freedroidRPG  1.0RC2
The best game in town
Dialog Designer Manual

Note: This manual describes how to technically write a dialog file.
It does not (yet) contain any information on how to structure the nodes of a dialog, or how to write a good story.

To interact with the FreedroidRPG core, some Lua functions are provided, defined in src/lua.c and map/script_helpers.lua. The documentation of those functions is to be written.

To interact with FreedroidRPG game objects Lua bindings are provided. For instance, FDtux is the Lua binding of Tux, the internal data defining the player and her ingame's character.
The Lua bindings are documented in the Modules section of the Doxygen doc.

Structure of a basic dialog file


A dialog file is written in Lua, and, in its basic form, it must have the following structure:

local Tux = FDrpg.get_tux()
return {
FirstTime = function()
-- lua code to execute the first time the dialog is open
end,
EveryTime = function()
-- lua code to execute each time the dialog is open
end,
{
-- node definition
},
{
-- node definition
},
}

Note: FirstTime and EveryTime are optionals.

A dialog is thus a Lua program returning an array, containing 2 optional named fields, and a series of unnamed fields containing node definitions.



Structure of a basic node


In its basic form, a node is a Lua array containing some specific named fields:

{
id = "node id",
text = "some text",
echo_text = true,
topic = "topic id",
code = function()
-- lua code to execute when the node is selected
end,
},

with:

  • id : A string uniquely identifying the node in the dialog [mandatory].
  • text : The text to display in the Options List on the chat screen (see image below), if the node is enabled [optional, default: "NOTEXT"].
  • echo_text : If false, do not echo the option's text in the Chat Log [optional, default: true].
  • topic : A string defining to which topic group the node is attached [optional].
  • code : The action to execute when the node is selected by the user. It can call, for instance, functions to output text in the Chat Log (see image below) [mandatory]
Chat screen


Node enabling

By default, a node is disabled on the first run of a dialog. Two methods are available to enable a node when a dialog is first loaded:

  1. Set the optional 'enabled` field of a node definition:
    {
    id = "node0",
    enabled = true,
    text = "Hello.",
    code = function()
    -- lua code to execute when node0 is selected
    end,
    },
  2. Use the show() function in the FirstTime code:
    FirstTime = function()
    ...
    show("node0", "node1", ...)
    ...
    end,

The current value of the enabled field of each dialog's node is saved when the dialog is closed, and restored on next call to the dialog. A dialog's state is thus consistent between calls.

Note: The current topic stack is not saved when a dialog is closed, by design choice.


FirstTime and EveryTime

Internally, FirstTime and EveryTime are actual nodes, in order to keep consistency of the dialog's nodes.

For instance,

FirstTime = function()
show("node0", "node1")
end,

is internally transformed into:

FirstTime = {
id = "FirstTime",
code = function()
show("node0", "node1")
end,
}


Reference to an ingame datastructure

As was stated in the introduction, there are two sets of functions that can be used to interact with the game:

  • The first set is composed of functions defined as global Lua data, such as the show() function used in the former paragraph. Being global data, those functions can be used directly.
  • The second set is composed of functions defined in Lua bindings (Lua classes). For instance, all functions related to an NPC are defined in the FDnpc binding (not yet available...). To use them, a reference of an actual NPC is to be created (using the FDrpg Lua module), so that those functions will be applied to that specific NPC. Such a reference is usually called an instance.
    In the following example, we want to get the amount of gold of the user. A get_gold() function is available in the FDtux class. So, we first set the local var Tux as an instance of FDtux, and then call get_gold() on that instance:
    code = function()
    local Tux = FDrpg.get_tux()
    local amount_of_gold = Tux:get_gold()
    ...
    end,

More than often, the Tux instance is needed in every node's script. To avoid the need to create that instance in each script, we prefer to make it be available to the whole dialog, using a local upvalue as was shown in the very first listing:

local Tux = FDrpg.get_tux()
return {
FirstTime = function()
-- lua code to execute the first time the dialog is open
end,
EveryTime = function()
-- lua code to execute each time the dialog is open
end,
{
-- node definition
},
{
-- node definition
},
}

This also enables the use of Tux even outside of node's scripts, for instance in text definitions (see Computed `text` fields ).



Advanced usage of nodes


Computed `text` fields

Besides the use of a static string to set the value of a text field, it is also possible to use a computed value. Two forms are available:

  • text = "Hello. I have " .. Tux:get_gold() .. " credits in my pocket.",
    In this form, the text value is computed each time the dialog is loaded, and the text content will not change while the chat screen is open.
  • text = function()
    return "Hello. I have " .. Tux:get_gold() .. " credits in my pocket."
    end,
    In this form, the text value is a function, which will be called each time the text is to be displayed. Thus, its content can change during a chat.

Note about internationalization: gettext markers have to be added if a string needs to be translated. For instance, using the first form:

text = _"Hello. I have " .. Tux:get_gold() .. _" credits in my pocket.",

But then 2 separate unrelated strings are defined in the l10n template file (.po), confusing the translators. You should rather use one single string, with text formatting:

text = string.format(_"Hello. I have %s credits in my pocket.", Tux:get_gold()),


Accessing the dialog structure from a node's code

The Lua code of a node can access the current node and current dialog by adding input parameters to the code's function:

code = function(this_node, this_dialog)
...
end,

There are currently no real actual needs for this feature, but it can be used to implement some dynamicity.

For instance, to change a node's text, one can write:

text = "initial text",
code = function(this_node, this_dialog)
if (such_condition) then
this_node.text = "new_text"
end
end,

To change another node's content, for instance, the dialog's interface can be used to get a reference to that other node:

code = function(this_node, this_dialog)
if (such_condition) then
other_node = this_dialog:find_node("the_other_node")
other_node.text = "new_text"
end
end,


Computed nodes

A special node description can be used to insert computed nodes (i.e. nodes programmatically defined) in a dialog:

{
topic = "one_topic",
generator = generator_fun,
},

generator_fun is a function call. It can also be a function definition, which will be called only when the dialog is loaded.
The called function must return an array of nodes. Those generated nodes are inserted into the current dialog, at the same level than the other nodes. There is thus no kind of node hierarchy in a dialog.

Once the generated nodes are inserted, the topic value (if set, this is an optional field) is set on each of them.

Note: Due to the flat nature of the resulting dialog structure, care must be taken so that the ids of the generated nodes do not collide with the ids of other nodes. One way to ensure it is to use an id prefix:

generator = function()
return {
{
id = "foo.node0",
...
},
{
id = "foo.node1",
...
}
}
end,

This later example does not really make sense, as is. Obviously, the generated nodes could have been directly written into the dialog.
However, it introduces the possibility to insert nodes defined in an external file, through the use of an include() function:

-- File: external.lua
return {
{
id = "foo.node0",
...
},
{
id = "foo.node1",
...
}
}
-- File: dialog.lua
return {
FirstTime = ...,
{
id = "node0",
....
},
....
{
generator = include("external")
}
....
}

An actual use of computed nodes will be shown later in this manual, but here is a simple example:

generator = function()
nodes = {}
names = { "Dixon", "Ewald", "Koan", "Tamara" }
--
-- Create a node for each name, which starts a dialog with the
-- associated NPC
--
for i,name in ipairs(names) do
nodes[#nodes + 1] = {
id = "node_" .. name,
text = "I want to talk with " .. name,
enabled = true,
code = function()
npc_says("Ok. I'm calling " .. name)
start_chat(name)
end
}
end
return nodes
end

Important Note: Due to the way include() is implemented, local variables of the main dialog are unavailable to the nodes inserted by a call to include().



Advanced dialog file structure


Being a Lua script, loaded and executed by the dialog engine when a chat is started, a dialog file can use standard Lua features, such as local upvalues. Those can be used to improve dialog script readability.

For instance, the last example of the former paragraph could be written:

local names = { "Dixon", "Ewald", "Koan", "Tamara" }
local chat_nodes_generator = function()
nodes = {}
for i,name in ipairs(names) do
nodes[#nodes + 1] = {
id = "node_" .. name,
text = "I want to talk with " .. name,
enabled = true,
code = function()
npc_says("Ok. I'm calling " .. name)
start_chat(name)
end
}
end
return nodes
end
return {
{
generator = chat_nodes_generator()
},
{
id = "end_node",
text = "Bye bye",
enabled = true,
code = function() end_dialog() end
}
}

or:

local names = { "Dixon", "Ewald", "Koan", "Tamara" }
local chat_node_generator = function(name)
return {
id = "node_" .. name,
text = "I want to talk with " .. name,
enabled = true,
code = function()
npc_says("Ok. I'm calling " .. name)
start_chat(name)
end
}
end
return {
{
generator = function()
nodes = {}
for i,name in ipairs(names) do
nodes[#nodes + 1] = chat_node_generator(name)
end
end
},
{
id = "end_node",
text = "Bye bye",
enabled = true,
code = function() end_dialog() end
}
}

Obviously, putting the names array outside of the function definitions only makes sense if the array is used in other places.

Note: Do not forget the local keyword to avoid to screw up the Lua global environment.



A whole dialog example


We will use the Dude dialog as an example of how to solve some specific needs by the use of the dialog engine API. Not all dialogs involve this kind of lua programming, so this is somehow an extreme example of the dialog engine features.

The Dude dialog contains a list of nodes used to start a chat with all the NPCs of the game.

We will only detail some parts of the dialog, and use a lightly different implementation of the code to ease the explanations. See the Dude.lua file for the actual code.


Creating the node list

We have to automatically create a list of nodes to start all dialogs present in the dialogs/ subdir of the game (defined in the FDdialog.dialogs_dir variable).

We use a FDutils.system function to scan that subdir and get a list of the files that it contains (apart from some exceptions such as subdialog files):

local exclude = {
-- subdialogs can not be run solely
"614_sub.lua", "c-net-nethack_sub.lua",
-- dialog of terminals can not be run, currently, because they have no associated 'bot'
"Cryo-Terminal.lua", "c-net.lua"
}
local dircontent = FDutils.system.scandir(FDdialog.dialogs_dir, ".*%.lua", exclude)

For each found file, we have to remove the .lua file extension to get the NPC name, and we create a node to start a dialog with that NPC.

local nodes = {}
for none,filename in ipairs(dircontent) do
local dialogname = string.sub(filename, 1, -(string.len(".lua") + 1))
nodes[#nodes + 1] = {
id = dialogname,
text = dialogname,
enabled = true,
code = function()
Tux:says(_"Starting " .. dialogname)
start_chat(dialogname)
end,
}
end


So we end up with the following generator node:

-- File: Dude.lua
return {
...
{
generator = function()
local exclude = {
-- subdialogs can not be run solely
"614_sub.lua", "c-net-nethack_sub.lua",
-- dialog of terminals can not be run, currently, because they have no associated 'bot'
"Cryo-Terminal.lua", "c-net.lua"
}
local dircontent = FDutils.system.scandir(FDdialog.dialogs_dir, ".*%.lua", exclude)
local nodes = {}
for none,filename in ipairs(dircontent) do
local dialogname = string.sub(filename, 1, -(string.len(".lua") + 1))
nodes[#nodes + 1] = {
id = dialogname,
text = dialogname,
enabled = true,
code = function()
Tux:says(_"Starting " .. dialogname)
start_chat(dialogname)
end,
}
end
end
},
...
}


Displaying the list of available options

In the EveryTime node of the dialog, we want to display a list of all node's ids.

The nodes are stored in the dialog.nodes array, so we can loop on its content to retrieve all nodes and display their ids:

-- File: Dude.lua
return {
...
EveryTime = function(this_node, this_dialog)
...
local node_list = ""
-- loop on nodes and append each node id to the list
for idx,node in ipairs(this_dialog.nodes) do
node_list = node_list .. node.id .. ", "
end
-- remove the trailing ", "
node_list = string.sub(node_list, 1, -3)
npc_says(node_list)
end,
...
}


Execute a node chosen by the player

In the EveryTime node, once the list of available options is displayed, we want to let the player input the name of one NPC, i.e. one of the node's id that we inserted into the dialog, and execute the code of the selected node.

A call to user_input_string() is used to interact with the player and get the name of a dialog:

local actionname = user_input_string("Please enter the dialog name of the desired NPC")

We then search for that name in the dialog node's list:

local actionnode = this_dialog:find_node(actionname)

And finally, if found, we execute the node's code:

if (actionnode and actionnode.code) then
actionnode:code(this_dialog)
end


So we end up with:

-- File: Dude.lua
return {
...
EveryTime = function(this_node, this_dialog)
... code to display the available options
local actionname = user_input_string("Please enter the dialog name of the desired NPC")
if (actioname ~= "") then
local actionnode = this_dialog:find_node(actionname)
if (actionnode and actionnode.code) then
actionnode:code(this_dialog)
end
end
end,
...
{
generator = function()
... code to create the node list
end
},
{
id = "exit",
enabled = true,
text = "Exit",
code = function()
npc_says(_"Closing...")
end_dialog()
end,
}
}


The exit node is obviously also in the dialog node's list. It means that the exit node will also be displayed by the EveryTime code, and that if the player inputs "exit" then the exit code is called and the dialog ends.
There is thus no need for a special treatment of static nodes.



Cookbook


This chapter gives some advice and answers to some common implementations questions.

Subdialog

A subdialog is a part of a dialog that can be considered as a dialog on its own: it has a starting node and a ending node, it has its own logic, and the main dialog is paused (i.e. none of the option texts of main dialog is displayed) while the subdialog is running.

In this recipe, we also consider that the dialog can be used by several main dialogs, and thus is defined in its own file (see Computed nodes ).

In order to pause the main dialog, we will use a topic for the subdialog nodes:

  • Starting the subdialog is done by pushing the topic.
  • Ending the subdialog is done by popping the topic stack.

Let's start with a conceptual definition of the main dialog:

-- File: dialog.lua
return {
...
{
topic = "subdialog_topic",
generator = include("subdialog")
},
{
id = "nodeX",
text = "I want to talk with you about this topic",
code = function()
-- some code to run before to start the subdialog
-- run the subdialog
-- some code to run after the end of the subdialog
end,
},
...
}

There is no way to stop in the middle of the execution of the nodeX's code and to restart it after the subdialog ends, so we have to split this node in two parts, one part to start the subdialog and one part to take back control after the subdialog's end. Starting the subdialog means to (1) push the topic and (2) call the starting node of the subdialog (we will call it sub.everytime since that node is to be executed every time the subdialog is run):

-- File: dialog.lua
return {
...
{
topic = "subdialog_topic",
generator = include("subdialog")
},
{
id = "nodeX",
text = "I want to talk with you about this topic",
code = function()
-- some code to run before to start the subdialog
push_topic("subdialog_topic")
next("sub.everytime")
end,
},
{
id = "after_subdialog",
code = function()
pop_topic()
-- some code to run after the end of the subdialog
end,
},
...
}

When the subdialog ends, it has to call after_subdialog to restart the main dialog. The skeleton of the subdialog is then:

-- File: subdialog.lua
return {
{
id = "sub.everytime",
code = function()
-- code to execute when the subdialog starts,
-- such as showing/hiding some nodes
end,
},
... (subdialog nodes)
{
id = "sub.end",
text = "Thanks. I now know enough about that topic",
code = function()
-- some code to execute before to close the subdialog
next("after_subdialog")
end
}
}


Sharing variables with subdialogs

In the Subdialog recipe, we saw how to cook a subdialog, but it was based on the assumption that the subdialog appears only once in the main dialog.
How to adapt that recipe if the subdialog is to be run in two parts of the main dialog ?

Let's start again with the conceptual definition of the main dialog:

-- File: dialog.lua
return {
...
{
topic = "subdialog_topic",
generator = include("subdialog")
},
{
id = "nodeX",
text = "I want to talk with you about this topic",
code = function()
-- nodeX code to run before to start the subdialog
-- run the subdialog
-- nodeX code to run after the end of the subdialog
end,
},
...
{
id = "nodeY",
text = "I want to talk again with you about this topic",
code = function()
-- nodeY code to run before to start the subdialog
-- run the subdialog
-- nodeY code to run after the end of the subdialog
end,
},
...
}


Applying the subdialog recipe leads to:

-- File: dialog.lua
return {
...
{
topic = "subdialog_topic",
generator = include("subdialog")
},
{
id = "nodeX",
text = "I want to talk with you about this topic",
code = function()
-- nodeX code to run before to start the subdialog
push_topic("subdialog_topic")
next("sub.everytime")
end,
},
{
id = "after_subdialog_from_nodeX",
code = function()
pop_topic()
-- nodeX code to run after the end of the subdialog
end,
},
...
{
id = "nodeY",
text = "I want to talk again with you about this topic",
code = function()
-- nodeY code to run before to start the subdialog
push_topic("subdialog_topic")
next("sub.everytime")
end,
},
{
id = "after_subdialog_from_nodeY",
code = function()
pop_topic()
-- nodeY code to run after the end of the subdialog
end,
},
...
}


Now the question is about the content of the sub.end subdialog's node: what node name to put in the next() call ?
If the subdialog was started by nodeX, we have to continue on after_subdialog_from_nodeX. If the subdialog was started by nodeY, we have to continue on after_subdialog_from_nodeY.

It seems obvious that a variable is needed, containing the name of the node to return to, and we would tend to set its content in nodeX and nodeY. For instance, for nodeX, we could write:

-- File: dialog.lua
local continue_with = nil
return {
...
{
topic = "subdialog_topic",
generator = include("subdialog")
},
{
id = "nodeX",
text = "I want to talk with you about this topic",
code = function()
-- nodeX code to run before to start the subdialog
push_topic("subdialog_topic")
-- store, in a local variable, the node to execute when the subdialog ends
continue_with = "after_subdialog_from_nodeX"
next("sub.everytime")
end,
},
}

with the following subdialog description:

-- File: subdialog.lua
return {
...
{
id = "sub.end",
text = "Thanks. I now know enough about that topic",
code = function()
-- some code to execute before to close the subdialog
next(continue_with)
end
}
}

But it will not work ! Why ? Reread the Computed nodes section. Did you see the Important Note ? If so, you know that a local variable of the main dialog can not be accessed from an included subdialog. It means that in subdialog.lua the variable continue_with is undefined...

We want to avoid to use global variables, to not pollute the global Lua environment of dialogs.

Remind that dialogs and nodes are Lua arrays, and you may know that a field can be dynamically added to a Lua array. That's the solution: instead of using a local variable, we will add a field to a Lua array that can be accessed from the sub.end node.

We can use the dialog array, this way:

-- File: dialog.lua
return {
...
{
topic = "subdialog_topic",
generator = include("subdialog")
},
{
id = "nodeX",
text = "I want to talk with you about this topic",
code = function(this_node, this_dialog)
-- nodeX code to run before to start the subdialog
push_topic("subdialog_topic")
-- store, in the dialog, the node to execute when the subdialog ends
this_dialog.continue_with = "after_subdialog_from_nodeX"
next("sub.everytime")
end,
},
}
-- File: subdialog.lua
return {
...
{
id = "sub.end",
text = "Thanks. I now know enough about that topic",
code = function(this_node, this_dialog)
-- some code to execute before to close the subdialog
next(this_dialog.continue_with)
end
}
}

We can also use the sub.end node array, this way:

-- File: dialog.lua
return {
...
{
topic = "subdialog_topic",
generator = include("subdialog")
},
{
id = "nodeX",
text = "I want to talk with you about this topic",
code = function(this_node, this_dialog)
-- nodeX code to run before to start the subdialog
push_topic("subdialog_topic")
-- store, in sub.end, the node to execute when the subdialog ends
sub_end_node = this.dialog:find_node("sub.end")
sub_end_node.continue_with = "after_subdialog_from_nodeX"
next("sub.everytime")
end,
},
}
-- File: subdialog.lua
return {
...
{
id = "sub.end",
text = "Thanks. I now know enough about that topic",
code = function(this_node, this_dialog)
-- some code to execute before to close the subdialog
next(this_node.continue_with)
end
}
}


We would tend to use the second approach (which conceptually creates a sub.end local variable) in this use case, and use the first approach when we need to globally share a variable with several included nodes.