Preparing a 'Read Me' File

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Improve you scenario's enjoyment by providing a support document for the player.

by Cam Hills (November 1998)

What's a 'Readme' file?

The 'readme' file is a text-based document that is included in many zipped modpack or scenario files. It is written 'free hand' by the author to expand on elements of the modpack / scenario that may benefit from further clarification. It roughly equates to a 'players manual', however typically embraces the author's personal views and explanations on why things have been approached the way they have. It is an optional file, and not necessary to running the game.

The form that these readme files take are many and varied:

From a software perspective, they typically are presented as either simple 'Notepad' files (of the same ilk as the CivII text files), or MS Word files.

From an authoring angle, they can address the barest elements in a couple of brief sentences, or conversely they can be very comprehensive 'essays'. Examples of extensive 'readme' files are: 'Mongols: From Genghis to Kublai Khan' by Harlan Thompson coming in at 8,200 words, while 'The Age of Piracy' by Shay Yates Roberts is a breezy 6,600 words (includes embedded graphics of units and a clever coded message using MS Word).

Quality is the Key

Big is not necessarily better, and here quality will win out over quantity - although these two examples mentioned are strong in both respects.

With the hundreds of scenarios now readily available from the Web, players are increasingly more demanding and discriminating, wanting to maximise the value of their time spent playing CivII scenarios. They are prepared to persist with high quality efforts, while scenarios or modpacks of insufficient labour are likely to be dismissed all too quickly.

Authors posting their efforts on the Web presumably want to share their creations with the CivII community, and the 'readme' file is an effective mechanism to convey the ideas and details behind the work.

Practical Function

From the hard-line practical perspective, the readme file may provide necessary information on changed components to the game. Several scenarios have (frustratingly) not included the pedia.txt file, thereby making it more difficult for the player using version 2.78 (F.W.) to obtain relevant factual data on game elements such as units, World Wonders, terrain, and city improvements. A readme file can provide an alternative reference to the Civilopedia, while also add some historical or more comprehensive information beyond statistics alone.

Furthermore, details on technical aspects such as installation of sound files or the backing up of the default game files may also be addressed in the readme file.

Strategic Role

Beyond explanation of the sheer factual or statistical modifications, the readme file can also present a rationale for strategic approaches that the player may choose to adopt. These may be addressed by individual tribe, allowing the author to better translate the intended role and opportunities available each. If there is a clear game objective in a scenario setting (such as; accumulate over 20,000 gold by 1750 AD, take control of "New York", or wipe out the Inca tribe) this may be an appropriate place to discuss the goal further.

Enriching the Theme

Some modpack and scenario authors have gone to very considerable lengths to take into account the historical or literary accuracy of their works. Detailed discussion on the milieu in which the scenario has been framed, including narrative of important occurrences (such as discoveries of note, or the seizing of power by historical figures) and the responses of the various nations to those events lend extended meaning and rationale to the game. Better understanding of the setting will usually lead to better overall appreciation of the scenario or modpack.

Roll the Credits

To say; "it is not uncommon that some graphics (in particular) in many scenarios and modpacks are often copied from other scenarios and modpacks" would be an understatement. Occasionally this duplication also extends to other game aspects such as sound files or design ideas. It is good conduct (if nothing else) to acknowledge the sources of any work that has been 'borrowed' from elsewhere - although sometimes the actual originating point may be hard to find. It is germane to give credit in the readme for other assistance including web sites or books from where inspiration and/or factual information was derived, plus thanks to individuals who may have play tested or contributed to the scenario / modpack in some way.

In Summary

The readme file is a useful addition to almost all scenarios and modpacks of any complexity. It gives the author extra scope to address technical aspects, provide guidance on playing approaches, extend colourful detail on the setting, and provide credit to the game's contributors.

Remember however that this is an optional file and take whatever form the author sees as appropriate. It may be counter-productive in some cases to set out too many details, with half the enjoyment for the player being 'left in the dark'.

Good scenarios almost without exception include a readme file to accompany the scenario or modpack, be it by spelling out details, or by 'enriching the ambiance'.

Ten Things to consider for your 'Read Me'

1. Scenario full name and author(s),
2. Brief description and scenario rationale,
3. Minimum game requirements, and notes to recent enhancements if this is not the first version of the scenario / modpack,
4. Special installation instructions, and a list of files in the zipped package,
5. Elaboration of the scenario setting, including notes on factors such as; the map, tribes, events of note, length of scenario,
6. Discussion of any rules, game objectives and possible strategic approaches,
7. Details on new or modified units, Wonders, terrain, city improvements, technologies,
8. Changes to global settings and the recommended level of difficulty (Chieftain to Deity),
9. Concluding remarks on design or other factors of interest,
10. Credits / Thanks / References.

TABLE NOTE: This is neither a prescriptive nor obligatory list necessarily, nor for that matter a conclusive / all-encompassing list, however it may act as a useful prompt for scenario designers.