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  • The Lost Art of Conversation In Games

    - Oluf Pedersen

  • The Secret of Monkey Island (1990)

    The Secret of Monkey Island is a classic graphic adventure game from Lucasfilms' SCUMM series (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion).

    It contains many dialogue scenes, most notably the swordfights which are decided by who has the most insults and snappy comebacks. These insults and snappy comebacks are learned only through hearing an insult or the comeback to that particular insult. This makes the learning process rather tiresome, and the only fight that rises above average is the one against the Islands sword master, Carla (pictured above), where you hear new insults and then have to match those to your existing comebacks.

    The dialogue choices are different than in LotW, in that they change according to several things: places you've been, people you have talked to or items you've acquired. Thus if you've spoken with a person before, or if you've found something which helps solve a quest, they respond differently and you are presented with (slightly) different answering opportunities.

    Again we are no longer talking about a strictly "linear" structured sentence-based dialogue, but instead a "dynamic" one. Therefore, this type of dialogue interface will henceforth be referenced as the "dynamic"-sentence-structured-dialogue.

    Fallout (1997)

    Fallout was a very successful Role Playing Game which spawned an entire franchise.

    The dialogue in Fallout is quite unique. It's divided into two different interfaces, and it also features a graphic representation of some of the characters faces along with voice acting. The normal interface is like that of LotW/Monkey Island, with the player choosing sentences from a list. The second is the opportunity to ask people about anything you like. Obviously the word parser is not particularly strong, and you will only get (useful) information if you ask about specific places or groups/individuals within the game. But this is still a brave attempt at combining existing types of dialogue interfaces in computer games.

    Another interesting aspect of the dialogue in Fallout is the inclusion of a specific statistic in the player creation, Speech, which when trained (with experience points), gives the player more and more dialogue options, and therefore more options when solving any given quest.

    Fallout's dialogue interface is mainly like that of Monkey Island, but with added complexity, as it has another "dimension" (Statistics) in terms of what influences the dialogue options. The word parser is a brave inclusion, but doesn't really influence the game a whole lot.

    Planescape: Torment (1999)

    Torment is a favourite with many RPG fans, and features tons of dialogue. An unofficial Italian translation recorded 1.4 million words and 68,510 dialogue sentences[2].

    It is (like Fallout) also published by Interplay, and in many respects, the game is quite similar to Fallout: the graphics, the music, the environments, the mood of the game and lastly, the dialogue options, which as mentioned in the above paragraph were very extensive.

    The word parser from Fallout is gone, but instead it features more statistics that influence the dialogue options. A high intelligence, wisdom or charisma all influence the dialogue options and in the end your path through the game. Dexterity also gives you options, but the choices relating to this statistic are not dialogue-like but more action-like, for example, you get to choose to break a pickpocket's neck.

    A new dimension when compared to Fallout is the fact that your party-members now also affect the dialogue options. This means for example, that if you have the character Morte, a floating skull, in your party, this gives you certain extra dialogue opportunities in specific encounters. Sometimes the party members would also have small conversations with each other.

    Another new dimension is the fact that you get to choose a "political standpoint". Throughout the game you come across several different groups/factions that differ in their world view. You encounter amongst others half-crazed anarchists and fully-crazed religious zealots and get to choose who, if any, to side with. But siding with one faction will give you problems with others, and therefore also change your dialogue options.

    Throughout the game the player finds different magic items that affect the protagonist's statistics. It is also possible to have tattoos made that reflect his adventures. These tattoos also affect his statistics. So overall the player's choice of weapons, "wardrobe" and "body-decorations", might influence the possible dialogue options. This is, if not an entirely new dimension (since it's based on Statistics), certainly another layer to that specific dimension.

    The dialogue type in Torment is like that of Fallout, but with extra weight added to the dimension relating to how statistics influence your dialogue options, and two new dimensions in that who you travel with, and your choice of "political standpoint", also influences your dialogue options.



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