Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Driver San Francisco's Silliness Works

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 20 Sep 2011 16:00
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Another enjoyable instance of mechanics writing the story is when Tanner attempts to chase the baddie of the moment outside the sandbox map, and finds a glowing red haze blocking the road. So he has to turn around and come up with an excuse for why he can't continue that makes his partner think he's off his head, which may very well be the case. On the one hand, the boundary is necessary in any game world as long as you're not procedurally generating the entire planet Minecraft-style, but by drawing attention to it in the story it also illustrates that Tanner is trapped inside a pocket reality of his own creation, and part of his arc is going to be finding a way to escape.

Now, the subject of dialogue in games is something I've harbored for a long time as a potential topic for Extra Punctuation. I was thinking of doing a sort of gameplay dialogue dos-and-don'ts, but my problem is I only have one big "don't" that I can't really pad out into a full column. It's a "don't" I've had simmering since doing Spider-Man Shattered Dimensions, and here it is: don't, in encounters with characters, randomly play one of four or five lines of dialogue over and over again every few seconds. No matter how funny your mum thinks the lines are. This is very, very annoying.

Fortunately, wily old Driver: San Francisco anticipated my article and implemented the very thing I was planning to recommend as the best alternative: have your four or five dialogue exchanges, but execute them in a predetermined order at predetermined points in the encounter. Yes, randomly selected lines might seem more organic, but this is dialogue, dialogue is linear by nature, get over it. It's also an opportunity to tell little sub-stories in the back-and-forth interactions to develop the characters. You could even do the Bionic Commando thing where there's a button for telling the boss character to shut the fuck up.

The objective is to not let the player hear the same dialogue twice, because no witticism in the history of the world has ever improved under such conditions. Yes, if the player dies and has to restart they're going to hear it again, but honestly they've got no right to expect anything else at that point. I know Grand Theft Auto 4 and its various elaborations had several alternative conversations that could play on your way to each mission or encounter, but I think it's possible to do too much. That might potentially cause players to want to fail so they can hear every possible dialogue, and you don't want to reward failure, that's exactly what's wrong with reality television.

Oh, I know the usual argument. How can dialogue possibly be important in a game that's supposed to be about, say, street racing and making sweet jumps? But when you think about it, it's even more important for establishing characters when no-one gets out of their cars and all you ever see of them is a tinted windscreen. Without character there's no motivation, and without motivation there's no engagement. Driver SF understood that and that's what's gratifying.

Hm, I've been too nice to games lately. Perhaps I'm getting old. Or perhaps all my hard work is paying off and they really are getting better. Oh, wait. Dead Island.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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