I used to be a firm defender of verbosity in IF. I'm playing a text game, I want text, I would say. I want detailed room descriptions, I want a psychological background, I want all the text you can throw at me!
Now I'm not so sure.
The thing is, while I still enjoy well-written prose, when I play IF I am interacting with the world. I'm not just passively reading a room description like in static fiction; I'm also scanning for items I can interact with. And lately (I've bought an iPod Touch just so I could play IF on the go, and am finally getting around to play Glulx games properly, and of course they tend to have more text because they have next to no limitations...) I've been noticing that verbose games can be a bit of a pain.
It turns out that verbose room descriptions are wonderful mood-setters but really lousy when you're actually trying to solve the damn game. Because you have to keep re-reading the text. And however genial it is, it does grow dull.
There is, naturally, a trend towards the verbosity nowadays. There are no hard limits anymore. The budding writers in IF aspire to write, especially with the advent of Inform 7, marketed especially for writers-not-programmers. The result are games which...
...well, games which really, really wanted to be IF.
I should give practical examples. Well, most recently I'm played "Broken Legs", which I just couldn't get into. The authorial voice was much too strong and much too distasteful for me, I had zero motivation, and sorting out the interactive bits from the rest of the text was a bit of a chore (mind you, apart from that, the prose was great - if it were static fiction I'd have loved it). "Bonehead" was too baseball-y for me, and once I got into the ballpark it got to be too much, but I already had the feeling I was reading static fiction. "Calm" did a much better job, and even emphasised important keywords so as to help, but "Calm" was more old-school than the others and in this one it was glaring - as I played I kept wishing to enter NORMAL mode instead of verbose.
But some games forbid that. And if I do that, how do I know I won't miss some vital room description change?
I used to think VERBOSE = DEFAULT was a good thing. Not any more, I don't. I don't carefully examine a room every time I enter it, and if I did, I would be as bored as I am when I have to go through the same rooms in IF over twenty times and always have that description (in a modern game, a LONG descriptions) presented to me. But the alternative is to risk not being shown a change in the room!
There is a thread currently in the IntFiction Forums about a SEMIVERBOSE mode, which would work like NORMAL but re-print the description if something about it changed. I think it's bloody brilliant.
There's a lot to be said about the functional prose of yesteryear, but it doesn't have to be that sparse. No one doubts Emily Short's gift as a writer, or Zarf's, or Cadre's, or Reed's, or so many other that we are very lucky to have. I can't think of a game I played by any of them where I felt there was simply too much text. But they don't underdo it, either.
I suppose it's only natural, it has to do with mastery of the medium. A good IF author will balance the right amount of prose, as well as the right amount of interactivity. That's bloody hard, and makes for a bloody wonderful game. Also, we're in a bit of a backlash against the yesteryear way of doing things.
Personally, I think we're taking the backlash too far, in some instances. Functional prose can be effective, funny, creepy, suspenseful. A well-placed hunger or inventory limit can be at the heart of a segment. Puzzles that the player has to solve don't have to be a bogeyman - as long as the player is given the means to solve them.
So yeah. Give me NORMAL mode anytime, especially in a game with more than five rooms. Or you'll have me skimming text even before we get to the interesting bits.
Mind you, I have nothing against cutscenes. Unlike room descriptions, those I can just sit back and enjoy. :)