Conversation: yes/no answers


let’s say I’ve got this TADS 3 / Alabaster-style conversation system (let’s keep it development system-neutral, for the time being) where the game suggests possible things to say in a conversation based on context.

That’s basically fine, but slightly awkward (in a “literary” sense, but maybe necessary gameplay-wise in such a conversation system) as long as we don’t deal with yes/no questions. Is it just me or does “I can say either yes or no.” or “I can agree or diagree” just not always cut it? It seems especially immersion-breaking in examples like the following:

Would others consider it okay if the game omits to list these choices in cases where it’s clearly a yes/no (or “maybe”) answer that’s expected from the player? Or would that be confusing? Maybe give a hint the first time?

Or is it better to find some narratively less heavy-handed way to ask, like “You could happily agree or claim a prior commitment”? The latter seems great but after three or four questions it really breaks the flow (for me).

This might seem a non-issue to others, but it’s really been on my mind as I struggle with conversation flow in my WIP.


That seems reasonable to me if it’s a modal question, IE, the player is not allowed to change the subject at that moment. If they do try to change the subject, that seems like a reasonable time to say “You could say yes or no” – the game has already broken immersion by being modal, by requiring the player character to act within certain bounds rather than acquiescing to every random whim of the player.

I generally prefer the text choices in conversation systems to be more verbose, yes. “You could say yes or no” tells the player nothing about tone or implied subtext, which can significantly affect the player’s decision. Yes/no options with these greater details tend to tend to be less jarring when they appear in a set of other options, as well.

What if the player can change the subject? Maybe I phrased my question wrong: if an NPC asks the player a question that can clearly be answered with yes/no, do I have to spell that out for the player given the fact that I spell out other, more verbose choices?

In an ideal world, the player could say whatever he wants to the NPC, but we’re quite far from that level of natural language parsing, so spelling out possible choices is the only way. I’m trying to figure out a way for the player to know that strongly implied answers (yes/no/maybe) are always possible when applicable.

Bascially: would you as a player type “yes” when that’s the answer you want to give but the (parser-based) game doesn’t offer it as a choice? Would you try anyway or would you assume it’s not implemented because other choices are spelled out? Could a hint text for the first yes/no choice “If you want to say yes or no to someone’s question or request, feel free to do so at any time” help ameliorate the problem?

You are certainly right. Maybe this is the way to go, although there are only so many ways to phrase these things. Maybe I have to live with the fact that the whole spelling-out-choices bit reads somewhat clumsy.

Maybe it’s an idea to make the choices “disappear” after entering a command…


Ah, in that case, I think leaving yes/no responses unstated in most cases would be fine. You could ease the player into the paradigm early on: in response to a one-line yes/no question, “yes” and “no” are obvious options. Or, your system design might display options which include y/n if other responses are immediately relevant (“Do you want to leave?” “You could say yes, say no, or ask why, what’s wrong?”) and make a habit of not listing topic-changing options (until/unless the player types TOPICS or similar internal monologue commands – in which case such commands should probably not advance a turn).

I don’t think this is really a useful line of thinking, to be honest. Infinite choices require infinite design work to respond, and anyway it presupposes a blank-slate, personalityless and inhibitionless protagonist. That’s not applicable or useful for many types of works.

For yes/no responses I wouldn’t give a hint, unless perhaps the user is having trouble entering a valid response.