Series Info...Notes from the Dawn of Time #32:

Questions and Answers

by Richard Bartle
November 20, 2002

Last time, I presented a diagram that represented the "thought processes" of Doris the dwarf as she set about her quest to, er, have a quest. Because such a diagram is structured, it means that the goals and actions appear (to human beings) to be "reasoned" and purposeful. A side effect is that players can pose questions and get seemingly "reasoned" answers.

Why? questions refer to nodes higher up in the tree.

  • Q: Why do you want to have customers?
  • A: Because I want to set myself up in business.

How? questions refer to nodes lower down in the tree.

  • Q: How are you going to set yourself up in business?
  • A: I already have capital, I'm going to get premises and I'm going to get customers.

Which?/What?/Who?questions refer to variable bindings.

  • Q: What business are you setting up?
  • A: Childcare.

When? questions can be answered relative to parts of the tree, but unless the planner has some temporal management they can't be answered more specifically.

  • Q: When will you get the fliers?
  • A: After I have premises and before I leaflet the neighbourhood.

    But not

  • A: Tomorrow afternoon.

How? and Why? questions are limited by the nature of the tree.

You can't go further up than the root.

  • Q: Why do you want a career?
  • A: It's my goal in life.

  • Q: Why do you want a goal in life?
  • A: I just do!

You can't go lower than a primitive, hardwired action.

  • Q: How will you place an advertisement in the newspaper?
  • A: I just will!

If you want to be really fiendish, there's some leeway for lying, too. The evil wizard who wants a lock of the princess's hair so he can create a simulacrum would not necessarily like you to know this when he sets it as a quest. Thus, he could simply find another action for which the goal is a precondition and use that as an answer instead.

I want you to fetch me a lock of princess Charity's hair.

  • Q: Why?
  • A: I wish to set it in a pendant.

  • Q: Why?
  • A: To pass to a secret admirer.

  • Q: Why?
  • A: Because he's paying me to do it.

The plausibility of lies is what makes them work. If you keep questioning and come across things that are implausible or provably false, the lie is exposed. For this to work, lying mobiles would have to maintain a record of all the lies they have told, so if at all possible they don't contradict themselves. Even then, unless they do the whole false plan at once they can still reveal themselves:

I want you to build me a tall tower.

  • Q: Why?
  • A: I want to protect my children.

  • Q: How?
  • A: First I will get married, then I will have children, then we'll move into the tall tower.

  • Q: How will you have children?
  • A: First I will become female, then I will get pregnant.

  • Q: How will you become female?
  • A: I don't know.

That would be DOES NOT COMPUTE, then?

Next time, I'll take a look at that most dread of quest concepts: spawning.

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