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Friday, March 17, 2006

Simple Reactionary Dialogue Control

Hey- I've got a really cool idea- want to hear it?

What sort of idea is this?

Not really, no. Go away now.

I'll tell you anyway.

Well, OK, as long as it's really short.

See, I've come up with a system for controlling dialogue in videogames.

Sorry, but I'm just not interested.

Hey, I just remembered this very very important meeting. I don't want to be late, so I'll just have to, um, go. Bye!

A meeting.

What- you've never had to go to a meeting?

Okay, you win. I'll leave you alone now.

Oh yes.

I don't buy it.

Oh well, I tried.

Yeah. In fact, this meeting is so important that I'd lose my job if I didn't get there, like, right now.

Overshot a little there, don't you think?

Okay, you caught me. What's this idea of yours?




Maybe a little, yeah.

Seriously, can I tell you my idea?

Sure. What did you say this was about?

It's a way to control dialogue in games.

What's wrong with dialogue trees?

Okay, I'm listening.

Go on...

See, I've mentioned in the past that it's a good idea to separate the player from the character in story-centered games.

Fine, fine.

Well, you'll probably tell me no matter what I say.


Fine, go ahead.

As I was saying, I've come up with a way to control dialogue. The current techniques, like dialogue trees, don't work too well, so I've come up with this to replace them.

Sounds ambitious. How would it work?

Well, I've mentioned in the past that it's a good idea to separate the player from the character in story-centered games.

Well, I don't really see the problem with dialogue trees, but go on.

I've mentioned in the past that it's a good idea to separate the player from the character in story-centered games.

I don't know- I've never had a problem with dialogue trees.

Well, in a dialogue tree the player decides exactly what the character should say, so the character ends up feeling like nothing more than an empty shell (as opposed to a person). I've gone over why things like that are a bad idea in the past.

So how else could it work?


I'm still not convinced there's anything wrong with dialogue trees. They can be very creative-

Sure, sure. But having the player carefully plan out exactly what the player character is going to say means that he can't possibly be an interesting character. He can't lose his temper, he can't be socially awkward, he can't make mistakes, he can't be forgetful, he can't-

Okay, I see your point.
So what I'd like to do is give the player less control over the dialogue, so that it should still interest and maybe surprise him, but give him enough control that he can, in fact, change the course of the discussion.

How would that work?

That's pretty vague.

Okay, I'll be more specific.

What- you mean, less control than you get nowadays with stuff like dialogue trees. Right.

Instead of being given a list of possible sentences (which, I might add, feels nothing like a real conversation), the player should be given only three buttons. One with a question mark, the second with an exclamation mark, and the third with three dots.


Okay, that's a bit... strange.

It's sort of an iconic representation of the most basic options for reacting to what's been said: asking a question, making a statement, and thinking about it.

And that's supposed to "feel like a real conversation", is it?

Sort of. When you're having a conversation, you never stop to consider all the possible things you might say- you just get swept along in the flow of the conversation. You generally don't plan out tactics. But you do generally know whether you're about to ask a question, or make a statement, or think a bit. Also whether you're going to agree or disagree.

But still, how will the player know what his character is going to say?

Well, he won't, really. All he's really picking is the tone of what the character's going to say. And that's half the essence of a conversation, I think. What the character actually says should be up to the character as much as it is up to the player.
Anyway, it'

I think I see what you're saying. Sounds interesting.



Uh... right. But it'

Now hold on a minute- how would the player know whether the character's going to agree or disagree? You didn't say anything about-

Oh, you're right, I'm getting ahead of myself. It i
s a little more complicated than just the three buttons. See, there would also be colors for each of them, either red or blue. The player wouldn't be able to control that- it just tells the player more about what the character feels like saying next. Sort of a heads-up, but not so descriptive that it ruins the conversation.

Uh huh. Why don't you go do it, then?


Why don't you make this imaginary system of yours?

It's a good idea. You should do it.

Well, I'd need to test it first. I mean, I don't know how well it would work. And I know everyone says you shouldn't do branching paths, so I don't even know if it's practical to set something like this up.
Anyway, I didn't finish telling you about the color system yet. B

Never mind. You were saying something about the colors?

Yeah. B

So what do the colors describe, exactly?


Um, red and blue?

asically, red means the PC will disagree and blue means he'll agree. Like, a red question mark is usually a challenge and a blue question mark is usually an inquiry. That's the word, right?- “inquiry”? Yeah, I think so.

Whatever. So this is like, for adventures, right?

Yeah. Or RPGs. It'd work well in RPGs.

Can I go now?

There's just one thing I don't understand. If you're taking so much control away from the player, then why don't you just take away all control? Why bother making it a game at all?

Well, first of all, it may sound like a cliché, but the connection between the player and the character is really important. Listening to someone else having a conversation is nothing like participating in one.
Secondly, interactivity gives a lot of depth. Really. I mean, with a linear conversation, it feels like every sentence is necessary, you know, it's rigid.

Well, it's a good idea. Best of luck with it.

Alright, I get it. Can I go now?

Well, that was, um... interesting. Bye.



I understand now. This is what I have to offer.

That was fun.


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