Building A Better Conversation... - AshaMan3000 Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Building A Better Conversation...

Prior to the last ten or so years conversing with NPCs in most games was more of a chore, or necessary evil to progress the plot.  Sure, there were story-telling gems, but by and large the dialogue, the actual verbal back and forth of characters, was stilted, awkward, and had little if any effect on the eventual outcome.  Part of this was the fact that western developers were still few and far between back then and localization of eastern developers was a perpetual weak point.  Another was the technological hurdles of effectively portraying a true conversation.

(These guys vaguely remind me of early vg conversations... And are funny!)

With the processing available from current hardware we've been able to witness the story-telling nuance of the conversation expand in various moving and interesting ways.  What I'd like to do here is highlight some strengths and weaknesses of various games that highlighted conversation as a major game-play point.  It's no coincidence that only four studios are included.  Bethesda, Bioware, Quantic Dream, and Rockstar (or Team Bondi) are all doing their part to push the industry forward and I want to applaud them for the effort.

Dragon Age

I've only played the original on my pc (which I've heard is better), but the dialogue between you and the denizens of the world seemed more organic than in most games.  The actions you took had consequences, and the interactions between you and the rest of the party at your camp were more nuanced and important than I realized until a second play-through.

While important to character development and story progression, the conversation systems weak point is forgettable secondary characters.  Your party was the exception (except for Allistair who was a total wiener), but I can't for the life of me remember any of the secondary characters name's or back stories.

(SIr! General RAAM and the horde are approaching! ...Wait, is that right?)

Skyrim

I've got a total of about 220 hours logged in Skyrim with 7 (I think) characters in use so I'm pretty sure most of the game's dialogue has been viewed by now.  While the speaking parts are better than Oblivion, Bethesda still has some work to do on the awkward factor.  Some of the dialogue still feels stilted and the fact that 18 people in a town still know one rumor to the exclusion of all others is a little immersion breaking.

That said, they've done an excellent job giving NPCs in the game schedules and routines to follow.  With more work, the topics could change from location to location and as time passes in game. 

 (Some of the dialogue however, is awesome!)

LA Noire

Red Dead was good in its own way, but LA Noire will be known from now on as Rockstar's interrogation simulator.  The game-play outside of the conversations was pretty dull after the first four or five cases as far as I'm concerned.  Walking around waiting for my controller to vibrate and driving through a relatively lifeless world got old, but oh the conversation! 

With an eye for detail, Team Bondi created some of the most emotive characters I've ever seen.  Whether raising an eyebrow, grimacing and looking away, or staring at you with wet, sorry eyes, the people you spoke with in LA Noire had an impact because of how well the emotion was on display.

(Sir, all due respect, I'm pretty sure you did it and that's all it takes.)

Mass Effect

While I'm late to the party and two thirds of the way through ME2 I still felt I had enough familiarity with the series to include it here.  What it does really well is add consequences to your actions.  Many, if not most, conversations have multiple ramifications you can trigger.  This adds meaning and depth to the conversation and re-play value to the game.  The characters also seem more real than those of the Dragon Age series, but that may just be me.

The only weak point is one that's largely out of my experience with the game.  I've read that most (or all) of the people you recruit in two step to the side for three.  Assuming it's well done story-wise I won't have issue, but it'd be nice if your relationships passed fully from game to game.  I could be wrong on this one.  Like I said, still on part two.

(Sorry, I'm more of an interspecies guy... It's not you, it's me.)

Heavy Rain

Quantic Dream did a lot of things right with the character interaction in Heavy Rain.  The handful of issues I had with this game's conversations were that they all seemed so scripted.  You couldn't interact with anyone outside of the scene and only a handful of the people who were there.

What they did best, was create some truly real people who I could empathize with and understand at least on some level.  They were also the best at showing off the weaknesses of their characters which was refreshing in this industry of blustering, health-recharging heroes.  Another nice addition was the inner monologue you could access.  Very cool.

 (Must've failed at the 'sneak attack' path... Haha!)

I guess the takeaway here is that we've still got work to do as an industry in providing people with emotive, impactful, and varied conversations in games.  Taking the best aspects of the five games mentioned we get the party influence of conversation in Dragon Age, the character schedule changes of Skyrim, the emotive expressions of LA Noire, the story ramifications of Mass Effect, and the more fully realized characters of Heavy Rain.  Adding to that I'd like to see more effort put into adding variables to conversations such as synonyms and metaphor to add that bit of 'new' to each play-through.  Changing topics allowed based on what part of the daily routine a character is on would add all sorts of value.  Letting your thought choices organically change vocal options would give us a stronger feel of control over the character.  And variety to the various endings.  Think different bride or group of buddies in the cut-scene, or possible even a different  foe!

So what do you guys think? Any big games with convesations I've missed?  Where do you think the industry is heading in regards to story and character interaction?

Thanks for reading all!

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