Ambiguities and Abilities

I’ve been educating myself on parsing speech text, and looking at some of the philosophy behind it all.

I’m thinking of trying to build a piece of IF where during play the player learns certain new phrases. These phrases are initially ambiguous. It turns out they can be used in different contexts.

So for example:

Let them have it; once learned may be used both to capitulate, or unleash hell.
Get over it is a clumsy way to shake someone out of a gloom, but also to hop over a turnstile onto a train platform.

Has this been attempted before? If so, I’d really enjoy playing any pieces of IF you can recommend.


Is this like Nord and Bert?

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Quickly skimmed over Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It - Wikipedia just now.

That looks a cool game, and I will try it out.
But I think I’m aiming for something slightly different.

NaB looks like there are lots of punning jokes to unlock puzzles. I’m thinking more of legitimate discourse which has multiple outcomes.

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I love this idea, and I’m all for educating/tutorializing the player via the narrative’s own structure and syntax. Even if it’s just observing other character actions and mimicking them.

Natalia hammers the phone switchhook and listens intently. "It's a dial It's dead." 

She stalks off to the north.


The phone produces a crackly dial tone, tenuous, but maybe you can dial for help, or order pizza.


There is a ring, but the connection gives up the ghost.


There is no dial tone.

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I don’t think it’s quite the same as what you’re trying to achieve, but the language puzzle in ‘The Edifice’ by Lucian Paul Smith is brilliant. You may be able to learn something from it.

The puzzle requires you to interact with an NPC and observe his responses so that you can learn his language. It requires flashes of insight and a long tedious process of trial and error so that you can create a foreign-language dictionary to communicate with him.

Thanks Garry, I’ll try that too.

Although long and tedious is not quite the effect I’m hoping for :grin:


That sounds like an interesting premise!

I’m not aware of any IF game which does exactly that, especially since you added that you’re not aiming to centre the mechanic around puns.

There are some games which contain aspects of that, or adjacent ideas, I think:

“Suveh Nux” by David Fisher lets the player learn a spell system which follows certain language-like rules: Suveh Nux - Details

“PataNoir” by Simon Christiansen has the player pay close attention to similes in the descriptions, in order to use them in the game, so it also involves a sort of “transfer of meaning” capability: PataNoir - Details

“In a Manor of Speaking” by Hulk Handsome has puns which also play a role in the puzzles, so in that sense it engages the player in switching language contexts. (I think it’s similar to Nord and Bert in that respect.): In a Manor of Speaking - Details

“Puddles on the Path” by Anssi Räisänen lets the player use proverbs as magical spells: Puddles on the Path - Details

You could also take a look at these lists on IFDB, but as I said, I don’t know anything that exactly fits what you’re describing:

Word-play games - Recommended List (Recommendations by Emily Short)

Recommended Linguistic Games - Recommended List (Recommendations by E.K.)


Thanks very much for taking the time to research all these, I’ll check out Puddles and Suveh Nux first.

The spell analogy is useful.
I always wondered why spells were so culturally embedded and woven into literature as they are, when they don’t feature in our daily experience.

Maybe one possibility is that they are speech acts in disguise. I’m sure @VictorGijsbers can correct me :slightly_smiling_face: