Game Development Reference
There are several things encoded into the above example that are worth noting. One
is the convention—actually somewhat new, though I approve of it—of making sure
to include the PC's dialogue before printing the NPC's answer. That used to not
be the convention. You'd only get Fred's response, and the PC would be effectively
mute, sort of like hearing only one half of a phone conversation. The PC's dialogue
wasn't considered that important, but of course it is.
The other things to note are:
Allowing some words of greeting before launching into pelting a character with
“Ask [npc] about [npc]” meaning the same thing as “[npc], tell me about
“Ask [npc] about me” being a way of getting the NPC to comment on the
player character. Sometimes, this is more useful than other times, but generally
you need to remember to cover this response no matter who the NPC is.
Repeated asking of the same question getting a different response after some
intervening conversation changes the relationship between the characters. Now
that Fred knows more about you, maybe too much, he answers the question
ASK/TELL requires a lot of patient, detailed work on the part of an author, be-
cause you've got to anticipate every conversation topic that a player might pull out
of thin air, especially if they relate to what the NPC is purportedly interested in. In
the above example, Fred will have to know a lot about making sandwiches and the
ingredients used. Or, if not, he should have a generic response to an unknown topic
that is an improvement over the library default, which is either, “Fred says, I don't
know anything about that,” which is often terribly wrong (a sandwich maker who
knows nothing about cold cuts or bread), or a message that the character “doesn't ap-
pear interested,” which reduces most characters to wooden robots who are apathetic
about the most remarkable topics of conversation, like time travel.
Still, with a little diligence and a lot of testing, ASK/TELL can yield marvelous
results. One of the most famous games of modern IF is one called Galatea (XYZZY
Award winner, Best Individual NPC 2000), which Emily Short wrote for the IF Art
Show, a semi-annual boutique for works that are more like conceptual experiments
than games. In the piece, the player engages in conversation with a living statue.
That is the entirety of the work, but because of the incredible detail that went into
the responses, as well as the underlying code that charted the flow of the conversation,
such that topics could be delved into more deeply and change the emotional state of
the character as it went, it proved to be a rich, immersive experience, and one that
put Ms. Short on the map as someone to be reckoned with.
Menu-based conversation is generally more familiar to game writers because it
appears in other types of video games, such as RPGs. In IF, you generally start a