In­no­va­tion and in­spi­ra­tion in dia­logue.

The ‘in­spi­ra­tion’ be­hind new dia­logue sys­tems.

PC GAMER (UK) - - CONTENTS - Not new, By Xalavier Nel­son Jr.

Last month, I ex­am­ined the con­cept of dia­logue in games, and how sim­ple dia­logue sys­tems can still be a pain to cre­ate, even if you’re us­ing a tem­plate. This month, I de­cided to speak to some of the de­vel­op­ers us­ing stan­dard dia­logue and choice sys­tems. Con­trary to what I ex­pected, these de­signs weren’t nec­es­sar­ily more dif­fi­cult to cre­ate than a stan­dard choice or text for­mat – they weren’t even per se. They were har­vested.

“We did not want to make episodic games like The

Walk­ing Dead or Life is

Strange,” Big Bad Wolf, the studio be­hind episodic ad­ven­ture game The Coun­cil, tells me. “These games have their own for­mula, and while it works well, we wanted to cre­ate our own. More­over, our gameplay is sys­temic and not only nar­ra­tive. Our in­ten­tion was to cre­ate a nar­ra­tive RPG – even though The Coun­cil may at first glance seem like a typ­i­cal episodic ad­ven­ture game, it brings a unique twist to the genre, a new kind of nar­ra­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.” Elab­o­rat­ing on the ar­eas where The Coun­cil dif­fers from its peers, Big Bad Wolf de­scribes its Con­fronta­tion sys­tem. “Cre­at­ing a com­bat­less nar­ra­tive does not mean strip­ping the gameplay from it, and we’ve worked hard to trans­late these gameplay el­e­ments in di­a­logue­based chal­lenges. That’s how we found our­selves cre­at­ing the Con­fronta­tion gameplay.

“The player is in­formed of how many blun­ders they have left. If they suc­ceed the first step, they con­tinue. If they fail, they lose the first in­stance and move on to the next. If they reach the max­i­mum num­ber of blun­ders, the dia­logue ends with a bad out­come. If they man­age to con­vince their coun­ter­part with­out spend­ing all their al­lowed blun­ders, they get the good out­come.”

Mar­ry­ing this with con­se­quences that fol­low the player through the game, Big Bad Wolf’s de­ci­sion to slowly de­ploy RPG el­e­ments over the course of the first episode (choos­ing a class and gain­ing XP) is used to sur­prise you, re­veal­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence that gets deeper the more you play.

In iso­la­tion, these con­cepts could ap­pear nor­mal. It’s the fu­sion of these el­e­ments that cre­ates some­thing new. Or, at least, some­thing that feels new, un­til you look at the art­fully pil­fered el­e­ments com­pris­ing the whole.

Joy Man­u­fac­tur­ing Com­pany, de­vel­oper of his­tor­i­cal vis­ual novel Am­bi­tion: A Min­uet in Power, wanted to repli­cate the so­cial ma­nip­u­la­tion one might use in an 18th cen­tury French court. The team turned to rogue­likes and card games to tackle group con­ver­sa­tions. Ev­ery ses­sion a new court is gen­er­ated for play­ers to schmooze. Us­ing a card game-like sys­tem, play­ers “work the room”, match­ing top­ics of con­ver­sa­tion to in­ter­ested courtiers to climb a so­cial lad­der. 80 Days de­vel­oper, inkle, turned to ti­tles like The Witcher in its quest to rein­vent the clas­sic graphic ad­ven­ture in Heaven’s Vault, cre­at­ing an open-world ex­pe­ri­ence where NPCs can mis­di­rect you in an emer­gent way, based on your mu­tual knowl­edge of the world and each other. In its RPG El­e­men­tal Flow, Tea-Pow­ered Games mixes Obliv­ion’s speechcraft with spe­cial pow­ers, turn­ing con­ver­sa­tion into an ac­tive process, so you to im­bue words with el­e­men­tal qual­i­ties like firey di­rect­ness.

Sim­ply put: de­vel­op­ers steal, con­stantly, from their pre­vi­ous work and from one an­other, to build ex­pe­ri­ences that wouldn’t other­wise be de­liv­ered in their genre. And ‘in­spi­ra­tion’ for new meth­ods of de­liv­er­ing dia­logue and choices don’t just come from other games.

Clas­sic in­flu­ence

Jake El­liott of Card­board Com­puter, de­vel­oper of Ken­tucky Route Zero, tells me about the in­flu­ence clas­sic works of lit­er­a­ture have had upon his work. Sec­tions where the per­spec­tive a player oc­cu­pies can rapidly shift, or script-like text is ma­nip­u­lated in un­ex­pected ways, have a clear root in books like Wil­liam Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. “I think it’s kind of uniquely dizzy­ing in a game,” El­liott says, “be­cause you’re asked not just to keep up with shifts in per­spec­tive but to ac­tu­ally carry on a con­ver­sa­tion while hop­ping be­tween sub­jec­tiv­i­ties.”

When I be­gan to re­search dia­logue sys­tems, I ex­pected to find slightly more com­pli­cated ver­sions of the hum­ble text box. What I found was a vi­brant ecosys­tem of cross-pol­li­na­tion; devs transplanting con­ven­tions from other gen­res, even en­tire other medi­ums, to cre­ate new, in­ven­tive nar­ra­tive in­ter­ac­tion meth­ods. In these, I don’t just see di­verse com­bi­na­tions that will go on to af­fect fu­ture games. I see de­vel­op­ers ques­tion­ing what dia­logue or choice can even mean in an in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.

In dia­logue, a world of pos­si­bil­i­ties still re­mains – pos­si­bil­i­ties directly built on the present, and past.

Sim­ply put: de­vel­op­ers steal, con­stantly, from their own works and one an­other

Xalavier Nel­son Jr. I’m a full-time game writer and nar­ra­tive de­signer, with cred­its in­side and out of gam­ing.

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