way too many video games as well. Super Mario Bros., King Kong, Final Fight, the list goes on.
- Loss of loved ones: Kinsman slain, friendly witness, executioner. The player learns of an uncle, sister, parent, etc. who has been claimed by some exotic death, or killed simply by some street thug. He decides to go see what happened/get revenge on their killer.
Having reached the end of the 36 plots, I guess I'll finish off by listing those plots which, in my mind, have the most merit for IF currently. Here goes, in no particular order:
Deliverance, Pursuit, Disaster, Daring enterprise, madness, self sacrifice for love/an ideal, an enemy loved, conflict with a god, and loss of loved ones.
That's 9 out of 36 that I think have promise. You may disagree with my choices of course, these are just my particulars, based on this article. I hope you enjoyed this post, and I'll be sure to add it into Whizzard's Guide to IF Authorship.
An In-depth Look at my 9 Favorites
This part is new. I decided to spend some more time going over my favorite plots. These are the ones that, to me, have the most potential for use in IF.
That blonde bombshell in almost every old detective movie.
Scientist's daughter (Mad or otherwise)
Group of Unfortunates-
The character's village, city, state, country, world, galaxy, universe, and dimension are all good ones. The character's family too.
Any army or other natural disaster.
The player, of course.
Setting the scene: Portray a tranquil setting, with only a faint hint of what is to come. The rescuer may be on vacation, or whatever you like.
Hook: Something happens to bring the plight of the unfortunate(s) to the rescuer's attention. It may anything from a murder, to an escaped dying prisoner, all the way up to an alien invasion.
Buildup: The rescuer decides to look into the matter. You need to either provide an overwhelming motive for him to get involved, or provide an alternate storyline for the character to follow.
Cliffhanger: Create imminent danger to an unfortunate with a puzzle between the rescuer and the rescue. The buzzsaw scene in Hollywood high jinx was very vaguely an example of this.
Plot Twist: The unfortunate has been lying to the rescuer in some manner or another. Either the danger was understated, or (for humorous effect) greatly overstated. Perhaps the unfortunate represents the only true danger to the rescuer.
Climax: There should be a confrontation between the rescuer and the threatener, whatever it may be. Be sure to eyeball the section on game endings in this guide for general info. Reveal your plot twists now.
Resolution: Either the rescuer successfully completes his rescue, or he flubs it. Or perhaps he discovers the true unfortunate held captive by the phony one.
Fugitive from punishment-
Ford Harrison (j/k)
An unjustly accused convict
A persecuted minority of some sort, such as a telepath or space alien. (ET!)
A falsely vilified person (Re, _The_Running_Man_)
Police, secret service, enemy telepaths, air force. Everyone.
Setting the scene:
Firstly, you need to justify the pursuit. Tell the player who is chasing him and why. Also give the player an idea of any unusual powers or abilities he has, often used in sci-fi versions of this plot.
Perhaps the player's escape from his enemies. Or perhaps a close call with an enemy agent. If the player has powers, give him the chance to use them here.
The player begins to see signs of a subtle, but vast network that is working against him. The puzzles get more fiendish as pursuit becomes more and more serious. Helicopters and advanced equipment show up more and more until....
Something goes wrong. An arranged rendezvous doesn't show up, or some device important to the character's efforts fails him. He is left in a dangerous and precarious position. Maybe a friendly person has to bail him out. Perhaps a similar fugitive, either an old hand or a possible love interest.
Friendly fugitive betrays him. Or perhaps is captured trying to protect the character. Maybe the enemy is just a cover for a deeper, more sinister organization planted inside it.
The fugitive confronts the head of the organization, tries to rescue his love interest, is captured by that deeper organization, or has to perform something particularly hairy to get away.
The player wins his freedom or flees to another country or what have you. He also defeats the evil organization and rescues his love interest. The player reaches deep inside himself and discovers a new power that was previously dormant or suppressed and uses that power to overcome his enemies. Any or all of the above are appropriate.
A raiding party
Setting the scene:
Establish the setting, then add some foreshadowing, like an old man with a sign saying 'The End is Near' or something. Create a feeling of tension and suspense for the player.
The unthinkable happens. The end really does come. Hell, even the old man is rather shocked. Earthquakes are a good, current topic for disaster games right now. Atomic war could be fun to write about too, but you'd have to steer clear of anything tying it to Trinity, and watch out for reviews comparing your game to it.
The survivors emerge from the rubble. Frenzied looting and killing begins. The player has to protect himself (and his family?) I think the game I'm describing here is going to need a warning label for Tipper Gore. Serious themes abound, maybe tempered with humor from a religious cult or crazy old coot. Anyway, the character's goal is either to save lives, or get himself and/or his family to a safe place. He should accomplish this during the buildup. After all, we have nastier things in store for the climax...
The child is hanging from the edge of the cliff, with a slippery hold on an exposed root. The raiders are shooting at you. The car is teetering on the edge of the bridge. You get the idea.
An unexpected source of the disaster. Secret government experiments gone wrong. I would avoid any sort of dream sequence/ earthquake simulator in virtual reality endings. It cheapens what the player has accomplished. The disaster is real. It has to be. Other plot twists include follow-up disasters (germ warfare), foreign invaders, and betrayal by a friend.
Well, admittedly, a disaster is hard to follow-up by definition. But still, there are ways to do it. Any earthquake sufficiently offshore can generate a tsunami. That would one-up it. An organized, well-armed group of raiders, perhaps military, can be a difficult challenge after the character has settled into a home. Whatever you do here, it should be exciting and fast-paced, with a time limit.
There are several ways to end a disaster adventure. Most of them involve finally settling down in their safe haven and starting over. Or the rescue team arrives, or the invaders are repulsed. Use your imagination.
4) Daring Enterprise:
The character. He can be:
A spaceship captain
A military leader
A visionary inventor or investor
A colonist An engineer
Colonize the planet
Get the settlers there alive
Build your revolutionary invention
Finish your engineering marvel
Successfully complete your project or experiment Adversary- Saboteur The government A politician The elements An alien race Shortage of funds or materials or labor
Setting the scene:
Define the Daring Enterprise. What the hell is the player trying to do anyways? How can he possibly pull it off? Who is his adversary? Does he know all this? Where is the game taking place? Try to create a tone of excitement and breathless anticipation. The character is excited with his project or he wouldn't be a part of it. His head is filled with ambitious dreams and an idealistic outlook.
Take great enjoyment in destroying his idealistic outlook. Something vital but fairly easily repairable goes wrong. Perhaps it claims the life of his spouse or a dear friend. Perhaps it was on purpose. The player would be rather interested to find that out.
More and more things start to go wrong with the Big Plan. People are becoming worried and many want to pull out. The player must unify them or all is lost. The player begins to follow a trail of clues that leads him towards the climax.
His wife steps into an elevator. Suddenly it begins falling the forty stories to the ground. He has only a few moments in which to save her by activating a backup system, shorting out the control box for the runaway elevator, or using some anti-gravity device or another. Other ideas can consist of delayed impending death caused by the things going wrong.
It isn't sabotage. The man who sold them their materials was pawning off shoddy goods that break easily.
The player confronts the source of his difficulties. Justice is tinged with revenge here. Concentrate on fast-paced action. I can't stress this enough. The climax HAS to be the most exciting and stressful in order to make a successful game.
This should involve the completion of the project or invention. Mankind takes a giant step forward thanks to the daring and cleverness of the player. Do a little ego boosting.
The player. Choose from a wide array of illnesses.
Accidentally murdered person. The player. The madman Madman's loved one.
Setting the scene:
You don't necessarily have to make mention of the madness, but you had better explain things if its one of the big selling points of your game. I'd like to do a game about a comatose patient lost in his own mind or a fantasy world therein. I would replace the normal status line with and EEG graph like _/\_/\_/\_ that progresses to /\/\/\/\/\ then __________ or some erratic pattern as the patient's condition worsens. The goal would be to either escape your mind, or find a way to remain in the fantasy world permanently (and maybe physically). There are other ideas that could be used for a plot, hundreds actually. I can think of way too many to start listing them here. Again, use your imagination. This guide is only that, a guide. You have to come up with your own ideas. Good luck.
After the player adjusts to his situation, it changes. His idyllic fantasy world becomes an ensnaring nightmare. The police arrive and arrest him for a murder he didn't commit, his other personality did. He finds a suicide note that his other personality wrote (if he's aware of the other personality.) and has to figure out a way to prevent the personality from killing him. Something thrilling and exotic. Madness is something that is endlessly fascinating to us. We just can't make any sense of it, by definition. We study it in all its myriad forms, trying to cure these people who don't perceive reality in the same manner as us. I like to think that there's a madman somewhere looking for a cure for sanity. Your game has to show a reality different from ours, and do it quickly, or the player will get bored and quit.
Reality and madness roll over him in succeeding waves. He is projected back and forth, torn between two worlds. The madness may either constitute a positive place, or a negative place that is worse than reality. The player has to decide what to do to resolve the rift, because it will slowly destroy his mind, until nothing is left. Or perhaps it's a different type of madness, and events in the fantasy world reflect what is happening in reality, causing the player to commit terrible deeds by accident. Perhaps even a murder, then police pursuit could blend and mesh with images of hideous beings pursuing him, screaming for his soul. Like I said, a fun plot.
Have the player cross between worlds at particularly stressful moments, leaving his fate in the other world in doubt.
His madness has been caused purposely by someone or something. In a perverse twist, his life has become better since he went mad.
The two worlds come together in a clash. He must decide between the real world and his family or the fantasy world (and a love interest?). Maybe he has some climactic thing to do in each world before he can decide. In any event, if he doesn't manage it, something fatal happens.
The player's access to one world or the other is cut off, leaving him in the world of his choice. He is a hero wherever he stays, and his family/love interest is at his side. He lives happily ever after.
6) Self Sacrifice for love/ideal:
The player's love interest
Player's love interest
Thing or person sacrificed-
Player's love interest
A golden opportunity
Setting the scene:
Define the player's current situation, describing what he's fighting for and why he's doing that. Perhaps you could also describe what he's up against.
An initial battle or event that causes the player to take arms against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Perhaps because of his love interest, or perhaps, in spite of.
Perhaps the war for freedom (or whatever) has been going on for awhile now, and the rebels finally have the chance to strike a death blow against the oppressive government. Of course, this storyline is anything but original, but then, I've seen some excellent implementations of it.
He's almost captured. Or he is captured, then threatened with torture. Watch Star Wars for ideas. [Thanks, S.G.]
His love interest is fighting for the other side.
A big confrontation between the player and his love interest. The outcome of this battle will determine the future of our world. The love interest sees the error of her ways and sacrifices herself for the player.
The world is safe. The player is sadder, but wiser, and has the satisfaction of having accomplished his purpose.
7) An Enemy Loved:
Alien Opposing army member
Other members of the player's army.
Members of the human/alien race
Setting the scene:
Explain where the player is, and let him know about the enemy.
He encounters his enemy in a situation where the war they are in has no real meaning. A fight would mean the death of both of them.
The two of them learn to survive together, each needing the other's skills and talents. They face natural challenges or disasters together, wild beasts, primitives, etc. They form a friendship eventually.
The enemy is about to be killed, or the player is hiding from an undefeatable enemy, hoping not to be found, while it searches the bushes around him.
I'm at a loss here. I can't think of anything that can really compete with the inherent irony of this plot.
A rescue force arrives and doesn't approve of the relationship between them. If the two are of the opposite sex, they might even be in love with each other. (OK, so the 'opposite sex' bit isn't very 90s, I'd hate to try and sell such a controversial game.) Eventually the player has to protect his friend/lover and must choose between rescue and friendship/love.
Traditionally, the player would reject his society for his loved enemy, but I say let the player make that decision. Don't try to pass moral judgements like that without a good in-story reason.
8) Conflict with a God:
One of the player's worshipers.
The player's god.
Setting the scene:
Define just who the player is, and what his relations with his god/worshiper are. Also setup the character's position in life.
I can see two angles on this. Either the player is being tested or toyed with by his god, or he IS a god, contesting with another god over his worshiper. Either has numerous possibilities. I could see a confrontation between the player and Death. Or a Job-like scenario from Job or God's point of view. I'm sure the player would enjoy the novelty of being a god.
The worshiper experiences a series of tests of his faith. Or he has to evade Death, which seems to have some grudge against him. Or he has to guide his follower through some tests or hardships.
Your guess is as good as mine.
His 'god' is really a collection of special effects. Death is after him because he is immortal. The worshiper considers converting to a new religion.
There is a direct mortal-immortal confrontation. The god decides to do things personally rather than rely on agents to do what he wants done.
Either the worshiper was found lacking, passed the test, or switched religions. This plot is fairly flexible with what you can do with it.
9) Loss of Loved Ones:
Pick a relative, any relative.
Friend of player
I would use this plot as an element in a game rather than basing the game around it. It's an excellent way to add drama to a story, but it's not gripping enough by itself to be a full story.
Developing your game's Atmosphere
This is another reprint.
Atmosphere is vital to the feel of a text adventure, or even a graphic adventure. But the trouble is, it's also a very tenuous thing to grasp hold of. But, I'll do my best to see if I can decipher some of it both for my own information and anyone who is interested. To do this, I'll look at some specific atmospheres and see how I would create them.
I'll start here because it's one of the easier effects in my mind. First, I'd start out by watching my vocabulary closely. I'd use words like leprous, misshapen, and cancerous. Anything that gives a diseased feel to the story. Then, I'd use a couple of Cliffhangers (see my plot post) to frighten or unnerve the player. Also, I'd have some innocent item produce frightening effects. I'd delve deep into horror stories of all sorts and come up with a suitable Big Nasty™. Now, this is only my personal opinion, but I would put the player's personae in danger rather than a companion. Brings it home better. (I still think Horror of Rylvania is great.) Hmm...some sort of wasting curse or slow possession would be fun. Creaking doors, footsteps, I MIGHT use, MAYBE. Probably not. They've become quite hackneyed. I liked one scene in Piranhas 2 where this guy drops his watch into a murky sink and you just know a fish is gonna eat him when he reaches in...but it doesn't. Then, just as he turns around, a fish jumped him. (Flying fish, hilarious stuff.) Scared the hell out of me because I was busy relaxing. I might even plunk the player into a dark room with a nasty, player only hears a slight breathing and a steady scraping of feet that gets closer as he fumbles a match, and then strikes another just in time to illuminate a living corpse's face staring mindlessly at him. It's the little touches that make the big impacts.
This one is fun. I get images of thick fog and strange lights. Of corpses that have no business being where they are, and of course, sinister men huddling in London alleys with scalpels. (There's a thought, anyone want to write a game about Jack the Ripper? I'd be glad to help with publishing and packaging and such.) Words like tenuous, inexplicable and the ever popular moonlit trip from the tongue. I don't like secret passages in old houses though. My idea of mysterious is this: Something called _Lost in the Fog_. The player is a survivor from the Titanic, adrift, clutching a life preserver. Freezing in the ice cold waters that killed many of the survivors, it seems that death is inevitable. Just then, a bell rings distantly through the fog, and the player can swim for the sound. He finds the sound is coming from an old Spanish Galleon, miraculously afloat. He climbs aboard, and hears footsteps. The player evades the footsteps and searches the ship, discovering that its crew is somehow alive as well. Have they been transported forward in time, or he backwards? One of the player's ancestors is aboard the ship, and will befriend the strange young man who calls his name. But according to legend, the ship went down in a vast vortex that appeared inexplicably in its path. Just then, the player hears a loud rushing sound, and realizes that history can't be changed, but perhaps, just perhaps, it can be avoided. (Also, any Twilight Zone episode (the old series))
It's probably inaccurate to describe exciting as an atmosphere, but I want to, so nyah. Vocabulary - Lots of active verbs, words that have connotations of motion, and active, moving sentences. This style would be great for a James Bond styled game. Lots of leaping off cliffs, moving trains, airplanes, skyscrapers, etc. :) Keep things moving is rule number one here. Don't let up except for the odd romantic moment, if then. I can think of at least as many bad guys as I have plots. Big muscle men, Chinese plotters with Fu Manchu 'staches, sinister Russian agents, and of course, the odd mad genius out to destroy the world. Actually, I'm just joking. I'd never use any of those hackneyed characters. If you can't come up with original ideas, then come up with a new hobby. Originality is something lacking in a lot of games, and that needs to be rectified as soon as possible. Anyways, I'd probably use the odd spy gadget or two though. At least if I were writing a spy game. It might be much more fun to write about a bounty hunter chasing down a mark. In that case, it would all be standard gear. (Notice that I haven't ruled out a hang glider anywhere. I hope to use one in a game someday.) You could have car chases, bombs, gunfights, seduction, skydiving, white water rafting or a high-speed motorboat chase. Lots of fun stuff to do.
(As if the other atmospheres weren't.) I think the closest Infocom game to come to this was well, actually, none of them. I would consider exotic to be set in a lush tropical forest, or in Jamaica with a mysterious houdoo cult, or on an alien planet where you do more than explore an old station. Instead, I'd want to encounter and study an alien race. How about a game set in a series of parallel universes, all somewhat different? Say, they are all heading towards a similar destruction, and only you can save these multiple worlds. Vocabulary - If it was set in a real place, I would spend a week or two on researching its most bizarre aspects. Otherwise I would spend a week making up consistent information on it. (Someday, when I'm a big rich game writer, I'll just fly there and visit, heheh.) The action doesn't necessarily have to keep going at all times in this atmosphere. It's okay to have rooms that have no purpose other than interesting descriptions and information. (Although it is better to tie that info into your puzzles.) Puzzles, ESPECIALLY in this atmosphere, should reward the player with new areas to explore. Don't let the commonplace slip into the game, unless it's to contrast it with the strange local customs. Keep the descriptions full of dreamy words and use all five senses here. Smells, tastes, feels, everything you can pack into it to make the player experience being there. Make the Big Nasty™ fit the setting appropriately. A crazed, loa-possessed cultist for the houdoo game, a strange snake-god in a lost city, the force behind the imminent destruction of the parallel universes. Just keep the player aware at all times that he is in unfamiliar lands.
And here we have a new atmosphere for the guide. This was written by Stephen Granade and submitted to me. I enjoyed it, so here it is, with my own embellishments added in.
This is not necessarily a separate atmosphere, but one that can be mixed with the others. There are two ways to go about it. One, try to make everything humorous, a la THGTTG. While this can be very, very funny, it can also be very, very unfunny. People have different senses of humor, so it's hard to write something that even a majority of people will find funny. Two, use humor as a reward for exploring. When the PC does something clever but unworkable in trying to solve a puzzle, respond with something clever. Conversely, if the PC does something abysmally stupid, zing him. For example:
The lab shows signs of a recent battle, as if the scientists who work here had been fighting for their lives. Charred lab benches form a barricade of sorts in the southeast corner. The thick metal door on the north wall is pitted, as if an incredibly corrosive acid had been splashed against it. An open doorway leads west.
> EXAMINE DOOR
The door possesses sturdy metal bars which hold the thing shut. A sign on the door reads, "Alien Hospitality Suite."
> OPEN DOOR
You slide the bars back, then start to open the door. As you do, tentacles reach out and grab you! Before you can react, they have dragged you into the dark, putrid-smelling room behind the door. There you are slowly decapitated, and your body used as a breeding ground for aliens!
Just kidding, you can't slide the bars back at all.
You get the idea. Let your imagination run wild. After all, most every game needs its moment of levity. Perhaps the player has a loyal friend who follows him everywhere, muttering acerbic comments about their adventures under his breath...[Stephen's part ends. My comments on humor follow.] Other notable techniques include puns, one-liners, Rube Goldberg scenarios, and silly situations. Picture the player out on a ledge, chasing after his winning lottery ticket. The wind blows the window shut, and....
After awhile, three punk rockers assemble below you. They hold up their cigarette lighters and chant "jump, jump, jump!" You are tempted, if only for a moment, to take their advice...and aim for them. Somewhat later, a firetruck arrives, along with a police car. Unfortunately, the ladder they brought is too short, so they radio in for a longer one, and join the police over at Don's Donut World for a Cruller and coffee. By now, there is a large crowd gathered below, hoping to see a gory spectacle. Two pigeons have decided to build a nest in your hair, and you have this terrible urge to go to the bathroom. For the sake of the crowd below, you hold it in.
See? Humor can be a really fun tool to work with. I originally left a humor section out of the guide because I didn't feel I could do it justice. Stephen's done a great job though, and I think he deserves a round of applause. Thank you Stephen. Much obliged to you for that great example. I am always looking for submissions for the guide. Anything on game writing that would fit in with the tone of it will be considered, and most likely, used.
As you can see from the long descriptions, atmosphere is important for any game. Be sure that you build up a feeling of unity in your descriptions. The language used should tie together the setting and the emotions you wish to evoke.
The other people in your game, NPCs
5 Laws of IF NPC Creation:
- Never, EVER, EVER have an NPC comment on the player's body odor. Why? Damned if I know. This is just one of those rules that everyone blindly follows without questioning.
- Make 'em unique, even if ya gotta steal 'em from somewhere else.
- Don't stereotype them please, I find this endlessly annoying. My one exception to this rule is the senile old wizard, whom I find endlessly amusing.
- Make their actions consistent with their personalities. 'Sir Robin charges valiantly into battle.' just doesn't make any sense. (For the Monty Python impaired, Sir Robin was King Arthur's cowardly knight.)
- Give 'em some emotions, and some conflict to sort out. Maybe the NPCs daughter is dying, or they're extremely frightened of the dark and panic blindly when shut into a dark room. Don't let the PC run roughshod over 'em, they have feelings too. If a PC attacks them, they should react according to their personality. Maybe they think it's a joke, maybe they think the PC has gone mad and kill the PC, maybe the police come and arrest the player, or maybe the NPC just dies...
NPCs are the backbone of your game. Their unique personalities and quirks will stick in the player's mind far longer than the puzzles you set for him to defeat. What do most people remember, the Wizard of Frobozz, or the key and doormat puzzle. I can't really do a definitive work on NPCs. There are too many possibilities for you to contemplate. Instead, I'll list a few important characteristics below, with a brief sentence on each.
- Appearance - This gives the player a mental image of the NPC.
The smaller the detail, the more it brings out the personality of the NPC.
- Speech Mannerisms - Such as a foreign accent, odd speech pattern.
- Body Language - How the NPC stands, gesticulates, smiles, etc.
- Motivations - Not necessarily known to the player. But it SHOULD be known to you.
- Interests - Shows in their room's furnishings, their belongings. Tells a lot about a person.
In IF, there are basically only a few things that you want to worry about. First, give the NPC an interesting description and some interesting mannerisms. Next, ensure that the NPC reacts properly to the basic verbs in your game, such as kiss, hit, kill, push, etc. Finally, give the NPC a lot to talk about, and if it follows the player, a lot of things for it to do in certain places in your game. Oh, one last, neglected thing. Allow NPCs to react to one another in more than just a passing manner. These characters are just as important as the player in the overall development of your game. Be sure to have betatesters try very hard to break your NPCs. [-v1.2]
If you pay attention to these details, your NPCs will be more believable and interesting to the player. Particularly handle #2 and #4, and everything else will fall into place. Have fun.
The player's good buddies, pets
This is a reprint of another article, this one on pets.
- The term pets can apply to any object that follows the player around fairly consistently. A pet is not necessarily helpful, nor is it necessarily harmful, it just is. Pets are not constrained to living creatures, nor are they even constrained to animate beings. Take, for example, the radio in Wishbringer that gave you advice.
- Pets tend to be very versatile objects, frequently their personality will pervade the entire game. (Floyd, of course.) This can be a good thing, or a bad thing, depending on how it is handled.
Okay, here are some pet ideas. Let me know if you've seen any used already.
- The player is a wizard, with an imp familiar that is more often than not leading the player into danger.
- (A more general idea) The player is a non-human, with a non-human companion. Part of the game is determining how best to use that companion (say, for instance, the player is a rhinoceros, and has a friendly bird that helps them spot danger.) This could also be interesting if you have a human player, but a really exotic pet, like a shape changing blob of jelly. (see A Boy and his Blob, on Nintendo systems)
- Heheh, here's a whimsical thought...Remember that cartoon with the frog that would sing and dance, but only when no one else was around? Well, that could be a rather amusing plot device, especially for those who have seen the original cartoon. (Or maybe you find a talking dog with a similar limitation, or a talking....horse?) (everyone sing along...A horse is a)
- Non-living pets. Robots are the pet of choice in this department, but there are a lot of humorous ideas packed away under this heading. In THGTTG, the aunt's thing almost took on a personality of its own, just by following you around, so maybe there's this certain object that shows up everywhere, like a Monkey's paw, or a cursed ring. That's by no means the only way an item can develop a personality, either. The Jack-of-all-traits in Nord and Bert was quite interesting just because of all the things you could do with it. And the two teleport spots in Starcross. Any item that simply has a number of uses and lingers in the game seems to me to become a sort of pet.
- Non-living interacting pets. OK, so you don't buy that bit in #4, well obviously, objects can interact with the player in a number of bizarre ways. Maybe the player is losing his grip on reality as a result of some poison in his body, so items start talking to him and arguing among themselves. His couch plays psychiatrist, his TV plays evangelist, his shoes start remarking about the treatment he's been giving them. ("Oi! Not another puddle! Walk around it you arsehole!") Or perhaps they can just naturally talk. (Via the talking credit card in Time Trax, or Talkie Toaster in Red Dwarf, a British comedy sci-fi show.)
Bringing it all together...Writing your first game
More reprints, look out!
Welcome to IF 101, the Infinite Permutations of Story in IF. You may be asking yourself, "Why the heck would I want to write a dumb old text adventure?" The answer is simple, but different, for each of you. Maybe you're a writer looking for a new way of doing things, or maybe you were weaned on Infocom? Whatever your reason, doubtless it's a good one. On to the meaty part of this message.
There are a few different starting points you can use when writing a game. They are:
(Wishbringer started from the plastic rock packaged with it.)
I tend to start with atmosphere. Once I have in mind the sort of game I want to write, everything begins falling into place. Just as an example, you decide to write a horror game. OK, now you have a starting point, which is often the hardest part. Now, concentrating on horror, begin to narrow your focus...is it going to be a thriller, something really campy, exotic and terrifying like H.P. Lovecraft, or how about mixing horror with another atmosphere like space opera to come up with an unusual setting? I think we'll go with the exotic one for now. In horror, you need to think of something that is WRONG. Maybe a monster, disease, or madman. It just has to feel WRONG. We're going with disease, that's always a nasty one. So, what does our disease do that's so bad? Infectious madness? Gross deformities? A craving for human snacks? Horrific transformation? I like the last one. We now have a game about a disease that causes humans to transform into something horrible. But what? Hmm, that's a stumper, so many disgusting monsters, so little time...OK, let's give em claws, pointy teeth, big scabby armor-plated growths to ward off bullets, a funky hairdo, the effects of a 6 month exercise program, and a predilection for homo sapiens. We need a catchy name...umm...er...Grunts, maybe. It'll do for now. Let me warn you now to use a good ASCII text editor to write your games with. I use one called dcom. You don't want to waste time converting back and forth from ASCII every time you want to compile. Just make sure it has global search and replace capabilities, you'll need them. OK, now we have our disease, so we need a few more things to go on. We need a cause for the disease, a reason why the hero is trying to do something instead of heading for the hills, and of course, a setting. We'll start with the disease's source. That will likely have some ramifications in the final solution of the game. So, what do you suggest? Mad scientist, government plot, meteor/comet, ancient Indian burial ground, toxic waste...? I like the government plot, being from Berkeley, home of the conspiracy theory. So, germ warfare gone astray. Now why the heck is the player dumb enough to get wrapped up in this mess? I'll tell you why, he's a member of the local SWAT team, the only survivor of a drug bust that was apparently a covert site for the government's testing. Unfortunately for the player, there was no communication between the local and the federal government on the matter. Now, a nervous trigger finger and a broken vial have unleashed a squad of Grunt/scientists/SWAT team members on the world. Perhaps the scientists killed all the SWAT members after changing, or maybe the SWAT team was changed too, except for the player. Anyways, I would say it likely that he was far enough away from the vial and quick-witted enough to put his gas mask on. If he looks around, he's likely to find out the story behind the disease and an antidote, or maybe he has to find some simple way of changing them back or killing them. The setting? Some woods on the outskirts of <insert major city here>. He has to stop the Grunts before they get to the city and begin changing the populace.
Well, there's your basic premise. Start vague, and work your way down. It never fails for me.
[Next reprint follows]
Right. In the last installment of this post, we determined that we were going to write a horror game based on a disease that turns people into, for lack of a better name, Grunts. Grunts are basically like people except for their sharp claws and teeth, armor plating, and taste for human flesh. We (okay, okay, I) decided that it was going to be set on the outskirts of a town that shall remain anonymous for now, and is released in a drug bust gone bad. Fortunately for the player, he manages to realize what's happening and gets his gas mask on in time. Since then, I have decided that the Grunts are clever, and possess enough intelligence to smash the radios in the vehicles they brought. Don't question the fact that they don't steal the cars, just accept it until we can think of either a good excuse, or a more plausible scenario. (You do a lot of this at first.)
Okay, the stage is set. The Grunts have just taken off down the road, and our hero is lying in the bushes, trying to look inconspicuous. First thing we need to do now is to devise his first obstacle. The cars have been sabotaged. He needs to fix one to get back to town before the Grunts. He can cannibalize parts from any of the cars, and maybe find some parts lying around in the tool shed. In addition, he should stock up on good weapons since he's at a government installation (mistakenly believed by the SWAT team to be a drug plant) that had some fairly high tech stuff. (Not to mention some interesting diseases and such.) Anyway, the player should stock up, throw it all in the car that he fixed, and hit the road.
He comes to a farmhouse that's on fire. Screeching to a halt, he hears cries for help inside and rescues a kid about 13 years old. We'll call him David. He tries to leave David behind, since it's too dangerous, but the kid hides in the trunk. David, of course, is going to become a horrible pain in the butt. By the way, the farmhouse was raided by Grunts, in case you're wondering. David's the only survivor. Now, I think that the player can use one or two more people in his little 'band', not to mention a love interest, so he manages to outrun the Grunts and gets to a dairy farm on the outskirts of suburbia. Luke, the farm hand, is a bit dubious until screams come from the house, and the two of them rescue the farmer's daughter from some Grunts. It's too late for the farmer. He was a widower, fortunately. Now that our little adventuring band is complete, we would spend time expanding on the characters and bringing them to life.
OK. Now, the characters in our horror game are:
The player - A SWAT team member.
David - Kid that player saved and is stowed away in the trunk of his car.
Luke - Farmhand Debbie - Farmer's Daughter
We have established that the Grunts retain some vestige of human intelligence. We have also determined that the bacteria may only be spread through an exchange of bodily fluids. The player has had the opportunity to arm himself and acquire companions, not to mention research into the cause of the disease. We are now ready for the confrontation/master plan.
The player and his little retinue rush to head off the Grunts, now numbering about 5-8. During the first conflict, the player discovers that the Grunts are pretty much bulletproof. (What good movie monster isn't?) He does have a supply of diseases/vaccines that he may or may not have identified. One of these is the vaccine for the Grunt bacteria. He has a syringe as well, so he'd be well advised to inject himself with some of it. He has enough for several injections. One possible plan would be to head for the nearest zoo and get a tranq gun to use against the Grunts. Or maybe the other diseases in the collection would be of some use? There's a umm...blister agent, some adrenaline in a usable form, various illegal drugs, etc. The puzzles would consist of using these items in a variety of ways. I'm sure we can imagine the sort of things that would go on in the middle of this game. Lots of tracking down and disabling of Grunts, avoiding Grunts, saving folks, etc.
So, let's skip to the ending. The last, biggest Grunt confronts the player atop the area's drinking water reservoir. The player can't just shoot him, or he'll fall down and pollute the water, infecting the populace all over again. So the player plays it slick. He gets out a cattle prod taken from the farm earlier on (retroactively inserted.) He walks out to the Grunt, prodding it back with the prod. He gets scratched up by the Grunt. (Hope he used the vaccine) He forces the Grunt away from the water, then hits him with a syringe full of vaccine. Voila. End of story. Or you could probably think of a better one. This is, after all, just off the top of my head. Anyway, let me now close off this story with some hints and help, explaining why I made this post.
Starting out, I like to begin with a broad atmosphere and narrow downwards. Once you have set the stage with a plot, items come naturally and easily, puzzles a bit less so.
The characters in your story are of utmost importance. Fiction is, ultimately, about people. There are several distinct sections to a game: build-up, conflict, resolution. Build-up and Resolution are the most important two IMHO.
Finally, here's some advice to keep you working on your game. Announce its future release over the Net, and set yourself a deadline. Having people waiting for your game helps keep you to task. I know from experience.
I can't emphasize this part of game design enough. You really need a good sized troop of testers. You won't find every bug, not even after the game is released. But do try to get all the really nasty ones out first. Call for volunteers on r.a.i-f, you'll probably get from 10-30 eager beavers. Don't feel threatened. You'll be glad you had so many responses when mail starts bouncing back to you saying no such account, and people flake because of an unexpectedly heavy class load this semester. Take it in stride. Also corner a few of your local friends and tie them to a chair and make them play it for you. You'll get a faster response on bugs that way. I have found that my game will work perfectly unless I let someone else touch the keyboard while it's running. Then, pfft. The very first command one friend entered crashed the game, and he gave me a dirty look. This will happen. Gird your loins for the horrible, demeaning process of debugging. Betatesting is an experiment in publicly embarrassing yourself. It's got to be done, though, if you want to produce quality games. So cheer up, and keep your mind on the fact that you aren't paying your testers anything.
The gimmick and its place in your game
Think of all the old Infocom games and consider how many of them had a gimmick built into the game. Trinity had its pop-up poetry, Seastalker its little radar map, Suspended its six robots, etc. You should put some serious consideration into a gimmick. They cause your game to stand out from the crowd. If anyone comes up with an intriguing gimmick they don't want, pass it along to me. I'm always glad to get ideas, and I give credit where credit is due.
Packaging your game with an eye for registration
Now, what do most people remember about Infocom games? The neat little trinkets and books that came with them, usually. Bear this in mind as you plan your game. You should be planning the more physical aspects of it even as you write it. Find out what packaging will cost as soon as possible. Look at your budget (or lack of one) and decide what you can afford to include. For my first game, I'm planning on strictly printed props like diary pages and flyers. Later, if I get a good response, I may go out on a limb and have a Space Miner's Union Member card done up, or any of a zillion other things I could do. The trick is to keep your costs down and shop around until you find the VERY best buy for your buck. The one cent that you are paying more per copy adds up quickly to equal lost revenue and funds for your next game. Even something as mundane as a rock can become an exotic keepsake if you do things right. Another aspect of packaging is notification of contests and/or newsletters available from your company. I highly recommend contests open only to registered users. It's just one more thing to help convince them that their money would be best invested in your wallet. A newsletter will probably have no immediate benefits. However, you will accumulate a core group of steady customers that you can easily get input from. A company can survive just off a good hardcore user group if it's big enough.
Marketing and distributing your game
Oh what a tangled web we weave. In the new world economy, you want to be able to gain access to as many dollars, pounds, yen, rubles, and marks as you can. This isn't easy to do. There is a distribution group that says they will send your game out to thousands of BBSes on a CD for just $100 a year (to cover membership). It's called ASP. I may try it later on and let you guys know how it works. They have some conditions which they slap on you for the privilege of you paying them to distribute your game. You have to include their various legalese files with your game. You cannot cripple it in any way. You may not use any obtrusive registration reminders in your game. Frankly, I don't think it's any of their business whether you cripple your game or not, but they're putting themselves out on a limb for your program, so I won't worry about it. There are also the various credit card vendors that will take your credit card orders for a small part of your fee. This strikes me as an excellent strategy to attract impulse shoppers to our games. Get 'em while they're dying to get the free hint book and paper cup included with every copy of your game. Hell, let em order two copies. I'll include all these important info things at the end of this guide. By the way, you'll probably also need to get a P.O Box to serve as a registration sending point. Lastly, don't forget the IRS. Watch your taxes.
[I recently purchased a book called _Starting and Operating a Business in California_, by Michael D. Jenkind. From what I can tell, there is a set of these books, one for each state. I suggest getting it, it's very informative, and contains postcards to send off to certain government departments requesting forms that you need and other legal information. -v1.2.]
Now, don't neglect your customers. Get orders out in a timely manner. [timely, according to the law, is 30 days from time of order, unless you state in advance that it will take longer. If you fail to meet this deadline, you must send them a letter offering a refund, or having them accept the delay, their choice. -v1.2]
A letter should be enclosed in any event. This is one of the elite of the computer world, a registered user. Be courteous, but try not to kiss up too much. They should feel rewarded for their honesty, not like they're doing you a favor. If your program is good, then it deserves the registration. If you have future projects planned, then try to stick a 'catalog' in with your registered version describing them. Keep track of your registered users, and send out pamphlets when you have another game and some money to spend on them. Good god, what I wouldn't do for a roster of the Zork User's Group, or a list of those people who sent in the warranty cards from Lost Treasures of Infocom 1 and 2. Sadly, the former no longer exists, and Activision has the latter. Too bad they'll never use it in the manner in which it is meant to be used. See if your local computer stores are interested in carrying a few registered versions in stock, but don't hold your breath. I would suggest print advertising if it weren't for the tremendous expense involved.
Now that you've jumped those hurdles, you're going to try for some FREE advertising, or nearly so. Contact every magazine listed at the bottom of this guide and offer to send them a registered version to review. Do this only after you have a product that stands up to betatesting and looks as good as you're willing to pay for. Enclose a short note notifying the magazine that they are not eligible for any contest you're running. You're giving them a free sample, it's not fair to let them win the goodies too. Anyway, keep in close contact with them, answer their questions, offer to write articles on the hardships of IF. If you're lucky and your game is good, it'll get some rave reviews. If you get poor reviews, try not to take it too hard. The magazine is just doing its job as it sees fit. Try harder next time, or, if they are violently opposed to text adventures, stop sending them sample copies to review. A text adventure should be judged on merit rather than lack of flashy graphics and sound.
Well, if you've gotten this far, congratulations, you did well. You have released a new text adventure out into the hungry waters of the market. Cross your fingers and whisper a quiet prayer to the gods that blessed Zork. I really hope that the money starts flowing in, at least enough to make it worth your while. As I said, IF seems to have a small market, but I think if we have enough quality products out there that are well marketed, we might be able to edge our foot back in the door. Keep pushing your game every chance you get. Post it on flyers around your school, or the bulletin board at work. People are always interested in a small 'home-town' company. Work your way up to the point where you can afford trinkets for your packages, and glossy pictures on the box covers. Eventually you may have a respected company, able to leave the difficult whitewater shareware market and move on to the smoother retail market. My best wishes go with you.
[Another useful marketing technique used by Adventions, one of the larger producers of text adventures, is selling the game commercially and just releasing a demo, rather than the whole game. Note that this kills your chances of using ASP to distribute your game. -v1.2]
Assorted Miscellany [-v1.2]
Well, the Guide has received a really good response since I released it. I have seen it offered on ftp sites as far away as Finland. The Internet never ceases to amaze me. Most of the changes to the Guide will be concentrated in this section for the convenience of those who have read the earlier versions. Of course, that means that this section is going to be a bazaar of different things, but that's okay with me. Since the first appearance of the Guide, I have started writing a regular game writing column for Intelligent Gamer magazine, the only such column to appear in a game magazine (See the magazine overviews for more info). Also, excerpts from the Guide were re-published in Chris Crawford's _Interactive Entertainment Design_ (Chris is the author of Balance of Power and other games.) For a year subscription to this magazine, published 6 times a year, send a check or money order for $36 ($50 outside North America) to:
Interactive Entertainment Design
5251 Sierra Road
San Jose, CA 95132
My excerpts appear in Volume 7, Number 4, in case you want a copy. Back issues are $5 apiece, volumes 1-6 are available for $30 per volume.
First off, I have another reprint from r.a.i-f for you here on the use of the 5 senses in IF:
Sight - Sight is almost always a major part of any text adventure. But, in my opinion, is seldomly used as well as it could be. Consider Adventure with its volcano room, since that seems to be the most well known room in IF. The room is very 'busy', there's a lot going on there, a lot of motion, nearly a visual assault. Nobody, except perhaps Steven Spielberg, could do justice to this room in a movie or picture. The image summoned up is one of Hell, one that Dante would be proud of. But what makes this room so visually interesting? Well, obviously the motion is part of it. All that lava and steam and sulfur bubbling around. The other thing that is so effective is the sheer number of things described so prosaically. Lastly, I think that the authors just spent a lot of time on that room, refining it until they had what they wanted. Just remember these things when writing room descriptions.
- Our eyes are drawn to motion first. It's an instinctive thing dating back to our hunting days.
- Even a very mundane item can be described in flowing terms if you put the effort into it. A sword, for instance, can have details such as a large nick halfway down the blade, a splash of rust near the tip, and a weathered leather wrapping around the handle. An item doesn't even necessarily have to be useful in the game to look interesting, although the player may try and do something with it if it is. 33
- We don't see the world in black and white, even if our monitor is monochrome. Colors are essential to an effective visual presentation.
Lastly, I'd just like to mention that I think this technique works more effectively when applied to a few select rooms in your game rather than every room. It has more emotional impact that way.
OK, now that I've detailed what I'll be doing without in Sight Unseen, I'll try and expand more on the senses that I will be using.
Hearing - Sound has been largely ignored in IF, which is a shame. It is second only to sight in the amount of information it can gather for the player. Really, I shouldn't say second, because it can gather just as much info as sight if attention is paid, and the listener can recognize the sounds. Think of how much information you hear just sitting in your room. Is it quiet? Then nobody's around, or if they are, they're not moving around. Do you hear laughter and the sounds of a ball being kicked or hit? Someone's playing a sport outside your window. Do you hear footsteps? Someone's walking nearby, and you can tell whether they're walking towards or away from you unless the place you're in has weird acoustics. You can tell when someone is fixing breakfast, or watching TV, or making love upstairs, or having an argument, all sorts of things. Now consider how much of this usually makes it into IF. I know, I'm guilty too. Avalon neglects sound just as much as the next game. I can think of only two places I used it, once to mention the lack of birds in Avalon, and once when you hear a voice nearby and follow it to its source. Oh yes, actually you also deal with the loss of hearing in one spot. Three rooms. That's a pretty lousy record for a game with about 50 rooms so far. I think I'll go back and pay more attention to it as I read through my room descriptions. I can think of one point where breathing should definitely be heard, and another that could use the crash of the thundering surf. That's just off the top of my head. I mean, we concentrate on all the human noises in IF, and neglect the background sounds when it's in our own best interest to include them. So look over your game with an eye for sound. :)
Smell - Of course, most of us can't afford to include scratch n' sniff cards with our games, so we do the next best thing and describe the smells. The tangy scent of oranges, the fresh smell of a pine forest, the sweet smell of a forest meadow filled with flowers in bloom...these things have a very strong emotional impact on people. Consider the smell of cookies baking. Doesn't that make you feel comfortable, and a bit hungry? What sort of memories does it evoke? Grandma, most likely. Now think what an excellent trap that smell would make. The adventurer is wandering around some caves...dum de dum.. *sniff* Mmmm...cookies. He follows the smell, and ends up on the dinner menu of some monster who smells like chocolate chip. :) Or think, what if you lived alone, and you came home to the smell of cookies baking. Now, you're sure that you didn't put any cookies in the oven before you left, so who did? I'm sure you see how this works now, so I'll move on to the next sense.
Touch - Here's another highly underrated sense in IF. Touch is our only real link to reality, if you think about it. How do you know that something is real? Sure, you can see and hear it, but you could be hallucinating for all you know. Touch is the final arbitrator on what is real, and what isn't. If you can feel it, then it doesn't matter what else you think you see or hear, you know it's there. And consider all the textures we encounter everyday. Sharp, rough, smooth, fuzzy, 34
serrated, squishy, doughy. gritty, hard, soft, etc. There's a lot to be learned by touching things. Think of the difference between having a knife waved at you, and feeling its point pricking at your neck. One is frightening, the other terrifies into immobility. Consider trying to put your back against the wall in a dark cave and bumping into something large and hairy. Consider the feel of running your hands through someone's hair, be they lover or whatnot. When choosing the warmest blanket for the night, which do you go for, the quilted one, or the fuzzy one? We touch things all the time, every day, and half the time we don't even notice what we're feeling. Well, maybe we should pay more attention.
Taste - I put this sense last because it has very limited usefulness in real life and in IF. To be sure, it's a great sense, but we don't use it unless we're eating something, and you can't eat all the time. Of course, it might be useful to tell the difference between salt and sugar, or two other similar substances, but that's about all we use it for. Although it might be nice to slip it into your game sometime. Maybe include little bags of powder or something. :) It could be interesting, but it anyone puts 'decaying corpse' in there, they'll hear from my lawyer.
Also, I should point out that I am also publishing a periodic e-mail zine about text adventures, called SPAG (Society for the Preservation of Adventure Games). E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info, and let me know that you heard about SPAG from the Guide rather than the newsgroups so that I know what info to send you. I'm just one busy little fellow. Info is also available on ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/SPAG/spag.faq.
Finally, so no one feels cheated by this version, since it hasn't had much in the way of new articles, here's one or two to quench your thirst:
The Terrible Traps of Object Interaction
Once, on r.a.i-f, one fellow mentioned the idea to make a CD-ROM text adventure, 10 megs long. Well, we got a good laugh out of that, and pointed out to him the terrible curse of all text adventure authors, exponential growth. Every time you add an object to your game, you must consider its connections to every other object and creature in the game. Here's an example: You're writing a game set in New York, 1956. You put a Zippo lighter in the player's pocket, merely as a decoration. Bad move. When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. The players WILL, not might, WILL eventually try to set every godforsaken item in your game on fire. Let's just say that the default response to 'light x' is:
"The x burns feebly for a moment, then flickers out."
Now, I know you can see this coming: light concrete, light lake, light cat, light plane, light myself, light bookstore, light salesman.
Observe how seldomly the standard response makes sense. You have to include messages telling about how concrete and water don't burn, how the cat and salesman yell and run around while on fire, how the police arrest the player for arson, and how the player goes up in a blaze of glory. Now think about adding a rope to your game. At this point, any sane game writer will flee gibbering into the woods. Take a piece of rope and play with it for awhile. Make a list of all the things you can do with the rope. Filled three pages yet? OK, now you can run screaming into the hills.
This is what Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs, or alternatively, CRAP) were designed to avoid. There are only a few verbs in those systems, so there aren't nearly as many things to worry about. Still, this is more a cop-out than a solution. The REAL solution is to be careful what you add to your game, and keep it down to a manageable size. Avoid using general purpose tools to solve puzzles like axes, explosives, and other stuff, like sledgehammers. These devices have so many uses that you will bog yourself down trying to cover them all. If you try to do a cop-out, and don't allow the player to say, beat down a locked door with a sledgehammer, you'll just annoy the player, so don't do it. Just use some common sense, with a liberal dose of betatesters, and you'll be fine.
Okay, one last article, then I've got to tie this off and work on SPAG:
Other Things you need to do for your Game:
- Provide some sort of instructions for beginners.
- Provide a set of hints for paying users.
- Provide technical and general support for your game.
- Pay your taxes. (See a good small business book for more info.)
Also, watch your copyright infringement and don't libel anyone in your game. Either one could be disastrous financially for you. Even if you were to win a lawsuit, the legal fees and time wasted on it could be crippling to you. If you are operating as a sole proprietorship or as a partnership (i.e. your company is not incorporated.) then there is a term you should know: Unlimited personal liability. If you lose a court case over your company's product, then you can be sued for everything you own. If you are in a partnership, then you can be sued for everything both you AND your partner own. Pretty neat, huh? Liability insurance might just be something to look into.
Additional: Since the last time I worked on the Guide, Intelligent Gamer stopped being published. Rather than consign my articles to oblivion, I'm going to toss them in here. Consider it a free bonus.
The Art of the Game
Greetings, and welcome to the first installment of what will hopefully be a regular column in "Intelligent Gamer." My column is about writing games. No actual source code or machine specific techniques, just the art of the game itself. In this column I will address what I think makes a good game, and how you can make one. I encourage feedback and suggestions of any sort.
So You Want to Write Video Games?
A worthy goal, to be sure. You've played hundreds of games and now wish to join the ranks of Richard Garriot (Lord British of "Ultima" fame), and Steve Meretzky (author of "Leather Goddesses of Phobos" and the "Spellcasting" games). Be warned: it's no small task you are looking at. Expect hours and hours of frustration, hair-pulling, and eying that bottle of arsenic near your desk. Before you begin, you should be armed with a wide repertoire of movies, books, and older games. You really need the sort of background these things can give you. Here's a required reading list for any would-be game author:
- J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit"
- Douglas Adams' "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"
- Peter Beagle's "The Last Unicorn"
- William Gibson's "Neuromancer"
- Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" series
These are just a few that are quite representative of their respective genres. All of them are outstanding for one reason or another, and an excellent read nonetheless. Other suggested authors are David Gerrold, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Gary Gygax, Piers Anthony, Terry Pratchett, Alan Dean Foster, and anyone else you can get hold of. The more the merrier!
Some movies that feature good setting, characters and plot are:
- The Princess Bride
- Monty Python's Search for the Holy Grail
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
- Terminator 2
- Pretty much anything with Steven Spielberg's hand in it.
And definitely try to play the old Infocom games, available as "The Lost Treasures of Infocom" (reviewed in the February 1994 issue of "Intelligent Gamer") from Activision. Try playing anything by LucasArts or a few of the "Ultima" games by Origin.
There, now that your knowledge of past works is a bit more caught up, you can begin. There are three major things a game needs:
I will cover each of these in more depth in future columns. For now, I'll look at the characters. Just as in fine literature, games are about people. You have to make the player somehow relate to his alter-ego in the game; at the same time, you also have to get his alter-ego to relate to the other characters in the story. On a simple scale, this involves physical appearance and surface traits. On a much broader scale, it's called society. You want to try and create a society within your game. Maybe it's only a three person society, but it should still try and simulate the interactions of real people with one another. Society involves communication, trade, and combat. Therefore, the characters in your game need a way to talk to the player's character, barter with him, and kill him.
Communication is as complicated as you'd like to make it. You could use something as simple as offering the player a list of sentences to choose from, or as complicated as having the player speak into a microphone, and letting the computer answer through a sound card. The latter is still rather difficult, but the first method has been used in many games. Just be sure to give each character a distinctive set of beliefs and mode of speech. A character should also have a goal and a means for accomplishing this goal. The more small touches you can add to a character, the more realistic and interesting he or she will become. One thing that has not been attempted in many games is communication between characters other than the player. An accent or speech characteristic is useful for separating that character from the others in your game.
Trade means simply that characters must be able to transfer items back and forth between one another. An item can be be nearly anything, such as gold, a piece of information, or even a disease. The exchange of items is a common part of our lives, but is often overlooked in the gaming world. Put some thought into it. What is valuable to the character, and what does the character have to trade in exchange? Must it be money? In a medieval setting, barter may well be a more appropriate form of exchange, while magic might form the currency in a fantasy setting. Trade is the lifeblood of society, even as communication is the brain.
Finally, consider the role of conflict in the game. Internal conflict is used to reveal things about the character, while external conflict is more of a motivator, pushing the character around even as he struggles with his own inner problems. External conflict involving sharp, pointy implements is often referred to as combat. One important thing to note is that repetitious and unnecessary combat is boring and doesn't belong in a good game. Good use of it advances the plot while letting the player take out his aggression on some small, squishy monsters. Unconventional weapons, armor, and magic are a big plus. The idea is to give the player a little adrenaline rush, not to bore him to death. Also bear in mind that there are many forms of formal combat that don't involve anyone dying at all: chess, jousting and fencing are all good examples. And yet, these are all examples of conflict between two or more characters. The vast majority of ideas in this department remain untouched.
A character can be defined by what the player perceives him to be. Anything else is irrelevant, unless it shows up later in the game. And so, these three things (communication, trade and conflict) should be sufficient to create believable characters, since most character interaction will fall into one of them.
Well, that's all for this month. If you are interested, I have a guide on the Internet called "Whizzard's Guide to Authoring Text Adventures." It is available for anonymous FTP from ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/info, as authorship-guide. It contains lots of stuff on writing games, including a discussion of the 36 basic plots. I hope you enjoyed this article, or at least found it useful. Let me know what you think. Next month, if all goes well, I'll write about plot.
The Art of the Game
Well, as I promised last month, I'm going to write about plot in this month's column. I'm glad the folks at Intelligent Gamer liked last month's enough to keep me around. Anyhow, enough stalling, on to the plot.
The Ins and Outs of the Plot Tree
Now, if you ask ten people what they like in a plot, you'll get 15 different answers. Bear this in mind when writing your game. You just can't please everyone, so pick a consistent philosophy and stick to it. From what I can tell, there are three major schools of thought on plot.
- The Minimalists
- The Linearalists.
- The Branchologists.
The Minimalists argue that games should be an experience in exploration and simulation. They want to be able to start their own plots and toss them aside at will. In my opinion, they are very dangerous people. The primary argument I have against them is the incredible lack of interest I have in flight or sub simulations. They bore me to tears. The only way we can allow a bunch of plots and twists at present is to program each one individually. It's enough work to write one plot, and the Minimalists want a constantly changing web of them. Frankly, I don't think there's any money in that approach. You'd have to work on a game for years to get it even close to that level of adaptability.
The Linearalists prefer one plot. A very restrictive plot. Plays like a book, reads like a book, feels like a book...hmmm. These folks are simply writers that have yet to grasp the 'interactive' in 'interactive fiction.' You are herded, sheep-like, through this one plot, with blinders on your eyes, and shackles on your legs. Do not turn your head, do not try to escape, do not make any decisions, in fact, do not enjoy yourself.
Finally, we have the school of Branchology, of which I am a practicing member. This school advocates a FEW plots. Not one, not a constantly changing web of them, a few. This is the middle ground. It involves a bit of careful planning, though. I like to have several major plot branches, a few optional side branches, and a couple of endings. Oh yes, one more nice technique is to have two plot branches which are mutually exclusive of each other. This adds variety and replayability to your game.
I'm not going to detail the numerous plots available for your use. Suffice it to say that there are at least 36 of them, and those 36 are described in my Authorship Guide to IF, mentioned in last month's column. In fact, most of the guide concentrates on plot, ideas, and characters. It's not a bad read for the serious game writer, IMHO.
Now, having spent so much time in the guide on plot, what is there left to discuss here? Good question, I'm glad you asked. (Grrr...) Ah, I have it. I'll discuss the art of plot branching. It takes a delicate touch to create a story in such a manner that portions of it are optional and yet still has a sense of unity throughout. You've got to ensure that the player can reach a winning ending no matter what path he decides upon. This means that any item or event that is in one path must have an equivalent item/event in each alternate path. So, if you need a magic mirror to turn the clockwork glockenspiel into a radish just after a two branch plot split, you need to make sure that, not only does each path arrive at the clockwork glockenspiel, but each path also provides a magic mirror or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Now, in my usual itemizing fashion, I shall detail a few types of plot branch.
- Dead End
- Optional path
- Inclusive split
- Exclusive split
The dead end is the plot branch most of us have seen way too often. It is handled in one of two ways. Either it kills the player, or it just gets him permanently stuck (Do not pass go, do not collect 200 points.). If you decide to use this type of branch (It's not mandatory, look at LucasArts games like "Day of the Tentacle"), then please, for the sake of your players' sanity, either kill them outright, or let them know that they can no longer win the game. Nothing generates a lynch mob faster than a puzzle that requires an innocent item from the beginning of the game. After breaking out the old save game, I usually think to myself "Is this worth it?". More often than not, the answer is no, and the delete command runs amuck in my game directory.
Optional paths, on the other hand, are something I like. The only purpose they serve for the player is either to give him more points, or to make for a happier ending to the game. (Well, actually, I could think of a few more reasons, like avoiding a maze, or making a later puzzle easier.) The player should not be forced into this path, that's why it's called optional. Indeed, this path may not even be readily apparent to the player. But it shouldn't be TOO hard to discover.
An inclusive split is simply a branch of two or more paths that the player has to 'choose' between. There's really no choice involved, however. The player will end up going down every path eventually whether he likes it or not. This is like the old gather-the-treasure puzzles. Sooner or later, the player will get every treasure (maybe), but the order in which to get them is up to him.
An exclusive split is something that is just beginning to show up in some of the newer games. When you decide which path to follow in this split, you've got to stick by your decision come hell or high water. After all, there's no turning back. Something happens to prevent you from returning to the fork, and taking the other path (not death, though, this isn't a Dead End.). Personally, I would find it a nice touch if you prompt the player for a save here, letting him know that his decision is final. That way, the player can try one path, restore to the save, and try the other path. But that's entirely up to you.
Of the four techniques, I enjoy exclusive splits and optional paths the most. Perhaps it is the freedom and responsibility that they place on the player that I like. Or perhaps it is simply that the novelty of these techniques has not worn off yet. Or maybe, just maybe, it's because these two, of the four, are the only ones that actually give the player a real decision, rather than simply a perceived one. I don't think that 'decisions' that have no effect on the game should be included. One example I saw recently was a game (which shall remain anonymous) that had as an integral part of itself conversation where you choose one sentence from several. I tried many of these in different manners, but none of them had the slightest effect on the game. The 'choice' I was given of what to say didn't mean anything, it wasn't a real choice. If you're going to do something, do it right. If you want to include plot branching, allow the player some control over the story, and not just an imaginary decision.
Just as a final cautionary note, let me warn beginning game writers against too much plot branching. The players will cry, beg, and plead for it, but be strong. Every branch you add to your game will mean an exponential increase in the amount of work you're doing for a game that is the same length as before. There are many who do not wish to play your game multiple times, looking for the differences. You must make a game that is satisfying first to these people, and then and only then, to the plot branching advocates. So don't let the 'decisive' dimensions of your game outstrip the 'linear' dimensions, or you'll be left with a short, unsatisfying game. On the other hand, DO use SOME branching. It makes a game that much more interesting.
Next month I'll be discussing setting. Be sure to catch this action packed column, same Whiz-time, same Whiz-zine.
The Art of the Game
Ah yes, I've made it through the second cut, and am now here to bring you the third installment of the Art of the Game. In the first installment, I talked about characters, and then went on babble endlessly about plot in the second. Now, I've decided to gush forth on the topic of setting. So, without much ado about anything...
Setting is an often overlooked, but still vital part of your game. I don't just mean coming up with some half-baked idea like "a ghost-town", or "an alien spaceship". Setting involves a lot more than that, or at least an interesting setting does. It's quite simple to slap something together, but if you want the player to feel like he's in a real place, then things get a bit more involved.
First things first, is your setting real or imagined? If it's real, then try to get photographs, aerial maps, streetmaps, tourist guides, whatever you can find. Read through these materials looking for colorful and unusual things about the area. Those are the things to pay particular attention to. Learn about the people, their customs, unusual plants and animals native to the area, and what the scenery is like. Then try to get a feel for the everyday in the area. Learn a bit about what they eat there, what their houses are like, what games their children play, etc. You may not always use all or even most of this information, but it will help you to create a believable setting. Besides, you often learn some very interesting facts about the area. Be sure to pick out major landmarks.
Another thing to take into account is when you want the game to take place. The time period can be very important to the setting, and careful research will add another dimension to the game. For a good example of setting an ordinary game in an interesting time period, try "The Witness", one of the old Infocom games.
Once you have these two things, setting and time, firmly fixed in your mind, then pull out your research and see how it relates to your game. Look for ways to slip in some of the more interesting tidbits unobstrusively. Use only your very favorite things directly, you're writing a game, not a travelogue. Try to either include or refer to major landmarks. And one more bit of advice on using a real locale...if all else fails, wing it. An imagined locale is inherently more difficult to deal with. There is no research or photographs for you to fall back on. There are no novels written about the people who live there unless you are using an established world such as J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth. There aren't even any roadmaps.
Just for an interesting exercise, let's take your favorite place in the world and turn it into a locale for a game to be set in. First, visualize the place clearly in your mind. Now, we are going to make a fantasy realm out of it. Forests become either ancient elven glades or rotted haunted woods. Shopping malls become either tiny villages or exotic arabian bazaars. Convert over the rest of the location like this, drawing obvious parallels and maintaining the landscape. If you like, draw a map as you go to keep track of things.
Now that you have your terrain and basics mapped out, consider the main landmarks of your place and how they fit into what you have imagined already. Convert them over and add them in as well. Most of your puzzles would likely be held around these landmarks. If there are any spawling empty places, would it be possible to condense them down by simply describing them as long, empty places, or is it so necessary to the plot that you want the player to have to walk through these barren spots each time they pass through. There, now you have a fairly barren, but hopefully interesting setting. Feel free to send me a copy of your map if you like, I'd be interested to see what folks come up with. Include some sort of explanation as to what the area originally was before you converted it over.
So, now that we've done that, consider the steps that you just went through in making your land:
- Determine general theme.
- Determine topology, aka the lay of the land.
- Determine terrain type.
- Insert habitats and dwellings.
- Place landmarks.
- Fill in details.
This is probably at least a fair approximation of the process. Now that you see how to do this, it is easy to turn it towards an entirely fictitious setting, which is what all this was leading up to.
- Determine general theme:
You know, the general half-baked idea I mentioned before. It's not good as an entire setting, but it's a good starting point.
- Determine topology:
Next, logically create your landscape. Say that you have decided in step 0 that your game is set in a mystical forest of mushrooms. OK, next you decide where the high and low points are, whether there is any water at the low points (or the high points if you have something special in mind) and what the ground itself is like. Wet? Squishy? Dried and cracked? Fragmented into mysterious levitating pieces that you fly between? Whatever.
- Determine terrain types:
This will come easily after #1. You simply decide on what sort of vegetation there is, if any. In our case, let's have squat blue mushrooms in the low, wetter regions, and thin, tall yellow mushrooms in the higher, drier areas.
- Insert habitats and dwellings:
OK, we've got flora, now we need fauna. What sort of things inhabit your game? In our mushroom example, let's put squat, leechlike monsters that hang out around blue mushrooms, and winged, hopping birdmen around the yellow mushrooms. The leeches cling to the underside of their mushrooms, dropping on unwary prey, such as the skittering 8-legged squirrels that run around pretty much everywhere, or the player. The birdmen hop from the top of one mushroom to the next and eat small insects and pieces of the mushrooms they live on.
- Place landmarks:
Here's where you begin taking your plot into account. In our game, there is a huge red mushroom with a staircase leading up its stalk, and a gigantic black mushroom accessible only by convincing the birdmen to carry you there. A wise old crab-creature lives in the red mushroom, while the black mushroom is inhabited by an evil slime-mold and his hench-amoebas. We're going for the fungi motiff here. Oh yes, one more landmark. There is a big green puffball that regularly explodes with astonishing force on one screen. This could be an alternate way to get into the black mushroom, climbing the puffball and getting blown to the mushroom.
- Fill in details:
This is the best part, and you should spend plenty of time on it. Detail the quirks of the land, and of the people and customs the people have. So, in 'Shroomville, I find that yellow mushrooms are poisonous to the slugs, and the blue are poisonous to the birdmen. In addition, the birdmen have a real love of leaping from mushroom to mushroom, and often hold contests with prizes for the winners. To them, any of their members that falls off the top of the mushrooms is considered dead. Not unreasonable, considering the long fall to the ground and their fragile bone structure. They believe the ground is unclean and ostracize those who have trodden on it. The leeches are afraid of the sun. They refer to it as the 'burning pain' and will do anything to stay out of it. The player can avoid them by simply sticking to the lit patches.
The leeches greet one another by saying "Beware the light." and the other replying "I 'ware it well." They also have poor eyesight, but can sense vibrations easily. Thus, it's quite easy to fool them. The player might hold one captive in the light and force it to spill its guts even. The puffball spores are considered a great delicacy among both races, since there is a limited supply, and the supply is fairly far off. The spores are also good for human consumption. The water supply is limited and choked with bacteria and mushroom spores, quite deadly to humans. However, there are reeds along the shore that, if the players watch, are used by the squirrels to drink. The player can also drink through them in relative safety. Finally, let's consider the crab-creature and the slime mold. It seems fairly obvious that the crab has some info about how to defeat the slime mold. But what does he want? Well, his carapace is covered in scintillating jewels, except for one spot. So, the player needs a gem. Where have we left a spot for a gem? The leaping contest, of course. So, the player needs to win the gem, go back to the crab, get the info, then either ride the puffball or bribe the birdmen with puffball spores to carry him to the black mushroom, where he will use the crab's advice/item to defeat the slime mold.
See how neat that works out? If you put a little thought into the setting, you'll have no shortage of puzzles and such. We still haven't decided how the player can win the leaping contest, but it will probably have something to do with the leeches. Maybe you get some sticky slime from them to stick to the mushrooms when you leap around? Maybe you have to do something else with them instead. Maybe you need another landmark or two for this area? Well, there are lots of types of mushrooms out there. Remember, the details will win the player over, the general concept just grabs his attention.
That's all for this month. Next month I will be starting a three part serial on magic in games, a topic that is VERY near and dear to my heart. Until then, good gaming all!
The Art of the Game
Well, Joe's pretty pleased with my column, so it lives another month. Keep that fan mail pouring in. (Well, I can dream, can't I?) As I promised last month, this column begins a three part mini-series on thaumatology, alchemy, houdoo, prestidigitation, sorcery, and witchcraft. So, without any further geas' being laid upon you, here we go again...
You've decided that your game needs magic. Well, bravo. I enjoy a good sword and sorcery game. But, like all things, there's a right way and a wrong way. I'm here to try and lead you in the direction of the right way of implementing magic in your game. First, an introduction to some ancient 'tennets' of magic. Or at least what people used to believe.
Basic Laws of Magic:
The Law of Contagion - What was once together, is always together.
The Law of Contagion figures in to such things as teleportation spells, location spells, direction finder spells, and anything else similar. Say for instance that a wizard were to break a stone from the wall of his home and carry it with him. Symbolically, he would be carrying around his home, and could use his magic to reunite the home and stone, while being carried along with the stone. Or if a mage had a gemstone that was mined in the far north, it could be enticed to pull towards its place of origin, becoming a handy compass in the process. A shred of clothing from someone could pull towards that person, allowing a witch to track him. Likewise, an enchanted antler could even help a hunter to find deer.
The Law of Sympathy - What appears the same, is the same.
The Law of Sympathy is often thought of as used in houdoo (voodoo). Voodoo dolls are a prime example of it. A representation of the victim is made, and by integrating the Law of Contagion (by adding a personal item or bit of blood, spit, or hair) it would then be possible to do harm or good to the victim. A twig could represent a tree, and a bowl of water the ocean. The water is stirred to create a whirlpool, the twig is snapped to fell the tree. So small, easily carryable items could represent large, bulky items, which was the whole point. A good dollmaker could, conceivably, become a very powerful sympathetic wizard.
Now that you've seen the two primary tennets, you have to consider the different methods of delivery for the magic. In other words, what are the specifics of your system? I will list a few that I have seen done first, and then a few that I've never seen done.
1. Memorize spell. Cast spell. Re-memorize spell.
This method has been used in so many games that it deserves a game that lampoons it. (Character casts spell, forgets name.) No way would I use this. It lacks color and intrigue, which is the reason to include magic in the first place.
2. Mix reagents/other stuff together. Cast spell. Mix more junk together.
Again, been there, done that. This is another dried up method of spellcasting. I'm sick of dropping bat guano and lizard's breath into some lousy bowl, gourd, or bag and shaking thoroughly. And doing it again, and again, and again. If you really must do this, give the player the option to turn on automatic mixing for spells that he has mixed at least once.
3. Cast spells until out of 'magic' points. Rest. Repeat until nauseated.
More hackneyed stuff here. Nothing surprising or exciting. The best thing about this spell system is that it's convenient for the player. No diddling around with spellbooks or reagents. The character actually is intelligent enough to know how to cast spells on his own. Hallelujah.
Now, I'm sure you realize by now that I don't like any of the above methods of spellcasting. My reason is still that they add no enjoyment, flavor, or memorability to anything. Of course, now comes the cry, "Can you do any better?" Well, maybe not, but at least I'm going to make the attempt. The remainder of this column will be devoted to new systems of magic. Or at least systems that I haven't seen done yet.
1. "Amazing how many spells require the blood of a wizard, isn't it?"
Blood is both the water of life and the fount of magic in this system. The player must balance his use of magic with his wizard's survival. Not an easy task to those who think of magic as an easy solution to anything. Magic always has its price, and usually involves pain and injury to those daring enough to wield it, not to mention the threat of losing their soul. Any wizard so foolish as to offer up his last drop of blood for a spell will be rewarded with spectacular results, just before he is dragged off by a demon. I could foresee a side view of a bowl, which slowly fills up, drop by drop. The player clicks on the bowl to stop adding blood. Suitable for a grim or gothic game.
2. Lay lines and other lines of Power.
Lines have long been attributed with being both source and expression of magic. In this system, wizards draw from the power of the earth, and her lines of force, known as lay lines. Visible only to wizards, and accessible only to wizards. The lay lines provide the 'oomph' for the spells, while other lines provide the shape. For example, in Wizfoobia, a world I just made up a second ago, wizards carry around small circular boards with nails of silver driven into the board at regular intervals. They also carry quite a bit of gold wire with them. The board looks like this: (ratty ASCII drawing follows.):
|----- / @ \ /@ @\ / \ |@ @| \ / \@ @/ \ @ / -----||
@ @\ /@
@/ \@ @
To cast spells, the player connects the nails to form patterns, which are then stored in memory as a courtesy to the player. There are a helluva lot of possible spells to make with this system, so it would be best if you were to assign each nail in the circle a sphere of influence and develop generic rules for mystic connections made between the nails. In addition, perhaps the number of nails that the circle has indicates the wizard's rank. Say, apprentices get only a cross of four nails, journeymen get the eight nail pattern shown above, and masters have an additional ninth nail driven into the center of the circle. How's that for flavor? To finish, the wizard would have to either be near a lay line and draw power from it, there being several types of lay lines, each with maximums to the power the wizard can control, as well as nexus points, the meeting place of lay lines, or he would have to summon the power from within himself, stored up the last time he went near a lay line. This power could increase with experience, and the player could make focii, or small items that are able to store magic as well.
That's all for this month. My fevered brow is sagging, and I try to keep my column small for you 2400bps modemers out there in any event. Besides, if I give everything away now, what'll I write about in parts 2 and 3 of my miniseries on magic? Good question, actually. Next month: Shamanic magic, and after that, miracles. Until next time...
That's about all. There was one more article, but it really doesn't have anything to do with text adventures. And very lastly of all, here's a more recent article on NPC's, sort of an expanded version of the earlier article in the guide....
The NPC and You
What is it that makes a character come alive and leap from the screen in the hearts of millions? Just what is this intangible attraction that draws us to seek out computerized beings and fall in love with them. I may not be able to tell you all there is to know on the subject, in fact, I'm sure I can't, but I'll tell you everything I know. Here's a list of things that a sucessful author is aware of with his characters:
- Personality Quirks
- Physical Appearance
- Speech Characteristics
Of these, there are 3 that stand out as important to the character's likability, and 2 that are essential to its usefulness in your game. Quirks, speech, and motivation are the 3 most important things that I look at when deciding if a character will be liked. Reactions and abilities are the 2 important things that contribute to your game as a whole. Appearance and actions are almost secondary, aiding in the visualization of the NPC, but not essential to it. It is possible to have NPCs that are not described and take no original actions of their own, yet remain interesting and entertaining. On the other hand, the NPC must react to the player's actions or the player will quickly become bored with it. It is usually, but not always, better to let the player have the initiative when dealing with NPCs. This preserves the illusion of freedom better, by allowing a larger number of options to the player.
- Personality Quirks
The details are what bring a character to life. Sam the grocer is 87 years old, constantly smokes cheap cigars, is Jewish, uses the word 'oi' constantly, and has a wife that only a mother-in-law could love. These little tidbits and others are a part of the heart and soul of your character.
Just what makes the NPC tick? Why is he wasting time chumming around with the player when he so many other important things to do? Everyone has an angle, what's the NPC's? Is he friend or foe, ally or judas, lover or archenemy? An NPC should have SOME opinion of the player, rather than ignoring him, this falls under reactions. You've got to know these things, even if the player doesn't and never will.
- Physical Appearance
Now, while we've all heard "Don't judge a book by its cover." we all know what a load of crap that is too. Maybe in your game setting there is no racism, sexism, chauvenism, or judgemental folks, but in most worlds there will be, unless everyone is identical. A man sees a pretty woman with nice big...ahem, and his hormones kick in. He only sees her assets, and doesn't care what she's really like. Or, you meet a guy with a really big um, nose, later, one of your friends asks you about Joe, you look blank until he adds, "The guy with the big nose." It is part of our make-up, as a very visually oriented people. It shames us and we try to hide our ugly secrets from everyone else, and never quite succeed. It's always there with us, a very important part of how we were raised. The player should know what his character is seeing (and thinking, if you use a pre-defined character). Point out the obvious first, like a wart on the nose, huge pectoral muscles, or nice round assets. Be sure not to stick thoughts in the player's mind unless you are using a well-defined character though, many resent having words put in their mouths.
- Speech Characteristics
Mark Twain is one of the most famous authors to use this technique. He wrote down the southern accents just as he heard them. It's quite simple to do the same for any other accent. Simply establish certain patterns of speech and stick to them. The classic gangster, for example, has a thick New York accent, so replace 'ir' with 'io' and make second person pronouns plural, like 'yous'. There are other aspects to that accent, but I leave them to you to play with. If you inventing an accent, so much the better. Simply pick those parts of speech that come across as 'improper' and make sure to stick to your changes, breaking that rule only on purpose. Otherwise the NPC steps out of character, and that is 'not good'.
Amazing how little initiative NPCs in text adventures have, isn't it? Well, it leaves the player room to maneuver. I am attempting other things in Avalon, but for now, let's stick to the traditional stance. NPCs are there to spur the player on, or to provide a solution to a puzzle, or present a puzzle themselves. Any actions they take will neccessarily be related to their primary purpose. A troll will attempt to kill the player with an axe, for instance, or a grocer will tell the player about today's specials. For the basic NPC, this is enough. For more complex ones, you must decide how they can best serve their purpose. Just some advice though, keep the NPCs simple to use, if possible. NPCs are one reason I favor a pre-defined character for the player to control. It allows me more lassitude in defining the player's reactions, and I feel more comfortable spending extra time to expand the NPC into a fully rounded being, since the player can have advance knowledge of it.
Reactions are perhaps the most important thing an NPC has going for it. Begin by assuming that every NPC will be kissed, killed, taken, kicked, made love to, eaten, and used as an ashtray. Players love to abuse the NPCs in horrible little ways. Be prepared, betatesting is not for the weak of stomach. The sad fact is that you will be expected to somehow magically divine every single action that a player can inflict on an NPC. You won't be able to of course, but try nonetheless. It saves time. NPCs must either fulfill a goal, or provide atmosphere. No, I take that back, they must always provide atmosphere, whatever their purpose. Most NPCs tend to personify stereotypes of some sort. This is acceptable, if somewhat predictable. In addition, NPCs nearly always have a straightforward motive urging them along. This I tend to disagree with. People are complex, and NPCs are people. In using a stereotype, I prefer to use it to mislead the player. I don't do this a lot, but I do it in certain strategic places. It's a good dramatic device, used sparingly.
Other good reactions to plan for include gift-giving and questioning. Try to have the NPC maintain its illusion of sentience as much as possible by letting it know about relevant topics, as well as personal ones. In my games, I try to discourage wanton NPC murder. That's up to you, of course. In any event, just try to have the NPC react believably as often as possible.
Finally, you need to carefully catalog what the NPC is going to do for the player. You must be careful here, as a broad ability is subject to abuse. If you have a blacksmith who fixes a sword, expect him to be confronted with every metallic object in your game afterwards. If a wizard casts a spell, he should answer questions on magic, and have a very limited repertoire of spells. And if a beast eats a glove, expect the cruel players to attempt to feed it that poisonous ginsu weed you mentioned 8 rooms back. As long as an NPC is suitably tested and annoyed, you'll have no problems in this department.
To end, here's a short example of how a player might treat Sam the grocer, if he were to be so unfortunate as to meet the player. Watch for examples of the techniques I've mentioned.
The Grocery Store You are surrounded by food and drink of every description. Towards the rear of the shop lies a deli, with a banner overhead proclaiming "For Kosher Meat, we can't be beat!" Next to the stand is a barrel of pickles. A fat, elderly woman works the register. The back room is to the east.
There is an old man wearing an apron here. Clutched in his mouth is the nastiest cigar you've ever had the pleasure to be downwind of. Wiping his hands on his apron, he extends his right hand to you to shake. He speaks around the cigar, sounding quite a bit like Mel Brooks. "Hullo. I'm Sam. Welcome to my humble store. You want meat? Oi! Have we got meat. You want cheese? We've got so much cheese that our mice die of indecision. And bread? Oi! Such a selection we have! The only thing we don't have is bananas. Never could stand them, all long and yellow and firm, the smug bastards. My first wife left me for a banana. Speaking of bananas, that's my latest wife, Ethel, minding the register. Don't worry, she's been declawed.
>look at sam
Sam is old and fat. He wears a dirty apron and smokes a cheap cigar. His hair is black, curly, and unkempt, matching his moustache in all but curl. Still, Sam's hairline is receeding, as you can tell by the faint scent of rogaine as he nears you.
"What are you, some sort of maladjusted pervert? In my day, men didn't kiss men. At least I think they didn't. Who knows, stranger things have happened."
Your hands close around Sam's throat, and you squeeze your hardest. Sam only smiles and nods approvingly. "My boy, you would make a fine masseuse! Oi! What hands!"
>ask sam about pickles
"Pickles? So what's there to know? They're green, they float, you eat them. You want them, I'll let them go for $1 apiece."
>ask sam about mice
"Don't you worry about the mice. Those mice eat better than I ever did. Still, they ever get out of hand, I slip some of Ethel's fruitcake in the back room and you can watch them stampede out the front door."
>ask sam about fruitcake
"Oi! You ARE crazy. Still, you take a piece of that fruitcake off my hands, I'll give you $5!"
Sam quietly slips you $5, not wanting Ethel to notice.
Sam follows along behind as he sees you walk into the back room. "Hey, what are you doing? You can't go back there! Don't make me call the police, mister."
The Back Room Filled with old, expired food, the back room is a haven for mice of all kinds. Big ones, little ones, fat ones, skinny ones. There are even a few that could probably take your arm in two bites.
Sal stands behind you, wringing his hands and asking you to leave.
Suddenly there is a mad scramble as the rodents head for the front door, en masse. Soon the store room is cleared of mice. Sal hugs you. "Oi! I never really thought that would work. Just a joke, don't you know? Still, you've saved my store, so let me present you with a token of my thanks. Taking you by the hand, Sam pulls you back out into the main store, back to the deli, and makes you a six foot submarine sandwich, the way only he can. Truly a handsome reward. With the $5, you buy lottery tickets, and win 40 million the next week. You move to Rio and live your life in the lap of luxury. Congratulations!
Afterword and Closing
Thank you for taking the time to read my guide to writing text adventures. A lot of time has gone into it at this point, but I don't mind too much. If you guys got something out of it, then I feel that time well spent. I really hope that you've profited from my work. I hope that you've found it somewhat witty and not too boring. I also hope that you'll write a text adventure. If you do, send me a copy, would you? I enjoy these sort of things. What follows this is a list of useful places to contact as you are getting your game together. There are also some helpful hints interspersed in there. Finally, there will be a warning, and then a plug for my own company, Vertigo software. You needn't read it if you don't want to. Goodbye and remember:
"Imagination sold and serviced here."
A List of Useful Addresses
Most useful addresses you can get from The Shareware Book. It is ftp'able from wuarchive.wustl.edu as /systems/ibmpc/msdos/info/sharebk1.zip. This is a fairly comprehensive guide. Actually, I believe that I will just refer you to it here because I can't hope to match the number of useful addresses he has in this book. Excellent book, but be warned, it will depress you. He takes the standpoint of a hardcore businessman that sells business software. The only mention of text adventures per se is a small blurb in the 'Not Hot' section advising you not to write them. I say write your game, but don't let your hopes get up too high. Also, in regards to the book, I would work my way up to some of the things he describes. Definitely try to find and use an uploading service though. You do want as much distribution as possible. And definitely rig an agreement with some company to handle credit card orders. That's really all I would worry about until you get a magazine review or two, and start to sell some copies. Maybe after awhile you could try and distribute overseas. I'm not too clear on what's involved, but it seems complicated. There are some registration services overseas that you might use, though. Well, that about covers it. All the addresses and phone numbers and such are in this book. Good book.
Oops. Here's something I forgot in my original posting of this guide, the magazines I promised in Ch. 18. Without further ado...here are the addresses I have for them.
Ross Erickson - email@example.com
126.96.36.199 205-730-4019 - voice
205-730-6445 - FAX
READ GAME BYTES MAGAZINE! Found at:
"Let's see... You might write that "Intelligent Gamer" is a monthly electronic magazine that will review games (shareware or commercial) that are sent to us. Our FTP site is busop.cit.wayne.edu/pub/pselect/intgmr, if people would like to see current and back issues. All issues are free.
[Additional Addendum: Intelligent Gamer is no longer being published. I believe that the old issues are still there, but they may be gone forever. Truly a sad moment for computer game fans.]
Computer Gaming World-
This is the only printed magazine on the list. Definitely try for it. Printed reviews are great for publicity. They'll probably ask you for two copies of your game. Or at least that's what they want from me. firstname.lastname@example.org
If you don't see your gaming magazine here, and you'd like to, let me know. I'll put it in.
[From what I can tell, Vidbits has gone under, so will no longer be listed. -v1.2]
Other Sources of Info on Text Adventures
rec.arts.int-fiction, rec.games.programmer (for graphic adventures and programming.), and occasionally rec.games.int-fiction. If you like to get others' opinions of your ideas, or whatever, bring them to r.a.i-f. It's my favorite newsgroup. It's also a good place to look for betatesters for your games and to do a little bit of advertising. Be sure that you understand that r.a.i-f is primarily for discussing authorship, while r.g.i-f concentrates on game hints and such, looking for old Infocom games or selling them, etc. See you there!
ftp.gmd.de is the primary repository of the great IF of our time. There are also several authoring systems, and lots of Infocom information as well.
There is an authoring-system-FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) on ftp.gmd.de that will cover this section quite well. Let me recommend either TADS or Inform. They are both excellent systems, each with its own strong points. TADS is shareware, registration $40, while Inform is freeware. I personally use TADS though, as I prefer its C formatted programming style. Inform reminds me of LISP a bit. Most of the authorship systems are available on ftp.gmd.de.
TADS Manual -
A beautifully bound guide available upon registration of TADS, or separately for $25. See the appropriate version of TADS for more info.
Inform manual -
Contains the Player's Bill of Rights, among other things. The Inform manual parts on writing text adventures have been republished as "The Craft of the Game", on ftp.gmd.de:/if-archive/info/.
WorldClass manual -
A guide to Dave Baggett's new library file for TADS. It is quite thorough, although it does not contain any general information on writing text adventures. This can be found in ftp.gmd.de:/if-archive/programming/WorldClass/.
Currently, there are two magazines concerned with text adventures. The first is my very own SPAG. Info can be ftp'ed at ftp.gmd.de in the /if-archive/SPAG/spag.faq file. The other magazine is called XYZZYnews, a relative newcomer to the IF scene. Where SPAG focuses on reader submitted reviews, XYZZYnews is more geared to be a general text adventure magazine, with rumors, interviews, the whole nine yards. The contact is Eileen, at XYZZYnews@aol.com.
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