Is there such a thing as "Too many words" in games? (Gamasutra article discussion)


#1

Now, the author’s point is quite simple: He doesn’t like the way the lore was handled in Pillars of Eternity, and I somewhat agree with him. I’m a great fan of RPGs and I love me some deep lore, but PoE never caught my attention the way games like Planescape: Torment or Age of Decadence did. To be honest, I have problems both with the way it was presented and the lore itself.

But how does that notion stand in the context of Choice of games? Does it apply here? Is there such a thing as a game where there was “too much unecessary information”, or where the lore is badly delivered? What are your personal thoughts on it?

What I personally don’t like is when there are too many "walls of text"t without any choice to “break the flow”, or when there is too much information given that won’t impact the gameplay in a meaningful way. I believe that self-referencing is what gives any narrative its “form”, but taking the time to “know” something and not rewarding the player/reader for it later somehow seems a bit pointless. (Checkov’s gun applies here)


#2

It is a fine line to tread as an author and game developer. I’ll pull from a game you like very much: CK2.

CK2 has an interface that is (to put it kindly) complicated and not friendly to beginners, yet the longer you play the game, the more utility you get from the information provided by that interface.

The simplest translation into CoG terms is that CK2 requires you to navigate the stats tabs a lot to get the most out of the game.

Yet, a CoG/Hosted game is more of a story then the CK2 sandbox, so in your game, you are required to lure your readers into the world via the written word. The letters you provide in your current WiP is a great way of providing the necessary details without overwhelming the reader with details.

Even with this devise, you’ve found that people might still need those details later and want to review the letters later.

The Elder Scroll path to lore delivery I’ve always liked. Indeed, in their online version, they attempted to change their presentation and found that the new format had many more detractors.

In CoG/HG terms, choices allowing further lore details could be utilized vs-a-vie Cataphrak’s Infinity series. In his series, a medal is gained and the reader can look into that in a stats-tab if they desire, or they can completely ignore that lore in the entire series.

Where I disagree with your approach is to judge the lore/background by how much impact it has on immediate game play. The lore can be a way to tie the reader who investigates it deeply to your world, it can create a bond that grows as the story progresses to the NPC characters, both major and minor and the worldverse being written about as well.

I’d put forth that it is more a problem of presentation and timing then of pointless or non-impacting information. You may not need to know that the “Brotherhood” safe you are cracking is the property of a fanatical assassin cult dedicated to the goddess of pain - this may not even be any consequence the entire story - but what about sequels or further adventures?

What may seem pointless at first blush could be used for various purposes both by the author and the reader later.


#3

As an editor, I would add that there’s such a thing as ‘too many words’ in books too—and not just the infamous purple prose.

I’ve been looking at historical fiction/fantasy lately, and thoughts on editing and writing it. If I were going to sum it up, I’d probably go with: “The first rule of research is that a reader should never know exactly how much research the author has done.” A similar adage might even suit for lore.


#4

Am I the only one here who’s expecting something… uh uh when seeing the word Gamasutra :sweat_smile:


Back on to the topic, I’m in for the rule "If your reader/player is stupid, let them be."
That being said, stupidity at here = new at your story universe. Let them stay… stupid about it, knowing nothing except from their own guess and thoughts. Don’t shove them info about your years worth of the worldbuilding, upfront.

Basically what @Fiogan has summed up[quote=“Fiogan, post:3, topic:27853”]
“The first rule of research is that a reader should never know exactly how much research the author has done.”
[/quote]


#5

Yeah going hard with text walls is fairly hurtful to the story.
BUT there are ways to make those long dreary loads of information interesting without losing length by changing from a lecturer voice to conversational.

You can talk to fun people for hours nut when some one talks AT you it gets old fast.


#6

Yep.
Got text walls?
Try text ladders!
Text ladders let your reader climb the walls with ease.
What are text ladders, you may ask?

Text ladders are ways of making your story interesting so that the reader actually wants to read more, instead of trying to climb over an information dump with no reason whatsoever to do so.


#7

There’s also the breadcrumb method.

Bits and pieces of that information scattered throughout the story as actionable information. And it also makes the reader feel smart for putting all those leading clues together themselves :slight_smile:

Ps: avoid trying to prove how smart you are to your audience and figure out how to communicate with them.


#8

It’s also worth noting that if you think that you are writing too much, you probably are. There is always a point where redundancy is entirely unnecessary, and often even damaging. Writing concisely benefits both the reader and the author.

That isn’t to advocate leaving out bits and pieces of lore – or anything else for that matter; instead, trim it and refine it so that the reader looks forward to the next piece that they find.


#9

It is not about the number of words, but the expectations of the consumer/reader, the quality of the words, and how well it fits the actual game mechanics. In PoE, they tried to introduce a completely original universe and properly immerse the player in that universe. I do not think they did that very well, it was a bit clumsily written and the incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign led to feature bloat, which also led to more and more lore having to be pushed in.

And I think that is essentially what the Gamasutra article says too: It is not that there are “too many words”, but that the words are not used optimally. Too much new information that makes no sense to us yet, too many useless and minor choices. These words could easily just be spread out along the games in other ways, and it would work much better. You wouldn’t actually lower the “word count”, but you would increase the quality significantly.

Not that lots of words is inherently a good thing either, of course.


#10

Absolutely. There are some games in the various Choice catalogues where there have been way too many words between choices. There have also been a few that spend too much time telling me things before establishing why I should care. I remember one which expected me to pick between three people for a certain role and it gave me all this information to read through, but no reason to care.

Writing an interactive novel isn’t like writing a traditional novel.I think you can get away with a lot more exposition in the latter.

Similar to the writer of that article, I try to avoid being too hard on other creators. Being creative is difficult and it does hurt to have something you put time and effort in ripped on. However, I had high hopes for PoE and had them dashed upon the rocks of its writing. A friend once put it as something like this: when you meet a character in PoE, everything is front-loaded.

A man, long in limb and broad in shoulder, walks over to you. His skin is the red of a setting sun and dirt clouds his face. “Hail, friend. I am Lord Glabberwhych of the Ghulfigorn people. Fifteen hundred years ago, we had an epic battle with the Hulifogorch, which I will now relay to you across multiple paragraphs. Please don’t interrupt me by clicking ahead, I have a lot to say, and it is of vital importance that I impart all of this knowledge upon you immediately.”

Tyranny was a step up – primarily with a much more intriguing world – but it still had that problem.

What PoE suffers from is an excess of worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is fine and good. It’s necessary to tell a story. But too much worldbuilding chokes your story before it gets moving. Instead of being a foundation it becomes a prison. Only give the player what they need, whether that is to make a choice, to immediately understand some world context, or to set some atmosphere.

I think when it comes to IF, you’ll turn people off your work by bombarding them with prose they’re not sure they want to read. It’s one of the reasons behind the most common critique I get of Paradigm City: the plot moves too fast and nothing breathes. Because I cut away so much fat with the scalpel, concerned that too much prose would turn people off, and maybe nicked some of the bone in the process.

On the other hand, if your work is a bit lean and people enjoy it, they’ll want to dive into more of the lore.

An author friend of mine said, to paraphrase: a lot of writers are too busy thinking about the systems of their world instead of wondering about the central character and the struggles she might face. A story isn’t a world, a story is a narrative.

(And it shows when an author does a lot of world-building and planning and begins a story with those ‘rules’ but then, for whatever reason, decides the rules work differently. Meanwhile, if the author hadn’t had characters explain the worldbuilding, you likely never would have noticed.)

I’ve played a lot of games and read a lot of stories, here and elsewhere, where – like PoE – all the worldbuilding is front-loaded.

But I’m not reading a history book. I do that for my day job! When I want to read a story, I want to learn with the characters. This doesn’t mean you need a fish out of water protagonist or a young untested hero, although that is easiest, because having a grudging protagonist who is unimpressed by these things can say just as much as someone who gapes at them.

Like a lot of things in fiction, you can probably lay this one at Tolkein’s feet. The guy was a professor of history and linguistics before he was an author and it shows.

I’m a history teacher, so, I tend to write things with a focus towards systems (much like how Tolkein focused on histories and languages). But it’s about how those systems create conflict between each other and the people within them. It’s important to keep the perspective on that it is about how those systems affect the characters and how, affected by those systems, the characters choose to act and the struggles they then face from those systems and from others. Because that’s what history is, just writers trying to explain individuals and systems.


#11

I think something that gets forgotten by a lot of (especially new) writers is that worldbuilding is… exactly what it says on the tin. It is the work you do to create a framework to build your actual story on. It was necessary, important work! I do way too much of it because it’s a great way to procrastinate! But the chances that the average reader wants to see it are slim.

Most people aren’t interested in what the guts of their house looks like. (Unless the house starts falling apart. :P) They’re kind of busy living in it. That’s exactly what players want to do.

I don’t think it’s a matter of games having too many words. I think they’re just getting them in the wrong order, packaged in the wrong way. Some of that, for games particularly, is just the growing pains of the medium. “Game writer” is, all things considered, a pretty new career move, and what it means has been rapidly evolving.