Ghost town

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Note: this article is about the game design phenomenon. For other meanings of "ghost town", see Ghost town (disambiguation).

Ghost town is here used to indicate a style of game design in which an environment which one would normally expect to be populated intentionally lacks NPCs, for the purposes of plot or atmosphere. It is thus-called to distinguish it from abandonitis, in which the absence of NPCs constitutes a design error committed out of laziness or inability.

Characteristics

  • The game is set entirely in a post-apocalyptic scenario - ruins, rubble, deserted bases.
  • You learn an awful lot about absent NPCs, but never actually see one.
  • You find one or more diaries of absent characters.
  • The tendency is common in the magician's nephew and My Apartment genres.

Classic Examples


Advantages

  • Fully implemented NPCs take a lot of work to get right. Removing their direct presence from the story and moving them 'offstage', only seen through their artifacts or writings, can make them vivid and interesting - certainly more so than an underimplemented, wooden NPC.
  • Traditionally IF has cast the player in the role of explorer of ruined/abandoned realms, so this is carrying on a classic theme, one which an IF audience will be familiar with and fond of.
  • The standard IF libraries in most modern systems make implementing this kind of game easy.
  • In IF, unlike a roleplaying game, the player really is interacting with an absent human via an artifact - the game program - so why not make the underlying metagame/subtextual structure of the player/author conversation a feature?

Disadvantages

  • It's been done so many times before.
  • Most non-IF forms of fiction include human interaction as a significant story component, and this is for a reason; human interaction is compelling and interesting. A work that avoids it completely will greatly confine itself.
  • Defining the PC becomes more difficult in the absence of human interaction; this can be a problem, unless you have a strong reason to want an everyman PC.
  • It's hard to keep coming up with new and convincing reasons for the absence of people. This isn't a major issue in itself, but it does impose a limitation on the possible environments a game can be set in.
  • Some of the most interesting development in IF at the moment is in simulating conversations and human interaction; experimentation and development are good qualities in a work.