Revenge of the text dumps (or am I getting too lazy?)

So, each year, I’m getting less patient with reading long-ish texts. Before you jump on me, this being a text-based medium after all, I don’t mean it in the sense of long games, but rather a lot of text at once with no (or no real) interaction in between. In this year’s IF Comp, I encountered two games (I didn’t play nearly all) which I simply couldn’t continue due to this phenomenon.

Of course, I keep rationalising: this is bad design, yadda, yadda, yadda. Though is it really? Or is it indeed me being too grumpy? How do you guys feel when a game welcomes you with three pages of text? Looking forward to it or put off?

I think it’s always been there, maybe not at the start of a game but in dramatic passages. And if a game is more linear then it’ll show up more glaringly.

I know I have a weakness with writing longer-than-should-be text and not cutting it down. So I’m willing to sit through a bit. But my preference for non-linear stuff may be “shining” through here. I think it is a valid concern and pacing is an important thing. I’m a lot more forgiving of it if it has side-links e.g.

(3 sentences) You see Johnny (with a URL link) … (3 sentences) You see Billy

i think the author has some responsibility to break things up so that the player can see the details they want to, and I think that could keep everyone happy, and I think authors would enjoy that too.

my ideal is the Inform school of design, which is really a best of breed from the Infocom school of design: an introductory paragraph or two gently nudging the player into the story, setting, and the player character’s role in it and some initial goals and quite short, but significant descriptions of rooms and objects also hinting at characterization for the PC motivations…

I hate either too short or too long and I really hate when all empty text dumps that tell nothing at all and are but a display of font flashy effects, like in this year’s “Screw it bear dad”. While at it, I also ostensively prefer human stories rather than being a bear, a slime, a toy, or an alien…

Yeah, one thing I like about text adventures is that they by default don’t feel like how advertising tries to grab you. I was so happy once I drastically reduced my TV consumptions. I mean, we all know ads aren’t in the business of making you content with what you have, but I think a work does best to stand on its own with its actual writing.

I don’t know who here has read Bloom County but the animated television that backs Opus into a corner when yelling various ads left an impression on me. If I feel like the television is chasing me, I need to take a break.

Ah, yes, the old structure of having a big introduction to a story, then play game game, then comes a big plot point, then some more game and then the big reveal at the end. So basically, a lot of these have a “game plus a plot”, but not really a plot within a game.

P.S. I would like to see a game played from the perspective of a toy.

Mind, I think it can work in absurdist situations. Ruderbager Doppleganger/Hulk Handsome’s “Last Minute” is funny enough that the passages are worth reading. Similarly with his Machine of Death which was a bit more serious. But I think when something tries to be overtly literary I start wondering why I don’t just read a book instead.

I’m all for perspectives of unusual things too. Maybe not so much aliens…but talking animals never bore me. It’s a weakness, but a fun one.

I am a big fan of efficient text and definitely hold it against games that abuse it. Funnily enough, though, I was so ready to throw that “Hill Ridge” game out the window with its super long intro but ended up liking it anyway and there’s always a special place in my heart for games that win me over despite some objection. The other verbose games I came across (which, admittedly, weren’t that many because I didn’t get very far) weren’t so lucky.

Yup, that was one I meant. The old cowboy aestetics didn’t do anything for me either and neither the takeable scenery.

Though in general, I agree. Games proving my initial reaction wrong get engraved much more positively in this way.

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are you talking about “emergent narratives” from gameplay?

like these:

“hey, last night I answered the call of duty and had a blast when I found myself cornered but quickly headshot a guy then cried for help from my sniper partner and he headshot the guy behind the crate then I managed to go round the corner, run up the stairs and stab their team’s sniper from behind. then our shooting spree got to a whole new level when they respawned and…”

“and there they came, 3 turtles in a row, facing me. I was startled for a moment, but got to my bearings and jumped straight in the head of the 3 in a row. They made that funny face as I landed, but then got out of the screen… I jumped onto the next platform and did the same thing everytime I saw more of them…”

“I got surrounded by a party of 3 mad orcs, but my sword was ready and thirsty for blood. with a flick from the finger I stabbed the first one in the heart, than the second in the head and when the triangle icon appeared, I dodged the attack of the last and finished him off in the back. Then I mounted my wolf, upgraded my skill tree, set a random destination in the map and got ahead for more orc blood…”

they are always too bland and boring. May be fun for awhile, but I only really enter this kind of repetitive gameplay if offered a real interesting linear or slightly branching plot that makes it all worthwhile. I’m not really a believer in “emergent narratives” or in “player content”…

Check out Starry Seeksorrow from ShuffleComp 2015, where you play as a doll enchanted to protect a child. It was my favorite of that comp.

It entirely depends on the writing quality. If the text is engaging and rewarding, then I am certainly willing to continue. This is how I felt about Hill Ridge and Stone Harbor. Hill Ridge turned out to be a good mix of writing/story and exploration/puzzles, and I was pretty happy with it, though I did get a little confused in places where it failed to connect the dots. Stone Harbor turned out to be a mostly static story, a good one, but not much of a game; the interactivity felt more like a pop-up book. Nothing wrong with that either, but that sort of thing has a higher bar to clear for making me feel satisfied with the experience.

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As someone who has a tendency to use huge text dumps myself, I’d be lying if I said I had a problem with them. Then again, looking back at some of my games, with screen after screen of text, I can appreciate in hindsight that it might not be the best approach. I think huge text dumps can be effective, but it might also be a good idea to allow the player to skip them, or at least summarise the text more efficiently.

There’s also a difference depending on one’s attitude at the time of play. If one is exploring a work for fun, then presumably one had reasons for deciding to spend time with the game in the first place (such as interest in the subject matter of the plot, fondness for a known author’s style, etc).

In these cases I’m often not too bothered by long sections of text, because I’m interested in the game. The situation when judging the IF Comp can be very different, however,. If there are long sections of text in a game I normally wouldn’t have played in the first place, and by which I’m not particularly engaged, then reading such material can be drudgery.


I prefer a brief introduction before the first prompt. If there’s additional exposition required, it can be done in an interactive prologue. That being said, I’m most likely to enjoy an initial wall of text if it’s humorous.

Yeah, if you’re playing a game within a set time limit - like the IFComp - long text dumps can be an issue. If you only have two hours to play, you don’t want to be spending all of that time reading screens of text that could be cut down to a few paragraphs. But outside of speed comps and the like, I don’t think there’s any real problem with text dumps.

This one is always tricky for me as a writer. I want to tell the reader as much important stuff as possible before they start, but at the same time I don’t want to overwhelm them. Thing is I never feel I’m quite able to balance having the reader want more vs just kind of teasing and manipulating them a bit.

So i think giving the basics and then giving the reader a chance to learn more helps a lot.

If the introduction is too long and generic that’s a sign the rest of the game’s writing may not be strong, and that’s good to know ahead of time, which is a bit cynical of a view.

I think this is the heart of the matter. Since IF is largely a hobbyist endeavor we should try to be patient with beginners. But while the adage “To be a writer, write” is certainly true on many levels, too many people confuse brainstorming sessions with considered output. Focusing on essential elements necessary for communicating with the audience, while paring extraneous or distracting details which likely confuse rather than illuminate, is an acquired skill and habit that many hobbyist authors have not yet developed.

Authors should consider a basic question: what sort of experience do you want your audience to have? If you’re presenting a character study, focus on well describing the characters. If plot or setting are your primary elements, summarize the aspects with which the player needs familiarity in order to get started, and leave the rest for exploration during gameplay. If you’ve written a detailed world history of your setting, consider putting this exposition in a book or record the player-character can peruse at their leisure. And so forth.

I agree with this last post. It would be quite nice if some authors redirected that throw-everything-into-the-game impulse towards “feelies” for their games.

Anyhow, I’ve been reading the postmortem on “Hill Ridge Lost & Found” on intfiction. I find the author’s explanation of the PC’s motivations somewhat nonsensical and unsatisfying, but IF is an interesting medium where imperfection can lend itself to other qualities. It’s sometimes fun just to be intrigued by a game’s broken design/narrative and imagine how it could be fixed. In this case, I’m not even sure it could be, but its flawed story combined with its “On the Farm”-meets-“Fallout” setting made for a memorable experience for me.

Actually, that is also one of my pet hates: in-game books (or equivalent). The endless browsing the the protagonist’s mail history is last year’s Life on Mars bored me to death! If there really is necessary background information, I would either like it implicitly through observation of the world (there is a lot you can tell through architecture, monuments, murals overhearing conversations on the side etc.) or, if there is really no other way, through a playable flashback (which is also tricky, but a subject on its own).

Life on Mars was a good example to raise in regard to the pitfalls of text dumps. The player does not (for some time) know enough about the player-character to distinguish essential from extraneous information, and thus the player feels compelled to examine all the e-mails “just in case,” likely resulting in boredom.

On the larger issue, one must consider one’s audience. For example, consider a crpg which mixes action-based gameplay with ample amounts of material contributing to knowledge of the setting and characterization. Some players will focus almost exclusively on the active elements, ignoring all the dusty tomes or computer databases available in the game world. For other players, however, the latter are the most interesting aspect of the game experience, to the extent that they will study this material repeatedly and-- if they like the game enough-- be inspired to write pseudo-scholarly articles of their own analysing such material. The point is, in the example considered if such background material were not present, the latter group of players would probably have little or no interest in the game at all. The former group of players are probably only interested in quickly determining whether the material vitally contributes to the successful completion of action-oriented gameplay sequences. One should strive to offer some accomodation to both groups.

Another aspect of this general issue we’re discussing is the influence of commercial game design philosophies. In that field, a common belief is that “content is content.” “Our game delivers twenty hours of immersive gameplay experience! (Even though 15 hours of that experience is spent navigating a maze…)” Many hobbyists are unfortunately too eager to uncritically emulate techniques they have observed in commercial games, probably thinking “well, those people are professionals, so they probably know what they’re doing.”