I hate when I make a mistake that doesn’t get corrected until the next episode, because it means that once the episode is released I’ll have 24 hours of people informing me of an error I’ve already dealt with. So in an attempt to head that off: Max von Sydow is very much not Hungarian. I’ll talk more about him next episode, so I’ll leave the rest of my correction until then.
There are a lot of things wrong with how the game handles exposition and cutscenes, but right now I want to talk about two high-level problems.
1. The camera-grab-and-zoom approach to dialog does not work. Rather than enhancing immersion, it ruins it. It makes the models look worse, undercuts the voice performance, and frustrates and confuses the player when the grab is done at a bad moment. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that…
2. The designers abuse the camera-grab like crazy, using it for incidental characters and regularly creating these traffic jams of people waiting in line to camera-grab the player in succession.
The first thing – and I mean the very first thing before anyone does any more scripting or writes another line of Elder Scrolls dialog – is to KILL this camera-grab mechanic. BioWare already figured out how this works: When the player is close, the NPC says something like, “Do you have a minute?” and the player can initiate conversation when they’re good and ready. And if they don’t bother? Then they didn’t want to have the conversation anyway. Having an inattentive player accidentally miss some content is a trivial problem when compared to the crime of camera-grabbing EVERYONE, ALWAYS, so every piss-ant peasant can interrupt the player with random quest hooks.
Yes, there are a few small situations where you still need to pull the player into dialog. It would be pretty silly if Sovereign had showed up and just waited demurely for Commander Shepard to begin the conversation. But those moments are very few and far between and should only be initiated by important characters with important plot details and the quest writer should have to fight the lead designer for every one of them.
The other problem is that camera-grab dialog is very one-way: NPC to player. It doesn’t allow three people to have a conversation and it’s clear that Bethesda has basically given up on allowing the player to interact with the world through dialog. Since the player can’t contribute, there’s no reason to hold them hostage. Let them run around, loot the room, jump on the furniture, or whatever else. They will hear the dialog but not focus their attention on the dull body animations and complete lack of facial expression, which will be a net gain.
The conversation in Delphine’s basement is a good example of how it should work: The NPCs jabber exposition and they don’t interfere with the player until there’s a decision for the player to make. All Bethesda needs to do is take this approach and apply it to single-NPC conversations as well.
This won’t come close to fixing all of the dialog problems with this game, but it would be a massive step in the right direction.
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