How to Write Interactive Fiction and Interactive Audio Stories – 008 – Phrasing the Player Utterances

The Player Utterances are the Voice commands with which the player can continue the story. These can be single keywords like “left” or “right”, or phrases and sentences like, “I sneak down the stairs.”

You as the author have to set these Voice commands. On the one hand, they will have to be part of the Player Choice to let the player know how they can answer. On the other, you have to state them as Player Utterances so that the Voice assistant can determine, based on the player’s answer, which part of the story to read next.

If the player answers in complete sentences, it is sufficient if these sentences contain the utterances. If, for example, you have set “walk” as an utterance, the Voice assistant will be able to discern the intention of the player even if they reply with, “I walk,” or, “I walk into the forest.” Be aware though that the player might also use variations of the stated word, for example, “I’m walking into the forest.” To provide for this possibility you should also include “walking” as a synonym of that option, just to be on the safe side.

It becomes a major problem when different utterances have been stated using similar words or phrases. Voice assistants can have trouble deciding which option the player has replied “run” to if they have to pick between the utterances “run ahead” and “run away”.

Only state two or three different utterances per question that humans and machines can easily distinguish between. Use precise terms like “threaten” or “negotiate” instead of just “talk”. This helps the player to better determine the consequences of their decision.

You have to phrase the Player Utterances in such a way that

  • The player knows exactly what the possible Voice commands are,
  • They understand which choices their commands trigger,
  • They can easily pronounce the utterances
  • The Voice assistant can understand and match them correctly.
 

Avoid Player Utterances that sound too similar, like, “Whom do you wish to fight? The gorilla or the guerrilla?” Also avoid Player utterances that are too complex or too hard to pronounce, like “Yggdrasil” or “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.

Taboo Words for Player Utterances

Although some words are allowed to appear in the story texts read to the player, they cannot be used as Player Utterances since they are Voice commands for the Voice assistants themselves:

  • “Help”
  • “Alexa”, “Google”, “Bixby”
  • “Start” or “Stop”
 

Take care to state numbers that are Player utterances as both word and numerical, for example “one” and “1”.

TWIST Feature: Synonyms

In TWIST you can easily add synonyms to your Player Utterances. This increases the chance of the dialogue between player and Voice assistant succeeding even if the player’s answer to the Player Choices deviates from the Player Utterances that have been stated.

Simply write the synonyms underneath the corresponding Player Utterance. For “attack” this could be “charge”, “fight”, and “storm”. For “flee” this could be “escape”, “scarper”, “bolt”, and “run away”.

TWIST Feature: Hidden Player Utterances

In TWIST, you have the opportunity to set hidden Player Utterances by using the box “Hidden Continuations”. The player can use these as Voice commands, but they will not be read to them by the Voice assistant if the dialogue between the two fails and the Voice assistant has to read the stated utterances to them.

Hidden Player Utterances are Voice commands that are not mentioned in the Player Choices. This allows you to insert riddles or Easter eggs into your story since these options will never be read to the player by the Voice assistant. For a riddle, it would be counterproductive if the player only had to give two wrong answers before they would be told the solution by the Voice assistant anyway. Thus, hidden Player Utterances give you the opportunity to reward particularly attentive and keen-to-explore players.

Example 18: Hidden Player Utterances – The Password

Passage

[Narrator] You stand at the entrance to the thieves’ guild. You knock and a peephole is opened. ‘What’s the password, stranger?’ a gruff voice asks from the darkness. Do you wish to randomly guess the password, or do you wish to just leave?”

Continuation 1

🗣️ [Player] “I guess the password!”

[Narrator] “You go through a whole host of words, but the only answer you receive is the sound of the peephole closing. You decide to continue your way through the city.”

Continuation 2

🗣️ [Player] “I leave!”

[Narrator] “As you step away from the door, the peephole closes. You continue your way through the city.”

Continuation (Hidden)

🗣️ [Player] “Long live the king!”

[Narrator] “You hear the sound of a bolt being drawn, followed by the door opening. You enter.”

Explanation

At an earlier point in the story, the player could learn the password for the thieves’ guild, “Long live the king,” and receive the hint to just say it should they be asked for it. So if they found out the password and was able to remember it, they can now use it to trigger the hidden Player Utterance that gives them access to the thieves’ guild. Otherwise they have to pick one of the other options without even knowing that this hidden option existed.

If the Voice assistant is forced to read the available options to the player, it will only cite the openly declared Player Utterance “guess the password” and “leave”, but not the hidden one, “Long live the king.”

Example 19: Hidden Player Utterances – Rewarding Attentiveness

Passage

[Narrator] The crime scene is a small room at the end of the basement complex. The back part of the room is shrouded in darkness, and with the scarce light from the corridor you can only make out a metal locker to the left and a bloodstain on the ground. Your colleagues have already removed the dead body and the crime weapon, but maybe they missed something.”

Player Choice as closed question:

“What do you wish to examine, the locker or the bloodstain?”

Player Choice as open question:

“What do you wish to examine?”

Continuation 1

🗣️ [Player] “The locker!”

[Narrator] “The locker is rusty, and there are several tools lying around in the upper compartment. Maybe this is where the culprit got the hammer for his deed. Now, do you wish to examine the bloodstain or leave?”

Continuation 2

🗣️ [Player] “The bloodstain!”

[Narrator] “The blood has dried already, and the puddle is rather big. The victim must have suffered a quick death. Now, do you wish to examine the metal locker or leave?”

Continuation (Hidden)

🗣️ [Player] “The back part of the room!”

[Narrator] “It is too dark to make anything out, so you use your hands to blindly scan the ground. Your fingers find a round item stuck in a crack. You pull it out and carry it into the light. It is a large, black button stained with blood.”

Explanation

Here, the player is being rewarded for taking the initiative and choosing an option that was not explicitly mentioned but which makes sense in light of the situation, especially since this is a crime story where the player has to solve a murder case. You could also add another hidden option at the end of options 1 and 2 for searching the back of the room.

You can also include synonyms for hidden Player Utterances which would be useful for this example, like “back”, “rear”, “darkness”, “dark”, and “ground”.

TWIST Feature: Default Way

We already explained that it can lead to a so-called reprompt if the player replies to the Player Choice with a Voice command that the Voice assistant does not understand or cannot assign to any of the declared Player Utterances.

Using the “Default Way” feature in TWIST, you can absorb these kind of player replies. Any answer the Voice assistant cannot assign to any of the utterances will be assigned to this default way. This default way can lead to a completely new text box or to a text box to which one of the other options already points.

The use of a default way is recommended for open questions like, “How are you?” or, “What’s your name?”, or for terms that are hard to understand or pronounce like “Yggdrasil” or “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. In the former case, it will be impossible for you as the author to guess every possible emotional state or name of your players to declare them as Player Utterances. In the latter, the player may not pronounce the option in the way the Voice assistant would expect.

TWIST Feature: Yes-No Question

TWIST offers the convenient option to declare a Player Choice as a yes-no question by selecting that entry from the drop-down menu “Type”. The advantage of this is that you do not need to set any Player Choices because they will be determined automatically, namely “yes” and “no”. Furthermore, this feature already comes with all conceivable synonyms, for “yes” among other words “sure” and “of course”, for “no” words like “never” and “rather not”.

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