Conversations in IF

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Charles A. Smith

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Aug 6, 2003, 10:04:04 PM8/6/03
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One of the aspects of SUDS that I really liked was the complex conversations
that could be programmed. Now that I have left Andy Elliott's program behind
and taking a look at QUEST, I'd like to hear others' opionions about the
role of conversations in IF (with any program). I want to create
conversations with multiple layers that put new objects and plot elements
into play. Conversational responses can change character states that open up
new threads or close them down.

I have offered many storytelling concerts in public schools and libraries
throughout the U.S. over the years. So character development is something
that I find attractive, more than creating puzzles. I would like the
characters in my stories to seem as natural as possible. I generally prefer
more texture in stories than head scratching. 8^)**

QUEST allows two different avenues of programming. One is the traditional IF
approach of typing

"Ask Mr. Dufus about clowning"
Mr. Dufus says, "....."

QUEST also allows the programmer to offer a menu list that appears in a
seperate window (I think). So this might result in something like (this is a
gross oversimplification of what could happen, not at all consistent with
how QUEST would appear).

[Mr. Dufus mentions he is a professional clown with the Tinkerbell Circus]
Type: "Talk to Mr. Dufus"
Inquiry produces a menu:
1. Ask Mr. Dufus about being a clown
2. Ask him about the Tinkerbell Circus
3. Tell him you think he looks stupid
4. Tell him you have no more questions.

Each question would be followed by a response which could add and subtract
options on the Inquiry Menu.

I'm more interested in hearing about conversational ideas rather than
engaging in a platform debate, although I would certainly like to know if
there are IF programs available with a reputation of being great in
designing conversations.

I admit to being a novice and not familiar with the breadth of good IF that
exists. My limited reading shows a general preference for puzzles over
conversation (which could be a puzzle itself). Thoughts anyone?

Chuck Smith


Rexx Magnus

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Aug 7, 2003, 6:19:55 AM8/7/03
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On Thu, 07 Aug 2003 02:04:04 GMT, Charles A. Smith scrawled:

> I'm more interested in hearing about conversational ideas rather than
> engaging in a platform debate, although I would certainly like to know
> if there are IF programs available with a reputation of being great in
> designing conversations.
>
> I admit to being a novice and not familiar with the breadth of good IF
> that exists. My limited reading shows a general preference for puzzles
> over conversation (which could be a puzzle itself). Thoughts anyone?
>

Personally, I hate trying to engage characters in conversation within a
game. More often than not, it's trying to work out what to ask a
character, and what verbs to use - be it to tell, ask, or talk about
'something'.

That said, if I'm going to need to put conversation in whatever I write,
it'll probably be something simple, like recording when specific actions
have been taken by the player, then simply have the player 'talk to' the
character - which then gives off a predefined conversation script. I
guess that idea might actually break the game in those where the player is
playing as themselves, rather than as a character that already existed
before they came along - if you see what I mean.

--
UO & AC Herbal - http://www.rexx.co.uk/herbal

To email me, visit the site.

Charles A. Smith

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Aug 7, 2003, 8:33:42 AM8/7/03
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"Rexx Magnus" <tras...@uk2.net> wrote in message
news:Xns93D0734D060...@130.133.1.4...

> On Thu, 07 Aug 2003 02:04:04 GMT, Charles A. Smith scrawled:
>
> > I'm more interested in hearing about conversational ideas rather than
> > engaging in a platform debate, although I would certainly like to know
> > if there are IF programs available with a reputation of being great in
> > designing conversations.
> >
> > I admit to being a novice and not familiar with the breadth of good IF
> > that exists. My limited reading shows a general preference for puzzles
> > over conversation (which could be a puzzle itself). Thoughts anyone?
> >
>
> Personally, I hate trying to engage characters in conversation within a
> game. More often than not, it's trying to work out what to ask a
> character, and what verbs to use - be it to tell, ask, or talk about
> 'something'.

Rexx, I agree completely. After a couple of error messages I'm ready to
quit. I think good programming can reduce the frustration immensely, though
I still dislike playing the game within the game called "Guess the word(s)
the programmer wrote."

> That said, if I'm going to need to put conversation in whatever I write,
> it'll probably be something simple, like recording when specific actions
> have been taken by the player, then simply have the player 'talk to' the
> character - which then gives off a predefined conversation script. I
> guess that idea might actually break the game in those where the player is
> playing as themselves, rather than as a character that already existed
> before they came along - if you see what I mean.

For me, what you describe is only the launching point. I'm not talking about
irrelevant conversation just for "color." Conversation threads should affect
the story and each other. Tell the Old Man about something you need deep
into a conversation and later in the game he brings it from home to give it
to you or shares information you need. Or another character's conversation
is influenced by what you said to the Old Man.

I think the only way to do this "cleanly" with no frustration is a dynamic
(not static) menuing system triggered when you "talk to" someone. SUDS
conversations could achieve this quite well. I think Quest with its parser
is much more flexible and powerful than SUDS. I'm not sure about ADRIFT.
Don't know for sure about the heavy hitter programs like INFORM. It may be
something that has to be sacrificed to achieve cross-platform
implementation.

If I understand QUEST properly, I can program a window to pop up to present
a menu. Purists may argue that this gives too much away to the user. But
conversational choices can matter. At this point, I would rather be more
explicit about conversational options to reduce frustration.

In my view, the best stories engage users by creating a fascinating
environment and populating it with interesting characters. Meaningful
conversations are needed to achieve immersion. There are other ways to
challenge users than sprinkling physical puzzles throughout a story.

Chuck Smith


davidw

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Aug 7, 2003, 8:46:14 AM8/7/03
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Someone with the unlikely name of Scurvy Sockpuppet once wrote a
decent conversation demo for Adrift - different system but the basics
are probably transferrable to Quest. The demo is still available from
the main Adrift site.

Al Terer

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Aug 7, 2003, 1:52:11 PM8/7/03
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On Wed, 6 Aug 2003 21:04:04 -0500, "Charles A. Smith"
<cas...@ksu.edu> wrote:

>One of the aspects of SUDS that I really liked was the complex conversations
>that could be programmed. Now that I have left Andy Elliott's program behind
>and taking a look at QUEST, I'd like to hear others' opionions about the
>role of conversations in IF (with any program). I want to create
>conversations with multiple layers that put new objects and plot elements
>into play. Conversational responses can change character states that open up
>new threads or close them down.

<snip>


>I admit to being a novice and not familiar with the breadth of good IF that
>exists. My limited reading shows a general preference for puzzles over
>conversation (which could be a puzzle itself). Thoughts anyone?

I'd recommend taking a look at some Inform games by Emily Short -
Galatea, Best of Three, Pytho's Mask, etc. Galatea is the best example
of ask/tell I have ever seen. Best of Three uses a combination of
ask/tell and a menu system, and I'm told that Pytho's Mask does the
same thing. I've played both Galatea and Best of Three, very short
games which both consist of a single conversation. Apparently Pytho's
Mask is an actual "game", but also uses a lot of NPC interaction.

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