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Default Pillars of Eternity - Too Many Words

June 19th, 2017, 11:33
Jeff Vogel explains why he feels that game designers don't always edit there text in such a way that all words actually matter to the player. As an example he uses Pillars of Eternity.

Pillars of Eternity wants to have a really elaborate world and story, which is fine. It wants to have a creative game system, with new, innovative sorts of character classes and spells, which is great.

However, it doesn't do a good job of communicating stuff to the player, because there's no editing and care in giving out information. The game just floods the player with text, important bits buried in gushes of irrelevant detail, practically training the player to think that the words aren't really important. (Again, I played a huge chunk of the game without reading anything but the quest log.)

To illustrate this, I'm going to go, step by step, through the introduction and character creation, the stuff anyone who tries the game is sure to see. Let's see what the game thinks is worth the player's time and how good a job it does splitting up vital knowledge from static.

"So What? You're Just Scared of Words, You Sub-Literate?"

No, I have a problem with the pacing. The human brain can only absorb so many random facts about game systems and lore at one sitting. This stuff needs to be carefully paced out, or it'll just slide off of the brain.

But character creation in this game floods the player with tons of facts, both about the game and the world. I came out of it feeling numb and confused, and almost none of it stuck.

So. You start the game. You pick your difficulty. And then you begin the eleven (!!!) steps of character creation.
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June 19th, 2017, 11:33
Totally agree with Jeff. His games are a good example of good and concise writing without overwhelming the player and gradually allowing them to 'discover' the lore.

Another good example is Shadowrun: Dragonfall.
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June 19th, 2017, 11:43
I think it's a deliberate style that appeals to a certain kind of gamer. I don't think it's a bad style, really - and it sort of fits the overall experience.

The early examples shown in that article are fine to me. They set the tone rather well, actually.

Now, I'm not a big fan of the actual writing itself - but it's still more than servicable. I'm also more the "brevity" type when it comes to writing style - but PoE isn't a "brevity" kind of game, which I think is key to appreciate.

So, I don't really agree with this critique for PoE.
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June 19th, 2017, 12:53
Losing attention and concentration syndrome hit Vogel.
Less phones and less social networks, man. Those drugs don't improve brain, they eat it.
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June 19th, 2017, 13:22
I wasn't a fan of the writing in. PoE, although I thought the game was ok. I think he makes some very good points about the writing during character creation, I agree with him 100%.

My main problem though was that I didn't like the mix of narrative and dialogue in the writing. This was particularly awkward in the VO, which would read the dialogue but not the narrative. This was jarring if you were trying to read along to the VO. The narrative often added nothing important to the delivery, so all the "he sighs regretfully", "she fidgets as she speaks" etc stuff could definitely have gone in the bin for me. It was like they were trying to write it as a book. Some narrative is clearly essential, but they overwrote it.

Grumbling aside, I still enjoyed the game though.
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June 19th, 2017, 13:29
Meh, I like Jeff and his games I gotta disagree with him here. The vast majority writing in POE that he's complaining about is exactly the stuff we used to love to read in the meaty, heavy duty manuals that used to come with games. All the lore, bestiaries, geography, history, indepth game mechanics descriptions, etc that would've been in a quality manual are now accessible in game wiki-style with hyperlinks. In my opinion this is a lot better than the current trend of making a bare-bones manual, if at any at all.

He's spends most of the post complaining about all the text in character creation, but you don't have to read it! Just skip to the bottom of the race/subrace/background selection, skip all the text and see what stat bonus you get. Geez.
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June 19th, 2017, 13:30
I didn't find anything wrong with character creation in PoE, especially since I knew +1 here or -1 there meant almost nothing.
But the writing itself was bad. Too many world lore dumps or event dumps. Every character loves to tell you the whole history over and over and over. Fuck that.
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June 19th, 2017, 13:55
Originally Posted by Archangel View Post
I didn't find anything wrong with character creation in PoE, especially since I knew +1 here or -1 there meant almost nothing.
But the writing itself was bad. Too many world lore dumps or event dumps. Every character loves to tell you the whole history over and over and over. Fuck that.
Exactly. There was nothing wrong in the character creation, but most of the text in PoE was just useless fluff information that I felt obliged to read but soon figured out was completely unimportant and even less interesting.
Instead of offloading all the info dump on the player, they should have done a proper in-game wiki. I really hope they do this much, much better next time.
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June 19th, 2017, 14:05
Originally Posted by NewDArt View Post
I think it's a deliberate style that appeals to a certain kind of gamer. I don't think it's a bad style, really - and it sort of fits the overall experience.
No, bad writing and lore dumps are not "deliberate style". It's just plain bad writing. Nobody would like to read stuff written like that if it was in novels - so why would anyone in a game?

It's one of the first lessons being taught in writing schools: Get to the point. Really well written novels do not waste your time by dumping lore onto you that you will never need to know about. And if lore is put onto you, it is done implicitly and/or brief. And yes, that is hard to do, something you have to learn (if you are not some kind of prodigy).

And most PoE writing utterly fails there. You could scratch at least half the sentences and still wouldn't gain any less story- or world-relevant information. Most of the time, you are simply left wondering why most people are so absurdly talkative.

I really hope they improve a lot here in the next game, putting lore dumps in a kind of wiki and letting NPCs only talk about things that actually make sense for them to talk about, especially non-party NPCs.
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June 19th, 2017, 14:17
Originally Posted by TheSHEEEP View Post
No, bad writing and lore dumps are not "deliberate style". It's just plain bad writing. Nobody would like to read stuff written like that if it was in novels - so why would anyone in a game?
I'm talking about the verbosity - which I think is deliberate. If you think the amount of words was by accident and not by design - that's fine, but I find that a ridiculous notion.

It's one of the first lessons being taught in writing schools: Get to the point. Really well written novels do not waste your time by dumping lore onto you that you will never need to know about. And if lore is put onto you, it is done implicitly and/or brief. And yes, that is hard to do, something you have to learn (if you are not some kind of prodigy).
There are many lessons being taught in many places. Some of the best works of art have grown out of not following the norm.

And most PoE writing utterly fails there. You could scratch at least half the sentences and still wouldn't gain any less story- or world-relevant information. Most of the time, you are simply left wondering why most people are so absurdly talkative.
That's your point of view, not a fact. Some people enjoy verbosity.

I'm not among them, but I don't feel the need to dominate what's right or wrong about writing styles.

I mean, I find the two Torment games RIDICULOUSLY verbose and incredibly boring to read - but I know for a fact that some people really, really enjoy them for that reason.
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June 19th, 2017, 14:23
BTW, Sawyer replied to Jeff Vogel criticism and accepted this was the problem as they didn't have enough time to do a proper editor pass through all the text in the game and cut out all the extra stuff.
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June 19th, 2017, 14:42
Interesting article. It still surprises me that Obsidian make mistakes like this, considering the entire company was founded on trying to improve and put to the forefront good writing in rpgs. Maybe it is a crutch for them as they don't seem to know much about good gameplay.
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June 19th, 2017, 16:51
Jeff makes some good points. I enjoyed the lore bump at the start of PoE that helped set the scene, but I can see that it's not for everybody. Maybe they need to put a TL;DR section at the start, then follow it with a more detailed lore description for more hard core fantasy fans.
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June 19th, 2017, 16:54
Problem is, you don't read a game in a linear way, like the way you read a book. So lots of stuff needs to be repeated in various places in case you missed it the first time by ignoring an NPC, or not spotting a letter, or whatever. Dragon Age drove me INSANE with endless chatter abut the Chantry vs. Mages (for example), freaking beat you over the head with it. I'm so sick of hearing about the Chantry vs. the Mages I want to scream.
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June 19th, 2017, 17:00
Originally Posted by Silver View Post
Interesting article. It still surprises me that Obsidian make mistakes like this …
Semi-off:
I've seen such errors on a much bigger level

A game I've worked on was full of movie cutscenes.
Problem is, the movie team couldn't been able to understand that a 5 minute cutscene is VERY LONG in a video game - and they scripted about 30 of 'em.
They told me it's okay, the art they chose allows to create them very quickly and super cheap. I told them I have no budget concerns, I have design concerns - be brief and tell the story in 100 simple sentences.
They still hate me

Long story short (irony, eh?): never ever let the video game writers / movie guys compare their material to say, Stephen King (1000+ pages), Joss Whedon (5+ TV seasons, 12 episodes each) or Hideo Kojima (4hr game, 8 hr cutscene).
Their craft is a support feature in a game, therefore it must be dialed down to get the right balance in the gameplay.
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June 19th, 2017, 17:14
Originally Posted by rjshae View Post
Maybe they need to put a TL;DR section at the start, then follow it with a more detailed lore description for more hard core fantasy fans.
Or just an easier way to hide the lore for those who don't care to see it. Maybe just make the lore of each item as you're creating a character a hover-over/clickable icon that opens a small window of text. That way you can create a character without reading the lore, yet it's there for those who want it.

Jeff makes some interesting points, but I just can't agree with most of them. He's arguing against things that have been there since Baldur's Gate. Sure, reading about the lore of this race or that magical sword doesn't have a "real" impact on the game, but when the writing is interesting and done well, it adds to the enjoyment a lot for me personally. One of the best features in BG/IWD and recently PS:T was reading the lore of the strange and unique items I found. And even if those games hit you with tons of lore at times and not all of it sticks (and not all is excellently written, as in any game), in the moment of reading it it is enjoyable, for me at least. I feel the same way about books and lore dumps in Morrowind as well. I would hate for the lore to be overly concise or feel too streamlined.

So I think the bottom line is, just make the writing good. And make the extra lore bits avoidable. They could even go as far as to have an option to highlight "non-essential" dialogue bits as well in conversations. I would never, ever, ever, EVER touch that option, but eh, maybe it would help people like Jeff who just seem to hate lore in RPGs.
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June 19th, 2017, 17:46
the problem was not quantity or pacing, it was the quality.
writing was mediocre. end of story.
compare it to tyranny, and you will find a much more compact and clean peice of work.
its like comparing a philosophy piece with a romantic poem
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June 19th, 2017, 18:02
I agree with Jeff, PoE overdid it a little with the writing. The main story was the worst offender. It had too many flashbacks full of lines that weren't important and too little important scenes concerning the story and moving it forward. I'm looking forward to PoE2, but I hope Obsidian knows better this time. It's not like they don't know how to write. Fallout New Vegas was awesome and very well written.
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June 19th, 2017, 18:35
Game writers too often don't use exposition, narrative, and dialog properly. There's a time and place for each and tossing them all together creates a mess. I've seen bad spelling, grammar, and passive writing ruin games, especially Indie games. It's jarring to the player. Prime example? Two Worlds. I thought the game play was okay, but the writing was atrocious.
Proper editing isn't really that hard. As a writer, I subscribe to the Elmore Leonard school of dialog writing. No adverb modifiers in dialog tags. No 'he rasped breathlessly' crap. If the player character just fought his way through a mob of monsters, it's understood that he is out of breath when he speaks to the princess. A simple 'he said' is all that's necessary. I could go on, but I won't bore you further.
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June 19th, 2017, 19:01
I firmly believe that a game like PoE has an audience that loves the avalanche of words and the complicated combat system (well, complicated for me anyway).

As much as I wanted to like the game, it just didn't hold my interest. I agree with Vogel that as somewhat of a noob to this style of game, the amount of text is a bit overwhelming. Trying to separate what is truly important for "right here right now" from "background lore and general knowledge" seemed difficult.

That all said, I think a game like PoE should be made exactly the way it has been made in this regard as that is what the PoE audience seems to want.
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