resolving ambiguity

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Przemyslaw Wstrzemiezliwy

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Jan 19, 2001, 5:30:10 PM1/19/01
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->EXAMINE KEY
Which key do you mean? The silver, gold or brass one?

This seems to be the default response to ambiguity in most games. I have
always found 'disambiguity-questions' of this sort very annoying. Who is
asking the question? Is it the PC who has suddenly become aware that he is
just a puppet on a string, or is it the parser which suddenly comes to life?
Either way, mimesis is broken.

One way of solving this would be to allow the PC to make her/his/its own
decisions. The game simply chooses, on the basis of preference variables or
randomly, one of the keys and prints a message to that effect; 'You ponder
for a while which one of the three keys to examine. Finally you decide
to...'

Any comments?


Ted M

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Jan 19, 2001, 8:01:46 PM1/19/01
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przemyslaw_w...@hotmail.com wrote:

>->EXAMINE KEY
>Which key do you mean? The silver, gold or brass one?

>...
> mimesis is broken.

>One way of solving this would be to allow the PC to make her/his/its own
>decisions. The game simply chooses, on the basis of preference variables or
>randomly, one of the keys and prints a message to that effect; 'You ponder
>for a while which one of the three keys to examine.

Yes, I believe this was the algorithm used back in Roman days:

>RELEASE PRISONER
You ponder for a while which one of the two prisoners to release,
randomly settling upon Barabbas.

Barabbas runs away in the crowd.

>GUARD, NAIL PRISONER TO TREE
Jesus turns his gaze skyward. "My God, my God, why have You played
dice with Me?"

Most of the time, random resolution of ambiguity would be
inconsequential and would preserve mimesis as you hope. But it could
also lead to hugely mimesis-busting situations where the player (a)
resents the game's blatantly stupid choice of the Self-Destruct Button
over the Earl Grey Tea Button, and (b) is consequently forced to type
UNDO. The current disambiguation question breaks mimesis more often,
but always more gently than UNDO.

On the other hand, sensitive objects might be given a DISAMBIGUATE_ME
flag to minimize those occurrences.

- Ted M

Gabe McKean

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Jan 19, 2001, 7:40:25 PM1/19/01
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Most of the time, I find the 'traditional' way of resolving ambiguity to be
both necessary and useful. It's necessary, because if I accidently type an
ambiguous statement (such as your example of EXAMINE KEY' when there are 3
keys present) the parser doesn't have enough information to know what to do,
so it has to ask for more. It's useful, because often when I type an
ambiguous statement, I've forgotten something important (like the fact that
I'm holding more than one key) and could use the reminder. Also, I'd rather
have the parser ask me for help, rather than randomly make a decision on its
own, which could have bad consequences (imagine typing 'OPEN DOOR' in a 'The
Lady or the Tiger' type situation!).

Of course, traditional disambiguation is by no means perfect, and there may
be better ways of doing it that noone has found yet. I find the biggest
problems come when the parser asks an impossible to answer question ('which
key, the key or the key?'), or one that gives away information too early
('which door, the red door or the hidden door?') Both can be handled by
careful programming on the part of the author. Another problem can come
from the parser having disambiguation problems in an unambiguous situation,
but this doesn't seem to come up too much with modern parsers.


Ted M

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Jan 19, 2001, 8:10:58 PM1/19/01
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I too-hastily wrote:
>On the other hand, sensitive objects might be given a DISAMBIGUATE_ME
>flag to minimize those occurrences.

But you already mentioned possible use of preference variables (and I
even quoted your text!). I'll read more carefully next time.

- Ted M

Adam Myrow

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Jan 19, 2001, 8:12:19 PM1/19/01
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I really like how masqurade (from the 2000 competition) handles
ambiguity. You still get asked to choose, but the wording is really
cool. "You stop and think, the oak door or the outside door?" or
something like that. It isn't nearly as startling, but in any case, I'd
much rather be asked than have it chosen unless it's obvious. Of course,
in the same game, the "that's not a verb I recognize," message is "you
mumble something incomprehensible." I love customized messages when they
are that well thought out.

--
Adam Myrow

jpowe...@my-deja.com

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Jan 19, 2001, 9:15:04 PM1/19/01
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Personal preference: describe all three keys.

As I play more I-F, I find myself wishing Strunk & White had applied
themselves to this genre. "Does requiring the player to answer such a
question advance the narrative? Does it serve any other purpose?"

Something that always breaks mimesis for me is:

>open door
> It is locked
> Unlock door
> What should I unlock the door with?
At this point I think to myself, "Let's see, I have a fish, a flaming
sword and a key... decisions, decisions...

If I have three keys, I want the piece to be sensible about it. In real
life, I have a quick look, take a guess, try another, until I get it. I
hardly need to dwell on this simple and automatic task.

Another, mimesis breaking point: In most games, when I open a door, I
can't see what is in there without entering the room. It seems
incongruous when you open a door, presumably look through it, but have no
comments on the shocking horrow soon to be revealed.

In the above, I would much prefer:
>Open door
> You fumble with the keys in your pocket. The tiny key is obviously too small, so you quickly try the others. The second snaps the padlock open. Removing it from the hasp, you press your ear against the door but cannot hear anything from within. You brace yourself, then decisevly swing it open only to reveal - ANDREW PLOTKIN'S BRAIN!!!


In article <Sd3a6.7681$AH6.1...@newsc.telia.net>,
"Przemyslaw Wstrzemiezliwy" <przemyslaw_w...@hotmail.com>
wrote:


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Bruce Barnett

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Jan 20, 2001, 9:57:10 PM1/20/01
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On Sat, 20 Jan 2001 02:15:04 GMT, jpowe...@my-deja.com wrote:

>Another, mimesis breaking point: In most games, when I open a door, I
>can't see what is in there without entering the room. It seems
>incongruous when you open a door, presumably look through it, but have no
>comments on the shocking horrow soon to be revealed.

And yet, in Empire of the Over-Mind, a 1981 classic, you could look
down any passage--door, road, or otherwise-- and see *something* (at
random) on the other side if there was any light there.

John Colagioia

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Jan 22, 2001, 1:18:54 PM1/22/01
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jpowe...@my-deja.com wrote:

> Personal preference: describe all three keys.

I might take this a small step further, if the extra programming overhead isn't too much: Try to eliminate as many keys as possible before describing them.


> As I play more I-F, I find myself wishing Strunk & White had applied
> themselves to this genre. "Does requiring the player to answer such a
> question advance the narrative? Does it serve any other purpose?"

> Something that always breaks mimesis for me is:
>
> >open door
> > It is locked
> > Unlock door
> > What should I unlock the door with?
> At this point I think to myself, "Let's see, I have a fish, a flaming
> sword and a key... decisions, decisions...

And many of those games would have been improved by the allowance of using the fish...

But, this is what I was talking about earlier. Ideally, I'd like a game (and I try to do this whenever I program) to minimize the number of things it needs clarification about.

"Hitchhiker's Guide" used the more annoying version of that, with respect to the plotter and generator, and the plugs. Many times, I found myself screaming something to the effect of, "why on Earth would I try plugging the small plug into the large outlet!?"


> If I have three keys, I want the piece to be sensible about it. In real
> life, I have a quick look, take a guess, try another, until I get it. I
> hardly need to dwell on this simple and automatic task.

Yep. Try to discard, and if the player didn't specify, allow the option of "all the keys that look right," maybe.


> Another, mimesis breaking point: In most games, when I open a door, I
> can't see what is in there without entering the room. It seems
> incongruous when you open a door, presumably look through it, but have no
> comments on the shocking horrow soon to be revealed.

At one point, I decided that the "intermediary" who is your PC is too worried about explosives and such, and so backs away from the door when he opens it.

It was a funny enough image (especially for games set in relatively suburban backdrops) that it's stuck with me. It doesn't really hold up for the situations where you walk into a room where there are several people shouting at each other, though...


> In the above, I would much prefer:
> >Open door
> > You fumble with the keys in your pocket. The tiny key is obviously too small, so you quickly try the others. The second snaps the padlock open. Removing it from the hasp, you press your ear against the door but cannot hear anything from within. You brace yourself, then decisevly swing it open only to reveal - ANDREW PLOTKIN'S BRAIN!!!

That would probably be a very nice way of handling it, although it might take the fun out, for some people, by revealing the horrors of the next room. For most purposes, it should work, though. At least give a vague impression of what can be found in the room.


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