The Dangers of Dialogue

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

For its time the animations were good... very dated now.

The voice acting and dialogue trees were brilliant though.

Seems like an interesting way to make dialog more engaging, but there is the problem that the track/topic minigame, might get distracting, ending up with you missing something.

For example, a character is saying something important, but you have the choice to change topic. You would have to read what the topic change is, decide if its worth changing, all while trying to listen to what the NPC is saying.

It's a nice system, but I'm not 100% sure it would work in practice. Unless there was a nice delay between the end of a topic and the actual track change decision. Besides I'm comfortable with the current systems like your Mass Effects and your Skyrims, I don't like the feeling I'm being rushed when I'm just wandering around chatting with people.

A dialog tree is still a dialog tree, even if it's called a track. If I want a conversation, I'll have a conversation.
If I'm playing a game, I want the NPCs to be walking lore, info and random shit dispensaries.

DVS BSTrD:
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.

I was gonna say, I liked the Alpha Protocal method of forcing you to choose and moving on, but I understand that AP was a strictly linear, scripted out dialogue.
What I'd want in a game with a story structure like most bioware games is for it to be like alpha protocal, only you que up topics to bring up instead of picking one and then waiting for the dude to shut up. Like, you can pick topics to focus on and inquire about as you go and can change their priority/how much you focus on them, drop one when you're done talking about it and so forth

"Bioware Face" would easily by my 'phrase of the month' were it not already in my vocabulary. It's one of the many reasons I give people when they ask* me why I don't like Bioware games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age.

* And by ask, I mean insult me for not liking the games they like. Even though I add that they're still GOOD games regardless.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I like the idea of a branching, train-track-like dialog tree that has a fluid, procedural progression. Changing the topic during the conversation would require an astute ear and a quick finger. In essence, requiring the player to actually listen to the conversation.

Though, I feel as though crafting such dialog progressions would require far greater writing skills than many game writers have.

However, besides the issues Mr. Croshaw brought up, there's also the potential for such a dialog system to turn into a poorly implemented quick-time-event.

But, I suppose any good or brilliant design scheme can be used improperly.

I think by Mass Effect 2 and 3 I was enjoying the conversation dialogues a lot more. Sometimes folk would still go, but then I'd just skip ahead. I think it helped at the very least that by that point I actually cared about the main characters of the bunch. Obviously dialogue with some secondary characters I'd just be like okay sure keep going hurry up. Unless of course they were really mean, and that got my attention in a different way. "Sabotage the genophage cure? Ma'am, you're off the rails here."

Still, kinda wish there had been more with the 'Interrupt' options. They started throwing them into 'casual' conversations here and there, but it was still limited.

Isnt the railroad method the same as it is used currently in those games? its just that at the end of the line instead of going to a stop you return in circle to the switch point and can go again to the next patch.
The spontaneus "i choose myself sometimes" based on your stats such as reputation ect would be a hefty idea. i like that and hope to see a game with this.
Though the whole umms and amms dont amuse me, emotion is good and well when its not overused. humans overall overuse it.

This is why for the most part I prefer linear games and linear stories with large levels. there are just so many variables in open world games that it can sometimes feel like the experience doesn't have those hand crafted human experience and expressions.

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?

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.

I personally think your budget comment is pretty much the hub of the issue. Adding much of this content is exhausting and expensive when companies push it to the extreme to try to create natural looking people. I'm honestly not sure a company spending this much money on this semi-interactive content and forgoing more in depth player-centric game play is healthy for a franchise.

And the reason I say this is look how much some of the newer games where they tried to make the graphics as realistic as possible cost. As much as a full fledged Hollywood movie. Seems a massive waste of time and resources when we know what the actual outcome of making animated people look as close but not exactly like real live people. We get the Uncanny Valley that most people find they are less able to identify with than incredible stylized parodies of people. If that is the case, I say why bother. If you want hyper-realistic looking people in dialogue and cut scenes why not just go back to the games of the 1990s and just use actual real live actors and just do some quick post production to make them seem a bit more "digitized"? Thereby leaving the decent but not over the top graphics for the player to enjoy on the character they are actually PLAYING. And while we're on the subject, giving the developers more time to actually create more game for the customer to play, not sit on their duff and watch while punching a single button once in a while.

Why try to reinvent the wheel when you know the eventual outcome is one with squarish corners that will never ride as comfortably as the already existing round ones? With the added insults that your substandard wheels cost way more and take much longer to produce. Both issues that get foisted off on the customer, and make your company run continually in the red, no matter how good your unit sales are.

Under A Killing Moon, Daggerfall, Wing Commander 3, Profiteer 2, Command and Conquer Red Alert, etc. Never did I feel my immersion questioned when playing those types of games. But as companies have moved to bigger better more realistic animated figures in conversations cut scenes, especially Bioware and Bethesda, I feel myself more and more alienated by the very game components that are supposed to suck me in and make me feel an active part of the game world.

It just seems a no win situation for everyone involved. Especially so when there is a far cheaper and already tested alternative.

Being a damn completist, I've come to hate dialogue trees, something which is especially awkward to me since I am - or at least used to be - a big fan of adventure and RPG games. I loved Mass Effect for example, but what have always stuck the most for me was the Citadel part (which is very well the first few hours in the game) being basically just a huge collection of dialogue trees I had to plow through before I could get to the interesting bits. Nowadays I see dialogue trees mostly as incredibly dull "find-that-important-bit-of-exposition" mini games which do little more than interrupt the gameplay. If I play a point-and-click adventure, my enjoyment is usually inversely proportional to the number of new NPCs that have appeared in my vincinity. Oh, and if the game doesn't support subtitles with the option to quickly skip to the next bit of dialogue odds are pretty good it will either get uninstalled very soon or I will only play it with a book in my lap.

I like Yahtzee's idea of "conversation stirring", but I think it's really really impractical for mass usage. Personally I prefer a solution which simply minimizes the need for expository dialogue trees altogether; dialogue should be used for characterization, that's it. If a one-off character feels the need to provide me with 15 minutes of exposition, let him give me a pamphlet which I could later read when I feel like it, preferably during a loading screen. Or if you insist on forcing me to stare at a character yapping along - at least give me a thumb-twiddling mini game to amuse me.

Psychobabble:
Seems a massive waste of time and resources when we know what the actual outcome of making animated people look as close but not exactly like real live people. We get the Uncanny Valley that most people find they are less able to identify with than incredible stylized parodies of people. If that is the case, I say why bother.

I say it's worth a bother for two reasons:

1) Some people (like me) DO like realistic-ish graphics as we have them today. I live somewhere where I can't easily just visit tropical islands and jungles so I love when I can visit them in Crysis and Tomb Raider in the graphics these games allow instead of some cell-shaded bullshit. And while I know that your comment was only about characters animation, it goes together: most games of today simply need animated characters. Even if imperfect.

2) Progress. While uncanny valley of course exists, it is just a valley and it will be overcome in time. But we have to get there somehow. We can't just jump from not-yet-uncanny animations directly to not-uncanny-anymore. Either we freeze progress in 2000 graphics forever, or we try to accomplish something better even though there will be failures on the way.

What about combining systems? Imagine a system with the complexity of typing out the general topics you want to talk about, and then the simplicity of receiving a list or wheel or whatever to decide what you want to talk about inside that topic. It doesn't really solve bioware face, but it does add a way more open-ended dialogue system. I'll elaborate once I'm off work, I'm on my phone etc

I think the best ways to do interactive conversations is to focus on the reactions, not the content. Dragon Age was a great example of this - most of the time they gave you like six different ways to respond, but there weren't actually six different dialog paths. It was just the tone - one was a sort of noncommital, friendly thing, one would make character A approve of you, one was more offensive and would piss off character B, and so on.

Alpha Protocol did it even better with working into the flow of conversation, even though it wasn't always clear what you were going to say.

Santa216:

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.

Yeah but then you get L.A. Noire where they blew ALL the money on improving the dialogue-related gameplay to the detriment of the rest of the game.

This article got me thinking. It'd be great if Yahtzee had a list of unquestionable Do's and Don'ts for game development. Almost like... a book... about... game design. Huh.

I think 'Bioware face' is kind of a misnomer these days. You can say a lot about Dragon Age 2, but the dialogue sections all featured people behaving and moving around like they were in a real conversation (mostly in the main conversations, in side quests this was a little less of a feature). Even the expression of your character changed depending on which answer you chose. Characters sitting down, making appropriate gestures etcetera.

Yeah, 'cos that's really organic conversation, when one of the conversationalists dogmatically keeps his focus on one topic... But in all, this is not a bad idea and it reminds me a lot of 'The Walking Dead', in which conversation is the most important part of the actual gameplay. Moreover this system would have the added opportunity of having conversations with more than two characters, something you don't see in video games a lot (again, see The Walking Dead for an excellent example).
Also, an honourable mention goes out to Piranha Bytes games, because while the gameplay is mediocre and the visuals are 'OK' at best, they are still some of my favourite games, because they excel at story, especially at good dialogue. There was this one time, when I was playing 'Risen', that I noticed one of the characters had a stutter. It wasn't explained, he didn't talk about it and it wasn't there for any other reason than to make the character feel real. It's details like that that can do wonders for making your dialogue seem human.
And finally, check your national laws and precedents to see if fuckgoats are illegal in your country. If not, write to your politicians and get it sorted. It's really easy to do, considering the minute amount of opposition.

This really is precisely why in Fallout or Skyrim, my most used option was "skip dialogue." Sure I might have missed out on a really deep side quest story, but how it's delivered, I couldn't bring myself to care about these people or how their daughter got kidnapped.

Quijiboh:
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.

Yeah. I can remember some pretty stiff conversations in earlier Bioware games, but I think their latest installments have come off as an improvement.

Now Oblivion, I loved ya, but the dark soullessness of that conversation mini-game reflected in the eyes of everyone you talked to.
image

Something I would love to see, especially in regards to lore and history.

PC: Tell me more about x
NPC: Didn't you go to school? Here read this if you want to know more about x?

[and now there is a section on x in your journal]

And if I've already followed a particular branch of conversation.
PC: Tell me more about y
NPC: Piss off we've already talked about y

Basically I think the system we have can work we just need better writing. And for gods sake give me fracking stage directions so I know if what I'm about to say is snarky or straight-faced!

Here's what I've got in mind: Do the Bioware format, and whenever a character is about to uncharacteristically spout exposition, pause time and have text appear in the corner of the screen, explaining things to you. You'll have an abstract dialogue tree tree in this abstract information booth, and always have an "Ok, I think I understand" button as an option. When you're done, time resumes and the player is brought up to speed on what the characters already know. It might even be better if you didn't voice the exposition. That way it feels more like a direct conversation between the player and the game, with none of the characters being involved. I think this fix would be quite easy to do, just copy-pase your exposition dialogue to the narrator box. I think my idea is far more compromising, and therefore realistic, than that of Mr.Yahtzee.
(No offense intended, Mr. Yahtzee, but I do think I'm smarter than you.)

Compared to earlier games, I am glad the gaming industry continues to improve in many areas. As graphical quality gets better we get more close up opportunities and that is where I think we hit uncanny valley. That problem can be dodged some by using the stylized approach and it tends to work pretty well.

I know it will not be much longer where graphic quality will get to the point that we can finally get past uncanny valley. Until then, I agree, even with stylized approach we need to keep the animation on par so to continue to deliver convincing characters and enhance stories.

I think back to Tex Avery stylized animation, the more it steeped away from realistic looking people the more animated they became to give them character.

Borderlands 2 for example feels dry and in contrast to their stylized look, I think with more animations that bring out the characters more would certainly help. A nice example is how Claptrap has far more animations vs the rest of the characters : )

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

Yes. That is an amazing idea.

I thought about this a lot, and I believe that we're essentially still stuck at text boxes; everything else still reeks faintly of gimmickry. A good answer to this problem, I think, would be to weaken the link between dialogue and characters. A simple example would be an RPG where dialogue with an NPC consists of selecting one of that NPC's qualities, and getting a response specific to that quality and heedless of which NPC harbors it. I feel that this would be more naturalistic, while opening the door to superior dialogue simulation methods down the road.

Stiff characters are nothing when stiff voice acting and stiff writing are the worst culprits, I don't need everything to be a goddamn exposition nor a pointless dribble fed conversation.

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?

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.

A lot of the problem is that textures and models have become much more detailed while good face and body animation is still pretty hard to come by. Stiff facial animations are a much smaller problem in KotOR than they are in Mass Effect because Mass Effect was graphically-intensive enough that the list of maybe 7 animations sticks out more. If we made games more in line with the last console generation's graphical power, they'd be both cheaper AND stay further away from the uncanny valley.

This topic is quite closely related to the argument about dialogue in visual mediums (namely video games, movies and tv) in general; namely that you always have to show and not tell. It's true that the strongest way to bring across the impact and importance of events in a story is to show them happening. However, if this was a requirement, then just about every tv show, movie and game with a plot would be riddled with flashbacks as anytime one character tried to relate to another something that had occurred, the audience had to be shown the event as it happened.

Dialogue may seem very dry and dull, but only if a) it's done poorly, with little emotion behind it and no apparent interest from the characters or b) the audience/players don't give a damn about the story. There's no doubt that A occurs in games with dialogue in them; I'm wondering, though, how often B's the case. When we look back at older movies, the ones that are by-and-large considered superior to modern ones, a lot of them are dialogue heavy. I don't find it hard to imagine a lot of the gaming community trying to watch films like "Casablanca", "12 Angry Men", the original "Ransom" and "The Sting" and having trouble because they have to pay close attention to the dialogue to understand what's going on, what the characters are going through and what they've been through. I wonder if maybe it's a mark of society and how much we've allowed instant gratification to seep into our mentality that we're not interested in entertainment that requires us to pay attention and think as opposed to just sitting by and getting information blasted at us. It's not enough that a character whose a shell-shocked soldier tells us he's one of the few survivors of a battle where 2,000 troops went in and only 50 came back alive, that the bombs fell so hard it felt like the earth was getting torn in half...no, we've got to SEE it happening because our puddle-shallow imaginations can't conjure up the mental images required for us to realize "it was really fucking scary."

In conclusion, yes, dialogue needs to sound natural and convey some emotion in order to be engaging. But at the same time, players might also want to try and appreciate subtlety and give the words coming out of character's mouths some attention. You know, as opposed to hitting the skip button as fast as possible because something isn't exploding or getting decapitated on screen.

I can think of more problems with it. Maybe the problem of dull exposition checklists is an insurmountable one.
Read more at http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/extra-punctuation/10584-The-Dangers-of-Dialogue.2#7yrvw1sulXAkXjPO.99

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Your ideas at least improve the situation.

Another idea that seems to have been well-received was what was done in The Walking Dead--only giving you a short amount of time to respond. The urgency keeps you engaged--but, then again, so does the rather linear dialog. I don't know how well it would translate to games where you can initiate conversations yourself.

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?

Except Yahtzee is naming a specific company. That heavily implies that every other company is doing a good enough job. Hence it is not all that hard to pull off.

What we're talking about is something that would basically have to be designed once, given variations, and then pasted into everything. It's not all that complicated.

Oh, and current game prices have very little to do with production costs. This is not only true for games, but pretty much anything that doesn't have something driving the price down to the lowest possible amount. Even piracy has a bigger impact.

Also, here's another tip: don't have people stare directly into the camera. It never looks right, even with real people. Fixing that alone will work wonders. I know I've never had a problem in any third person game.

Just throwing this out there, but Return to Zork had a fairly unique facial expression system instead of dialog of any sort from the player character. http://youtu.be/EB-UEJjf7oA?t=5m46s

And what it really does is change the conversation flow in real time. You can still ask people about certain items, but your facial "mods" for lack of a better term can make people clam up or ease them into telling you more than their standard spiel if you'd done nothing. I don't recall how repeatable things are, but it's a pretty complex and innovative system that's purely focused on the flow of the conversation.

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