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xyzzybot

Before 8-bit, there was 7-bit...

Goals

With the popularity of Slack (and related tools), there’s been a resurgence of attention on text-based, conversational interaction. As a long-time fan of interactive fiction, it’s only natural to want to combine the two.

Setup

This project is not-yet-ready for primetime. The intention is to provide a ready-to-run Docker image that only needs some configuration—for your team’s specific app account—and a volume for game files.

(more to come)

Interaction model

Before diving into a discussion of the interaction model, we need to understand all of the kinds of interaction/context that will exist, keeping in mind that a game can be in progress in a channel with multiple participants. Given that, a message always has an intended recipient:

  • the in-progress game — for game commands, like go north, or take lamp

  • xyzzybot itself — for interacting with xyzzybot itself (“start playing a new game, “what’s your status?”)

  • other channel members — messges for other channel members should generally be ignored by xyzzybot

Ideally, the experience will feel “natural” in Slack, with the bot/app all but disappearing behind the story. In a typical conversation with people, you don’t need to address them directly with each message; there is context that can be inferred. To approximate this, as a very simple heuristic, xyzzybot will assume that messages of 4 words or less are probably game commands if there is a game currently in progress.

If another Slack user is addressed explicity (@username anywhere in the message), the message will be considered part of the general conversation, and ignored.

If xyzzybot is addressed explicitly at the beginning of the message (@xyzzybot help), the rest of the message is either a game command, or a xyzzybot command. If there’s not a game in progress, or the first word is preceded by an exclamation mark (!), the message is treated as a xyzzybot command. If there is a game in progress, and the first word is not preceded by an exclamation mark, the message is passed to the game. (The meta-command prefix was originally a slash, but that has special meaning to Slack, and can’t reliably be used without deeper slash-command integration.)

An implication of this is that it is always possible to ensure that a xyzzybot command will be understood: whether there is a game in progress or not, @xyzzybot !foo will always be treated as a command foo meant for xyzzybot itself.

Components

xyzzybot stands on the shoulders of giants... under the covers, it’s using Christoph Ender’s libfizmo as the game interpreter, which in turn is a combination of Ender’s libfizmo and Andrew Plotkin’s RemGlk library. This provides a game interpreter whose stdin/stdout is structured JSON data, rather than simple lines of text from which paragraphs and other formatting must be inferred. (These are all conveniently packaged as the Docker image jaredreisinger/fizmo-json, making it easy to acquire and consume.)

Internally, xyzzybot is composed of two basic parts: interacting with the game interpreter (fizmo-json), and interacting with Slack.

Interpreter model

(more to come)

Slack handling

(more to come)

Roadmap

These items are in roughly the order I think they’ll be addressed, but things may shift:

  • run interpreter as a subprocess

  • proxy input/output between Slack and interpreter

  • improve status command (requires tracking better information per-channel)

  • handle persistence across restarts (save/restore in-progress games)

  • create Docker image for easier deployment

  • allow for on-the-fly configuration changes (and persist them)

  • allow for per-channel configuration (and persistence)

  • administrative commands (a very few)

  • in-Slack commands for uploading new games (very simple, first-pass UI)

  • gameplay in xyzzybot direct messages (?)

(more to come)

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Bringing interactive fiction to Slack

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