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  • The Lost Art of Conversation In Games

    [09.10.09]
    - Oluf Pedersen

  • Baldur's Gate II - Shadows of Amn (2000)

    Baldur's Gate II was yet another big RPG favourite published by Interplay; it was much more focused on dialogue than the first Baldur's Gate, and gained much acclaim for this. Especially the way the party members interacted with the player and each other will probably strike a cord in the memory of many RPG-fans.


    Screenshot taken from Sorcerer's Place (https://www.sorcerers.net/)

    It also added another three new dimensions to what could influence the dialogue options: at least on one occasion the race of the player could have an impact on a conversation. In the market-square of Athkatla, the player could meet an elven-hating man, who would insult the player if he/she were elven or half-elven or if a party member was (he would also actually attack if one had the dark-elf, Viconia, in the party).

    The second new dimension was that the player-characters class (fighter, thief etc.) would determine what possible "stronghold" the player could get, which in turn meant different dialogue options based on class.

    And lastly the gender of the player-character determined not only possible love-interests, but also how certain situations in the game played out.

    However, the dialogue options were not as diverse or dependent on statistics as in for example Torment. I can only recall a single instant where a statistic influenced the dialogue options (Wisdom, the Spectator Beholder in the Sahuagin City).

    The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (2002)

    The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was an epic game and one that took "close to 100 man-years to create"[3]. The sheer size, scope and beauty of the game awed gamers at the time, and made individuals like myself, purchase new computer hardware in order to run it properly.


    The game's dialogues consist of two parts, the general one which is a keyword-structured interface, and a second, rarer one (sentence-structured), where actual dialogue is chosen. The options for the second one rarely number more than three (yes, no and maybe later), while the keyword-structured responses rarely number less than ten as the game advances.

    The skill "Speechcraft" affected your ability to bribe or simply admire someone, so that they liked you better, and therefore might reveal something they normally wouldn't.

    So the dialogue in Morrowind actually works a bit like the dialogue in Fallout: both have two systems in place and both use a "Speech"-skill to open up more conversational opportunities. Here the similarity ends however, as Fallout's sentence-structured-dialogue is much more detailed than Morrowind's likewise. This is on the one hand a logistic necessity due to the sheer number of people populating Morrowind, but also ultimately a design decision. It would not have been impossible for example to have a few characters in each town that stood out more from the general public of Vvardenfell (the island where Morrowind takes place).

    Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (2004)

    Bloodlines differs from most other games mentioned here in that it's not just a RPG/Adventure, but also a first-person shooter or more basically, an action game. It was built using Valve's Source Engine, and was released at the same time as Half-Life 2. Unfortunately the game was developed while the engine wasn't finished, and it was also rushed out, meaning the game was full of bugs when it first saw the light of day.

    In any case the game wasn't a commercial success, and its developer, Troika Games, closed down soon after. Which was really a shame since the game (patched!) was the best action-RPG since Deus Ex.


    The dialogue in the game is quite influenced by statistics and race. Three different forms of influencing the dialogue are available (Persuasion, Intimidation and Seduction), plus one racial trait (Dementation or Domination).

    Probably the most interesting way to play the game is as a Malkavian, a race of vampires that are plagued with insanity. This insanity makes the dialogue options completely different than whenever playing the game "normally" with any other race.


    Another extreme race to play in the game is the Nosferatu type of vampire, hideously deformed creatures that cannot be seen by mortals, unless they wish to reveal their supernatural heritage (bad idea). In practice this means you cannot initiate dialogue with normal people and that you are constantly travelling and hiding in the dark and in the sewers ... obviously not a choice recommended for socialite gamers.


    Overall the dialogue options in Vampire: Bloodlines are heavily influenced by race and statistics, but also one's "political preference" plays a significant role in the dialogue options. The game's first-person view and graphics engine, also offers something different from the rest: the very visual depiction of the characters you encounter, I state very visual, because Bloodlines really lets you see people's nervous eyes or twitches or simply their general state of mind (angry, happy, sad, surprised, unsettled etc.). While this doesn't influence your dialogue options in terms of choices available, it certainly adds a great deal of extra flavour to the dialogues themselves as they play out, and why you choose a certain response rather than another.


    [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morrowind#Development

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