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Old 10-24-2002, 04:29 PM   #1
Join Date: Apr 2002
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Assuming all the functional requirements will be met, including quests, intelligent NPCs, legible grammar, and all that...what concepts or rules of thumb can you apply to make the area aesthetically pleasing, not just in the way it is written, but in a reader's mental image of the area?

A lot of concepts that you might use in real-life architecture just don't seem to work well on muds, given that people are reading about the spaces rather than actually seeing them.  For instance, repetition in architecture is an extremely useful means of creating a transitional space, but repetition in muds is often just boring.

You can use contrast in text coloring to focus a reader's attention on a word, but it is difficult to translate that focus onto the mental image the word is supposed represent.  If anything, it most often detracts, unless you are talking about a subject (such as blood, darkness, or water) that is already heavily associated with a particular color in a typical mudder's mind.

Also, can anyone point out some good reading material on this or related subjects?
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Old 10-25-2002, 10:35 AM   #2
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I created a set of building tips, that I have posted on our website. here is the link to the site. Just click on building help.

Darkened Legends

Otherwise, I envision the rooms or scenery in my mind and describe what I see. Not from a point of someone telling me you see this or that, but envision myself in the room and describing what I see as I look around.

This is not always easy for other people but that is what I do.

Hope these help.
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Old 10-25-2002, 10:47 AM   #3
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My head builder likes to use room echos that involve the players in some conversations of passer byers .

Here is an example -

Player enters room, maybe hangs out, if they are they long enough, the room fire's a random echo.

Some girls walk in snickering to eachother.

Can you believe what Fortras did?

He is drunk again and he gets a little frisky, I hope my dad doesn't
catch him drunk or else he will be fired.

The girls leave giggling.

so the players will of course see the girls as they walk around, but a balance between the recho's and the mobiles works very well.

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Old 10-28-2002, 04:07 AM   #4
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Hey Bria, come work with me!

Well, since you HB on two muds already I won't belabor the point but I have to admit most of your posts have been dead on true in my opinion.
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Old 10-28-2002, 01:28 PM   #5
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Well done areas on a MUD take a combination of skills, both technical and artistic.  The actual building itself takes a measure of technical skill (especially on an LPMud where rooms can have active code in them).  The descriptions of the rooms take the skills of a creative writer, which is difficult to reduce to a series of rules, though I can make a few suggestions.

Number one: room descriptions are more akin to writing a short story than a novel.  You need to keep the description short and to the point and capture the attention of the reader quickly.  Writers speak of the 'hook', a turn of phrase which keeps your audience reading.

Number two: Theme.  You should have a firm idea of the theme of the area in your mind and carry it out not by spacial repetition, but by descriptive 'motifs' which tie the area together.  It helps if you can visualize the area in your mind.

Number three:  Atmosphere: The main description of the room needs to be evocative of the atmosphere of the room.  One way I do this to use loaded adjectives and specific synonyms.  Pay attention to the connotations of a word and use a good thesaurus. The better ones will give shades of meaning for the various synonyms.

For instance, I have an area with a middle-eastern atmosphere.  I could have called the central market a 'market', but I call it a 'souk' instead.  There are many connotations loaded into the word souk that just aren't there in the word market.   Or consider the sequence of words 'valuables', 'treasure', 'loot' and 'booty'.

Number four: God is in the details.  The main description of the room needs to be short enough to  be grasped quickly, but most codebases allow you to add 'extra descriptions' to a room which a player can see if they look at them.  My policy is to make an extra description for every (significant) noun in the main description.  For instance, a table described as a 'wooden table' in the room description might have an extra description of 'A sturdy oak table darkened with age.  The surface is scarred and marked with the stains of heavy use.'

Number five: Smells and Sounds.  If your codebase allows it, smells and sounds can add depth to an area.  In the mudlib I work with, a player can sniff or listen in an area to see smell and sound messages, or they will see them as the description of the room if it is too dark for them to otherwise see.

Number six: Dynamic descriptions.  Again, this will depend on your codebase, but I tend to make the descriptions of my rooms vary by time of day:  Differences between the day and night descriptions at the very least such as candles being lit at night (I also make the smells and sounds different during the day and night.)

Number seven: Research.  This of course depends on the theme of your area, but see if you can find real world examples of what you are trying to build.  Look at pictures, research the technical architectural terms.  Is that archway a rounded roman arch, a pointed gothic arch or an ogee-shaped middle-eastern arch?  Are the walls timber-framed stone or wattle-and-daub?  Is that ceiling a barrel vault or a groin vault?
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Old 10-28-2002, 03:54 PM   #6
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From a coder, I look at Ogma's post and think wow, this is a guy who has his stuff down. And he puts it in such a way that it becomes algorithimically possible to duplicate.

I will talk about what I think are the top three points, and then add a comments about one that I find very intriguing.

The most important bullet of his post, is God is in the Details. Yes it's tedious to get all the verbs to have extra descriptions, and it takes longer, but it makes the world more robust. If every verb is quest related then it quickly becomes a boring 'finding the verb to solve the quest'. But if the verbs all have special descriptions the world takes on it's own shape. The tree that you sit under becomes more three dimensional, the bench you sit on becomes a special place. VERBs, Verbs, Verbs.

The Second one to pay attention to is Atmosphere. A game revolves around it's atmosphere. Myst wouldn't be such a cool game if it was on a sunny island, with cool and gentle breezes. It's dark and foreboding. Use a theasuarus to get the idea across. Use it, Love it. And here again, God is in the Details. If you want a haunted house, have it creak, have nails sticking out of the floor boards, a staircase becomes a rickity staircase, with missing steps. A closet becomes a dark chasm where the clothes of the past haunt.

Three: Hook the reader. This one is probably the most difficult, especially in a non-dynamic mud. Try to figure out what the room is centered around. Is it the firepit in the middle of camp? Or is it the Tree in the Glade. Make the room feel unique to the others, because in everyroom (even Wilderness areas) there is something unique about it. Combine the other two with this last one to make the room have 'feeling'.

And to the one I find interesting: RESEARCH.
Some would think that this is the most important issue. But really it shouldn't be an issue at all. It's what happens when the original idea is inspired. If you want to make an Oriental Area, you had best the heck know something about the Oriental lifestyle. If you are going to make an Irish Spring, then you better understand the type of things that make Ireland: Ireland. It's a must have, and therefore shouldn't have to be mentioned. But, (isn't there always one! we are in the business of providing fantasy (Sci-Fi, or Fantasy, take your pick) and not everything has something you can research. So you had best come up with a reason why the area you are working on is the way it is. Even if the players don't know it. This turns Research into Planning. And planning is essential.

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Old 11-01-2002, 08:24 PM   #7
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I myself have built a variety of areas for about three years now, each with a style that does not remain constant with all the others. Currently I am working a Noble's Mansion, and it is chalk-full of flowery descriptions working with the elegant--and expensive nature of the area.

Personally each area that I build is based on a set of general guidelines--as guidelines can be strayed from when needed.

First off: Depending on your codebase and requests by Admin staff, you may not have to create--or allowed--extra descriptions. When I write a description, I think of the room, and almost blur it, as to focus on main details, leaving the rest for player interpertation. I find it most interesting to see several people using the same interpertation after seeing what the others thought.

Secondly: The description must have a good 'stick to your ribs' kind of size. This means no meager one-liner or a heafty fill-your-buffer-twice kind of deal. I go for the happy medium.

Next: Get your direction straight! If you're in a room and saying that the road goes east and south while code shows that it goes east and west, you've got a problem... I believe (I might be out on a limb here) that code and description should compliment each other.

Neutrality: I find it much easier to write a description when it is in a neutral voice. With no forcing a person to look this way, smell this perticular smell or have a perticular type of hatred. I find it also works best when describing directions...a way to go may be infront or behind you...


Post Script: who here uses a map to help them build their area?
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Old 11-02-2002, 05:25 AM   #8
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Ogma and Ashon both have very valid points. (Though I don't want to be picky, Ashon, but you do mean NOUNS not VERBS).

I'd like to add some points about the RHYTHM of a zone, because that is an important part of the aesthetic expression.

Many Builders forget that a zone is not static, it's meant to be MOVED AROUND in, and that should be considered when building, because it means a lot to the impression you get.

FIRST RULE: All lines should be formatted to about the same length.
Lines that 'spill over' look awful, and you see that in way too many muds.

SECOND RULE: The descs should neither be too long nor too short.

Some people mistake length for quality, but too long descs get spammy, and mainly make players put their brief mode on, (which is the main thing the Builder wants to avoid). A desc that scrolls you out of the screen is plain awful, however well written it may be. Too short descs look puny, and indicate that the Builder wasn't enough interested about the zone to put an effort into describing it. From experience I've found a length between 4 and 8 lines to be ideal.

This is of course where the extra descs come in. They flesh out the zone for those interested, they allow you to keep the main desc short and to the point, and the lazy players can just skip the extras. (Of course, by doing this they might skip some very valuable information too. Serves them right too).

THIRD RULE: The character of the room should have an impact on the desc length.

This means that if the room is part of a 'travelling area', (i.e. a zone that you just pass through on your way to something else), the desc should be comparatively short. Also all descs in a travelling area should if possible be trimmed to about the same length. This makes it look a lot nicer when you move through the area.

On the other hand, a room where the players are supposed to spend a longer time, could and should have a more elaborate desc. This goes for all 'gathering points' like an inn, a pub or a square with a fountain, but also for indoor rooms like castles, churches and manors. It stands to reason that there would be more to look at in the main hall of a nobleman's house, than in a serf's hut or a bare and empty dungeon. The length of the desc should reflect this, as should of course the amount of extra descs.

Another good rule is to keep the main room desc short, if the room is full of objects and/or mobs.

Last, some words about COLOUR:

Personally I think colour should be handled sparsely. I detest Muds that look like over-decorated Christmas trees.

However, colour can and should be used to make orientation a bit easier for the players. This means mainly having different colours for Room names, exits, descs, Mobs and Objects. It also means that some keywords in a desc (for instance a sign) can be highlighted by using colour spots. This should be done sparsely, and the best method IMO is to just use the bold variation of the colour of the main desc.

What colour scheme you choose for your mud is a matter of taste. A good rule however is to avoid too gaudy and contrasting colours. Too dark colours (for instance dark blue on black bottom) should also be avoided, since they can make it awfully hard to read a desc in certain light conditions. Always keep in mind that the main idea with using colour is to enhance the readability. Once you choose the colour scheme you should stick to it, and not allow individual variations. All zones in a mud should have the same colouring, unless there are very strong reasons for deviations.

I've seen some muds where the room colour varies with the sector type, for instance; water rooms blue, forests green, mountains grey, roads yellow etc. At first I thought this a good idea, since it shows directly what kind of terrain you are in. But after testing it a bit, I changed my mind. It gets irritating to the eye when you move around, especially if the sectors change very often. And again, a mud is meant to move around in.

FINALLY: Naturally the main thing that makes a zone is not the length, format or colour of the descs, but the CONTENT of them. After all, muds are text based environments, not graphic. The quality of the text is crucial, but different Builders have different styles, and one isn't necessarily better than another. Some Builders write very poetic and flowery descs, others (like myself) are more matter of fact and prosaic. Both can be equally effective.

What definitely turns me off a zone is if it is filled with typos, grammar errors, exclamation marks and all the other signs of a bad and immature Builder.
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Old 11-02-2002, 11:39 AM   #9
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I heartily agree with Molly on the great majority of the points in her post.  I too, am a fan of taking huge spammy descs and splitting them into extra descs, and especially to bury vital clues en passant.  On our mud we have some very good writers who started out very prosy, but now understand this concept.

On the subject of highlighting words: Even if tastefully done as Molly suggests, I generally don't like reading descriptions interspersed with highlighted text as a way for the builder to tell me there is an extra description in this room.  If there is nothing in the builder's written description that makes me curious about the wall or the floor, then the effect of highlighting 'wall' and 'floor' only sends me the message that I must be stupid for not being so curious.

Finally, on using colour (everyone has an opinion):  On those codebases which offer coloured text,  there is usually an option to turn it off for those die-hards who insist on capturing the look-and-feel of the Telnet Experience.  I personally prefer the varied colour schemes based on sectortype and time-of-day (like SMAUG's - after removing the illegible ones).  When its midnight and I'm in the graveyard fighting skeletons, I don't want to see everything coloured in bright sunny yellow.

But the most important factor to me, when judging any area, even more important than all the numerous and well-intentioned rules of style and good taste is gameplay value.  How do I feel when wandering about this area?  Are there things here that make we want to explore further?  What is the mood?  Do I have a sense of anticipation?  Danger?  Safety?  Or boredom?  I'm sure most of us have spent substantial hours on muds which commited many of these style-gaffs, and although we are right when we want to see them eliminated, we nonetheless kept coming back to these muds because of these other, less-articulatable elements.  For me, this is the make-or-break for an area and a game no matter how tasteful the colour scheme, how tidy the margins, or how correct the grammar.
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Old 11-02-2002, 02:14 PM   #10
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Well, with that much said already, there's little to add - But since noone has posted a link to references that you asked for, I am maybe allowed to point you to the resources our head builder provides, with some excellent links on writing style, and mud building in particular and general:
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