Game Development Reference
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(or “mimesis” in the lingo of the community) and also from the scaling back of the
average size of IF games as a result of the annual IF competition. The IF Comp,
which happens every September (see ), limits the games to
two hours of play time. People remember playing the Infocom games for days or
weeks. Some authors and players wish for a revival of long-form IF games, but from
personal experience I can say that trying to create a large IF game with the same
density of detail that is expected in a short game will really burn out your synapses
after a while.
19.4 Using the Medium
Although the roots of IF are in adventure games (see Chapter 3 for an overview of
that genre)—what is now considered “old-school” IF, heavily based in solving thorny
puzzles, often to retrieve treasure items—there is no reason to limit your imagination
in this regard when contemplating writing an IF game. That is not to say that there
isn't a little bit of hunger out there for an old-school puzzle romp, so if you want to
do that, just make sure to do a good one. Furthermore, I would argue that puzzles,
in the broadest sense—of obstacles to overcome, doors to be unlocked, NPCs with
demands that must be satisfied—must be part of IF storytelling, because this is how
the medium delivers conflict and resolution, flow and pacing, entertainment and
engagement. It is where the interactivity comes from.
The analogy I would use is to songs in a musical. In mediocre musicals, a bunch
of songs are slapped together just for the sake of having them, even though they have
little or nothing to do with the story, or a paper-thin story is constructed as an excuse
to tie a set of songs together. The best musicals, everyone agrees, are ones where
the songs naturally flow from the story, spring organically from the characters who
sing them, enliven the drama (or add zest to the comedy), and drive the character
development and the story forward. The best puzzles in IF these days are ones that
have those same organic roots in the story you're trying to tell, that aren't just slapped
together or grafted onto a thin excuse for a plot. Think about character, think about
setting, the environment and its challenges to the PC, and let the challenges and
obstacles grow out of them.
One of the early milestones in modern IF—in a way, the dramatic flare announc-
ing the arrival of a new generation of authors and innovators—was a game by Andrew
“Zarf ” Plotkin called, appropriately, A Change in the Weather . The winner 1 of the
1995 IF Comp, it had a simple scenario: wandering away from a picnic gathering
one summer evening, you're caught in a violent rainstorm that dramatically changes
the landscape, cutting flash flood channels through formerly dry beds and turning
dirt to mud, threatening your survival as well as others'. There were a small num-
ber of locations in the game, just enough to establish a clear sense of place, and what
Plotkin did was write a mutable description for each location. Each turn of the game,
1 There were two winners that year, one for Inform games and one for TADS games.
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