§17   People and animals

To know how to live is my trade and my art.
— Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), Essays

Living creatures should be given the attribute animate so that the library knows such an object can be talked to, given things, woken from sleep and so on. When the player treats an animate object as living in this way, the library calls upon that object's life property. This looks like before or after, but only applies to the following actions:

The player is making hostile advances…
… or amorous ones…
… or simply trying to rouse the creature from sleep.
The player asked to throw noun at the creature.
The player asked to give noun to the creature…
… or, tantalisingly, just to show it.
The player asked about something. Just as with a “consult” topic (see §16 above), the variables consult_from and consult_words are set up to indicate which words the object might like to think about. (In addition, second holds the dictionary value for the first word which isn't 'the', but this is much cruder.)
The player is trying to tell the creature about something. The topic is set up just as for Ask (that is, consult_from and consult_words are set, and second also holds the first interesting word).
This can happen in two ways. One is if the player types “answer some text to troll" or “say some text to troll”; the other is if an order is given which the parser can't sort out, such as “troll, og south", and which the orders property hasn't handled already. Once again, variables are set as if it were a “consult” topic. (In addition, noun is set to the first word, and an attempt to read the text as a number is stored in the variable special_number: for instance, “computer, 143” will cause special_number to be set to 143.)
This catches any ‘orders’ which aren't handled by the orders property (see the next section); action, noun and second are set up as usual.

If the life rule isn't given, or returns false, events take their usual course. life rules vary dramatically in size. The coiled snake from ‘Balances’ shows that even the tiniest life routine can be adequate for an animal:

Object -> snake "hissing snake"
  with name 'hissing' 'snake',
       initial "Tightly coiled at the edge of the chasm is a
           hissing snake.",
       life "The snake hisses angrily!",
  has  animate;

It's far from unknown for people in interactive fiction to be almost as simplistic as that, but in most games even relatively passive characters have some ability to speak or react. Here is the funerary priest standing in the ‘Ruins’ Shrine:

Object priest "mummified priest"
  with name 'mummified' 'priest',
           "He is desiccated and hangs together only by will-power.
           Though his first language is presumably local Mayan,
           you have the curious instinct that he will understand
           your speech.",
       initial "Behind the slab, a mummified priest stands waiting,
           barely alive at best, impossibly venerable.",
       life [;
           Answer: "The priest coughs, and almost falls apart.";
           Ask: switch (second) {
               'dictionary', 'book':
                   if (dictionary.correct == false)
                       "~The ~bird~ glyph... very funny.~";
                   "~A dictionary? Really?~";
               'glyph', 'glyphs', 'mayan', 'dialect':
                   "~In our culture, the Priests are ever
               'lord', 'tomb', 'shrine', 'temple':
                   "~This is a private matter.~";
               'ruins': "~The ruins will ever defeat thieves.
                   In the underworld, looters are tortured
                   throughout eternity.~ A pause. ~As are
               'web', 'wormcast':
                   "~No man can pass the Wormcast.~";
               'xibalba': if (Shrine.sw_to == Junction)
                       "The priest shakes his bony finger.";
                   Shrine.sw_to = Junction;
                   "The priest extends one bony finger
                   southwest toward the icicles, which
                   vanish like frost as he speaks.
                   ~Xibalb@'a, the Underworld.~";
               "~You must find your own answer.~";
           Tell: "The priest has no interest in your sordid life.";
           Attack, Kiss:
               remove self;
               "The priest desiccates away into dust until nothing
               remains, not a breeze nor a bone.";
           ThrowAt: move noun to location; <<Attack self>>;
           Show, Give:
               if (noun == dictionary && dictionary.correct == false) {
                   dictionary.correct = true;
                   "The priest reads a little of the book, laughing
                   in a hollow, whispering way. Unable to restrain
                   his mirth, he scratches in a correction somewhere
                   before returning the book.";
               "The priest is not interested in earthly things.";
  has  animate;

The Priest only stands and waits, but some characters need to move around, or to appear and reappear throughout a game, changing in their responses and what they know. This makes for a verbose object definition full of cross-references to items and places scattered across the source code. An alternative is to use different objects to represent the character at different times or places: in ‘Jigsaw’, for instance, the person called “Black” is seven different objects.

Animate objects representing people with proper names, like “Mark Antony”, need to be given the proper attribute, and those with feminine names, such as “Cleopatra”, need to be both female and proper, though of course history would have been very different if… Inanimate objects sometimes have proper names, too: Waldeck's Mayan dictionary in §16 was given proper. See §26 for more on naming.

Some objects are not alive as such, but can still be spoken to: microphones, tape recorders and so on. It would be a nuisance to implement these as animate, since they have none of the other characteristics of life. Instead, they can be given just the attribute talkable, making them responsive only to conversation. They have a life property to handle Answer and so on, but it will never be asked to deal with, for instance, Kiss. Talkable objects can also receive orders: see the next section.

Designers often imagine animate objects as being altogether different from things, so it's worth noting that all the usual Inform rules apply equally well to the living. An animate object still has before and after routines like any other, so the short list of possible life rules is not as restrictive as it appears. Animate objects can also react_before and react_after, and it's here that these properties really come into their own:

react_before [;
    Drop: if (noun == satellite_gadget)
        print "~I wouldn't do that, Mr Bond,~ says Blofeld.^^";
    Shoot: remove beretta;
        "As you draw, Blofeld snaps his fingers and a giant
        magnet snatches the gun from your hand. It hits the
        ceiling with a clang. Blofeld silkily strokes his cat.";

If Blofeld moves from place to place, these rules usefully move with him.

Animate objects often have possessions as part of the game design. Two examples, both from ‘The Lurking Horror’:

Recall from §12 that the child-objects of an object which isn't a container or supporter are outwardly visible only if the object has the transparent attribute. Here, the hacker should have transparent and the urchin not. The parser then prevents the player from referring to whatever the urchin is hiding, even if the player has played the game before and knows what is in there.

Arrange for a bearded psychiatrist to place the player under observation, occasionally mumbling insights such as “Subject puts green cone on table. Interesting.”