"Minimal vocabulary" in Inform 6 or 7

FWIW, I agree mostly with bukayeva; I think maga is over-correcting. :slight_smile: Consider (if you please) the following hypothetical game transcripts:

Each response gives a slightly different flavor to the rest of the game, I agree — and I think this is what maga means by saying that “x me” contributes to characterization. But as bukayeva says, it doesn’t contribute a really significant amount; take whatever game you’re imagining from one of the first few transcripts above, and now imagine that same game with “x me” giving Inform’s default flippant response. It’d break the immersion a bit, right? but it wouldn’t cause the quality of the entire game to suffer noticeably.

The response to “x me” can vary wildly in its contribution to characterization, too. I think that first transcript would be an indicator of a decently written game, don’t you? But delete the last two sentences and it becomes (for me) worse than nothing. I would vastly prefer to see either of the last two responses than any of the three before them. Chekov’s Gun again — if the response to “x me” is actually useful and helpful in my understanding of the puzzle and/or story, then great; but if it’s just written out of a sense of obligation, I’d rather not see it at all.

This is turning into an interesting discussion on “x me”, so I’m not sure if I should derail it by admitting that “sing” (“jump”, etc.) is a much worse offender than “x me”. I think we might end up all agreeing on that point! :wink:

Again, each response contributes a certain amount of characterization. It’s very much tied up with the “player-protagonist-narrator” trinity, though; some of these responses tell you more about the protagonist, some tell you more about the narrator. I’m particularly not a fan of responses #2 (the Inform default) and #4 (“You’d rather not.”), because they demonstrate a conflict between the player and the narrator/commentator, which reads to me as a conflict within the protagonist. The PC is going about his business when suddenly he has an urge to sing — but before he can act on it, it’s squelched by an inner policeman. This is characterization too, but it’s usually not the sort of characterization that the IF author intended. Response #5 is superior because it pushes the squelching all the way up to the parser level; I can now write for a PC who never has sudden urges to burst into song. Response #3 (presumably in an interactive Ruddigore) strikes me as unobjectionable, because the commentator seems to be playing along with the player, rather than bluntly or dismissively squelching his command.

IOW: If your protagonist is stodgy Mr Banks who never wants to sing, then you should remove the verb “sing” at the parser level. If your protagonist is repressed Mr Banks who feels it would not be proper for a respectable bank manager to break into song, then you should provide an appropriate response at the narration level. If you handle it at the wrong level, I will notice, and it will irk me.

“x me” contributes only a little to characterization, in the same way that the first line of a book contributes only a little to the novel.

IMO you’re waay oversimplifying. “Grunk orc. Big and green and wearing pants.” doesn’t just tell me that the PC is a big green orc named Grunk who wears pants; it also tells me that Grunk has an idiosyncratic speaking style. That he’s aware of the fact that he’s an orc, for whatever that’s worth, and that he feels the need to put that first in his self-identification. That he doesn’t have many big or complicated ideas, and is fairly literal-minded. That he is probably not wearing anything besides pants. That maybe I should “x pants” next. That he fixates on odd things (like putting “pants-wearing” in the same category as “big” and “green”) in a childlike manner. That he says the darndest things and the commentator lets him, which means I can probably look forward to more amusing reactions from Grunk over the course of the game; maybe I should even try some silly inputs to see what Grunk does. (“Lost Pig” 100% delivers on this promise, which is why it’s my go-to example of a great game.)

“You are Bill Blake, co-founder of Whitman & Blake Dry Goods, one of the leading such outfits in all of Dixie.” doesn’t just tell me the PC’s name and occupation; it also tells me that the PC is probably business-minded, proud of his company, an enthusiastic salesman. That he has a couple of Southern idiosyncrasies in his speech (“outfits”, “Dixie”). He’s being characterized as perhaps a good ol’ boy, but more likely (depending on his age) an up-and-comer, go-getter type. Probably happy to exchange business cards. Knows a lot about dry goods; that might come in handy on this quest. Speaking of this quest, what quest is Bill trying to complete, anyway? If he’s stopping to EXAMINE SELF, he should have something on his mind more important than the current regional status of Whitman & Blake Dry Goods. Maybe he’s a good salesman, but he’s not very self-aware. Sort of like Grunk in some ways. I may have to coach Bill through some of what comes ahead. (I had to Google for this excerpt from Adam Cadre’s “Shrapnel”; indeed Bill does go on after that first sentence with some meatier stuff. But my point is, if he didn’t, then that would carry a lot of meaning, too.)

Again, “x me” isn’t unique; you can extract this sort of close-reading characterization from every message in the entire game. But it sounded to me like you (matt) were saying that “x me” is useful only for physical description or whatever is explicitly thumped into the player’s head (“Grunk hero. Intelligent and athletic and wearing pants.”), and no, it’s definitely more than that.

For what it’s worth, I always interpreted “Your singing is abominable” as your character attempting to sing and then judging the results as abominable, rather than a flat-out refusal. That said, I agree with this very much:

As a player, that’s one of my least favorite IF tropes: giving a command and then being told that I don’t actually want to do that after all, even though I clearly do or I wouldn’t have entered that command. I don’t even like being told that I can’t pick up an item, not because there’s any external force preventing me from picking it up but because the author decided I don’t need it. As an author, though, I think that to some degree it’s a necessary evil because it’s just not practical to implement everything that the PC should be able to do that wouldn’t move the story in a useful direction (plus, if you allow them to fiddle around with things that don’t help them progress, players will complain that there are too many “red herrings”).

Even so, I think that personally I would always rather see a well-written justification as to why I’m not allowed to do something than a message like “I’m sorry, I don’t understand that sentence,” which immediately takes me out of the fiction and makes me start thinking about the limitations of the parser.

Also, I agree with Quuxplusone that in a well-written game, “x me” can be an extremely useful tool for characterization. It doesn’t just tell you about the character, but about how the character thinks of himself, which can be very revealing.

quux+1: Right, it’s definitely an oversimplification to say that that’s all that the “x me” responses do in that case. But again, some of the things you’re talking about are done by all the writing. Every sentence of the output tells you that Grunk has an idiosyncratic speaking style; only the x me tells you that he’s a big green orc.

Which is important information.

Put another way, “x me” is a way of saying “who am I?” The way that’s answered can tell you a lot of things; but the explicit stuff about who you are is also important, and that’s what you’re explicitly looking for there.

(By the way, I think some of the vocab you’re picking up on in the Shrapnel example is more nineteenth-century than Southern.)

It’s just a matter of taste, but I don’t really feel the problem with the parser telling you that you don’t want to do something. Raising the Flag on Mount Yo Momma had “At the last moment you decide not to do that” whenever you tried to (I think) give something to the wrong person, and that seemed to me like a good way of telling me that that wasn’t the right thing to do without going all the way to having the game explicitly tell me that was the wrong answer. (It goes almost all the way.)

Another issue is that if the game outright doesn’t understand a command, I might think that I need to find a different way to try the same thing. If the verb is implemented with an unhelpful response, then ideally that tells me that I just shouldn’t bother with it. (Ideally. This doesn’t always work out.)

Yeah, I was gonna point that out in a parenthetical, but I use too many parentheticals as it is. :slight_smile:

I dunno; you have a point, but I can come up with (at least hypothetical) examples where “x me” gives only information about mental state, not physical description; where “x me” gives very little information but the rest of the game gives plenty; or where “x me” gives a lot of physical data but the result is really terrible writing and unengaging gameplay.

Funny, I’m practically the opposite — although I wouldn’t be surprised if I prefer more austere games in the first place. In my preferred games, the solution is rarely “SAUTE MUSHROOMS IN OIL” or “DARCY, ASK PHYLLIS WHAT HAPPENED LAST NIGHT”. If I try “BREAK VASE” and the game gives me something that’s clearly a parser-level error, I’ll deduce “okay, I don’t need to break anything in this game” (i.e. I’ve just learned something really useful); if it indicates recognition by something like “You don’t need to break that.”, I’ll probably take that as a clue that something will eventually need to be broken. If it turns out that it wasn’t a clue after all, then I’d call it a red herring.

The very final puzzle in the original “Adventure” is sort of an example of what I mean: “There is something special about this place, such that one of the words I’ve always known has a new effect.” Admittedly, the word itself is practically undiscoverable, but if you were to stumble across it purely by accident in the early game, maybe you’d think of applying it again in the endgame. The word is BLAST, which early in the game gives the “silly” message “Blasting requires dynamite.”

To provide an alternative perspective, when I enter a command and receive something that looks like a parser error, I don’t conclude that I’ll never need to do that - it could very well be that I simply phrased a valid command incorrectly, or that the parser only understands that particular command under particular circumstances (which is silly, but happens more often than you’d think). The only scenario in which I’ll actually conclude that I’ll never need to perform a particular action is if the game recognises the action and tells me so (e.g., “you don’t need to break things in this game”).