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Vince
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« on: February 27, 2008, 12:01:43 PM »

As we all know RPG usually means a game where you kill things. If you are role-playing a good character, you kills things in the name of justice and general goodness, weeping for every life taken. If you are role-playing an evil character, you kill with glee because you are evil (duh!), and finally, if you are playing an undecided character, you kill things and shrug.

You can often see "Different ways to play the game!" on a game box. 12 out of 10 it means "different ways to kill things". For example, venerable Baldur's Gate 2 offers 11 different classes, including bard, druid, and monk. Surprisingly enough (well, not really, but the word "surprisingly" increases the overall dramatic effect I'm going for), even though the manual boldly claims that bard's "strength is his pleasant and charming personality; With it and his wits he makes his way through the world....", the psycho bard makes his way through the world by killing things and singing sons that help him and his buddies kill things in a more efficient manner, which is great if you think that killing things is what RPGs are all about. If not, if you are starting to doubt that diplomacy is for fags, or expecting more than backstabbing from your thief, or simply wondering where the fuck all non-combat classes are, welcome to our PowerPoint "Non-Combat Gameplay: Myths and Reality" FAQ-style presentation:

Q: What is this non-combat gameplay you so obnoxiously speaketh of?
A: It's a form of gameplay that doesn't consist of, require, or revolve around killing things. You play a game and overcome challenges thrown at you without killing anyone, using your character's non-combat skills and abilities.

Here is a generic situation:

You are standing in front of a fortress and dying to get inside because that's where all the cool kids are. There is a gate, but it's guarded. You need a pass to enter. Your options are:

- knock some sense into the guards with your war hammer and go inside.
- persuade the guards to let you in: Hi there! I'm with the Tavern Food & Service Inspection Agency. We've heard rumors that you have rats running around in every cellar. Well, it's fucking better be a misunderstanding because if I see a single rodent-looking motherfucker - which includes this rat-faced bastard over there - I'm shutting this evil fortress down TONIGHT! Now open that fucking door already!
- ask around about the pass, find out who has one, and either steal it or trade it for something.
- create a diversion - Look behind you, a three-headed monkey! - and sneak inside. Or hire some thugs to attack the guards and while the guards are busy breaking some heads, sneak inside.
- wall-climbing text-adventures are fun and very ninja-like: your dagger blade snaps with a loud noise and you plummet to your death cursing stupid non-combat gameplay.
- impersonate an officer - Atten-hut! Is that how you salute an officer of the watch, swine? Stop eyeballing me! You're not worthy to look your superiors in the eye. Stand straight, eyes forward! What is the name of your commanding officer?
- bribe your way in.
- forge a fake pass using your knowledge of what a real pass looks like and skills (lore, literacy, scribing, etc)

Let's count now. Eight different ways to get in, only one requires bashing someone's head. As you can see, non-combat solutions are the core of role-playing because that's where the choices are. Figuring out what you can do in this situation is infinitely more interesting than checking your blade, putting on your reinforced hockey helmet, gulping a potion, and charging the guards.

Q: Your gate example is amazingly awesome but there is a huge difference between passing through a gate that nobody cares about and dealing with bloodthirsty monsters that are completely immune to persuasion, charisma, and personal magnetism.

A: Let's use the Bloodlines' sewers as an example. The sewers are packed with monsters and are often used as a counter-argument in "RPG diplomacy" discussions, pointing out that you can't convince a bloodthirsty monster not to eat you. The sewers, however, aren't floating somewhere in the void, being completely removed and detached from anything. They are a part of the game world and thus could be easily affected by many different things. Flooding the sewers could be a nice and elegant solution, requiring a bit of knowledge (you'd have to research the sewers, find out about the flood controls and where they are) and engineering to operate them. Another great option would have been tipping the authorities about, let’s say, terrorists in the sewers. SWAT teams go in looking for terrorists, run into the monsters, and eventually kill them all. Needless to say, you'd have to be very persuasive to pull that off, and additionally you'd get a strike for breaking the Masquerade, but at least you'll be safe. And finally you should have been able to push on the local vampire clan running that town and persuade, force, or manipulate them into cleaning the sewers for you. You work for the Prince after all, so you might as well use that to your advantage.

So, as you can see, you don't have to deal with in-game problems by charging at them. Obviously, you can't negotiate with big-ass scorpions, but hey, maybe you can find some dynamite and blow up their cave. If you know what I'm talking about, nod in agreement. If not, go play Fallout.

Q: Bandits. You travel from point A to point B and run into some bandits. What are you going to do? Go back and wait for the cavalry to clean up the roads?

Plenty of things, but instead of making things up, let's use Marco Polo as an example. Marco decided to LARP old-school. He formed a small 3-man party (I can only assume that they were fighter, mage, and thief) and decided to go adventuring all the way to China. Back in those days people were still taking their role-playing seriously.

He had received gifts for the Great Khan from Pope Gregory X and travelled 5,600 (!) miles of "bandit-ridden" roads, passing through Armenia, Persia, Afghanistan, and finally arriving to China 3.5 years later and delivering the Pope's gifts to the Khan. If Marco managed to avoid the bandits, ninjas, and pirates for 3.5 years and deliver the valuable gifts, we shall assume that dealing with RPG bandits in non-combat ways is more than possible.

Anyway, the story gets better and suggests a great way to handle hostile encounters in RPGs. Kublai Khan gave Marco a golden tablet, which had the Khan's seal and stated "Fuck not least you be fucked with!". Well, actually it said, "By the strength of the eternal Heaven, holy be the Khan's name. Let him that pays him not reverence be killed.", but that's pretty much the same thing. Needless to say, the magic tablet helped Marco to arrive back to Venice safely and bring back a fortune after serving the Khan for 17 years.

Q: Ok, you’ve dealt with bandits, but what about armies? Surely one can’t stop armies with a flowery speech and a pretty smile?

A: Actually….

In 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte, an exiled French emperor, landed near Cannes with 600 soldiers and started moving toward the capital. Near Grenoble he was stopped by the 5th Regiment. Napoleon stepped forward and using nothing but his charisma, persuasion, and dramatic effects convinced the soldiers to join him. A day later the 7th Regiment failed their roll against Napoleon’s maxed out Charisma. Marshal Ney promised Louis XVIII to bring Napoleon in an iron cage, but the power of Napoleon’s personality was too great and Ney joined his side, bringing in 6,000 soldiers. Without firing a shot (!), Napoleon took over a country and gained a 340,000 (regular soldiers and volunteers) army.

His progress (very RPG-like) could be tracked by the French newspaper Moniteur’s headlines:

March 10: The Corsican ogre has landed at Cape Juan.
March 11: The tiger is in Gap. Troops are on their way and will stop him. He will end his miserable adventure as a homeless refugee in the mountains.
March 12: The monster succeeded in proceeding to Grenoble.
March 13: The tyrant is now in Lyon. Horror has caught the people.
March 18: The usurper is some days’ march distant from Paris.
March 19: Bonaparte approaches in a hurry, but he will not succeed in advancing to Paris.
March 20: Napoleon will be in Paris tomorrow.
March 21: Emperor Napoleon is in Fontainebleau.
March 22: Yesterday evening His Majesty celebrated his arrival in Paris. The jubilation cannot be described.

From ogre to His Majesty in 12 days. Not bad at all.

Q: Well, Napoleon was an ex-emperor, so that doesn’t count. How about a completely hostile town where you can be killed on sight?

A: Sir Richard Francis Burton - the 19th century explorer, linguist, ninja-cartographer, undercover intelligence officer, and swordsman. He spoke 25 languages (40 if you count dialects) flawlessly (can you imagine it? 25 languages! That’s what happens, kids, when you don’t treat your INT as a dump stat) and was able to impersonate native speakers in Africa, Asia, and South America. He was the first westerner who infiltrated Mecca disguised as an Afghani physician. If he were discovered, he would have been immediately executed.

Just think about it. An Englishman was able to enter the holy Muslim city, maintain his disguise all the time, demonstrate an understanding and familiarity with Islamic rituals (asking “what do we do now, guys?” was kind of out of the question), behave like a Middle East man (mannerism, etiquette, reaction) without raising suspicions, study everything and leave to write a book about it.

Anyway...

Next step - the forbidden Muslim city of Harar in Somaly. All non-believers who had entered Harar before Burton had been executed, but he manages to go in, party with the locals like it's 1995, and leave alive AGAIN. Quite a feat.

Imagine infiltrating a town like that in an RPG. Combat is not an option for obvious reasons. You rely only on your knowledge, your “soft” skills and abilities. I’d definitely tap that.

Q: Non-combat solutions to ALL in-game problems? That's crazy and I laugh at this crazy stuff. Ha Ha. Ha. Ha.
A: This is crazy? No! THIS IS SPA ....  Sorry, got carried away there a bit. Have you ever thought about the "traditional" RPG design? Every little problem - and some games have hundreds of problem - can only be solved by violence.

- I was attacked by bandits
- GREAT! LET ME KILL THEM!
- Rats ate all my food
- GREAT! LET ME KILL THEM!
- My neighbours...
- GREAT! LET ME KILL THEM!
- My crops...
- GREAT! LET ME KILL THEM!
- My...
- KILL! KILL! KILL!
- My lord, you've killed everyone. There is nobody left but me....
* the great battle axe swings and a headless body hits the ground* KILL.....

Since everyone's ok with solving ALL problems with combat skills, I don't see why solving ALL problems with non-combat skills should be an issue, but that’s not what we are talking about here today. We are talking about paths. An RPG can have many optional quests, but as long as it offers several distinctive paths through the game, I'm happy. There are few things worse than playing a diplomatic character through the game and then suddenly being forced to fight because we’ve entered the “REAL MEN only!” area of the game, so it should be a complete and distinctive path through the game. I’d settle on at least Combat Boy, Charisma Boy, and Stealth Boy, but would prefer to see more.

Combat is definitely a great and enjoyable way to beat a game, but it shouldn’t be the only way.

Q: Yeah, yeah, whatever. Non-combat gameplay = giving your character high intelligence and choosing the wordiest options available. It's a great read, but from a player-game interaction standpoint, not much is going on there.

That would be bad design again. The way I see it, the diplomatic path, for example, should require a lot of in-game knowledge, interacting with characters, forming relationships, and so on. You do all that and then getting the lines showing your character's knowledge of the gameworld and his ability to manipulate situations would come as a reward when all pieces of the puzzle you're playing with come together.

Let me use one of our optional quests as an example. You are asked to assassinate a noble who's plotting against the local lord. The noble is well guarded, but that shouldn't stop you from going over there and killing everyone. Your fighting prowess should be properly tested, after all.  However, let's assume that you want to be a bit more creative. We support that by offering you 4 different ways to kill the bastard. Naturally, only one requires you to get you well-manicured hands dirty. You can investigate the plotting business and find out that the noble relies on a certain general’s support. Then you acquire a legionnaire’s uniform, put it on, and pay the noble a visit:

Guard: Who the hell are you?
PC:

1. Show him the ring.
2. [disguise] "General Pavolla has been assassinated! Gaelius' guards are on their way here."
3. Attack.

If #2 is successful: "Pavolla... dead..." The guard slowly turns around, visibly shaken by the news.

1. Attack.
2. "Take me to Serenas. We don’t have time to waste."

Serenas looks at the guard and understands everything without words. The details aren't important. What's important is that his dream of ruling House Aurelian is over. "What happened?" he asks weakly.

"General Pavolla was murdered by Gaelius' assassins. Several other patriots were brutally murdered in their own beds. It's a matter of time until they get to you, my lord."

"What do you suggest?"

1. "You must flee at once."
2. "Poison, my lord. It's painless and fast."

"Poison? Are you out of your mind?"

[persuasion] "Have you ever visited your uncle's torture chambers? You will be dying there for weeks, being broken in every possible way and begging for death. Or you can die with dignity, by your own hand." 

If successful: Serenas' hand shakes as he accepts the poison. He looks you in the eyes with determination and hate as he swallows the liquid. His death is quick and painless, as you promised. Your work here is done.

Alternatively, you can have a chat with the guard, expressing your concerns about the whole situation and convincing the guard that Serenas will sell everyone the first chance he gets. Then you go and scare the hell out of poor Serenas:

“I don’t believe it! Gaelius wouldn't kill his own nephew. I'll go to him right now and explain everything. It was that sneaky bastard Pavolla and the others. Yes, the others. If I give them to my uncle..." A well placed strike interrupts his tirade.
 
Grim-faced, the guard withdraws the blade from Serenas' back - "Fucking vappa! You were right. He would have sold us all to save his own skin. Do you have a problem with that, friend?" His nod indicates the dead body.

1. “None whatsoever.” Salute and leave
2. “Actually, I do. I'm sure that general Pavolla might be disappointed too.”


So, as you can see, kids, non-combat gameplay is interesting, realistic, and more complex than clicking on lines with more than three words. If you ask me, that's where all the fun is. Why am I telling you all this? Well, son, I'm building up your expectations and hopefully somehow that would translate into more interesting games with more depth than "poke dis guy with a sword until he's dead, then report back for more killing".
« Last Edit: February 27, 2008, 02:54:56 PM by Vince » Logged
Mephisto
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« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2008, 12:46:46 PM »

Great article, Vince. Funny and insightful.
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Starwars
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« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2008, 01:02:58 PM »

I particularly want to enforce your point that it's very important for the game to be inventive about the Diplomatic instead of just providing the "let's skip battle and be friends" type of dialogue option.

Nearly all RPGs feature a dangerous setting, where there the fear of death exists. For the diplo-path, I think that this should mean that even though the *possibility* is there to avoid all combat, this should not necessarily mean that many players should manage to "get it" on their first playthrough. There should be a real difficulty there, and a real fear of dying.

Also, the stealth boy approach is a hard one for me. Most games that feature stealth never actually seem to have much content for it. You might get some optional loot and stuff in certain games, but it rarely feels you're getting rewarded somehow by sneaking vs other ways. Rarely does a game recognize that you've sneaked through a place instead of just killing all the guards before confronting the final boss.
Just more dialogue for the sneaky character would be great (and a well done thieves guild would be a very good start).
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« Reply #3 on: February 27, 2008, 01:03:54 PM »

Nicely done. Now I want a Silk Road RPG and a Heinrich Barth RPG.
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« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2008, 10:49:24 PM »

Another entertaining rant Vince. Viral marketed over on the Codex for great justice. Anyway:

The biggest problem I see with typical non-combat gameplay is that there's rarely ever a degree of success. The best you can hope for is a variance in how much you have to pay as a bribe, that sort of thing. There's too much scripting involved, whereas combat generally relies on dynamic interactions within a set of rules. And more often than not, failure means "time to reload" because you're not given opportunities to fail multiple times before "losing the battle".

Of course, this is all because of a lack of design effort in this area, but are there simple, elegant and general solutions that can add a bit more variance to systems like dialogue or stealth? I think there are, and I think this thread is the place to brainstorm them.
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« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2008, 03:26:29 AM »

I don't always agree with Vince but that was a superb piece. Great work, now I'm hawt to play a linguist-intellectual-ninja-spy.

Also, good point from Priapist.
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« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2008, 04:38:43 AM »

Good work, Vince...

I like what you said about how a little research could provide interesting solutions. This could be applied to assassinations: you'd have to gather all sorts of intelligence about someone before you attempt to kill them, for instance:

- with more complex npc schedules, it could be fun to map out the victims daily motions, and you should perhaps disguise yourself if you're gonna follow him around, to avoid suspicion. Once you know his activities, you could place deadly traps at proper locations.

Other options would be stuff like poisoning water or food supply.

One skill I haven't seen in crpg's, is something like "detect traps", but you detect tracks and residue instead. Besides tracking down monsters or whatever, you would also be forced to cover your own tracks for various reasons. Maybe you failed to notice all the tracks due to poor skill, which would increase the probability of some cunning bounty-hunter closing in on your trail.

I need sleep now, I hope this reply wasn't too half-baked
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« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2008, 05:22:20 AM »

Quote
One skill I haven't seen in crpg's, is something like "detect traps", but you detect tracks and residue instead. Besides tracking down monsters or whatever, you would also be forced to cover your own tracks for various reasons. Maybe you failed to notice all the tracks due to poor skill, which would increase the probability of some cunning bounty-hunter closing in on your trail.

They have this kind of thing in Mount & Blade, it is really awesome. You run into a fresh trail of a warparty, you know it's time to turn around and head for the nearest town unless you are prepared. You don't have the skill, you and your party of peasants continue on oblivious.
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Lapsed Pacifist
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« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2008, 06:43:47 AM »

A: Let's use the Bloodlines' sewers as an example. The sewers are packed with monsters and are often used as a counter-argument in "RPG diplomacy" discussions, pointing out that you can't convince a bloodthirsty monster not to eat you. The sewers, however, aren't floating somewhere in the void, being completely removed and detached from anything. They are a part of the game world and thus could be easily affected by many different things. Flooding the sewers could be a nice and elegant solution, requiring a bit of knowledge (you'd have to research the sewers, find out about the flood controls and where they are) and engineering to operate them. Another great option would have been tipping the authorities about, let’s say, terrorists in the sewers. SWAT teams go in looking for terrorists, run into the monsters, and eventually kill them all. Needless to say, you'd have to be very persuasive to pull that off, and additionally you'd get a strike for breaking the Masquerade, but at least you'll be safe. And finally you should have been able to push on the local vampire clan running that town and persuade, force, or manipulate them into cleaning the sewers for you. You work for the Prince after all, so you might as well use that to your advantage.

Great read! But I can't stop myself from nitpicking this example. First - I don't think that flooding the sewers would do much - those things don't need to breathe. So instead of having a dungeon full of monsters, you would have a flooded dungeon full of monsters. And some very wet and pissed off Nosferatu. Second idea - calling the cops. Bloodlines is very forgiving when it comes to masquerade breeches, but this goes a bit too far imo. In any vampire city the police force would be kept under control by whatever faction holds power, and you can bet that somebody is watching for just this kind of masquerade breeching stunts at all times. Not only would it not work, but any attempt is likely to be met with extreme prejudice (read - a gorilla with a big sword).

Now the third idea - calling in for help. That is a great idea - why isn't the sheriff and his friends helping you? Where are all Camarilla vampires? And where are the Anarchs? If there is one thing that Anarchs hate even more the Camarilla, it's the Sabbat. This problem isn't limited to Bloodlines only - take Fallout 2. I have friends in power in Vault City, New Reno, NCR, Broken Hills, San Francisco and the Brotherhood. So why am I going after the Enclave alone (or with a few NPCs) and not with a whole army?!

Back to the Bloodlines example - here is another potential non-combat path. By the time you get to the sewers, you already know at least one ugly-son-of-a-bitch that knows how to get to the Nosferatu warrens. Why not pay him a visit, politely remind him of all the favors you did for him for which he has done practically nothing in return (favor trading is very important in Camarilla) and ask him to tell you how to find Nosferatu. And if he refuses, then use favors you have with Therese & Jeannette, the Prince, the Regent or whomever and make them lean on him until he gives you the information. I actually tried to do this when I was playing the game for the first time - it looked like a logical thing to do. It was very disappointing to learn that the only way to the warrens leads through monster infested sewers.
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« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2008, 06:54:57 AM »

This is a great piece, and should be pinned above every RPG developers monitor. You are also getting better and better at writing these, its really fun to read your stuff by now.

However, you talk almost exclusively of quest design (which of course makes sense as it is the key strength AoD seems to aspire to), I had hoped it would go a little beyond and also cover other non-combat gameplay elements, like crafting/alchemy/player-made magic, collecting, puzzles.
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« Reply #10 on: February 28, 2008, 09:58:35 AM »

This is a great piece, and should be pinned above every RPG developers monitor. You are also getting better and better at writing these, its really fun to read your stuff by now.
Thanks.

Quote
However, you talk almost exclusively of quest design (which of course makes sense as it is the key strength AoD seems to aspire to), I had hoped it would go a little beyond and also cover other non-combat gameplay elements, like crafting/alchemy/player-made magic, collecting, puzzles.
I think it's a different topic. I was talking about non-combat ways to play RPGs, while alchemy and crafting are what you do in-between combat. Diablo 2 had a great crafting system with socketed items, gems of various strengths, runes & runewords, and crafting recipes, but the game had nothing but combat. The Witcher had an interesting alchemy system, but it was a story-driven action game.

In AoD, for example, you can make acid and use it on locks, but the way I see it, that's less about alchemy and more about providing alternative solutions.
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« Reply #11 on: February 28, 2008, 10:24:26 AM »

One skill I haven't seen in crpg's, is something like "detect traps", but you detect tracks and residue instead. Besides tracking down monsters or whatever, you would also be forced to cover your own tracks for various reasons. Maybe you failed to notice all the tracks due to poor skill, which would increase the probability of some cunning bounty-hunter closing in on your trail.

CSI: RPG!

Great article, I agree fully that the combat focus is ridiculous, and one of the reasons the RPG genre is folding into others. I mean, put a combat heavy, low choice RPG into FPP, make the combat real-time, what really distinguishes it from an FPS? Stats, levelling and a bit of dialogue, that's not a seperate genre.

Of the alternatives (stealth, dialogue), stealth seems the more achievable as a strong mechanic. Some skills are already there, and the gameplay just needs to be cut and pasted from Thief. I do think it unlikely for a generalist RPG to produce stealth play of this level, it would probably need to be a more thief focused RPG. There is the problem of where the line between player and character skill is drawn, but I'm sure it can be well implemented (ie. having skills affect the light gem), and I certainly don't want stealth as cool as Thief's to be taken away from the player and being controlled by a mere roll of the dice.

When it comes to dialogue as an alternative, there are a number of unanswered questions and much more work that needs to be done. I've not played an RPG with dialogue resolution that was anything but an interesting departure from combat, a dialogue/knowledge mechanic has never been strong enough to stand on its own, like a good combat system can.

Is it possible for it to do so? Has any game come close? Is this likely or imminently achievable? Does Iron Tower think they can achieve it?

The example of dialogue resolution given in the OP is great, and contains some good choice for the player, "how will I deal with this situation: 1,2,3, or 4" as well as having a role for the character, by using character skill checks. Where it is lacking in comparison to combat, is that there are much fewer options, the player does not really get to do anything cool, the gameplay is little different to reading normal dialogue trees that have no real options, it makes the player pay more attention but in the end he's still just clicking on lines of dialogue and seeing more dialogue in response. You are also often depriving the player of content, who would pass up hours of sewer scouring in VtmB for a quick dialogue with the police, leaving all the fun to them?

What kind of dialogue gameplay have we seen in RPGs: choose from various pre-scripted options, character skill checks to determine success of actions, collecting knowledge from various sources via more pre-scripted dialogue and using that knowledge to make better choices.

The fun part of non-combat quest resolution is coming up with the idea, attempting it in game and finding that you can actually take that path. Much like solving a puzzle in an adventure game. Obviously, to have more of these cool moments, the developers need to code many different paths.

I see this kind of gameplay as satisfying, and a very good option in an RPG that also has stealth, combat and other options, but do not see it as strong enough to stand on its own the way combat is able to.

Can dialogue quest resolution be as strong a game mechanic as combat?
Or is it destined to always be an option, or a nice addition to other elements?

I'm not querying whether a non-combat RPG could be made, I'm certain it can, rather whether an RPG which focused as heavily on dialogue gameplay as most RPGs do on combat gameplay could be viable. This may not be a goal worth aiming for, as a game does not need to be so narrowly focused, just questioning how far the dialogue focus can go.

The obvious answer to making dialogue gameplay more compelling, is mini-games. Fahrenheit (adventure game) had a great system where you press a combination of arrow keys at the right time during dialogue and cutscenes.  Wink


I have no answers as to how to improve dialogue gameplay, just some half-baked ideas. One possibility is to have some questions that the PC can always/often ask, and for the responses to these to be partially/mostly unscripted, based on game and PC/NPC states.
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« Reply #12 on: February 28, 2008, 11:28:46 AM »

A couple of dialogue concepts I'm bandying about.

Substitution

Rather than every line of dialogue being completely static, I want to breathe a bit of life into them by a simple system of substitution. When parsing raw script, the game looks for curly brackets: { } - which represent optional elements and parentheses: ( ) which represent required elements. Both can potentially draw from the same Lexicon (pool of words/phrases), but only curly bracketed lookups can return NULL. The parser also automatically capitalises the start of each sentence, in case of a script that begins with an optional lookup. So for example:
 
Code:
{exclam_comma} what {the_fuck} was that {shit}?!
can produce any of the following:

    * What was that?!
    * What the fuck was that?!
    * Sweet Jesus, what in tarnation was that?!
    * Mother of fuck, what the motherfucking hell was that motherfucking shit?!

...and so forth. It all depends on what is contained in the Lexicon. That's all well and good for a bit of flavour, but kind of pointless unless it actually interacts with the gameplay. So I introduce the concept of tags:

Tags

All entries in the Lexicon feature meta tags to describe the tone and content of the word/phrase, independent of its literal meaning. Characters then choose their own speech according to the tags they prefer, and react accordingly to ones they don't. Tags may be generated dynamically during runtime, and an instance of the Lexicon effectively becomes a "living document", changing and expanding throughout the course of the game. So for example:

Code:
in_trouble { "in trouble" [default]; "up shit creek" [swearing][shit][colloquial]; "fucked" [swearing][fuck]; "in quite a predicament" [intellectual][wordy]; }

So with those basics in place (as well as a whole asston of other factors, such as skill/stats/emotional state), it's now possible to say the same thing in umpteen different ways, and generate a varied response, such as a character who doesn't like swearing in general, or one who can't stand the word "cunt", and so forth. It's a start, but the actual "gameplay" side of it is still passive unless you give the player "tactical" control over their word/phrase picks. The problem is, that gets clunky in a hurry if you have too much control, like a drop down for each substitution, so I'm considering ways to create interesting macro controls over dialogue lines, such as setting "mode", "tone" or "intent" and so forth.

It's funny. I'm happy to preside over lengthy turn based combat interactions, but the idea of deliberating over a dialogue response for any longer than it takes to read the options abhors me, because I have this notion that it ought to remain "natural" and fairly immediate. Am I the only who thinks this way? What would it take for "chess-like" consideration of each dialogue to be acceptable?
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rvdleun
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« Reply #13 on: February 28, 2008, 12:48:53 PM »

Although I definately agree on many points that you made there, Vince, I'm afraid that I do not entirely see this as a realistic goal. At least, not for commercial RPGs. I spoke about this with a mate, and he came up with an explanation that elaborates on it...


The biggest problem actually is that noncombat gameplay is generally EXTREMELY badly repeatable. There are exceptions, of course. Stealth, for example, which requires a fairly advanced AI. Plus of course some environment interaction systems that you just don't need in a combat game.

But say you have a level with 5 obstacles to be passed before you reach Treasure™. If you already have a combat system in place (and you will, even in an indie RPG), you just plop in 5 different monsters, either more and more difficult or in increasingly large groups. JOB DONE! If you want the player to be able to bypass them stealthily, and you have a stealth system in place, well you make sure the monsters patrol in set patterns so they can be avoided and that there's something to hide in (bushes, water, darkness, whatever). So that's two solutions! Yay!

Now if you want the player to use diplomacy or trickery... you have to write branching dialogue for that. And you don't get away with writing one piece of dialogue and just making it harder because that makes no sense. You have to write new dialogue for each encounter, and you need to script the outcomes. And if you're as ambitious as the examples in the first post, you need a DAMN LOT OF BRANCHES. And when you're done, because you're working on an AAA game here, you have to record that dialogue. Then implement it. And then test the whole thing. Congratulations: You just multiplied your workload by 20 


Thoughts?
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Vince
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« Reply #14 on: February 28, 2008, 02:00:38 PM »

Although I definately agree on many points that you made there, Vince, I'm afraid that I do not entirely see this as a realistic goal. At least, not for commercial RPGs.
Of course not. Currently the mainstream design is based on two firmly held and well documented beliefs:

- most people play games only once
- most people never finish long games

In other words, making alternative paths or long games is a waste of time, so why bother?

In unrelated news, Kieron of the RPS fame liked the article and will add it to his Sunday overview piece.
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