NPC monologue

As players: if you enter a room with a new NPC, and discover that the NPC says funny/witty/interesting tidbits without necessarily being addressed, how likely are you to sit there and hit Z until the character runs out of good stuff to say and starts to generically vamp?
As authors: do you care, or have you ever taken steps to make sure a player can’t blitz through all of your amusing character material in the very first encounter? Say it’s a long game, and the PC will need to come back at another point or two later in the game…


I think a good example of this is the robot Floyd in Planetfall and Stationfall. He has a pretty generous but definitely limited set of reactions, but people still seem fond of him. But he continues to react to new things that happen during the game (and in the second game, begins to change over time).

So maybe having your character get new dialogue ‘unlocked’ by game events could be nice.

As a player, I will often try to see the limits of games, so I can kind of ‘peek behind the curtain’. If it’s clear the material isn’t relevant to gameplay, sometimes I’ll ignore it altogether.

As an author, I’ll often write in dumb stuff that only plays if you try to get to the end of random dialogue. I have to say though that the problem with adding more text is that it all needs to be high quality. In my game Grooverland, I made each of about 10 NPCs have responses to asking about literally every object in the game, hundreds of responses, but I was grinding them out so fast they were all pretty crappy and I got feedback that the dialogue in the game was wooden. In other games, I’ve had limited dialogue I worked harder on and gotten positive feedback on that.


I guess it depends on how funny/witty/interesting the tidbits are. But in general I’d say it’s at least fairly likely I would repeatedly hit z until the NPC starts looping / stops talking.

It would depend on the game I guess. I’ve never felt the need to so far.


Sorry for posting again, but after thinking more and seeing Nils’s response, I think that one reason players like to test the limits of things is that boundaries and walls are reassuring in games. Parser games represent theoretically limitless possibilities, but that can be overwhelming, so players often look for guidance on what’s important and what’s not. Exhausting an NPC’s topics provides reassurance that you can move on to the next room.

That’s why writing good error messages is so important for parser games, because the error messages, if done right, push the player towards correct play, and help them discover what the boundaries and possibilities of the game are.


If I like the character and the tidbits, or they are giving useful hints, I’ll often Z three or four times to check if it repeats. If it’s long, I’ll go away and listen more if I return.

Yes. I like idle text. Alternately, if the character has a grand intro I also like to make sure it’s not repeated verbatim and that usually settles into a very short summary “Hey again./Sup./Nice to see you again” so the player doesn’t have to see it every time. If it contains important info, the player should be able to trigger a summary of that part again “You mentioned you’re a mechanic?”

I designed the Harbourmaster of Shireton to be the most loquacious idle character imaginable as a joke. In the first game he tells stories that are extremely randomized and have a general beginning and conclusion (one tester thought I had hard-coded the stories, but it’s essentially a complex Mad-Lib game randomizing transitional text as well as individual words and phrases and using liberal ellipses as if the player is tuning out long portions of what he says and just picking up details to facilitate the stories hooking together: "we ran into a coven of sirens…of course our cooking skills were put to great use…as you can imagine, it was a memorable evening!). I tried to simulate this a bit in the sequel but didn’t have access to the extensive random text generation tools offered in Inform 7.


I think JRPGs like Final Fantasy have taught me to lawnmower through every dialog choice for every NPC and to check back with every visit to look for changes. I’d have to consciously refrain to not do it at this point.

I do feel rewarded when flavor dialog changes for random NPC #438 partway through the game, hinting at quest/treasure/lore that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Feels like a reward for my perseverance. Probably the same personality flaw that had me blowing out matches on @malacostraca 's The Good Ghost for half an hour expecting an Easter Egg when the kid ran out of matches (Note: There’s either no Easter Egg (infinite matches) or I didn’t persevere enough.).


This doesn’t only apply to things the NPC says, but things the NPC does. For example, the troll in ‘Seeker of Magic’ does some funny things such as picking his nose and scratching his crutch (or crotch).

As a player, if it’s obvious that the NPC has something witty to say, I’ll press Z until it starts repeating, just so that I don’t miss out on anything that may be funny. It soon becomes obvious whether it’s random, cycled or shuffled.

As an author, I use a few different strategies. If it’s purely random (such as Molly the macau in ‘Acid Rain’), I’ll make sure that it doesn’t occur on every move. If there are a lot of responses, I’ll shuffle them, then step through the shuffled messages and give a message when there are no more responses (such as the jokes told by Pete the platypus in ‘Kenny Koala’s Bushfire Survival Plan’).

I would generally have about 10 or 12 random responses, but I certainly don’t expect the player to sit there pressing Z for 10 or 15 minutes. That’s why I’ve been tending to use shuffled and/or cycled responses, rather than purely random.


That is a very good idea that’s been shamelessly snagged and stuffed into my repository of “Hey, that’s a pretty good idea!”-Ideas. Cycling through a random shuffle repeatedly, because you’re unsure if there’s one or two remaining responses that just haven’t popped up yet is not a great experience for the player and leaves them slightly unsure they’ve heard everything the NPC has to say, regardless of how long they shuffle it. This neatly fixes that.

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In the case of Pete Platypus, he can tell you 20 jokes. I didn’t want the jokes to be repeated and I wanted the order to be different every time you play the game, so I shuffle them at the start of the game, let him tell you the jokes in the shuffled order, then he says, “Sorry, Kenny. I’ve run out of jokes.” If you’ve played the game, then you’ll know that you need to listen to at least two of his jokes in order to solve a puzzle related to Kylie Kookaburra.


Thanks everyone for the input! I think I’d be in the camp that tends to sit and wait for all the unique responses as well, provided they’re amusing. I’m toying with some mechanisms that shuffle the non-vamp amusing responses, but only make a portion of them available to Z-pushers per visit (unlocking more next time), so that the area retains a little more interest further into the game…