Conversations We Have In My Head is a very short, real-time dialogue game by Squinky, describing a conversation between a genderqueer protagonist (Quarky) and their ex (Lex). As the player, you’re choosing responses Lex can make to Quarky’s revelations and questions; new options come and go on the screen. This gives the game a smooth, relaxing quality — this is an odd analogy, perhaps, but it felt a bit like a driving game to me, in which you’re looking at the scenery sliding by and deciding which way you wanted to steer, but didn’t have any brakes.
If you want, you can be totally silent and just listen to Quarky monologue about the changes in their life. Or you can offer lots of feedback, or even more or less wrest the conversation around to yourself on a regular basis, reminding Quarky of the differences between you and of harm done in the past. I like the way this flows, though after about the fifth playing I started to wish I could fast-forward to important junctions in order to try some of the alternatives. Still, the game is so compact that even re-listening to the same opening doesn’t slow things down too much.
Squinky includes the following paragraph in their description of the game:
Many of us have voices in our heads that constantly remind us of our perceived failures and inadequacies. Sometimes, those voices appear to us in the form of a once-important, now-estranged person from our past. This is a game about having one of those conversations with that voice in your head, and the many ways it can go.
Despite the conflict implied in this paragraph, I found that the majority of the conversations I generated with Conversations We Have In My Head were net positives, rather than negative reflections on the protagonist or on what happened in the past. Perhaps growing up and coming to know themselves better has opened the possibility that the characters might be kinder to one another and keep things in better perspective than they used to. There are of course some exceptions.
Dialogue: A Writer’s Story is the tale of Lucille, a woman who is stuck on a novel, and who goes to her friends and relatives to find inspiration and work past her difficulties. The full game is not yet available, but a demo is free to download. My remarks here are therefore necessarily based just on the two scenes provided in that demo.
Dialogue has some aspects of a visual novel — in the screenshot shown above, Lucille and her brother are talking, and Lucille periodically gets timed opportunities to choose dialogue responses. All of the text is fully voice acted. There is a bar that shrinks as you run out of time to answer, as in Telltale conversation sequences, though there are also some additional dialogue powers that come into play and allow you to gain alternate dialogue lines partway through the timed session.
At the end of your conversation with Lucille’s brother, you get a little summary of how the game thinks the conversation went: were you pushy? neutral? I have to admit that its understanding of what I was doing and why didn’t really match my own.
Weird City Interloper is a parser-based conversation game by Pacian. Like some of Pacian’s previous work, especially Castle of the Red Prince, it largely does away with the traditional object and room hierarchy: here instead of navigating between places, you are moving from one interlocutor to another. As you go, you accumulate an inventory of characters you know about and topics you can discuss, and the point of the game is to discover the story by asking the right people about the right sequence of things. Because those options are always enumerated (and initially the list is pretty short), it feels as though the game could easily have been executed as a choice-based experience instead; this is an interesting one to look at if you’re studying the parser-choice borderlands.
The business of applying your topic inventory to different speakers sounds a bit mechanical, perhaps, and at some points it did seem as though I was just running around trying all my topics on all the characters. But at its best moments it felt much more organic than that, and several times it rewarded puzzle-solving leaps of intuition in a very satisfying way. The game also includes some well-timed help to give you hints if you seem to be lost, and this helped me past the couple of spots where I was feeling a bit stuck.
We now have two more meetups scheduled for the Oxford/London IF group:
2:15 PM, March 30, in Oxford: a session on IF tools. Graham Nelson will present his most recent changes to Inform 7, and Eric Eve will introduce his adv3lite library for TADS, and we’ll open to a general discussion of IF tools.
7 PM, April 8, in London: a session on character modeling, led by Nicholas FitzRoy-Dale. We’ll look at what has been done and what current mechanics support, and talk about possibilities for the future.
Chris Conley has now released Threaded Conversation, a much updated and revised edition of the Inform extension I used for Alabaster and Counterfeit Monkey. You can download it here.
Threaded Conversation’s purpose is to create prompted dialogue for conversation-rich games, and to deal with parsing ask/tell input intelligently. It also comes with an extension called Conversation Builder that allows for developing conversation dynamically, the way Alabaster did in its input-gathering stages. Chris has added significant amounts of new work past where I was able to take the project, though: beta-testing, cleaning up code, and in particular revising the icky bit of code that handles parsing input when the player types a conversation command but the conversation hasn’t officially started yet, which has to figure out who’s being addressed and then restart the parsing process afresh once it has the proper context for reading the subsequent speech keywords. (Trust me, this is icky, and it was pretty broken in the code iteration I handed off to Chris.)
I’m very grateful to Chris for taking this over for me at a point where things became too busy for me to keep up, and putting so much of his own thought and effort into it. I hope folks will find it useful.
via Threaded Conversation.
This is one of several design articles about the new interactive narrative platform Versu, which Richard Evans and I have been building with a team at Linden Lab.
Any platform focused on social interaction needs strong conversation handling. The following article goes into a certain amount of technical detail about what the system does and how it works, and Richard kindly agreed to write about the sections on which he had the most design influence.