BAD TITLES


So the months or years of work are almost over, the last line of code falls into place, the compilation runs successfully, and that game idea you once posted to raif is now on the verge of becoming reality. You're only left with one question: what do you call it?

A far-fetched scenario, I know -- game ideas posted to raif never become reality -- but it is striking how often the title of a work is an afterthought, or a placeholder that somehow gets stuck on the finished product (Rameses is a placeholder title I've never been entirely happy with). This is striking because titles are very important. The title of a game is the first thing we see; our reaction to a game begins when we see its title, and often ends there too.

And what's more, as we play the game, we keep reacting to its title. It's constantly in mind. If the title gives us questions, we want them answered; if it gives us promises, we want them delivered. Otherwise we get angry. Well, I do, anyway.

What makes a good IF title? I think this question is best answered by looking at what makes a bad IF title -- or specifically, by looking at some actual bad IF titles. Note that I'm reviewing the titles here, not the games themselves -- many of which I haven't played. (Usually because the titles put me off.)


Journey from an Islet

Surely the most anticlimactic IF title ever. "Islet" is such an anticlimactic word to begin with: it's almost an island, but it isn't. "Island" is an evocative word: it's a romantic place on the high seas, it's where pirates rest and treasure is buried, it's a paradise with palm trees, it's where you're shipwrecked and stranded, it's a place of exile, a lonely place. "Islet" is none of these. "Island" activates a web of phrases: "spice islands", "island mentality", "tight little island", "no man is an island" and so on. "Islet" doesn't. An islet is a little slip of land adjoining something bigger. It sounds like a journey from it would take about twenty seconds.

"Journey from" is itself a poor choice: who cares where a journey is from? A journey is about the travelling and the place you're going to, not the place you've just left.

The Enterprise Incidents

"Enterprise" leads me down an uninviting Trek path, and an "incident" is an unremarkable event. This could be going for the understatement of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", but somehow, an incident seems so much more underwhelming when it's in the plural.

Whom the Telling Changed

Call me an old prude, but I prefer titles to be names for things, and not relative clauses --especially when the relative pronoun is a pedantic 'whom'. Such titles can work (Where Eagles Dare is quite snappy) but "the telling" just pushes the bombast over the limit, I'm afraid.

All Things Devours

This is a truly excellent game, one of the best of the last five years, and you should definitely play it if you haven't. But the title is a bad idea: a quote fragment that looks careless and ungrammatical out of context. It doesn't even look that good in context, taken as it is from Tolkien's riddle "This thing all things devours" -- one of his clumsiest inversions, and that's saying something. The riddle's link to the game is rather tenuous -- it would have been better off without any mention of it, let alone such a prominent one.

Temple of the Orc Mage

Perhaps a very helpful title, since it so clearly advertises that the game is something I would never conceivably want to play.

The Light: Shelby's Addendum

An ugly Trek colon, followed by a most unappealing promise. I'm not sure I want to know about Shelby's addendum, to be honest. I suspect I would prefer Shelby to keep his addendum to himself.

Grayscale

Just too boring.

E-Mailbox

Even more boring.

On Optimism

Pretentious, like the title of an adolescent poem -- and it is! If the title were just Optimism, it could be a game with a bit of optimism in it somewhere. On Optimism, though, promises a thorough and considered meditation on the subject. With a title like that, the game is probably going to fall on its arse -- and it does!

Windhall Chronicles Part One: Path to Fortune

Few things make a game look lame and unwanted more than a never-followed-up "part one" in the title. And few words make a title look cliched more than "chronicles" or "fortune".

Christian Text Adventure #1

Another forlorn part one. The rest of the title displays contempt for both its intended audience, who obviously just want generic text adventure product, and the rest of us, who are practically told to fuck off. Imagine a title as offensive as "Aryan Text Adventure", and you've imagined a title just like this.

GC: A Thrashing Parity Bit of the Mind

Also known as MIT Geek Text Adventure #47.

The Beetmonger's Journal

The private writings of a tuber salesman are likely to be as interesting as those of any random person, I suppose, which is not at all. Give me a better reason to read someone's journal, please.

Or maybe this is the trade paper for beet retailers. In which case it's even less interesting.

Adoo's Stinky Story

Puerile. Leads me to expect a fart joke before turn 3.

The Fat Lardo and the Rubber Ducky

Here, on the other hand, I expect a fart joke before turn 1.

Spodgeville Murphy and the Jewelled Eye of Wossname

If the title plunges to such depths of unfunny, then I dread to think of the jokes in the actual game.

Episode in the Life of an Artist

Whether it's meant seriously or ironically, a game is never going to live up to such a pretentious Berlioz-aping title, and indeed the worst-ever XYZZY winner doesn't even come close.

Jacks or Better to Murder, Aces to Win

"Jacks or Better" is a good title; "Aces to Win" not quite as good; "Jacks to Murder, Aces to Win" significantly worse; and the full thing is worse still. It's just lots of words in service of a weak pun.

The Obscene Quest of Dr Aardvarkbarf

Tells me I'm in for some tiresome fratboy crap.

My First Stupid Game

With no doubt much to be modest about.

Dreary Lands

Dreary indeed.

Large Machine

Bad Machine is a good title. The Incredible Machine is a good title. Large Machine is just faint praise.


Oh, and best IF title ever? Chicks Dig Jerks.


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