Experienced Points: A little Less (Dumb) Conversation

By Shamus Posted Friday Feb 24, 2012

Filed under: Column 147 comments

Skyrim, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Mass Effect 2 each have their own ideas about how interactive dialog scenes should work. So do I, which I discuss in this week’s column.


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147 thoughts on “Experienced Points: A little Less (Dumb) Conversation

  1. Eric says:

    Good article Shamus, enjoyed the read. My own thoughts:

    “It shouldn’t be possible to accidentally say something.”

    That this still happens completely boggles my mind. It’s insane. The funny thing is, I think this is intended as a feature. It’s implemented as a “fast path” so that players can mash the A button/1 key to skip through dialogue as fast as possible if they just don’t care about it, but of course that has the side-effect of completely screwing you over if you’re just trying to get past the boring stuff. I think this is a bigger problem on the PC because porting dialogue wheels to mice = dumb, when you have number keys and list menus that get the job done much better.

    “It should always be clear what I’m about to say.”

    This is done because BioWare railroad just about everything in their games. They try to offer the illusion of choice but, rather than write unique dialogue in response to each line, or *gasp* come up with new gameplay scenarios, quests, or plot points, they want you to experience the same thing no matter what you do. Sometimes they do a bad job of making the railroading seem natural – my guess is time constraints or simple oversights. Unfortunately it also highlights how completely uninteractive their games really are from a narrative standpoint.

    “I should be able to leave the conversation whenever I want.”

    A good idea in theory, but unfortunately this can actually be very difficult to handle in gameplay. It’s great for standard NPCs (and it’s why a “goodbye” option should be standard with each dialogue selection), but imagine a climactic encounter where you need to talk to a character to get an exposition dump, maybe before a boss fight. Scripting additional handling for the player walking away is pretty difficult, but having them just jump into a boss fight immediately can also be jarring and produce plot inconsistencies. So yeah, this is mostly a “when convenient” thing.

    “Attack” should never, ever mean “more talking”.

    Totally agreed. I’ve been developing a Dragon Age mod for a while now and I actually completely abandoned even the standard dialogue reply after you say “die, scum!” because I felt it slowed down things too much. If you’re going to fight, well, fight! You aren’t going to sit around and let the bad guy run away while you taunt them, and forcing the player to do that makes him/her feel like a moron. If you really, really need to move the bad guy to a new location, have him/her teleport or run away really quickly at the start of the fight.

    “I should be able to access the codex / quest log during conversation.”

    That’s actually a really awesome feature. I can’t think of any games off-hand that do this, but being able to have quest updates during conversations and then the ability to pause and read them would be a great touch. I know 90% of players don’t use the journal 90% of the time, but it’s a good idea because when you need it, you really do need it. It’s like the map/minimap – even if you barely use it, you’ll still appreciate it when you do need it, and if the game doesn’t have one, it can be more than frustrating (RAGE really bugged me because I couldn’t see the full map and thus had to fumble around blindly trying to return to locations I didn’t have a quest associated with).

    I’m generally not a fan of the way codex entries are handled most of the time (why does looking at a statue or having a conversation give me an excerpt from a book?) but otherwise I think that’s solid for lore information too, especially when you have very dense lore. That, or optional inquiry paths with the NPC as soon as possible to explain what’s going on and why.

    There are two conversation systems I’m a fan of: the Ultima style topics/keywords, and more in-depth conversations that feel like, you know, conversations.

    The former works because, without voice acting for the protagonist, you can abstract the tone of the inquiry and don’t need to worry about every single piece of conversation fitting in perfectly. You can also imply stuff like the player giving an NPC an info dump without actually having him/her say it, which is a bigger deal than is obvious – you don’t want to bore the player restating stuff he/she already witnessed or even performed first-hand.

    The latter I’d like to see a lot more of in games with full voice acting. Most RPGs adopt the standard dialogue tree style with menus of choices because it’s easy to handle from a development standpoint. However, this becomes very hard to manage when trying to reconcile expanding and evolving conversations with such a structure. Planescape: Torment and its 20-option dialogues are a pretty good indicator that there is such a thing as too much complexity in dialogue. I much, much prefer the Deus Ex: Human Revolution conversations, or Alpha Protocol’s, where things move forward regardless of what you say, but the topic can change and different information can be revealed based on how you move things. This is natural and realistic, and goes a long way to making exchanges feel human. It’s nice to see NPC reactions change over time or even take charge of a conversation by cutting it short or trying to turn things around on you, as well.

    As an aside, I’m really tired of “I win” skill checks. Too many games use the speech check/skill check/whatever as a guaranteed avoid combat/get best outcome button, and that is getting old fast. I’d much rather have nested dialogue checks with different skills involved (i.e. persuasion check to start conversation, lore check to get the NPC talking about a topic, dexterity check to perform a quick kill while they’re distracted), and as far as I know the only game that has done anything like this recently is Age of Decadence (which isn’t out yet). If you want to be a proper diplomat I think it makes sense to also require the ability to intimidate, or think intelligently, or use deception, or stealth, etc. to get ahead; most RPGs just map the same outcome to different skill checks. I’m tired of RPGs where 90% of the effort is put into battles and the non-combat options are reduced to what is effectively a “skip gameplay” button.

    1. Naota says:

      I would absolutely love to play a game where speechcraft was actually a craft picked up by the player in some sense as opposed to a binary skill check, and had a larger share of the gameplay. It only makes sense when so many RPG’s are focused so heavily on dialogue to deliver exposition and move the plot forward.

      “They try to offer the illusion of choice but, rather than write unique dialogue in response to each line, or *gasp* come up with new gameplay scenarios, quests, or plot points, they want you to experience the same thing no matter what you do.”

      “I'm generally not a fan of the way codex entries are handled most of the time (why does looking at a statue or having a conversation give me an excerpt from a book?) …”

      Stop reading my mind! It’s unnerving!

      Seriously though, I am increasingly bothered by being so aggressively railroaded in RPG’s that claim to have such a focus on player choice but ultimately render the vast majority of them either inconsequential to the story or completely meaningless. I would much rather have far fewer choices with much greater impact than thousands of choices without weight, offering the barest minimum of content to justify their existence.

      Well said, sir.

      1. Eric says:

        That’s pretty much it. Nice article by the way, and nice blog overall. I’ll definitely do a bit more reading over there. Thanks!

      2. Klay F. says:

        Its pretty disturbing how many dialog choices in ME2 have Shepard say the EXACT SAME THING. Also, even when they deign to have Shepard say different things for different choices, then its the NPC responses that are the same no matter what Shepard says. Its infuriating.

    2. Thomas says:

      LA Noire lets you review evidence at any time in a conversation and KotoR 2/Planescape both have checks for all sorts of things instead of just ‘speech’. Awareness allows you to pick up how they are saying things, wisdom lets you give other people great insights, intelligence allows you to make good logical conclusions, high influence allows you to convince people to trust you with things they wouldn’t before.

      What’s more, you still have to pick your options, you can’t just rely on a check but have to think about what the best option to say to this person really would be.

      Hmm funny how they’re among two of my favourite games of all time…

      Also to be noted, there are three different aims of speech. 1. To roleplay your character. 2. To win your situation 3. To deliver story and exposition.

      1 is the hardest to do and requires the most radical departures from the way the world works and so the most work. I think actually Bioware have this right, in that actually it’s best to focus on the outcomes and hard moral problems than on speech itself to convey this (to an extent, speech should also have a couple of stylistic paths you can follow)

      2. Is the most fun, the focus Deus Ex:Human Revolution and doesn’t require so much work. It works when a character has been established outside of what you choose and makes the conversation feel very involved. KotoR2 does a lot of this. It takes a lot of scripting, but doesn’t need so many ways to change the outside world. Just wins and losses. It even allows cool things (because you have an established character) where _your_ dialogue provides exposition not the other persons. Your character is an elite jedi/security agent. He knows stuff.

      3. Is the one where you need to be able to walk away, you need a journal, it should mainly be flavour and not demand too much of your time

      1. delve says:

        KotoR 2/Planescape both have checks for all sorts of things instead of just “˜speech'. Awareness allows you to pick up how they are saying things, wisdom lets you give other people great insights, intelligence allows you to make good logical conclusions, high influence allows you to convince people to trust you with things they wouldn't before.

        I don’t know about KotoR 2 but if memory serves the majority of Planescape’s checks were binary and single-skill. I believe what Eric is looking for is more sliding scale and multi-skill checks. IE:
        Got 5 points in speech? Then you can provoke the boss to dismiss his goons before you start fighting.
        Got 10 points in speech? You can convince him to leave town and never return.
        15? By the divines, your epic charisma has convinced the boss that you’re right and he joins your quest!

        Or perhaps more interestingly, got 3 points of speech and 5 points of stealth? You can distract the boss enough to murder some of his goons before before anyone can retaliate. A few more points in stealth and you can drop the boss and only worry about cleaning up the goons afterward.

        And so on; there’s so many ways you could play such a scenario that a simple ‘i specced for speech, i win’ option in dialog is very nearly insulting and the way it usually gets written will punish you if you’re just one speech point short of the full win scenario. Effectively the points spent on speech are a useless write-off that should have gone to X-handed weapons or firearms or whatever.

        1. Eric says:

          Yeah, that’s what I was going for – both varying degrees of skill checks in the same situations, as well as nested skill checks (so you have to actually have more than just Speech to get the ideal outcome, *if* there is an ideal outcome in the first place (which there shouldn’t be)).

          I also want attribute checks to come back – skills are nice but being able to do things physically in dialogue (punch someone out, stealth their keys, etc.) through attributes is also quite cool and has been largely forgotten both because it’s “too complicated” and because it just requires a ton of time to animate that stuff. Instead of multiple skill checks and outcomes every conversation, you get your badass renegade interrupt every 10. RPGs could be doing so much more if they weren’t obsessed with looking pretty.

        2. Kdansky says:

          Planescape had a lot of multi-checks. If you have enough STR, you get the option to intimidate, with enough INT you get the option to be clever, with CHA you can just fast-talk your way through him. Sure, all of them are binary, but there is more than one. Sometimes, there were even multiple levels: 11-15 WIS gives you an extra option, 16-20 WIS gives you a second, and 21+ gives you a third. Such as the absolutely final encounter of the game. Did I mention you could win the last fighting by talking the boss down, in at least three ways (or beat him up in combat, in at least two ways)?

          1. delve says:

            I stand corrected. Though to be sure there’s not much of that outside of Planescape.

            When I said single-skill I meant each check, or option, being dependent on a single stat. Of course I could easily be misremembering that as well.

          2. Eric says:

            Again, to clarify, I was talking about nested checks. You get to talk down villains in Planescape, but does it ever really require subtlety or intelligence on the player’s end? No – you have your 25 Wisdom (or whatever the max is), you’re going to get the best option every time and pick that regardless, because you more or less also get the best outcome that way. If conversations are to flow naturally, and be challenging as game mechanics in their own right, they need to be multi-stage and without binary pass/fail for each one.

            In Human Revolution, for example, persuasion is a percentage, not a yes/no, and you have to be intelligent and observant to pick the right options (even the CASIE can backfire sometimes). Even so, imagine how much more interesting a conversation could be if you could also draw on your hacking skill to determine Sarif was lying about the backdoor, or your quick reflex augment to disarm Zeke Sanders and gain an upper hand during the hostage situation? They wouldn’t be “I win” buttons, but rather would shed new light on plot points or modify your chances of success without removing all challenge entirely. I realize there is a limit to things and Deus Ex has a tighter focus (and more emphasis on presentation) than other RPGs, but they could learn a lot by getting away from the all-or-nothing, character-skill-rules-all approach.

            1. Thomas says:

              Both KotoR2 and Planescape do that. For instance in my last Planescape conversation I was presented with
              [vow] Tell your secret to me I’ll keep it
              [Lie] Tell your secret to me I’ll keep it
              You don’t have the intelligence to pull something like that off

              Or something like that. I’m not sure about checks but each option had a different affect on the conversation and although it’s not the subtlist of the Planescape dialogue ever, I had to choose the best one based in his character to get the results i wanted.

              In KotoR 2 there are famously many times where using your charm 15 option etc will actually hurt your cause. Aton has huge trust issues and if you try to be charming and persuasive to him, he will reject you as manipulative. Who would have thought that the best option to gain influence with Kreia is to call her disposable.. etc

              In KotoR2 we even have that famous conversation with Atris where there is no one true path and no light side/dark side points for conversation options, but instead the judgement is on the long term overall affect of your conversation

    3. Sumanai says:

      If the boss in a pre-boss battle conversation needs to info dump on you, there’s something already wrong and forcing a conversation is not going to fix it.

      I have an idea for codex stuff: All of it is accessible from the beginning, looking at stuff or having conversations just highlights related content.

    4. Stranger says:

      “This is done because BioWare railroad just about everything in their games. They try to offer the illusion of choice but, rather than write unique dialogue in response to each line…”

      I’m going to stop you right here for a moment. This may seem like a tangent, but I’ll get to the point shortly after:

      Have you tried to GM/DM/”run” a tabletop RPG? What separates “railroading” from “an enjoyable game” often is the same camouflaged tracks. It’s an old trick of many GMs to railroad without making it obvious. The players do not know what is in your notes, so it is child’s play to move one encounter you want to happen (or NEED to happen for plot reasons) and with adequate coverage they’ll never know.

      The players also can play off the GM in NPC conversations, and actually force the actual person to . . . ad-lib. I’ve seen this happen in a lot of games and been party to having to do it heavily to fill a block of time.

      Here’s the thing:

      The standard tabletop RPGs are fundamentally different from computer games. They instead are more like board games, in that everything is already created and there’s no way to insert new material without extra patches/expansions. There may be a variable board in use, but the board elements never deviate.

      I could spend two years working for a computer game’s dialogue content and still not get everything a player will think to ask or do in every scene. That’s just not possible and asking for it is . . . asking for someone to levitate themselves off the ground with the power of green cheese. In short, not going to happen.

      Which is why it’s railroaded, and why the real art to building the dialogues is not to “not railroad”, but to make it feel as though the choices do have an effect. However, the advent of walkthroughs and strategy guides means that people can step back and SEE that no matter what they say on the conversation with Stella Sharptongue she will still try to stab them in the back two quests down the quest ladder for some reason (depending on the conversation in quest one).

      And that is how people get to see the railroad tracks, and see the man behind the curtain. You cannot make a computer game without some form of railroading, and decrying its existence is sort of misunderstanding the nature of computer games.

      To be fair though, I never felt railroaded on exactly one computer game. Nethack. I always felt like I was about to lose, usually because I would.

      1. Eric says:

        The problem isn’t railroading, it’s the nature of the railroading. Computer games have far more needs beyond a simple skill check – you need to have voice acting, animation, cutscenes, game mechanics and systems to handle what’s going on, etc. A DM can make stuff up on the fly and come up with crafty justifications for why the players still have to do X or Y – in fact, that’s what separates a good DM from a bad DM. While you can probably rely on the fact that players are more likely willing to suspend their sense of authorship in computer games, this can also break down when you give them illogical choices, or consequences that don’t line up with actions taken – at that point, the illusion shatters.

        1. Stranger says:

          “Computer games have far more needs beyond a simple skill check ““ you need to have voice acting, animation, cutscenes, game mechanics and systems to handle what's going on, etc.”

          Voice acting, 3D modeling and cutscenes . . . games don’t need these things, they functioned without them before the CD-rom era. My fondest remembered games didn’t have any of those right away. Heck, the games I put on a shelf as “among the best Nintendo RPGs I played” had none of those. But they were memorable due to the mechanics and the work put into it.

          We can agree on one thing – there is a good way of this “funneling” and a bad way to do it. The bad way is to make it obvious you’re being driven . . . in my opinion this is okay in one set of games: where you’re not playing a blank-slate character (see: “The Elder Scrolls”) but instead one which is partially-realized and you’re just guiding the path the story takes. Or, in a thin-line set of cases . . . where you’re guiding a party of blank-slates and events are really focused more on “will they fail or will they win?”.

          The trick is, as always, trying to make it look like the characters in play make these decisions rationally and not “because the script said so”. I really . . . really . . . can’t defend games for what is described in regards to Mass Effect and Alpha Protocol.

          Note – I cannot discern firsthand what is going on, because I have in fact not played any of those games. My last game by BioWare was Neverwinter Nights. I played through the Baldur’s Gate games beforehand, but NWN was where I stopped due to hearing bad things about NWN2 and simply not having the money to go out and get it.

          I can say this, though, even in those games there was a distinct leading-around being done. More so in NWN than in Baldur’s Gate. (That game was remarkably good about letting you wander around until clues led you through the hoops they wanted you to walk through . . . not forcing you through them until you started the final quest sequence. At least, that’s what I recall . . . lots of areas and lots of side-quests but you were allowed to walk in and out of the main quest until you hit the final push.)

          Do I want something good as far as writing goes? Yes . . . but I don’t expect it to get better. I expect it to get a lot worse, because reviews often don’t pay attention to the story behind a game, or keep it separated from the actual game. (“Buy this game because it has the best combat system I’ve seen in a while. But the story is going to only be okay.”)

          But if you want good writing or dialogue in a video game, better off going to find an established writer and paying them to help your game out. Though . . . that might not work out so well . . . the quote above this paragraph is referring to “Kingdoms of Amalur” which had R.A. Salvatore on the writing angle.

  2. HiEv says:

    You forgot having NPCs actually pay attention to the context of the world around them. Like, just to pick an example out of the air, if you just killed everyone in their bar, they shouldn’t totally ignore that and still want you to finish that quest for them that you started earlier.

    It’s a nice way to punish recklessness and add a bit more realism, compared to the nonsensical non-reactions you normally get.

    1. Mari says:

      Depends on the game. I have a nasty habit of playing games where the NPCs look like – well, like relatives/offspring of the folks in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You know, not the brightest crayons in the box type folks. I get a sick kind of entertainment out of killing everyone in the town except that one guy then talking to him and he’s completely oblivious to the fact that I decimated his entire clan/village thing.

    2. Destrustor says:

      It would be cool if they could actually react to anything at all while in conversation. In skyrim, I had a few npcs die while talking to me because they were too absorbed in the conversation to notice that a dragon was currently vomiting fire in their faces.
      And I once almost drowned because a questgiver engaged conversation while I was two feet underwater, under the dock she was standing on.
      And because the misc. quest log is so detailed, I had to listen or I would have had no idea what those quests were or why I was doing them.
      Stupid npcs.

    3. Eric says:

      Good idea of course, but it’s extremely difficult and time-consuming to script AI responses, write the dialogue, record the voice-over, create animations, etc. that respond to those unique and specific scenarios without breaking anything. Honestly, the way Skyrim’s NPCs crowd around a defeated dragon corpse is pretty impressive to me. Definitely did not expect it to be a dynamic thing, and I have to imagine it was very challenging to implement. Doing that for every “bucket on head” scenario? Haha, yeah right.

      1. delve says:

        Really, I don’t have many nice things to say about Skyrim but the NPC AI did seem to be a cut above.

        As for buckets… in hindsight it’s a bit of an oversight for NPCs not to knock things off their heads every time something happens to land there. Hindsight is great for finding unintended consequences. I really need to find an optometrist that can prescribe me a pair of hindsight-glasses.

        1. Klay F. says:

          In terms of AI in Skyrim, its pretty much 1 step forward, 2 steps back. It may be impressive to have NPC crowd around a dragon corpse and express shock or whatever, but it certainly isn’t very impressive to see NPCs constantly walking into walls and each other. Its also not very impressive when you are taking on a Dragon Priest expecting your companion to tank for you, only to find out they are stuck on a shin-high rock 200 meters away. I don’t understand why pathfinding is Skyrim is so face-slappingly awful. It wasn’t this bad in Oblivion, Fallout 3, or New Vegas, so what the hell gives?

          1. delve says:

            Yes, it’s terribly disturbing to pelt a giant with fireballs the step 2 feet around a rock and watch him race down the hill to the ground, across the cliff face, and back up the other side (while still plinking him) then saunter back to the original side of the rock to watch him reverse course.

            I’ve no idea why pathing was so bad, but at least the companions were largely able to catch up with in my experience. Whether they were around when you needed them is debatable but they always seemed to show up in time for a celebratory mead in the aftermath.

    4. Sumanai says:

      Baby steps, baby steps.

  3. noahpocalypse says:

    Love the Elvis reference. Nice article.

  4. Dev Null says:

    And then Captain Mal walks into the room and kills the guy without breaking stride? That was a memorable moment, far more memorable than any of the other gunfights in the show.

    Oh now you’ve done it; Release the Rabid Browncoats!

    Actually, Firefly is full of great examples that just help to prove your point…

    Thug: “Keep the money. Use it to buy a funeral. It doesn’t matter where you go, or how far you fly, I will hunt you down. And the last thing you see will be my blade.”

    Mal: “Darn.” *kicks thug into engine*

    Seriously; where is my *kick thug into engine* dialog option?

    Or the slightly tangential dialog option _in_ the firefight:

    Zoe: “This is something the captain has to do for himself…”
    Mal: *strained* “No! No it’s not!”

    1. Guus says:

      Love how henchman #2 is immediately co-operating rather than being snarky or dismissive, which is what you’ll get in videogames.

      1. Sumanai says:

        I suspect that’s because too many people who are writing for games (not writers, they’re definitely not actual writers) want to always have the last word.

        1. FalseProphet says:

          It’s like those tabletop GMs/DMs who see the players as opponents, and so every NPC has to be snarky, badass, irrational and unwilling to compromise, etc. These are contrasted with the GMs who like to see their friends have their triumphs and moments in the sun, but it’s probably easier for a game writer to fall into the former category when they’ll never meet the people they’re writing for and get that direct appreciation.

    2. Eruanno says:

      Firefly has a lot of these memorable moments where it seems like they are going to go down the same old tropes… and then the writer realizes this, stands up, throws all the papers on the floor and shouts “NOPE!”

    3. Thomas says:

      How about the good old ‘give me all your money and then throw yourselves off the roof’ option :D

      ‘I want to give you all my money. And now I just need to go…’

      1. Adam says:

        “Must jump off roof. Get to ground faster that way.”

        1. Sumanai says:

          Damnit people, if you’re going to reference something I know but can’t remember then provide links or names, okay?

          1. Destrustor says:

            I think it was Kotor 2, on naar shadda(stupid planet whose weird name is hard to remember), where you can jedi mind trick two thugs into giving you the money they just stole and then jumping down a skyscraper. And then the guy who got mugged is too freaked out by this and runs away before you can give him his cash.
            Unless that was a reference to something else, too.

            1. Thomas says:

              Nah that’s the one. I’d say I was the biggest KotoR 2 fanboy ever, but there’s a whole community of people who’ve done nothing but develop and brush up/fix up/finish the game since it was released and done a darn good job of it too :D

            2. Sumanai says:

              I think it was that. I can’t remember if I know through a youtube video of it, or if a friend did it while playing.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I think fahrenheit was the first game that had dialogue summary.Its a good thing in theory,but very hard to implement.I think human revolution did it perfectly.Plus,jensen usually says something more than just what you read.

    Having two buttons for skip dialogue and choose is a bad idea.In amalur,you can either use the mouse or enter to select the options,and space is used for skipping dialogues.But,when I enter dialogues,I usually let go of the mouse and listen/read what they are saying.Its annoying to have to use my other hand to reach for either enter,or the mouse.Having a slight delay between option appears and option is clickable would be the best solution I think.

    Accessing character menu in conversation would be perfect.Thats what we definitely need.Its just another part of the gameplay,so why lock us out of our most important screen during it?

    1. Thomas says:

      The best solution is to just not have it default to anything. You’d skip skip skip, oh look conversation wheel. Select option. Skip skip skip. A delay might be too short and have you skip past if you’re not alert, or be too long and annoy you if you really want to skip everything. Click click, jam analogue stick right, click click should do it

      1. Dragomok says:

        The real best solution would be to add an option to choose between “one button for both” and “seperate button for each”.

        But, seeing how important(*) developers like EA’s Free-to-Play division and Riot Games are reluctant to even make the left-handed mouse support work right (or at all), I don’t predict that this solution will have a bright future.

        (*) Sure, they aren’t particularly well-known or respected, but still, they earn a lot of money.

        1. Kdansky says:

          Use Space to skip, use the numbers to choose a dialog option. Wow, that was hard.

          1. Dragomok says:

            Daemian Lucifer: It’s really irritating when you have to move your hand all over the keyboard during dialogs.
            Thomas: Default to nothing is a way to go!
            Dragomok: Solution of Thomas PLUS option to switch to seperate buttons is a way to go! (developer rant)
            Kdansky: Move your hand all over the keyboard, you fool!

            1. Bubble181 says:

              Err….In a standard position, I can hit space bar with my thumb and numbers 1-7 with my other fingers.

              I admit I have large hands, and obviously key reampping is importand and whatnot, but…Moving your hands all over the keyboard?
              Make it space bar and cbvn or whatever you’ve got on your lowest line of letters, than.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                Lets use amalur as an example here,once more:In one conversation I had,I could scroll down two or three times before covering all the options.And each scroll holds 5(I think)options.So should I then pres 0,1 if I wanted the tenth option?Its a nice idea,but for a good system,you need it to be consistent every time,not just most of the time.Having the option to rebind keys for both skip dialogue,and choose option would be the best solution,and both should be bindable to the same button if you wish so.

  6. Rosseloh says:

    Bioware’s summaries have only gotten worse with SW:ToR. I don’t know how many times I pissed off my companions because the line was nowhere near what I actually wanted to say. Fortunately, SW:ToR is like Skyrim in that you can hit escape and leave a conversation; unlike Skyrim, however, you have to start the conversation over from the beginning again. Of course this means if you don’t notice right away or you actually get the last word…good luck hitting your escape key in time.

    The other downside to dialogue in SW:ToR is that you only ever have 3 choices, never any more. But I guess I can forgive that considering the sheer volume of dialogue, completely voice-acted, in the game.

  7. Trithne says:

    It’s annoying to read all of the possible responses in full, select one, and then have your own character read it back to you. It really breaks the flow of the exchange.

    Of course, this could be easily avoided by not insisting on voicing every line of dialogue the PC says! This is something else Skyrim does and it works wonders. Plus it saves space for more voice acting for NPCs, or maybe even more gameplay!

    1. Eric says:

      What?! But… how will I role-play if I don’t have another person acting out every single thing I don’t tell them to do?

      1. Ira says:

        Don’t you see? How could anyone possibly fill in a line with their imagination? That’s inconceivable! It’s much more immersive to get some actor to read the line, instead of letting the player read the line naturally in his or her own internal voice!

        …blasted voice-acting.

    2. ehlijen says:

      Other than Mass effect, I don’t remember Bioware even doing that. KOTOR and the dragon ages had silent protagonists, didn’t they? What was wrong with that, EA?

      1. Danel says:

        Lots and lots of people complained about it? I’m guessing that was what was the problem with it.

        Anyway, only DA:O has a silent protagonist, and that was what provoked all the complaints, from people who felt it was a backwards step from Mass Effect’s fully voiced protagonist. DA2, as a consequence, had a fully voiced protagonist.

        1. Ringwraith says:

          It wasn’t quite that, it’s because Mass Effect is more a ‘third-person narrative’ due to Shepard already being an established character, and your just guiding their actions, as Shepard already has a defined character.
          Whereas Dragon Age: Origins is a completely ‘first-person narrative’ as you create your character from the ground up, having a multitude of different creation options, and you character starts off as a completely blank slate, whom you can shape their character massively. This is reflected in the wide range of dialogue options you can pick, giving a very wide spectrum of personalities.

          1. Eric says:

            I object to the suggestion that Shepard has a character… at least one other than a slab of drywall.

            1. Ringwraith says:

              Well, Shepard already has a backstory and everything and you can do little to change most of it, therefore leading to certain responses to certain situations due to the character already being pre-defined somewhat.

        2. Thomas says:

          I don’t even think they need silence. Planescape did it well, if you have just the right amount of conversation. The odd line, the introduction line for NPCs, fully voiced for important stuff, then you can actually forget they aren’t speaking when reading.

          1. Dragomok says:

            If I recall correctly, Shamus mentioned he had the same impression during main plot conversations in Morrowind.

            Oh, it’s here, second-to-last paragraph.

          2. FalseProphet says:

            Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura did this. Since your PC could be of various races and two genders, you were a voiceless protagonist. But most NPC companions were voiced, at least for important dialogue. A handful of non-companion NPCs were also voiced, but most of their dialogue was plot-relevant exposition.

      2. And Jade Empire. Don’t forget about Jade Empire. Why doesn’t anyone remember Jade Empire?

        PS. Jade Empire.

        1. Bubble181 says:

          I really ought to get around to playing that one RPG from a while ago, not scifi, err,….hmm, what was it? Something something empire…Err…The Old Em…no, that’s not it…err…Obsidian Em….No…Oh well, I’ll remember eventually.

    3. delve says:

      Blasphemy! Pure, delicious blasphemy!

  8. “When I see a “renegade” prompt, it would be nice if the icon could tell me if I was about to punch someone, murder them, or say something rude. And it would be nice to be able to choose from among these options.”

    I don’t think this would work. The prompts are basically one button quick time events meant to provide the illusion of spontaneity in the situation that additional options would revoke, to say nothing of simply destroying the pacing of whatever’s happening. It would also feel more than a lil redundant.

    This seems like a misunderstanding of the problem. The prompts can work as long as the game is able to provide enough context to the player to allow them to reasonably intuit what will happen. That’s an issue of direction and design, not dialogue. It’d certainly be a lot more work than just slapping a text prompt on the screen, but it’d be the only real solution to solve the underlying problem and…well if they can’t cook the food, they shouldn’t put it on the menu. :P

    For myself, I’d suggest implementing a slow-mo for these prompts. It solves a lot of problems. It gives the illusion of having more time to press the prompt so not as much pressure is applied to the decision you make. It’s a clear and noticeable indication that you need to press the prompt in the first place instead of having a small icon flash onscreen that can be missed (maybe have a light red/blue to the scene for further context). Finally, it makes a certain amount of sense to the in-game universe as slowing down time can be viewed as moving at the speed of thought…or sumth’n like that… :P

    1. Destrustor says:

      Or maybe just a slight modification to the mass effect system: the renegade options always appear to the left of the screen and the paragon to the right, so why not just color-code them a little? Like if you see a red renegade prompt on the left, you’ll interrupt the guy with some murder. If the icon is, say, yellow instead, you’ll know it’s only going to be a snarky/mean remark or something.
      And them put a few more of these to give options while timing them differently or assigning them to different buttons so you don’t get to accidentally take one you don’t want.
      It would be a lot of work and may be a bit confusing, but I think it could be done.

      1. Thomas says:

        Just place them around the screen better can convey a lot. If you have it over the gas tank. Guess what will happen. If it’s by your gun, guess what will happen. If it’s by the screens destracting the NPC and it’s renegade, well you’re probably going to shoot those screens. EDIT;Do they already do this?

        If they want to get more fancy. A little icon with a skull compared to a less lethal icon would be good.

        And as you said some more time or alertness, so it doesn’t feel like you might miss an option

        1. Hitch says:

          In the PC version of Mass Effect the interrupt options were presented as a mouse icon with the button highlighted. I think they showed a star on the button and were color coded red for renegade and blue for paragon. It would take very little to change that star to a meaningful icon to indicate the nature of the interrupt. A fist for punch, a gun for shoot, lips for a snarky comment, etc.

          1. Sumanai says:

            I have another way:

            There are several buttons used for interrupts, similarly to normal QTEs. Except they’re always the same button and what will happen is related to the button being pressed.

            So when you’re itching to shoot the guy and a prompt pops up for the murder-button, you know what happens and you’ll be ready for it because it’s what you’ve been waiting for. If the “talk to dudes” -button pops up you know it’ll be a half hearted argument.

            Now if it’s the “talk to ladies” button, well… you know your character will make an ass of themselves.

            1. Dragomok says:

              “Welcome to the Game with Seperate Button For Each Response: The Game: The Book: The Comic: The Movie: The Hot-Dog Stand: The Game‘s conversation tutorial! Here, you will have a conversation during which you will say something sarcastic, woo your target and shoot it in the face!”

              *15 minutes later*

              Press A? Was that for being a jerk or shooting in the face? Whatever. I don’t like the cut of this NPC’s jib, so let’s do it!”
              *A is mashed*

              ‘How about you, me and a bar of butter? Right here, right now?’

              “… Damn.”

              1. FalseProphet says:

                So it’s okay to learn the layout of two dozen key bindings and the mouse (or two analogue sticks and 12+ buttons for console jockeys) for combat purposes, but dialogue is too complicated with a half-dozen options?

                1. Sumanai says:

                  Especially since if they’d actually follow my idea, the buttons would be the same as for the environment/combat. Maybe have a different colour for two talky-responses so you know what you’re doing. But I don’t see why you’d need a QTE for agreeing with someone, so that might not be necessary.

                  And neither would be all the different movement buttons, unless they’re used in conversations to make decisions, in which case they could be used as a Renegade and Paragon choices. It wouldn’t make sense to have separate interruptions for all the weapons, so you don’t need the quick keys for those. Actually, how likely would it be for Bioware or Bethesda to make special events for Biotic/Magic/whatever users either? So you can ignore buttons for those as well.

                  Actually, I think all you’d end up “memorising” for it would be: Talky-button (most likely the same as “Use”) for counter-arguments, Murder-button (“Fire weapon”) for committing murder on the fly and “Aim weapon” for threatening. Now, what am I missing?

  9. Jokerman says:

    Honestly…the likes of Mass Effect, Alpha Protocol, Dragon age, Skyrim, fallout may not get it perfect every time – but atleast there offering the option for it, these people are making the games i want made – endless Gears and Halo like games are a much worse problem than people trying to offer choice and interactive dialogue and not always meeting the highest standard.

    1. Sumanai says:

      Are you saying that no-one should complain about faults in them because they’re all we’ve got?

      1. Jokerman says:

        I wouldnt put it as bluntly as that.

        1. krellen says:

          “It’s better than nothing” is a poor defence when the problem has been getting progressively worse, not better. There are many older games that did dialogue a lot better than these modern ones.

  10. Jokerman says:

    “It shouldn't be possible to accidentally say something.”

    Dragon Age 2 fixed this, on xbox it was the A button to select and the X button to skip. Hopefully they stick to that for Mass Effect 3

    1. ehlijen says:

      I wish I had your faith in the ME control design team. I still dislike them for overloading the space bar so very much.

      1. Eric says:

        I don’t think that’s a design issue so much as a time issue. BioWare have made it very clear they do not really care about the PC version – their excuse for not including gamepad support that they already implemented on the Xbox 360 version was that they didn’t have enough time/resources to implement it. I mean, how long would it take? A day?

        Even the spacebar issue could easily be fixed simply by tweaking the input handling oh-so-slightly by assigning different actions to different keys. In fact it’d probably just be an INI tweak for them and could be done in a matter of minutes. But again, that’d actually require someone to care.

        1. Michael says:

          If it’s an INI tweak, wouldn’t that mean that PC players could rebind the twelve functions of the spacebar to other keys on their own? Most (if not all) INI files I’ve seen are plain-text. They’d just have to deal with the disconnect between the onscreen prompt and the button they use.

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Thats not the problem.Its just as stupid to overload x button(or whatever it is)on the controller.Its not like current controllers have only 2 buttons.

    2. Naota says:

      Having played the Xbox demo, I can tell you that sprint, take cover, revive ally (in multiplayer), and “use mission-critical objective on a timer” are all bound to a single button. I can’t possibly see any unintended control failures resulting from this act of utter brilliance.

      That is, excluding the scores of people I’ve witnessed screaming at Shepard and their coop avatars to stop taking cover behind random objects halfway across the room instead of fleeing fast and dangerous enemies or saving allies who are downed and mere seconds from death.

      1. Eric says:

        The Awesome Button always does what’s right. Stop fighting it.

  11. Jarenth says:

    Shamus: No matter what you said at the end of the article, I’m still going to assume your ‘get Codex mid-conversation’ option is acted out in-character.

    NPC: ‘Shepard, the Batarians are coming! How should we respond?’

    Shepard: ‘Batarians, Batarians… hold on, let me check who these guys were again…’

    NPC: ‘…Shepard? Didn’t you… didn’t you kill like a million Batarians in the Blitz? How… how can you even forget…’

    Shepard: ‘Hey, I’m a busy space captain, alright?’

    That puppy-kicking example would’ve been hilarious if it wasn’t so annoyingly true. I loved Alpha Protocol, I really did, and I understood what they were trying to do with the dialogue system, but something more like Human Revolution’s system — you know, where you actually say what you actually say — would’ve helped that game to no end.

    1. Ringwraith says:

      Well, the fact that conversations were on a timer, it’s a bit difficult to read all the possible blocks of text and decide on one before it ran out.

      1. delve says:

        Conversations on a timer should be outlawed. It’s bad enough that conversations are generally conceived as one-time, non-repeatable puzzle sequences. To put them on a timer is equivalent to saying ‘solve me this sudoku in the next minute or i’m docking you half your gold’

        1. Ringwraith says:

          Actually, I thought it worked really well in Alpha Protocol, mostly as you always had the same three options at all times (except when having to make limited decisions), with an occasional context-sensitive fourth option, so you always knew the majority of options available before your turn to talk even comes up.

          1. Klay F. says:

            I absolutely loved the conversation system in Alpha Protocol. It felt more like have a real conversation than any other game before or since. It points to more people missing the point when they are talking about “picking WHAT to say” you are almost never picking WHAT to say to somebody. In fact, you are usually saying the same thing in almost all converstions, with the only differing parts being HOW you say it. All you really ever do is pick a tone. Some people respond to one tone better than some other tone. The idea that the conversations were some kind of puzzle is equally ridiculous. That people didn’t like system only serves as evidence that too many treat conventional dialog systems as something to meta-game. Meta-gaming itself needs to die a slow, horrific, torturous death.

            1. delve says:

              Yes, Alpha Protocol was rather good but I really felt the lack of ‘codex’ during dialogues. I couldn’t dust off the dossier mid-discussion and I’ll be damned if I’m going to try to remember everything about every personality in the game if I haven’t played it in a few days.

              As far as ‘meta gaming,’ while you may want to believe you aren’t gaming the game the fact that you identify which subjects respond best to which approaches is, in fact, the very thing. Besides, I take pleasure from squeezing as much game resources out of each interaction as possible in the same way some people relish pinching a penny until it glows from internal pressure.

            2. X2Eliah says:

              I hated that system and I’m not “metagaming” or anything, I just don’t want all the conversations to be goddamn quicktime events.

              1. Klay F. says:

                A quicktime event is a reaction test, the conversation system in Alpha Protocol is anything but.

                Am I missing how hard it is to pick a response based on a one word description of the tone? Is a one word description confusing or something? Because I never had the timer run out on me. Its pretty much the simplest, most intuitive system I’ve ever experienced.

                Oh look, Scarlet is being flirty, I should be flirty back. Bam, done. Mina is worried about my safety, I should comfort her. Bam, etc., etc.

                1. Sumanai says:

                  Different people have different “speeds”. When I go through conversations I take my time and think things through. Also in-game.

                  I’ve only managed to play a little of Alpha Protocol, but the timer felt too tight to make a decision and ended up feeling more like a knee-jerk reaction than a conversation choice.

                2. Shamus says:

                  Yeah, MOST answers were tone. But SOME were decisions. And those are the ones that caused problems. Really, in real life it’s possible to say, “Give me a sec here” when someone pops an important question.

                  Also, I found the timers to be of random length. Some were super-long, allowing you to mull things over, and some didn’t give me enough to to read all three options. (PC version, played shortly after launch. Maybe this was patched or didn’t apply to all versions.)

                  1. Klay F. says:

                    In that case I agree. I could see someone needing to take a while for the final decision in the game for example, or for a few others.

                3. X2Eliah says:

                  Oh look, Scarlet is being flirty.

                  How am I playing this character? Is he a flirty person, is he above that, is he a condescending arse? If I pick “flirty”, will that make my character say something small-time, jokingly flirty, will he try to be an obsessive aggressive “we should sleep together nao” idiot, will this mean he wants to pursue something with Scarlet, or will this mean he just is in a good mood?

                  None of that is metagaming, I just like to think about what the choices actually mean. If you degrade it down to ‘flirty vs. flirty, snob vs. arrogant, jackass vs. jackass’, then what’s the point of the conversation system in the first place? Might as well either make it fixed to have the response be of same type as the inquiry, or make it a random roll.

                  And sometimes, when a character speaks, I just want to listen – or read the dialogue. I take my hands away from keyboard/mouse, becuase sometimes the speech can last for a minute or so. and then, bam, suddenly “OMG ONLY 4 SECONDS TO PICK A RESPONSE, CHOOSE WISELY” … “LOL YOU FAILED, NOW YOUR CHARACTER IS AN ASSHOLE”. Even more so if you don’t notice for the first second or two that there’s a tiny dialogue-prompt at the bottom, and just assume the conversationist is taking a dramatic pause or something.

                  I hate, hate, hate all quicktime events, and that conversation system is EXACTLY a quicktime event. You have to make a snap reaction on a very short time basis, if you fail you get an unwanted outcome. definition of quicktime event right there.

            3. Bubble181 says:

              I get enough stress trying to respond with the right tone, at the right time, in real life. I’d like my RPG-encounters to be a little more stress free, if you please.
              In a game, I want to make the best possible choice. I want to be able to play the Cool Great Big Hero. If I want to play the Socially Inept Idiot With Foot in Mouth, I’ll just go out to a bar, thank you :-P

  12. Aanok says:

    I haven’t read the article yet but, jolly, I wonder who’s gonna win of the three :D

  13. Eruanno says:

    The perfect conversations in my world would be:

    – The impact/amount of possible solutions of a problem as seen in Fallout: New Vegas
    – The writing of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, where the character actually says interesting things and has opinions
    – The voice actors, acting and interface of Mass Effect (the conversation wheel is good, but used too much for binary choices of good/evil – more nuanced choices would be nice)

    1. Sumanai says:

      I have to hand it to Bioware: I never thought five options in a conversation would’ve felt too few, but I’ve been proven wrong.

  14. Narida says:

    Yeah, opening the codex/inventory should always be possible, also during loading screens… It’s not like the game has to unload it during loading and it would be a great time to read the codex and do some inventory management instead of just waiting…

    1. delve says:

      During loading screens: Great idea, not so sure it’d be that easy to implement without multiplying loading times or having poor UI response.

      1. Sumanai says:

        Depends on how the loading is done. I remember reading several years ago about a change to the Linux kernel that made the command line interface more responsive during heavy load without much of a difference to the actual processing times.

    2. FalseProphet says:

      Compromise option? During a conversation, a short description of the NPC and/or his race/faction/organization/etc. pops up on the side, like the CASIE info in Deus Ex: HR.

  15. Infinitron says:

    Forget opening the codex. Let us save and load in the middle of conversations, like in the old LucasArts adventure games!

    1. delve says:

      But… but… but you’d spoil the ever so carefully constructed timed response gotchas they put so much effort into!

  16. Irridium says:

    How about this one:

    When I say “I’m not interested”, don’t proceed to dump all the exposition in my lap anyway. Even more annoying when they put the quest in my journal anyway.


    1. Sumanai says:

      If the game has a good journaling system* it shouldn’t matter as long as they’re not forcing you to read it.

      * Wait, does that count as a hacker joke?

  17. guy says:

    So, serious question: Why are dialogue wheels a thing? I don’t really understand why they’ve nearly completely replaced dialogue menus in modern RPGs, because they seem to be worse in almost every conceivable way. There is nothing stopping you from not using more than two spaces on a dialogue menu when convenient, but with a wheel you can’t plop down nine options for a climactic conversation or major exposition section. Also, dialogue wheels seem to enforce the summary style, which is only rarely well-implemented (Kingdoms of Amalur and Dungeon Siege 3 are the only ones I can think of offhand).

    So why does every single RPG designer use them?

    1. Hitch says:

      Because they feel that scrolling through too many dialog choices on a console controller would be off-putting, so they come up with a deliberately limiting input scheme to keep the developers from putting excess depth into the game. Never mind that PC gamers want that depth, no one plays games on PCs anymore.*

      *Unfortunately close to the reality of corporate thought processes.

      1. Sumanai says:

        Six choices is plenty if they all make sense, especially since you can have one or more of them lead into sub-folders containing more choices. It could even improve the traditional list system by categorising every choice. “Aggressive choices”, “diplomatic choices” etc.

    2. Shamus says:

      Wheels work better with consoles, where scrolling menus is a pain and you don’t have the resolution to show a lot of text.

      1. delve says:

        Just one more reason to cry at the ‘consolization’ of games.

        1. Jokerman says:

          I dont think there should be a “consolization” Issue, why not create 2 styles the wheel for the consoles and the list for the pc versions? It cant take that much time and it would help out the PC Gamers.

          1. delve says:

            Because it’s easier to ‘consolize’ the game and thus cheaper. Multiple interfaces means multiple dev costs, multiple QA costs, etc. And since your wheel is going to be limited to a few options (there’s a distinct upper limit to the number of options that can comfortably be displayed in a circle) there’s no point in implementing a list that can display umpteen choices comfortably because there will never be more choices than can be displayed on the most restrictive interface.

      2. Ringwraith says:

        Of course, wheels work on PC too when done well.
        Just have to look at Crysis’s armour mode wheel to see that.

      3. X2Eliah says:

        Not really.. A lot of good racing wheel peripherals work on computers just as well (especially since you have better ways to fix it, you can’t do that on a couch very well).

        Hm. Come to think of it, do these conversation wheels take a peripheral steering wheel as a control input? (Or a flightpad/joystick)? I mean.. the PC doesn’t exactly lack analog-input thingamajigs.

        1. Shamus says:

          Not that kind of wheel. The other person was asking about conversation wheels – AKA radial menu.

          1. X2Eliah says:

            Exactly. I’m lamenting the fact that the two are not the same :|

  18. rrgg says:

    Were do you stand on the likes of or “speechcraft” skills?

    Personally I think some games could have been having a lot more fun with them. Imagine Skyrim if having 100% speech meant you could talk anyone into gifting you their inventory and it let your words have the same effect as illusion spells.

    Seriously, it says a lot about that game that you can magic people into running away but you can’t scare them off by, say, pointing out that you’ve set the difficulty to “novice.”

    1. Dragomok says:

      “With 10 in Charisma and 200% in Speech, you can convince the main villain he is a delicious strawberry cupcake and make him eat himself.”
      A very loose quote from some article in an issue number I-can’t-remember of a Polish gaming magazine you probably have never heard of.
      CD-Action, 07/2011? 08/2011?

      1. Sumanai says:

        Yes. Do want.

        1. Jarenth says:

          Bonus points if the main villain is actually allergic to strawberry.

          1. Sumanai says:

            And he should complain about how he’ll have a painful allergic reaction, but “it just tastes so good”.

        2. Bubble181 says:

          So….KotOR 2 it is than? “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for”. “Give me your money and walk out into the desert for some soul searching”, “throw yourself into that gaping chasm”,….

          Ahh, good times.

          1. Sumanai says:

            I don’t know. Force Persuade feels like cheating. Also I don’t want to be forced to tolerate Kreia. I played just enough on my own to get off the first rock and already she had condemned everything I had done. I think she once complained about the fact that my character used lungs for breathing.

  19. rrgg says:

    Another issue would be what do you think about speech minigames? I know they provide people like me who are bad at speaking in real life but sort of good at video games a chance to pretend “ha ha, Me are good talker.” But at what point is it too unlike real conversation?

  20. rofltehcat says:

    I can’t find your column on the Escapist main page (and they don’t update much on weekends) and with Spoiler Warning already being posted above it on your blog, combined with the rather small blog post to announce the column… I don’t think that many people will read it :/

  21. Matt says:

    Another feature I’ve always wanted, and which would go a long way towards helping with the subtitles/skipping issue, is being able to pause, rewind, and fast-forward conversations. Sometimes there’s room noise, or I just don’t hear what was said, or the kitchen timer just went off and I need to go deal with it.

    I get frustrated when games fail to recognize that I have a real life and play in a real room, and that there might be other things going on besides me having my full attention devoted to them.

    1. Dave B says:

      Along with that, we need a way to pause and rewind cutscenes. I always seem to be in the middle of a long, exposition-heavy cutscene when the phone rings.

      1. Destrustor says:

        I found that, on consoles, the big console button in the middle of the controller works as a sort of super-pause button, often stopping cutscenes and dialogue that would normally be immune to pause or just skipped entirely if you press any other button.
        It helps a lot in a lot of games when you are suddenly interrupted by something that requires your attention but you don’t want to miss critical information.

        1. Dave B says:

          Cool, I didn’t know that. Unfortunately I play almost all of my games on the PC. Is there an option like that in any recent PC games? I’m specifically interested in Mass Effect 2.

          1. X2Eliah says:

            If it is on steam/origin/gfwl, then opening that overlay (usually shift+tab) could do that.

            1. delve says:

              The Steam overlay, at least, has never paused anything that I recall.

    2. Blake says:

      Yeah, on consoles something like what happens in the Phoenix Wright games is really what I want.
      Just to hit the bumpers and have it repeat what the last person said would be super nice.

  22. Daimbert says:

    Well, there’s an easy way to fix the “accidental selection” problem: you can’t advance to the choices after a conversation until you press a button. THEN you get to the set of dialogue choices and have to press again to make a choice. So even if the voice ends, you never see the choices until you hit a button. And no one could even complain that this isn’t good for consoles because JRPGs with text have been doing this for ages.

    As for the difference between the wheel selection and what’s said, I first came across it in The Witcher 2, where very early on your character is sitting with his hands cuffed behind his back and someone comes in and offers you their hand to shake. The response I chose because it sounded really cool was “Very funny”. What Geralt said was “**** you”. Which, in my opinion, is a much inferior line. That’s just one of the reasons I never really got far in The Witcher 2.

    1. Dragomok says:

      Well, there's an easy way to fix the “accidental selection” problem: you can't advance to the choices after a conversation until you press a button. THEN you get to the set of dialogue choices and have to press again to make a choice. So even if the voice ends, you never see the choices until you hit a button.

      Ow. Your take on the problem would mean having to press buttons twice more often during all dialogs and it would HORRIBLY slow down pace of any conversation (the “summary wheel” was created for the sole purpose of making them more dynamic, if I recall correctly). Also, I don’t know about the others, but it would slightly derive from my immersion by forcing me to focus on pressing a button exactly once before.

      The response I chose because it sounded really cool was “Very funny”. What Geralt said was “**** you”.

      I wonder if this is somehow connected to the first game’s problem…

      Polish (original) version: Why do pricks go in cunts? It’s the natural order of things. Humans have always disliked dwarves and elves. Not for me to know why.

      (First) English version: Humans have always hated dwarves and elves.

    2. Dragomok says:

      (Agh. It took me half an hour to write a reply and it’s gone, seemingly only because of my terrible Internet connection. Agh, once again.)

      Well, there's an easy way to fix the “accidental selection” problem: you can't advance to the choices after a conversation until you press a button. THEN you get to the set of dialogue choices and have to press again to make a choice. So even if the voice ends, you never see the choices until you hit a button. And no one could even complain that this isn't good for consoles because JRPGs with text have been doing this for ages.

      I may be wrong, but it seems like this would break the flow of conversation by forcing the player to focus on pressing a button exactly once before choosing your answer. Also, this solution means that everyone who doesn’t skip the dialog has to press buttons twice as often, which seems likely to prove irritating in the long run.
      But I think it would be perfect if it was implemented as an option, next to “use separate buttons for skipping and confirming” (see my comment above).

      1. Dragomok says:

        And just after I have posted this, my previous post jumped out of hyper-space.

        Perfect, just… perfect.

      2. Daimbert says:

        It actually doesn’t, at least not in text, because you get into the flow of it and it becomes either exactly like skipping it or you just get in the unconscious habit of doing it and mostly ignore that it occurs, which also solves the issue of pressing twice as much. And it solves so many problems. It solves the “skipping” problem; this button IS what you use for skipping, and it always just advances to the options no matter when you hit it. It solves at least in part the problem of “I have a life”; the text, at least, will be there waiting for you to come back and read it and know what’s happening.

        Like I said, I’ve seen this in JRPGs a lot, and the only one that was a bit annoying was Persona 3 and Persona 4, but that was simply because they had so much text for you to click through.

  23. Peter H. Coffin says:

    “Attack” should never, ever mean “more talking” brings up a point that I find tough about multiple media, not just video games. It’s the whole “hostage-taking” trope in general. I’m not referring in this case to a plot-relative barricade situation where one character has a bunch of others locked in a room someplace and is largely inaccessible to the rest of the universe, but rather the “standoff hostage”: one baddie with a weapon, one hostage threatened, one or more good guys unable to do squat because “oooh, he’s got a weapon and a hostage”. A lot like the situation back in the tutorial, more or less.

    Often in those situations, it’s already been established that one character or the other is, in fact, an amazing shot. She’s gone through the entire game or series or something essentially NEVER missing by accident. You can see where I’m going with this now, right?

    1. delve says:

      There’s always the argument that simple reflex clenching could cause the weapon to fire, presumably into the hostage’s temple. Even firing on the weapon or hand itself could cause ricochets or extra sensitive triggers to fire.

      But yes, you definitely still have a point. Since, as a work of fiction, all of the above can easily be glossed over as inconvenient truths. No player is liable to complain (immediately anyway) because in most players everything about that situation begs for the hostage taker to get shot. In short, it wouldn’t break immersion to just kill the bastard. But then story writers don’t take hostages for the purpose of making players feel good and they don’t do it to get their bad guys killed. They do it to prevent some otherwise obviously correct action that is detrimental to the storyline they’re building. You might call it a polite form of railroading.

      1. Sumanai says:

        What I’ve found most painful to watch is when the main characters put their guns down. I mean, seriously. What’s to stop the hostage taker from shooting them the very second they’ve straightened their backs and can’t reach down quickly enough to respond?

        And threatening to shoot the hostage unless you comply doesn’t support it either, since now that the main characters are no longer capable of responding he can kill the hostage, which before wasn’t a real option since then he’d be defenceless.

        I know it’s meant to be a situation where a) the bad guy gets away, b) the bad guy is ready to sacrifice lives of innocents and c) to establish that the good guys aren’t willing to risk innocent lives. But it hardly works, since it actually establishes that a) the good guys are idiots, and b) the bad guy is only a threat because the good guys are idiots.

    2. krellen says:

      One thing I really like about Saint’s Row 3 is that, because I am an amazing shot, I can shoot the guy behind the human shield without having to go through the shield.

      Not quite the same circumstance, but still.

  24. psivamp says:

    Almost completely unrelated, but after you mentioned the first episode of Firefly, I watched it again. And, I noticed for the first time, that there’s a banner for Blue Sun in the background of one of the shots when the crew are going to meet Badger.

    So, I guess the Blue Sun mercs in Mass Effect 2 may be a Firefly reference.

    1. Simulated Knave says:

      The Blue Sun stuff shows up throughout Firefly. River is hostile to it, too…

  25. Mephane says:

    Good article. I must say Bioware has learnt from their mistakes, as SWTORs conversations are like Mass Effect, except with most of the issues corrected:

    – The space bar skips a line of dialog, but cannot select a dialog option (only mouse click on the option or the corresponding number does so).

    – Misleading options are far less common than in Mass Effect, though they still exist.

    – Conversations can be exited at any point with Esc, which completely resets the conversation. This means that without save&reload, which you don’t have in an MMO for obvious reasons, it is still possible to do a conversation from scratch whenever an option turns out to be not the one you expected it to be.

    – Almost always, options with an [Attack] tag attached lead to your character saying a line like “You are dead.” and then the fight starts, I recall only a single instance where this doesn’t happen.

    However, still sometimes it is completely mind-boggling why some options are considered dark or light, mostly because they somehow squeered the traditional good/bad lawful/chaotic system into a single good/bad system, where good sometimes just means lawful-whatever, sometimes means chaotic-good etc.

    1. Sumanai says:

      And sometimes naive idiot / sadistic dumbass or lawful/chaotic stupid / stupid evil.

      Personal gripe of mine, is that one Cathar or whatever. A cat girl basically, that stole medical supplies because some children were sick. From the military, during a civil war. Where the opposition wasn’t above conditioning children for their militia, or if it fails, killing or slavering them (IIRC).

      Of course rather than raise the question of which is ultimately the good action: the short sighted “the children are in need” or the cold hearted “the children will die anyway if the soldiers can’t fight”; it deemed that helping the children is the absolute good choice, and helping the soldiers the absolute evil.

      Also, I remember parts of a fun conversation I had with someone my character had helped (I can’t remember specifics, so I’m only following it roughly):

      Civilian: “Thank you for saving my daughter, I can’t thank you enough.”
      Me: Hmm… that one seems like the straight laced “soldier of the republic” decision, which I’m role-playing. I bet he says something like “No need for thanks, helping people helps the republic as whole.” or something over the top like that.
      Trooper: “For the republic!”
      Me: WTF?
      Civilian: “Yes, quite. However I have something to give as a thanks.”
      Me: Okay, so some aren’t so good. I’ll choose that one, it’s not going to repeat the same weirdness right?
      Trooper: “For. The. Re-pub-lic!”
      Civilian: “Anyway, thank you again.”

      The really fun part was that the NPCs responses had a certain incredulous tone. I didn’t, and don’t, feel like being charitable, so I think it’s because Bioware wanted his responds to fit whatever was being said with no changes.

  26. “One major issue that I really hope they fix, and that is the dialog/cutscene skip key, It should not be the same as dialog select key, because it is far too easy to accidentally select dialog when skipping a cutscene or previous dialog, ESC key for skipping dialog and cutscenes would work fine. As it is now space act as both select and skip, gah! At minimum make the two configurable.”

    Something I pointed out in my ME2 review http://www.emsai.net/journal/?post=Rescator20100212004756

    I’ll probably do a review of ME3 once I played through it.
    Then I’ll play through all three and review the trilogy as a whole as a case study. Although Shamus if you intend to do that please do so, if I do mine it will be in the style of my ME reviews. (focusing on the technical side of things)
    In fact I’d really enjoy reading you reviewing the entire trilogy.

  27. Victor says:

    The notion that I sometimes get is that game developers have a preconceived notion of what dialog means to a game, and how it integrates into the rest of the interactive experience. To me, dialog very often feels like some sort of branching mechanism, such as you might find in a “choose your own adventure” book. It often seems to be separate from the rest of the game-play mechanics: you select a particular game branch to follow, and then game-play resumes and all the mechanisms which were established before resume as well. In a sense, it sometimes feels to me like the speech mechanic sits outside the rest of the game, and molds the shape of the story. All game-play mechanics occur inside the rest of the game. Does anyone else get this feeling (at least sometimes)?

    1. Sumanai says:

      I do. But I get the feeling that non-combat skills in general sit in their own group. Or, more accurately, that combat and everything directly related to it sit in their own, well defined, group. Although I suppose that could be said about anything that’s the games main gameplay.

  28. Rick says:

    The first game I saw where you selected the summary was The Chronicles of Ruddock: Escape from Butcher Bay. A very very good game.

      1. Rick says:

        I must’ve mashed my email address in wrong when I posted these… I wonder what I entered.

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