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  • The Lost Art of Conversation In Games

    - Oluf Pedersen

  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006)

    The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is perhaps the most successful RPG of all time; the amount of space, quests and possibilities in the game is quite phenomenal. Mix this with stunning graphics utilizing HDR, a great musical score, the new Radiant AI (allowing inhabitants of the world to seemingly have lives of their own) and other blessings, and it's no wonder the game has reached the level of popularity and infamy it has.

    Yet for all these amazing possibilities and technical achievements, the NPC's still feel quite lifeless and bland. I write still because the same was true of its predecessor. Even though the NPC's have needs and schedules, it's just not possible to have an interesting conversation with (almost) any of them. The dialogue structure from Morrowind, where you have two systems in place, a keyword-system and a sentence system, is gone. It has been replaced by a merging of sorts: most of the time you are choosing either keywords or very short sentences. This is probably attributable to the game also being developed for the Xbox 360 console.

    But at least there are some decent facial expressions to go with the dialogue, and the game features a mini-game involving this. Oblivion, like Morrowind, only really implements the basic adventure dimension, and to a small degree the Statistics dimension, in its dialogue options.

    Neverwinter Nights 2 (2006)

    Neverwinter Nights 2 is probably the game with the largest amount of influenceable dialogue ever created. The number of different statistics affecting dialogue options must number at least 10 in the original campaign[4] itself, and they are quite diverse: from trying to bluff or lie your way out of an unhappy predicament, to using your "business sense" in figuring out how to tax merchants near your keep "appropriately".

    Whatever one might say about NWN2, it is definitely a step forward for the dialogue options front. The quality of the story or dialogue in general may not be as good as in Planescape: Torment or Vampire - Bloodlines, but the sheer number of influenceable dialogue options available, makes the game's situations and characters feel very "alive" and responsive to player development and individuality, even though the game itself, and its story in particular, is quite bland and linear.

    The game is heavily reliant on the statistics and companion dimensions, and also naturally the "classic" adventure game quest dimension as seen in Monkey Island.

    Whatever race and gender (and maybe class) you choose for your player-character also influences your dialogue options a little bit. And as a new option you get to choose the characters "background trait", for example if you were a farmer, a militia member or the town bully, and this also influences the dialogue options (at least in the tutorial level).

    As in Planescape: Torment, your weapons and wardrobe influence your statistics, which in turn influences your dialogue options: so if you put on a certain hat (as seen in the top screenshot), you might get more dialogue options.

    [4] (in the NWN2-toolset the theoretical number is 6 different ability score checks plus 28 skill checks, and they can be combined ...)


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