Conversation

Conversation

This week, John Scott Tynes thinks games could use a little more conversation, but not necessarily any less action.

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While you were talking about the all-text, BioWare style approach, you said that the problem with it, and the reason most games don't implement it, is that it takes a lot of time and effort to implement in a game. This is definitely true, but I can't help feeling that the system you suggested would take just as much effort to develop. Adding in enemy morale isn't particularly difficult, but programming in all the context-sensitive dialogue options and the effect they have on enemies would, I assume, be quite difficult.

Most action games have dialogue anyway. In a lot of FPSes, the enemies shout at you in an attempt at intimidation, or yell out in terror when you're defeating them, and in many games your allies do the same. I think, honestly, that this is enough in most action games. SWAT is a different issue, being a tactical FPS, but in fast-paced games like Halo, most people would either forget to press the dialogue button, or ignore it altogether because it's easier just to shoot.

It's very interesting as a potential mechanic, don't get me wrong. I just can't help feeling that it's a largely unnecessary feature, one that is likely to keep the game in development for significantly longer, and largely be bypassed by the people playing the game. Like you said, enemy and friendly morale has already been implemented in many games. In Halo the grunts are easily panicked and run away; in Jedi Outcast the stormtroopers tend to retreat if you kill their officers; in Baldur's Gate enemies and allies can fail a morale check and break off the fight if things are going badly for them.

As interesting as a context-sensitive dialogue option would be, I'm just not sure it's necessary. Dialogue-heavy games like the ones BioWare makes are always going to be that way, and games that light on dialogue are going to stay that way as well. This doesn't necessarily detract anything from the game; it's just a different feature of that game type. I just think the existing systems in action games are enough, and the feature you suggested would mostly either be forgotten about by players, or outright ignored so they can spend more time killing the enemies.

In the example you gave, in the shoot-out with the gang of thugs, it's all well and good making one of them a coward, but unless you wanted to keep the game in development for ages, this would have to be procedurally-generated - assuming that this sort of thing could happen with every group of enemies - which would make things very unpredictable and could, in theory, end up with all of them being cowards. In your example, the player may well notice that one of the thugs is a coward, but is it easier to try and coerce him into retreating than it is to just kill him? Especially considering that killing the others would likely cause him to retreat anyway, I'm just not sure it would add that much to the game.

I remember SWAT 3! Such a great game. Speaking of the command button, I remember in earlier levels, if you use the verbal command button as you breach the front door, you shout "LAPD, we have an arrest warrant!". I've actually had suspects reveal themselves and surrender, and I beat the level without even firing a shot.

A very interesting article about a not very well explored game dynamic. I could see this working in a Warhammer 40k commissar game. In addition to the standard attacks the player would be given voice commands to shout at the NPC guardsmen. The commissar's job is more about maintaining moral and discipline urging your men forward with shouts would be more important than killing the enemy personally.

I was thinking about this the other day when Project Natal came out and I mentioned to one of my buddies how interesting I thought Milo was, but how useful I wondered it would be in a game like the Fable series.

Conversation is something I always enjoyed in games, except those early text-based adventures which had clear-cut conventions that I could never quite master. Conversations where I was being steered (like in Oblivion or even Fallout 3) down a single route were the ones I skipped, because who the heck cared. What I was thinking was wouldn't it be interesting if purely through conversation you could convince some nobody; a shop owner, and town guard, to join you on your mission. I think conversation is inevitably bound up with group behavior, allowing the player to no longer be the sole hope, but make him the leader of, say, a mercenary band might be rather useful.

The thing I liked about SWAT 3 was that it was counter-intuitive to the regular shooter. Your mission wasn't to kill everyone, it was to save people and end a particularly hostile situation. I was thinking how a game like Call of Duty would function with a conversation dynamic. I think it would have to be relatively combat oriented, with the player dictating quickly how his squad deployed or attacked over a given zone. Other games have had conversation be particularly useful: the Mechwarrior series allowed you to give a series of commands to your friends, a number of flight simulators have you call in wingmen or as for clearance on the runway which can be incredibly useful for not crashing into another plane.

Ultimately, though, I think the best conversations will occur when procedural generation and voice recognition technologies get further along. The creation of giant worlds which the player can inhabit and interact in will be key.

HobbesMkii:

The thing I liked about SWAT 3 was that it was counter-intuitive to the regular shooter. Your mission wasn't to kill everyone, it was to save people and end a particularly hostile situation.

I think that because SWAT 3 was a game that focused on minimizing casualties, the verbal actions were integral to the game - it was always more advantageous to try and get your enemies to surrender.

In more action-oriented games (the majority of games today), such an option would not be essential, as Anachronism said. Sure, there could be a button that made Drake from Uncharted fire a quip at any time; would it be necessary? No. It makes much more sense for Drake to automatically say those lines at random intervals, without requiring the player to focus on anything besides shooting.

You article did convince me of one thing, though - we need another SWAT game.

I've played SWAT 3, and I definitely think it's command system could be implemented into other games. The only problem with this is transferring it to a game with a different setting. In SWAT 3 you played as a professional officer of the law, whose task it was to end conflicts as swiftly and neatly as possible. However, in most games, you play as a cliché, gun-toting, action hero (ex: Duke Nukem), whose task it is to kill everything that moves. So as you can see, putting SWAT 3's command system into other games would be difficult; what would gamers want to say to their enemies that they couldn't say with a shotgun blast to the head?

This article also reminded me of those old LucasArts adventure games, particularly The Curse of Monkey Island. That game had probably some of the funniest dialogue in a video game to date, and for that reason, I never left a conversation branch untouched. I guess this brings up the problem with the conversation in games today: they're boring. Today, it seems as if verbal interaction in video games only serves to move the story along, a heinous act that only results in making a game less unique, less intriguing, and a hell of a lot more boring. In short, gamers would love their characters to talk more if they wanted them to talk in the first place.

So in summary, we need to find an appropriate way to use the command system in everyday games, and we need to add a little more dimension to our main characters ("his family is dead and he's out for revenge" JUST ISN'T ENOUGH!)

Anachronism:

In the example you gave, in the shoot-out with the gang of thugs, it's all well and good making one of them a coward, but unless you wanted to keep the game in development for ages, this would have to be procedurally-generated - assuming that this sort of thing could happen with every group of enemies - which would make things very unpredictable and could, in theory, end up with all of them being cowards. In your example, the player may well notice that one of the thugs is a coward, but is it easier to try and coerce him into retreating than it is to just kill him? Especially considering that killing the others would likely cause him to retreat anyway, I'm just not sure it would add that much to the game.

I honestly don't think it could be all that difficult from a development standpoint. A rule could be that in any given room/area only of 20%-40% of enemies are of a particular personality alignment. So in a shootout with 5 thugs, you might have two leader types, two cowards, and a rambo. Yelling out a threat may scare the cowards but cause the rambo to charge at you whereas yelling a bribe offering may turn the leaders against the cowards who seem to want to submit.

This would all have to be in a game where one or two bullets can kill you, making avoiding combat the best option. Or perhaps some sort of morality system for your character like the one suggested in the 'Good vs Evil' Hard Problem Article where killing too many people could push your character towards an undesirable morality status.

As much as I would love to see it, I don't think we'll get anything like this in a game any time soon.

I also want to add that I've loved the Hard Problem articles so far and can't wait for the next one.

The most "talkative" (voiced) game ever is, believe it or not, A Vampyre Story.
The game with most written and meaningful dialoge is Planescape: Torment.
Those who haven't played these games, should.

There.

SWAT 3 was a tactical simulation, so it really made sense for it to have such an innovative conversation/command mechanic. As it has been said above, thats just not the case for other shooters, where the theme is one man vs. the alien/zombie/robot menace.

Personally, I like my text-heavy, conversation-heavy games. However, shooters are more about action, and perhaps adding in more vocals would be a waste.

I think this is a great idea. However, this feature should not just be tagged onto some existing FPS game. Like the author said, it is a big feature and I think that the game should be designed with the feature in mind from the ground up. That means that such a game would not be a run-of-the-mill FPS like we are used to. The game should necessitate or at least significantly reward the use of the feature.

I think the argument that the mechanic wouldn't work, because most shooters feature are Rambo-like characters who just go in and shoot stuff is flawed. Is this how we want it, or is this what we got specifically because noone knew how to make a deeper game? Maybe some people prefer the brainless shooter, and maybe such a shooter wouldn't benefit that much from such a system (although it would make me feel like more of a badass if I could make my character shout out masculine taunts at my command as opposed to at random times decided by the computer). However, I think a lot of people would really like to see this feature in more games.

Anachronism:
While you were talking about the all-text, BioWare style approach, you said that the problem with it, and the reason most games don't implement it, is that it takes a lot of time and effort to implement in a game. This is definitely true, but I can't help feeling that the system you suggested would take just as much effort to develop.
...
I just can't help feeling that it's a largely unnecessary feature, one that is likely to keep the game in development for significantly longer, and largely be bypassed by the people playing the game.
...
Dialogue-heavy games like the ones BioWare makes are always going to be that way, and games that light on dialogue are going to stay that way as well.

His point is that the BioWare approach takes a lot of effort for every interaction, so the number of interactions has to be limited to key characters. The proposed approach would take time to create as well, but once in place it could apply to virtually all characters in the game (taking into account variations for friendly NPCs and enemies), and could presumably be easily transferred to other games as well.

A major reason there's such a clear split right now between dialogue-heavy games and dialogue-light games is because action games need to allow the player to get into the action; they don't want the players to be stuck in what amounts to an interactive cut-scene, as in the BioWare approach. The advantage of this system is that it occurs during the action and affects the action, essentially serving as another "weapon" in the player's arsenal. It wouldn't be "bypassed" if it was done well, because it wouldn't be in the way in the first place.

The suggestion that it shouldn't be attempted because games are the way they are and new features will just make them take longer to develop is a little silly. If game developers thought like that, every new game would be a slightly refined version of Pong.

This goes right to what was displayed at E3 this year by Lionhead with their Milo project, a lot of people seem to be missing the fact that if it works gaming will see one of the largest leaps forward in its history.

Imagine sitting in front of your huge monitor, the surround sound barking out the gunshots, and you yell at your adversaries. They respond to you directly, with hate or fear, and you can yell for your allies to give you cover or for them to move into a position where they can flank the enemy. Yes multiplayer and VOIP already offer this but it still offers the potential to add amazing depth and immersion to single player games.

I can't wait to get my hands on this stuff.

Conversation is nice in a game. I liked Mass Effect's conversations the first time around, learning about the universe.

they got boring after that, though.

I for one would definitely find it fun. I think of its appeal as being similar to shooting that pile of explosive barrels or dropping a bridge on the group of enemies; in that, its never necessary, but its something that if done correctly will make your job much easier and mean you don't have to fire off as many bullets. It would also make you feel like you've accomplished something above the average.

I can see it integrating best into action RPGs like Fallout 3 or Mass Effect, whereas it would be more of an amusing addendum in the staple shooter (Stock phrase taunts in something like Call of Duty or Gears of War that have no real purpose but sound badass would always be welcome.

Hmmmm...I have never played this SWAT game you speak of. It looks interesting (much like Urban Chaos looks interesting to me; I played the demo that came with Hitman: Blood Money) and I would like to know if it came out for the PS2. If it did, I may end up buying it.

I like this idea, and it would definitely make sense in a game like Fallout 3 where you a) have very limited ammunition and b) have a limited number of times you can use your weapon before it breaks. (Oh and Yahtzee, Riviera: The Promised Land did item degradation well. I just can't say the title very fast. So there.) By decreasing the number of times you use ammo and your weapon, you increase the likelihood you will survive the next encounter.

Fraser.J.A:
His point is that the BioWare approach takes a lot of effort for every interaction, so the number of interactions has to be limited to key characters. The proposed approach would take time to create as well, but once in place it could apply to virtually all characters in the game (taking into account variations for friendly NPCs and enemies), and could presumably be easily transferred to other games as well.

A major reason there's such a clear split right now between dialogue-heavy games and dialogue-light games is because action games need to allow the player to get into the action; they don't want the players to be stuck in what amounts to an interactive cut-scene, as in the BioWare approach. The advantage of this system is that it occurs during the action and affects the action, essentially serving as another "weapon" in the player's arsenal. It wouldn't be "bypassed" if it was done well, because it wouldn't be in the way in the first place.

The suggestion that it shouldn't be attempted because games are the way they are and new features will just make them take longer to develop is a little silly. If game developers thought like that, every new game would be a slightly refined version of Pong.

And what, exactly, was wrong with Pong?

But seriously, I can see your point, and I do agree that it would be worth at least trying to implement a system like this. Like you said, developers have to try new things, or the industry would get extremely dull. I suppose when I talked about people just bypassing the "conversation button", I was more referring to what I would be inclined to do. For instance, when I play Gears of War, more often than not I don't bother giving any commands to the AI teammates; I just let them do their own thing. I'm well aware that I could use the option to command them, but I never really saw what the advantage was, as what I did normally seemed to work perfectly fine. I just can't help feeling I'd do the exact same thing with the "conversation button".

When you made the example with the shootout with the thugs, the first game that came to my mind was GTA IV. I think this game would really have benefited from such a system.
There were 4 or 5 missions in the game where you could choose to let someone live or kill him. That was ok, but I totally hated, that I din't have such an opportunity in all the other missions. Not only did this constrain the player to be a killing machine, in my opinion it din't completely fit to the character Niko should be.
With the mentioned conversation system you propably could avoid many kills and even if this wouldn't change the story I would have appreciated it much.

I loved conversations in KotOR I think even more than combat. It's a shame they fucked them up so hard in ME.

One type of in-game dialogue that I think deserves some consideration here is the character chatter in Team Fortress 2. It blends a lot of different dialogue types and actually implements some of the ideas in the article; the "badass button," for example, already exists in TF2's battle cries and taunts.

Some of the chatter is triggered and purposeful, like calling for a teleporter or shouting at your nitwit teammates to get on the control point. The most important of these, the medic call, even works hand-in-hand with a crucial UI element: the little tracker bubbles that show where the caller is, how much health he has, and whether he's on fire.

Other triggered dialogue is not connected to the gameplay, but nonetheless great for building the characters and contributing to the mood of the game. Positive commentary, "good shot" shout-outs, and taunts sustain the high when your team is doing well -- and in conjunction with the freeze-cam, can communicate with the other team. Funny negative commentary -- "That was an amazing killing spree. BY THE OTHER TEAM!" -- can help lighten the mood when you're doing badly.

But I think it's worth noting that everyone's favorite dialogue in TF2 is still the randomly triggered stuff. Dominations, revenges, killing sprees, payload progress, flag captures, and a million other events will launch a random line of chatter. Usually hilarious chatter, I might add. You're already feeling awesome for dominating that one-eyed demoman, and then your character chimes in with "Depth perception, pal. Look into it," and you nearly fall out of your chair laughing.

I think this is one of the cooler ways dialogue can be implemented in a game, and it hasn't been explored much. While I certainly wouldn't object to more games turning dialogue into a mechanic that drives the gameplay, I would also like to see more games that base chatter on the player's performance and behavior rather than just scripting story-style dialogue events.

Ya know, I don't think this is too had to implement either. At least, a few things are easy and the rest is tough, but some thing seem slightly "pointless" like the "be a smartass button" - but frankly I like that, a LOT. I love TF2 for it and other games with their super convoluted in-game "talking" menu, like Battlefield and Left 4 Dead's quicker version.

I am also glad you mentioned SWAT. It showed how perfectly you could implement a "speak" button without it being a gimmick and I'm also amazed no one's picked up on it.

I guess my point is that the best way to handle this, is to make it a feature and not the core gameplay. This way, we get the perfect blend of conversation and action.

I always thought that this was a much overlooked feature, and in small doses it can make a big difference.

Regarding well-done dialogues: look up Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy. It's a typical adventure game, and it offers typical branching conversation trees, BUT, they're on a timer. This simple mechanic (which, incidentally, makes perfect sense - why would your counterpart stand there like an idiot for half an hour while you decide which conversation choice you want to pick?) totally immerses you in the game in a way no other branching conversation-type dialog has before - especially considering it's often impossible to go through ALL the possible branches. Once again, this makes perfect sense - why would you stand there talking about crap endlessly, or asking the same questions over and over (and no, you can't do that either - you have one conversation, then it's over).

This is not all, however. The conversation system ties in with the in-game "mood" system, which is kind of like your 'hit points' if you wish. If your mood hits rock bottom, you turn suicidal and it's game over. Some conversations also have a "suspicion" meter - there are various scenes where your main character has to speak with police officers without raising their suspicion; sometimes merely by correct dialog choices, sometimes by winning quicktime events + correct dialog choices, sometimes by preparing the scene adequately beforehand etc. In short, there's a whole game to talking here, and it works excellently.

More RPGs should go with this - I'm bored with the stock standard (take the Fallouts) method of endlessly branching and endlessly repeating dialog trees. Talking should be about choices and consequences - not clicking through options until you get to the "right" one.

Off topic from the writer's discussion, of course ^^ The SWAT mechanism was great, and I support its inclusion in any and all other games that might allow for a less-than-lethal approach!

I think the idea is fantastic. The problem people are seeing with it is that they're applying it to games that already have been made (and are therefore complete) adding features to games isn't like adding toppings to an ice cream, it doesn't just improve it if you like that topping. It's more like adding ingredients to an ice cream, where it has to work with the other flavors.

Ice cream aside - I think that this type of feature could allow for more cerebral gaming. Instead of a batman game where you beat up the thugs, you could act as Batman ought to, you intimidate the thugs, You could win fights without swinging, by scaring your enemy into submission. His voice has always been a part of that. I don't think it should stop you from playing your batman character as one who chooses to battle every little underling, but it doesn't seem likely to me. If your attempts to coerce and intimidate npcs improve as the game progresses (not with experience points, but similarly with usage) It would make sense, Your character has built his reputation. If you offer people the chance to surrender, and then hunt them down anyway if they do, they should be more afraid of you, but less likely to run if you tell them to. If you let them live, they should be more likely to save their own hides. If you've gotten where you are in the game by cutting deals, you should be more comfortable dealing out choices for the your arch-nemesis at the end of the game. perhaps even talking him/her down.

Talking should definitely be another tool in your arsenal, the trick of it will be making it easy to use, and not breaking the players immersion, as much procedurally generated context relevant content as you can put in is the key point here. A list of dialogue options isn't fun in the middle of a gun fight. But a button for talk, in combination with up,down,left,right for 'frighten/intimidate','joke/flirt','plead/beg','boast/brag' to allow you to use as many pre-made lines as possible, with varying effect on the enemies would make for interesting game elements without being so hard to use as requiring you to look at other parts of the screen.

Good point about Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit. I quite liked that game until I hit some sequence that drove me away in frustration. I actually forgot they had a timer on conversations; that's a nice touch, at least for the kinds of players likely to play that game. :)

And man, am I glad to see some fellow SWAT 3 fans. I didn't think anybody remembered that game, even though it defined the modern squad shooter and had that great verbal-command button.

I have to say that I think even the tough-guy action genre would be well served by this kind of a mechanic. Action movies aren't silent; those tough guys often swap insults with the enemy mid-firefight and sometimes they do win a firefight by suppressing morale. Wouldn't it be satisfying if, say, Duke Nukem could make an alien pig-guy drop to his knees and beg for mercy just because Duke insulted his mother? That seems like it would feed right into the usual I'm-a-badass power fantasy. We're just conditioned to think of those games as nothing but shooting.

I really appreciate the nod to TF2. Embarrassingly, I haven't tried it yet. I'll fix that.

Ok, did this article actually appear on the front page of the Escapist? Because I've only just noticed it by chance from a forum post on the most recent article.

Anywho, nice article, and I do think there is alot more scope for conversation that the current 'Next Gen' (i.e. shiny and dumb) games offer. Sadly, dialog looks like its going even further way - if we plot the progress of Deus Ex, a well known dialog important game, we've gone from the smart Deus Ex 1 to the nearly linear shooter Deus Ex 2, and apparently the guy incharge of Deus Ex 3 found Deus Ex 1 "Boring because it didn't have enough action".

Its sad really, especially as alot of people are sick and tired of pure action without any talking.

John Scott Tynes:

I really appreciate the nod to TF2. Embarrassingly, I haven't tried it yet. I'll fix that.

*Gasp!* How could you!?

Anachronism:
but is it easier to try and coerce him into retreating than it is to just kill him?

--And BAM that adds your morality gimmick!

I like Yahtzee's idea better for full conversations, though.

I love it! This is a fantastic idea. It's not that difficult to manage in terms of development - certainly other aspects of the game will take up way more time than something like this would - and it would make ALL the difference. Even in games like CoD4, I can imagine this would add a whole other level to the game.

The thing is, people in real life are people, but people in action games are just targets. Every step that goes toward making those targets more like people is going to ramp up the immersion and enjoyment of a game.

Consider Deus Ex - for most of that game, there was no incentive to go for non-lethal weapons over pistols and machine guns, and yet most people went for them anyway, just because. That game tapped into a fundamental characteristic of human beings, which is that most people would probably not execute helpless enemies if given a choice. Now imagine if not killing an enemy was a genuine option in EVERY fight, and consider just how much more personal expression and freedom the game would gain.

And all of this from a relatively simple menu. Based on the system you describe, it would take some coding and about 40 to 50 voice-over lines for the protagonist. That's nothing, in the long run.

 

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