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Meaningless choices in dialogue

Discussion in 'Codex Workshop' started by Lumpy, Nov 2, 2010.

  1. Lumpy Arcane

    Lumpy
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    Everyone with half a brain will agree that retarded dialogue systems like in BG2 - where you have three choices that all lead to the exact same answer (that only makes sense for one of the choices) - are fucking shit. But in regard to proper games, even when different choices result in different answers, you find that there is no real outcome - just some different words printed on the screen.
    Surely, it is unrealistic to expect NPC interaction to be altered by every single choice. But are meaningless options good, then? A simple way to get rid of them is to make all dialogue meaningful - every choice is either a request of information, or an actual gameplay choice. But this necessarily renders the dialogue laconic, and in a high fantasy game, it's unpleasant for bard, priest or mage characters to speak like Clint Eastwood.
    On the other hand, in a high fantasy game, you can go crazy with consequences in regard to various forms of alignment. Would it be a good idea for every single dialogue choice to affect some variable in a minor way? It would have the nice consequence that if you actually role-play a character, you don't feel like a douchebag at the end of the day because it actually affected gameplay.

    Discuss.
     
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  2. Erzherzog Magister

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    Quite frankly I had no problem with Morrowind's topic style conversations but I bet I'm in a minority on this one.

    It just made more sense to me. The conversation flowed as I felt it should and diplomacy mattered in that certain topics would be held off if their disposition was too low. Oftentimes I feel railroaded in conversations and I hate that.
     
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  3. Think big! Smoking Dicks

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    I wouldn't call such flavor choices "meaningless." As you said, they help it seem like actual dialogue between real people. And it helps you roleplay. As long as there are also choices with real in-game consequences, I'm fine with flavor choices as well. Obviously, the more gameplay-affecting choices there are the better, but there would never be enough of those alone to make it not seem "laconic," as you put it, at least in some form. So I'll gladly take plenty of flavor options on top of that to help round out the whole experience.
     
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  4. oscar Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

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    Yeah Morrowinds was actually alot better then Bioware-style. Often you only had one shot at dialogue and on the occasions you could say the "wrong" thing you'd have to spend quite a while persuading/bribing to get their disposition back up. I also remember the House Hllalu(?) quests having a far bit of C&C.
     
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  5. Scream Phoenix Unwanted

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    They've always bothered me greatly.
     
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  6. grotsnik Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

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    Like Dicksmoker said, I think it depends. A game without any flavour text at all sounds kind of...utilitarian.

    As long as they aren't actively used as a substitute for real choice, the little 'meaningless options' are the ones that give the PC a voice - to the extent that whether they're sarcastic or sincere can feel just as character-defining, in a more nuanced way, as whether they save the kitten or stamp its head in.
     
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  7. Azrael the cat Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

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    Depends on the style of the game. Very few games have choices that significantly impact upon gameplay, and even in those games that kind of choice is rare. Red shirts v blue shirts is one of the more substantive effects a dialogue choice has even in the older games, especially if they make a difference to the AI and stats of the red/blue-shirts. C/f the pinnacle of the choices in PS:T - meeting Ravel. Your choices there give you stat boosts, dialogue from companions and possibly some summoned creatures for the upcoming fight. No underlying changes to the gameplay, just number tweaking. Yet that can be very effective at motivating the player in the right style of game.

    Obviously if the game is about grinding kills and loot, then dialogue-specific choices aren't going to mean much, and should probably be skipped. But if the game has a mystery element - very rare in this era of handholding, and difficult to pull off even in earlier games - information can be its own reward. Games like VtmB and PS:T benefit simply by providing extra words on the screen, as getting information about the world, characters and backstory is a major part of the game - often more meaningful, as a choice, than tweaking the spreadsheets' numbers.


    Similarly, a faction-driven game can get a lot of benefit from red-shirt v blue-shirt type of changes. After all, if manipulating one side to kill another, or to bring a particular faction to power, is a key part of the game, then you're giving the player meaningful options. In a purely exploration-driven or purely dungeon-crawling game, that's not going to mean so much.
     
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  8. Undead Phoenix Arcane

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    Pretty much this. Multiple dialogue options that lead to a single response is shit, but different versions of response (even if it's the same thing being said) goes a long way to healing the damage done and adding flavour to the game. In a perfect world you should have different dialogue choices for each good stat/skill/perk/class you have that lead into unique branches of dialogue: too bad that would take a hell of a lot of work even for a simple conversation.
     
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  9. Tycn Savant

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    For the most part C&C doesn't actually exist, but having dialogue choices that elicit distinct responses with at least the illusion of reactivity can be enjoyable even in the absence of meaningful gameplay ramifications.

    Obviously having several paraphrased options is worthless and different choices leading to the same response with varying degrees of appropriateness is often annoying, but 'meaningless' dialogue can most certainly contribute to a game.
     
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  10. Awor Szurkrarz Arcane In My Safe Space

    Awor Szurkrarz
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    I liked Fallout/Fallout2 dialogues the most. Other than that, Planescape: Torment.

    Sometimes I liked Arcanum dialogues.

    I really hated BG2 dialogues.
     
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  11. Excommunicator Arcane

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    The last few comments have been pretty spot on. Having the different spoken phrases there is the first fraction of the equation of the C&C element.

    Remember: without the different responses in the first place, you can't have different consequences.

    My favourite part of the Morrowind system was that it allowed you to ask what you wanted to know immediately. A lot of dialogue in games is not well written, does not provide much of interest in a given word count and is usually not the most interesting thing you could be doing for the previous reasons. Thus, allowing the player to cut right to the point had its strengths. It also allowed the player to be wall-of-text-ed at their own discretion, which given the previous concerns is definitely a matter of taste.

    There were a number of things I didn't like.

    There was no sense of believability in the process: "select topic -> get generic response to that topic". It was not like talking to a person, but rather like using one of those computers they have/had in the libraries to catalogue their books. An utter bore to use.

    There was not enough custom-tailoring in the topics between race/sex/faction/region/individual etc. It was like accessing one big hive mind. Even the Codex hivemind has more viewpoints at a time.

    There was no personality in NPCs to accompany the system. If they had bothered to use some "interlude" text between topic selections which reflected the NPC's personality/mood/relationships then it would have been a lot more natural and fluid. "Ah yes and what a boring topic that is. I tire of discussing it" "I recommend you stop asking these questions unless you want to find yourself in some trouble" "Please do not ask me about such depressing things" etc

    There are more things but I am getting bored of writing about a system which could be rebuilt from the ground up with ease without losing any inherent advantage

    I think everyone recognises that adding different consequences according to what a phrases says/means is the key to having dialogue as a meaningful game mechanic. Additionally, if you have combat skills, and there is dialogue in the game then ideally there should be dialogue skills/traits. Unfortunately it is a rather masochistic process to implement due to the difficulty of considering so many conditions, and unless you are willing to have a smaller investment/return ratio (at least until the audience starts to expect it in games, which will be a while away) then you will have to accept to suffer some punishment for wanting to make a higher quality game

    Sounds so ridiculous doesn't it?

    Over to you guys
     
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  12. Lumpy Arcane

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    A proper sandbox game could work by alternating between the two - it makes the world seem more alive if any NPC can be interacted with, but there's no reason for each one to be unique.
    It's also necessary, in my opinion, that the unique NPCs have 100% personalized dialogue - you don't get the impression of talking to a real person if they just give the standard response for half of the topics available.
    The problem with Morrowind was that "interesting" NPCs were not usually marked as such - so you had to talk to random people and ask them random subjects in the hope that they'd actually have something new to say.

    I'd implement it like this: generic NPCs are information banks. You ask them stuff like "Who's the Guildmaster", "What plants can I find in the reason", "What does your guild think about guild X". It's not a problem if all of them give the same answer, because there's no reason to ask the same question twice anyway. Unique NPCs work with classic dialogue trees - and unlike Morrowind, they should be implemented as separate entities - not as generic NPCs with some custom answers.
     
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  13. Excommunicator Arcane

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    Yep I agree it is necessary to have a technical classification for NPC types. These classifications must be designed according to the purpose the NPC has in the game whether it be an information bank, a story character, a quest entity, a novelty conversation character and so on.

    Following from that I think designers need to be more deliberate in the way they design an NPC's appearance. There needs to be a meaningful visual representation of a character to convey things like factions, wealth, profession etc; a PC should be able to approach an NPC knowing these things without needing to go on some dialogue-based treasure hunt. The Elder Scrolls series is especially bad in this way.

    There is just so much potential in how dialogue (which is only a small subset of what should be non-violent social interaction) can be developed, and developers are throwing away all opportunities to make movie-games like Mass Effect. It is a gold mine of design possibilities
     
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  14. Sceptic Prestigious Gentleman Arcane Patron

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    Not that much in the way of consequences. The one that did the consequences well was the Fighter's Guild. There were multiple spots in the questline where you could COMPLETELY fuck up the Thieves' Guild line (including slaughtering their entire command chain, but there were more subtle ones earlier). Interplay between factions was also pretty good - Fighters, Thieves and Hlaalu were all linked in places. You could still get to the top of all of them, but at least there was a chance to fuck it up, unlike in Oblivion.
     
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  15. DraQ Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

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    First things first, MOST things in video games are cosmetic - the entirety of soundtrack, most graphics, most sounds, etc. 'Cosmetic' doesn't inherently mean 'bad'. There is nothing wrong with a bit of virtua larp as long as it doesn't replace proper C&C.

    The obvious reason for empty dialogue choices would be allowing the PC to express himself in a manner befitting them. It could be reduced by forcing player to pick a personality at chargen, then picking dialogue automatically in cases where choices are limited to personality-flavoured variants of the same thing, but sometimes there are more responses valid for a given character and such a solution would offer less flexibility, for example disallowing the character to undergo sudden change of heart, which can easily happen if the player is, for example, trying the evil options in PS:T.

    As for the topic system, I have always been of opinion that a nice, dense lawn of dialogue topics is the best place to plant dialogue trees. Topic system is a natural complement of dialogue trees, which are just plain awkward when it comes to conveying generic, non-scripted dialogue, which happens to be the thing that usually happens whenever the PC interacts with an NPC - the PC usually seeks things like job, last known location of Adamantine Plate of Awesome +5, or directions to the nearest tavern. Often what interests the PC the most at the moment are latest rumours, as they may contain snippets of information that may prove instrumental to finding job or Adamantine Plate of Awesome +5. Rarely does the PC specifically seek drama.

    Still rather than basing the topic system on Morrowind's, I'd choose Daggerfall as my role model. Apart from being broken into subcategories the system in daggerfall was about the same technically, however it automatically made up the natural language questions out of bare keywords. It also allowed the choice of the tone which affected reaction and made the questions sound different. Such mechanism can be extended to allow many different tones and possibly handle the empty choices in generic dialogue. Of course, DF also had the advantage of NPCs only wasting time for one in-depth response - implementing limited amount of time NPCs are willing to spare would be a great step towards making them less of wikipedia terminals.
     
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  16. mouser Novice

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    The problem is that dialogue writing seems deceptively simple.

    It's the same problem a lot of open source (and some proprietary) programs have with documentation - they know it needs to be done, nobody really wants to do it, so they slap something together so they can tell people to RTFM when they ask questions. Goddess I hate that! Maybe if you wrote the FM worth a damn I wouldn't have these questions.

    Writing branching dialogues is unlike any other type of writing (except perhaps the old "choose your own adventure" books), and like anything else, takes a lot of practice before you start to get it right.

    "One liners" are great for generic NPC's. Basically, they're saying STFU and leave me alone, while perhaps passing along some little tidbit of something. On the other hand, even with important NPC's, you can only have so many possible outcomes before planning and coding the game becomes overwhelming (Hey Oblivion! I'm talking to you! - not the game, the guys behind KotOR II and NVN II).

    If you want to get good at it, read as much of it as you can (ie: play lots of games), and take notes when something is good or bad and what made it so. Then keep writing yourself - just don't expect your first feeble attempts to be golden. Get feedback, learn from it; Lather, rinse, repeat.
     
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  17. Excommunicator Arcane

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    And DraQ that superficial cosmetic nature of things is very indicative of the amateur designer. That is part of my biggest gripe with developers today; there is just not enough depth of thought apparent in the end products. It is like they throw some things together without even realising the importance that all of the elements will have in contributing to the experience in the final product:

    "lets put in elves and dwarfes cuz people love those" DRAGON AGE
    "wouldnt it be awesome if we just like took away all that text in conversations and replaced them with shiny pictures so that ppl are not overwhelmed with readingness!!" MASS EFFECT/DA2
    "lets just put in all these different dialogue responses so ppl can pretendz that they are playing a cool evil dude without all those silly consequences that will make ppl confuzed anyway" All Bioware
    "lets give this NPC a hilariously cheesy accent cuz that would be funny n shit lol" All RPGs with voice acting. Period.



    That is the kind of ideology (or lack thereof) that helps to drive the decline, and if you (anyone reading this) don't know how it contributes then I am sorry to tell you, you have cancer. Popamole cancer. And it is most likely terminal.

    Fuck that shit. It makes me rage. They are pitiful excuses of artists, designers, directors and whatever else they like to call themselves.

    Dialogue is a consistently bad offender in that way with overall badly acted lines, badly written lines, badly cast actors, badly edited walls of text etc. and it is the poison of modern gaming culture that creates it.

    I have not played Daggerfall, although I have seen and read quite a bit about it (I especially liked the comprehensiveness of the character creation), but there is one thing that the game industry culture didn't have back then and it is the whole "this game needs to be as popular as possible so lets just include [this] and [this] to sell more units. money lol." and its absence truly shows in older games like these. It really isn't just oldies being nostalgic. I am not even an oldie ffs

    I get tired of raging about it but when people - designers and players both - (and I am beginning to realise there are a fair number on the codex too, sigh) are so oblivious to the reason why the overall quality of work is sub-standard compared to other industries/arts/forms of entertainment it just makes me want to rant :P

    I didn't derail the thread I just extrapolated on the larger issues that bring about such problems to begin with. Nothing occurs in isolation
     
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  18. Phelot Arcane

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    I suppose it depends on what kind of PC we're talking about.

    If you don't mind having a zero personality PC then the topic system in Morrowind (for example) works well enough. Shit, you can even LARP in your head what the PC is actually saying...

    Of course this also prevents the NPC from responding in a more realistic manner and it also means that anything the NPC says will be information about the topic so there's likely no room for flavor text or whatever or at the very least the NPC will likely never have an opportunity to ask the PC a question "Why are you asking about this topic?" for example.

    As to the OP question, I think meaningless dialogue can be alright so long as it doesn't masquerade as real C&C. So it's lame to have the PC be able to ask the enemy to surrender, to try to surrender to the enemy, try and ally with the enemy, try and flee from the enemy, or to try and trick the enemy and yet always end up fighting the enemy regardless of what is chosen.

    On the other hand I don't mind asking the enemy it's motivations or who it works for or whatever even if the info isn't critical.
     
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  19. shihonage Subscribe to my OnlyFans Patron

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    In Shelter, when I simply have to resort to Bioware-syndrome-dialogue, I tell my dialogue compiler to append something "new" to the pre-planned branch:

    NPC: How did you get here?
    Player: On a helicopter!
    NPC: Can't say we're too fond of those! Our sheriff was decapitated by chopper blades! But anyway, welcome to Sandy Shades!

    NPC: How did you get here?
    Player: By horseback!
    NPC: I love horses! They're so tasty! Our sheriff liked them too, God rest his soul. But anyway, welcome to Sandy Shades!

    NPC: How did you get here?
    Player: I was always here. In spirit.
    NPC: A philosopher! We sure could use some brains 'round these parts! Have you ever thought of running for sheriff? 'cause we need one. But anyway, welcome to Sandy Shades!
     
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  20. Excommunicator Arcane

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    I would take different cosmetic-only responses based on facts about the PC over a whole list of purely subjectively designed responses any day. Most designers (especially Bioware) don't seem to understand how much of a personal interpretation is in their dialogue lines, which I find alienating when the writers are so oblivious to the point where we can see their own personal morals and principles in the dialogue lines right there on the screen.
     
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  21. zeitgeist Magister

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    There are three different models I can think of that could be used to design dialogue choices for the player, and NPC reactions to them.

    The first one is a transparent, static personality choice right at the start of the game. Like in Wizardry 8 or JA2, where you choose a certain voice personality, only applicable to the entire dialogue system. If you needed a character with a different personality for certain dialogues, you could send some of your NPC party members to talk instead of your main character.

    The second is pretty much the same thing, except the personality would be generated (and somewhat dynamically shaped by) relative to character stats. (see Fallout's low-int dialogue for a rough example of this)

    And the third and probably most common is to simply present the player with a bunch of responses suitable to different character personalities and react, or not react, to the player choice then and there (perhaps adding to, or subtracting from some personality-related stats similar to Bioware games except ideally not so ridiculously simplistic).

    You can add special dialogue options related to various in-game choices, faction reputation, character achievements etc. to all three models, as well as reward or punish the player in various ways for roleplaying a character with a certain personality.
     
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  22. Phelot Arcane

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    Have you played Drakensang: River of Time? I just started, but so far it seems to be exactly what you're describing. I'm playing as a Thorwalian pirate and a lot of NPCs change their dialogue based on it. Very nice touch
     
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  23. shihonage Subscribe to my OnlyFans Patron

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    The character achievements part is something I am trying to use in Shelter, as presenting the player with a "deck of potential responses" may provide incentive for completing certain tasks. You can see the things you "could say" if you have done this-or-that in the gameworld.

    I.E. you may try to intimidate someone, but you will see a requirement like "heavy bruiser: beat someone to death with your bare hands" under it, and it will be marked "unmet".

    When you click it, the guy will say "you sure talk tough but I don't believe you".

    So then you go off and beat some NPC with your bare hands (in encounter or elsewhere), getting that achievement, come back, and this time the guy will say "All right, your torn knuckles tell me you ain't messin' around...".

    I've heard criticisms of such system as violating immersion by being "visible", but on the other hand it can also be frustrating to simply have dialogue choices appear and disappear for reasons not entirely clear to you, as per traditional design.
     
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  24. PandaBreeder Educated

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    I remember an old Interactive Fiction game called Varicella (An amazing game, might I add) that expanded on the old ask/tell keyword system by adding tones. For example, you could ask someone about the courtyard in a servile tone and get "Please, kind sir, would you waste some of you valuable time in order to inform me about the courtyard?". If you asked the same thing in a hostile tone, you'd get a completely different response. You could make the system a bit more complex by adding more tones such as Seductive or Friendly.
     
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  25. Excommunicator Arcane

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    Actually I haven't played it but I have had a lot of curiosity. I hear a lot of things which seem interesting, and the visuals look very clean, but I also hear that it is excessively cliched and doesn't take itself seriously, which are not things for me.

    And after playing other European games/RPGs that makes me even more hesitant.

    If I can actually find it I might give it a go (very rare to see it)
     
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