"Show, don't tell"
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Violette



Joined: 03 Sep 2006
Posts: 1

PostPosted: Sun Sep 03, 2006 10:46 pm    Post subject: "Show, don't tell" Reply with quote

Hello, I'm new! I'm a recent addition to the fascinating world of mud building.

I wanted to get an opinion on the subject's quote.

I know what it means. It means that instead of telling the reader that "this is beautiful" you should tell them WHY it's beautiful.

What I'm confused with is this: For example, I love the word intricate. So according to "show, don't tell" I can't use that in a description - I have to describe exactly why it's intricate?
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Grabnar



Joined: 30 Apr 2006
Posts: 15

PostPosted: Mon Sep 04, 2006 12:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ehh. I'm not sure who told you that you can't use the word "intricate". There seems to be a lot of these "how to write good zones" documents floating around on the net, and most of them have some odd rules. (Like never use the word 'you' and never use the word 'is'.)

I guess the reason why you shouldn't describe something as "beautiful" is because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Hence if you describe something as beautiful, it comes across as if you're "telling the player what to think" (another no-no according to most "how to build" documents).

Intricate is a pretty neutral term, though. Something either is intricate, or it isn't. A suit of enchanted steam-powered mechanical armor is intricate. A stick with a pointy end is not. Unless you're a cave man. Then the stick is probably pretty intricate, too.

So in conclusion, use the word "intricate" if you want. I'm sure there are several smaller words you could use that convey the same meaning, just as there are several smaller words you can use to convey the meaning of every other big word out there. That doesn't necessarily mean you always should.
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Molly O'Hara



Joined: 11 May 2005
Posts: 99
Location: Sweden

PostPosted: Mon Sep 04, 2006 6:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

What is considered 'good building' varies from Mud to Mud.
It has to do with the theme of the Mud, whether it is PK, RP or Hack'n'slash oriented, what races and classes it has, etc.

To take a very simple example, if the Mud only has humanoid races, you can safely describe something as 'small' or 'large'. If it has pixies and giants, the words 'small' and 'large' obviously mean something different to those races than to a humanoid.

To take another simple example: In most Muds expressions like 'You are standing...' or 'You are running...' or 'The snow crunches under your boots...' are a big nono, because the player might actually be sitting, resting or flying - and might be wearing slippers or be barefoot. But in a Mud like KaVir's GodWars II a desc like that is totally okay, because his descs are code generated, and shows the actual position and equipment of the player at that very moment.

Another example: Describing how the sun filters through the leaves of a huge tree might look pretty, but would also look silly, if a coded message at the same time tells you that it started to rain, or it is in the middle of the night, or it is mid winter. But again, some muds have different decs for day and night, rain and sunshine, summer or winter, in which case the desc would be fine.

And of course the simplest example of bad building of all: It the desc tells you 'There is a horrible ogre in this room!!! You are scared shitless!' and you happen to be a strong level 100 warrior and know from previous experience that you can kill the ogre in three blows, you aren't exactly scared. Or if someone - possibly yourself - already killed the ogre so that its corpse now is rotting away on the floor... well, you get the picture, don't you?

However: If you become too orthodox with what you put in your descs, you quite often end up with descs that are 'dry' and flavourless, even though they maybe totally flawless when it comes to spelling, grammar and content. Strangely anough the flavour of a zone sometimes comes with the flaws. And believe me, I know what I'm talking about, I've been Head Builder for over 8 years, and viewed hundreds of zones, good and bad. It's often hard to put your finger exactly on what makes a desc or a zone good, but somehow you always feel it and recognise it when you see it.

Most players aren't observative enough to appreciate all the intricacies that some of us builders put into a zone, so if you overdo things, it's a bit of wasted breath, time and effort. You need to find a balance between quality and quantity that fits the game you are building for.

Roleplayers tend to be more touchy about descs that 'break the atmosphere'. In a quest based mud it's the factual info that you put in a room desc or an extra desc that counts. That is why the theme and type of the mud you build in matters too. And this is why I always advice new builders to play the Mud they want to build in for quite some time first, to get the feel for the building culture in that particular game, and try to adapt to it.

Ideally the average player should not be able to tell when they leave one zone to enter another. The changes in the terrain should be natural, and the world should appear 'seamless' to them. And that means that your zone is not an isolated island, you also need to think about how it fits into the surroundings. People often tend to forget that when building
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Kaz



Joined: 05 Jun 2005
Posts: 24
Location: Hampshire, UK

PostPosted: Mon Sep 04, 2006 8:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In the example provided, I would prefer to both show and tell.

Players have an awful lot of text to read, and many (including myself, I am loathe to say) skip over large walls of text that some builders like to add to their rooms.

What you can do, however, is sufficiently gloss over the details ("the walls are covered in an intricate pattern"), and then use extra descriptions (or "look descriptions", or whatever you call them, when you type "look <detail>") for the details. "look pattern" then yields the more in-depth information about exactly how intricate it is and why.

However, it's important for your builders apply this technique regularly and consistency in order to be able to achieve this effect.
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Maraz



Joined: 18 May 2005
Posts: 13
Location: England

PostPosted: Mon Sep 04, 2006 6:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Personally I prefer descriptions that use words like "beautiful" or "intricate" or even something that implies how your character should feel ("the terrifying statue"). Or at least in a general description. The reason I think that it is often considered bad form is because like anything these words can be used badly and as a substitute for real creativity.

I prefer this (especially in character descriptions) because it gives an impression of what something is subjectively like - rather than an entirely unemotional and precise account of what is there. These are the things you notice most in real life (I tend to think "she is beautiful" rather than "her face is symetrical and feminine"), and they are often the things that matter most in roleplay. I don't think this is forcing anything on a character. Just because a description implies that something is beautiful or disturbing, or inspirational doesn't mean it has to be exactly that to your character!

The whole point of words like "beautiful" and "intricate" is that they describe a slightly abstract concept that can only be described in a subjective way. The way we see the world is ultimately shaped by our personalities - in a MUD however this is impossible - the room description could never be custom written to your character to describe what it is they see.

Ultimately descriptions should pass on as much useful information to the player as possible - the "feel" of a place is often useful information.

I hope my response is useful to you. My opinions on the subject probably conflict with popular views on the subject, but hopefully we can all be in agreement that there is no one way to write descriptions and that each method has its own values and flaws, and therefore equally each has its own fans and detractors.
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Skol



Joined: 07 Jun 2006
Posts: 4
Location: Oregon

PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2006 2:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I like to do the 'extra description' type approach.

In the above example, I might have a line that says 'An intricate inscription graces the corner of the statuette.' Intricate in this case simply meaning small letters very neat perhaps, but when they 'look inscription' they see the rest of the detail etc. The idea being that the player can find more if they want, or ignore it and run on by, it's up to them how much they want to get out of it.

I personally love building like this; like an outline is what the people see on the surface (well fleshed but not overtly full of details), but they can stop and read the rest if they wish.

It all really boils down to how much detail you want, and how much time the builders have to flesh out that mental picture.
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shasarak



Joined: 29 Jun 2005
Posts: 134
Location: Emily's Shop

PostPosted: Sat Oct 14, 2006 8:54 pm    Post subject: Re: "Show, don't tell" Reply with quote

Violette wrote:
I know what it means. It means that instead of telling the reader that "this is beautiful" you should tell them WHY it's beautiful.

Are you sure that's what it means? I ask, because it sounds rather like a quote from Aristotle in which he was talking about stage plays. The gist is that if the audience need to be in possession of some piece of information about what is going on, it is far better if they actually see the thing happening rather than just have someone tell them that it's happened.

The same potentially applies to other media.
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ide



Joined: 21 Feb 2006
Posts: 105
Location: Seattle

PostPosted: Sun Oct 15, 2006 7:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Shasarak is absolutely right. For some reason thousands of people have transmitted "show, don't tell" like a plague and now we're stuck with it. Aristotle referred to actions, and in most cases the same builder's guidelines that say "show, don't tell" don't want you to use actions in your description. Aristotle's advice generally applies but now every time someone explains "show, don't tell" they start with some hokey example like,

"She had pretty blue eyes and a beautiful smile" "bad"

And turn it into:

"Her eyes glittered like a mountain lake caught in full sun on a bright spring day, but that was nothing compared to her smile, as my heart ached at its transcendent warmth." "good"

In writing for a mud it's much, much more effective to really tell the player what is going on than 'show' them in this fashion. The whole experience of reading most mud text is so different, the rules must change. I'm tired of the same old rules. We need new rules! Wink

Maraz wrote:
The way we see the world is ultimately shaped by our personalities - in a MUD however this is impossible - the room description could never be custom written to your character to describe what it is they see.


Maraz I know you mean this in the context of most DIKUs. And there are many great descriptions and areas in DIKUs and similar muds. But of course a description can be custom written to your character. This is the very strength of the interactive medium that is mud, but so few muds have taken advantage of this very strength.

One more thing.

http://onlyagame.typepad.com/only_a_game/2006/10/sufi.html wrote:
One of the most famous quotes concerning the nature of Sufism belongs to an unknown Sufi Master who said: “There are three ways of knowing a thing. Take, for instance, a flame. One can be told of the flame, one can see the flame with one’s own eyes, and finally one can reach out and be burned by it. In this way, we Sufis seek to be burned by God.”


Today most muds tell you about the flame (or should I say 'show' you). Very few let the character see with their own eyes. And when muds truly express their interactive nature and the character can reach out and touch the flame, then we're getting somewhere.
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Maraz



Joined: 18 May 2005
Posts: 13
Location: England

PostPosted: Wed Oct 25, 2006 9:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Maraz I know you mean this in the context of most DIKUs. And there are many great descriptions and areas in DIKUs and similar muds. But of course a description can be custom written to your character. This is the very strength of the interactive medium that is mud, but so few muds have taken advantage of this very strength.


I think you miss understood my point. Of course it would be possible to make descriptions change depending on for example the direction your character is travelling, their health, their class etc.

However it would never be possible to write a description that reflected what a character would notice about their surroundings. I for example take great notice of stone patterns and architecture, that is something which to me is instantly obvious and somewhat memorable - however to many or most people these things hardly register.

There are perhaps ways to try and simulate this - you could list keywords that your character would notice in rooms for example. But ultimately I think any attempt to make the room description reflect a character's outlook is impossible. The easiest way is simply to allow extra descriptions and elt the player choose what they notice. Even then you couldn't really describe things in the way a character would see them.

Even if you could make character's see from their perspective, I'm not sure this is desirable. I consider the room description as information for the player, not the character. Furthermore, to pick out what a character notices and the way that they see things is surely against the principle of not forcing action on the character.

So when someone writes: "The impressive stone work gives the bank an imposing dominance in the street"

They are not saying "Your character finds the stone work impressive", but rather that the writer considers the stone work impressive. The writer/builder is comunicating ideas. Equally your character may not take great notice of the largest building, but rather a familiar one, or an unusual one! But the information is to the player, and they take what is relevant for their character.

Hope that makes sense.

- Maraz
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KaVir



Joined: 11 May 2005
Posts: 565
Location: Munich

PostPosted: Wed Oct 25, 2006 2:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Maraz wrote:
Even if you could make character's see from their perspective, I'm not sure this is desirable. I consider the room description as information for the player, not the character. Furthermore, to pick out what a character notices and the way that they see things is surely against the principle of not forcing action on the character.


I disagree - I think manipulating the information based on the viewer can greatly improve both immersion and gameplay.

That doesn't mean you have to include all information, or tell people what they like or find impressive - but giving someone information about the quality of the stonework because they've got a high rank in the stonemason skill? Telling them what those old elven runes actually say because they've got ranks in "ancient elven"? Giving them a little history about the building because their character comes from that geographical area? These are the sort of things that make the mud feel more "alive".
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JWideman



Joined: 22 Oct 2006
Posts: 16

PostPosted: Wed Oct 25, 2006 5:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

KaVir wrote:
Maraz wrote:
Even if you could make character's see from their perspective, I'm not sure this is desirable. I consider the room description as information for the player, not the character. Furthermore, to pick out what a character notices and the way that they see things is surely against the principle of not forcing action on the character.


I disagree - I think manipulating the information based on the viewer can greatly improve both immersion and gameplay.

That doesn't mean you have to include all information, or tell people what they like or find impressive - but giving someone information about the quality of the stonework because they've got a high rank in the stonemason skill? Telling them what those old elven runes actually say because they've got ranks in "ancient elven"? Giving them a little history about the building because their character comes from that geographical area? These are the sort of things that make the mud feel more "alive".


That's fine, provided you have dynamic room descriptions that support that level of detail. If you do, it's an easy bet that most descriptions are only one line long without the extra details.
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Virago



Joined: 06 Jan 2006
Posts: 12
Location: Just south of Nashville

PostPosted: Wed Oct 25, 2006 11:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Not necessarily. You can have alternate text appear if they don't "pass" whatever tests are involved to get extra detail, or hide said flavor text in extra looks, or simply just use the idea in moderation. Simply because a game incorporates dynamic descriptions into their style doesn't mean every ounce of content is derived from said.

This isn't to say people haven't done so badly in the past, mind you. While my preferred style of game has a lot of richly-detailed text in it, I'll switch to an ASCII-only or one-line-per-room game in a heartbeat if it means I don't have to put up with a thesis on thesaurus humping to get to the Fun Bits. I like Fun Bits!
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JWideman



Joined: 22 Oct 2006
Posts: 16

PostPosted: Wed Oct 25, 2006 11:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Virago wrote:
Not necessarily. You can have alternate text appear if they don't "pass" whatever tests are involved to get extra detail, or hide said flavor text in extra looks, or simply just use the idea in moderation. Simply because a game incorporates dynamic descriptions into their style doesn't mean every ounce of content is derived from said.

This isn't to say people haven't done so badly in the past, mind you. While my preferred style of game has a lot of richly-detailed text in it, I'll switch to an ASCII-only or one-line-per-room game in a heartbeat if it means I don't have to put up with a thesis on thesaurus humping to get to the Fun Bits. I like Fun Bits!


Oh, it's possible to have copious amounts of detail. The problem is with the builders - someone has to produce all that content and people tend to be adverse to making one room have 10 times the content for 1/10th the playerbase.
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Nornagest



Joined: 08 Jan 2006
Posts: 12
Location: California

PostPosted: Fri Oct 27, 2006 7:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

JWideman wrote:
Oh, it's possible to have copious amounts of detail. The problem is with the builders - someone has to produce all that content and people tend to be adverse to making one room have 10 times the content for 1/10th the playerbase.


I've never had any objections to adding highly specialized elements to large dynamic descriptions, and judging by the people I've worked with in the past this isn't a unique perspective. I like adding little details that most players will never notice, and it's a channel for clues and thematic material that would be very hard to duplicate otherwise. I use it in my own areas and encourage it in others'.

The problem is time. Adding this kind of eye candy doesn't increase total length by anything close to an order of magnitude; it's essential that the largest possible description still doesn't seem spammy, since there are always players that'll see at least a large fraction of it. However, the additions can easily double the description's length, and the markup languages I've used to define dynamic descriptions aren't as intuitive to write in as plain English. Hence, it can add a few days, weeks, or months to the turnaround time for writing an area, depending on how large it is. I consider the tradeoff worthwhile. You might not.

Full disclosure: I'm more of a coder than a builder these days, but I still switch.
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ide



Joined: 21 Feb 2006
Posts: 105
Location: Seattle

PostPosted: Sat Oct 28, 2006 12:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The issue that most muds do not address is the increasing specialization and customization of characters (even if this just means fairly meaningless racial modifiers and new skills) versus a perceptual model that remains basically unchanged since the days of Adventure. Static descriptions are OK for many games, such as the early muds with limited character specialization and games like Zork and modern interactive fiction where the author effectively dictates how the character is customized. But you're missing out on many big pluses if you focus only on character specialization and not on world perception.

However there seems to be just as many issues with diving into the alternative, dynamic descriptions. The issue of keeping re-usable content fresh. The issue of teaching builders cryptic mark-up languages.

I think the latter is solvable by using the server to write the description, generated from parameters that either the builder or some other method sets. If the builder does the work perhaps you need to design some kind of semantic parameter language, if the server does the work perhaps the builder is instead designing a map that encodes the parameters. Here you get into more issues, not the least of which is generating aesthetically pleasing descriptions from a rule set, but to me the bigger problem is that of keeping re-usable content fresh. Going to a room-less world helps here. Has anyone figured out other techniques?
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