Red herrings

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Guy Thomas Rice

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May 8, 1993, 4:32:52 PM5/8/93
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This is somewhat in response to the criticizm of Planetfall. I haven't
actually played it, so I can't comment specifically about it, but one of
the "criticisms" of the game actually runs counter of one of my main
criticisms of most IF games.

The problem with many, if not most, IF games, is that EVERY SINGLE OBJECT
in the game is used for something, somewhere. This is INCREDIBLY
unrealistic. In real life, you would NOT walk thru a building picking up
everything that isn't nailed down. Aside from the fact that you would be
arrested, there's really no point to it, since 90% of the items you come
across in your average room (in your home, let's say) are things you
aren't going to use at all today. They're obviously there for some
reason, but the reason usually has nothing to do with whatever problem
you're working on at the moment. If my current problem is that I desire
something to eat, I don't pick up every moveable object in my bedroom,
the hallway, the living, and the kitchen so I can make a sandwich.

No, the problem with most IF games is a LACK of "red herrings." To be
realistic, there ought to be many items that simply aren't used. Call
them props, window dressing, whatever. The lack of them makes is too
obvious what IS needed (everything you can pick up).

-Guy

---
g...@tfsquad.mn.org (Guy Thomas Rice)
The Firing Squad BBS, public access Usenet mail and news. +1 612 291 2632
Saint Paul, Minnesota

Gareth Rees

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May 8, 1993, 8:45:50 PM5/8/93
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In article <H0Z93B...@tfsquad.mn.org>, g...@tfsquad.mn.org (Guy Thomas Rice) writes:
|> The problem with many, if not most, IF games, is that EVERY SINGLE OBJECT
|> in the game is used for something, somewhere. This is INCREDIBLY
|> unrealistic. In real life, you would NOT walk thru a building picking up
|> everything that isn't nailed down. Aside from the fact that you would be
|> arrested, there's really no point to it, since 90% of the items you come
|> across in your average room (in your home, let's say) are things you
|> aren't going to use at all today. They're obviously there for some
|> reason, but the reason usually has nothing to do with whatever problem
|> you're working on at the moment. If my current problem is that I desire
|> something to eat, I don't pick up every moveable object in my bedroom,
|> the hallway, the living, and the kitchen so I can make a sandwich.
|>
|> No, the problem with most IF games is a LACK of "red herrings." To be
|> realistic, there ought to be many items that simply aren't used. Call
|> them props, window dressing, whatever. The lack of them makes is too
|> obvious what IS needed (everything you can pick up).

I agree with you entirely, but stand by what I said about Planetfall, for the
following reasons:

Adventure games *teach* you to take everything that's not nailed down (in fact
in the hints for my copy of Planetfall there's some hint marked 'Should I take
the towel?' and the answer is 'in adventure games you should take everything
that's not nailed down.'). They do this in the following ways:

1. By putting the player in a desperate situation where survival is imperative
and in which when you are attacked by a dragon you don't have time to go back to
the armoury and get the sword.

2. By including bottlenecks, one-way passages and so on. It's embarrasing to fly
away in the escape capsule and later on discover that you should have been
carrying a circuit board that you could have torn out of the computer.

3. By making you use objects in unfamiliar ways. You might have thought the junk
mail was useless, but in the right circumstances...

4. By scattering lots of potentially useful objects in odd places. It's annoying
to discover that you need a chisel and then have to wonder, 'I've seen a chisel
somewhere, now where was it?' Of course, good map-making could prevent this but
its often simpler just to take everything so that you know where it is.

In order to be able to have lots of red herrings (and indeed interesting red
herrings) you need to foster an attitude of 'leave the objects alone until I need
them' and counteract the behaviour that has been taught by the devices above.

How to do this?

One way is for the game to take an active part in 'object management'.
Hitch-hikers has a series of mini-games into which you cannot take objects from
the rest of the game, and from which objects generally can't be extracted. The
player has to make do with what's available. Gateway does something similar,
having mini-adventures from which you are expressly forbidden to extract objects,
and in the manual it explains that this is to help the player and prevent there
being hundreds of objects lying around. (It should be noted that this kind
of practice helps the writer of the game because it reduces the number of silly
combinations that have to be coded (for example, if the player can take the
lawnmower from the garden section into the house section and try to mow the
carpet)).

This can be taken to extremes - imagine a game in which the following could
happen:

>look
Kitchen.
There is a kettle here on the table.

>take kettle
Taken.

>out
[You put the kettle back on the table before leaving]

Living Room.

I myself would rather like this as it would absolve me of having to consider the
kettle except in puzzles that could happen in the kitchen (such as bringing a
letter to the kitchen and steaming off a stamp), but I imagine that many more
players would howl in frustration because they wanted to try throwing the kettle
at the guard or whatever.

The fourth point I mentioned can be counteracted by having some command, OBJECTS
say, that tells you what objects you have seen and where they were when you last
saw them. [quick plug here for Graham Nelson's excellent game CURSES which has
this very feature - CURSES is a game in Infocom's data format and which can be
used with any Level 3 or higher Infocom interpreter. It can be found at
ftp.gmd.de in if-archive/games/infocom.]

--
Gareth Rees <gd...@phx.cam.ac.uk>

Alexander P Durham

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May 8, 1993, 9:16:57 PM5/8/93
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I hadn't thought of it, but might a good idea to have a huge number of things
around, just for flavor. And they would just be flavor, because I am a
minimalist when it comes to important props. I think all but a few puzzles
should be solvable with what the player character begins with, or is
informed that he might need to get. Other objects should be applied
relatively close to the time and place they are discovered, or they should
seem important. This makes it equally valid to have only the important
objects able to be handled and to have every object handleable, but
having many objects makes things seem a bit more real.

But this is contrary to the philosophy of adventure games. Adventure games
are merely a bunch of puzzles linked together with a minimal story (and
Planetfall was a good, if frustrating, one). But as a GM, game designer,
and author, I believe that we should make games as interactive fiction
(wow, the group name). In fiction events and most importantly characters
are the most important. In interactive fiction we should concentrate
on creating exciting events and lifelike characterization and dialogue,
leaving most objects to be merely scenery you can pick up.

Does this seem to be a good concept? It certainly isn't one to be seen
in the majority of adventure games. The only computer RPGs I can think of
that attempt are Ultima IV and V--though both are graphic games, dialogue
plays the major part (unfortunately, the other major part is combat).

Just something to think, and maybe talk, about.
jeremy
a...@math.ufl.edu

Thomas E. Davidson

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May 9, 1993, 3:38:20 PM5/9/93
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In a previous article, gd...@cl.cam.ac.uk (Gareth Rees) says:

>I myself would rather like this as it would absolve me of having to consider the
>kettle except in puzzles that could happen in the kitchen (such as bringing a
>letter to the kitchen and steaming off a stamp), but I imagine that many more
>players would howl in frustration because they wanted to try throwing the kettle
>at the guard or whatever.

Yep. That INFURIATES me. Every object should be useable in every
instance that it could be realistically used for--and many objects should
be unnecessary and merely atmospheric.

Tom

--
"Fool!" cried the hunchback. "You fell victim to one of the classic blunders.
The most famous is 'Never get involved in a land war in Asia,' but only
slightly less well known is this: 'Never go in against a Sicilian when death
is on the line.'"--_The Princess Bride_, by William Goldman |te...@po.cwru.edu|

Erik Max Francis

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May 9, 1993, 4:00:04 PM5/9/93
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> The problem with many, if not most, IF games, is that EVERY SINGLE OBJECT
> in the game is used for something, somewhere. This is INCREDIBLY
> unrealistic. In real life, you would NOT walk thru a building picking up
> everything that isn't nailed down. Aside from the fact that you would be
> arrested, there's really no point to it, since 90% of the items you come
> across in your average room (in your home, let's say) are things you
> aren't going to use at all today.

I agree with you wholeheartedly. It _does_ seem to me rather ironic
that, especially in the first few IF games, a red herring was rare --
it was unlikely that you would find an object that didn't have some
useful (make that essential) purpose.

And some people thought red herrings to be especially unfair and cruel
-- kind of a strange departure from reality.

> No, the problem with most IF games is a LACK of "red herrings." To be
> realistic, there ought to be many items that simply aren't used. Call
> them props, window dressing, whatever. The lack of them makes is too
> obvious what IS needed (everything you can pick up).

Thinking about it, I suppose I make a distinction between a useless
object and a full-fledged red herring. A useless object is something
that doesn't have any particular purpose in the context of a game, and
is mostly there for background (you might find a toothbrush or a comb
or a toilet plunger in the bathroom, even if it doesn't have any great
purpose to you).

The term _red herring_, though, I'd apply to more intentionally
misleading puzzles -- such one particular door which is purported by
all the actors in the game to have great prizes behind it; you manage
to find a key that's supposed to be for it, and it doesn't fit in the
lock. Also, say you go on a quest for a particular object. To get
object A, you need object B, but to get object B, you need C, and so
on. When you get down to object S or T, you find that it was all a
joke and there is no object A. That would be rather annoying.


Erik Max Francis, &tSftDotIotE ...!apple!uuwest!max m...@west.darkside.com __
USMail: 1070 Oakmont Dr. #1 San Jose, CA 95117 ICBM: 37 20 N 121 53 W / \
If you like strategic games of interstellar conquest, ask about UNIVERSE! \__/
-)(- Omnia quia sunt, lumina sunt. All things that are, are lights. -)(-

Stephen R. Granade

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May 10, 1993, 12:26:58 AM5/10/93
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In a previous article, m...@west.darkside.com (Erik Max Francis) says:

>> No, the problem with most IF games is a LACK of "red herrings." To be
>> realistic, there ought to be many items that simply aren't used. Call
>> them props, window dressing, whatever. The lack of them makes is too
>> obvious what IS needed (everything you can pick up).
>
>Thinking about it, I suppose I make a distinction between a useless
>object and a full-fledged red herring. A useless object is something
>that doesn't have any particular purpose in the context of a game, and
>is mostly there for background (you might find a toothbrush or a comb
>or a toilet plunger in the bathroom, even if it doesn't have any great
>purpose to you).
>
>The term _red herring_, though, I'd apply to more intentionally
>misleading puzzles -- such one particular door which is purported by
>all the actors in the game to have great prizes behind it; you manage
>to find a key that's supposed to be for it, and it doesn't fit in the
>lock. Also, say you go on a quest for a particular object. To get
>object A, you need object B, but to get object B, you need C, and so
>on. When you get down to object S or T, you find that it was all a
>joke and there is no object A. That would be rather annoying.

I agree with your distinction, but I think that both red herrings and
useless objects would be annoying.

Yes, there should be some red herrings and some useless objects. The
trick is to balance them. The standard IF mentality is to pick up
everything that isn't attached to the floor. Okay, make several
normal objects that serve no purpose. Make some dead-end puzzles.
But *don't* overdo them! We have to walk a fine line between making the
game challenging and making it too frustrating. Like the "cute" phonetic
sentences, they're kind of amusing and challenging at first, but they
quickly degenerate into an annoyance (not *that* again!).

Stephen
--
_________________________________________________________________________
| Stephen Granade | "My research proposal involves reconstructing |
| | the Trinity test using tweezers and |
| sgra...@obu.arknet.edu | assistants with very good eyesight." |

Eric D. Shepherd

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May 10, 1993, 2:34:59 PM5/10/93
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I agree 100%. The game I'm writing is packed chock-full of red herrings,
including entire alternate universes that exist entirely for the player's
amusement, as well as objects that are totally useless. In fact, there
are some really bizarre high-tech gadgets that are described in a
long-winded explanation, then never get used... although they might be if
I were ever to write a sequel. :)


--
Eric D. Shepherd | Apple II Alliance Charter Member
InterNet: uer...@mcl.mcl.ucsb.edu | ACM Member
FidoNet: 1:206/2713 Eric Shepherd | Programming Law #2: If it works
AOL: Sheppy | the first time, something's wrong.

Darin Johnson

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May 10, 1993, 6:36:23 PM5/10/93
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>Yes, there should be some red herrings and some useless objects. The
>trick is to balance them. The standard IF mentality is to pick up
>everything that isn't attached to the floor.

Well, the reason for that mentality should be apparent to
most people. Inevitably, you get someplace and, gosh,
you need that comb you left behind. But it takes you 15 minutes
real time to retrieve it. Or you run across a puzzle that
has you stuck, so you try doing something with every object
in the game. Ie, in Deadline where someone tells you
"have you nothing better to do than show me every object you
find?" - I answer, "no, I have nothing better to do since I
don't think the same as the author and don't know what's not
important".

So the result is, players carry everything around for convenience,
because inevitably they will try to use them.
--
Darin Johnson
djoh...@ucsd.edu
Where am I? In the village... What do you want? Information...

Mark Christopher Macsurak

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May 10, 1993, 11:16:59 PM5/10/93
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How about REAL, literal red herrings? The only ones I can think of are in
BEYOND ZORK (by Brian Moriarity) and HOLLYWOOD HIJINX (by Dave Anderson and
Elizabeth Cyr Jones). These were real red herrings that you weren't supposed
to pay attention to. What I mean is that like: "There is a red herring here."
Cute. Very cute.

-big...@leland.stanford.edu


COLIN MA

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May 10, 1993, 11:35:37 PM5/10/93
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Wasn't there a character in WITNESS opening a can of red herring?
That was not too subtle.

Colin

Darin Johnson

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May 10, 1993, 11:54:51 PM5/10/93
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>How about REAL, literal red herrings?

Well, I got this mail on my mud about my quest:

-Well, I finished the quest a while ago, but the thing that I still can't
-figure out is what "clupeid rubeus" is?
-I never found a use for it. Is it just a distraction?
-
-Sorry, this is trivial, but it has been bugging me.
-
-In case you don't remember, there is a brick wall on the first floor, towards
-the enterence of Chaos Castle. If you push the bricks, you see the words:
-clupeid rubeus
-on one of the bricks. I never found a use for it, but found the words there
-and noted them when I was doing the quest. I've been confused by them ever
-since that point. Feel like satiating my curiousity?

(bwahaha)
--
Darin Johnson
djoh...@ucsd.edu
This is the first time I've ever eaten a patient -- Northern Exposure

kand. Pontus Gagge

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May 10, 1993, 2:46:49 PM5/10/93
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Compare IF to writing short fiction. Good style usually means that
you do not mention a rifle hanging on a wall unless it is used later.
If a character coughs in a the first act of a Russian play, you can
be certain he will die in TBC in the last act...

IF is not for simulating real life (with the infinite number of red
herrings that would imply) - let the VR people corner that market.
IF should be interactive *fiction*: an art form.
--
/ kand. Pontus Gagge | The views expressed herein are compromises \
| University of Link|ping | between my mental subpersonae, and may be |
\ c89p...@und.ida.liu.se | held by none of them. /

Erik Max Francis

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May 11, 1993, 8:50:43 AM5/11/93
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In STARFLIGHT, which is an (old) graphical adventure game for IBM
machines, some planets had artifacts called RED HERRINGS which were too
large to ever fit into the cargo bay of your landing pod.

Matthew Crosby

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May 11, 1993, 10:42:08 AM5/11/93
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Nope, it was Deadline. It was George, which was an extremely amusing touch,
since he was the most obvious suspect.

(It may have been in Witness to, but I only remember Deadline.)
--
-Matt cro...@cs.colorado.edu
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the net!

Jason D Corley

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May 11, 1993, 2:38:33 PM5/11/93
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George Robner ate some for breakfast in DEADLINE---a clue????????


--
(1) Ignorance of your profession is best concealed by solemnity and silence,
which pass for profound knowledge upon the generality of mankind.
-------"Advice to Officers of the British Army", 1783
Jason "cor...@gas.uug.arizona.edu" Corley is thought to be armed and stupid.

Steve Stelter

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May 11, 1993, 4:21:04 PM5/11/93
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cro...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU (Matthew Crosby) writes:

>In article <1sn6u9...@twain.ucs.umass.edu> c...@twain.ucs.umass.edu (COLIN MA) writes:
>>Wasn't there a character in WITNESS opening a can of red herring?
>>That was not too subtle.
>>
>>Colin

>Nope, it was Deadline. It was George, which was an extremely amusing touch,
>since he was the most obvious suspect.

>(It may have been in Witness to, but I only remember Deadline.)

Red herrings weren't in WITNESS, as far as I know, but there was a similar
joke in that game: while in the kitchen, Phong can be seen opening a can
of worms.

--Steve Stelter
sjs2...@uxa.cso.uiuc.edu

Thomas E. Davidson

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May 11, 1993, 4:33:20 PM5/11/93
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In a previous article, c89p...@odalix.ida.liu.se (kand. Pontus Gagge) says:

>Compare IF to writing short fiction. Good style usually means that
>you do not mention a rifle hanging on a wall unless it is used later.

As a published author, I really have to disagree with this.

Marc Sira

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May 11, 1993, 10:54:18 PM5/11/93
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In a previous article, te...@po.CWRU.Edu (Thomas E. Davidson) says:

>In a previous article, c89p...@odalix.ida.liu.se (kand. Pontus Gagge) says:
>
>>Compare IF to writing short fiction. Good style usually means that
>>you do not mention a rifle hanging on a wall unless it is used later.
>
> As a published author, I really have to disagree with this.

I suppose the poster may mean that you don't mention the rifle without
purpose; you would presumably have a reason for including it, perhaps for
setting or to indicate something about a character's interests. I don't
know if IF need necessarily be compared to short fiction, though. An
occasional aim in IF may be to mislead the player, or at least to make
solutions less than obvious. Perhaps a comparison with a mystery novel or
story is reasonable...generally there you'd limit red herrings to those that
the characters are clearly aware of, but the protagonist in IF _is_ the
"reader".

--
Marc Sira |
aa...@freenet.carleton.ca | "Your god drinks...p-p-peach nectar."
t...@micor.ocunix.on.ca '

Mike Roberts

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May 12, 1993, 3:03:18 AM5/12/93
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c89p...@odalix.ida.liu.se (kand. Pontus Gagge) writes:

> Compare IF to writing short fiction. Good style usually means that
> you do not mention a rifle hanging on a wall unless it is used later.
>

> IF is not for simulating real life (with the infinite number of red
> herrings that would imply) - let the VR people corner that market.
> IF should be interactive *fiction*: an art form.

I heard Brian Moriarty talking about a similar hot IF design topic --
multiple plot lines and/or multiple solutions to puzzles -- in
reference to the design of Loom. He didn't like multiple plot lines,
because he felt that he was creating a story, and wanted people to see
his story. (The idea of multiple plot lines is a recurring theme in
game design circles -- one of those ideas that game designers spend
boundless time talking about, but which never seem to go anywhere. I
had the impression Moriarty had been having this argument with lots
of people, because he got worked up into quite a lather about it, and
couldn't emphasize strongly enough how totally awful and worthless an
idea he thought it was.)

The point of writing a game, as he saw it, isn't to provide a
realistic experience with all the options and consequences and
possibilities available in real life, but to tell a story. The goal
is to entertain; the merit of everything else is measured by the
degree to which it makes the game more entertaining.

I think the short story analogy is perfect. Short stories are
efficient; they cannot afford the extravagance of details that don't
have a use within the context of the story. It's a good model for
IF, because the extra work required to program each new story element
makes efficiency even more vital.

The best red herrings are the ones that don't turn out to be red
herrings after all: objects and characters and events that appear
when first encountered to have no obvious value for advancing the
story, but which turn out to be important when you least expect it.
--
Mike Roberts mrob...@hinrg.starconn.com
High Energy Software 415 493 2430 (Voice)
PO Box 50422, Palo Alto, CA 94303 415 493 2420 (BBS)

Paradise is a place exactly like where you are right now, only
much, much better.
--- Laurie Anderson

Eric D. Shepherd

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May 12, 1993, 8:54:16 PM5/12/93
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I see red herrings as being a very important part of IF, with certain
restrictions.

Reasons for red herrings:
1. Without at least a few of them, puzzles tend to stand out like a sore
thumb.
2. They add depth to the game. In this era of high-RAM-capacity, large
disk volumes, etc, there's no reason not to add more substance to the
game. I suspect at least part of the reason why there were so few red
herrings in old Infocom games is because they had to fit on ~150K disks
and systems with only 48K or so of RAM.
3. They can certainly add humor to the game, and that little touch of
frustration that makes people want to keep playing (although too much of
it, and they'll stop).

Restrictions:
1. Don't make a big deal of them. In other words, make the red herring a
coincidental item in the game. For example, if there's a snake in the
game that's always biting you, and you're supposed to cage it by dropping
a crate on it from the balcony, it's still fun to have a gun lying around
in the game, even if shooting at the snake just gives "The snake quickly
slithers out of the path of the bullet" or some such.

2. Never more than one red herring per puzzle, for red herrings designed
to throw the player off the true solution to a puzzle.

3. False puzzle style red herrings should not allow the player to get too
deeply involved. The more the user gets to do with the red herring, the
longer it will take him to figure out that there's no point to it.

4. Reward the user for the red herring. Throw in a funny line, or maybe a
cute story. Poke at the player for following up on it. That way, the
player is less likely to resent you for wasting his time, since they get a
laugh out of it.

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