ask rec.arts.int-fiction about NPC conversation

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James Cole

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May 14, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/14/97
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How ya didalin'

NPC conversation can have a profound effect on the experience of playing a
game. Done well it can add an extra dimension to a game and it's
characters. Done poorly it can make characters seem like cardboard and
also destroy suspension of disbelief. At the moment the 'ask <x> about
<y>' form of NPC conversation seems by far the most prevalant in Infocom
style IF.

I prefer Monkey Island style NCP conversations (A while back I uploaded a
utility for implementing it onto GMD - plug!). Without saying why I think
this form is better than the 'ask <x> about <y>' form, I'd be interested in
the what you think about each of the two forms. What do you think is
better/worse about either of them?

---------------
James Cole
jrc...@ozemail.com.au

Adam Cadre

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May 14, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/14/97
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James Cole wrote:
> NPC conversation can have a profound effect on the experience of
> playing a game. Done well it can add an extra dimension to a game
> and its characters. Done poorly it can make characters seem like

> cardboard and also destroy suspension of disbelief. At the moment
> the 'ask <x> about <y>' form of NPC conversation seems by far the
> most prevalant in Infocom style IF.
>
> I prefer Monkey Island style NPC conversations (A while back I

> uploaded a utility for implementing it onto GMD - plug!). Without
> saying why I think this form is better than the 'ask <x> about <y>'
> form, I'd be interested in the what you think about each of the two
> forms. What do you think is better/worse about either of them?

One thing that's better/worse about the menu-based conversation
system is that in explicitly representing the words of the PC and
restricting the PC's choices to three or four phrasings, one is
casting the PC into a specific characterization, or forcing the
player to select from at most a handful of characterizations. Of
course, if you're writing a game in which the PC is a specific
character rather than a bring-your-own-personality one, this is
actually a benefit rather than a disadvantage. Which is why the
game I'm currently working on will feature a menu-based conversation
system.

-----
Adam Cadre, Durham, NC
obscure Captain America villain
http://www.duke.edu/~adamc

Linards Ticmanis

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May 15, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/15/97
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James Cole wrote:
>
> How ya didalin'

>
> NPC conversation can have a profound effect on the experience of
>playing a
> game. Done well it can add an extra dimension to a game and it's

> characters. Done poorly it can make characters seem like cardboard
>and
> also destroy suspension of disbelief. At the moment the 'ask <x>
>about
> <y>' form of NPC conversation seems by far the most prevalant in
>Infocom
> style IF.
>
> I prefer Monkey Island style NCP conversations (A while back I
>uploaded a
> utility for implementing it onto GMD - plug!). Without saying why I
>think
> this form is better than the 'ask <x> about <y>' form, I'd be
>interested in
> the what you think about each of the two forms. What do you think is
> better/worse about either of them?

Well I have to say I don't like the "menu" style for about the same
reaosns I don't like DOS Shells (like e.g. Windows..). Some reasons:

1.) Typing is quicker once you're used to it, so it distracts less. The
"that's _me_ in the story," as opposed to "that's some puppet I control"
is more there.
2.) You can say exactly what you want in one step, don't have to go
through menus, sub-menus etc.
3.) If you've ever played "Ultima 7" you'll have noted that there's a
problem in that sometimes you want to ask somebody about something you
were't explicitly told to ask about, or maybe that finding out what he
could know about is part of the fun. Another Ultima example, while it's
not IF as such, it certainly is one of the strongest series in NPC
conversation, at least in quantity: In U4 (where NPC conversation was
keyword-based) asking just about everybody about rune, stone and mantra
even though he hadn't mentioned it could save you a lot of time and
trouble, while in similar situations in U7 (menu-based) you had to
follow the whole "line of people with knowledge" to get your final info.
4.) You don't get the feeling "That's all I can say to him? Duh!" which
won't hit you as hard with text input (at least until you txd the
game..)
5.) It fits in better with the text interface. Of course, if you want to
write the second part of "Journey," you'd prefer the other form.
6.) Speaking of "Journey," what does make that game worse than other IF?
It's limited freedom and lack of creativity on the _player_ side. Real
IF is a sort of communication between a creative writer and an also
creative reader/player imho.

Of course, the "ask x about y" just by itself can also be a nuisance (it
is in one place in "Tapestry", an otherwise doubleplusgood game) if it's
not fleshed out with "give x to y", "show x to y", "x, tell me about y",
"x, kiss me" etc. I'll admit that realistic NPC conversation is probably
the weakest point of current IF (and it's about the hardest problem on a
technical level, since it's basically natural language parsing which
would have to be done on a far more complex level than what's needed for
interpreting "normal" commands.)

Taking all into account, if you want many, not-so-deeply implemented
characters, I'd use either a menu system or a keyword system (a la
Ultima 4-6). If you want few (one to maybe three) very fleshed-out
characters (which will probably be guilty of at least doubling your game
code if done realllly wellll) I'd read the parsing chapters in the
Manual of your design system very carefully and then start coding.

(As a side issue, isn't it amazing that deafness seems to be a
wide-spread plague among existing NPCS? E.g. The Old Sailor in BZ, The
Bubble Boy in Trinity, the gravedigger in Wishbringer, etc.)

Appendix: The keyword system of NPC communication, as invented by Lord
British aka Richard Garriot, for those who don't know it.

All characters respond to some standard keywords, "name" means what's
your name, "job" means what are you doing, etc. You can ask about other
one-word topics, gained from what he/she said before, mostly using "job"
as starting point, but most characters will know about one or two more
things only.

Example:

You see a thief with a long stiletto.
>TALK TO THIEF
"Hello to you. Finally somebody who doesn't assume I'm a stong, silent
type without even trying."
>>JOB
"Well, robbing adventurers blind, cleaning up and sometimes even waxing
mazes, carrying bags, and just being a general nuisance. Sometimes I
wield my stiletto as well, and sometimes I even open some tough locks
for others on my social day."
>>MAZES
"Yeah, people tend to use them as garbage disposals, so I clean them up.
Necessary work is often met with disrespect, I assume, but who'd really
like to wade through heaps of rotting small leaflets? Nobody."
>>STILETTO
"Isn't it shiny? I've found out a mixture of grue's spit and dam water
will remove all the bloodstains in seconds. Want me to show you?"
>>YES
Well, as it's currently shiny (didn't you listen?), he had to produce
some stains first.

*** You have died ***

--

Linards Ticmanis

The Master said, "The business of laying on the colors follows the
preparation of the plain ground."

Erik Max Francis

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May 15, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/15/97
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James Cole wrote:

> I prefer Monkey Island style NCP conversations (A while back I uploaded
> a
> utility for implementing it onto GMD - plug!).

By this and the reply I would suppose you're referring to menu-style
conversation choices.

> Without saying why I think
> this form is better than the 'ask <x> about <y>' form, I'd be interested
> in
> the what you think about each of the two forms. What do you think is
> better/worse about either of them?

There was a discussion on this long, long ago, back when I used to
contribute to this newsgroup. In my opinion, the ASK X ABOUT Y and SHOW X
TO Y commands are more open-ended than the menu-drive conversations. With
menu-driven conversations, the questions you're supposed to ask are
obvious and as such it leads you. Not only are you restricted from
choices, but it's also clear when you're supposed to say something,
because it will appear in the menu where it wasn't before:

> TALK TO MOM
"Hello, dear," she says sweetly. "What is it?"

Say:
1. "Where is Dad?"
2. "where is Johnny?"

:1
"Where is Dad?" you ask.

"Oh, he's in the den, honey. Go bother him."
:end

> W
Living Room
There are some curtains here.

> SET CURTAINS ON FIRE
How pretty. Man, are you gonna get your butt whooped.

> E
Kitchen
Mom is here.

> TALK TO MOM
"Can't you see I'm trying to make dinner?" she asks.

Say:
1. "Where is Dad?"
2. "where is Johnny?"
3. "Johnny set a fire in the living room!"

:3
"Johnny set a fire in the living room!" you should excitedly.

"Oh, well that little boy is going to get his . . ."

In this case, it's not only obvious what your choices are, but it's
obvious what you're supposed to (like setting fire to a house should be
part of an IF game).

The alternative seems much cleaner to me -- where a certain well-defined
set of conversation verbs are used to communicate with the other
characters in well-defined ways. Basically the words are more like
keywords, with TELL MOM ABOUT FIRE being more concise then entering some
two-way dialog:

> TELL MOM ABOUT FIRE
"What the! Who did it? Who did it?" she yipes, while running around
looking for towels, as if that will help.

> SAY [or ANSWER] JOHNNY
"Oh, that little boy is going to get it! . . ."

There can be a host of these verbs, such as ASK PRINCIPAL ABOUT PADDLE,
SHOW GUN TO TROLL, SAY HALLELUJAH, ANSWER NO, etc.

These seem to make it much more a game than just picking the right
multiple choice answer -- or, in the case where a new answer pops up,
pickign the only obvious answer.

--
Erik Max Francis, &tSftDotIotE / email / m...@alcyone.com
Alcyone Systems / web / http://www.alcyone.com/max/
San Jose, California, United States / icbm / 37 20 07 N 121 53 38 W
\
"The future / is right there."
/ Bill Moyers

Daniel Cardenas

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May 16, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/16/97
to

Wow, a thread about NPC conversation! :-) We already have such an
interesting conversation in this matter in the spanish newsgroup
es.rec.juegos.comp.aventuras, but there is no much interest and lately I
was left all by myself.

Sincerely, I don't like the menu-driven style. Like Steven points this
have to ve done very carefully. And I think this is a widespread
problem, I know that Shannara from Legend suffers from it, too.

Most of the Spanish games are not based in the '[ask|tell] him about
topic'. They use the 'tell "free_text:_put_here_what_you_want"'. It is
supposed that the programmer use keywords to implement possible
responses:

_>tell "hello, what a beutiful day"
The NPC tells you "Hi if fans!"

Here the keyword was HELLO, but it's not necessary we have only one. We
can detect one (HELLO) and use some others (MIKE/GLORIA) to help getting
the meaning of the sentence:

_>tell "hello Mike"
The NPC tells you "Hi Daniel"

_>tell "hello Gloria" (He is actually Mike)
The NPC says "Gloria? My name's Mike!"

Ok, this was a stupid example, here you have another...

Tom ask you "Have you seen Gloria?"

1. >say "yes"
Tom asks you "where have you seen her?"

>reply "in the living room, he is expecting you."
Tom says "Nice. Good bye" and goes down.

2. >say "yes, he is in the living room"
Tom says "Thanks" and goes down.

3. >say "I'm sorry. No."
Tom says "Ok. I will continue looking for her."

I think using more than one keyword (like in the ask/tell formula), can
give more adequate responses, but you have to use it carefully:

_> tell "hello, have you seen Gloria"
The NPC says "Gloria? My name's Mike!"

Apart from being more difficult to implement, it can help giving a
feeling of freedom.

-- Daniel Cardenas
Spanish Quest: http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Dungeon/2687


James Cole

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May 16, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/16/97
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Linards Ticmanis <Linards....@post.rwth-aachen.de> wrote:

>James Cole wrote:
>>
[..]


>
>Well I have to say I don't like the "menu" style for about the same
>reaosns I don't like DOS Shells (like e.g. Windows..). Some reasons:
>
>1.) Typing is quicker once you're used to it, so it distracts less. The
>"that's _me_ in the story," as opposed to "that's some puppet I control"
>is more there.
>2.) You can say exactly what you want in one step, don't have to go
>through menus, sub-menus etc.

I think the description "menu style" slightly misleads how the technique I
was talking about works. The way I was thinking of it -- the way Monkey
Island implements it -- it seems more like a list than a typical menu.
There also aren't any "sub-menus". You can either: navigate through the
choices with the keyboard, selecting your choice with the enter key; click
on a choice; or type the number of the choices' position in the list (of
choices). In the TADS utility I made this last method is the only way
available to select your choice. So it's barely more than the one step of
the ask <x> about <y> form -- you just type something like 'talk to Elaine'
and then, as the conversation ensues, just press the numbers of the
corresponding to the things you want to say.

[...]


>
>Of course, the "ask x about y" just by itself can also be a nuisance (it
>is in one place in "Tapestry", an otherwise doubleplusgood game) if it's
>not fleshed out with "give x to y", "show x to y", "x, tell me about y",
>"x, kiss me" etc. I'll admit that realistic NPC conversation is probably
>the weakest point of current IF (and it's about the hardest problem on a
>technical level, since it's basically natural language parsing which
>would have to be done on a far more complex level than what's needed for
>interpreting "normal" commands.)

I wonder though, is stuff like natural language parsing really that good an
idea? If the game could understand natural language (or even something
close to it) then you'd have an emense task working out what the NPC is
going to say in response. In other terms, if you can converse with an NPC
just as you would with a real person you'd expect them to also talk to you
just like a real person would.

[...]

>All characters respond to some standard keywords, "name" means what's
>your name, "job" means what are you doing, etc. You can ask about other
>one-word topics, gained from what he/she said before, mostly using "job"
>as starting point, but most characters will know about one or two more
>things only.
>
>Example:
>

[example snipped]

Has this been done in an IF game?

---------------
James Cole
jrc...@ozemail.com.au

James Cole

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May 16, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/16/97
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bl...@ibm.net (Steven Howard) wrote:

>In <3379b653...@news.netspace.net.au>, jrc...@ozemail.com.au (James Cole) writes:
[...]
>
>I haven't played Monkey Island, but I'll assume it's menu-based.
>
I should've explained how the "Monkey Island style" NPC conversation works,
so I'll post a description elsewhere in this thread.

[advantages and disadvantages cut]

>
>What's your utility called? What language is it for?
>
It's called Converse, and it's for TADS. It's on GMD at:

ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/programming/tads/library/contributions/converse.zip

---------------
James Cole
jrc...@ozemail.com.au

James Cole

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May 16, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/16/97
to

Here's a description of how the Monkey Island style of NPC conversation
works:

To start a conversation with a NPC you need to 'talk to <character>'.
Typically, you'll initially be given a choice of things to say to the
character. These might be something like:

1) Hi there, I'm new in these parts.
2) Hi, could you tell me where a hotel or something is?
3) Hey, is there anywhere round here where I can get a drink?
4) Uhhhh... nothing. See ya.

(the number of choices you are given might range from 1 to 6).

After choosing what to say, the NPC will reply.
In response to what the NPC has said you will be given a new set of things
to say. The conversation continues in this fashion till either party ends
it. This is done by choosing an appropriate ending comment, like "Ok,
well, I've got to get going now". Of course, the NPC may also end the
conversation.

As can be seen, it's more like a natural conversation between people.

The set of permutations that the conversation can have (depending on what
you choose to say) form a directed graph.

-------------

As an aside, here's why I've referred to the technique as "Monkey Island
style" NPC conversation.

This style of NPC conversation seems to be associated with Monkey Island.
Even though The Secret of Monkey Island wasn't the first game to implement
this, none had done it so well. It really was something special; I still
haven't seen it implemented better.

Also, I can't think off a good term to describe the technique. Others have
used some, but none of which I think really suit it.
---------------
James Cole
jrc...@ozemail.com.au

Erik Max Francis

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May 16, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/16/97
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James Cole wrote:

> I think the description "menu style" slightly misleads how the technique
> I
> was talking about works. The way I was thinking of it -- the way Monkey
> Island implements it -- it seems more like a list than a typical menu.
> There also aren't any "sub-menus". You can either: navigate through the
> choices with the keyboard, selecting your choice with the enter key; click
> on a choice; or type the number of the choices' position in the list (of
> choices).

That's what many people call menus.

I don't see how having multiple alternate methods of selecting choices
from a fixed list (keyboard, mouse, what have you) fundamentally adds to
it. I mean, selecting your choice is selecting your choice, right?

> >All characters respond to some standard keywords, "name" means what's
> >your name, "job" means what are you doing, etc. You can ask about other
> >one-word topics, gained from what he/she said before, mostly using
> >"job"
> >as starting point, but most characters will know about one or two more
> >things only.
> >
> >Example:
> >
> [example snipped]
>
> Has this been done in an IF game?

What he's talking about is straight out of Ultima IV (which is where I was
first introduced to the concept).

There are a few ways to do what I see to be essentially the same effect:
Either have an alternate prompt where you enter keywords, or no alternate
prompt where the conversation continues on with {ASK|TELL} X ABOUT Y.
That is, either:

> TALK TO TROLL
"Ug. What you want?"

: JOB
"Um. Me watch bridge. Ug."

: NAME
"Me forget."

: BYE
"Ug."

or:

> ASK TROLL ABOUT JOB
"Um. Me watch bridge. Ug."

> ASK TROLL ABOUT NAME
"Me forget."

One could even define keywords for saying hello and goodbye in a
conversation using the latter method.

Nulldogma

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May 16, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/16/97
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James Cole wrote, re: "Monkey-Island-style" conversation:

> As can be seen, it's more like a natural conversation
> between people.

Actually, it feels to me much more stilted, since the game is not only
putting words in my mouth, it's restricting what I can or can't say. I'm
used to restrictions on syntax, as "TELL/ASK X ABOUT Y" is when you get
down to it; restrictions on content I'm not so crazy about.

Besides, with a menu-based system, I never could have experienced my
favorite unintentional piece of I-F humor, from I-0:

> ASK JOSH ABOUT SEX
"I like vanilla."


Neil
---------------------------------------------------------
Neil deMause ne...@echonyc.com
http://www.echonyc.com/~wham/neild.html
---------------------------------------------------------

Michael Sellers

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May 16, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/16/97
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James Cole wrote:
> >All characters respond to some standard keywords, "name" means what's
> >your name, "job" means what are you doing, etc. You can ask about other
> >one-word topics, gained from what he/she said before, mostly using "job"
> >as starting point, but most characters will know about one or two more
> >things only.
>
> Has this been done in an IF game?

I think this has been done in a few MUDs, where NPCs are given small
knowledge bases; each knowledge base contains appropriate key words,
parsing structures, and responses. For example, a baker NPC might know
about himself, baking, the weather, and generalities about his town --
and maybe about an odd myth or two, for spice. Making the
knowledge/response bases modular makes it easier to construct new NPCs
that know what they should know, and change what such characters appear
to know over time.

Does anyone here have any experience using a TADS or Inform-like system
as the parser for a MUD or similar game? Most MUDs have abysmal
parsers, but this seems like an area the IF crowd has covered well.
Thoughts?

--
Mike Sellers Internet Game Designer msel...@ricochet.net

"If you're not confused, you don't know what's going on."
-- could have been said about the online entertainment industry

Carl Muckenhoupt

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May 16, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/16/97
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I've seen one game that does this. It was called "Interactive Fiction",
it was published by Adventure International (Scott Adams' company), it
consisted of four small scenarios, and it had no other form of
interactivity. It didn't work very well, IMHO, and I prefer the Infocom
converstaion mechanism. Why? For the same reason that I don't like
games to pretend to understand commands that they don't. "Tell x about
y" - what one might call the single keyword system - has clear and
obvious limitations. The freeform multiple-keyword system has
limitations as well, but it pretends not to. The increased feeling of
freedom is an illusion, and the players will realize this and be
disappointed.

This is not to say that the Infocom mechanism is perfect. But I think
that in any conversation mechanism, the expected input should match the
ability of the program to understand it.

--
Carl Muckenhoupt ca...@earthweb.com
EarthWeb http://www.earthweb.com/

James Cole

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May 17, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/17/97
to

Erik Max Francis <m...@alcyone.com> wrote:

>James Cole wrote:
>
>> I think the description "menu style" slightly misleads how the technique
>> I
>> was talking about works. The way I was thinking of it -- the way Monkey
>> Island implements it -- it seems more like a list than a typical menu.
>> There also aren't any "sub-menus". You can either: navigate through the
>> choices with the keyboard, selecting your choice with the enter key; click
>> on a choice; or type the number of the choices' position in the list (of
>> choices).
>
>That's what many people call menus.
>
>I don't see how having multiple alternate methods of selecting choices
>from a fixed list (keyboard, mouse, what have you) fundamentally adds to
>it. I mean, selecting your choice is selecting your choice, right?
>

OK, I gave the wrong reasons. See the reply to another persons post for a
better explanation.

[...]


>>
>> Has this been done in an IF game?
>

>What he's talking about is straight out of Ultima IV (which is where I was
>first introduced to the concept).
>

I know, but Ultima IV is not really IF.

(this is way is why menu based conversation is not a good term for it.
Monkey Island style conversation is really quite different to Ultima IV's)

[...]
---------------
James Cole
jrc...@ozemail.com.au

James Cole

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May 17, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/17/97
to

Daniel Cardenas <card...@i3d.es> wrote:

>Wow, a thread about NPC conversation! :-) We already have such an
>interesting conversation in this matter in the spanish newsgroup
>es.rec.juegos.comp.aventuras, but there is no much interest and lately I
>was left all by myself.

What sort of things was the discussion about?

[...]

>Most of the Spanish games are not based in the '[ask|tell] him about
>topic'. They use the 'tell "free_text:_put_here_what_you_want"'. It is
>supposed that the programmer use keywords to implement possible
>responses:

Interesting. I wasn't aware of this.

[examples cut]

>I think using more than one keyword (like in the ask/tell formula), can
>give more adequate responses, but you have to use it carefully:
>
>_> tell "hello, have you seen Gloria"
> The NPC says "Gloria? My name's Mike!"

What's the extent of this problem? Is it easily avoidable if you
understand how the system works? and how badly does it catch up people
who've never used it before?

It'd be quite interested to have a go at one of these games. Are there any
games, in english, that you could point me to?

thanks,
---------------
James Cole
jrc...@ozemail.com.au

James Cole

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May 17, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/17/97
to

Erik Max Francis <m...@alcyone.com> wrote:

>James Cole wrote:
>
>> I prefer Monkey Island style NCP conversations (A while back I uploaded
>> a utility for implementing it onto GMD - plug!).
>
>By this and the reply I would suppose you're referring to menu-style
>conversation choices.

Yes, though I'm not real keen on that term. I guess it's because that term
is quite general, and I think more associated to other games, like Ultima,
and the other ones that people have mentioned. Although Monkey Island and
all these games have NPC conversation using a menu systems, they can be
large differences.

For example, I suspect people tend to associate "menu-syle" more with a set
of keyword questions rather than a set of things to say. That is:
1) name
2) occupation
3) etc., etc.

>
[...]


>
>There was a discussion on this long, long ago, back when I used to
>contribute to this newsgroup.

Yep. I've read it in the archives.

> In my opinion, the ASK X ABOUT Y and SHOW X
>TO Y commands are more open-ended than the menu-drive conversations.

Ok.

> With
>menu-driven conversations, the questions you're supposed to ask are
>obvious and as such it leads you.

> Not only are you restricted from
>choices, but it's also clear when you're supposed to say something,

>because it will appear in the menu where it wasn't before:
>
[example snipped cause server wouldn't let me post it with so much quoted
text]

>In this case, it's not only obvious what your choices are, but it's
>obvious what you're supposed to (like setting fire to a house should be
>part of an IF game).

To tell you the truth, I don't really see that as much of a problem. It is
quite easy to entirely avoid situations like the above. Also, if you're
playing a character (rather than "yourself") the things that you are can
say are like what's in your character's mind.

On the flip side, it's possible to use the conversation as a puzzle.
Trying to get someone to say something; trying to knock someones price
down; or even swordfighting someone!

It's easy to think that problems like the one you mentioned would occur
when you look purely at the concept, or a poor implementation. But, as
LucasArts demonstrate, they don't have to exist if the right
techniques/methods are used. Like most things, it depends on the quality of
implementation.

>The alternative seems much cleaner to me -- where a certain well-defined
>set of conversation verbs are used to communicate with the other
>characters in well-defined ways. Basically the words are more like
>keywords, with TELL MOM ABOUT FIRE being more concise then entering some
>two-way dialog:

[examples snipped]

>These seem to make it much more a game than just picking the right
>multiple choice answer -- or, in the case where a new answer pops up,
>pickign the only obvious answer.

As I said before, if done well it really isn't like picking the right
multiple choice answer or the only obvious one. I think it's one of those
things you have to experience to appreciate.

Also, unlike the ask/tell style it has interaction. Because of this it can
be fun to talk to people and to "explore" the conversation.

---------------
James Cole
jrc...@ozemail.com.au

James Cole

unread,
May 17, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/17/97
to

null...@aol.com (Nulldogma) wrote:

>James Cole wrote, re: "Monkey-Island-style" conversation:
>
>> As can be seen, it's more like a natural conversation
>> between people.
>
>Actually, it feels to me much more stilted, since the game is not only
>putting words in my mouth, it's restricting what I can or can't say. I'm
>used to restrictions on syntax, as "TELL/ASK X ABOUT Y" is when you get
>down to it; restrictions on content I'm not so crazy about.

There were two reasons why I said it's more like a natural conversation.

Firstly, because you say something, the other person replies, you reply to
them, and so on. Secondly, the content is more like a natural
conversation: you aren't restricted to just objects, but can also talk
about more abstract subjects, like "Hey, Joe, how has work been?" and say
things like "Yeh, I know what you mean". Do you talk to people by asking
or telling them about objects?

You really can have a conversation with an NPC which sounds like a
conversation between two real people.

As for putting words into your mouth, it's supposed to. As Adam Cadre
said, it's much more suited to games where you play a character rather than
yourself.

Anyway, IF is full of stuff which "puts words into your mouth".

Restrictions on content? What about the restrictions on content with the
ask/tell style? -- they are far worse.

>Besides, with a menu-based system, I never could have experienced my
>favorite unintentional piece of I-F humor, from I-0:
>
>> ASK JOSH ABOUT SEX
>"I like vanilla."
>

Ok. But if you've ever played Monkey Island then you'd know the techinque
opens up many more possiblities for humor.

---------------
James Cole
jrc...@ozemail.com.au

James Cole

unread,
May 17, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/17/97
to

Has anyone considered the fact that Monkey Island style NPC conversation
can INCLUDE the "ask/tell <x> about <y>" system? "The best of both
worlds". Not only can you talk to people, but you can also ask or tell
them specific things about objects.

I've already had this coded up in my utility, Converse, for a couple of
months, and it'll be in the second release. (Out of interest...if anyone
has read the documentation for it, it's one of the extra feature's I said
would be added in future releases - the one that had already been coded)

Imagine the following situation:

You're in a used-car yard looking at some of the cars. The greasy dealer
has been following you around, making comments, pointing out things. There
are a few cars in your price-range. The yellow Volkswagon seems a bit
interesting, so you decide to ask the dealer about it.

With the "ask <x> about <y>" form, all you could do is "ask salesman about
Volkswagon".

With the Monkey Island style you could "ask salesman about Volkswagon" and
then be presented with a series of questions to ask him.

1) What can you tell me about the car?
2) Can I take it for a test drive?
3) What's red stain in the glove box?

etc.,

The answer to each of these could in turn give you further questions or
things to say.

Of course, for most objects you might only have the general "what can you
tell me about <x>" choice available (which, obviously, is equivalent to the
ask/tell style).

Also, with my new version of Converse you can add a default response for
objects. So you can give a default answer when a player asks/tells an NPC
about an object you haven't coded a "conversation" for.

---------------
James Cole
jrc...@ozemail.com.au

Nulldogma

unread,
May 17, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/17/97
to

James Cole wrote:

> Firstly, because you say something, the other person replies, you reply
to
> them, and so on. Secondly, the content is more like a natural
> conversation: you aren't restricted to just objects, but can also talk
> about more abstract subjects, like "Hey, Joe, how has work been?" and
say
> things like "Yeh, I know what you mean". Do you talk to people by
asking
> or telling them about objects?

The first is easy: ASK JOE ABOUT WORK. Or, if you feel like doing a little
extra coding, JOE, HOW IS WORK, or even JOE, HOW HAS WORK BEEN can be made
to get the same response. Expanding the different acceptable syntaxes
isn't really that hard, though you do start to run into the problem where
the less you restrict the player, the more restrictive the remaining
restrictions seem. ("Hey, how come I can ask Joe HOW HAS WORK BEEN but not
HOW ARE YOU LIKING YOUR NEW JOB?")

The second isn't that hard, either: AGREE WITH JOE, or JOE, I AGREE, or
just YES. Again, it takes some coding, but *any* serious NPC work takes a
buttload of coding.

I guess I just disagree about which feels less stilted. If I'm in a room
with someone and told I have a choice between speaking a simplified
version of English, or communicating entirely through a set of pre-printed
cards, I'll use the simplified English anyday.

> You really can have a conversation with an NPC which sounds like a
> conversation between two real people.
>
> As for putting words into your mouth, it's supposed to. As Adam Cadre
> said, it's much more suited to games where you play a character rather
than
> yourself.

More suited, sure. But I'm still not convinced that it can be made to work
with feeling overly manipulative (to me, anyway). Of course, I didn't
really believe in puzzle-free I-F at one point, and Adam proved me wrong
about that, so I should really withhold judgment until I see what he and
others come up with.

>
> Anyway, IF is full of stuff which "puts words into your mouth".

Yup, and I tend to hate it. (See my mini-rant against Tapestry last fall.)

> Restrictions on content? What about the restrictions on content with
the
> ask/tell style? -- they are far worse.

Why? Ask/tell is only limited to the game's vocabulary. Menus are limited
to what's on the menu. There's no way any menuing system is going to
provide as many content options as ask/tell -- not without becoming
incredibly unweildy.

James Cole

unread,
May 18, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/18/97
to

null...@aol.com (Nulldogma) wrote:

>James Cole wrote:
>
>> Firstly, because you say something, the other person replies, you reply
>> to them, and so on. Secondly, the content is more like a natural
>> conversation: you aren't restricted to just objects, but can also talk
>> about more abstract subjects, like "Hey, Joe, how has work been?" and
>> say things like "Yeh, I know what you mean". Do you talk to people by
>> asking or telling them about objects?
>
>The first is easy: ASK JOE ABOUT WORK. Or, if you feel like doing a little
>extra coding, JOE, HOW IS WORK, or even JOE, HOW HAS WORK BEEN can be made
>to get the same response.

Ah, this is a good example to explain how the bit about "putting words into
your mouth" fits in. Say Joe happens to be an old friend of yours who you
haven't seen in years. Playing the game as "yourself", you might have no
reason to ask Joe about his job -- unless it is obvious to do so (e.g.
something in the game text suggests doing this). But, playing a character
(who may have worked with Joe at the Cannery a while back) it would be a
natural thing for him/her to do.

With the ask/tell style the basis of communication are things which can
superficially be observed within the gameworld. This is not the way people
communicate.

This is another facet of why the Monkey Island style adds up to a more
"real" conversation.

> Expanding the different acceptable syntaxes
>isn't really that hard, though you do start to run into the problem where
>the less you restrict the player, the more restrictive the remaining
>restrictions seem. ("Hey, how come I can ask Joe HOW HAS WORK BEEN but not
>HOW ARE YOU LIKING YOUR NEW JOB?")

gee, really. :-)

There's more I want to say about this when I get the chance. [Mental note,
don't post about provactive subject when having millions of other things to
do.]

>The second isn't that hard, either: AGREE WITH JOE, or JOE, I AGREE, or
>just YES.

Ok, how about these examples:
- He really needs to think about what he says.
- Ok, where do you want to meet?
- Hi, can you tell me where I can have some fun around here?
- Who's in charge here?
- Hey, that's a nice hat.
- But I told you that the water had to go in _after_ the flour!

Basically, it can be any possible thing which someone could say to you, or
you to someone else.

> Again, it takes some coding, but *any* serious NPC work takes a
>buttload of coding.
>
>I guess I just disagree about which feels less stilted. If I'm in a room
>with someone and told I have a choice between speaking a simplified
>version of English, or communicating entirely through a set of pre-printed
>cards, I'll use the simplified English anyday.

Yes, but were not talking about real life here. I'd do the same in
that situation too.

>
>> You really can have a conversation with an NPC which sounds like a
>> conversation between two real people.
>>
>> As for putting words into your mouth, it's supposed to. As Adam Cadre
>> said, it's much more suited to games where you play a character rather
>> than yourself.
>
>More suited, sure. But I'm still not convinced that it can be made to work
>with feeling overly manipulative (to me, anyway). Of course, I didn't
>really believe in puzzle-free I-F at one point, and Adam proved me wrong
>about that, so I should really withhold judgment until I see what he and
>others come up with.
>

Am I correct in assuming you haven't ever played something like Monkey
Island? As I said in another reply, I really think this style of
conversation needs to be "experienced" to be fully appreciated.

If it can run on your system, you might want to have a look at one of the
issues of PC Gamer magazine. I heard something about their being a
"locked" version of it on one of their cover CD's (The "Monkey Island 3"
issue). You have to pay something like $10 to get a code or something to
"unlock" it.

>>
>> Anyway, IF is full of stuff which "puts words into your mouth".
>
>Yup, and I tend to hate it. (See my mini-rant against Tapestry last fall.)

I intend to elaborate on this sometime in the future.

...one thing I would like to add is that I think this problem occurs with
_all_ Infocom style IF (though that doesn't mean it doesn't occur in other
styles). It's inherent to the way their done.


>> Restrictions on content? What about the restrictions on content with
>> the ask/tell style? -- they are far worse.
>
>Why? Ask/tell is only limited to the game's vocabulary. Menus are limited
>to what's on the menu. There's no way any menuing system is going to
>provide as many content options as ask/tell -- not without becoming
>incredibly unweildy.
>

I don't have time to answer this now. I'll reply to it when I get a
chance.


---------------
James Cole
jrc...@ozemail.com.au

Erik Max Francis

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May 18, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/18/97
to

James Cole wrote:

> With the "ask <x> about <y>" form, all you could do is "ask salesman
> about
> Volkswagon".
>
> With the Monkey Island style you could "ask salesman about Volkswagon"
> and
> then be presented with a series of questions to ask him.
>
> 1) What can you tell me about the car?
> 2) Can I take it for a test drive?
> 3) What's red stain in the glove box?
>
> etc.,
>
> The answer to each of these could in turn give you further questions or
> things to say.

This seems to me to be more of a situation where the player is merely
forced to find which option the author wanted him to pick.

Would there really be a good puzzle where subtlety is important in this
way?

Adam Cadre

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May 18, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/18/97
to

Jame Cole wrote:
> With the Monkey Island style you could "ask salesman about Volkswagen"

> and then be presented with a series of questions to ask him.
>
> 1) What can you tell me about the car?
> 2) Can I take it for a test drive?
> 3) What's red stain in the glove box?

Erik Max Francis replied:


> This seems to me to be more of a situation where the player is merely
> forced to find which option the author wanted him to pick.
>
> Would there really be a good puzzle where subtlety is important in
> this way?

See, there's the problem. You're still thinking in terms of puzzles.
It's true that a menu-based conversation interface can turn a puzzle
into a multiple-choice question complete with everything but a Scantron
and a #2 pencil -- but if the NPC interaction in the game in question
is based not on picking the right answer to get the NPC to open the
door or drink the poison, but rather based around more open-ended
consequences (the NPC you're talking to likes you a little less, while
someone else in the room overhears and likes you more, which may be
a benefit later on, or may be a disadvantage, depending on the plot
threads you follow in the meantime), then the problem vanishes in a
puff of green smoke.

Russell Glasser

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

James Cole wrote:
>
> null...@aol.com (Nulldogma) wrote:
>
> >James Cole wrote, re: "Monkey-Island-style" conversation:
> >
> >> As can be seen, it's more like a natural conversation

> >> between people.
> >
> >Actually, it feels to me much more stilted, since the game is not only
> >putting words in my mouth, it's restricting what I can or can't say. I'm
> >used to restrictions on syntax, as "TELL/ASK X ABOUT Y" is when you get
> >down to it; restrictions on content I'm not so crazy about.
>
> There were two reasons why I said it's more like a natural conversation.
>
> Firstly, because you say something, the other person replies, you reply to
> them, and so on. Secondly, the content is more like a natural
> conversation: you aren't restricted to just objects, but can also talk
> about more abstract subjects, like "Hey, Joe, how has work been?" and say
> things like "Yeh, I know what you mean". Do you talk to people by asking
> or telling them about objects?
>
> You really can have a conversation with an NPC which sounds like a
> conversation between two real people.
>
> As for putting words into your mouth, it's supposed to. As Adam Cadre
> said, it's much more suited to games where you play a character rather than
> yourself.
>

Well, James, I'm on your side on this one. I like well-written menu
conversations much more than I've ever enjoyed the old ask/tell paradigm of
Infocom. I think being forced to choose one word topics is at least as
restrictive as having words put in your mouth, and it allows much less
character development at that.
I much prefer adventures in which you have to play the part of a
well-defined character who is not supposed to be "you" (i.e., Plundered
Hearts or AMFV instead of Zork or Enchanter) and I find that reading my
character's intended responses puts me in a better frame of mind to
understand what "I" am thinking.
Another gripe I've always had about the ask/tell conversations is
that it can be very annoying when you know there's a topic that you ought to
hit, but you can't guess what it is. I was happy to see old Legend games
(i.e. TimeQuest) offer me a list of keywords rather than making me grope
around blindly for them. But I was happier still with Eric the Unready, when
I could hold a conversation AND make wisecracks through Eric.
When done well, a menu conversation can give you a lot of
conversation options without making you feel obligated to choose all of them;
when done poorly, it's true that it can make you feel trapped and pushed
towards saying something that you don't want to.
A good example is the stark contrast between Star Control II
(brilliant game) and Star Con III (not-so-brilliant, special effects driven
game with less interesting dialogue). What worked in Star Con II was that
there were just so many variations of a conversation that you wouldn't be
able to try them all without replaying them many times; there were always
enough options to make you feel that you were really choosing what to say,
and there were many shades of gray for the outcome (one option might lead you
to alliance or make a permanent enemy, but another option would lead you to a
semi-hostile state that you could get out of by being more polite later). In
SC3 on the other hand, the choices were limited and most of the conversation
options led back to the same place. It didn't really matter what you chose
because the outcome was almost always the same.
I do remember finishing a conversation in SC2 and saying "Wow, it was
very clever of me to say that" -- even though I didn't choose my own words,
it felt like I had.
--
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one
persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all
progress depends on the unreasonable man."
-- George Bernard Shaw

Russell can be heckled at
http://sdcc8.ucsd.edu/~rglasser

James Cole

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

Erik Max Francis <m...@alcyone.com> wrote:

>James Cole wrote:
>
>> With the "ask <x> about <y>" form, all you could do is "ask salesman
>> about Volkswagon".
>>

>> With the Monkey Island style you could "ask salesman about Volkswagon"


>> and then be presented with a series of questions to ask him.
>>
>> 1) What can you tell me about the car?
>> 2) Can I take it for a test drive?
>> 3) What's red stain in the glove box?
>>

>> etc.,
>>
>> The answer to each of these could in turn give you further questions or
>> things to say.
>

>This seems to me to be more of a situation where the player is merely
>forced to find which option the author wanted him to pick.
>
>Would there really be a good puzzle where subtlety is important in this
>way?

Your considering this in the wrong way. Basically, the idea of the extra
things to ask about particular object are just there to give you a richer
level of interaction.

Consider another example: from a distance you see a man surreptitiously
drop something. All you can distinguish about him is that he's wearing a
red sweater. You go over and pick the object up, noting that it's some
sort of engine part. There is a mechanic in the town and you decide to go
and ask him about the part.

If you were using the ask/tell style, what would asking the mechanic about
the object mean? Most likely, it'll mean asking him to identify the part
-- but I also want to ask him about the shady character! There is no way
you could do this with the ask/tell style. (and yes, you probably could
find some sort of awkward workaround for this particular situation, but not
for the general case.)

Using a monkey island style of the ask/tell format you ask the questions:
1) What can you tell me about this object?
2) I saw a man drop this, he was wearing a red sweater.
Do you know who he could be?


It is important to keep in mind, though, that this would not be the typical
situation. By this, I mean that for most objects you'd probably only have
the general "what can you tell me about..." question. Therefore, this
technique should be considerd as an extension of the Infocom ask/tell style
which can handle a wider and subtler range of situations.

---------------
James Cole
jrc...@ozemail.com.au

James Cole

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

erky...@netcom.com (Andrew Plotkin) wrote:

[...]
>
>Main point: Well, actually the aside sums it up. If you're interacting
>with story, which is presumably the point, you may *want* the NPC to like
>you a little less, or whatever. There may not be a single option that the
>author wants you to pick; but there will be options that the author wants
>you to pick *in order to go a particular direction*. (Unless all the
>options lead to the same results, which, again, is presumably not the
>point.)

...but isn't this supportive of what Adam was saying?


>Mmm, let me think of this another way: In any game (not necessarily a
>computer game) there is a balance between (A) the number of things you can
>do, (B) the number of interesting results, (C) the designer's effort in
>inventing results, and (D) the player not getting bored. A choose-your-
>own-adventure book, for example, drastically cuts down on (A), and further
>cuts down (B) by having plotlines merge up again wherever possible. The
>result is almost always dull.

>Colossal Cave managed (by some combination of genius and sheer damn luck)
>to invent a brilliant balance where (A) is huge, but (B) is vastly trimmed
>down, because 98% of the possible commands have boilerplate responses, and
>90% of the remaining 2% merge back into each other in a predictable way.

>("GET KEYS. GET LAMP" winds up the same as "GET LAMP. GET KEYS.")

what's the point of this example? It doesn't seem to fit in with what
you're saying.

> And yet
>somehow we focus on the 2% and are most interested in the 0.2%. And
>therefore the game works.

I disagree a bit with this. Why? The explanation is long, and I couldn't
be bothered explaining at the moment.

>It's all somehow different for conversation. We expect (at least, I
>expect) every act of conversation to be interesting and relevant to the
>plot -- even though we're perfectly happy with a game where 75% of the
>commands are "N", "N", "E", "I", "L", ... etc.

I'm not.

> I think that's what the
>"ask X about Y" hack is for; it's a syntax where the author can deal with
>every conceivable value of X and Y, and even though 98% of the responses
>will still be boilerplate, they'll all be plausible boilerplate.

Rubbish. In _every_ Infocom style game I've ever played suspension of
disbelief was destroyed (to some extent) by not providing adequate (and in
most cases, obvious) responses. This really does put people off IF (even
when they understand the systems limitations). (In fact this adds to
another, and far greater, problem).

I'm sure Infocom IF fans out there will probably think I'm just an anomaly
with this sort of opinion. But that's not the case -- they're the
exception in the vast majority of people out there.

I intend to elaborate on this subject matter in the future.

>In a menu system -- as opposed to a keyword system -- you're backing up
>and giving the player three or four options at a time, instead of
>hundreds.

I see this as an advantage. Because there are a clearly defined number of
choices you can't get the situation of a default response destroying
suspension of disbelief.

Note that this doesn't mean that the Monkey Island technique is just a more
fool-proof "mass-market" solution.

I'm interested in knowing exactly why you think hundreds are better?

> This is not unworkable, but it does jar against the IF model
>that we're all used to. I think that's why people react badly to the
>suggestion.

Actually, I doubt that. I suspect it's because most haven't actually used
the Monkey Island style (at least in a decent implementation). I get this
impression from the responses I've gotten, where people seem to be thinking
about the concept in the context of the functions/uses, etc., of the
ask/tell style.

>As to the two level-system that we started with -- "ask salesman about
>Volkswagen" followed by three options -- it seems unnecessarily
>complicated. Well, I should say, just plain complicated.

Why does it seem complicated? Have a look at my second example of this in
my reply to Eric.

> Any hybrid
>system runs the risk of combining the flaws of both parts; I'd be afraid
>that the result would feel vague and nonspecific *and* forced and
>putting-options-in-my-mouth.

How come?


---------------
James Cole
jrc...@ozemail.com.au

Adam Cadre

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

Andrew Plotkin wrote:
> Any hybrid system runs the risk of combining the flaws of both parts;
> I'd be afraid that the result would feel vague and nonspecific *and*
> forced and putting-options-in-my-mouth.
>
> But then I haven't tried it.

Right. I figure it's worth a shot. I mean, even if it turns out to
be a colossal failure, the only thing I stand to lose is several months
of my time. And chances are I wouldn't be doing anything important
with those anyway.

Samuel DAF Barlow

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

On 19 May 1997, Big Mad Drongo wrote:

> James Cole (jrc...@ozemail.com.au) wrote:
> : Using a monkey island style of the ask/tell format you ask the questions:


> : 1) What can you tell me about this object?
>

> SHOW OBJECT TO MECHANIC
OR ASK MECHANIC ABOUT OBJECT
>
> : 2) I saw a man drop this, he was wearing a red sweater.

> : Do you know who he could be?
>

> ASK MECHANIC ABOUT MAN IN RED SWEATER
OR TELL MECHANIC ABOUT MAN IN RED SWEATER

GARAGE
You are in a garage. A greasy mechanic stands here, looking over a car.
>Mechanic, hello
"Hi. How can I help you, young man?"
>ask mechanic about object
He looks it over in his hands. "Hmmm. A variable-valve gasket. Where
d'ya get your hands on this?"
>tell mechanic about man in red sweater
~Oh...Bob! He's a shifty fella.~
>ask mechanic about bob
etc., etc.

I strongly disagree with the statements about the Monkey-Island style
conversations. I have never found these to work (and, yes, I have
"experienced" them). The humour that Mr. Cole refers to is the same type
of humour we see in sitcoms. It is very obvious in MI when we are about
to see a humourous response, just as in a sitcom when it is obvious a
joke is being set-up. In Ask/Tell I-F, the player can be suprised by
an answer. I find it strange that Adam Cadre supports the MI style as a
way of putting the player in character when his own game, I-0, is a
brilliant example of how to do this outside of MI menus; like when I
asked to "open boot" and was told that my character would call it a
trunk. The large number of humorous responses to my commands also help
tell the player who he/she is without hitting them over the head.

The Ask/Tell system does have the problem of sustaining a conversation;
many games rely on the player firing lots of ASK's at an NPC to simulate
a conversation. This failed miserably in Corruption in the meal with
David's wife, where her responses were one-liners and the number of
topics was small. However if the NPC's response contains several other
threads to ASK then the flow&feel of the conversation becomes much more
life-like:

PIRATE PUB
You are standing at the bar of a sleezy drinking establishment. Next to
you, perched on a stool, is Pirate Pete.
>Pete,Hi
~Hello, Are yee new in these here parts?~
>Pete,yes
Pete smiles. ~At what be yee doing?~
>tell pete about treasure
Pete's smile widens. ~I used to be a treasure hunter myself but gave up
after my wife died. Now I'm just a fisherman.~
>ask Pete about himself
~I'm just Pete.~
>ask Pete about wife
~She was killed in an awful pirating adventure. Got her head chopped
clean off.~
>ask Pete about adventure
~Oh just some treasure off of Barnacle cove. Never found it.~
>ask Pete about fishing
~I run a tourist service. I take newbies like yerself out fur fishing
trips,~ he pauses, ~would yee like to go on a fishin' trip?~
>> etc. etc.

With simple ASK, TELL and single nouns we have manged to have a
reasonable natural conversation.

The problem with menus is that they run against the rest of the game,
they are an artifice which destroys the suspension-of-willing-disbelief.
If the whole game were menu-driven it would be OK. Whereas the ASk,TELL
convention is part of the parser which we use in the other parts of the
game. I-F's main strength is the fact that its input, the parser is
textual as is the output. Menu's take this away; the player no-longer
types his actions, but is read them. Now we are back to fiction, minus
the interactivity.

One last thing, as regards MI, etc. from my "experience." Although
Cadre, et al, claim that MI menu's are interactive I have found that of
the, say, 4 options only 1 is neccessary to the game. As such the player
is allowed to click through the other options, always returning to the 4
initial choices until he picks the "right" one. So, the only thing he is
choosing is the order in which to say his funny lines.

Sorry if I have rambled or been incoherent, but this posting is an
attempt to put of much-needed exam revision.

>s
You leave the computer room and head to the library..
>get books
You take the mountain of Physics and Maths textbooks.
>read books
Zzzzzz.

Sam.
____________________________________
# \ # #### /... The One and Only ...\ #### # / #
# / # #### \... S A M U E L -x- B A R L O W .../ #### # \ #
# \ # ##### |.. ..| ##### # / #
# / # #### /.. sb6...@bris.ac.uk ..\ #### # \ #
# \ # ### /... http://irix.bris.ac.uk/~sb6729 ...\ ### # / #
# / # ### \______________________________________/ ### # \ #


Eric Rossing

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

On Sun, 18 May 1997 10:52:18 GMT, jrc...@ozemail.com.au (James Cole) wrote:

: null...@aol.com (Nulldogma) wrote:
:
: >James Cole wrote:
: >
: >> Firstly, because you say something, the other person replies, you reply


: >> to them, and so on. Secondly, the content is more like a natural
: >> conversation: you aren't restricted to just objects, but can also talk
: >> about more abstract subjects, like "Hey, Joe, how has work been?" and
: >> say things like "Yeh, I know what you mean". Do you talk to people by
: >> asking or telling them about objects?

: >
: >The first is easy: ASK JOE ABOUT WORK. Or, if you feel like doing a little


: >extra coding, JOE, HOW IS WORK, or even JOE, HOW HAS WORK BEEN can be made
: >to get the same response.
:
: Ah, this is a good example to explain how the bit about "putting words into
: your mouth" fits in. Say Joe happens to be an old friend of yours who you
: haven't seen in years. Playing the game as "yourself", you might have no
: reason to ask Joe about his job -- unless it is obvious to do so (e.g.
: something in the game text suggests doing this). But, playing a character
: (who may have worked with Joe at the Cannery a while back) it would be a
: natural thing for him/her to do.

Well, any well-written game will, in one way or another, tell the player
that he knew Joe years ago, or drop other hints that Joe's job is
significant.

: With the ask/tell style the basis of communication are things which can


: superficially be observed within the gameworld. This is not the way people
: communicate.
:
: This is another facet of why the Monkey Island style adds up to a more
: "real" conversation.

But it doesn't! MI's conversations are scripted conversations handed to me
by the authors of the game. I don't want to find out that Joe knows nothing
about the blue goose because there aren't any menu choices about it. I want
to be able to ask him and hear him say he knows nothing about it. But I've
never seen a MI-style interface that allows that.

It's also annoying when you put things together sooner than the writers
allow you to. I haven't played Monkey Island, but I've been playing Star
Trek:TNG, A Final Unity, which uses the same style of conversation. There
have been times when I wanted to ask a character about something, but had to
run around to convince the game that I knew to talk about that. Here's an
example:

On your way to manipulate the life-support systems of a space station, you
run across an injured woman. After helping her, you talk to her and find
out she is the Chief Medical Officer of the station. Does it make more
since to:

A) Ask her then and there if there is anything special needed to access the
life support systems, or

B) Go to the life support system, find out that you need an access code, and
then go back to the doctor to get it, and finally return to the system and
fix the problem?

: Ok, how about these examples:


: - He really needs to think about what he says.
: - Ok, where do you want to meet?
: - Hi, can you tell me where I can have some fun around here?
: - Who's in charge here?
: - Hey, that's a nice hat.
: - But I told you that the water had to go in _after_ the flour!
:
: Basically, it can be any possible thing which someone could say to you, or
: you to someone else.

Yes, but only if the game writers think you ought to be able to say it.
Admittedly, both styles of conversation require the writer to anticipate
everything the player will want to say, but the normal IF way doesn't
broadcast the limitation.

: >I guess I just disagree about which feels less stilted. If I'm in a room


: >with someone and told I have a choice between speaking a simplified
: >version of English, or communicating entirely through a set of pre-printed
: >cards, I'll use the simplified English anyday.
:
: Yes, but were not talking about real life here. I'd do the same in
: that situation too.

And the point here is which conversation style best simulates real life.
One of the big ideas behind good IF (one of the things I look for in a game,
at any rate) is to do as much as possible to draw the player into the game
world by making it seem as natural as possible.

: >> You really can have a conversation with an NPC which sounds like a


: >> conversation between two real people.

Yes, but I'm one of the people. Therefore, I want to control what I say...

: >>
: >> As for putting words into your mouth, it's supposed to. As Adam Cadre


: >> said, it's much more suited to games where you play a character rather
: >> than yourself.

Personally, I want to be allowed to play the character, and not have the
character played(scripted) for me...

Eric Rossing
ros...@iname.com
http://home.msen.com/~rossing
PGP Public key available on my WWW page

Andrew Plotkin

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

Adam Cadre (ad...@acpub.duke.edu) wrote:
> Jame Cole wrote:
> > With the Monkey Island style you could "ask salesman about Volkswagen"

> > and then be presented with a series of questions to ask him.
> >
> > 1) What can you tell me about the car?
> > 2) Can I take it for a test drive?
> > 3) What's red stain in the glove box?

> Erik Max Francis replied:


> > This seems to me to be more of a situation where the player is merely
> > forced to find which option the author wanted him to pick.
> >
> > Would there really be a good puzzle where subtlety is important in
> > this way?

> See, there's the problem. You're still thinking in terms of puzzles.

The word "puzzle" can be arbitrarily broad, up to any situation where the
player wants to influence "what happens next."

> It's true that a menu-based conversation interface can turn a puzzle
> into a multiple-choice question complete with everything but a Scantron
> and a #2 pencil -- but if the NPC interaction in the game in question
> is based not on picking the right answer to get the NPC to open the
> door or drink the poison, but rather based around more open-ended
> consequences (the NPC you're talking to likes you a little less, while
> someone else in the room overhears and likes you more, which may be
> a benefit later on, or may be a disadvantage, depending on the plot
> threads you follow in the meantime), then the problem vanishes in a
> puff of green smoke.

I don't think so. First, do you really mean "open-ended?" Open-*middled*
is a better description, since you're talking about a broader range of
consequences of the player's *current* statement, rather than any
attribute of the *end*-goal.

(Aside one: Why do I pick this nit? Because whether it's a "puzzle" or
not is irrelevant. Maybe you *do* want the NPC to open the door, but
it's not going to happen for another three scenes, in which four more
NPCs are going to interact with you and each other using a full
emotion-based simulation engine and true natural language parsing. Or
whatever. The game may ultimately be either a find-the-right-actions
puzzle or an open-ended branching storyline about character interplay;
but neither of these is more or less suited to one kind of interface or
another.)

(Rephrasing of aside one: An "open-ended" scene can be one puzzle in a
puzzle game; a "puzzle" scene can be one interaction in an open-ended
consequences story. Repeat recursively. Therefore, it's obvious that an
interface style can't be suited for just one of these.)

Main point: Well, actually the aside sums it up. If you're interacting
with story, which is presumably the point, you may *want* the NPC to like
you a little less, or whatever. There may not be a single option that the
author wants you to pick; but there will be options that the author wants
you to pick *in order to go a particular direction*. (Unless all the
options lead to the same results, which, again, is presumably not the
point.)

Mmm, let me think of this another way: In any game (not necessarily a


computer game) there is a balance between (A) the number of things you can
do, (B) the number of interesting results, (C) the designer's effort in
inventing results, and (D) the player not getting bored. A choose-your-
own-adventure book, for example, drastically cuts down on (A), and further
cuts down (B) by having plotlines merge up again wherever possible. The
result is almost always dull.

Colossal Cave managed (by some combination of genius and sheer damn luck)
to invent a brilliant balance where (A) is huge, but (B) is vastly trimmed
down, because 98% of the possible commands have boilerplate responses, and
90% of the remaining 2% merge back into each other in a predictable way.

("GET KEYS. GET LAMP" winds up the same as "GET LAMP. GET KEYS.") And yet

somehow we focus on the 2% and are most interested in the 0.2%. And
therefore the game works.

It's all somehow different for conversation. We expect (at least, I

expect) every act of conversation to be interesting and relevant to the
plot -- even though we're perfectly happy with a game where 75% of the

commands are "N", "N", "E", "I", "L", ... etc. I think that's what the

"ask X about Y" hack is for; it's a syntax where the author can deal with
every conceivable value of X and Y, and even though 98% of the responses
will still be boilerplate, they'll all be plausible boilerplate.

In a menu system -- as opposed to a keyword system -- you're backing up


and giving the player three or four options at a time, instead of

hundreds. This is not unworkable, but it does jar against the IF model


that we're all used to. I think that's why people react badly to the
suggestion.

As to the two level-system that we started with -- "ask salesman about

Volkswagen" followed by three options -- it seems unnecessarily

complicated. Well, I should say, just plain complicated. Any hybrid

system runs the risk of combining the flaws of both parts; I'd be afraid
that the result would feel vague and nonspecific *and* forced and
putting-options-in-my-mouth.

But then I haven't tried it.

--Z

--

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the
borogoves..."

Andrew Plotkin

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

Nulldogma (null...@aol.com) wrote:
> James Cole wrote:

> > Using a monkey island style of the ask/tell format you ask the
> questions:

> > 1) What can you tell me about this object?


> > 2) I saw a man drop this, he was wearing a red sweater.
> > Do you know who he could be?

> To add to all the excellent points that Sam made, in this situation I know
> exactly what I would do: type "1," undo, then "2," undo, then "3," etc.,
> until I'd run through all the options. Obviously limited options
> invariably inspire me to try them all in order, both because it's easy and
> because I don't want to miss any possibilities. Whereas with ASK/TELL I
> never know when I've exhausted the possibilities, adding to the illusion
> of boundlessness.

> I suppose this could work if each choice led to an ever-increasing tree of
> conversation possibilities -- sort of like SUTWIN does with its keywords.
> But this would be a very different kind of game (sort of an elaborate
> Choose Your Own Adventure, or possibly something like Hidden Agenda, for
> those who are familiar with it), and I imagine in any case it would be
> incredibly tedious to write anything much longer than SUTWIN by this
> method.

What Neil said, on both counts. This is what I was getting at with my
extremely long post yesterday.

Andrew Plotkin

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

James Cole (jrc...@ozemail.com.au) wrote:
> erky...@netcom.com (Andrew Plotkin) wrote:

> [...]
> >


> >Main point: Well, actually the aside sums it up. If you're interacting
> >with story, which is presumably the point, you may *want* the NPC to like
> >you a little less, or whatever. There may not be a single option that the
> >author wants you to pick; but there will be options that the author wants
> >you to pick *in order to go a particular direction*. (Unless all the
> >options lead to the same results, which, again, is presumably not the
> >point.)

> ...but isn't this supportive of what Adam was saying?

Do I remember what the heck Adam was saying? :)

> >Mmm, let me think of this another way: In any game (not necessarily a
> >computer game) there is a balance between (A) the number of things you can
> >do, (B) the number of interesting results, (C) the designer's effort in
> >inventing results, and (D) the player not getting bored. A choose-your-
> >own-adventure book, for example, drastically cuts down on (A), and further
> >cuts down (B) by having plotlines merge up again wherever possible. The
> >result is almost always dull.

> >Colossal Cave managed (by some combination of genius and sheer damn luck)
> >to invent a brilliant balance where (A) is huge, but (B) is vastly trimmed
> >down, because 98% of the possible commands have boilerplate responses, and
> >90% of the remaining 2% merge back into each other in a predictable way.

> >("GET KEYS. GET LAMP" winds up the same as "GET LAMP. GET KEYS.")

> what's the point of this example? It doesn't seem to fit in with what
> you're saying.

It's an example of a trivial branch in the storyline which doesn't take
exponential effort to design. Most commands in a game are orthogonal and
independent of each other; only a tiny fraction have broader effects.
Nonetheless, it's that small fraction which the players focus on. Nobody
ever complains that "GET KEYS" has a predictable boilerplate effect.

> >It's all somehow different for conversation. We expect (at least, I
> >expect) every act of conversation to be interesting and relevant to the
> >plot -- even though we're perfectly happy with a game where 75% of the
> >commands are "N", "N", "E", "I", "L", ... etc.

> I'm not.

I was describing all existing text IF, is the point...

> > I think that's what the
> >"ask X about Y" hack is for; it's a syntax where the author can deal with
> >every conceivable value of X and Y, and even though 98% of the responses
> >will still be boilerplate, they'll all be plausible boilerplate.

> Rubbish. In _every_ Infocom style game I've ever played suspension of


> disbelief was destroyed (to some extent) by not providing adequate (and in
> most cases, obvious) responses. This really does put people off IF (even
> when they understand the systems limitations). (In fact this adds to
> another, and far greater, problem).

> I'm sure Infocom IF fans out there will probably think I'm just an anomaly
> with this sort of opinion. But that's not the case -- they're the
> exception in the vast majority of people out there.

> I intend to elaborate on this subject matter in the future.

Please do; I don't think any of us can really talk about what the vast
majority of people do. I don't get feedback from Command&Conquer players
on the subject -- much less monolingual Chinese duck-farmers. :)

> >In a menu system -- as opposed to a keyword system -- you're backing up
> >and giving the player three or four options at a time, instead of
> >hundreds.

> I see this as an advantage. Because there are a clearly defined number of


> choices you can't get the situation of a default response destroying
> suspension of disbelief.

It's neither an advantage nor a disadvantage.

> Note that this doesn't mean that the Monkey Island technique is just a more
> fool-proof "mass-market" solution.

> I'm interested in knowing exactly why you think hundreds are better?

Not better; I'm saying that it's an approach which is consistent with the
rest (non-conversation portions) of existing text IF. Therefore fans of
existing IF are predisposed to prefer it.

> > This is not unworkable, but it does jar against the IF model
> >that we're all used to. I think that's why people react badly to the
> >suggestion.

> Actually, I doubt that. I suspect it's because most haven't actually used


> the Monkey Island style (at least in a decent implementation).

Only one possible follow-up to that claim. Heh.

> >As to the two level-system that we started with -- "ask salesman about
> >Volkswagen" followed by three options -- it seems unnecessarily
> >complicated. Well, I should say, just plain complicated.

> Why does it seem complicated?

Two modes rather than one.

> > Any hybrid
> >system runs the risk of combining the flaws of both parts; I'd be afraid
> >that the result would feel vague and nonspecific *and* forced and
> >putting-options-in-my-mouth.

> How come?

Because that's always the risk when you combine two different systems, of
any sort.

Richard G Clegg

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

Nulldogma (null...@aol.com) wrote:
: James Cole wrote:

: > Using a monkey island style of the ask/tell format you ask the
: questions:
: > 1) What can you tell me about this object?
: > 2) I saw a man drop this, he was wearing a red sweater.
: > Do you know who he could be?

: To add to all the excellent points that Sam made, in this situation I know
: exactly what I would do: type "1," undo, then "2," undo, then "3," etc.,
: until I'd run through all the options. Obviously limited options
: invariably inspire me to try them all in order, both because it's easy and
: because I don't want to miss any possibilities. Whereas with ASK/TELL I
: never know when I've exhausted the possibilities, adding to the illusion
: of boundlessness.

Hmm... the problem is Neil, I don't know about you, but I hardly ever
actually ASK/TELL characters in IF unless I've had a really strong hint
that I need to. Conversation in IF is, generally, pretty limited simply
because the author can only cover such a small portion of the possible
choices. That's why, I find, a game like Monkey Island has far more
complete and satisfying dialogue than even the top IF games simply
because, unless you really persevere, you can't find much to say to IF
characters that they can sensibly respond to.

Can anyone post an extract from an IF game that's anything even like a
conversation which didn't take them ages poking around in the game to
find which words were responded to?

IMHO dialogue is one of the places where Lucas-arts style graphics
adventures win hands down against IF. In IF it's much more of a
struggle simply because of the zillions of things you could ask a
character, even the most dilligent programmer will only have covered a
few hundred and most of them scantily.

This is not to say that I prefer point'n'click - just that I think it
really does win out in this respect.

--
Richard G. Clegg Only the mind is waving
Dept. of Mathematics (Network Control group) Uni. of York.
email: ric...@manor.york.ac.uk
www: http://manor.york.ac.uk/top.html


Adam Cadre

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

Neil deMause wrote:
> To add to all the excellent points that Sam made, in this situation I
> know exactly what I would do: type "1," undo, then "2," undo, then
> "3," etc., until I'd run through all the options. Obviously limited
> options invariably inspire me to try them all in order, both because
> it's easy and because I don't want to miss any possibilities.

Ah, but what if 1, 2 and 3 all lead to an enigmatic grunt, but at the
end of the game, after you've had all kinds of adventures in the
meantime, your choice turns out to be the factor that determines
whether the NPC tries to kill you, make a pass at you, or both?

Adam Cadre

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

Samuel DAF Barlow wrote:
> I strongly disagree with the statements about the Monkey-Island style
> conversations. I have never found these to work (and, yes, I have
> "experienced" them). The humour that Mr. Cole refers to is the same
> type of humour we see in sitcoms. It is very obvious in MI when we are
> about to see a humourous response, just as in a sitcom when it is
> obvious a joke is being set-up.

This is often true, but I don't think it's necessarily that damning a
criticism -- after all, there =are= funny sitcoms.

> I find it strange that Adam Cadre supports the MI style as a
> way of putting the player in character when his own game, I-0, is a
> brilliant example of how to do this outside of MI menus; like when I
> asked to "open boot" and was told that my character would call it a
> trunk. The large number of humorous responses to my commands also help
> tell the player who he/she is without hitting them over the head.

Thanks for the praise, though you may have hit upon one of my
motivations for trying the menus -- having done one menu-free game,
I want to try other things. I'm not entirely pleased with the ask/tell
interface, and apparently neither are quite a few others; I tried an
alternative type of conversation in I-0 (with Larry in the truck) but
wasn't completely satisfied with it. I plan to try a bunch of different
approaches till I find the one I like the best. This just happens to
be the one I'm currently working on.

> The problem with menus is that they run against the rest of the game,
> they are an artifice which destroys the suspension-of-willing-
> disbelief.

I'm not convinced this is necessarily true. It's certainly a danger,
and if I can't find a way to integrate them well I'll jettison them.
Never know till you try, though.

> One last thing, as regards MI, etc. from my "experience." Although
> Cadre, et al, claim that MI menu's are interactive I have found that
> of the, say, 4 options only 1 is neccessary to the game. As such the
> player is allowed to click through the other options, always returning
> to the 4 initial choices until he picks the "right" one. So, the only
> thing he is choosing is the order in which to say his funny lines.

Two things. First, this is often true, and I suspect is motivated
by the authors' fear that their games are only going to be played
once, and that they'd better make sure that none of their dazzling wit
goes to waste. But it doesn't have to be that way. I certainly don't
plan to do it that way, at least.

Second -- please, call me Adam. Even AdamC is okay, if you want to
distinguish me from the other 150 Adams that frequent this newsgroup.
But when people call me by just my last name I can't help but feel that
they're really mad at me and I'm in big, big trouble.

Nulldogma

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

Adam C. wrote:
> Neil deMause wrote:
> > To add to all the excellent points that Sam made, in this situation I
> > know exactly what I would do: type "1," undo, then "2," undo, then
> > "3," etc., until I'd run through all the options. Obviously limited
> > options invariably inspire me to try them all in order, both because
> > it's easy and because I don't want to miss any possibilities.
>
> Ah, but what if 1, 2 and 3 all lead to an enigmatic grunt, but at the
> end of the game, after you've had all kinds of adventures in the
> meantime, your choice turns out to be the factor that determines
> whether the NPC tries to kill you, make a pass at you, or both?

>KILL AUTHOR
Enraged at how a seemingly harmless action in the game winds up killing
you 200 turns later, you fly at the author in a rage, plunging your elvish
sword of great antiquity into his sadistic little heart.

***YOUR SCORE HAS JUST GONE DOWN BY 50 POINTS, BUT YOU DON'T CARE***

Neil

Nulldogma

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

Andrew Plotkin wrote:

>It's all somehow different for conversation. We expect (at least, I
>expect) every act of conversation to be interesting and relevant to the
>plot -- even though we're perfectly happy with a game where 75% of the
>commands are "N", "N", "E", "I", "L", ... etc.

You know, it's bad enough that half the people on this newsgroup seem to
have the same name as me, but now even the *commands* are spelling it
out...

Nulldogma

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

Adam Cadre wrote:

> Andrew Plotkin wrote:
>> Any hybrid system runs the risk of combining the flaws of both parts;
>> I'd be afraid that the result would feel vague and nonspecific *and*
>> forced and putting-options-in-my-mouth.
>>

>> But then I haven't tried it.
>

> Right. I figure it's worth a shot. I mean, even if it turns out to
> be a colossal failure, the only thing I stand to lose is several months
> of my time. And chances are I wouldn't be doing anything important
> with those anyway.

Besides, if it doesn't work, you can always just restore back to a time
before you started writing the game...

Neil
(who really wanted to ASK ADAM ABOUT GAME, but it wasn't on my menu
options)

Nulldogma

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

James Cole wrote:

> Using a monkey island style of the ask/tell format you ask the
questions:
> 1) What can you tell me about this object?
> 2) I saw a man drop this, he was wearing a red sweater.
> Do you know who he could be?

To add to all the excellent points that Sam made, in this situation I know


exactly what I would do: type "1," undo, then "2," undo, then "3," etc.,
until I'd run through all the options. Obviously limited options
invariably inspire me to try them all in order, both because it's easy and

because I don't want to miss any possibilities. Whereas with ASK/TELL I
never know when I've exhausted the possibilities, adding to the illusion
of boundlessness.

I suppose this could work if each choice led to an ever-increasing tree of


conversation possibilities -- sort of like SUTWIN does with its keywords.
But this would be a very different kind of game (sort of an elaborate
Choose Your Own Adventure, or possibly something like Hidden Agenda, for
those who are familiar with it), and I imagine in any case it would be
incredibly tedious to write anything much longer than SUTWIN by this
method.

Neil

Francis Irving

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

On Thu, 15 May 1997 01:42:55 +0200, Linards Ticmanis
<Linards....@post.rwth-aachen.de> wrote:

>
>Example:
>
>You see a thief with a long stiletto.
>>TALK TO THIEF
>"Hello to you. Finally somebody who doesn't assume I'm a stong, silent
>type without even trying."
>>>JOB
>"Well, robbing adventurers blind, cleaning up and sometimes even waxing
>mazes, carrying bags, and just being a general nuisance. Sometimes I
>wield my stiletto as well, and sometimes I even open some tough locks
>for others on my social day."
>>>MAZES
>"Yeah, people tend to use them as garbage disposals, so I clean them up.
>Necessary work is often met with disrespect, I assume, but who'd really
>like to wade through heaps of rotting small leaflets? Nobody."
>>>STILETTO
>"Isn't it shiny? I've found out a mixture of grue's spit and dam water
>will remove all the bloodstains in seconds. Want me to show you?"
>>>YES
>Well, as it's currently shiny (didn't you listen?), he had to produce
>some stains first.
>
> *** You have died ***
>

This is remarkably similar to Space Under The Window.

Francis.

Home: fra...@pobox.co.uk Work: fra...@ncgraphics.co.uk

Adam Cadre

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May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

Andrew Plotkin wrote:
> Main point: Well, actually the aside sums it up. If you're interacting
> with story, which is presumably the point, you may *want* the NPC to
> like you a little less, or whatever. There may not be a single option
> that the author wants you to pick; but there will be options that the
> author wants you to pick *in order to go a particular direction*.
> (Unless all the options lead to the same results, which, again, is
> presumably not the point.)

James Cole replied:


> ...but isn't this supportive of what Adam was saying?

Andrew Plotkin answered:


> Do I remember what the heck Adam was saying? :)

I sure don't. Let check the thread for a minute...

...okay. This is kind of difficult for me since I suspect that what
I'm tentatively pouncing on as your point may well be more like a
"whereas" clause leading up to your point. Let me respond to just
a couple passages. The first is a recap:

> Main point: Well, actually the aside sums it up. If you're interacting
> with story, which is presumably the point, you may *want* the NPC to
> like you a little less, or whatever.

Right. I agree with that.

> There may not be a single option that the author wants you to pick;
> but there will be options that the author wants you to pick *in order
> to go a particular direction*.

I'm having trouble with the word "wants." I think better in the
concrete than in the abstract, so let me make up an example:

Early on, the PC has a conversation with NPC1, while NPC2 sits in the
corner reading the newspaper. NPC1 and NPC2 hate each other. At
several points during the conversation, the PC has the opportunity to
respond warmly or coolly to what NPC1 has said.

Later on in the game, the PC receives a dinner invitation. If the
conversation with NPC1 has been a friendly one, the invitation is from
NPC1. If the conversation was a chilly one, the invitation is from
NPC2. The dinner parties are dramatically different: at NPC1's, a
gang of terrorists breaks in and holds everyone at gunpoint, and your
job is to free the hostages; at NPC2's, you meet a charming stranger
and spend the rest of the game trying to get a romance going. The
author doesn't "want" you to pick either scenario, since both have been
coded -- either choice is just fine with the author. The author
doesn't nudge the player in either direction; on the contrary, the
author hopes that in later replayings of the game, the player will
select a different course so that all the beautiful prose in the
originally unchosen path won't go to waste.

This is the kind of thing I had in mind, which makes this second
passage seem off the mark:

> First, do you really mean "open-ended?" Open-*middled* is a better
> description, since you're talking about a broader range of
> consequences of the player's *current* statement, rather than any
> attribute of the *end*-goal.

No, I'm not. Or at least I didn't intend to. The endpoints =are=
different, as are the eventual goals.

Erik Max Francis

unread,
May 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/19/97
to

James Cole wrote:

> Consider another example: from a distance you see a man surreptitiously
> drop something. All you can distinguish about him is that he's wearing
> a
> red sweater. You go over and pick the object up, noting that it's some
> sort of engine part. There is a mechanic in the town and you decide to
> go
> and ask him about the part.
>
> If you were using the ask/tell style, what would asking the mechanic
> about
> the object mean? Most likely, it'll mean asking him to identify the
> part
> -- but I also want to ask him about the shady character! There is no
> way
> you could do this with the ask/tell style. (and yes, you probably could
> find some sort of awkward workaround for this particular situation, but
> not
> for the general case.)

It seems pretty straightforward: ASK MECHANIC ABOUT MAN or ASK MECHANIC
ABOUT SHADY CHARACTER or ASK MECHANIC ABOUT RED SWEATER.

Or, much more easily, a simulated conversation about the man in the red
sweater could be prompted by ASK MECHANIC ABOUT ENGINE PART.

Gareth Jones

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May 20, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/20/97
to

rg...@york.ac.uk (Richard G Clegg) writes:

[snip]


>
> Hmm... the problem is Neil, I don't know about you, but I hardly ever
> actually ASK/TELL characters in IF unless I've had a really strong hint
> that I need to. Conversation in IF is, generally, pretty limited simply
> because the author can only cover such a small portion of the possible
> choices. That's why, I find, a game like Monkey Island has far more
> complete and satisfying dialogue than even the top IF games simply
> because, unless you really persevere, you can't find much to say to IF
> characters that they can sensibly respond to.

True, but if IF is written well, then I tend not to want to break
the flow of the story so I don't ask about irrelevant things. Partly
this is a subconscious acceptance of the limitations but also why
should I want to ask a character about something irrelevant?

As an aside, would it improve IF if the NPCs could discuss events
outside the game - either in the real world, or background events in
the game? One reason to constrain an NPC's responses and knowledge is
to prevent plot developments that the author doesn't want. Suppose I
wrote a game about 'The Big Sleep'. No NPC should know about the
chauffeur's murderer or the player might try to solve this murder when
I want them to follow the original plot. Would Christminster be a
better game if you could discuss the Moorish conquest of Spain with Edward?



> Can anyone post an extract from an IF game that's anything even like a
> conversation which didn't take them ages poking around in the game to
> find which words were responded to?

I found Dr. Perelman and Jill in AMFV to be quite good. The only
problem was the Jill couldn't talk about the plan or the BCF but other
than that both characters gave me the impression that the
conversations were unbounded. I don't think I would have felt this if
there had been a menu:
1) Ask Doctor about plan
2) Ask Doctor about Ryder
3) Ask Doctor about himself

>3
........

1) Ask Doctor about plan
2) Ask Doctor about Ryder
3) Ask Doctor about Leah
4) Ask Doctor about Esther

(I think I've got some of the names wrong, but you get the idea.)

I find the main problem with NPC interaction is that TELL X ABOUT Y
doesn't work very often. I suppose that for this to work in the
general case the NPCs need to be able to learn, eg.

> Examine car

It is a blue Ford.

> S

You see Tom

> Ask Tom about blue car

Tom says "I havn't seen any cars."

> Tell Tom about blue car

Tom listens

> Ask Tom about blue car

Tom says "It is a blue Ford, according to you."

> Tell Tom that blue car is red
???????

Apart from the last command the general case of the conversation could
be programmed quite easily but other than by making a special case how
do you get Tom to act on this knowledge? Allowing the player to make
unconstrained statements poses a bigger problem (IMO) than allowing
her to ask unbounded questions.

> Ask Tom about Fermat's last theorum
Tom says "I don't know anything about that."

is fine. But

> Tell Tom about murderer behind him
Tom ignores you
The murderer kills Tom

doesn't work as well (unless you've cried wolf previously). Tell X
about Y, or tell X that Y is Z are very difficult to deal with because
even after the NLP stage and the knowledge representation problem
(neither of which are insurmountable or trivial) the problem is then
to get the character to act on his/her/its/their knowledge. Other
than constraining the plot and using special cases, I don't think that
this can be solved, at least not yet.



> IMHO dialogue is one of the places where Lucas-arts style graphics
> adventures win hands down against IF. In IF it's much more of a
> struggle simply because of the zillions of things you could ask a
> character, even the most dilligent programmer will only have covered a
> few hundred and most of them scantily.

I prefer to be able to choose my own questions, even if I do get "I
don't know anything about that." a lot of the time. I suppose it just
comes down to personal taste.



> This is not to say that I prefer point'n'click - just that I think it
> really does win out in this respect.
>
> --
> Richard G. Clegg Only the mind is waving
> Dept. of Mathematics (Network Control group) Uni. of York.
> email: ric...@manor.york.ac.uk
> www: http://manor.york.ac.uk/top.html


--
Gareth Jones (gd...@doc.ic.ac.uk)

Mary K. Kuhner

unread,
May 20, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/20/97
to

I've played two hybrid graphics/text games (Martian Memorandum and
Rise of the Dragon) which used menu-based conversation. In both games
it was frustratingly difficult to develop any sense of the main
character's personality, because whenever I started having a feeling
for who he was and what he'd say, I'd hit a dialog menu that absolutely
didn't cooperate. And reading the "wrong" responses was both
distracting and hard on the characterization. (My subjective impression
was always that the character thought of all responses and then chose
one, so all of them had to be in-character, not just the one chosen.)

I'd prefer a keyword system, even a relatively stilted,
un-conversational one. It's no use having lovely complete sentences
if the player is always thinking "but I wouldn't say that".

Mary Kuhner mkku...@genetics.washington.edu

James Cole

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May 20, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/20/97
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erky...@netcom.com (Andrew Plotkin) wrote:

>James Cole (jrc...@ozemail.com.au) wrote:
>> erky...@netcom.com (Andrew Plotkin) wrote:
>
>> [...]

[...]
>
[...]


>
>> >("GET KEYS. GET LAMP" winds up the same as "GET LAMP. GET KEYS.")
>
>> what's the point of this example? It doesn't seem to fit in with what
>> you're saying.
>
>It's an example of a trivial branch in the storyline which doesn't take
>exponential effort to design. Most commands in a game are orthogonal and
>independent of each other; only a tiny fraction have broader effects.
>Nonetheless, it's that small fraction which the players focus on. Nobody
>ever complains that "GET KEYS" has a predictable boilerplate effect.

I understand, but I don't quite get what the point was.

>> >It's all somehow different for conversation. We expect (at least, I
>> >expect) every act of conversation to be interesting and relevant to the
>> >plot -- even though we're perfectly happy with a game where 75% of the
>> >commands are "N", "N", "E", "I", "L", ... etc.
>
>> I'm not.
>
>I was describing all existing text IF, is the point...

I don't get what you mean?

[...]

>> >In a menu system -- as opposed to a keyword system -- you're backing up
>> >and giving the player three or four options at a time, instead of
>> >hundreds.
>
>> I see this as an advantage. Because there are a clearly defined number of
>> choices you can't get the situation of a default response destroying
>> suspension of disbelief.
>
>It's neither an advantage nor a disadvantage.

You can't just give a statement without any reasoning whatsoever.

>
>> Note that this doesn't mean that the Monkey Island technique is just a more
>> fool-proof "mass-market" solution.
>
>> I'm interested in knowing exactly why you think hundreds are better?
>
>Not better; I'm saying that it's an approach which is consistent with the
>rest (non-conversation portions) of existing text IF. Therefore fans of
>existing IF are predisposed to prefer it.

You're only looking at some aspects.
I disagree with your conclusion, nothing is as straightforward as that.

>
>> > This is not unworkable, but it does jar against the IF model
>> >that we're all used to. I think that's why people react badly to the
>> >suggestion.
>
>> Actually, I doubt that. I suspect it's because most haven't actually used
>> the Monkey Island style (at least in a decent implementation).
>
>Only one possible follow-up to that claim. Heh.

Out of interest, what's your situation?

>
>> >As to the two level-system that we started with -- "ask salesman about
>> >Volkswagen" followed by three options -- it seems unnecessarily
>> >complicated. Well, I should say, just plain complicated.
>
>> Why does it seem complicated?
>
>Two modes rather than one.

Your answer, at least, is a simplification. Two models does not
necessarily imply greater complexity. And complexity doesn't have to mean
anything bad.

>
>> > Any hybrid
>> >system runs the risk of combining the flaws of both parts; I'd be afraid
>> >that the result would feel vague and nonspecific *and* forced and
>> >putting-options-in-my-mouth.
>
>> How come?
>
>Because that's always the risk when you combine two different systems, of
>any sort.

Of course.

James Cole
-----------
jrc...@ozemail.com.au

Mary K. Kuhner

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May 20, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/20/97
to

ad...@acpub.duke.edu writes:

>Neil deMause wrote:
>> To add to all the excellent points that Sam made, in this situation I
>> know exactly what I would do: type "1," undo, then "2," undo, then
>> "3," etc., until I'd run through all the options. Obviously limited
>> options invariably inspire me to try them all in order, both because
>> it's easy and because I don't want to miss any possibilities.

>Ah, but what if 1, 2 and 3 all lead to an enigmatic grunt, but at the


>end of the game, after you've had all kinds of adventures in the
>meantime, your choice turns out to be the factor that determines
>whether the NPC tries to kill you, make a pass at you, or both?

Without some immediate feedback, I'm pretty darned unlikely to connect
the dialog early in the game with the outcome at the end, unless I
deliberately go back and try all the other options. After all, in any
reasonably rich game other actions of mine will have impacted the NPC
in some way, if only indirectly. Since I am not a big replayer, I
may never even *realize* that the NPC might have done different things,
unless his dialog at the end makes that clear. "You insulted me, scurvy
dog! Walk the plank!"

One problem I personally have had with games that try to use a real
model of NPC personality (so that, for example, the more you compliment
someone the better he likes you) is that the most successful strategy
is to *think* of the NPCs that way, as bundles of compliment-counters
and aggression-counters and so forth. The best game implementing this
idea I've ever seen is _Trust and Betrayal_, which had neat NPC
conversations (via a very limited iconic language). But even that one
had stretches where you didn't feel like you were talking to someone,
just trying to pump up one counter or another.

Mary Kuhner mkku...@genetics.washington.edu

James Cole

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May 20, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/20/97
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null...@aol.com (Nulldogma) wrote:

>To add to all the excellent points that Sam made, in this situation I know
>exactly what I would do: type "1," undo, then "2," undo, then "3," etc.,
>until I'd run through all the options. Obviously limited options
>invariably inspire me to try them all in order, both because it's easy and

>because I don't want to miss any possibilities. Whereas with ASK/TELL I
>never know when I've exhausted the possibilities, adding to the illusion
>of boundlessness.

What illusion of boundlessness? How can you have an illusion of
bounlessness when there are so many responses which destroy suspension of
disbelief.

When using the Infocom ask/tell style you build up a congnitive picture of
what the system can handle. If you can ask about something quite specific
at one point it's going to clash with your mental picture (of how the
system works) when you can't ask about another thing of similarly specifc
later on.

Similarly, if you are constantly being reminded that the system doesn't
"handle" asking about something quite obvious, it's unfair to the player if
to expect them to go and ask about something quite specific.

What am I getting at? The illusion of boundlessness is *very* easily
broken with the ask/tell style.

>I suppose this could work if each choice led to an ever-increasing tree of
>conversation possibilities -- sort of like SUTWIN does with its keywords.
>But this would be a very different kind of game (sort of an elaborate
>Choose Your Own Adventure, or possibly something like Hidden Agenda, for
>those who are familiar with it), and I imagine in any case it would be
>incredibly tedious to write anything much longer than SUTWIN by this
>method.

Talking generally about your post, you've still got it all wrong. Your
still thinking about it in terms of the Infocom and ask/tell style
paradigm.

James Cole
-----------
jrc...@ozemail.com.au


James Cole

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May 20, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/20/97
to

Samuel DAF Barlow <sb6...@irix.bris.ac.uk> wrote:

>On 19 May 1997, Big Mad Drongo wrote:
>
>> James Cole (jrc...@ozemail.com.au) wrote:

>> : Using a monkey island style of the ask/tell format you ask the questions:


>> : 1) What can you tell me about this object?
>>

>> SHOW OBJECT TO MECHANIC
>OR ASK MECHANIC ABOUT OBJECT
>>

>> : 2) I saw a man drop this, he was wearing a red sweater.

>> : Do you know who he could be?
>>

>> ASK MECHANIC ABOUT MAN IN RED SWEATER
>OR TELL MECHANIC ABOUT MAN IN RED SWEATER
>
>GARAGE
>You are in a garage. A greasy mechanic stands here, looking over a car.
>>Mechanic, hello
>"Hi. How can I help you, young man?"
>>ask mechanic about object
>He looks it over in his hands. "Hmmm. A variable-valve gasket. Where
>d'ya get your hands on this?"
>>tell mechanic about man in red sweater
>~Oh...Bob! He's a shifty fella.~
>>ask mechanic about bob
>etc., etc.

My example wasn't the best to illustrate what I was talking about.

That aside, the simple fact is, there are many obvious, simple, and valid
questions which the ask/tell style can't handle. *At least not in a
general way*. It is very important that they do handle them in a general
way.
Am I going to bother explaining this or giving examples? No, not at the
moment. Think about it.

>I strongly disagree with the statements about the Monkey-Island style
>conversations. I have never found these to work (and, yes, I have
>"experienced" them). The humour that Mr. Cole refers to is the same type
>of humour we see in sitcoms.

Not necessarily. Not all the humor in Monkey Island is like this.

> It is very obvious in MI when we are about
>to see a humourous response, just as in a sitcom when it is obvious a
>joke is being set-up.

That is not true.

> In Ask/Tell I-F, the player can be suprised by
>an answer.

And please, do tell me why this can't happen in Monkey Island style.
You can't.


> I find it strange that Adam Cadre supports the MI style as a
>way of putting the player in character when his own game, I-0, is a
>brilliant example of how to do this outside of MI menus;

perhaps he's a little more open minded?

> like when I
>asked to "open boot" and was told that my character would call it a
>trunk. The large number of humorous responses to my commands also help
>tell the player who he/she is without hitting them over the head.

Relevance to you point?

and are you implying that the monkey island style really forces it upon
you?

By itself, this example looks quite convincing. Step back and consider it
within the context of a real game and things change. It doesn't work like
this. ]


>The problem with menus is that they run against the rest of the game,
>they are an artifice which destroys the suspension-of-willing-disbelief.

exaplain exactly how and why they do this?

>If the whole game were menu-driven it would be OK.

why exactly?

> Whereas the ASk,TELL
>convention is part of the parser which we use in the other parts of the
>game.

Your drawing simplistic conclusions.


> I-F's main strength is the fact that its input, the parser is
>textual as is the output.

>Menu's take this away; the player no-longer types his actions, but is read them.

Again, you're drawing simplistic conclusions.

>Now we are back to fiction, minus the interactivity.

What? That statement is completely ridiculous. Not only can it be highly
interactive, but, as in real conversations, also involve quite a bit of
thinking about what to say.

>One last thing, as regards MI, etc. from my "experience." Although
>Cadre, et al, claim that MI menu's are interactive I have found that of
>the, say, 4 options only 1 is neccessary to the game.

That is wrong. Simple observation or usage can disprove that.

> As such the player
>is allowed to click through the other options, always returning to the 4
>initial choices until he picks the "right" one.

Untrue.

> So, the only thing he is
>choosing is the order in which to say his funny lines.

There is a lot more depth to it than that. Even if you had seen a game in
which what you're describing is true, I think an intellegent person could
see the possibilities of what could be done.

Throughout your post you've given simplistic reasons. You've given
statements, not reasons. If you want to prove anything you've got to do
more than that.


---------------
James Cole
jrc...@ozemail.com.au

James Cole

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May 20, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/20/97
to

Barbara Robson <rob...@octarine.cc.adfa.oz.au> wrote:

>jrc...@ozemail.com.au (James Cole) writes:
>
[...]

>|If you were using the ask/tell style, what would asking the mechanic about
>|the object mean? Most likely, it'll mean asking him to identify the part
>|-- but I also want to ask him about the shady character! There is no way
>|you could do this with the ask/tell style. (and yes, you probably could
>|find some sort of awkward workaround for this particular situation, but not
>|for the general case.)
>

My example was poor.

>Actually, it's not at all difficult to do this for the general case.
>Simply set the possible conversation topics up as objects and give them
>names that reflect what is likely to be asked about. Then you could
>have, for example:

I'm sorry, but there is NO WAY you can set up the general case for very
"specific" questions. There is no way you could set up all the possible
topics, and you can't just do it for particular situations -- it's pretty
well all or nothing.

I do understand that it's probably not entirely clear what I mean,
especially from my example. "Specific" and "general case" are quite open
to interpretation. At the moment I'm tired and I'm cold :) so I'll explain
later.

>InfoObj Part "purpose of the engine part"
> with name "part" "object" "purpose" "of" "the" "engine",
> description "~Ah yes, it's a mark I technobabble.~";
>
>InfoObj Crook "shady character who dropped the engine part",
> with name "part" "man" "red" "wearing" "sweater" "engine" "object"
> "shady" "character" "who" "dropped" "the",
> description "The mechanic looks a little afraid. ~Nope. Don't
> know anything about him. Never saw him.~";
>
>If the player types "Ask the mechanic about the engine part", the
>parser will then seek clarification ("Which do you mean, the purpose
>of the engine part, or the shady character who dropped the engine
>part?"), and the player can respond, just as in the case of a menu-
>based system. Alternatively, they can be more explicit in the original
>question ("Ask him about the man who dropped the part") and it will go
>directly to the relevant response, without needing extra coding or
>forcing the player to fiddle with menus. This will work for the general
>case.
>
>Menus-vs-simplified natural language is a matter of preference.

Calling it simplified natural language is misleading. The ask/tell style
is NOT anything like simplified natural language.

[...]


James Cole
----------
jrc...@ozemail.com.au


James Cole

unread,
May 20, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/20/97
to

>I've played two hybrid graphics/text games (Martian Memorandum and
>Rise of the Dragon) which used menu-based conversation. In both games
>it was frustratingly difficult to develop any sense of the main
>character's personality, because whenever I started having a feeling
>for who he was and what he'd say, I'd hit a dialog menu that absolutely
>didn't cooperate. And reading the "wrong" responses was both
>distracting and hard on the characterization. (My subjective impression
>was always that the character thought of all responses and then chose
>one, so all of them had to be in-character, not just the one chosen.)
>

Considering that I was talking about Monkey Island style conversation when
I started this thread, I want to point out that it's conversation is very
different to this.

>I'd prefer a keyword system, even a relatively stilted,
>un-conversational one. It's no use having lovely complete sentences
>if the player is always thinking "but I wouldn't say that".
>

This problem doesn't have to occur if it's done right.


James Cole
----------
jrc...@ozemail.com.au

---------------
James Cole
jrc...@ozemail.com.au

Big Mad Drongo

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May 20, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/20/97
to

Samuel DAF Barlow (sb6...@irix.bris.ac.uk) wrote:
: The problem with menus is that they run against the rest of the game,

: they are an artifice which destroys the suspension-of-willing-disbelief.
: If the whole game were menu-driven it would be OK.

Indeed - I think you've hit the nail right on the head there. The
menu-driven system is fine (and even preferable) in games like Monkey
Island because it fits in with the point-and-click interface of the game
as a whole. But when we're talking about interactive fiction such as games
produced in Inform then it really does stand out like a sore thumb. Any
game that offers me a menu as part of the main game had better have a good
reason for doing so, or I'll just stop playing it - it just doesn't feel
right in context. The only place I've found menus to work in text
adventures is for the help system provided by Infocom (and similar) games.

Adrian


Michael Straight

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May 20, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/20/97
to


On Mon, 19 May 1997, Adam Cadre wrote:

> Thanks for the praise, though you may have hit upon one of my
> motivations for trying the menus -- having done one menu-free game,
> I want to try other things. I'm not entirely pleased with the ask/tell
> interface, and apparently neither are quite a few others; I tried an
> alternative type of conversation in I-0 (with Larry in the truck) but
> wasn't completely satisfied with it.

Although I loved I-0 (haven't finished exploring it yet, actually), I
didn't like the Larry conversation thing very much. For one thing, it
would give really weird results if you try to ask/talk to Larry in the
space between his questions because he would answer and then continue the
conversation as if he hadn't, giving stuff like this:

"You go to Dorado state?" Larry asks?

[enter yes, no, or refuse]> no

> ask larry about car

"I seen plenty of cars worse than that."
"Oh, U of Dorado?" Larry says. "I didn't realize I wuz dealin with a
whiz kid here."

Of course the traditional ask/tell system can also yield some weird
non-sequiters too. My real beef with it was that it broke the immersion
with "meta" instructions and seemed unnecessary. None of the prompted
responses were anything that couldn't have been handled by the standard
"Larry, no" or "Larry, college." And refusal could have been implied by
any action other than responding.

I haven't played Monkey Island, so my opinion may be uninformed, but I'd
like to add my vote to the people saying that having multiple-choice
conversations seems much more artificial and closed-ended than the
traditional ask/tell system. Even if ask/tell is every bit as restricted
in the possible responses, it *seems* open-ended, and I think that's very
important to maintaining immersion.

If there's a conversation that you want the player-character to have that
you can't do with ask/tell, I'd prefer something like this (pardon the
poor writing; I'm a player, not an author):

BAR

There is a bartender here.

>ask bartender about drinks

"Do you have anything that won't give me a headache?" you ask with
a giggle.

"Howbout a Shirley Temple?" he replies, giving you a lecherous grin.

>tell bartender about birthday

"Today's my 21st birthday and I'm looking for a good time."

The bartender stares for a few seconds and then asks, "Wanna go out
when my shift is over?"

>bartender, no

"My daddy always told me to never go out with a man who makes me pay
for my own drinks."

The bartender laughs and turns to take another order.

I'd much rather see the ask/tell conversations "expanded," even if they
took a direction I didn't quite intend, than pick responses like these
from a list.

Not that Michael Straight would refuse to try a game w/multiple choice stuff.
FLEOEVDETYHOEUPROEONREWMEILECSOFMOERSGTIRVAENRGEEARDSTVHIESBIITBTLHEEPSRIACYK
Ethical Mirth Gas/"I'm chaste alright."/Magic Hitler Hats/"Hath grace limits?"
"Tight Camel Hairs!"/Chili Hamster Tag/The Gilt Charisma/"I gather this calm."


Andrew Plotkin

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May 20, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/20/97
to

James Cole (jrc...@ozemail.com.au) wrote:
> >It's an example of a trivial branch in the storyline which doesn't take
> >exponential effort to design. Most commands in a game are orthogonal and
> >independent of each other; only a tiny fraction have broader effects.
> >Nonetheless, it's that small fraction which the players focus on. Nobody
> >ever complains that "GET KEYS" has a predictable boilerplate effect.

> I understand, but I don't quite get what the point was.

The point is that the illusion of boundlessness, as you described it in
another post, is a lot more resilient than you are claiming. Or, at least,
it holds up very well for me, and I think for a lot of us. I get the
impression that it's much more fragile for you; but this is a matter of
personal preference.

> >> >It's all somehow different for conversation. We expect (at least, I
> >> >expect) every act of conversation to be interesting and relevant to the
> >> >plot -- even though we're perfectly happy with a game where 75% of the
> >> >commands are "N", "N", "E", "I", "L", ... etc.
> >
> >> I'm not.
> >
> >I was describing all existing text IF, is the point...

> I don't get what you mean?

In all existing text games -- well, Infocom games and the ones built with
TADS and Inform standard libraries -- 75% of the game is trivial commands.
Movement, look, inventory, and so on. Maybe you can't stand this, but the
rest of us seem to have adapted. Furthermore, of the boundless (well,
huge) set of possible commands, 98% produce a dull result like "You don't
see any such thing here" or "You can't pull that."

In the NPC-conversation parts of these games, again, most commands produce
a dull result like "I dasn't noo nowt aboot tha'." And this doesn't really
bother me either, largely because it's so parallel to the previous case,
and therefore I've gotten used to it. But it does tend to bother people
more, which is what I was saying; we do tend to expect that every act of
conversation with an NPC will be understood and will produce an
intelligent response. Because that's how real people behave.

> You can't just give a statement without any reasoning whatsoever.

Demonstratably false; I do it all the time. :)

> >> >This is not unworkable, but it does jar against the IF model
> >> >that we're all used to. I think that's why people react badly to the
> >> >suggestion.
> >
> >> Actually, I doubt that. I suspect it's because most haven't actually used
> >> the Monkey Island style (at least in a decent implementation).
> >
> >Only one possible follow-up to that claim. Heh.

> Out of interest, what's your situation?

I have a day job, and my spare time is all taken up right now with writing
a Mac graphics tool. When I finish that, I have at two well-developed plot
lines that I want to turn into games, and at least one more set of ideas
which I want to develop and then turn into a game. Plus assorted other
projects, some related to IF. Exploring new NPC-interaction modes is so far
down the list that it's got coal veins running through it. :(

Mike Phillips

unread,
May 20, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/20/97
to

On 20 May 97, Barbara Robson <rob...@octarine.cc.adfa.oz.au> wrote:
>jrc...@ozemail.com.au (James Cole) writes:
>
>Actually, it's not at all difficult to do this for the general case.
>Simply set the possible conversation topics up as objects and give them
>names that reflect what is likely to be asked about. Then you could
>have, for example:
>
>InfoObj Part "purpose of the engine part"
> with name "part" "object" "purpose" "of" "the" "engine",
> description "~Ah yes, it's a mark I technobabble.~";
>
>InfoObj Crook "shady character who dropped the engine part",
> with name "part" "man" "red" "wearing" "sweater" "engine" "object"
> "shady" "character" "who" "dropped" "the",
> description "The mechanic looks a little afraid. ~Nope. Don't
> know anything about him. Never saw him.~";
>

I would get the adname.h add-on, and use adname for several of those (e.g.
'of' and 'the' in particular) to avoid disambiguation because of common
"throwaway" words. (In fact, I'm using this in a game I'm working on with a
reference book and the Encyclopedia Frobozzica code to avoid selfsame problem
with 'of' in particular.)

Mike Phillips, mi...@lawlib.wm.edu


Message has been deleted

Joe Mason

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May 20, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/20/97
to

"Re: ask rec.arts.int-fict", declared Erik Max from the Vogon ship:

EM>The alternative seems much cleaner to me -- where a certain
EM>well-defined set of conversation verbs are used to communicate with
EM>the other characters in well-defined ways. Basically the words are
EM>more like keywords, with TELL MOM ABOUT FIRE being more concise then
EM>entering some two-way dialog:

EM> > TELL MOM ABOUT FIRE
EM> "What the! Who did it? Who did it?" she yipes, while running
EM> around looking for towels, as if that will help.

EM> > SAY [or ANSWER] JOHNNY
EM> "Oh, that little boy is going to get it! . . ."

EM>There can be a host of these verbs, such as ASK PRINCIPAL ABOUT
EM>PADDLE, SHOW GUN TO TROLL, SAY HALLELUJAH, ANSWER NO, etc.

EM>These seem to make it much more a game than just picking the right
EM>multiple choice answer -- or, in the case where a new answer pops up,
EM>pickign the only obvious answer.

This works for simple things like your example, but if you actually want
two-way conversation it gets harder. For example, implement this using
keywords:


Urabi stares at you. Flames burn in his eyes. His voice is a narrow
hiss.

"You have heard the voice. I can see it in your eyes! She speaks to you,
too. What has she told you?"

Your response:

(1) "What voice? I don't know what you're talking about!"
(2) "She didn't tell me anything."
(3) "She told me not to trust you."
(4) "The voice speaks to you? I thought I was the only one!"
(5) "She told me I could take you by surprise - she betrayed me!"
(6) Say nothing.

> 1

Urabi draws back his hand and strikes you across the face. The blow is
only slightly softened by the bandage on his hand. "Answer me!"

Your response:

(1) "I'm trying! I don't know anything!"
(2) "She didn't tell me anything."
(3) "She told me not to trust you."
(4) "The voice speaks to you? I thought I was the only one!"
(5) "She told me I could take you by surprise - she betrayed me!"
(6) Say nothing.

> 5

Urabi smiles, and some of the tension drains from his face. "I was
worried," he whispers. "She promised me that I would be the victor. When
I realized she spoke to you as well, I thought that I was the one who
was betrayed." He chuckles. "Soon... Soon I will be with her."

He strides to the door and leaves. For the first time, he has neglected
to check the tightness of your bonds.


As you can see, it's NOT obvious what to pick. You can eventually find
the right one by trying all of them in turn, of course, but in a game of
this type the storyline would branch according to which you pick, so if
you find something that seems to work you still wouldn't know if its the
best.

The problem with doing this using keywords is finding keywords for
complex topics. Even if you can find a way to do it, the player may not
think of the same keywords as you and get a guess-the-word problem.

Joe

þ CMPQwk 1.42 9550 þWhen in doubt, duck. - Malcolm Forbes

James Cole

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May 20, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/20/97
to

Gareth Jones <gd...@oak21.doc.ic.ac.uk> wrote:

>rg...@york.ac.uk (Richard G Clegg) writes:
>
>[snip]
>>
>> Hmm... the problem is Neil, I don't know about you, but I hardly ever
>> actually ASK/TELL characters in IF unless I've had a really strong hint
>> that I need to. Conversation in IF is, generally, pretty limited simply
>> because the author can only cover such a small portion of the possible
>> choices. That's why, I find, a game like Monkey Island has far more
>> complete and satisfying dialogue than even the top IF games simply
>> because, unless you really persevere, you can't find much to say to IF
>> characters that they can sensibly respond to.

>True, but if IF is written well, then I tend not to want to break
>the flow of the story so I don't ask about irrelevant things.

How do you manage to do that?

> Partly
>this is a subconscious acceptance of the limitations but also why
>should I want to ask a character about something irrelevant?

I doesn't have to be anything irrelevant.

>As an aside, would it improve IF if the NPCs could discuss events
>outside the game - either in the real world,

As a point of interests: Obviously "in the real world" can mean many
things. Depending on which one you take it as has large effects on the
answer to your question.

> or background events in
>the game? One reason to constrain an NPC's responses and knowledge is
>to prevent plot developments that the author doesn't want. Suppose I
>wrote a game about 'The Big Sleep'. No NPC should know about the
>chauffeur's murderer or the player might try to solve this murder when
>I want them to follow the original plot.

[...]

I really don't think there's any simple answer to your question -- there's
so many things to consider. That aside, I'm quite sure that it could work
quite well, if implemented right.

>> Can anyone post an extract from an IF game that's anything even like a
>> conversation which didn't take them ages poking around in the game to
>> find which words were responded to?

>I found Dr. Perelman and Jill in AMFV to be quite good. The only
>problem was the Jill couldn't talk about the plan or the BCF but other
>than that both characters gave me the impression that the
>conversations were unbounded. I don't think I would have felt this if
>there had been a menu:
>1) Ask Doctor about plan
>2) Ask Doctor about Ryder
>3) Ask Doctor about himself

>>3
[...rest of example snipped...]

I just want to point out that the Monkey Island style does not work like
this at all. The result is quite different.

[...]
---------------
James Cole
jrc...@ozemail.com.au

James Cole

unread,
May 21, 1997, 3:00:00 AM5/21/97
to

ros...@iname.com (Eric Rossing) wrote:

>On Sun, 18 May 1997 10:52:18 GMT, jrc...@ozemail.com.au (James Cole) wrote:
>
>: null...@aol.com (Nulldogma) wrote:
>:
>: >James Cole wrote:
>: >
>: >> Firstly, because you say something, the other person replies, you reply
>: >> to them, and so on. Secondly, the content is more like a natural
>: >> conversation: you aren't restricted to just objects, but can also talk
>: >> about more abstract subjects, like "Hey, Joe, how has work been?" and
>: >> say things like "Yeh, I know what you mean". Do you talk to people by
>: >> asking or telling them about objects?
>: >
>: >The first is easy: ASK JOE ABOUT WORK. Or, if you feel like doing a little
>: >extra coding, JOE, HOW IS WORK, or even JOE, HOW HAS WORK BEEN can be made
>: >to get the same response.
>:
>: Ah, this is a good example to explain how the bit about "putting words into
>: your mouth" fits in. Say Joe happens to be an old friend of yours who you
>: haven't seen in years. Playing the game as "yourself", you might have no
>: reason to ask Joe about his job -- unless it is obvious to do so (e.g.
>: something in the game text suggests doing this). But, playing a character
>: (who may have worked with Joe at the Cannery a while back) it would be a
>: natural thing for him/her to do.
>
>Well, any well-written game will, in one way or another, tell the player
>that he knew Joe years ago, or drop other hints that Joe's job is
>significant.

There's the problem, hinting would ruin it. Sure, in some cases it might
fit in well. But, in most it will seem unnatural, forced, and awkward.

"How his job's going" may just be something which the character wants to
ask Joe about, there may be no real purpose to it. Perhaps Joe's answer
only adds a bit of characterisation, or gives an insight to your
character's relation to Joe in the past. Hinting is too unelegant in doing
this. Espeically so, if you want to have more "real" conversations, like
you'd have in a book, movie, etc.

>: With the ask/tell style the basis of communication are things which can
>: superficially be observed within the gameworld. This is not the way people
>: communicate.
>:
>: This is another facet of why the Monkey Island style adds up to a more
>: "real" conversation.
>
>But it doesn't! MI's conversations are scripted conversations handed to me
>by the authors of the game. I don't want to find out that Joe knows nothing
>about the blue goose because there aren't any menu choices about it. I want
>to be able to ask him and hear him say he knows nothing about it. But I've
>never seen a MI-style interface that allows that.

You've totally missed the point.

>It's also annoying when you put things together sooner than the writers
>allow you to. I haven't played Monkey Island, but I've been playing Star
>Trek:TNG, A Final Unity, which uses the same style of conversation. There
>have been times when I wanted to ask a character about something, but had to
>run around to convince the game that I knew to talk about that. Here's an
>example:
[...example snipped...]

From the discussion it's been made clear that the Monkey Island style can
have a lot of problems if not implemented well. Obviously a bad situation
like in you example can occur fairly easily.

You have to remember though, these types of situations can generally be
avoided. It is even possible to do it so it's not obvious to the user that
you're trying to avoid the problem.

Nothing is perfect, problems can and do occur with the Monkey Island
system. Part of my preference for it stems from it's disadvantages being
far less than the ask/tell style. As for the advantages of both systems
it's a more subjective affair, you may like one system better than the
other. This is Ok; but what you can't do is separate the advantages and
disadvantages of a system. You have to consider something as a whole.

>: Ok, how about these examples:
>: - He really needs to think about what he says.
>: - Ok, where do you want to meet?
>: - Hi, can you tell me where I can have some fun around here?
>: - Who's in charge here?
>: - Hey, that's a nice hat.
>: - But I told you that the water had to go in _after_ the flour!
>:
>: Basically, it can be any possible thing which someone could say to you, or
>: you to someone else.

>Yes, but only if the game writers think you ought to be able to say it.

You've missed the point.

>Admittedly, both styles of conversation require the writer to anticipate
>everything the player will want to say, but the normal IF way doesn't
>broadcast the limitation.

more choices <> less limitated.

>: >I guess I just disagree about which feels less stilted. If I'm in a room
>: >with someone and told I have a choice between speaking a simplified
>: >version of English, or communicating entirely through a set of pre-printed
>: >cards, I'll use the simplified English anyday.
>:
>: Yes, but were not talking about real life here. I'd do the same in
>: that situation too.
>
>And the point here is which conversation style best simulates real life.

why?

>One of the big ideas behind good IF (one of the things I look for in a game,
>at any rate) is to do as much as possible to draw the player into the game
>world by making it seem as natural as possible.

If you truly understood both systems you would know that the Monkey Island
style actually does quite a good job of this.

In realy life, when you're talking to someone you think of what to say.
Sure, in most cases it's pretty much automatic. But, at every point in the
conversation when it's "your turn" you DO have a set of choices of what you
can say.

You DON'T talk to people by asking (or telling) them about a series of
objects. It's not natural.

Now Monkey Island does give you a limited number of things to say, but,
done right, it can still give you an impression of a conversation. You are
playing a character, and your choices are the things the character has
"thought" he/she might say. You are still folloing the same pattern as
real conversations -- deciding what to say at a particular point. In this
way, it does "feel" more natural.

>
>: >> You really can have a conversation with an NPC which sounds like a
>: >> conversation between two real people.
>
>Yes, but I'm one of the people. Therefore, I want to control what I say...
>
You can. The choices are limited **at each point in the conversation** but
this is not that far away from real conversation anyway.

What **real** control do you have in the ask/tell style?? Sure, you can
ask/tell about any object, but there's no control apart from that. Do you
really have any control over the meaning of your question.

Think about if you had to talk to someone but could only ask them an
initial question. Then questions about the "objects" mentioned/raised in
their reply. You'd find there were many things you'd like to ask them
about which you couldn't.

>: >> As for putting words into your mouth, it's supposed to. As Adam Cadre
>: >> said, it's much more suited to games where you play a character rather
>: >> than yourself.
>
>Personally, I want to be allowed to play the character, and not have the
>character played(scripted) for me...
>
Look, that's just not how it works. Simple as that.

---------------
James Cole
jrc...@ozemail.com.au