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Vince
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« on: July 12, 2008, 04:39:01 PM »

One day I decided to write an article about RPG dialogue systems. I showed it to Gareth Fouche, the talented Scars of War developer, who immediately canceled his dinner plans and started throwing ideas around, tweaking, editing, and rewriting. Without further ado, I present you with our joint effort to explore the dialogue subject.

* * *

In the beginning there was The Premise. And the Premise was good, because it said unto gamers "Lo! There is this bad guy over there! Verily, thou shouldst go to his castle, slaughter him and his staff and take anything that isn't nailed down!". And gamers did rejoice muchly, for they were rather fond of killing and looting.

But, over time, some gamers did begin to feel dissatisfaction. For, as enjoyable as slaughter and mayhem was, it lacked something. Something vital. A pat on the head. A "Good job, laddy". A gold star for effort. What use, the touchdown, without the crowd to roar its approval?

So the gods of game design put their heads together and came up with a plan. Games would now have stories, they declared. The story of the Chosen One, who was chosen to slaughter his way through the game world under the guidance of a host of simpleminded back-patting NPCs, characters who would constantly praise and congratulate the player for the simplest of tasks. To bring this wondrous plan to life would require new techniques, new methods for communication. Something more complex than the simple grunts and screams of the slain.

And gamers did rejoice again, for much ego stroking ensued. Now one couldn't walk 5 minutes through an RPG without stumbling across Bob the Peasant, whose favourite hat had been stolen by 15 heavily armed thugs, or a lazy blacksmith in need of someone to go across the street and fetch him a drink. And every time the player completed these mini-plots they would be rewarded, both with glowing praise and powerful equipment. A veritable kings ransom of mithril platemail, flaming swords and potent, lightning-wreathed staves; rewards suitable for the Brave Hero Who Went Across The Road And Fetched Back A Meat Pie.

But again there arose a problem. For now that characters in the world could speak to the player, the player expected to be able to talk back to them. As game worlds had become ever more expansive, important questions had arisen. Questions such as "Which way to the weapon shop, I need to sell all these spare swords I found lying around.", "Have you seen 15 large men and a hat anywhere around here?" and "Which way to the bad guy's super-secret fortress?" These were the burning questions that players desired to ask, but the simple "Please fetch my cat from the tree: Yes/No" lively banter of the time didn't support such deep conversation. So, taking a page from the adventure game genre, which at the time was still alive and kicking instead of a comatose husk, RPG designers introduced the concept of asking NPCs for information on Keywords. Now the player could collect Keywords just as they collected shiny baubles, and ask the characters they met about them.



Wehrheim sounds like a very progressive place. I should definitely visit it.


Wizardry 8 stands as perhaps the pinnacle of this type of design, combining several intuitive interfaces allowing you to truly *interact* with NPCs. Typing in a keyword or simply clicking on any word in an NPC's lines adds it to the communication "where is / talk about" interface and allows you to discuss this subject with NPCs. If you think this topic is important, you can easily add this word to the keywords list. You can remove and sort your keywords, avoiding the mess of earlier systems.

The "action" interface gives you the option to threaten or be nice, to attack, trade, pickpocket, recruit, or use magic such as charms or mind reading on NPCs. The palette of choices open to the player was vast. However, this breadth comes at the expense of depth of discourse.

"You there! Simple farmer type! Tell me everything you know about hats! What? You don't know anything about that topic? Playing coy, eh? Well let's see how coy you are with a sword up your arse!"

The example above shows the weakness of the Keyword system. As powerful a tool as it is for allowing players to probe for information, it is poor at conveying shades of subtle meaning in the player's interactions. Was the farmer merely clueless about the nature of head wear in general? Or were his motives more sinister? Was he part of a secret hat-worshiping cult, one which had taken Bob's hat so as to worship it in their secret underground shrine to all things head-covering? A single word struggles to convey the extra meaning and context of an entire sentence, no matter how threateningly you say the word "hat".


This desire for more complex shades of meaning resulted in dialogue trees, trees whose delicious textual fruits would serve as the mainstay of RPG gamer diets for over a decade, through to the modern era. Attempting to imitate natural conversation flow, dialogue trees offer the same back and forth discourse one would expect from another human being. The power of strong writing to convey tone and subtlety opened doors for whole ranges of previously impossible or infeasible interaction with characters. Combined with scripting, skill checks, and text adventure elements this system offers incredible flexibility for a cheap price, the cost of a few written lines. Perhaps no finer example of such power and flexibility exists than Planescape: Torment. Here is an RPG whose deep dialogues enable the player to do more than simply talk to characters, they can interact with them through the medium of text. The dialogue became an adventure, a game, in and of itself. Nestled within it were puzzles, scripted events, even character development. Want to break someone's neck? Cut some stitches on a zombie and see what's inside? Catch a thief when he's picking your pocket? Replace your eyeball with an eye you found in a jar? Tinker with your equipment? All these were achievable thanks to dialogue trees and skilled writing.



Not only can dialogue trees contain new gameplay, they can frame existing gameplay in an entirely new manner. The alternative dialogues for stupid characters in Fallout or Arcanum, the insane wit of the Malkavian Clan in Vampire: Bloodlines, both cast the gameplay and character interactions in their respective games in entirely new light. So much so that they can make two playthroughs of the same game seem entirely different, greatly enhancing role-playing and replayability.


However, while dialogue trees are potent tools, their strengths are also their weaknesses. Each line of text can convey a highly specific meaning, but the player is limited to only those meanings. It's impossible to think of and write about every possible response, reflecting every possible skill, background, emotion and tone for every response. No more could a player "ask NPC about X". The design had shifted the initiative from the player to the designer. As long as one stayed within the boundaries of the dialogue as written by the designer, everything was groovy. But those boundaries are tightly defined, impossible to break.

This system also places huge strain on a designer, for he has to cater for as many possible player reactions as possible. Torment offered tremendous depth to the player, but the cost was nearly half a dozen full novels worth of written text. A labor of love, but strenuous labor nonetheless. And in the hands of the less talented, those boundaries becomes straight-jackets, tying the player to awful, poorly written prose, causing them to long for the days when they could simply ask "Where is [hat]?" As powerful as dialogue trees are, they represent a dead end, or rather an area of ever decreasing gain in return for ever increasing effort. As with artwork and pretty graphics, increasing the amount of content requires exponentially increasing amounts of writing labor. With finite timelines and finite resources, writers are forced to cater for a few broad options which they hope can satisfy the most common options players might select.

Despite this fact, some of the greatest role playing games of our times have relied on dialogue trees as one of their pillars of gameplay. Fallout, Planescape: Torment, Baldur's Gate and Knight of the Old Republic games, Arcanum, Bloodlines, Mask of the Betrayer, all these titles rely on dialogue trees to shape the experience.

Aware of this limitation, designers have attempted to return some of the initiative to players via Combined-type dialogue systems but the results are generally poor. These systems are simply attempts to put multiple dialogue techniques into the game. Some games have attempted to combine the power of dialogue trees with the ability for the player to ask questions via a Keyword system. While this can work, partially, there tends to be a strong sense of disconnection. The contrast between the more realistic flowing dialogue trees and the simpler Keyword responses tend to jar the player a bit. Additionally, one system tends to end up overpowering the other. Although there have been a few experiments in this direction most have them haven't been hugely successful in combining the strengths of two or more systems. How many people actually even remember that Fallout had a keyword system as well as the dialogue trees? And, after the 5th time of clicking on "Rumors" in Oblivion, the novelty of hearing that the Fighters Guild is recruiting wears off.

While combined systems have, seemingly, failed to make a lasting impression, there have been experiments in other ways to solve the problem of introducing dynamism to conversation without re-introducing the issues of keywords. Taking a page from more casual games, like the Sims, some designers have tried experimenting with symbolic communication. In games such as the Sims, you don't choose specific dialogue. You choose tones and actions. Since these are simple, symbolic concepts like "laugh", "insult" and "shun" instead of true language, it is easier for the designer to build rules for interactions which can be combined by players into more complex interactions than dialogue trees.

However, the introduction of such systems into RPGs has been somewhat stillborn. Symbolic interactions lack the deeper meaning and subtlety of dialogue trees, re-introducing the weakness of Keywords, the weakness that dialogue trees were adopted in order to circumvent. In Fable you may have been able to perform a set series of symbolic actions on NPCs but each of these lacked the emotional weight of true speech. Especially when compared to the spoken speech in the actual dialogue, these actions seem superficial, weak. The system of variable manipulation behind it stands out in stark contrast, such as the persuasion mini-game in Oblivion. While a skilled writer could write a plausible dialogue that took the character through an emotional roller coaster of flattery, boasting, jests and intimidating comments, to sit and select each in turn from a menu gui robs the concept of any credulity.


Some have attempted, once again, to create a combination system. Dialogue trees, but ones which allow you to choose the tone with which you deliver the response. Bard's Tale, with it's Snarky or Nice options, Mass Effect with it's persuasion wheel and the upcoming Alpha Protocol which offers you a choice of professional/suave/aggressive secret agent archetype. The problem with such systems is that, being built on dialogue trees, they offer little extra flexibility in the best case, and in the worse actually surprise the player with a response completely outside their expectations. Sure, you selected the "insulting tone" option. But you never intended to whip out you pistol, push it to his head and instigate a bar fight. The problem is, like Keywords, Tones and Actions are very broad categories. A lot could be considered to fit within the category "insulting tone". However, unlike Keywords, since Dialogue Trees with Tones are still really just dialogue trees, they don't actually offer the added flexibility of a pure symbolic system such as the sims. You can't get dynamic conversations out of such a system. Taken with the fact that they can result in the player being surprised by what his or her own character says or does, a jarring state which goes counter to engendering a sense of "taking on a role", hybrid systems like this really don't seem worth it, unless your goal is to simplify and streamline for audiences who don't like to read, or save space on TV screens that could be better used for cool camera angles and more bloom.


A better option for the tone system is in combination with the Keyword system. Instead of just asking about a topic and getting a response, you can ask about that keyword in a certain tone. This, based on the NPC's opinion of you, your manner of speech, and the topic, could result in different responses. Daggerfall, with its attempts at dynamically generated conversations, tried this method, although they didn't exploit its full potential. In fact, Daggerfall's generated dialogue represents perhaps the best chance for advancing the state of RPG dialogue systems. Combining generated dialogue with carefully written text, in the same way that the Diablo games combine randomly generated environments with set pieces, could result in the holy grail of dialogue systems, one which allows the player to express themselves in a powerful manner while still allowing the designer the ability to carefully convey subtle meaning.

* * *

While I'm very fond of full dialogue trees, I believe that the keyword system is the foundation of any evolution of RPG dialogue systems.  I would certainly be interested to pick up where Sir Tech left off and see what could be done with this concept. The "tone" interface could be easily tied to speech skills and an Arcanum-like disposition system. Same goes for the action interface. Skills like backstab or critical strike can be easily tied to attack options, replacing our "critical strike" dialogue lines. I'd probably add "Small Talk" to get the local info.

For example, currently we have:

"You make small talk with the town guards. There isn't a lot of traffic these days, so the guards are bored and grateful for the company. Turns out the guards' captain had recently lost more than he can afford in a game of chance, the guards are underpaid (you note that you've never met anyone who thought he's being overpaid), and the Imperial Guards are pretentious bastards."

1. "So, did the captain pay his debt?"
2. "I can't believe that the guards who risk their lives to protect us all are underpaid! That is the real crime."
3. "What do the Imperial Guards do anyway?"

With the keywords system, you’d simply explore topics like "captain’s debt" or "underpaid guards", getting the info you need and then drawing your own conclusions and attempting to bribe the guards.  "Bribe" action would allow you to choose an amount and would be tied to a corresponding skill (trading, etiquette, streetwise, whatever).  That would probably be more exciting and interesting than picking a line from the list.  The outcome would depend on the amount and your skill.  Perhaps, a small fortune would be enough to overlook your clumsy attempt, while a more skilled character would be able to convince the guards to accept a modest amount. It's definitely a direction we'd like to explore one day.
« Last Edit: July 13, 2008, 10:16:17 AM by Vince » Logged
Wrath of Dagon
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« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2008, 11:18:07 PM »

 lol The first part of that was hilarious. I think AP is actually attempting something like what's proposed, they're not only offering a stance, but also a summary of what will be said or done. So if you pull a gun, they'll tell you that ahead of time. I think bribing someone may also be an option. Also the NPC responses are supposed to be fairly dynamic depending on what went on before, but we'll have to see how that works.
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Secondly--MURDER? Merely because I had planned the duel and provoked the quarrel! Never had I heard anything so preposterous.
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« Reply #2 on: July 13, 2008, 08:55:01 AM »

Great article! Thumbs up for two indie developers working together and sharing ideas.
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Ellorien
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« Reply #3 on: July 13, 2008, 01:36:15 PM »

Great article indeed, Vince. Brings back some fond memories...  Smile
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« Reply #4 on: July 14, 2008, 08:07:09 AM »

Nice to see Daggerfall get some props here. Like so many things in that game it's dialogue system (while not that great in its actual implementation) seemed to hold great promise for the future, that however has never really been realised, unfortunately. However, the ways in which this system could be evolved remain a bit vague, maybe that should be discussed some more. I agree on the aspect of implementing skill checks, or skill effects, that is obvious and straightforward. But a crucial aspect e.g. seems to be how much work it generates to have keywords plus tone translate into an actual line the PC says - the limitations for Dialogue trees would still seem to apply (e.g. the effort needed to write all these), unless it were possible to somehow automate the way the tone changes the phrasing. Which already brings us to the real impediment to progress in game dialogue (in my humble opinion) - we need artificial intelligence, a generation beyond chatbots, to really make progress here.
Game graphics today look better in games today, not because artists draw better than 20 years ago - they do so because we tapped into the power of computing to simulate three dimensional space, lighting, shadows, surfaces, etc, using a lot of neat tricks to make things seem realistic although they are not (still no real time ray-tracing after all). Had the same amount of effort gone into simulating dialogue - where would we be today?
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« Reply #5 on: July 14, 2008, 08:32:09 AM »

Actually, about 100 times the effort goes into modern game art in comparison to older games. The number of artists and amount of time they spend has dramatically increased, far more than the number of programmers. And almost all of those fancy techniques for graphics require an artist to set them up or fine tune it. You'd be surprised, for all the automation there is still a large amount of things that must be done by hand.

This is one of the reasons why Spore came about, Wright realized that the demand for artwork is ever increasing and causing costs to sky-rocket. He saw stuff done on the demo scene to procedurally generate art (like .kkrieger ) and realised the potential this kind of technology has. To free up artists from having to create each texture, model and animation by hand, like they did in the Sims (I believe there were 22 thousand animations for the Sim character in Sims 2, iirc).

A similar problem faces writers. Writing dialogue, like art, is something that has rules but at the moment requires a human mind behind it. Still, experiments with procedural generation of dialogue hold some promise, even if it is still early days.
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Vince
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« Reply #6 on: July 14, 2008, 09:45:46 AM »

But a crucial aspect e.g. seems to be how much work it generates to have keywords plus tone translate into an actual line the PC says - the limitations for Dialogue trees would still seem to apply (e.g. the effort needed to write all these), unless it were possible to somehow automate the way the tone changes the phrasing.
It does change the phrasing (see the screenshot). Sure, there isn't a lot of depth there, but as was mentioned the keywords system is about flexibility, not creative writing.

Quote
However, the ways in which this system could be evolved remain a bit vague, maybe that should be discussed some more.
Well, let's discuss then. Let's start with what we need in a next-generation (TM) keyword system.

1. Type, add, remove, sort, and filter keywords. Something like locations, factions, characters, quests, lore filters. That's easy to do.

2. Questioning NPCs. Both DF and Wiz went with "where is / tell me about". That should be sufficient.

3. Actions (intimidate, attack, bribe, use skills, etc.) Let's say 10-15 options.

4. Tones. 3 tones a-la Daggerfall should be enough. Then we have 12-20 (questions and actions) x3 different templates. A relatively easy task.

5. NPC disposition a-la Arcanum. The disposition should depend on and only be affected by your stats/skills/background/faction/deeds. The disposition would determine NPC willingness to talk to you and provide info.

6. Each NPC should have special personality stats like avarice, piety, nobility, honor, intelligence, opportunism, etc. So, for example, if you need a guard's cooperation in some matter you either find someone who will do anything for money, or someone who's stupid enough to be fooled, etc.

That could be a very interesting system, imo.
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« Reply #7 on: July 14, 2008, 10:35:16 AM »

I like both the NPC disposition and NPC personality ideas, but what's always annoyed me is that often, in such systems, one can get a perfectly accurate picture of said NPC's emotive states and traits even if he/she (the PC) is the most non-perceptive/idiotic person ever dreamed up in the minds of Men. So, I'd like it if one's Perception or Intelligence, or maybe even a skill titled Empathy or some such nonsense, were to affect one's ability to "sense motive" or "sense disposition."

However, I really like that system, overall.

P.S. The tones might be disabled for some options, right? I'm not sure how one can be "friendly" about shoving a dagger into a person's spinal column.
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« Reply #8 on: July 14, 2008, 10:44:31 AM »

"I do apologize, my good man, but, well, we are working at cross purposes.  I strenuously hope that I've correctly placed my dagger into the most vital of organs, that your exit may be speedy and painless.  No hard feelings, I'm sure."
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Ellorien
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« Reply #9 on: July 14, 2008, 10:48:20 AM »

As an interrogation system, it looks great. Indeed, if you need info, that is the best way to go.
It should also work if you want to talk to your companions, love interest etc.
I would like to see an option "lie". Something like this:

1. I really mean it (truth)
2. I really mean it (lie)

Something that the game would acknowledge as a truth/lie.


@Fosse

 lol

EDIT: the personality stats look a bit too complicated. Why opportunism?
« Last Edit: July 14, 2008, 12:15:10 PM by Ellorien » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: July 14, 2008, 12:44:18 PM »

I like both the NPC disposition and NPC personality ideas, but what's always annoyed me is that often, in such systems, one can get a perfectly accurate picture of said NPC's emotive states and traits even if he/she (the PC) is the most non-perceptive/idiotic person ever dreamed up in the minds of Men. So, I'd like it if one's Perception or Intelligence, or maybe even a skill titled Empathy or some such nonsense, were to affect one's ability to "sense motive" or "sense disposition."
Disposition can be presented as Hates, Dislikes, Likes, Respects. It should be easy enough to guess the disposition correctly from 4 different answer templates:

Piss off
What do *you* want?
What can I do for you?
Always a pleasure to see you, [charname]. How can I help you?

Traits & vices shouldn't be visible. So you want to find a guard who takes bribes you go and chat with different guards discussing "money" keyword until you find one who would respond with greatest enthusiasm.

Quote
P.S. The tones might be disabled for some options, right? I'm not sure how one can be "friendly" about shoving a dagger into a person's spinal column.
The tone should be disabled for physical actions (attack, pickpocket, cast a spell, grab a collar, etc)

I would like to see an option "lie". Something like this:

1. I really mean it (truth)
2. I really mean it (lie)
I dislike truth/lie options. If you lie about something, your actions should show it and some consequences should remind you about it. So, you should say "I really mean it" and then later decide whether you actually meant it or not.

We have the "word of honor" stat in AoD. It keeps track of how well you keep your word. If you have a reputation of a stinking liar, some NPCs will have certain reservations about trusting you.

Quote
EDIT: the personality stats look a bit too complicated. Why opportunism?
You can approach a guard and ask him to kill his lord promising him a position of power when the "regime" changes. You can use keyword "betrayal" with different NPC who would respond in different ways depending on their personality traits. Someone can do that for money, someone can do that out of hate, someone will attack you because he's too loyal to his master and you should have gathered more info before you approached him.

Great for replayability.
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« Reply #11 on: July 14, 2008, 02:26:35 PM »

As a lurker, it took a thread this good to convince me to post.  Kudos!

I have a few thoughts on some drawbacks of the keyword system, and I like to hear the masters' thoughts on how to deal with them.

1) Offering all options all the time (bribe/intimidate/charm) may encourage the PC to min/max one over the others.  If you had a maxed intimidate, what would stop you intimidating all the time?  The only thing would be certain skill-resistant NPCs, which is great as far as it goes, but is it really the only solution?

2) Disposition meters strike me as having the potential of turning into a Sims-esque mini-game.  Look at Morrowind, where you essentially spam-click taunt until you convince an NPC to attack you, or spam-click admire until they like you.  It's easily handled within branching dialogue, because you can control the reactions and responses, but how do you handle it where the PC can continue to ask questions with a 'charm' skill about every subject they know about.  Do you stop the 'charm' skills effectiveness after a certain number of questions?   What if one question is substantially more important than the others?


3a) The more options you have, such as threaten/bribe/seduce, the more chance of a 'critical failure'; i.e. performing an act that would, IRL, terminate the conversation.  While it's not outside reason that you could follow up a seduce attempt with a threaten, I couldn't see a failed threat then turned into a seduce, or a failed bribe then followed up with a boast etc. The more 'critical failures' you have, the more side-quests etc. are effectively shut off.  With a branching dialogue system, or even a very basic keyword system, the developer can control this frequency, but with a complex keyword system, is there any way to limit 'critical failures' without non-sensical 'keep threatening until you roll a 20'?

3b)How does this apply to key NPCs?  If a PC blows a bribe roll on the key quest-giver, will the game just have to ignore it?  With a branching system, the PC isn't given the option to blow it - that's obviously a disappointment, in some respects, but it sure makes it easier,  and, with good writing, not necessary immersion-breaking!

4) Even in a 20-hour game, you can accumulate literally hundreds of potential keywords.  There's only two meta-tactics I can think of to avoid this - 1) limit the keywords you can ask certain NPCs about (thereby giving away what they may know about) or 2- stock 'I don't know anything about that' lines.  Which are preferable?  Is there a better way?

5) Disposition is not necessarily a linear scale.  If you threaten a guy, he'll like you less, but may be more likely to tell you something.  While during the one conversation it may be fine to add charm and threaten bonuses to disposition, but what about future interactions?  If you threaten the member of the town's council I'd expect the council to be less kind to you in the future, so disposition should go down - is it feasible to code this?

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MF
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« Reply #12 on: July 14, 2008, 02:34:42 PM »

I prefer a dialogue tree without keywords. The problem for me is never in the system but always in the execution. For a solid dialogue tree system you need :

-Good writing (preferably great writing)
-Meaningful choices (no tree filler)
-Words that reflect the character
-Words that reflect the context

That's it. I've never seen a game that has all four. I'd much rather see a plain old dialogue tree system done right for a change than see people invest in new methods. What is the ultimate step for these new methods? A context and grammar-aware interpreter that you can type sentences to, or talk to? That would mean circumventing the character system.

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« Reply #13 on: July 14, 2008, 10:02:13 PM »

I prefer a dialogue tree without keywords. The problem for me is never in the system but always in the execution. For a solid dialogue tree system you need :

-Good writing (preferably great writing)
-Meaningful choices (no tree filler)
-Words that reflect the character
-Words that reflect the context

That's it. I've never seen a game that has all four. I'd much rather see a plain old dialogue tree system done right for a change than see people invest in new methods. What is the ultimate step for these new methods? A context and grammar-aware interpreter that you can type sentences to, or talk to? That would mean circumventing the character system.


Well, the whole point is that trees are VERY hard to pull off. Keywords can give more options, require less effort, at the cost the process being more abstract, unfortunately. But you cannot have everything.

Btw, while I didn't play Daggerfall, I've though about pretty similar system myself. One thought I'd like to share, it's about filtering of keywords:
You can have an 'active quest', 'unsolved quests', generic (latest rumors, hah) and their associated keywords on top, and ones belonging to solved quests hidden. I mean, what's the point of asking someone about a dragon you already slew? (simplification, of course)

As of 'clicking flatter until they love you', that can easily be prevented by limiting same persuasion attempts by your skill. You can fling only so much compliments before making yourself look like a suspicious asslicker, or so many insults before looking pathetic. Therefore, just adding a progressive penalty will fix that.

About lying - while it may seem too cumbersome, but an option of 'faking' friendly or hostile moods might add a lot to roleplaying. I mean, you may RP a character that is quite benevolent by nature, but have to 'play rough' to get info from some thugs or vice versa... think PS:T alignment meter. Or remember Virgil's bluff at the beginning of Arcanum? It can add some delicious flavor to the game's dialogues.
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« Reply #14 on: July 15, 2008, 06:31:12 AM »


Well, let's discuss then. Let's start with what we need in a next-generation (TM) keyword system.

1. Type, add, remove, sort, and filter keywords. Something like locations, factions, characters, quests, lore filters. That's easy to do.

2. Questioning NPCs. Both DF and Wiz went with "where is / tell me about". That should be sufficient.

3. Actions (intimidate, attack, bribe, use skills, etc.) Let's say 10-15 options.

4. Tones. 3 tones a-la Daggerfall should be enough. Then we have 12-20 (questions and actions) x3 different templates. A relatively easy task.

5. NPC disposition a-la Arcanum. The disposition should depend on and only be affected by your stats/skills/background/faction/deeds. The disposition would determine NPC willingness to talk to you and provide info.

6. Each NPC should have special personality stats like avarice, piety, nobility, honor, intelligence, opportunism, etc. So, for example, if you need a guard's cooperation in some matter you either find someone who will do anything for money, or someone who's stupid enough to be fooled, etc.

That could be a very interesting system, imo.

Sounds pretty good, but it still seems to strongly favor an NPC = information dispenser type of design that e.g. TES is somewhat rightfully criticized for. Also, I would prefer a system that has an even stronger gameplay element, in addition to skill impact and action options.
How about a system where, in addition to the above, speech is not merely a skill, and you don't simply have three "tones",  but where speaking comes with "tricks of the trade", that could, in vague analogy, work like magic spells, or mini-perks, and that of course would have to be obtained through training, as quest rewards, or during level-up.
E.g. a new or unskilled player may just have the basic friendly / neutral / nice options. Later he may earn additional tricks like different Jokes (that work differently with different audiences), threats, small-talk topics, or special diplomatic skills (courtly etiquette) that unlock new options, change disposition, mood, patience, (these could be actual gmae variables) or the focus of the conversation (e.g. which keywords the NPC will "accept"). Individual "tricks" could affect the use of subsequent "tricks" in positive or negative ways. Ee.g. using a joke right after a threat may fully negate the effect of the former, which, depending on the situation may be a good or a bad thing. Using several jokes could increase disposition but eventually wear down patience, etc. The "game" here would basically consist of unlocking the "real" information an NPC may hold, which then may again come in the form of dialogue trees. Of course, applying good choice and consequence design, a failure should more often than not also result in something interesting happening.
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"Merely killing those being mean to me. It's not my fault it's everyone in the world of AoD". (Vahhabyte)
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