sábado, 23 de Fevereiro de 2013

Verbous Verbosity

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. :)

4 comentários:

  1. To me this feels a bit like a post circa 2000 or so; a little as if you're trying to resolve an argument that's already been concluded, largely in favour of your stated position. I don't see verbosity as a particularly strong trend in IF; Conventional Wisdom is pretty clearly on the side of strong, concise prose.

    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!

    It is always a sensible approach, as an author, to assume that a) there is no guarantee that the player will ever read a room description twice, unless they're in full-on Searching for Clues mode, and b) there is no guarantee that they won't.

    The authorial voice was much too strong and much too distasteful for me

    This is a problem I never, ever have. Give me a raging-asshole narrator who speaks in an invented postapocalyptic patois and I will be happy for the rest of the week. (I'm assuming you mean narrative voice. The sense that the author is a raging asshole will make me throw any work out of the window pretty quickly.)

  2. Well, I'm glad to hear it's been concluded. :) I mostly post these things after playing a serious of games that gets me thinking about some things, and actually, as it happened, the games that I played that made me consider all this were from 2009, 2011, 2012... I'm still behind as regards the most modern IF (though I'm fast approaching Counterfeit Monkey!), and as a result I'm playing older pieces at the same time I play newer. I'm just taking what appears to be the best from each period, comparing it with what appear to be trends (such as the verbosity from, if I read you well, back in 2000).

    If I'm behind the times on this and it's already clear that the sheer AMOUNT of prose, especially in room descriptions, plays an important part, well, I'm very glad to hear it!

    It's also noteworthy that the first, and only, real attempt I tried at IF was exactly of the sort I was ranting against. This post was also a realisation: "I would have hated to play the game I was writing, even though back then I loved all this verbosity".

    Sadly, it took me a while to get to where the community had already been for, it seems, 13 years. Yikes!

    And yes, of course I meant the NARRATIVE voice, ghastly mistake there, I'm sorry. In the particular game I mentioned I found it so overbearing that it affected my ability to advance the story, not to mention that it's a reality very close to me. The latter is, of course, a subjective note; the former, very much objective. But the quality of the prose was outstanding, hands down.

  3. I also prefer concise games, but I acknowledge that I have to push myself past certain introductions before I can give a game a fair shot. I couldn't make a dent into Glowgrass for many years for that reason (just something about that intro, I dunno) yet when I did, I found the rest of the game much more accessible (and enjoyable) than I had expected of it.

    My main comfort in my inability to write evocative, flowery prose is that my stunted writing might be more accessible because of it, but like you said, writing good IF is a difficult mix of things.

  4. It's about time someone made the comments you make, Peter. The tendency to try to impress with long descriptions comes up on many a game now. I can emulate a game from say 1986, and the lack of descriptions and the lack of understood words makes little impact on the story. Maga's comments miss the point, considering the games you mention are very new, and there have been many games I've played in IF-MUD in the last couple of years which are just too verbose. My brother was completely put off by one game we played. To say that authorial voice and narrative voice are somehow different is like nitpicking between windmills and wind turbines.
    I feel like it is all somehow esoterically connected to the whole "text adventure" versus "interactive fiction" nomenclature. Just because it's called interactive fiction doesn't mean you have to compose a novel with every room description. For better or worse, it also seems symptomatic of Inform 7. To me, the lack of limits can be explored in so many more ways than longer descriptions, the sky is the limit nowadays to the entry which could be understood.