Info dumps and exposition in your story writing?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Kwerty, Aug 16, 2018.

  1. Kwerty

    Kwerty Veteran Veteran

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    The purpose of the thread is to hopefully create a talking point + maybe help people to identify and consider removing unnecessary info dumps within their creative writing.

    -- Something I've been aware of when writing the plot line and story for Path Of A Samurai has been the way we deliver information to the player.

    If you want to take a look at the project you can do so here..


    For me I feel (and hopefully you do too), a big part of value in our respective stories is within how it is delivered to our players. - To deliver our story/setting/information delivery in a way that doesn't lay out a ton of information in one go upon the player at one time, but instead to allow the information to be delivered in a digestible or "natural" way. Hopefully as an aid in helping to build suspense and mystery.

    Fantasy seems to be the most prevalent for "info dumps", since a lot of the fantasy type settings do need explaining (hey! it's a new world after all with it's own rules, species, social classes magic systems and, sometimes quite lengthy history too!)

    Avoiding the "wheel barrow" effect can be time consuming and a bit of a drain for any writer since the delivery of information requires structure and a logical delivery + timing.

    Working on a "need to know" basis seems to be the safest option for information delivery during a story. Being critical on the what, when and how seems to be the key - do you agree?

    You've likely seen that the most common place for an info dump is at the start of a game/story and may take the form of a heavy text content or a long played out sequence.

    Do you agree that as story writers, if we can find, fix and remove these, our written work will be infinitely stronger?

    Can you think of any games that have done info dumps, only for us as players to be mashing the skip button?

    I hope the post helps people to identify when this happens in their own writing (thinking about it will certainly help me with my own writing projects!)
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2018
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  2. Frogboy

    Frogboy I'm not weak to fire Veteran

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    I, and I'm guessing most others around here, agree that info dumps are generally bad story telling. I will always strive for showing instead of telling if it's at all possible. I also like to throw in hints and references to lore that's not explained but can be pieced together or have the blanks filled in by the player. It's a good way to get them to want to know more about your world.
     
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  3. Tai_MT

    Tai_MT Veteran Veteran

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    I find that a person can avoid info dumps by simply thinking, "what does this character know?". If one character is explaining something to another character who doesn't know anything about it, it's no longer an "info dump". Especially if that other character needs to know something.

    But, for the most part, characters should just carry on normal conversations. A player can infer whatever they need to know just from basic conversations characters have.

    You need not say, "Only women can wield elemental magic in this setting". You need only have every person who uses Elemental Magic be a woman.

    In short, you dump zero information, except from one character to another, to explain something that they would've never known about. Otherwise, the way characters act, interact, and talk to each other is really all a player needs to infer anything about your world or setting.
     
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  4. consolcwby

    consolcwby (2015: afk...) 2018: BAK! :P Veteran

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    Imho, info dumps are a lazy way to convey IMPORTANT information. (worse if the info is unimportant.) To me, if I can't kill 2 birds with one stone then it's subpar.

    Generally, I do much of this with conversations - since I can convey three things at one time:
    1) Specific quest info, including color
    2) Characterisation
    3) Relationships (not only between characters, but also with location, lore, and reasonings)

    Honestly, if information does not drive the plot forward, I tend not to use it/edit it out. Remember pacing!
     
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  5. Eschaton

    Eschaton Hack Fraud Veteran

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    I think it is important for a creator to ask him or herself "is this necessary?" and to "kill their darlings."

    I think simplicity tends to be more preferable than complexity in most cases. Star Wars is a classic because its story doesn't ask too much of its audience (the Prequels notwithstanding).
     
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  6. kirbwarrior

    kirbwarrior Veteran Veteran

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    Even a complex story rarely needs to start with all the information at once. It can be picked up on as the game goes on. I remember in one game I was making, the intro was maybe a minute long. It shows a map zoomed in on the nearby areas, the party talks about needing to go north to talk to the alchemist, then west to get to a legendary weapon. Things are put away, then the player gains control. They can leave the campsite right away, or chat up some of the party members for some characterization and information.

    Chrono Trigger is, to me, a good example of pacing. The "tutorial" area (the carnival, but also the nearby landmasses) can be powered through quickly, with plenty to do and learn if the player wants, without hiding information that's necessary (you'll learn about Magus later, you don't need to know why the carnival is happening right away, you'll meet Melchior later, etc.). The overarching story doesn't even start right away and instead enough of the world and gameplay is explained so when the story does come up you know the bare minimum for understanding it and keeping up with it.

    This won't always work with every fantasy story, but building upon things the audience already knows or can easily latch onto helps ease things. You don't need to know how technology works or what a Jedi is or what the planets are to know Luke just wants to leave home and explore other lands (in this case, "worlds").

    To me, the easiest way to check if there's too much information is to playtest your game. Since you're already doing that, you'll be getting that same cutscene and information a ton. If it bores you, it'll bore the player (this really applies to the writing in general).

    The biggest thing to remember is "less is better". Keep taking away anything you can. You can put important information anywhere in the plot, just note the latest possible moment needed to know it, and you can pace it out.

    I hope this makes sense, I'm posting this instead of sleeping.
     
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  7. Eschaton

    Eschaton Hack Fraud Veteran

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  8. richter_h

    richter_h Eh? Sweetroll? Veteran

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    Well, it's widely known that info-dumping is a bad practice; might as well I'd read a book instead of play a game if that's the case.
    Expositions might be necessary to point out something, but mostly it's not necessary to open up everything--"a good book never reveal the entirety of its secrets," if I may say. Although, I'd prefer to give hints of things players may or will find in later chapters; a foreshadowing--especially the subtle one--is an interesting thing that is hard to pull off but a definite satisfactory when it's done well.

    I don't have any guidelines on how to make a good story or how to reduce info dumps, but my rule of thumb is always "get in the shoes of the character in the story." It helps a lot in perceiving the events and/or things in particular.
    Problem is, I get myself in mister-knows-it-all's shoes, so... Yeah, I'm kinda screwed here.
     
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  9. Milennin

    Milennin "With a bang and a boom!" Veteran

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    Speaking of RPG Maker games, what I like is having a short description of what is going on (ideally fitting in 1 textbox), and then have the option to ask for more details if I'm interested in knowing more (preferably split up in a choice menu). That's how I do it in my game. Some players will skip it because they just want to play the game, and others will read the additional information because they want more information.

    What is also important is to provide information only when it's necessary. Chances are, players don't need to know about everything all at once, so spread it out.
     
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  10. atoms

    atoms Veteran Veteran

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    In my current project I don't have info dumps, but I still do some telling instead of showing but each scene that does this is spread throughout the game's story and it's only given one little piece at a time.

    The only reason I choose to tell instead of show is because what information it is is mostly related to a separate story that connects in with this new story and since it all started long before the new story I see it best as being told like a tale then shown. If that makes sense?

    There are still showing scene of main characters pasts in this game's background, but not the ones from years ago, they are told like tales.
     
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  11. XIIIthHarbinger

    XIIIthHarbinger Part Time Super Villain Veteran

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    Frankly I am a bit of lore junkie myself, but I think info dumps are usually a bad idea.

    How to put this,

    I think because so few people infuse depth into their surroundings, they can't use them to "show don't tell". Most books are just titles, most NPCs have one sentence of dialogue, so everything needs to be concentrated into fewer & fewer hands, the less depth you give to the surroundings. I.e. they can't "show don't tell", because their world doesn't show anything.

    I suppose you could think of it like the difference between having a collection of items all stuffed into a Steam Trunk, versus having them arrayed all around the room, where no matter which way you look there some of them are. The quantity of the commodity remains the same, but how it is perceived by the viewer is entirely different.
     
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  12. rue669

    rue669 Veteran Veteran

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    Info dumps are terrible. They slow the story down and almost always bog down the reader. Info dumps are just as bad as "As you know, Bob..." where a character explains something to another character who already knows the thing they're talking about but it's clearly for the benefit of the character.

    Just get into the story. The reader (or player in this case) doesn't need to know how things happened in the beginning. Readers and players are smarter than you think. They can fit pieces together.

    Are info dumps ALWAYS bad though? Not necessarily. They are usually the worst thing to do at the start of a story. As you progress through the story and the player has invested time in the characters and the world, their curiosity will lend itself to having more patience for info dumps. But even then, you have to do it succinctly. It should be to the point. Brevity is key.

    Lore is great, I think. But so many game developers do it wrong. They make it too long or too boring. I've been experimenting with trying to do smaller pieces of lore. No one really wants to sit there and read. If you do, go read a book--that's what books are for. There's a reason people play games and it's for the gameplay. Story is a nice bonus to any game.

    I think Horizon Zero Dawn did an EXCELLENT job of explaining a VERY COMPLEX story. They wove the lore and the mystery of the story into the main quests. It was Aloy's main quest to solve the mystery of her world in order to stop the impending danger. And it didn't happen right away. It happened as we invested more time in Aloy and the people inhabiting their world where we, as players, started asking questions like: Why is the world like this? Why does Aloy have this double named Elisabet Solbek? Etc. etc. If they started with that, no one would care, because you haven't given me a reason TO care.
     
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  13. Hayden

    Hayden Veteran Veteran

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    Generally, info dumps are bad in all writing. I've never read a good book that had lots of it. Good writers generally don't do it.

    I don't know if I agree that they are always the worst at the start of a story. It sort of depends on the story and world itself. In the first Mass Effect for example, at the start it hits you with a bunch of text just dumping world building. Maybe it could've been handled better, but for players new to the series it was enough for them to understand what they needed to.

    Totally agree on this. I didn't love Horizon as much as I might have as a game, but I thought a lot of the story telling. For a lot of people, that didn't need any info dumps or long exposition to set up either. You could see where they took their inspiration from in nearly everything, including art, culture, themes, etc. That sort of thinking just allows players to jump right in and understand things right away, which is great.
     
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  14. Tai_MT

    Tai_MT Veteran Veteran

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    It doesn't really "info dump" much on you, to be quite honest. It drops you into a world where you know absolutely nothing and then gives you the options to ask people questions about the stuff they've been saying to you. "Kaiden is an L2 Biotic". "What's a Biotic?" "An L2?". "It's a beacon for the ancient race that came before us." "Who were they?" "Why should I care?". "You're taking a test this mission to see if you'll be inducted into the Spectres", "Who are they? What's a Spectre?" "Why me?". Etcetera.

    If you choose not to ask questions, and believe me, that's an option, the game doesn't dump any information on you. It puts most of it into your "Codex" in case you care for later. It info dumps you only so long as you ask it do so. And, I think Mass Effect 1 does this VERY WELL because it does a couple things it needs to do. It doesn't Info Dump on a new player and try to get them to remember absolutely everything about this sci fi world. You're invited to explore it, as a result, the player is more likely to remember that info as they're the ones that are asking for it. It also paves the way for players who have already played the game before. If they already know all of this stuff, they lose nothing by not asking the questions and not talking to the other people.

    If you absolutely must dump a lot of worldbuilding on a first time player, Mass Effect is a fantastic way to do it. Let the player get that information by exploring, by asking questions of their own.

    Then again, Dragon Age Origins does this as well. It's from a time when Bioware knew what they were doing. Before they started making games like Andromeda. Origins gives you the basic premise of the story. Legend of the origin of the Darkspawn, why they're a threat, who this guy narrating is, and what his Order is. Then, you're off to character creation. Everyone explains everything to you depending on what class/race you picked, and then before leaving Ostigar. You can skip most of this dialogue if you like, especially on a second playthrough. But, you won't find any of the world building unless you're already invested enough in the setting to ask questions about it. Otherwise, it dumps just enough information on you to set up your basic Origins storyline and why you'll be joining the Grey Wardens, and let's you figure out if you want to know more on your own.
     
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  15. Hayden

    Hayden Veteran Veteran

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    Yeah, I just meant that text intro they used at the start of ME1. It always stood out to me as a perfect length dump of info. After that all the info, as you say, is presented organically. I sorta want to replay ME1 again now haha.
     
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  16. coyotecraft

    coyotecraft Veteran Veteran

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    I think it's important to put this in perspective of a game format. Games aren't books, obviously. I want to start with how setting is delivered first.

    The player walks into town during a festival. There's plenty of npcs around, and in talking to them the player can infer that this is an annul event. Every guardsmen is on duty at this time. The player steps out into the street triggering a cutscene of a parade and the princess riding by on a float. Ah! They're celebrating her birthday. But no one calls it a "birthday" because the princess was literally a direct gift from the gods with divine authority and power to ensure the kingdom's prosperity.

    All that can be broken up into segments at the player's leisure as they move down the street. It's an organic uptake of information because it's a natural social setting to be in with plenty of opportunities to come across in this situation.
    But let's move to a non-social non-organic setting:

    The desolate ruins of an ancient civilization isolated within a lifeless desert. The player is only able to reach the ruins through the dried up aquifers beneath it. Above ground the air is scorching and the player can only move so far under the protection of a magical veil. The player must take clay impressions of any monuments with inscriptions they find within a timelimit. Return to civilization and give them to the 1 scholar who can interpret them.

    The trip can be done in a try-fail cycle. Obtaining inscriptions little by little, as the player learns that inferior tools like wax and parchment won't do, and that clay and the veil are the solution to getting all the inscriptions. The info dump explaining downfall of that lost civilization will inevitably happen all at once, so that it's significance to the ongoing story can be laid bare with a new path revealed. But see, the nature of the reveal is a bottle neck that forced the player to jump through hoops to get it from a single source.

    I'm sorta playing the devil's advocate here. I've personally never encourage the scrolling wall-of-text prologue that some games start with. But I understand that kinds of situational context exist that would be too obtrusive to get across otherwise. Secret histories are better read in an informative paragraph instead of an indirect conversation that's format makes it 3 times longer and challenges the player to listen for what is important, what is biased, and whatever else is meant to engage.
    I'm all for immersion, but taken too far it becomes a distraction. You risk the player getting sucked in too far and everything becomes entertaining happenstance; missing the web of meaning threaded through everything. So to avoid leaving a bad taste in the player's mouth you sometimes have to put up a sign that says "don't eat the plastic fruit" or at least make sure that not so convincing that people don't question why it's there.
     
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  17. VisitorsFromDreams

    VisitorsFromDreams Veteran Veteran

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    Going to reference Dark Souls. Keep dialogue to the point with minimal exposition. Fill out the world and narrative with optional text in optional NPC dialogue, books, item descriptions etc. :thumbsup-left:
     
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  18. eluukkanen

    eluukkanen Composer Veteran

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    It is quite funny how you can create bigger worlds with using the minimal amount of text in dialogue. The world, the music, all parts of the game should help telling the overall story (also including descriptions and whatnot)
     
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  19. VisitorsFromDreams

    VisitorsFromDreams Veteran Veteran

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    Even little things like key item placements can tell a story without words.

    Havel having an occult club stashed away in a secret room in Ano Londo is a great example of storytelling
     
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  20. jlaakso

    jlaakso Warper Member

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    Oh boy! Pretty much my favorite topic in games writing.

    In a wonderful talk at GDC years ago, this was put in the talk's title: "Nobody cares about your stupid story". While it may hurt, it's true!

    What they do care about is stuff that's related to them. You want to know - what can you do in this game? Who are you? What do you want to achieve? Probably in that order. Once you've got the basics down, then you can let the player explore and find out more about things they're curious about.

    If you're good at what you do, you can make all of this come naturally in dialogue and art without needing to explicitly come out and say things. As much as Demons/Dark Souls is thrown around, it gets a lot of narrative technique very right. You can hint at things and let the player imagine the rest. Movies and books do this all the time. For whatever reason, aside from the masters of environmental storytelling, games think it's the other way around.

    The best story bits in games? The lambda symbol in Half-Life. The opening narrative of New Zealand Story: "evil walrus stole my friends!" That's all you need to know to play.

    I'd really concentrate on that last bit: in most cases, your story is getting in the way of the play, when it should be serving it. Stop talking when the player knows what to do (and preferably, why).
     
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