Multilateral Conversations (seeking examples)

“Multilateral conversation” means a conversation involving the player character and two or more NPCs. Roadwarden has an instance of it at the very beginning. In that case it’s basically a conversation with the leader, while the other interjects occasionally. I can’t think of another example, but I hope some of you can.


Unless you’re using a system with a very complicated conversation engine with simulated AI and conversation subject weighting (pours one out for Versu) there are numerous solutions:

You talk to one person, you’re conversing with the group. Alice and Bob are always in the Drawing Room and don’t move. Conversation responses with either of them can include authored interjections by the other.

“It’s quite curious, isn’t it?” he replies.
“Nobody except Paulette would bring a Samurai Sword to a dinner party in Westchester, you know!” huffs Alice accusatorially.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Bob responds.

“The murderer is Paulette,” she grumps. “Case closed. I don’t need to fill out my Cluedo grid.”
Bob interjects, “We might want to wait for the fingerprint analysis first. I think we’ll find any number of people had opportunity and motive.”
“IT’S PAULETTE’S SWORD!” Alice exclaims, flinging her bowl of potato chips into the air.

It can be complicated if your NPCs can move around and potentially not be present for every conversation. This usually just involves IF-statements in the responses to check if other characters are around and throw in their commentary and potentially alter the answers. A game might have a puzzle centered around asking someone about a subject in front of someone else to trigger a unique interaction.

You are in the Hallway. Bob is here.

“The forecast says we’ll be trapped by this storm until morning! Keep your guard up!” Bob replies.

“I can’t seem to shake my suspicion of her,” he whispers, conspiratorially.

You are in the Hallway. Bob and Alice are here.

“The forecast says we’ll be trapped by this storm until morning! Keep your guard up!” Bob replies.
Alice refreshes her drink at the bar. “It’ll clear up soon.”

“Lovely bit of rain,” she says.
Bob seems distracted and distant, likely remembering a childhood incident involving a school bus and bad weather.

“I don’t think we can rule out any suspects yet,” he declares, diplomatically.
Alice draws a gun and shoots Bob dead. “I TOLD YOU, THE MURDERER IS PAULETTE!”


I think Inform’s upcoming new dialogue system is going to support this out of the box, too.


That’s interesting, do you know if it’s a multi-agent sort of system, or more of a top-down thing?

To clarify my original question, I’m looking for examples “in the wild” from released games of whatever genre, including games that are just “faking it”, i.e. not using a conversation system designed for it.

@HanonO, thanks to your tip I read up on Versu a bit. Interesting system, especially since it’s inspired by work in Conversation Analysis and I’m reading a book on CA at the moment. There’s a lot of meat in CA, more than a dramatically-inclined system like Versu could have a place for, so don’t anybody think that closes the book on CA.


Façade (Homepage, IFDB) features a three-way conversation between the player character and the couple Grace and Trip.

And Death off the Cuff (IFDB) essentially consists of an Agatha-Christie-style mystery resolution scene, where the player as the detective talks to a group of suspects. (Not sure if it’s strictly useful for your purposes, but it’s a fun game and always worth a look. :slight_smile: )

In other genres, I’d say RPGs like Baldur’s Gate 2 sometimes have multilateral conversations, where the player character talks to someone, and a party member joins the conversation.


Here is the spec of the new DialogueKit in Inform 10.2:

Exciting stuff, if I may say so.
Only question left: When can we expect the 10.2. release?


There was a relatively recent game that looked like a 2d adventure game which had NPC text bubbles that appeared in real time without player interaction, but I can’t remember the name…

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concur with Hanon: reacting, before or after, is still the best handling of multilateral conversations (I’m still “setting the stage” for Azuj, but when Miyai enter the stage, the convos will start to have interesting interjections…)

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.


Glass by Emily Short has an ongoing conversation between 4 people that you, a parrot, can modify by shouting words at the appropriate time.

In my current wip (on GitHub: GitHub - brirush84/GiantProject: This is an ongoing, years-long project to make an IF game with 20+ hours of gameplay.) I have a completed murder mystery section that has exactly the kind of conversation that Hanon describes, with two suspects in a room at a time and you pick one to talk to. However, the other person in the room rarely reacts outside of a few big events. The rest is mostly glancing over at the other person or making snide remarks.

Edit: I just looked and a lot of Robb Sherwin games have multilateral conversations, quite a bit actually. For instance at the beginning of Enceladus, after you give the captain her jumpsuit another crewmate comes in and the three of you talk: Enceladus - Details I also have memories in his other games (maybe Cryptozookeeper?) of having a big ‘posse’ around almost all the time with semi-independent actions and thinking that felt original and cool.


I was wondering whether to bring up Glass: there’s a bit about the design in one of Emily Short’s blog posts (at Waypoint Narrative), and the source code is available. I was hanging out at the Seattle/Tacoma IF group’s online meetup when they talked about it a bit, and I did a little write-up of the basic conversation code. The NPCs are largely treated as a single group, and there’s a table of lines that move conversation between different topics, pathfinding towards a goal. And then when you interject it changes the topic and continues from there. Seems like it wouldn’t be too hard to write for or extend…


Wow, Glass is pretty cool. Sort of taking the room model of a typical game and translating it into conversational nodes. Although it’s interesting that these systems which are more complex under the hood are still quip-based. But I suppose it’s natural that writers want to write writerly writing, versus using a more granular system that wouldn’t produce a literary effect.

For that reason I’m not sure the “solution” for a typical game is technology as much as writing technique, but it does sound like there are almost as many multi-character conversation systems as games including multi-character conversations. I’m about to check out Enceladus.

Hanon blabbers cluelessly for quite a long bit...

(This is all my amateur inferences and may not be reflective of how it turns out or actually works, of course.) I read the spec for Inform 10’s dialogue kit and it seems really awesome and useful. My layman’s takeaway is it’s very much built on fundamentals Emily Short iterated on with Glass and Alabaster and in Versu and the “Threaded Conversation” extension. Conversation seems to be a “mode” the parser flips in and out of based on authored triggers (sort of like Hybrid Choices…) There’s a “director” that keeps track of active conversational topics/concepts (which can be defined as non-physical objects as a new kind, as well as other characters and physical objects in the world.) Spoken lines are written like screenplay dialogue including non-verbal reactions and stage business like “he takes a breath and flips a page in the book…” and quips can “mention” or activate related subjects which validate them for other NPCs to comment on or even bring up if they have other dialogue lines pertaining to what’s going on. It also takes into account whether characters can hear each other and seemingly inherit topics and subject matter and a “quip” (that’s not what it’s called…but) might be used or not based on the Director judging with a weighting system… - I suppose if one NPC is yelling off a balcony to another in the distance, the player might hear the first one but not the second one’s response, and that would vary if the same conversation took place with all three characters in the drawing room all in earshot. It allows authored dialogue choices that can qualify or not qualify for the player to choose based on conversational status with tabbed threading branches a bit like Ink or ChoiceScript. And the Director can be ‘activated’ so NPCs could potentially pursue active conversational gambits (I think with the PC and even other NPCs…potentially based on proximity?) It almost seems like you need a cast of NPCs that can wander a map in dinner-party murder-mystery fashion to make it work to its ideal - that to me to is the model Emily aspired for in many of her conversational games - subject matter that would propagate through characters kind of like viral dialog? I likely might not understand it fully but it sounds very powerful for the right kind of game. And also very simple to implement much more standard conversations with static NPCs who retain knowledge of what you’ve discussed with them.

Plus all this is optional to use and doesn’t override other potential solutions like ask/tell or your favorite conversation extension.

(offers a dish with grains of salt, YMMV, The write up is very human-author readable in the same way all Inform specs and documentation are, so look it up if this is in any way interesting to you.)