I’ve been thinking about this stuff lately, because I was thinking about what kind of next game I’d wanna make. I’m aware that I don’t like conversation in IF either, because it always feels klunky to me, broadly because I have the same feelings as Larroquod.
I note the usual conversation commands didn’t bother me much in old Infocom games, and that’s probably because expectation was lower. I didn’t expect the NPC to talk about anything but a handful of preprogrammed topics. Today if you take that approach, people would probably yell at you for having robotic NPCs. But to me, they’re still kinda robotic, even if they can talk about 20 topics instead of 3.
People are so complicated that if it comes down to the level where I have to specify what to talk about via the parser, I’ll always find 200 holes where the NPC spits out a default blocking response, that makes them feel klunky in a way I never mind when I’m dealing with the physical environment - because the trees and doors don’t have personality, etc.
Obviously part of this is taste, and also what’s best for any particular game’s circumstances.
Blue Lacuna, the conversation there was like the nicest CYOA format you could have for conversation in text, but it still felt to me like CYOA based on specific words.
Anyway, my first idea for a new game where I could avoid the usual conversation involved having a mute player!.. probably the flunky to some other character.
Then I had a couple of less extreme ideas. They are far from whole solutions, and Larroquod may still not like 'em as they use a tree menu, but there’s a couple of different approaches. Note they’re best suited for characters who are either clear on their goals or sociopathic
- When conversation begins, you specify where you want it to head. Whether or not you get the desired outcome, or something like it, or nothing like it, depends on the gamestate, who you’ve spoken to, what you 're carrying if that’s relevant - have you created the circumstances to achieve that outcome with that person? The game checks and then produces the full flow of conversation.
So you only have to do one thing when conversation starts, which is pick a broad direction from a list determined by context, but there are still different conversations possible.
- My second idea was like CYOA but divorces you from knowing exactly what you will say.
A problem with a lot of CYOA is it’s hard to be neutral about player options. Some options stick out like crazy.
“Do you wanna say ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘Wait, tell me about the prince of Zanzibar!’”
So I though about having a set of broad approaches to conversation, rather than specific content.
An NPC starts talking to you. You could then choose to respond ‘Very positively’, ‘Positively’, ‘Neutrally’, ‘Negatively’, ‘Angrily’, ‘Flirtily’ etc. You pick your approach then conversation takes off by gamestate and circumstance. Any conversation is prefaced by the same ‘approaches’ menu. What’s neat is you don’t have to specify any topics. They should come naturally from gamestate. Also you don’t know precisely what your character will say before you say it.
This one seems especially good for sociopaths, and I was thinking of making a game where you play a sociopath, but I probably won’t.