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Friday, April 09, 2010

I'm currently playing MASS EFFECT 2. Although there's a neat dialogue engine that lets you choose how the conversation goes, I'm feeling something's missing.

For one thing, there's an issue of optimization. Certain dialogue options net you "paragon" or "renegade" points. You need those points to unlock missions. So whatever your inclinations, you're wise to go with the paragon or renegade options 100% of the time.

But my main problem is that the dialog is all exposition. I ask a question, I get an answer, or the NPC will say "I can't tell you." If I'm looking for info, all I have to do is keep clicking options until I've covered all of them.

Real investigative dialog is elliptical. I ask about this, I find something out about that. It's also emotional. You might have to piss someone off in order to get them to talk about something. Or butter them up.

I'd be interested in a conversational game engine that made dialog into a puzzle. Just as you have to figure out a boss's weakness to, say, fire, you have to figure out your conversation opponent's weakness. Get him talking about dogs and he'll warm up to you. Call him a traitor and he'll lose his cool and say something he didn't intend to.

How do you know when you've cracked it? When you complete a combat mission, it's obvious. There are no enemies left, or you picked up the doodad or rescued the guy or whatever. But there's no reason you couldn't do that with conversation. Once you get the info you're looking for, your "been a pleasure talking with you" option opens up. There's no reason a game can't flag an important bit of dialog so the gamer remembers it -- the game flags everything else you pick up, doesn't it?

Have any of you ever run across a game with this sort of conversational combat?

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I haven't come across anything like that yet...

Have you played Heavy Rain yet? I haven't played it myself (no PS3), but the kind of elliptical dialogue you speak of seems like it would be more at home in a game like that.

I think the conversation as puzzle mechanic could be really interesting and something that the indie game folks could probably do something neat with. Good idea.

By Blogger The Kemp, at 2:05 PM  

There's a bit of a puzzle to buttering up merchants in Oblivion.

I think the major problem with Mass Effect 2 is that they want you to swallow so much exposition at the beginning, rather than keeping things focused at the beginning and letting you get chatty in the "2nd Act" of the game.

I'm afraid to skip exposition dialog at the beginning because I need loyalty and renegade points and etc. But as I go through all the options the writer in me is screaming "GET ON WITH IT."

By Blogger Scot Boyd, at 6:43 PM  

I know you're really asking about video games, but in the pen-and-paper role-playing games that use the Gumshoe system by Robin D. Laws, investigation works exactly that way: some characters can't be intimidated, but they're subject to flattery or flirting, while others need to hear cop-talk, or they'll open up if you go through the right beauracratic channels... the trick is to figure out what's driving that character and pick the right approach.

By Blogger Unknown, at 9:50 AM  

Have you tried the original Secret of Monkey Island (1 and 2) ?
The conversations are pretty much puzzle all the time, you have to find the right embranchement and say the right thing at the right moment in order to convince someone to do something or to give you something.

It's much less dull than in Mass Effect, where as you say, you pretty much know paragon or renegade options always lead to success, you're just choosing if you want "nice guy" or "bad ass" points. Which is kind of lame and unimmersive actually. I would much prefer new paragon or renegade options to appear in no particular option with no particular placement, so that you actually have to think about what you're gonna say to determine the potential outcome.

To me this is an example of game design holding itself back because of a desire from the game designers to classify thing too much and let the player see and understand too clearly the classifications of their action. Someone coming from the movies would probably want to hide this from the player.

By Blogger Nino Mojo, at 9:54 AM  

A big fan of gaming, I can say I was hoping for more from Mass Effect 2's speech system (especially when it's suppose to be one of the series' biggest bulletpoints). Ideally, I'd love to have confrontations be more of a verbal tennis match, but this would mean a much more organic AI and I think we're far from that. Instead, we'll be stuck with 'Angelic Response A', 'Don't Care Response B' and 'I'm Such a Badass Response C'.
Nino Mojo is right though - Monkey Island was loads of fun when it came to dialogue.

By Blogger Unknown, at 4:23 PM  

Heavy Rain is the game you want to play. Only available on the PS3. Once you go a certain way with the dialog there is no doing over or turning back. Each time you play you have the opportunity to change the game and the ending. Very advanced dialog system. More of a choose your own adventure style of game. Dialog is determined by reaction time, so you don't get a lot of time to decide how you want to interact with a character.
As this type of game advances, it will be for gamers who like the story driven games like Mass Effect.

By Blogger Unknown, at 10:34 PM  

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