I7: PC as parser voice for error messages

Hi all,

Although this thread is tagged as I6, I am using Inform7. But the topic seems just the one I want to ask about.

I am wondering: Can I use the player character as the narrative voice to replace the default parser error messages? For example, in a small game I am portraying the player as a barbarian. Then e.g. some default messages would be:

[ "I beg your pardon?" ]
The barbarian narrows his eyes. "Did you forget how to speak,
or are you testing my patience?"
[ "That's not a verb I recognize/recognise." ]
The barbarian furrows his mighty brow. "What kind of sorcery is this?"
he exclaims. Then his voice booms like thunder as he proclaims,
"Seek solace in the HELP command!
You shall find a guide to tame the chaos that besieges you!"
>help blah
[ "I only understood you as far as wanting to " ]
"Words, words, and more words! I swing my axe to cleave enemies,
not to wade through your endless chatter!" the barbarian declares.
Maybe you just wanted to help.
You utter the word "HELP" and the spirits of knowledge come to your aid,
offering counsel and wisdom,
revealing the means to overcome obstacles that bar your way.
The barbarian knows these actions:
You also know these actions:

But I am not sure if this would work. Normally the player IS the barbarian, (e.g. “You swing your axe, and shatter the idol of Baal.”), but here the PC is addressing the player. Thoughts? Would this ‘break’ the player experience?

Feedback is very much appreciated!


I’d vote to keep it as is. It hasn’t caused me any confusion (as player or author) in 40 years, so why change it now?

EDIT: This post has been split from I6: narrative voice and messages for the player, not the PC. My response was to the original Inform 6 specific question.

1 Like

I think it is best for parser errors, standard reporting messages, etc. to match the voice of the narrator. Which the default messages might do.

But if they don’t, I would tailor them to match.


Careful with witty error messages. You don’t know what context they’ll be shown in or how frustrated the player already is. Concise and neutral is better, whoever’s voice it is.

1 Like

I dunno, it has the potential to blow up in your face, but my intuition is to go ahead anyway. Bugs can be hunted down and fixed and the experience would be memorable for players.

Would Lost Pig be the same if Grunk didn’t voice the parser, including the error messages?

Swing for the fences, commit word crimes, take no prisoners.


Sure you can. Are you asking “Should I” or “How can I?”

1 Like

Keep it! Keep it! Keep it! :stuck_out_tongue:


I think that could be fun so long as you do the work to: a) have a variety of messages; b) ensure those messages are consistently generic to keep the player from thinking those messages are hinting at something; c) make them location/scene specific to match tone.


You should definitely check out other good examples of this at work. Lost Pig, by Admiral Jota was already mentioned (winner, overall 13th IFComp '07, best game, writing, individual NPC, individual PC, etc. 2007 XYZZY Awards). Also Violet, by Jeremy Freese (winner, overall 14th IFComp '08, best game, writing, individual NPC, etc. 2008 XYZZY Awards). Both playable online. I’m sure there are others.

Also note this from Violet:

>get all
One thing at a time today, budgie.

(This is more a reference to this other post.)


Ah yes the get all thing. Sigh. I spent a lot of time to get that all sorted out and working for all edge cases but its a horrible thing. I am very much tempted to do likewise and just not use ALL (maybe just change the understand statements to refer to a single “thing” instead of “things” does the trick?).

I love Lost Pig! Maybe that was even the game which gave me the idea to rewrite the error messages to match the game theme. I originally planned to let an NPC provide the feedback (as I am planning to do in another game I am trying to put together), but I felt the Barbarian PC taking offense at the player’s attempts to provide direction was funnier. I might have to tone it down a bit though.

And of course, of course… going for themed error messages and also severely reducing the instruction set to a minimal set to get by… that has all been done before, and even with a Barbarian to boot! Why am I even trying… Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom - Details (ifdb.org) Ah well at least the Jam premise is original and I intend to make use of it to the max!

1 Like

I feel like there was a game that came out just this year that had heavily customized rule and error responses, but I can’t remember the name of it.

ALL is a convenience people like, unless you have a game where it doesn’t do anything. In RTE, I think there was only one thing in the game that could be dropped by the player. Unless you have a situation like that, I think players will resent the absence of ALL. I was able to have fun with ALL, but it’d be risky in a conventional parser game with lots of thingamajigs.

Frustrated players can get even more frustrated by custom responses if they seem to be mocking the player’s situation or else failing to understand something the player thinks is obvious. I see these customizations as very important for narrative-focused games, but also high stakes.


Yes I can understand it would be very frustrating. I try to mitigate the risk by referring to the HELP command when the player imputs something the parser is not prepared to handle. Rather than trying to dream up variations of “you cannot do that” on the numerous verbs I am not planning to implement anyway, I want to focus on a very small subset and explicitly list these in the HELP command.

I do hope the frustration I am feeling while writing this game (an interesting challenge to restrict player actions in such a severe way) does not translate into frustration for the player trying to figure out what they need to do. So I will add a HINT command as well, just to be on the safe side…

Allowing the full range of commands offered by Inform only for nearly all of them being rejected at each and every turn except for one (the Single Choice Jam allows only for a single choice, as the name suggests. I see it as a challenge to make it work for a parser game) … I think if I would go THAT route, then surely I can expect players to walk away in disgust or get dragged away by a team of doctors alerted by concerned family members.

1 Like

This is the first time you’ve mentioned the single choice jam here in this thread, so I was not tailoring my reponses to your situation. You did say “jam” once, but there are always several going on. Your original question was “Can I use the player character as the narrative voice to replace the default parser error messages?”

I don’t think rejection is necessary in the case of the jam. I considered entering with nothing but customized responses to the actions defined in the standard rules. Design by checklist, as it were. You could even throw parser errors into action processing (after printing…). All inputs could be handled as game-ending actions. No rejections to be found. Probably in a funny Rube Goldberg and/or domino toppling scenario. Maybe every available exit and two nouns. Just a thought I had.

That’s a writing–as opposed to a coding–challenge. I like writing challenges. I’m not saying you should do that (I might do it sometime). Just proposing that writing can solve as many problems as coding does. Your question was initially about writing, not coding.

Sadly, I just don’t have the time. I’m behind schedule on my IFComp 2024 game (yes, 2024), have failed utterly to give someone tester feedback in a timely manner, and so forth. I need to replay Ballyhoo between now and Sunday. Maybe in 2025 0_o

Best of luck with your activity!


My bad, I should have mentioned it in the very beginning of this thread. For this particular Jam I will have less concerns about catering for everything and the kitchen sink. But still the general question stands. I have other WIPs which more or less do the same thing: use a PC or NPC “voice” which fits the theme instead of the default slightly amused but dry Englishman’s voice.

Also I love challenges and reverting standards / conventions. I take “standard” puzzles and try to twist them into something new. So people think hey I got this… until I pull the proverbial rug with the aim to provide mutual satisfaction: I get to do something more original than standard tropes and the player gets something more original than GET X USE X or whatever.

1 Like

I’m down with that… unless it doesn’t reveal a proverbial trapdoor, then I’ll lose my cool.