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  • The Lost Art of Conversation In Games

    [09.10.09]
    - Oluf Pedersen

  • A framework for games with dialogue/keyword options

    I definitely think that a distinct pattern emerges from all these games. If one takes LotW as the starting point, it becomes clear that dialogues in games have evolved since then. Games with dialogue choices today are usually much more dependent on previous player choices and behaviour. And a game like Oblivion is not representative of the options and possibilities normally given the player in games with dialogue choices. The developers of Oblivion obviously didn't think this part of the game to be worthy of as much attention as for example the graphics, and in looking at the sales and reviews of the game, it's difficult to argue with this.

    My research leads me to conclude the following typology of games with dialogue choices:

    • Type 1: Linear-sentence-structured-dialogue.
    • Type 2a: Dynamic-sentence -structured-dialogue.
    • Type 2b: Dynamic-keyword-structured-dialogue.
    • Type 0: Text-based-structured-dialogue.

    Type 0 is not included in this analysis, because of its rarity today, because of the fundamental differences from modern "graphic" games (and choices) and lastly because it has already been thoroughly discussed in Nick Montfords book "Twisty Little Passages".

    In Type 2 I find the following dimensions influencing the player's dialogue options:

    1. The Adventure Basics - Places/people/items (First observed by myself in Monkey Island).
    2. Stats I: Interior (Fallout).
    3. Companions/Associates (Baldur's Gate I).
    4. Gender (Baldur's Gate II).
    5. Race (Baldur's Gate II).
    6. Class (Baldur's Gate II).
    7. "Political view"/Personal compass expressed through dialogue or actions (Planescape: Torment).
    8. Stats II: Exterior (Planescape: Torment).
    9. Upbringing/Background trait (NWN2)

    There are problems with these dimensions. It would be possible to claim for example, that the player's choice of gender, race, class or upbringing are all simply statistics, but then what isn't a "statistic" in a computer game? I think one has to look at it from the gamer's viewpoint and not the programmer's. And the gamer will not view for example his or her player-characters race as similar to what the character does for a living. To the player, and indeed to most people, the two are inherently different. If for example I were to insult someone based on their profession (e.g. "Damn lawyer!" or "Damn electrician!"), this would be acceptable behaviour to most, but if I were to base my insult on race or appearance however ("Damn Jew!" Or "You're fat!"), most people would frown upon it.

    The separation of the Statistics dimension into the interior and exterior layers was necessary, because it is different to have a skill as for instance being very persuasive, to say putting on a hat, getting a tattoo or carrying around The Hammer of Seductiveness.

    The seventh dimension here is a bit difficult to define properly; it could well be argued that it's a mixture of the basic dimension plus the statistic dimension, but I strongly feel that it should stand alone, as it's more than these two dimensions put together: it's how and why your character acts and lives, it's maybe even their fundamental raison d'etre. It is therefore also very much beyond being simply good or evil (or lawful/chaotic), and thus many computer games do not implement this dimension.

    These dimensions are obviously related, but they don't necessarily occupy the same time-frame. I will therefore structure them accordingly:

    Before entering game-world:

    • Avatar Background
      • Gender
      • Race
      • (Personal Compass (Alignment))
      • Profession
      • Background Trait
      • Stats I

    After entering game-world:

    • Avatar Behaviour
      • Basic
      • Companions
      • Personal Compass
      • Stats II
    • Avatar Development
      • Profession
      • Stats I
      • Personal Compass

    The avatars background, behaviour and development are all clearly linked, but exist in different points in "time and space". The background provides the foundation for the behaviour and subsequent development, but this is clearly quite a one-way relationship.

    The behaviour affects the development of the character, which in turn (might) affect future behaviour, in what is a much more dynamic relationship.

    In time however, one's background grows (hopefully!), since the present becomes the past, and so it's not an entirely static or one-way relationship between background and behaviour/development, according to this model, the player's Profession, Personal Compass and Stats (I) might change.

    There are also a number of "free radicals" floating about here. How to define the accurate graphical depiction of NPC's in for example Bloodlines or Oblivion? Or good voice acting, which may lend an entirely new feel to an otherwise read sentence?

    Also, how does one measure each dimension's influence on the gaming experience? Does one use a scale from say 1 to 10? And are all the dimensions equally important, or is the avatars personal compass for example, more important than its race?

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