August 11, 2004
J. Robinson Wheeler has written a nice article about creating IF, Mapping the Tale: Scene Description in IF. The article does a good job of explaining how the convention of a static “room description” has morphed to become a more interesting and fluid part of the narrative discourse in some more recent works of IF. Sure, using the framework of narratology could have made the discussion clearer and taken it a bit farther, but Rob’s awareness of how things fit together at the word, sentence, paragraph, and game level, and his close look at the way scene descriptions work in several important games, results in a very helpful essay. (The main flaw, I think, being Rob’s reliance on his own IF writing to supply “bad” examples; the nitpicking isn’t so helpful and the bits he cites are seldom that bad.) The article describes an aspect of IF authorship that may seem to correspond to bits of game design of other sorts — point-and-click graphical adventures: drawing the backdrops, first-person shooters and platform games: designing the levels. Upon closer inspection, scene description involves a lot of things that has no clear analog in graphical computer games, because the text that describes a scene ends up fitting into an overall, verbal narration, sometimes doing other sorts of narrative, literary, and gaming work at the same time. Update: I thought I’d get away with just plugging Rob’s article, but no — lengthy addendum below, in comments, about narratology and IF.