IF Cliches

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There are some recurring themes and elements in IF that have been so overused they make seasoned players groan. Usually you want to think again before you make a story using one of these. Unless you're very, very good and can put a creative twist on it. Virtually all of these cliches have figured prominently in excellent games, but that won't stop your audience groaning at them if they have to endure them again.

See discussion on Talk:IF Cliches for the future of this page

Abandonitis 
When there is no population in a place that would have a lot of people. When used intentionally, it is ghost town. Also see Abandonitis.
Acid Whiplash 
For no apparent reason, you must wander through a series of utterly disconnected environments, sometimes as utterly disconnected characters. Some might be surreal, or they might just feel that way because you've no idea what's going on. A cheap excuse for an author to rope together a bunch of incomplete games to something comp-length, and a great demotivator for players - all they're looking for is the trigger to the next head-jump.
Amnesia 
A very overused cliche. The PC has amnesia, and must wander about. Is also accompanied by flashbacks. Also see Amnesia.
Combinatorial Explosion 
See Combinatorial explosion
Conversational Explosion 
The conversation-menu equivalent of Combinatorial Explosion, if you choose to implement conversations using branching trees. At some point you'll need to prune the conversation tree by dropping back to generic responses, or ignoring or consolidating the past state of the conversation into something approaching sanity. The trick is how to do it while avoiding the dreaded Lawnmower Effect (see below).
Cutscene 
See Cutscene
Dungoneers Anonymous 
See Heroic fantasy
Fingers McFlashback
See Flashback, Psychometry.
Guess The Verb 
See Guess-the-verb.
Jail Cell 
See jail cell, Jailbreak games.
Kleptomania 
See Kleptomania
Lawnmower Effect 
What happens when you use conversational menus and all of the options can, and should, be asked about at each conversation node. The player just goes through efficiently mowing them up like a lawnmower. Essentially you've spent a lot of time and effort to simulate a non-interactive cutscene.
Magician's Nephew 
See Magician's Nephew
Meta-IF 
See Games about IF
My College Dorm Room, My Hilariously Dysfunctional Workplace, My Messy Bedroom 
moved to My Apartment
Painted On 
A cliche that's easy to avoid in a good programmable IF system like Inform or TADS, but was a constant nuisance in low-powered systems like AGT. An untakeable object or unrepeatable event is mentioned in a room description, and remains so even after it has long passed from relevance to pure farce, because the room description has no means of being modified. Usually a very early novice mistake.
Reality Confusion 
The game has multiple levels of reality in it, usually dreams, but they could be virtual reality or psychic flashforwards/flashbacks. Often it is not obvious while you are playing which segment is dream and which is reality. Sometimes you can >WAKE UP, sometimes you can't. This can be fun, just don't overuse it. '*** It was all a dream ***' is not usually a satisfying ending in itself.
Red Key, Blue Key 
There are multiple locked doors and you need to collect matching keys. Another really, really old cliche. In fantasy they're actual keys made of different metals; in a science fiction game they're colour-coded passcards. (Hello Doom). Try to think of a more interesting way to meter out progress than just collecting keys.
Space Cadets Anonymous 
You are Lieutenant Gr'abThar, Away Team Leader of the Confederation Space Cruiser Cloudvassal, half-Vulcan half-Klingon technician with pointy ears and infravision goggles, wielding the +3 tachyon-multiplied phase-blaster of Redshirt Slaying... zzz... Captain has lost communications with the colony outpost... zzz... Same problem. Your space setting needs some kind of twist to distinguish itself.
Stumbler, In Darkness 
See Light puzzle
Tab A In Slot B 
Your game has a puzzle (often a mini- Treasure Hunt) involving several objects which can only ever be used for this one specific purpose, after which they are inactivated, permanently welded together or otherwise exhausted. Essentially it's a lock-and-key puzzle wearing a thin disguise. It's often made worse by the objects being ones which the player would reasonably expect to have multiple applications: sticks, money, blades, universal gizmos. A better approach would be to allow multiple uses for objects, and potentially multiple solutions, though this raises the spectre of Combinatorial Explosion.
Through the Rabbit-Hole 
You were an ordinary kid until an interdimensional nexus sucked you into a magical fantasy land. Where you can suddenly wield a sword as if you'd been doing it for twenty years. And you are now referred to as Bivotar. And the fate of the world lies in your hands. This is a great way to enable an author to use the My College / Messy Room / Workplace genre and a stock heroic-fantasy or sci-fi genre in the same game, perhaps in the misguided belief that each will erase the sins of the other.
Treasure Hunt 
The game, or part of it, is about searching a locale for objects (generally cunningly hidden or obstructed in some way), which you must then bring back to a place, an NPC, or assemble into some kind of machine. In its rawest form the search is for real treasures (see Trophy Case), but nowadays such raw greed is usually hidden under a discreet euphemism. Treasure hunting is an efficient way to force the player to explore the environment and make sure plot events happen in the right sequence, but can get extremely tedious if the objects aren't interesting in their own right.
Trophy Case 
The object back in or near the adventure's starting room where you need to deposit all your *TREASURES* in order to score points, this being the entire purpose of the game. Almost completely vanished from modern games (hardly present even in Infocom's games, other than Zork), this was at one time perhaps the oldest cliche of them all. Colossal Cave had it; many of the Scott Adams games had it. Vestigial scoring mechanics remain in both Inform and TADS just to handle this situation.
Walking Books 
The NPCs in your game are simple keyword-response bots who give you canned one-line responses. Almost exactly as if they were books you were >CONSULTing. The only puzzle revolves around knowing what phrase to >ASK them about (or item to give them). By contrast, they may become distinctly chatty within cutscenes. Give them a bit more colour by adding multiple responses and flavour text for actions they do on their own.
The Wumpus' Revenge 
See Maze.
You Can't See That Here 
Your game lists objects in the room description that you haven't bothered to implement as objects in their own right. More of a nuisance than a cliche, but at some point almost every game will run out of simulation detail and resort to generic messages. The fewer nouns you leave unimplemented, the better though.
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