Sunday, 29 May 2016

Writing Salon Week 5: Room Descriptions

This post is for the May 29-June 4 writing event of the 2016 AIF Writing Salon.

When your game starts, the player needs to know where he or she is. Establish the setting. Write a paragraph describing where the sex scene takes place. Is it an empty room, or do you want to have interactive objects in the room too? Post your descriptions for everyone to read.

Since traditional interactive fiction is built around moving between different rooms and interacting with objects in them, interactive fiction often has a strong sense of place. By focusing heavily on where you are and by forcing you to examine and interact with things, traditional interactive fiction immerses you in a world. Twine uses a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure model of the world, so Twine stories tend to emphasize plot more.

Although rich room descriptions with many interactive objects can help with immersion, don't feel obligated to spend too much time there. AIF stories are unusual in that they focus mostly on character. The setting isn't too important, so many AIF games provide only brief descriptions of your surroundings. What is important though is that you describe any exits that are available and any characters or objects that can be interacted with. One side-effect of this is that room descriptions sometimes read like dry lists of stuff, which is fine.

To help get you in the right mindset, I have grabbed a random assortment of room descriptions from some public domain novels. These descriptions read like traditional interactive fiction room descriptions, so you try to adapt them to your needs.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Charles Dickens
In the midst of Cloisterham stands the Nuns’ House: a venerable brick edifice, whose present appellation is doubtless derived from the legend of its conventual uses.  On the trim gate enclosing its old courtyard is a resplendent brass plate flashing forth the legend: ‘Seminary for Young Ladies.  Miss Twinkleton.’  The house-front is so old and worn, and the brass plate is so shining and staring, that the general result has reminded imaginative strangers of a battered old beau with a large modern eye-glass stuck in his blind eye.

Bram Stoker
There are certainly odd deficiencies in the house, considering the extraordinary evidences of wealth which are round me. The table service is of gold, and so beautifully wrought that it must be of immense value. The curtains and upholstery of the chairs and sofas and the hangings of my bed are of the costliest and most beautiful fabrics, and must have been of fabulous value when they were made, for they are centuries old, though in excellent order. I saw something like them in Hampton Court, but there they were worn and frayed and moth-eaten. But still in none of the rooms is there a mirror. There is not even a toilet glass on my table, and I had to get the little shaving glass from my bag before I could either shave or brush my hair. I have not yet seen a servant anywhere, or heard a sound near the castle except the howling of wolves. Some time after I had finished my meal—I do not know whether to call it breakfast or dinner, for it was between five and six o’clock when I had it—I looked about for something to read, for I did not like to go about the castle until I had asked the Count’s permission. There was absolutely nothing in the room, book, newspaper, or even writing materials; so I opened another door in the room and found a sort of library. The door opposite mine I tried, but found it locked.

In the library I found, to my great delight, a vast number of English books, whole shelves full of them, and bound volumes of magazines and newspapers. A table in the centre was littered with English magazines and newspapers, though none of them were of very recent date. The books were of the most varied kind—history, geography, politics, political economy, botany, geology, law—all relating to England and English life and customs and manners. There were even such books of reference as the London Directory, the “Red” and “Blue” books, Whitaker’s Almanac, the Army and Navy Lists, and—it somehow gladdened my heart to see it—the Law List.

Jane Eyre
Charlotte Bronte
The red-room was a square chamber, very seldom slept in, I might say never, indeed, unless when a chance influx of visitors at Gateshead Hall rendered it necessary to turn to account all the accommodation it contained: yet it was one of the largest and stateliest chambers in the mansion.  A bed supported on massive pillars of mahogany, hung with curtains of deep red damask, stood out like a tabernacle in the centre; the two large windows, with their blinds always drawn down, were half shrouded in festoons and falls of similar drapery; the carpet was red; the table at the foot of the bed was covered with a crimson cloth; the walls were a soft fawn colour with a blush of pink in it; the wardrobe, the toilet-table, the chairs were of darkly polished old mahogany.  Out of these deep surrounding shades rose high, and glared white, the piled-up mattresses and pillows of the bed, spread with a snowy Marseilles counterpane.  Scarcely less prominent was an ample cushioned easy-chair near the head of the bed, also white, with a footstool before it; and looking, as I thought, like a pale throne.

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  1. You are in a secret chamber of your mansion. It is small and cramped, being about the size of a single prone person. It is dark in the room, but there are peepholes that look down into Udele's room. Although the peepholes were originally meant for spying on tax collectors and other enemies, you now use them for voyeurism. Udele often encourages you to watch when she lays with a new politician or actor. The peepholes are also quite popular at some of your soirees.

    Udele's room is simply furnished with a plush bed, armoire, chair, and mirror. The room is covered with a kaleidoscope of knick-knacks that she has accumulated during her time with you. Various jewellery and other gifts from admirers are strewn in piles around the floor. Erotic nude paintings, many of Udele herself, are hung haphazardly on the walls. Fancy baubles, some shiny decorations, and other things with feathers are draped from nails in the walls. Despite the disorganized nature of Udele's room, you know that her most precious keepsakes are actually stored under her bed. There, she keeps the necklace that you gave her when you whisked her away from her village and the silver rattle she used to amuse the baby before the child was sequestered away with the nanny.

    1. Ha, there's a distinct similarity here with a feature of my WIP Pervert Action: Legacy.

      This description sounds good. I must say I often wonder about where to draw the line between verbosity and brevity with room descriptions. On the one hand rich descriptions are considered good writing (at least in novels) and describing all the relevant details is important for traditional, object-based IF puzzling. On the other hand, AIF players are much more interested in their potential sexual partners than they are in the furniture. I know that personally my eyes glaze over whenever I get a long paragraph dropped on me in a game.

      I trialed an idea in Pervert Action: Future of making all the room descriptions a different, slightly less bold colour than standard text. That way it's there but it's kind of easy for players to ignore it if they want to - their eyes can just skip over it and they don't need to pick out what the new text is each time they move through a room.

      I suppose it also matters whether and to what extent you use exploration object-based puzzling. I tend to use it as a sideline feature for dedicated players to find bonus, interesting things. Like 'achievement hunting' or something. Otherwise room descriptions are largely for atmosphere and in those cases I tend to give a more atmospheric description of the room in introductory text when a player first enters it.

      I don't have a description for the classroom in Stupid Cupid yet. :)

    2. When I code it up, I will move some of the description to individual objects that can be examined. I was thinking a lot about Udele's character when writing the descriptions and I might have gone overboard.

    3. That's probably a good idea, although it's not quite as important if you've only got a couple of rooms in the story.

    4. It's an interesting dilemma, I feel like the description adds to Udele's character but it is a bit wordy for the average AIF room description.

      Since it is AIF though, the mention of erotic paintings, etc tends to draw the interest of the player (speaking for myself at least) so in this case I think it works

  2. Mine is pretty simple, just a café. Not sure what else I could add that wouldn't just clutter the description up. I have timed events that add descriptions of the music that's playing, ambient sounds from the other café patrons, etc. to add a bit of life to the room.

    Benscamo's Cafe

    A casual cafe that serves the usual collection of studying college students, businesspeople working outside the office, etc. It's nicely decorated, and gives off a warm, homey vibe. They offer coffee, sandwiches, small snacks and the like. The counter has pastries and other treats behind glass, and there's a clerk standing behind it taking orders. There's a bathroom off the west, and the street is back to the south.

    1. My only slight suggestion is you can tighten that up a bit and lean toward active voice:

      A casual cafe serves sandwiches, snacks, and uncomplicated fare to the usual collection of studying college students, business people on lunch, and random passers-by. Nicely decorated, the cafe gives off a warm, homey vibe along with the constant aroma of coffee. Pastries and other treats tantalize in rows beneath the glass of a display case counter, behind which a clerk takes orders. A bathroom offers respite to the west, and the exit to the street is south.

      ("Active voice" meaning you want the subject of the sentence to do something with an active and preferably interesting verb besides a form of "is" and doing something as opposed to having something done to it - "A clerk stands" as opposed to "There is a clerk standing..." "The curtains flutter in the breeze." instead of "The curtains are blown by the breeze.")

    2. I agree, that's a nice edit.

    3. Ah, good tip, thanks. I think that livens up the description well

  3. Here goes my description of the elevator for my game:

    The service elevator is a slow moving, large workhorse suited to the task of transporting big cargo like office furniture or janitorial equipment, and in the case of errors with the main elevator, passengers. An automatic, vertical-lifting gated door acts as the sole entrance to the cab; three stainless steel walls with handrails and rubber bumpers reinforce the cold utility of the space; the worn floor is made of solid, riveted steel; the stainless steel ceiling houses three recessed fluorescent lighting fixtures as well as a not so obvious emergency exit panel hinged near one of the lights; along a wall near the entrance the speaker call box is housed within a small panel, just below the standard floor selection fixtures which are themselves below the mostly working floor indicator lights. This solid structure is embedded in a cooled shaft that has access to all levels of the eighteen floor building from the lower parking structure to the very top floor. Cargo is spit out from the mouth-like vertical bi-parting freight doors once a destination is reached.

    1. It's a very detailed and solid description. The room description might also be a good opportunity to help set the mood. Why are Laurelynn and Hudson so jumpy in there? Is it very dark and scary in there? Is it hidden and rarely used? Does it just feel dangerous?

    2. Sounds good, though it might read easier broken into two of three paragraphs. Maybe the first sentence on its own, a middle block, then the final two sentences together?

  4. This is the initial description of where the main sex scene takes place. I know it's a bit wordy but it's only shown the once, probably optionally in a popup dialog. If it were for a normal parser game it would be shorter and more precise in detail, but I think this is the right direction for a first-person perspective.


    A cursory glance around suggests a sizeable booth - more of a small room of its own - well-used by the patrons and their charges, of which I am the latest. I console myself with the theory that a private cubicle in the VIP area should be maintained to a considerably cleaner state than those outside in the main club.

    Flimsy and faded in colour and marking the boundary to the other side, the crimson curtain across the entrance feels less like a fragile veil and more like a locked prison door, solid and impenetrable. The walls, a similar shade, appear to be velour-covered. Even the armless seats and their plush cushions are red.

    Soft, nondescript jazz plays through hidden speakers, disguising the distant sounds from outside. Combined with the plush carpet under my high heels, the interior decorator's aim of relaxing me and calming my nerves appears to be succeeding. Pink neon light from a geometric-patterned series of bulbs on the walls and ceiling bathes us both in a warm glow which makes the booth feel bigger and less oppressive than the reality. Either way, there is ample enough room for at least one of us to leave happy.


    And if anybody's asking "so who's the guy in the booth anyway?" then I'll tell you when I know for sure myself. Still pinning that minor detail down.

    I do have a game file with intros and such written and coded up, but I'll wait until next week to post it once I've wrestled with my rusty CSS.

    1. Very nice.

      I wouldn't exactly call the guy in the booth to be a minor detail because it could have a big influence on how the sex scene is written. Is he a rough mobster? A rich oligarch? An anonymous nobody? A cocky teenager? Someone with a striking resemblance to certain politicians or businessmen? Maybe it's a woman?

    2. I mainly know who he should be, but it's more about how I present it to the player. I'm pushing it already with a female PC, and having her actively sexually attracted to a man is a thorny topic on AIF.

      I know obviously I should write him as a defined, plot-important character, just like if he were a woman, but I can't deny a male audience might prefer him as nameless, faceless and nondescript as possible.

      I envisage the guy to be Krolkov's son, hence the trust and lack of cameras. Privately, he reveals he doesn't want to follow in his father's footsteps as heir of the little criminal empire, but fears he has no choice when the time comes and his father is inevitably killed (and hopes that doesn't happen for a long, long time) but perhaps by then he can steer it in a more legitimate direction. I guess by talking enough with him to hear his whole story and sympathise he might come away 'happy' without needing to go so far physically?

      Or it's just a puzzle to solve and he's only a 'dick-with-a-man-attached'.

    3. It's likely I'm over-thinking this...

    4. I like the idea of that trope (criminal boss's son isn't the type to follow in his father's footsteps and would rather do x) and have seen it a few times before. I think it makes sense to have the son be uncomfortable in the club. He's only there by lack of choice, so he decides to chill in the VIP room and mess around on his phone or whatever. His disinterest in the lifestyle could be the barrier for the player to have to overcome to initiate sex. I'm assuming the player's interest is in keeping up a cover and thus having to do her 'duties' in order to complete the job.

    5. The benefit of living in a pansexual world is that anything goes. The idea that there are some lesbians who are able to physically, even emotionally, enjoy having sex with a man is not considered controversial at all any more. If you suggested all lesbians would enjoy having sex with men, there would be problems. For individuals though, anything is possible. The problems come from when you try to categorize or generalize things.

      If you're really concerned though, you could give the player a choice in how they feel about it.

      Richer characterization beats audience pandering every time. Of course, a nameless, faceless character can still have a rich characterization.

    6. @Mago's Oldest Son

      I see him as someone who's grown up around the strip club environment, but has only recently become aware of all the criminal activities that come along with it. There's a conflict between his duties as a son and the wider moral implications.

      He is interested in the strip club lifestyle and in vetting the new strippers on his father's behalf, he is a young man after all. That's the part he enjoys and long may that continue for him. The responsibility of taking over and all that comes with it is what he feels trapped by, the crushing inevitability of his 'destiny'. He loves his father, but knows he's a Bad Man. It is a very old and worn trope though, 'sins of the father' etc.

      > I'm assuming the player's interest is in keeping up a cover

      Pretty much.

      She can play it straight and get the job done as requested, or just talk enough with him to gain his favour. Or a mix of both. All the while she has to remain silent that she's about to off his father and thus give him everything he doesn't want, no matter how real her sympathies are. I suppose you could come clean to him, but it would lead to failing the mission.

      @Lost Trout

      Ah, but the PC is no lesbian ;) She's still mostly straight but curious, at least at this part of the story. It's more the meta-problem of the male audience accidentally feeling attracted to the male NPC.

      A nameless character would be there more for the them to project themselves onto, to be the one to have this hot chick seduce them, rather than complicity 'pushing' her into the arms of another man and enjoying it. Hopefully having her in first-person is enough to distance the player enough to feel like more of a voyeur than participant, more directing than controlling.

      I hope I'm wrong and just being overly cynical, but historically it has been an issue in AIF. Consensual heterosexual sex with a female PC has had a mixed reception at best.

      I agree 100% on your other points.

    7. @Lost Trout

      Purely by coincidence I was just trawling through the Yahoo group and discovered you wrote Entrancing Sin, a game all about directing and controlling a female PC as an observer, so you have infinitely more experience of writing this kind of thing than me!

    8. >She can play it straight and get the job done as requested

      So the player wants sex to happen and by extension so will the player character, otherwise there would just be a strange conflict between the player's will and the character's. That makes this option sound boring to me because there can't be any meaningful challenge for the player if everyone just wants sex by default. Not that there is anything wrong with that, just my opinion.

      >or just talk enough with him to gain his favour

      I can see a potential of having a relationship score to try and model the son's favor in order to gain more intel for the mission. That wouldn't be especially interesting to me because the sex part (my goal as a player) has nothing to do with the mission. To put it another way, sex is the actual mission. The player character's mission seems detached from mine.

      >All the while she has to remain silent that she's about to off his father and thus give him everything he doesn't want, no matter how real her sympathies are

      I think it is a really big stretch to have the pc potentially spill the beans about the fact that she is an assassin. How could a trained killer ever make that kind of mistake? There are answers to that, but it's not the kind of question I'd like to work out if I were building a 'sex game'. Modeling that kind of thing would probably result in obvious bad choices or unfair choices that cause the player to 'lose' the game in an unsatisfactory way.

      >I suppose you could come clean to him, but it would lead to failing the mission.

      The darker side of me says that failing the mission could actually lead to some sort of sexual abuse of the pc. That would fulfill the actual sex goal for some players, and completely alienate others.

      Basically I'm just being cynical because it seems incredibly easy to build a game where the son is uninterested in sex, which then creates a shared challenge for the player and the player character to overcome. Just my two cents :S

    9. Interesting and very valid thoughts, and a lot to ponder on. Part of my process is spit-balling ideas and seeing what sticks. I may revert to a faceless cipher, or at least start with one and build upwards if appropriate.

      To give the scene a little context - this should feel like the player's and her reward for getting this far (I say 'this far'; it's too short a game really). There's a stage audition beforehand that's more choice/puzzle-based, with success or failure. Pass that and you proceed to this scene, where the pent up 'foreplay' of earlier is released. It's effectively the second half of a two-part sex scene. You'll have to go out of your way to fail at this point, just by being bad at it - and I give no indication she has any experience of lapdancing. She's as much out of her comfort zone as the player may be in trying to seduce a man. Perhaps too much plot at this section would get in the way of the fun-time.

    10. Although there is a vocal set of commenters who claim they cannot play AIF written from a female perspective, they are not necessarily representative of the whole community. There is a long history of erotica written from the female perspective (just jump ahead to the AIF Writing Salon week on Sex Transcripts). If a game where players play as a dog can win the AIF minicomp, I'm sure most players can also handle playing as a woman.

      Ultimately, AIF is a hobby for most. If you don't enjoy writing it, then it's not going to get written. Write what you want.

    11. As a follow-on comment, I would also like to point out that most pornography and soft pornography (those with plots) are written from a female POV. It's Emmanuelle and Debbie Does Dallas, not Emmanuelle's Husband and Deep Throat Doctor. Most men have no problems with their pornography being written from a female POV. Playing AIF with a female POV shouldn't be emasculating at all.

      People play graphical porn games all the time where they have to manually move their mouse to simulate a woman jerking off a guy, and they don't complain about it at all. The screen is filled with a giant penis, and guys have to move their mouse to simulate the movements of a hand moving up and down:

      # of complaints that this feels emasculating: 0.
      # of complaints that this is tiring: countless.
      # of complaints that if they wanted to spend 30 minutes jerking off a guy, they could just visit their boyfriends: 0.

      If a plot makes more sense to be written from a female POV, then by all means do that.

      What distinguishes AIF for the female gaze from AIF for men isn't that it's written from the female POV. The difference is way more subtle than that. But you'll usually know it when you play it. The presence of vampires is usually a good indicator though ☺. Even then, there's nothing stopping men from playing and enjoying it too.

    12. While there is erotica written from a "female POV" I don't quite think DDD and Deep Throat are that just because the main character is a woman. These plots are very much written by a man and are male wish-fulfillment female characters, and I would venture not at *all* representative of an actual female POV.

      And though I am writing a female POV in my game, I don't at all have the illusion I'm nailing (no pun intended) the way a woman would actually feel.

      From the research I've been able to do with female friends who were open to talk about it, women might generally be more turned on by the emotions and feelings sex provides rather than the actual mechanics of it. A man can get turned on by a closeup of repeated insertion, where a woman is more interested in the closeness of bodies and seeing the faces and reactions of two lovers.

      That's probably why the romance section of a bookstore is so huge - women, who can also appreciate a good explicit scene, relish more the politics and and the romance and the courtship leading up to and brought on by intimacy.

      One of my female friends even said that watching her boyfriend mow the lawn was erotic because in her head he's making this effort *for her* to make her happy, and her fantasies ranged toward him doing so shirtless or naked and then approaching to claim his reward afterward for a job well done. Kinky I guess? :)

      DISCLAIMER: These are my opinions based on experience and might be completely wrong-headed with regard to the way women actually think.

    13. I would say that the take away is that if you think something is hot, then many other people will find it hot too. So you don't have to overthink whether you need to write your stuff a certain way for people to like it.