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Default BioWare - How Do I Become A Writer #2

March 6th, 2009, 00:36
David Gaider continues his advice on becoming a writer in the games industry:
When it comes to game writing, skill is even more important. You’d be surprised how hard it is for people to wrap their head around the notion of branching dialogue. Often what happens is that the writer has a very particular path in mind and fails to account for different player “voices”: the player who’s trying to do the right thing, the player who wants to be a bastard, the player who is the suspicious and reluctant hero, etc. You won’t be able to accommodate every voice all the time, but it is a mistake to accommodate none of them. Especially if your goal is to prove how good you are at this.
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March 6th, 2009, 00:36
Yeah, this whole process of writing three or four (or five?) realistic and relevant paths that magically wrap back upon themselves to resolve in a similar fashion is some challenging, heady stuff that can make your brain actually sizzle with exertion. Because not only are you having to maintain the overall view and purpose of the branches in your mind, but you are also trying to write really interesting dialogue along the way.

This is why I have great respect for folks like Dave G., MCA, Warren Spector, and all of those who write clean and consistent game dialogue. As the adage goes: "It's a lot harder than it looks."
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March 6th, 2009, 01:25
I agree.

And I must say it's a skill I lack.

That's why I've never been able to write something longer than short stories.

“ Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.“ (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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March 6th, 2009, 01:36
I've done some for U6P and even more challenging, is trying to infuse some personality into a few words of dialogue.

If God said it, then that settles it!!

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March 6th, 2009, 03:09
Originally Posted by Cabel Blacke View Post
Yeah, this whole process of writing three or four (or five?) realistic and relevant paths that magically wrap back upon themselves to resolve in a similar fashion is some challenging, heady stuff that can make your brain actually sizzle with exertion. Because not only are you having to maintain the overall view and purpose of the branches in your mind, but you are also trying to write really interesting dialogue along the way.
Only BioWare doesn't really do that, the majority of their dialogue is stocked with fake choices, where 2 different dialogue choices lead to exactly or almost exactly the same reply. BioWare has never been a hero at branching dialogue, but they've been good at faking it.
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March 6th, 2009, 04:40
Originally Posted by Brother None View Post
Only BioWare doesn't really do that, the majority of their dialogue is stocked with fake choices, where 2 different dialogue choices lead to exactly or almost exactly the same reply. BioWare has never been a hero at branching dialogue, but they've been good at faking it.
We don't do it in every dialogue, no, but we do it. Moreover, in major dialogues we do it with frequency, and in Dragon Age we do it more often than we have done in some of our more recent games (as you will eventually see). I have been called on to write some very complex branching dialogues in my time, as well as many that have false choices or don't branch very much at all.

My point is that if someone is going to demonstrate their adeptness at writing dialogue, they're going to have to show that they can do it when required as well.
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March 6th, 2009, 07:57
Originally Posted by Brother None View Post
Only BioWare doesn't really do that, the majority of their dialogue is stocked with fake choices, where 2 different dialogue choices lead to exactly or almost exactly the same reply. BioWare has never been a hero at branching dialogue, but they've been good at faking it.
Yes, this. I actually thought Cabel Blacke was being sarcastic for a moment—how challenging can it be to write two different dialogue options that lead to exactly the same response? ME is particularly gregarious. Pull a gun on an NPC? Be polite? No problem, the results are identical!

Originally Posted by Dgaider View Post
We don't do it in every dialogue, no, but we do it. Moreover, in major dialogues we do it with frequency,
"What did you see, Shepard?"

"I saw a vision of death and destruction."
"I saw a vision of death and destruction."
"I saw a vision of death and destruction."
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March 6th, 2009, 08:20
Originally Posted by Essaliad View Post
"What did you see, Shepard?"

"I saw a vision of death and destruction."
"I saw a vision of death and destruction."
"I saw a vision of death and destruction."
So… just because you feel we didn't do it enough in Mass Effect, that means we never do it? Having not worked on Mass Effect, I can't really say how much branching went on in it. I am saying, however, that I have done plenty in the past and there is plenty in Dragon Age. More importantly, whether you intend to work on a game like Mass Effect or not, if game writing is what you want to do you're going to have to know how to do it. No matter what you think of Mass Effect-style dialogue, I assure you it's probably harder to create than it looks.
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March 6th, 2009, 10:55
I do know that in Baldur's Gate 2 there were actual dialogue options, far more than in Mass Effect or Jade Empire. Still a BioWare title though, so they are obviously capable of doing it.

For people who don't re-play games as often as we do here at RPGWatch, perceived freedom is as good as freedom - just look at Oblivion, and all the "choices" people are given. It's all fake. There is no actual freedom, people just think there is, and it works wonders.

It seems to me that a lot of effort has been put into ensuring that Dragon Age has real freedom, and not just "fake freedom", so I have fairly high expectations regarding the writing - especially when it comes to conversations that have an actual impact depending on what choices the player makes. Hopefully even the main story will be affected by decisions (a lot of games promise this, but very few actually deliver).
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March 6th, 2009, 12:24
Originally Posted by Maylander View Post
For people who don't re-play games as often as we do here at RPGWatch, perceived freedom is as good as freedom - just look at Oblivion, and all the "choices" people are given.

It seems to me that a lot of effort has been put into ensuring that Dragon Age has real freedom, and not just "fake freedom", so I have fairly high expectations regarding the writing
I'm certainly perfectly happy with fake choices if they're well faked. Although Oblivion was still a pile of shit IMO.

Dragon Age I am looking forward to though, it's going to be a busy year for games.
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March 6th, 2009, 13:34
Branching dialogues are fun.. I think I had close to 10,000 words for one static NPC as part of a quest for a NWN persistant world. The replies were never longer than a sentance or two either.

QA was not fun.
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March 6th, 2009, 14:02
Originally Posted by Essaliad View Post
Yes, this. I actually thought Cabel Blacke was being sarcastic for a moment—how challenging can it be to write two different dialogue options that lead to exactly the same response? ME is particularly gregarious. Pull a gun on an NPC? Be polite? No problem, the results are identical!
I actually liked the dialogue for ME, particularly playing as a renegade. Identical results admittedly, I'd like to have seen more situations where the two paths diverged and opened up different content or even just different items, but still fairly good dialogue.

If it hadn't been for the endless empty planets, the shamefully blatant reusing of the same dungeons & layouts (seriously, cycle through a dozen and it's hardly noticeable, cycle through a couple and it's just embarrassing) and the horrible inventory system & loot balance I'd have rated it highly, the dialog was certainly far from a weakness for me.
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March 6th, 2009, 14:58
ME is the worst SF I ever read. Take the encyclopedia, I just cannot imagine something more boring and more empty and cliché SF.
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March 6th, 2009, 15:08
Originally Posted by Maylander View Post
I do know that in Baldur's Gate 2 there were actual dialogue options, far more than in Mass Effect or Jade Empire. Still a BioWare title though, so they are obviously capable of doing it.
For an earlier poster, I wasn't being sarcastic as I was thinking of Baldur's Gate 2 when I mentioned Dave G. BG2 has some excellent and very detailed branching dialogue. Go play it again some time for proof. I haven't played enough of Mass Effect or Jade Empire to rate the quality of the dialogue in either game.
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March 6th, 2009, 15:43
Not sure I'm following you. I replay BG2 several times every year, and I certainly do know that it has dialogue branches and what not. That's exactly what I said.
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March 6th, 2009, 15:46
Originally Posted by Dasale View Post
ME is the worst SF I ever read. Take the encyclopedia, I just cannot imagine something more boring and more empty and cliché SF.
Yeah, the encyclopedia is pretty weak. The dialogue was fairly bearable though given my low expectations.
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March 6th, 2009, 16:01
Originally Posted by Dasale View Post
ME is the worst SF I ever read. Take the encyclopedia, I just cannot imagine something more boring and more empty and cliché SF.
I enjoyed getting a backstory and encyclopedia. A little more explanation to the world around me is always a good thing. It fleshed out the world that I was fighting for.

My favorite were the Quarians. I would of liked more to do with them than just the one quest and character. It was interesting to read the backstory to how the Geth were created and the makers were forced to live in space. Sorta a mix between Terminator and Battlestar Galactica/Eldar. I could care less if that is "cliche" SF. Cliche SF can be good if told well. It was an interesting story that was slowly revealed throughout the game(at least until you finished the quarians quest).

What I didn't like was after you help the quarian, there was nothing else to do with her. The same can be said with most of the characters. Once you did their story, that was it. They became part of the background.

You know the best thing about the encyclopedia. You didn't have to listen to it or read it if you didn't want to

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March 6th, 2009, 18:32
Originally Posted by Cabel Blacke View Post
For an earlier poster, I wasn't being sarcastic as I was thinking of Baldur's Gate 2 when I mentioned Dave G. BG2 has some excellent and very detailed branching dialogue. Go play it again some time for proof.
I'll point out that BG2 dialogue also has plenty of fairly linear dialogues as well as dialogues with the so-called false choices (we tend to refer to them as flavour options, but I realize that's semantics). The only thing I would say was very different about BG2 versus what we did afterwards was the willingness back then to add complexity even to occasional minor characters. By that I mean complexity in the dialogue branching, versus complexity in their characterizations. From a project standpoint, however, that led to a lot of overruns on the amount of time it was taking to write & test these plots as well as the word count. Word count is fine from a player's perspective (if wordiness isn't a dirty word to you — it is to some people), it happens to be expensive from a project standpoint even if you aren't dealing with the full-voiceover situation.

Regardless of the cost, Dragon Age is our biggest game since BG2 (from a word count perspective — gameplay hours are still to be determined, but overall I'd say we're looking at less if not massively less). I know you guys are probably sick of hearing about the BG2 comparisons, but I worked on that game. I wouldn't invoke it lightly. Dragon Age isn't "BG3", but in terms of making a comparison to people about what we intend and the feeling we're going for, it's definitely valid.

And now I have veered off topic. Ah, well.
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March 6th, 2009, 19:22
Originally Posted by Dgaider View Post
Regardless of the cost, Dragon Age is our biggest game since BG2 (from a word count perspective — gameplay hours are still to be determined, but overall I'd say we're looking at less if not massively less). I know you guys are probably sick of hearing about the BG2 comparisons, but I worked on that game. I wouldn't invoke it lightly. Dragon Age isn't "BG3", but in terms of making a comparison to people about what we intend and the feeling we're going for, it's definitely valid.

And now I have veered off topic. Ah, well.
You go right ahead and veer waay off topic if you want, if the subject is how much alike BG2 and Dragon Age is I don't mind hearing that at all.

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Last edited by skavenhorde; March 6th, 2009 at 20:41. Reason: spelling
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Talking Interest level rising….

March 6th, 2009, 19:53
Originally Posted by Dgaider View Post
Regardless of the cost, Dragon Age is our biggest game since BG2 (from a word count perspective …)
Damn, you almost made me click the "Pre-Order" option on Amazon…… Words, as expensive as they may be, add color to a world in a way 3D zots just can't… pure and simple. So, saying there's a word count in Dragon Age on par with BG2 is quite pleasing to hear indeed.
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