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voluptuous detail or judicious vagueness?

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Wow, I actually had a writing-related idea. I was beginning to think I''d run out of those. Anyhoo, I was reading this non-fiction graphic novel _Understanding_Comics_ by Scott McCloud, and it postulated that one of the reasons cartoon characters are so appealing is that the vagueness of their drawing style creates a ''detail vacuum'' that the reader is compelled to fill with him/herself, thus making the reader percieve the comic as more personalized and real. I thought perhaps this was why some books which have poor, vague worldbuilding or mechanics are fun to read because you can daydream about how you would fix them and fill in the details. I was thinking particularly about Tanith Lee''s _Don''t bit the sun_, which is great for daydreaming about. Then the next day I started _Dhalgren_ by Samuel R. Delany. (BTW you can congratulate me for making it through all 879 pages ) _Dhalgren_ is richly surreal, poetic, highly romanticized, and very detailed. I''m going to remember some of the descriptions and the ''optical chain'' from that book for a long time. So we have vague fun writing vs. detailed beautiful writing. Which is better? Can they be combined, or would that ruin them both? How does this apply to writing for videogames? Some people are in the habit of imagining detailed worlds for very vaguely described RPGs and Strategy games, for everything from missile command to harvest moon to Chronotrigger''s main character''s missing dialogue. What''s the right decision about how vague or detailed to be?

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My $0.02:

I think it all depends on the game. Diablo doesn''t need detailed writing because it''s fairly simple and fast paced. The Longest Journey has detailed characters as one of its strengths.

I think mixing the two styles is dangerous because they tend to give mixed expectations. The player assumes the more detailed bits are the more important ones and ignores the rest.

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I don''t think either is better, I think it depends on your audience. You can have jarhead type players who just want to crack heads, and lots of work on detail would be (as ahw is fond of saying ) "putting jam before pigs."

Personally, prefer detailed worlds over worlds where I fill in the blanks. After mastering Starcraft I found myself constantly wishing there were a way of exploring the strange universe inhabited by stealthy Ghosts, the Queen of Blades, and Dark Templars. Same with Alpha Centauri''s Planet: I found myself wondering about the factions, and what the different societies would be like, and what individual lives were made of.

The lack of detail just makes me wonder, and the wondering us unfulfilling.

It may actually be a side effect of the science fiction genre of these games, though. One of the chief strengths of science fiction is how it explores the impact of change and advancement on individuals and societies at large. But games are about winning, which is pretty narrow and expedient. So in a sense SF games are riding the promise of science fiction without delivering.

Just waiting for the mothership...

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Interesting point Wav.

I think an interesting case study here is The Lord of the Rings. Has anyone ever made it through the whole trilogy? I''m currently trying again for the 5th or so time. The problem it that there is just so much detail that you can get lost in it. If you stop reading for a day or two you forget a lot of it and you have no idea what is going on.

On the other hand I like it''s amazing depth of detail. You could spend your whole life with that trilogy and still not reach the bottom.

"When i was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse, out of
the corner of my mind. I turned to look, but it was
gone, I cannot put my finger on it now. The child has
grown, the dream has gone." -Pink Floyd

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There is a whole world in The Lord of the Rings.
Every time I read it I feel transported to this wonderfull world.
The details are what makes this book alive.
The description of the beauty of this world and the horror of mordor gives all the meaning of the quest of the company of the ring.
Without details it would have been harder to provoke the same feelings...

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Since I first found The Lord of the Rings in my jr high library in 1981, I have read the complete Trilogy 8 or 9 times. I''ve read The Silmarrilion at least 3 times completely through. It''s the details of the world and the richness (and longevity) of the characters that make it fascinating.

Finish The Lord of the Rings now...beat the rush created by the movie...be one of the elite pre-readers who can criticize the movie for what it left out...

The detail issue, though, as it was brought up in the initial post is illustrated by the success of games like "Zork" and the Infocom games. They painted no pictures, so everything was up to the imagination of the player.

In a way, it''s the richly detailed graphics that we''re presenting to the player that seems to short-circuit the player''s imagination. Because the avatar is rendered in photo-realistic imagery, including 5 o''clock shadow and a blearly alcoholic haze in his eyes, standing in a scene that could be pulled from a movie because it looks so real, the player "naturally" assumes that everything *is* real and can be interacted with. When it turns out that all the guy can do is jump, walk, run and spin around, and that he can''t even give a quarter to the wino in the gutter or pick up the hubcap leaning against the wall--because these are all just *props*--the player gets annoyed and yells about lack of "character depth" and "realism".

Just my $5.41 US.

Samu Games

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Strangely enough I don''t enjoy cracking heads, but I do enjoy games with little no dialogue from your character. If I''m going to be playing the character I want to like him/her. Its easier to like a character when what he/she''s saying is left up to me to guess, instead of some of the dim witted remarks I''ve heard, or them being a complete jerk. When you''re reading a book it''s a little different, I don''t have to like the main character or his/her decisions to like the book because I''m not put in control of his/her actions.

Also I have a tendency of liking characters who are shy or the silent type because I decide what is really going on in his/her mind.

but thats me = P

~There''s always comfort in anonymity~

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Aaaah A classic question for Game Masters !
The two styles are useful. But rather than babble too much, allow me to illustrate.

"You enter a dark room, at least 10 meters deep, 3 meter wide, and equally large. Before you there is a long dinner table, the seats on either side are richly carved. The table is set, silver spoons and China dishes. Delicate foods remains are still there. On either side of the room, you can see full armours, standing proudly in front of different crests you cant recognise. Opposite to you, you can see two candles slowly pulsing with a surreal red colour...
Then suddenly the candles move, and appearing in the light, you can see before you a tall horned creature, drooling with what appears red saliva (or is it blood), its two red glowing eyes staring at you with great envy ...
What do you do ?"


"You enter the host dinner room. As soon as you enter, a dreadful creature stands up, and stare at you with its glowing red eyes. You barely have time to see the furnitures and the statues all over the room that it starts growling at you in a menacing manner."

The first example tries to create an atmosphere. You are in a dinner room, it''s a rich place, it''s dark, quiet. Then the creature appears, contrasting with the surroundings.

The second approach emphasizes the action. Giving only the important details (it''s a big room, with furnitures that can be used during conbat). As the action evolves, the Game Master can describe more details, generally in relation to the action. For instance "You climb on the table to attack the creature, but it avoids you and attacks your partner. Where the demon was standing you can now see a massive carving in the wall representing a battle scene. Later in the fight, the clever players will observe the carving and realise that the demon they are fighting is pictured there, and being fought with holy water, thus helping the players overcome the demon and helping the gameplaying.

I favor the second approach to avoid, as Wavinator kindly noticed, "putting jam before pigs".

The problem is that the second approach lacks some sort of depth. Which can only given through more details. The trick is to balance the periods where you go in lengthy details and the periods where a fast pace is much more appropriate.

I also like the way names can be so evocative. Starcraft is such a good example of that MAgic the Gathering (a trading card games) is also very effective at it, through the use of an illustration and a short flavor text, they have created a rather intersting and evocative background in which the player evolve.
I particularly love the way some adjective can suddenly transform a simple object into a precious artefact. It''s not a sword, it''s a Sword of Goblin Slaying.
It''s not a troll, it''s a Great Horned Troll, or a Valley Troll.

This power of evocation is really nice, but if there is no way for the user to go deeper and know why on earth there is a difference between a Great Horned and a VAlley troll, then this leads to frustration.
At least for people like me, who like to ask "Why?"

Not very helpful, but my two cents anyway As you have noticed, there is no clear cut answer, rather the judicious use of the correct tool for the correct task...

youpla :-P

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Which one of these does a game such as Half-life use?

Although there is little dialogue, there is just enough do provide the player with an idea of what is happening, enough to create an atmosphere, and you are constantly fed these tiny bits of information which leaves you hungering for more. I like this approach but can it be done effectively with other genres, as it has been with Half-life?

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