Paper, Laws, Political Parties, List Questions

This week (well, fortnight) we have some laws, some new list questions, some political parties, overall a reasonably large entry to make up for silence last week, and a paper, so let’s get to it:

Semiotics of Roguelikes

Firstly and briefly, the paper I wrote a couple of years ago now on the semiotics of various ASCII roguelike games has moved from being published online to being published with in actual edition/volume of Games and Culture. To mark this momentous event, I’ve uploaded a pre-submission version of the paper onto my academia.edu account, so if you’re interested in reading the paper – the abstract is below here – then click here and give it a read, and do let me know what you think.

This article explores the semiotics of the “roguelike” genre. Most roguelikes reject contemporary advances in graphical technology and instead present their worlds, items, and creatures as American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) characters. This article first considers why this unusual graphical style has endured over time and argues that it is an aesthetic construction of nostalgia that positions roguelikes within a clear history of gameplay philosophies that challenge the prevailing contemporary assumptions of role-playing games. It second notes that the semantic code for understanding the ASCII characters in each and every roguelike is different and explores the construction of these codes, how players decode them, and the potential difficulties in such decodings. The article then combines these to explore how such visuals represent potential new ground in the study of game semiotics.

Violence Laws

The game now generates a full set of laws for violence in each nation. These are not done in quite the same way as the other two sets of laws. Whereas “religion” and “trade” have a set number of values and each value always create a law in every nation, not all nations will even have some of the violence laws. It depends on the ideologies of the nation in question, and what they consider to be a meaningful violent event, and how severe they think it is. The game selects a set of laws, ranks them, and then distributes punishments according to the ranking of the crime, not the crime itself. Here is the sequence by which the game selects laws for violent acts, where the ones that a nation cares about the most come first, and the less important ones come later. As a result, you’ll see some very different values at play here, and what counts as a severe punishment in one nation will be far less severe in another, because it will be much further down the crime list, as a result of the nation being more concerned by other things:

If I’ve calculated this correctly, this means the shortest set of violence laws is five, and the longest possible set is thirteen, with most nations naturally falling somewhere in the middle. In each case the top crimes merit a “Punishment 5”, which is the highest level of punishment – such as three arena battles to the death, or a lengthy imprisonment, or a severely damaging physical ordeal – and the bottom will merit a “Punishment 1”, and the others in the middle will be distributed appropriately. I’m confident this will again generate an interesting and unique set of consequences for your actions in each nation, and when coupled with the wide variation in punishments, and the kinds of punishments that your character might or might not be able to withstand depending on your build, items, etc… I think some very interested decisions will emerge from this process.

More List Questions

Parents, Siblings, Grandparents, Children

NPCs are now able to talk about their parents, siblings, grandparents and children, in a pretty wide range of ways. For instance, if you ask about parents, they might simply answer that their parents are nobody important (if they feel you’re disinterested, or of a much higher social status), or might name only one, or both; alternatively, if their parents are consequential people recorded by the game, or they are important, then they’ll probably have some more info they’ll (proudly) be willing to give out. For the longer lists, the game also takes account of the sex of the people being mentioned, so they might say “My two brothers are X and Y and my sister is Z”, or “My maternal grandparents are X and Y, my paternal grandparents are A and B”, which will also vary based on any particular bias towards either sex present in that nation; for extremely long lists, lastly, such as children or siblings, they can now reel off a full list that is always grammatically correct. These lists also include titles, too, so you might get “My mother was Queen X the 1st, Keeper of the Brass Casket, and my father was Prince Y, Consort to Her Majesty” – or whatever.

Trade, Violence, Religion Laws

We covered these briefly in a previous entry, but NPCs are now able to tell the player about everything in these categories. Some of these require different lines of code, as in the case of trade and religion laws there is a finite set of “things” that each nation will have laws on, whereas for violence, some potential violent acts simply won’t be recognised or won’t be relevant to particular nations, and therefore won’t be there. Either way, people now give you a nicely detailed list of these laws; and as with everything, how much people tell you will be modified by mood, and their knowledge of their own nation…

Nearby Things

I’ve started to implement the code for NPCs replying to questions of the sort “are there any X nearby”, where X might be cities, towns, nomads, tribal nations, mountains, coastline… you get the idea. There’s a pretty wide number, and some of them have to request information from different parts of the game’s databases, but this code is now being put into place. There are also now appropriate sentence structures here for people to word things appropriately; for instance, if there are individual things, such as towns, you’ll just get a list. By contrast, mountains do not take up individual map tiles but stretch across mountain ranges, so someone might say “There are mountains far and very far to the northwest, far to the north, and somewhat far to the northeast”, which should give the player a decent impression of what the mountain range looks like. (The same then applies to deserts and coasts and so on).

Political Parties

Returned to political parties and developed names for the parties, which will soon be matched up delegates, and we should be able to get some kind of political system actually working. The game first selects a number of parties for each nation, which is semi-random and partly influenced by several ideological factors (outside of their commitment to a democratic form of government), and then (as we discussed before) ranks the various overall trends in the nation, such as individualism or collectivism, nationalism or globalism, and so forth. It then creates parties for the dominant trends, and sometimes with a secondary ideology from lower down in that chart, and now it finally creates names. As such, we can now find NPCs who might be willing to tell you about parties such as:

The Liberal Sovereignty Party
The Party of Enlightenment
The Conservative National Party
The Devout Singular League
The One Reformist Party
The Association of Independent Selfhood

And so on and so forth. As with most things in URR, you should be able to extrapolate some reasonable guesses about the commitments of these parties from their names. In a later version I’ll connect these to delegates, and get the political system in democratic nations working properly.

Next Week

As you’ll have noticed, we’ve slipped back to a fortnightly update this time – although I’m generally back to a post every weekend, this last week has again just been absolutely jam-packed, and I had to push things back. However, hopefully, updates will resume the weekend model from next weekend moving forwards, and I promise lots of screenshots next week. I must apologise for this, but leaping back into the weekly blog posting has been quite a bit new pressure on my time, and although I thought I could go from sparse blog posts to every week: it hasn’t been quite that easy. Things are ramping back up, but maybe just a little more unevenly than I’d hoped. I am also working on finishing my first book at the moment, which is of course taking up a lot of my time, as well as planning how best to get around the world and take up three visiting positions in three countries in the coming months, so there’s a lot of admin in my brain at the moment. I’m desperately hoping to get 0.8 before April, as otherwise that’ll be a ridiculous two years between release… and that’s just too damned long, however much detail I’m putting in to this major version. Nevertheless, normality should resume again next week, with hopefully an even more significant URRpdate. See you all then!

More Lexicon Variation, Conversation Development, New Variables

Lots of major developments (and some minor ones) in URR this fortnight! Firstly, all the content I added last week meant that a whole new set of words and phrases had to be added to the lexicon; the best part of a thousand in total, if I’m counting correctly. I’ve now implemented all of these, and the game can correctly vary the words from all these new sentences by drawing on these new additions to the central lexicon. Secondly, I’ve now almost finished what I’m calling the “standard” or “basic” conversation system, which is ensuring NPCs can reply to every question they are asked; this should be done by this time next week. Thirdly, a wide range of further variables for individuals and the cultures they hail from have been implemented, and are now having an effect on what kinds of things NPCs will say. Another very, very text-heavy post this week – although next week’s will contain a lot of screenshots, this week continues to be lots of under-the-hood programming and content addition that cannot, yet, be reflected in screenshots, but is getting pretty damned close. Read on!

More Variations for New Words

Firstly, as above, there was a huge set of new words and phrases that needed to be varied for each culture, as with all the others. These entered the game because I was writing the new “option” answers (see last week’s entry), and needed to be written up. This was one of those tasks that isn’t especially intellectually challenging or needs a lot of programming experience, but mostly just involves adding a massive chunk of “content” which the game will then deploy in the appropriate situations. With this finished, I’m very happy with those look, and the sentences read really well and really nicely. Here’s a screenshot from the new set – I’m sure you can see how/where a lot of these fit in…

I also went through the existing words, and decided to statistically bias some of them back towards slightly shorter variations, and therefor slightly shorter sentences, as a response to the feedback I regularly get about some of the sentences being too wordy. You’ll see the same in the earlier example, where we have some sets using the same short word twice to boost the chance of that word being selected (this is of course not an especially elegant way to do it, but let’s be honest: my programming is not known for its elegance). This should ensure that sentences will tend to be just a little shorter and a little less wordy, and I’m going to continue this trend of chopping out irrelevant words whilst maintaining sentence variety – though this is a tricky balance to strike.

Nearing Completion on Standard Conversations

The development of the game towards what I’ve been calling the ability to have a “basic conversation” – i.e. the traditional question-and-answer session that one gets in most games, where the player asks something, the NPC responds, and this pattern continues until all conversation options have been exhausted – is now extremely close. NPCs respond correctly for all the “basic” questions (about 1/2 of all questions), and for the “options” questions (about 1/4 of questions), and are in the process of being programmed to respond appropriately to the “list” questions (also about 1/4 of all questions). This is the final step to them being able to ask any NPC any question, and get a response. For now these responses are all truthful, and they always answer, but this will still be a huge milestone once finished. As such, by this time next week, I’ll be able to show off the basic conversation system working universally, for all possible inputs and outputs, even if a few placeholders like “[holybook]” will still be in place, rather than the appropriate text itself. From my current trials with it, it looks amazing, and the experience of being able to select any question from this gigantic list and get an appropriate and sensible response is really something. It has been a long time coming, but I’m very confident that 0.8 will be worth the wait.

New Individual and National Variables

This week I also found myself needing to implement a large number of additional variables for both individuals, and in some cases for nations and religions and cultures, which NPCs would need to draw upon when they give their responses to particular questions and sets of questions.

Mercenaries

A range of new variables were implemented this week for mercenaries, along with quite a complex formula to decide on how much mercenaries cost to hire. There are four elements here – how much training a mercenary has had (counted in years, generally as a soldier, or in an arena, or they simply became a mercenary immediately and learned on the go), how much experience they’d had (how many years they’ve served as a mercenary, and also some specific stories/information about what they’ve done during their tenure), and then a list of benefits and conditions each mercenary brings. For each mercenary, the game develops a possible list of each according to their  background. For instance, a particularly zealous mercenary might refuse to fight their own religion (a condition) but be especially keen to fight other religions (benefit). This system is naturally comparable to a lot of modern roguelike games where you have PCG characters with selections of “traits” (or an equivalent term) that mix positives and negatives, and task the player with interesting strategic decisions. The game then figures out how much “true money” a mercenary costs to hire (a secret number converted into in-game currencies whenever it’ll appear on screen), which goes by a formula I’ve developed. Broadly speaking, better-trained and more-experienced mercenaries will naturally cost more, and the more benefits they bring the more they cost, but the more conditions they bring, the less they cost. There’s a bit more to it than that, but some initial testing has shown that this attends some very satisfying results.

National Voting Rights

Here’s an interesting one – the question of national voting rights. At the moment when each nation generates, a die is rolled to decide whether women, men, or both are allowed to hold the throne (or whatever the equivalent of the “throne” is). It then considers who is allowed to join the military – if only one sex is allowed to hold the throne, then that sex will always be able to serve in the military, and sometimes the other one will be too; if either is allowed to hold the throne, then both will be allowed to serve (generally). I’ve now extended this to voting right; if either can hold the throne, then both can vote, but if only one can hold the throne, then normally only that sex is allowed to vote, but sometimes the other sex is allowed to vote at a “reduced vote”, e.g. one quarter of the other. There is no real-world bias here so it’s totally randomised between F/M/either, and all variants are equally likely, although certain ideologies make “Only one not the other” decisions more likely than others (Imperialist nations are more likely to restrict, democratic nations are less likely to restrict, and so forth, although this is not absolute or guaranteed).

Nomadic and Tribal Relations

There are now variables to determine how much particular NPCs like tribal and nomadic nations. This draws upon the general feelings of individuals about other nations, which in turn of course draws on a range of ideological and historical factors, but also then modulates this further according to particular ideologies (if these are a close match with lots of tribal/nomadic states), and the individual classes of the NPCs. These will therefore be generally close to a more general feeling about foreign lands, but also quite different in particular contexts, and will affect what NPCs say about their nations, what they’re willing to tell you, what they themselves have “bothered” to find out (if they care), and so forth.

Delegates and Parties

This week I also implemented the first half of the system that will determine what kinds of political parties exist in democratic nations, which parties hold power, and how these parties will have shifted over time. To assess the political leanings of each nation, the game first goes through all of their ideological preferences and develops a set of overall political leanings for the nation, going by some axes that the majority of real-world political parties go by: are they primarily globalist or nationalist, are they liberal or conservative, are they religious or atheistic, are they collectivist or individualist, and so on and so forth. For instance, the “Isolationist” ideology will naturally add a lot to nationalist, and some to conservative, and a little bit to conservative; the “Aesthetics” ideology will promote individualism, but also nationalism, but also a little bit of globalism, and might also support religious iconography… and so on and so forth. Then, if there is a strong specific religious belief in that nation, it checks what political leanings that religion has (is it very peaceful towards others? Does it enjoy holy wars? Etc) and adds that into the mix where appropriate. The game then ranks these overall national political leanings, and then selects a number of parties, before going through each party and having the central tenet of that party be one of the leanings, starting with the biggest leaning and working down. So a nation that is first and foremost “liberal” will have its biggest party adopt a broadly liberal position, with smatterings of other political tendencies lower down the list for that nation. Once that is done, the game then looks at whereabouts delegates come from in that nation – do they come from districts of the capital, from towns, from monasteries, from farms – and distributes delegates appropriately to each party, depending on its political leanings (and generates a procedural name for the party, although this isn’t finished yet, but I’ll show some off soon). This party affiliation will allow delegates to comment on the current political situation according to their own allegiance – which was the only reason I implemented all of this now! But it’s nice to have it in place, and it makes the democratic nations just a little more fleshed-out, even if it’ll be the small 0.9 release where we really see this more visibly.

There are also about another thirty new variables added in this week alongside the ones listed here, but I decided to mention these four as they struck me as being some of the more intriguing examples from the selection. As noted last week, these variables are entirely hidden (or rather, the numbers in each variable are hidden) and are always going to be represented instead by who people are, how they act, how they dress, what they say, where you find them, who they worship, who they serve, and so on and so forth…

Next Week

The completion of the standard conversation system, all questions/answers for all possible questions, and a lot of screenshots to show it off! It has been a while since we’ve had any proper in-game screenshots, so it’s definitely time to actually give you all a look at how (incredibly neat) everything is looking now. See you then!

Greetings, Farewells, Compliments, Insults, Threats, Thanks

This week I’ve finished off the generator for greetings, farewells, compliments, insults, threats, and giving thanks; each of these can produce easily over tens of thousands of variations, and then when you factor in elements outside the sentence generator itself – the name of a god, the title of a ruler, and so forth – we readily push well up into the millions. In this entry I’ll talk a little about how these generate, give some examples, and look at the kinds of roles I want these elements to play within the conversation system.

In working on the speech generation, it quickly became clear that having a set of phrases distinctive to each nation will be an easy and quick way to potentially identify the national origin of a character you’re talking to (and an easy way to fake your own, if you know all the common phrases…) and so I’ve tried to break these down into appropriate groupings. In the end I decided that there were six major categories I could vary from culture to culture: greetings, farewells, insults, compliments, threats, and thanks. Each of these will be generated for each culture, and will also vary each individual time anyone says one, so one person from Culture X might say “So long for the time being, and may our great military leadership lead us ever forwards”, whilst another from the same culture might say “Goodbye for now, and let us hope our grand military leaders lead us forever onwards” – and so forth. This has required another large table of syllables, of course, but since these are very regular and common sayings I thought it was extremely important to make sure these varied even within cultures and between individuals, rather than (as with most phrases) having them vary only, or primarily, between cultures and religions and backgrounds, and so forth.

Greetings

For greetings I wanted to make sure that these would be sentences that wouldn’t be too lengthy and therefore potentially annoying to see repeatedly, but should also contain at least a little bit of detail in them (this applies to most conversation elements, but I think greetings are particularly relevant in this regard). I went through several iterations of how these might be generated until I was able to settle on one that hit these two requirements (brevity and detail) reasonably well. At this point, therefore, greetings tend to be of the structure “[Greetings] [from] [X]”. The first element will vary between cultures and between individuals, such as “Greetings”, “Good [time of day]”, “I greet you”, “My greetings”, and so forth. These can sometimes be pushed to the back, so you might get “From X, Greetings” or “Greetings from X” – some variations are grammatically correct in both variations, whilst some are only correct in one variation, and this is all coded in. The second element will vary in the same kind of way – “from”, “on behalf of”, etc – and so will the third, which is inevitably the most varied element. This third element will look at who the individual is and the kinds of beliefs they have, and then generate or select an appropriate greeting as a result. In most cases they will explicitly mention their nation of origin (e.g. “Greetings from the brave soldiers of [nation]”), though in some rare case they will mention their religious belief in their greeting instead of a national or cultural origin (“My greetings on behalf of the zealous defenders of [god]”). As you can see from those two examples, in the first case it seems reasonable to assume the speaker is proud of their army – perhaps a standing army, or perhaps an imperialist nation? – whilst the latter is clearly strongly religious, so perhaps they come from a theocratic or religious zealous nation? Here are a bunch of examples – see you can take some guesses about the political / religious / cultural / geographical / etc backgrounds of the speakers…

greeting1

Farewells

So, farewells once more needed to be something that could vary sufficiently much and sufficiently often for them to not get boring when somebody might be talking to the player multiple times, or the player might be talking to numerous people in the same civilization or who worship the same religion. This varies by being broken down into polite, neutral, and sharp farewells. A polite farewell would be of the form “[1]” + “[2]” + “[3]” + “fond_farewell” + “specific_farewell” + “!”. So, this might be something like “I’m afraid I” + “have to” + “take my leave.” + ” Now I bid you goodbye, and” + “may you find enlightenment in study” (for a monastic nation). Or, alternatively, “Alas, I” + “must” + “depart.” + “I say farewell, and” + “may all of your hunts bring trophies and glory” (for a venatic nation). A neutral farewell does not contain the first section, and does not contain the “Now I bid you goodbye”, so whereas a polite farewell might be “I’m afraid I have to take my leave. Now I bid you goodbye, and may you find enlightenment in study!”, a neutral farewell would be “I have to take my leave. May you find enlightenment in study.”, whilst a sharp farewell uses the same earlier components and a different end component – rather than a culture or religion-specific end point, you would get something like “I have to take my leave. May all be well” – a generic, general departure which is sharp and not especially friendly. Again, here are some examples, which should give you clues about the speakers…

greeting2

Compliments

Next up, a pair of related elements – compliments and insults. Each of these will come up less often, but I still naturally wanted these to be very distinctive for each nation, and each example will be worded differently on each generation. “I wager you are as wise and far-sighted as a hawk”, or “I believe you are as clever and sage as the hawk”, or “I know you to be as smart and far-seeing as a great hawk”, and so on and so forth; it’s clearly the same greeting, but each person says it in a different way and will say it in a different way each time, too, to ensure that kind of variety is maintained. These again generate according to ideologies and religions and so forth, and I think they yield a very pleasing level of variation. Examples:

greeting5

Insults

Insults were slightly tougher. Whereas compliments can work quite well if saying pleasant generic things, insults have to be relevant to a range of reasons why they might be insulting the player – refusing a trade, stealing from them, challenging them in combat, being a worshipper of a forbidden religion, or whatever. You wouldn’t want a character to kill somebody in an arena, and then someone from a pacifist nation praises them for their pacifistic tendencies. I’ve mixed things up to therefore create broader, and more sweeping sentences that should be applicable to a range of possible situations, whilst still allowing the character to say a logical compliment. Originally my plan was to make insults and threats fairly interchangeable, but just alter the first few words. So an insult would start “May you”, or “You should be”, “You ought to be”, or whatever, whereas a threat would be “I will see you”, “You will be”, “I will have you”, and the like. In the end I decided not to go with this model and to introduce variation between the two and thereby more overall variety into the conversation system (the kind of decision I’ve usually made!) and I split these into two. It was much easier to build appropriate threat generation than insult generation, actually, but the insults have come out really nicely and have a rather unusual sense to them; they’re quite distinctive, and run through quite a range of different ideas and concepts. Examples once more:

greeting3

Threats

Threats, then, are similar to insults, and the variation is best illustrated simply by showing some examples:

greeting6

Thanks

Last, but not least: we have “thanks”. These start with words like “As”, “Being”, “Speaking as”, and so forth, and then something to do with their background, and then a form of thanks. For instance, someone from a conscript nation might say “Being a conscript proud to serve [herhis] [homeland], [thanks]”, or someone from a zealotry background might say “Being as one with the great light of [god], [thanks]”, and so forth. These are shorter and snappier than some of the other generated sentences in this set of six, but they work very well, and again get the point across snappily and effectively, whilst being relevant in a lot of situations. Whereas insults and threats were tricky because they were dependent on what the player had done to merit the insult/threat, thanks are dependent on the speaker who is relating what particular traits or characteristics they find especially valuable. Examples:

greeting4

Next Week

By next week I should have these actually implemented into the game, rather than Python’s output log, and these will come up during conversations. I’m still deciding how exactly things will work with regard to when you say greetings – perhaps they will be automatic, or perhaps they will come up as a default option, or something like that – because I want these to be present to make conversations appropriate and smooth and realistic, but also not add unnecessary work greeting every time. Right now I think the best solution is for the game to automatically give you the greeting options when you open a conversation, rather than having you enter the greeting options manually, but I’ll try a few options and decide on which runs the best. Aside from that, I’ll be continuing work onto speech generation, and slowly moving towards the conversation system – the former is easier to get back into, so I’ve been working there so far, but I’ll now be slowly transitioning into handling the conversation system elements. See you all next week!

A Million Ways to Speak in the World

Firstly, rather excitingly, I’ve been commissioned to write a four-part series on qualitative procedural generation for Rock Paper Shotgun! Societies, practices, cultures, beliefs, and so forth, and how to integrate them into gameplay. I think one part will be going up each fortnight for the next three fortnights, but here’s the first one.

skyrimbook1

Generation Next, Part 1: How Games Can Benefit From Procedurally Generated Lore

Sentence Generation

This week I’ve been adding in a truly titanic amount of speech variation into the game. I’m only now beginning to realize the size and scope of this task, given the level of variety and interest and complexity I want to include, but at this point it’s close to around ~1/3rd of the default conversation options done. There’s a vast number of archetypes, a truly gigantic number of clauses and descriptive modifiers (a comment a character might make about the word “world” if they’re from a particularly isolationist nation, for instance, which might be something like “frightening in its size and distances”). I’ve already written several thousand of lines of speech, variations in those, templates, words, clauses, kennings, all kinds of stuff, and written the (actually remarkably simple) code that pieces them all together. I’ve reached the end of all the “default” questions which you can ask anyone (and their answers), and I’m now moving onto the class-specific questions (and their answers), and then after that onto the special answers that change their sentence structure, not just their sentence content, depending on the NPC. By this I mean, you can always answer the question “What is your religion’s most sacred relic?” with an answer of the sort “Our most sacred relic is [x]”. However, a question like “What is your opinion about the ongoing war?” cannot be answered with a single sentence with words switched out, so needs a more complex set of answers tethered to the opinions of that NPC.

There basically hasn’t been much new coding going on since last time, so below you’ll find two conversations I had with different people, and how different they turned out (so the same kind of thing I showed off last week). You’ll notice that certain words get “expanded” upon, such as that “in which we all serve and are served” bit of the first picture below; these are bits of flavour text heavily dependent of course upon religions, cultures, backgrounds, etc, and these are one of the major things that will give you a hint about the background of the person, when they elect to give you a bit of their perspective on an issue you’re discussing. By the end of this process there will be an *incredible* number of these little expansions; as above, I’ve only done about 1/3rd of the default conversation options so far (not to mention negative replies, replies that can’t have a default form, and other stuff) and already there are several hundred of these. Naturally some political beliefs are easier to find expansions for – consider how much of a conversation someone from a pacifist nation would comment on, compared to how much of a conversation someone from a planned economy nation would have a comment relevant to planned economy to make – but I’m trying to come up with expansions for even the less-obvious ideologies too.

Anyway, here’s two examples of one conversation again, and you can see these are already more complex than last week:
New Conversation 1_1

New Conversation 1_2

I love how distinctive these are, and how you can even in just a few snippets of conversation start to guess at some of the beliefs and backgrounds of the people and their nations. In that last one you can see that we need a scroll bar for the conversation window, which is coming shortly.

For next time, I’ll be continuing to put in the massive databases that underlie the sentence generation system. I’m also starting to put in the first parts of two next things, both designed to enhance the smoothness and realism of the conversation system, instead of reducing it to what can look like a question-and-answer session. Although I’m super-proud of the above screenshots, they ARE quite question-and-answery, and this needs to be changed, and that’s what these two new elements will help us towards (the “how interested am I in this conversation” meter will be coming later). These two new elements are:

  • Counter Questions: this is what I’m calling it when the character you’re talking to asks you something back! They’ll reply (or not) to your question, and then ask you a question back; sometimes the same question, sometimes a related question, and sometimes a more general “Why are you asking that”, “Why do you want to know?”, etc. You’ll then get a reply option (see below) that you can use, or not, depending on your preference.
  • Replies: you as the player can respond to a specific thing that another character said and question them further on a topic that emerges in the process of conversation. For instance, if they mention a person, you can immediately say “Can you tell me more about [person]”, if you want to. Alternatively, as above, you can offer replies to what someone asks you, and will have the option to tell the truth, lie, semi-lie, etc.

These do require a bit of work, and I want to get all the “default” stuff done first, so I won’t mention these for another week or two, but I wanted to note that I’m aware the structure and flow of conversations needs a little work, and I’ll be working on that soon.

See you all next week!

UPDATE: various bits of feedback have highlighted some other issues with how conversations are currently looking, basically focused around their excessive formality. Like I say, I’m working on it, but I’ve also identified a few other useful changes I can make before next week…

Seeing Names, Changing Dialect, Sentence Generation

Since last week we had a post about my third bullet hell world record high score instead of an URRpdate, this week’s should be the longest in quite some time! Lots has happened in terms of naming NPCs, fixing remaining bugs, changing the player’s dialect in a conversation, and also sentence generation is now actually happening! Most exciting. Read on…

Wikipedia

…but wait! One tangential thing first. A while ago a URR fan made a URR Wikipedia page, which can be found here. I’m very happy with how the page looks, and I see it expanding soon with the release of 0.8 and several books and book chapters coming out in the near future (written by me, and by others) that discuss URR, but that label at the top has been there for some time. Naturally, as the game’s developer, I have an obvious conflict of interest, but for those of you who read the blog and are Wikipedians – if you, in your neutral opinion, think the article is good enough to have the banner removed, is there a process for this? Or with some more references added if that’s what it needs? If someone feels it can be taken down, or can give me advice on what I might need to add, that would be fantastic. I get a substantial amount of traffic from the Wikipedia page so I want to ensure it’s as high a quality as possible. And, of course, it’s a very pleasing mark of legitimacy/relevance to have a Wikipedia page, so it definitely matters to me that the page represents the game well and “deserves” its place on Wikipedia.

capain

Names in Conversations

As well as being generated, names now appear correctly in conversations. In future versions you will naturally not automatically know the names of strangers you bump into – unlike certain RPGs we could mention where the player magically divines the names of every single you talk to – and learning someone’s name will therefore sometimes be a gameplay mechanic. You might, for instance, know that a particular merchant called [Name] knows something, but the civilization that merchant comes from are not particular friendly to you, and you don’t know what they sell, so you’ll have to try to figure out which of seven merchants in a market district the particular merchant you’re after is, and potentially use other clues (sex, clothing, behaviour, whatever). Equally, of course, the game will remember perfectly the names of everyone you meet, and I’m actually thinking of a system that might alert you when you encounter someone whose name you already know – perhaps a message in the text log saying “You see [Name] [doing task X]” for someone you already know, because there is no visual way to mark out someone you recognise from someone you don’t (i.e. two merchants will both be ‘m’ whether you know them or not). Here are a couple of screenshots showing some conversation windows with people from various name-types:

Name1 Name2

Name3

Changing Dialect

You can now actually change your dialect by selecting a different dialect. This is a small thing, but it required me to start building up the code for handling what happens when you press [Enter] on an option in an in-conversation window, and it therefore has to detect the sentence or the item or the dialect you select, and then notice what kind of thing it is the player has selected, and then take the appropriate action. This works correctly now, though, so you can switch to another dialect and all the % chances of uttering each possible sentence immediately update appropriately. You can see in this gif how the chances of successful/unsuccessful words changes as we change dialect from one to the other.

Dialects

Sentence Generation (Part I)

After thinking long and hard about sentence generation, and managing to free up a spare day to do nothing else except working on this, I’ve been able to make a substantial start. So, basically, the game splits sentences down into three categories, I’m naming “clauses“, “archetypes“, and “kennings” (which applies to a range of things that are not technically kennings, but the term gives us a good impression of what we’re talking about here).

Clauses: these are segments of a sentence, which vary massively from culture, religion, geographical background, and all the other factors that basically everything else in URR tends to be varied along.  A sentence will contain several clauses in most cases, and clauses are basically sections of a sentence that the game will generate independently (via archetypes) and then stitch back together (see below for more information on this).

Archetypes: these are hand-written default versions for each possible question. For each of the questions that the player can possibly ask (or the NPC can ask back), I’ve gone through and written a dozen or so variations of that serve as the foundations of possible replies (although once a reply is finished it will be almost indistinguishable from the archetype that created it). These are then distributed to each culture semi-randomly, with some relationships between some archetypes which others are “free-floating”, and each culture then starts the game with a few basic and foundational ways to talk about the things people might need to talk about in-game.

Kennings: in the case of URR, this refers to a particular way of referring to a particular thing. So this might mean referring to historical events, or a title to put in front of the name of a deity, or a particular way to talk about oceans or mountains, and so forth. These are basically segments of clauses that have to be expressed a particular way, so a clause might say [Title of god] and then the game will look up the appropriate “kenning” for that element and place it into the clause; alternatively, if it says [Desert] then maybe that nation says “Deserts”, or “Great Sands”, or “Great Dunes”, or “the Red Expanse”, or whatever, and the game will quickly check what the appropriate (generated) term is for something in a sentence.

So, in trying to create a sentence, the game does the following process:

Stage 1: select clauses. This first stage means that the game looks at how many clauses should be in a sentence, and what they should be. A nation with a dialect with low “sentence complexity” will have very few clauses in the average sentence, for example, whilst a nation with high sentence complexity will have many clauses. I’ve developed a fairly complex but easily-added-to system for adding clauses into sentences based on the nature of the sentence. This means that extra historical, personal, geographical, religious, etc, detail can be added to a sentence depending on how many clauses it has, and those clauses will be handled intelligently and sensibly.

Stage 2: select an archetype for each clause. The game then checks how that particular culture would express a particular clause and retrieves that archetype (which will then, in stage 3, be massively varied) and readies it. Archetypes are generated/selected in such a way that they should be broadly consistent across a culture, so you shouldn’t get a culture that talks about mountains in one way and talks about oceans in another, but rather talks about all those things in a broadly comparable way. Archetypes also affect sentence structure and in some cases word order, and these elements are also taken into account.

Stage 3: implement kennings/references. This third stage is perhaps the most important part of sentence generation, since at this point the game looks up how to express everything in every clause in that sentence. As we see above, archetypes say things like [Religion-title] and these are all triggers, telling the game to look up the appropriate phrase for the appropriate thing in the appropriate culture. As such, the sentences themselves within archetypes tend to have a large volume of square brackets in them, and aren’t really human-readable – although you can get a good idea of their meaning – until there’s a nice lot of kennings and references in place.

Stage 4: stitch it all together. The game then goes through all the sentence components – now transformed from archetypes with square brackets to archetypes with appropriate references and the like – and stitches them together with appropriate punctuation. This is partially done through the system that places clauses together, and also a bunch of signifiers that handle things like vowels/consonants, plurals, etc.

It was very tricky to find a system that struck the right balance between a) generating a huge volume of potential sentences, b) making the number of hand-made sections relatively low so that I actually get the release out before the 2020s, and c) ensuring a huge amount of modular variation within the sentence structures. With this system – selecting clauses, selecting archetypes, varying almost all of the components of those archetypes, and then stitching the sentence together into a meaningful whole – I’m confident that I’ve found a balance between all of these requirements. I think I’ve struck a balance between large volumes of hand-made sections, large volumes of procedurally-generated sections, and sections of speech that sit somewhere in the middle where handmade elements can be altered or twisted in some way depending on the particular nature of the speaker. I’m really excited to see what this will produce! These are just initial trials, but in the coming week I’ll be trying to build up all the possible conversation options and archetypes and clauses and whatnot, and then we’ll see how that looks. Here are two variations OF THE SAME CONVERSATION, and just look at all that variation!

BAIC

BAIC

(Note: you’ll also see a tiny bit of procedurally-generated calendars there! Some use years, some use a bunch of other systems; this might not make it into 0.8, but I just happened to be testing it out whilst I took these screenshots)

(You’ll also note the lack of ‘?’ in the second – just a typo!)

Having looked at the power of this system, even with the incredibly simple conversation above, I am *so* excited about how this is going to work. I now just need to write all the other words to slot into every other part of the system, and this is a huge task, but by next week’s blog entry I hope to have it all done and to be able to show off some more detailed conversations, as well as some of the other conversation options I’ve been developing this week – these extra things aren’t totally ready just yet, but they’ll be essential to making conversations feel very human, and adding extra depth.

Next Week

Conversations, sentences!