Game Development Reference
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the vocabulary that a player will use to refer to it. Not just “chair,” but a “plush” and
“comfy” chair. You give it a unique description, so that instead of, “You see nothing
special about the chair,” examining it prints, “It's a plush chair with a comfy-looking
seat. The mere sight of it makes you want to settle into it and take a load off.” Sitting
in the chair is handled by the fact that it's a chair-type item in the first place, but all it
says is: “Okay, you're now sitting in the chair.” So the last thing you do is customize
the library's default message so that it says, “You ease yourself into the comfy chair.
If you're not careful, you might doze off before you know it.”
That's one way of looking at the entirety of writing and programming IF: cus-
tomizing responses. Tailoring each item in the game so that the player sees a line
you've written instead of something the library and world model would generically
produce if left alone. A good deal of what trained IF beta testers do is figure out holes
in your game where you haven't written a custom response to something, giving you
an opportunity to do so.
IF players are delighted when they enter a command and read a special bit of
text in response. It fires the reward centers of their brain. When they reach a major
milestone in the game, getting a big bunch of new text all at once is an even bigger
pleasure. It means they did something right. Part of the dance between IF authors
and IF players is that the IF author needs to always gently lead the IF player to enter
the commands they've already anticipated, the ones that produce the next bit of story,
or character detail, or humor. IF players can't read your mind, and they will tend to
go along with you if you're encouraging them to become more immersed in the story
they're playing and the world they're interacting with.
There is a place for leaving the library to do some of the work for you and produce
generic messages. Generic messages are boring but are also informative, and they can
also help players who are feeling a little lost, stuck, or overwhelmed to feel like they're
being steered back on track. For example, if the player tries to walk in a certain
direction and there's no location to move to, “You can't go that way” is a perfectly
valid thing to say. If you had customized that message to something like, “As you
walk to the east, a sudden crowd of people surges into your way, blocking you for the
moment,” a player might think this is a puzzle to be solved and waste 15 minutes
trying to outsmart or disrupt this allegedly surging crowd. Then again, suppose you
didn't bother to implement (create an object describing) the crowd. The player will
try to interact with it and be told by the game, “You can't see any such thing” or, “I
don't know the word 'crowd'.” These generic messages will get them back on track.
Implementation detail is a quality of modern IF where the bar has been raised
significantly over the classic games that people remember playing years ago. Load
an Infocom game (Activision currently owns them but has allowed the Zork series
to be freely played) and you'll find wonderful scene descriptions that allow almost
no interaction with any of the scenery depicted. It just isn't there for players to play
with. Modern IF sets a standard where practically every noun mentioned in the
description of a room or a scene is expected to at least be independently examinable.
This was partly due to a trend to enhance and sustain the sense of player immersion
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