The Dangers of Dialogue

 Pages 1 2 NEXT
 

The Dangers of Dialogue

Maybe games should stop trying to make interactive conversation scenes altogether. Maybe concentrate on the strengths of interactive gameplay, like jetpacks.

Read Full Article

This reminds me of that one time when I was playing Borderlands 2 and decided to stick around and watch how the NPCs gesture when talking (rather than running off to go shoot things and open crates while they gab off in the background like a podcast), their gestures were often stiff, unnatural, the do that whole head turny thing while their bodies stay still... its weird and eerie like a pumpkin skinny dipping in the dark with a pack of wide-eyed small-pupiled albino penguins.

One thing I find funny.

The same people who complain about 'dull eyes', 'BioWare faces', 'rigidness' etc, are the same people who complain about AAA games as being too expensive and overmade.

You know that you can't really have naturally-looking people having a conversation without insane animation budget?

Honestly I don't really have a problem with conversation wheels. However it depends on what kind of a game is it supposed to be. I didn't play Bureau, but I can't see why they were necessary in a game like that, while conversations (being what they are) are a heart of BioWare games.

What I mean is games more about action should find a different way of doing conversations, mostly by shortening them and throwing out the tons of exposition in favor of some interactivity. While if you have an adventure game or BW-style RPG, those games are fine with the conversation systems they have.

I think.

Didn't Heavy rain do this? Have different button prompts to talk about different subjects during a conversation ? Sometimes you could talk or ask abour multiple things other times you could just ask one question?

I usually don't mind it, of course I haven't played the Bureau so maybe it's gotten worse than I remember they are.

Though, I liked the comment on the "Bioware face" thing, reminds me a hell of a lot of The Elder Scrolls too.

Alpha Protocol and The Walking Dead seem to be treading in a better direction at least. Letting the player get all the conversation and have all the control is something that needs to stop so that the conversations are more important and engaging. If you're responses are timed (and TWD's example of cleverly worked out time) it ends up better and the slight panic is even a good thing

I'm willing to forgive a lot if the voice acting is good. Then again, I don't play alot of games with dialogue-tree's, so this is usually not a problem for me.

I think the Walking Dead handled dialog quite elegantly, being that it was medular to its gameplay. A scaled down approach, maybe without so many different branching points, might be desirable.

So Dragon Age 2 wasn't the most amazing in terms of level design (ha) and it did suffer from Bioware face, but I thought the conversations actually felt pretty organic. Add some more dynamic motion capture to that and I'm hooked.

One thing I hate is when Bioware puts in conversation options you're only allowed to choose one. Alongside the initial hub options you get when you start a conversation with a character, it gets very frustrating when they're telling you a story and you're only allowed to ask one question at a time. With the backstories in Mass Effect at least it was only "what happened next", but in Dragon Age I don't want to have to make a whole other Grey Warden just so I can ask Leliana if her mother missed Ferelden. If the option comes up it shouldn't just disappear afterwards.

EMWISE94:
This reminds me of that one time when I was playing Borderlands 2 and decided to stick around and watch how the NPCs gesture when talking (rather than running off to go shoot things and open crates while they gab off in the background like a podcast), their gestures were often stiff, unnatural, the do that whole head turny thing while their bodies stay still... its weird and eerie like a pumpkin skinny dipping in the dark with a pack of wide-eyed small-pupiled albino penguins.

I found it more creepy that all the neutral npcs of the same gender share the same face, only differing in hair styles, hats, and facial accessories, like I've come down with some sort of inverse Fregoli Syndrome.

castlewise:
So Dragon Age 2 wasn't the most amazing in terms of level design (ha) and it did suffer from Bioware face, but I thought the conversations actually felt pretty organic. Add some more dynamic motion capture to that and I'm hooked.

Yeah, I loved the conversations there. I didn't even notice "Bioware face" that much; the camera wasn't rigidly on their face, and they knew when to look away.

OT: I kind of like dialogue trees. A lot of the time you want to find out a lot of information and you don't want to have to run around to ask every NPC, hoping to find the one guy who wants to talk about the vampire that's been kidnapping people.

Sgt. Sykes:
One thing I find funny.

The same people who complain about 'dull eyes', 'BioWare faces', 'rigidness' etc, are the same people who complain about AAA games as being too expensive and overmade.

You know that you can't really have naturally-looking people having a conversation without insane animation budget?

I think the problem is less that you have to have naturally-looking people having conversations than that only going part of the way is counterproductive. Having a bunch of semi-realistic 3D models flap their lips at you with blank expressions risks creating an uncanny-valley effect. The comparison to Thomas Was Alone Yahtzee raises is apt--TWA doesn't even come close to trying to represent its characters as human beings, so it doesn't have to worry about the uncanny valley, and can create an emotional connection without all that fancy animation. Whereas when you have the rigid faces of Fallout 3, or the oddly shifting eyes of Kingdoms of Amalur, the models look just human enough to look wrong and so put the player off.

Granted, this is a separate, but related, issue to what Yahtzee is mainly talking about, which is the fact that dialog trees only vaguely resemble an actual conversation; the half-hearted attempts at making 3D models emote just underlines the artifice.

While the "railroad switch" idea has some potential, I think there's a problem that's already a bane to many players- you will end up hearing the same dialogue, over and over again, while you try to get to the small number of points that actually expand your options or move the plot. That there's a possibility you'll actually miss the chance to move the dialogue in the necessary direction just makes it that much more likely.

The thing is, though, that dialogue- especially expository dialogue- is frequently more about the needs of the designers than the needs or desires of the player. We need you to have this information to move the plot forward smoothly. Here it is. Not infrequently the player can't even move on, adventure-game style, until some subject lodged deep in the bowels of the flow-chart has been broached. Characters we ought to be involved with become, as Yahtzee said, "information vending machines"- ones we're as likely to be irritated with for standing arbitrarily in the way of our progress as we are to find endearing because we mistakenly picked the sub-branch where they tell us about their puppy.

It might actually be preferable to let the player get in over their heads and then have the NPCs offer to get them caught up; if nothing else, it would cut off that old contrivance "as you know, [so why am I telling you.]" Let the players stumble on without knowing the importance of Applied Phlebotinum to powering the Windsnurks of Cygnus-3, or understanding that the ambassador's robes clearly indicate his rank within his caste. If the characters were offering to help prevent us from making further mistakes rather than standing between us and forward motion, we might be more likely to enjoy their company.

I think the 'Bioware Face' you describe is more accurately described as the 'Bethesda Face', given that Bioware is at least more recently putting some effort into making conversation scenes more varied in terms of camera, movement etc. Plus there was the whole 'we had an entire team study and reproduce the natural movement of eyes' thing.

Part of the problem here is that most games have bad writing. They have bloated, inefficient, flat dialogue. Characters say things in a drawn out, inelegant fashion that lacks any emotion or unique spice or energy. That's what Mass Effect is like to me; its just a bunch of horribly uninteresting bald space marines droning in monotone about very standard space politics and space ethics. There's always more text than necessary to explain things, and everything has this sort of nerdy feel to it where characters seem like they're going down an emotional trope checklist. It feels so stiff and careful; like the writers and voice actors are walking on eggshells hoping not to offend the delicate minds of people who leave Youtube comments saying everything is "teh ghay."

Star Control II probably has the best dialog in any game ever made. Its extremely efficient, it's overflowing with character, and above all its funny. It's shows that you don't even necessarily need animation to have compelling dialogue trees; its so well written that you become totally immersed in dialog trees where the only visual element is a blocky VGA character portrait with a 3 frame animation loop. I am so much more interested in captain Fwiffo telling his life story or the Zot Fot Pik arguing about frungy than any of the awful boring mannequin people in Mass Effect droning endlessly about how the generic proud warrior race aliens are at war with the plain jane regal aliens or whatever is going on in those games.

Well the other problem is people also want to hear all the dialogue "content." So if you make a branching dialogue tree inside a specific topic...well...now I have to go through that topic 4 times to hear all the different choices along the way. And nothing is more unnatural than repeating the same questions and answers over and over just to get to that last different line you get when you make the last choice in the tree.

I think JRPGs have had it right all along - don't give the person choices. Just have the PCs and NPCs say what you want them to say according to their personalities and you don't get this problem.

Half the problem is bad writing. A better dialogue mechanic might be welcome, but when the writing is good, like in Planescape Torment, the exposition vendor approach works well enough for me.

I wonder what it'd be like to have text input conversations like the old adventure games did. Granted they could get a bit screwy if the AI is bad and it would be a bit clunky if you had to use a keyboard. Maybe speech to text or something so you can actually "talk" to NPCs while you're playing. I think it'd be neat to have communication be important in even a singleplayer game.

The conversations were in fact one of my biggest issues with The Bureau. They were dull, but I don't feel like I can skip them either, but when they're making me ask for them too I kinda get frustrated. Do I want to hear more about your new stereo system? No, not really, but go ahead and tell me anyway.

I find games with this conversation wheel to be more tedious that those that just don't give a shit about my needs and just show me all the things I want or do not want to see. The difference is the absence of a thinly veiled illusion that what I want matters.

Evonisia:
I usually don't mind it, of course I haven't played the Bureau so maybe it's gotten worse than I remember they are.

Though, I liked the comment on the "Bioware face" thing, reminds me a hell of a lot of The Elder Scrolls too.

I think they also do that in the Fallout games. Person you talk to stands still and just stares at you while you're selecting your next question or answer from the menu.

Speaking of Bioware, they mix it up in KOTOR. For some NPC's, you can go through the Q's & A's in any order you wish, but in some quests, you can only pick one that will determine how a quest is completed. For The Old Republic, they'll only let you pick one question to ask, but depending on what you pick, you'll either gain or lose affection points with whatever companion you took with you at the time, and gain light or dark side points, which again, determines how you complete missions.

krazykidd:
Didn't Heavy rain do this? Have different button prompts to talk about different subjects during a conversation ? Sometimes you could talk or ask abour multiple things other times you could just ask one question?

Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy both did this, the conversation was more like a flow chart where selecting one option often moved the conversation forward and presented new options. This made the conversation have a strong sense of forward motion and a certain degree of unpredictability, as you often weren't sure which option was "the best" and even asking for exposition could drive the dialogue forward, making you decide which question or statement you felt was the most important or relevant.

I personally thought it worked pretty well as it kept the suspense up and felt fairly organic. I know others hated it though.

Sgt. Sykes:
One thing I find funny.

The same people who complain about 'dull eyes', 'BioWare faces', 'rigidness' etc, are the same people who complain about AAA games as being too expensive and overmade.

You know that you can't really have naturally-looking people having a conversation without insane animation budget?

That'd be the uncanny valley popping up to say hi. Having a ridiculous budget is one way to go about making characters real - the other way being them suggesting human traits, rather than imperfectly trying to model them.
In much the same way E.Y.E. Divinity got around not having the budget for decent voice actors by just having them speak some made-up language to avoid it sounding awkward.
Magicka pretty much accomplished the same effect by making up lots of silly swedish-sounding words.

I think the most organic-feeling system of dialogue I've seen (which I'm actually kind of surprised didn't come up here) is one where you're listening to the conversation, and you have to choose your dialogue (or non-dialogue action like "punch the guy you're talking to in the face" sometimes) before the person is done talking or else you'll default to keeping silent. Telltale's Walking Dead game did this, as did Alpha Protocol. In fact, Alpha Protocol did it ingeniously, except for the part where unless I'm not remembering correctly you couldn't interrupt people upon selecting your dialogue stance. Just imagine being able to hear the crazy power-mad military officer/government official ranting about how they're the best leader ever and deserve all the power or whatever and being able to stop them mid-sentence with a good ol' "ARE YOU NUTS!?"

This also wouldn't be too heard to voice-act, I think. Have the VA record what happens if the PC keeps silent for the entire thing, then whenever the PC chooses to interrupt, insert a separate soundbite of them stammering (or attempting to shout the same dialogue over the PC), then the conversation veers onto a new track based on what the PC said. Admittedly, this might be much harder than I'm giving credit for (it would probably be difficult to effectively blend the moment the PC starts talking into the default version), but I think it could work.

Kaigen:
The comparison to Thomas Was Alone Yahtzee raises is apt--TWA doesn't even come close to trying to represent its characters as human beings, so it doesn't have to worry about the uncanny valley, and can create an emotional connection without all that fancy animation.

Kargathia:
Having a ridiculous budget is one way to go about making characters real - the other way being them suggesting human traits, rather than imperfectly trying to model them.

I understand that, however not every game can be about digital boxes or inhuman characters with made-up languages.

Some games simply call for depiction of interactions between humans, and some games call for a realistic approach and graphics (i.e. not Team Forterss-like, but GTA4-like).

I really don't want my Mass Effects and Tomb Raiders be replaced with some mockups just because their animations are not so perfect.

Plus honestly I don't see what everyone has with TWA... I could never see it as more as a jumping box in a platformer.

Sure, uncanny valley is a problem (LA Noire really creeped me out immensely), but the thing about it is that it's a VALLEY. I.e. it will be overcome in time as technology progresses. But we have to get there somehow.

Just like we had to live through a period of grey/brown/black 'realism' to get to nicer-looking games of today which actually use some color, so we need to live through today's period of uncanny valley to get to better-behaving animated characters.

Anyway, on topic - we won't get naturally-feeling dialog unless we get an AI which will be able to create dialog on the fly. Which will also be a process.

Games are not books or films or TV shows, dialog serves a far different purpose in games so of course its going to be unnatural and trunchated to some extent. Live with it; if you want realistic conversations then you wont have dialog trees, pretty much end of story.

Sgt. Sykes:
One thing I find funny.

The same people who complain about 'dull eyes', 'BioWare faces', 'rigidness' etc, are the same people who complain about AAA games as being too expensive and overmade.

You know that you can't really have naturally-looking people having a conversation without insane animation budget?

Ding ding ding!

This one's on the money.

Do you want branching dialogue paths, good animation with great voice acting?

Enjoy requiring a massive budget. Voice actors - especially the great ones - do NOT come cheap.

I'd be happier with the Fallout version of conversations where the "key characters" were voiced and everyone else could have pop-up text. Keeps costs relatively low while still delivering on the more intense moments.

Abomination:

Sgt. Sykes:
One thing I find funny.

The same people who complain about 'dull eyes', 'BioWare faces', 'rigidness' etc, are the same people who complain about AAA games as being too expensive and overmade.

You know that you can't really have naturally-looking people having a conversation without insane animation budget?

Ding ding ding!

This one's on the money.

Do you want branching dialogue paths, good animation with great voice acting?

Enjoy requiring a massive budget. Voice actors - especially the great ones - do NOT come cheap.

I'd be happier with the Fallout version of conversations where the "key characters" were voiced and everyone else could have pop-up text. Keeps costs relatively low while still delivering on the more intense moments.

Or just give everyone text to keep things consistent. I don't get why subtitles are considered so inferior to voice acting. I've never once thought that the Zelda games failed to tell an emotional or engaging story due to a having subtitles. Quite the contrary they draw me in far more than most modern games, even those with enormous budgets.

The english voice acting in Metro Last Light is so bad it's better just to switch it to Russian with English subtitles.

Two games I believed that did a dialog-system right would be "Wizardry 8" and "Shadowrun" on the SNES.

In both games you had a list of words that you can ask to NPCs, who would report a response of some kind to the word. In most cases they would say something like "I don't understand what your saying," but in other cases they would give you the information you need when asked about a word. It's basically a variation on the whole inventory system in Adventure games: Your just rubbing words against NPCs until they give you any sense of progress.

Granted, this does have problems. One is that it still has the issue Yahtzee brought up with "Dark" where you still have the player saying, "Tell me more about X". However with these games is you select a word in a list -- almost like you select a spell in a "Final Fantasy" game -- and the conversation moves on from there. In the dialog tree you have here you have to first greet the NPC, say you have some questions, and then only pick three or five questions. Here you get straight to the questions.

Exposition dumps like these are annoying, but then I also think that the dialog system is broken because what the player will say is unpredictable. I did enjoy the story and dialog system in TellTale's "The Walking Dead", but I think what made that work is that it was two or more NPCs talking together than just a one-on-one conversation like in most RPGs. Because it is 2+ NPCs talking, the conversation is more predictable to the game developers and voice actors so they can adjust the tone and even animations to fit the mood. It's also kind of like the dialog between NPCs in "Half-Life 2" on how organic that felt, as the voice actors knew how to respond because it was all rehearsed and they didn't have to worry about whether the player as Gordon Freeman is going be sticking his gun in Alyx Vance's fathers face. Because chances are they might just do that anyways.

Sgt. Sykes:
One thing I find funny.

The same people who complain about 'dull eyes', 'BioWare faces', 'rigidness' etc, are the same people who complain about AAA games as being too expensive and overmade.

Ah, but how about that?

In one case, you're blowing your budget just to have overdone awesome graphics, with little gameplay effect.

In the other case, you're blowing your budget so you can solve a design problem and try to develop technologies to actually improve dialogue-related gameplay, which isn't necessarily the same as just making pretty visuals. This is what a game company is supposed to blow their money on, and I would applaud any who chose to do so.

So while I do not necessarily think realistic gestures are the way to go, the two views are not as conflicting as they may seem. I like to think of those complainers as people trying to nudge game companies in the right direction.

OlasDAlmighty:
Or just give everyone text to keep things consistent. I don't get why subtitles are considered so inferior to voice acting. I've never once thought that the Zelda games failed to tell an emotional or engaging story due to a having subtitles. Quite the contrary they draw me in far more than most modern games, even those with enormous budgets.

The english voice acting in Metro Last Light is so bad it's better just to switch it to Russian with English subtitles.

Sorry to say, but I can't really say Zelda and "engaging story" are well situated in the same camp. It's essentially the same story being told again and again with slight differences. A lot of the dialogue is just mechanics explanation as well.

Imagine Mass Effect without voice acting, or Baldur's Gate without voice acting, or Far Cry III without voice acting, or The Witcher without voice acting, or Bastion without voice acting, or Vampire without voice acting, or The Walking Dead without voice acting, L.A. Noir without voice acting...

Voice acting is an amazing feature to have. Many games are made just so much richer with its inclusion. The thing is not everything needs to be voice acted and some games get far too ambitous with it.

Fallout 3 & New Vegas was great for having the voice acting but I imagine they could have had so much more content without it being used for every single person you encounter.

Abomination:

OlasDAlmighty:
Or just give everyone text to keep things consistent. I don't get why subtitles are considered so inferior to voice acting. I've never once thought that the Zelda games failed to tell an emotional or engaging story due to a having subtitles. Quite the contrary they draw me in far more than most modern games, even those with enormous budgets.

The english voice acting in Metro Last Light is so bad it's better just to switch it to Russian with English subtitles.

Sorry to say, but I can't really say Zelda and "engaging story" are well situated in the same camp. It's essentially the same story being told again and again with slight differences. A lot of the dialogue is just mechanics explanation as well.

What? Like seriously? I guess most of the games do follow a somewhat similar basic story arc, though so do most adventure games and adventure stories in general, so essentially you're criticizing the mono-myth.

And I wasn't really talking about the overall plot being great or original so much as that the plot is TOLD well through the games' dialogue. Some of my favorite videogame characters come from that series.

Abomination:
However
Imagine Mass Effect without voice acting, or Baldur's Gate without voice acting, or Far Cry III without voice acting, or The Witcher without voice acting, or Bastion without voice acting, or Vampire without voice acting, or The Walking Dead without voice acting, L.A. Noir without voice acting...

The only game I've played on that list is Mass Effect, and I think it would be fine without voice-acting, not necessarily improved but not significantly hurt either. And again those are games that had generally good voice acting to begin with. I'm not saying that subtitles are always better, just that they're better than terrible voice acting.

Abomination:

Fallout 3 & New Vegas was great for having the voice acting but I imagine they could have had so much more content without it being used for every single person you encounter.

Ya, sorry, but outside of 3Dog and maybe Liam Neeson, the voice acting in Fallout 3 was pretty terrible. In fact I think it dragged down an otherwise decent game considerably. This isn't helped by the fact that they reused voices constantly for many different characters. I'd say Fallout 3 is a prime example of when voice acting should have been left out.

if you want a crash course in dialgue and facial expressions done right, play Vampire: the Masquerades.

"During each dialogue section in between the branch points the speaker might mention a tangental topic, with some kind of icon and button prompt appearing to indicate it, and if the player selects it, then at the next logical switch point, their character says something that diverts the conversation onto that topic."

Mass Effect (2 and 3) kinda did this in a half-arsed way with the Paragon/Renegade options flashing during conversations - i.e. you could interrupt conversations and lead them down a different "switch point" when prompted. Only implemented in a limited way of course, but it's the same concept you're alluding to here I think.

 Pages 1 2 NEXT

Reply to Thread

Your account does not have posting rights. If you feel this is in error, please contact an administrator. (ID# 54106)