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May 29th, 2009, 08:51
Part 2 of IGN AU's surprisingly good article on RPG dialogue is online. This time they look at some upcoming titles and offer their own idea for a new dialogue approach. Not so keen on these but at least they are thinking about it:
This idea for an RPG dialogue system is difficult to describe, but here we go. Imagine that each cut scene or conversation interaction took place without any actual input from the player apart from agreeing or disagreeing with what your avatar is doing/saying. So, if we imagine the game being played on an Xbox 360 console, the A button could represent Agree and the B button could represent Disagree.

This system works a little bit like the Political Debate Worm you know, where each member of the audience has a buzzer and they press it when they like or dislike what's being said. The worm moves up or down depending on consensus. Well, our imaginary conversation system works a little bit like the worm. At several points during the beginning of the game, the main character may try some morally dubious approaches. If you agree with this and would like to see him continue down that path, you'd obviously be hitting the A button while the scene is playing (or holding it to strongly agree). If you don't want your avatar to be evil, you'd tap or hold down B to show that you disagree with that path. Over several conversation interactions, the system would presumably reach a moral stance that suits the player. Further complexity could perhaps be introduced in the form of real-time Agree/Disagree actions such as dictating whether or not the avatar kills a character.
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May 29th, 2009, 08:51
This part was a bit meh. The Agree/Disagree mechanic would be a new one; it could even work in some games -- but not, IMO, role-playing games.

Strong game mechanics make you feel like you're in control, whether it's a gun, a car, a helicopter, or a Pong paddle, with the challenges coming from the environment. A racing game that's hard because the track is hard and the competition is hard and the car handles realistically is fun; a racing game that's hard because the car doesn't respond to controls or only has a steering wheel but no accelerator is a lot less fun. The same applies to conversations. A good RPG conversation system must make the player imagine that he's in control of the conversation; IMO any system that compromises that feeling is a step backward, no matter what other advantages it brings.

I agree with the author that the infinitely cycling dialog tree should go: dialogs should be like fights; you can't replay them just because they didn't go all that well (without reloading, of course). However, abstracting this to "Yes/No" or even "Nice/Mean/Professional" isn't the solution.
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May 29th, 2009, 10:11
Well, it won't take a genius to figure out the current AI may benefit life simulation style role-playing game but that it won't benefit story-focused one, replacing good writes, any time sooner.

BTW, is somebody here keeping an eye on a game called Heavy Rain, which I came across at Gametrailers TV. It seems to be trying to update adventure game with some potentially interesting story-focused approach. If you have played Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit, unlike me, you would probably get a better picture, I guess. However, first thing first…it's PS3 exclusive and it's yet another mature, dark and gritty game. I personally find the story-focused approach interesting, though.
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May 29th, 2009, 14:08
One-shot conversations in a traditional conversation tree could be a good thing, but it would require devs to put some more thought into the contents of the tree. It isnt desireable to have a design that makes players reload.

Alternative dialog branches would have to be balanced when it comes to information content and reward. One thing I've thought about is to make your "tone" affect a reputation within a group of NPCs. If you have been snarky with the friends of an NPC it might not help to smooch him, while mocking his enemy might have made him more positive. The NPCs could have complementary things to say so that you could get a comparable amount of information from different conversation partners. This could be costly in terms of writing though.

One game that tries something along those lines is Mount & Blade. When you support a rebel claimant you can try to persuade the lords of the realm to join your cause, and their response to your argument depends on your line of reasoning (some might favour a "back the winner" argument while others find legality important), your consistency (using inconsistent lines of reasoning will cause them to say "you'll say anything"), and whether you have their personal friends and enemies on board already.
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May 29th, 2009, 20:41
I haven't played Mount and Blade, either… Roughly speaking, it would be categorized under simulation focused role-playing game but probably with huge weight on combat strategy gameplay, which would possibly be enhanced by such dialogue system to add political essence to it.

What makes me interested in Heavy Rain is that the story seems to be unfold through different characters with different abilities, which reminds me of role-playing game while the composition is commonly seen in variety of novels and films. It seems how one character is played out, including his/her death, affects on the plot of other characters. I'd like the gameplay more like to be combat/sneak action game like Riddick, Splinter Cell and hopefully modernized version of Deus Ex although Heavy Rain seems to have more akin to an adventure game.
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