I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream

“Relax, Mr. Threepwood. I know why you're here. Believe me, you're not the first who's tried. Although, I have to admit, not many get as far as you have.”

1: Er...
2: Um...
3: Golly...
4: Jeepers...

Quick Guybrush, make your call. Get into character. How do you – the player, in the role of Guy Threepwood – really feel right now? Is it more of an “Er” moment? For me, I know it was strictly “Golly” all the way.

The team behind Monkey Island had it right. Dialog trees are ridiculous. So why are we still stuck with them? (Warning, if you care about the secrets of Monkey Island, a game almost 20 years old, stop reading now.)

The Lucasarts SCUMM games are the pinnacle of the dialog-driven adventure game. It is essentially impossible to play a SCUMM game for more than 5 minutes without selecting a line of pre-fabricated dialog, and The Secret of Monkey Island was no exception.

The reality of those early, brilliant games was that the designers had no alternatives. There was no voice acting, no full-motion video, no motion-capture animation. All they really had to tell stories with was the words.

“My lookout told me of your arrival. I've wanted to meet you ever since I heard your fascinating name. Tell me, Guybrush, why do you want to be a pirate? You don't look like one.
Your face is too ... sweet.”

1: Blfft...
2: Grlpyt...
3: Hmlggd...
4: Rldft...

In these exchanges from Monkey Island, the writers moved beyond the words. Here is the dramatic moment at the center of the game – the first meeting with the infatuating Governor, Elaine Marley. She’s the love interest. She drives most of the plot. At the end of the game I (as Guy) will marry her.

In this critical scene, Guybrush (our hero) meets her for the first time while trying to complete one of several quests in order to prove that he’s a true pirate. So the challenge for the writers is this: how do you convey Guybrush being completely thunderstruck on meeting the beautiful Elaine?

Their answer, which seems simple in retrospect, was to rob the player of control while presenting the illusion of choice.

“I see... Well, you're obviously not in the mood for idle chitchat, are you?
I suppose you've got many more exciting things to do. I won't take up any more of your time, Mr. Threepwood.”

1: Bgglw!
2: Mfrnkf?
3: Dmnkly...

Yes, it’s funny. But it’s no less intentional an affront to player control than any explorations Ken Levine has made into the idea of player agency. Some players perhaps found this ambiguity frustrating. How are you supposed to know what to DO when presented with these choices. What if I get it WRONG!? Of course, that's precisely what the puppetmaster wants you to feel.

The aging dialogue tree is a prime example of false player choice. By dividing all possible actions into 3 or 4 choices, there is absolutely no room for nuance. It is a storytelling sledgehammer as heavy and blunt as as a 30 minute cut scene. There’s no opportunity to be a just a little bit good or a little bit bad.

To be sure, over the course of a given story—Monkey Island or any other—I can choose the “good” answer one time and the “bad” answer the next, but more often, dialog trees force me into a pattern of excursion, digging through all possible options to extract the maximum amount of information, with only the occasional foray into one-way plot advancing conversation.

All of this nostalgia for Monkey Island is of course the result of the sharp feeling in my eyelids. Right between where the eyelashes attach and the eyelid actually touches the moist barrier of my eyeball there exists 2 millimeters of flesh. I’m completely unaware of this part of my body until I’ve played a game too long without blinking.

In other words, I’ve been staying up too late playing .

Fallout 3 is an amazing game, let me be very clear about that. It tells a story through mis en scene, details and action as well as any of the aforementioned Levine micro-epics. But for all it’s finely honed newness, it relies ceaselessly on traditional dialog trees. It’s not unexpected. But the presentation of these dialog trees has been a small pea in the mattress of my otherwise luxurious stay in the Capital Wasteland.

Games at their best embrace and explore their limitations. Monkey Island and Planescape: Torment and even World of Warcraft succeed in their reliance on text because they make the most of every tool at their disposal. Knowing that the volume of text has few limits, and without the ability to hire voice talent for every quest line, the writers at Blizzard construct elaborate, funny, overlooked and often surprising stories for those who bother to slow down and read them. Planescape has often been called "a book you play," but given the tremendous limitations of the target platform (PCs less potent than my phone) the designers chose to jump into the quarry from the high rocks.

In Fallout 3, Bethesda had the opportunity to do essentially anything they wanted: they had budget, control over system specs (for the PC version) and bottomless wells of talent. But instead of pushing the envelope in storytelling, this tremendously compelling world is hampered by 20 year old technology, boiled down to even simpler ingredients to play well on a standard definition TV screen.

It’s not that Bethesda does it badly, it just feels unnecessary. My living room is surrounded by games exploring narrative techniques, occasionally to excess: Grand Theft Auto IV. Metal Gear Solid IV. Portal. Bioshock. Lord of the Rings Online. But Fallout 3 doesn’t feel like it’s embraced and explored its narrative limitations, it feels like it has created ones that needn't be there at all. Even more damning, the stories of people in Fallout 3 rarely benefit from the excruciatingly detailed and fascinating story told by the world itself.

In a simple encounter with random scavengers, I can see how they live, how they fight, where they've been, what they're fighting for, all told by the place itself. Even more interesting, I can often see layers of stories being told over time, as I discern what parts of the environment are current vs. what parts are pre-apocalypse.

And yet, my interactions with the actual people remain tremendously confined. Major characters are introduced with a few scant lines of text. My interactions with them trapped in a handful of canned responses necessitated by the marriage of dialog trees and voice acting.

While I know that Fallout 3 will suck me in for dozens of hours, I can't help feeling like Megaton isn't all that far from the SCUMM bar.

Comments

Here is something I'm not seeing: assuming that in a game like Fallout 3 there will be a requirement that I, the player, actually interact with other characters in the game and that these characters have to be controlled by the computer, is it really obvious that there exists some magical person simulator technology to provide that functionality that is better than the dialog tree?

The Mass Effect conversation system finesses this issue by ignoring it. You don't so much control the dialog as choose canned lines. This is convenient and streamlined, but not fundamentally different IMHO.

Other games that manage to build strong characters, like Bioshock, avoid this problem by hardly ever having you interact with a live character at all. In Bioshock you "talk" to people mostly through the audio diaries. The few times in the game you actually deal with a live human the interaction is heavily scripted and the character animation and voice over is decidedly horrible, worse than Oblivion even.

In Portal you never *talk* to the best character in the game at all. Every exchange is one way.

I'm not all that happy with the dialog trees in Fallout 3 either, but my unhappiness is mostly to do with how they are implemented and how clunky the UI is. Assuming that the game will be structured around a certain number of NPC interactions, it is not at all obvious to me that there is something "better" out there that Bethesda could have experimented with, polished, and shipped in the time frame that they have. Simulating believeable human interaction is essentially impossible.

So I think you are right, the game really is using the same scheme as 20 years ago. But it's because there really isn't anything better under the sun. At least the faces are are not bloated and diseased like they were in Oblivion.

I have to echo psu_13's thoughts.

The thing that i don't agree with about this is that Fallout is a game of experiencing things primarily through your own play. All those other games you mention, GTA4, MGS4, Bioshock and Portal are all dependent on presenting you with information to tell you the story rather than the player finding the information for themselves. One method is like reading a book or watching a movie and the other is truly unique to gaming.

Similarly, World of Warcraft and Monkey Island are straight-up experiences that cannot be changed by your interactions with them. Their storytelling is interactive fiction and the outcomes are set rather than being the *dynamic and consequence-centred worlds of Mass Effect and Fallout 3. It's only in ME and FO3 that your conversations really mean anything and apart from the stylistic choice of presentation, you'll see that these two games do exactly the same thing.

Bethesda tried something different with Oblivion - which had a slight Mass Effect tendency to streamline the conversations - however players (myself included) felt like they had little control over how they were coming across information and their interactions with characters.

*Yes i realise that these have an unalterable story arc, however the way you approach this is entirely up to you.

Assuming that the game will be structured around a certain number of NPC interactions, it is not at all obvious to me that there is something "better" out there

Amen. The key here really is the idea of interaction, in other words, you and the NPC take turns acting, rather than a single-action information dump or the like. This breaks up the conversation and gives it a flow at least on a similar level as you would expect a conversation to work out on.

I think this really is more a matter of taste than anything else. Some people enjoy investigating the branches of possible interaction with NPCs, while other would prefer the kind of redundant skippable screen of text that WoW gives you. I remember people were also divided about this in Age of Conan, which tried to mix it up a bit by combining the two approaches, while leaving out the consequences that a real dialogue tree should present you with, ie. actual choice. Note that often the dialogues in Fallout 3 are more like dialogue shrubs. The fact that Bethesda gave many characters a shallow bullet-point conversation does not detract much from my enjoyment of the underlying mechanism and the options it can present you with.

The main article uses the dialogue trees in Monkey Island to demonstrate their ridiculousness. However, in my view this does nothing to show that they are a bad tool to use Fallout 3. In Monkey Island you are not playing an RPG but an adventure game. You are being led along a linear story path, and occasionally blocked by puzzles or dialogues which you need to navigate to a successful conclusion. The only reason there might be alternate responses in there are to 'waste' the player's time, possibly by presenting amusing incorrect choices and the like. In an RPG however, first of all it is desirable to allow the player to express themselves differently. It is even better if these different expressions then cause different responses in the NPC, thus allowing different stories to emerge for different characters. This, to me, is one of the fundamentally enjoyable things about RPGs.

I, too, find myself asking what you would rather have. While a list of predetermined responses can certainly feel confining and contrived, at least when you choose one it helps string together a dialogue and story that are partly of your own making. As opposed to, as psu_13 mentions, something like Portal where the story is brilliant but I had no active hand in crafting it whatsoever.

And the only other approaches I've ever seen tried are things like Mass Effect, where it's still basically a dialogue tree, just with a stronger timing element interjected (don't get me wrong, I liked that, I just don't think it's fundamentally different), or something like the Fable series, where you pretty much never say anything at all, and the game just riffs on the "mood" you give it with one of a few canned actions.

Given the two options, in a story-driven game I would rather have canned responses any day of the week. At least those were written by someone to flow with the story and allow a back-and-forth that makes narrative sense. Looking back after Fallout 3 ends (I'm not there yet, I'm projecting), I think I would much rather remember "and that's when I told Mr. Burke to f*ck off, and ratted him out to the sheriff" - even though those things were written in somebody else's words - than remember "and that's when I farted at Mr. Burke and then killed him."

I don't think dialogue trees are perfect, but for a strongly story-driven game in which the character is suppose to impact the course of events, I don't know that I've seen a better option. So I'm curious to hear what you would have rather had Bethesda do.

osmosisch wrote:
In Monkey Island you are not playing an RPG but an adventure game. You are being led along a linear story path, and occasionally blocked by puzzles or dialogues which you need to navigate to a successful conclusion.

And this is different from Fallout (or most RPGs) how? I do understand the myriad other differences - character development in particular - but from a story perspective, I'm not sure I get it. To follow the main quest line of Fallout 3, I am bread-crumbed as clearly as I was in Monkey Island, or Fable 2, etc.

Fable 2 is actually an interesting contrast, mostly because it's fresh in my head. Fable 2 doesn't feature any "choices" in this rigid sense. Your interactions with characters in the game are almost exclusively binary - you either chose to take an action (free the slave), or let your inaction speak for itself. But then this chain of action/inaction does affect--just a little--how the world around you works.

It's all frosting on the same cake, I get that. And I'm not claiming to have a better answer. Maybe I'm just saying I want better frosting. I want more story, but less dialog. In my time in Fallout 3 (not all that much, I admit) I've collected a scant handful of very short notes and other clues to underlying stories. I would actually like to have more of that-a lot more. I'm the kind of player who collected and listened to every audio diary in Bioshock, and read all the books I collected in Oblivion.

Maybe there's a ton of that I'm just missing, but I think I've picked up 1 diary fragment in however many hours I've played Fallout so far (more than 5, less than 15 I'd guess). I'm getting SO much out of the world, I just want a little more story. When I walk into a nest of raiders and see what they've been cooking for dinner, where they've been sleeping, how long they've been living off irradiated milk, is it so much to ask that I might get a scrap of diary? an old phonograph record? a little relevant graffiti even? It's SO good, but it still feels like all the openness has come at the expense of story details.

Or maybe I'm just a grumpy old man.

> It's SO good, but it still feels like all the openness has come at the expense of story details.

In fact I think this is the case. I thought it was the case with Obvlivion too. The Bethesda games are really just a big box of fairly linear quest-lines. NPCs inhabit the world primarily to push you along on these quests, but not really to integrate themselves into any larger scale narrative or world building. It's not really clear how you integrate the "big box of quests" structure with a larger scale game narrative. I think if I knew how to do that I'd be a game designer.

I definitely agree that non-dialog-based schemes for pushing narrative along or presenting exposition tend to be much more effective for me in video games. I think one of the worst things that ever happened to video games was the introduction of the voice-over. Diaries, "voice of god" sequences, just plain text, and other out of band narrative delivery mechanisms all work better for me.

Dialog trees are just a different interface for something that is present in just about every game where you interact with someone or something. In an RPG, they function as a means to both deliver story and to progress action in a game. In WoW, you accept quests from NPCs. In Fallout 3, you talk about your father with some smug bar owner until he sends you off on an errand. In Bioshock, Atlas tells you where to go. All of these serve the same purpose, just deliver them slightly differently.

The extra options on the dialog trees in Fallout 3, the ones that show up for nearly every NPC, are there to serve the same purpose as the diary recordings in Bioshock: expand the story.

I admit, using the dialog tree is not exactly the most efficient means for interaction in some cases. For example, going up to an NPC you can buy things from. In some games, interacting with them will just give you a series of buttons to "Buy" or "Sell" as you need to. In Fallout 3, it's a choice in the dialog tree. Sure, they could change it to the simpler, clickable buttons, but I guess they're going for a more realistic approach. After all, walking up to someone and saying, "What have you got for sale?" seems more realistic than walking up to them and pressing a "Buy" button that is suddenly hovering in your HUD. For that matter though, why does the inventory screen come up when you're buying and selling? If they wanted to go for immersion in that respect, why not have a shop, with shelves, and actual, physical merchandise there for you to pick up and buy? Why show a graphical inventory interface, instead of your character carrying things around in a physical bag, that you can open up and look into?

I can't answer these questions, of course, but my guess would be that different teams came up with different ideas about how to do things. The ones that worked on interacting with characters thought it best to initiate buying and selling with a dialog option, and essentially just plugged the interface some other team came up with into their dialog tree.

But until we get true AI, and in-game characters that can respond to our own questions, be they written or spoken, we're going to need something like a dialog tree to get around. Even with true AI, we still need some canned responses that revolve around the world we're exploring. Say Fallout 4 has true AI, with NPCs capable of making dynamic responses based on my spoken questions or conversation. I'm talking this thing passes the Turing test and everything. If I were to ask, in a fallout universe, "Did you see the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica last night?" I would fully expect the NPC to look at me sideways, because in his universe, there is no new episode of BSG available, and he shouldn't even really know what that is. But if I ask, "Do you know of any other vaults in the area?" he should answer me honestly within the confines of the universe. And unless the developers want to spend time making sure these true AI NPCs explore their landscape enough to have come across another vault in order to further some quest that involves another vault, they're going to have to implant some canned responses.

Ultimately, the story and character interaction in video games is entirely controlled and scripted, and that's not going to change as long as that is the easiest way to do it. And that's true of any game, even your favorite ones. So it's not the fault of dialog trees.

rabbit wrote:
osmosisch wrote:
In Monkey Island you are not playing an RPG but an adventure game. You are being led along a linear story path, and occasionally blocked by puzzles or dialogues which you need to navigate to a successful conclusion.

And this is different from Fallout (or most RPGs) how? I do understand the myriad other differences - character development in particular - but from a story perspective, I'm not sure I get it. To follow the main quest line of Fallout 3, I am bread-crumbed as clearly as I was in Monkey Island, or Fable 2, etc.


I guess I should have been clearer there - I was thinking specifically about subquests like the Tenpenny tower, where there is a situation you can resolve in many different ways, some of which are through dialogues - but there is no one "correct" solution. I haven't finished Fallout 3 yet, so I don't know how closely it sticks to this convention, but Fallout 1 even let you end the game in significantly different ways depending on how you manoeuvered through its dialogues. The issue here being one of choice between different branches of the tree, as it were. Where in adventures there is always only 1 correct branch (or all branches are equivalent, meaning there's only 1 branch).

rabbit wrote:
Maybe there's a ton of that I'm just missing, but I think I've picked up 1 diary fragment in however many hours I've played Fallout so far (more than 5, less than 15 I'd guess). I'm getting SO much out of the world, I just want a little more story. When I walk into a nest of raiders and see what they've been cooking for dinner, where they've been sleeping, how long they've been living off irradiated milk, is it so much to ask that I might get a scrap of diary? an old phonograph record? a little relevant graffiti even? It's SO good, but it still feels like all the openness has come at the expense of story details.

See, this I can completely relate to - I am a total sucker for background story and detail. I would have loved for there to be even more in Fallout 3 than there already is (and there really is tons already, especially in the variety of random encounters you can have).

I've already found quite a few amazing background flavour things though. There's a terminal with the diary of a woman who travelled to DC from the west coast to seek a better life, only to end up ant food. There's a series of audio logs scattered around of family members who each got one digit of an access code to a vault. There's a house where the mailbox has a letter from Vault-Tec, telling the family their request for admission a vault was denied. There's a radio broadcast where a man is requesting medical help for his son, where I won't spoil the details.

Anyway, I agree that it would be great to have more fleshed-out rather just more things. But I really don't think that the use of the dialogue tree mechanic is what's the real issue you have.

osmosisch wrote:
I've already found quite a few amazing background flavour things though. There's a terminal with the diary of a woman who travelled to DC from the west coast to seek a better life, only to end up ant food. There's a series of audio logs scattered around of family members who each got one digit of an access code to a vault. There's a house where the mailbox has a letter from Vault-Tec, telling the family their request for admission a vault was denied. There's a radio broadcast where a man is requesting medical help for his son, where I won't spoil the details.

This fills me with joy, and I hope I start finding more soon. I've wondered if there was stuff in the terminals I was missing, but I have almost no hack. I found one or two audio things, which just made me WANT MORE!

I don't mind how Bethesda handles dialogue trees within their games, mainly because it keeps me in character and I find their system both functional and efficient. I don't have to hear an alien avatar voice and I can slowly explore the secrets within the branched trees or speed through them, depending on my in-game priorities at that time. While I appreciate the silence of my own voice, I equally enjoy hearing the npc's vocally respond.

The dialogue tree itself is a mechanic that probably continues to echo of my old-school text adventure experiences during my younger days.

My counter example though, to what I think is a poor implementation, would be the Gothic series dialogue tree mechanics, which have driven me away from multiple attempts to enjoy the goodness that I know is within those games. The interest-breaking aspect of it is mainly that, not only do you choose your dialogue options, but then you have to listen to your avatar recite them. Oh it drives me crazy. I don't think its the 3rd person perspective of the conversation, but the delay and immersion breaking nature of hearing the pc recite those options that I've chosen.

Fascinating article, Rabbit.

In a simple encounter with random scavengers, I can see how they live, how they fight, where they've been, what they're fighting for, all told by the place itself. Even more interesting, I can often see layers of stories being told over time, as I discern what parts of the environment are current vs. what parts are pre-apocalypse.

And yet, my interactions with the actual people remain tremendously confined. Major characters are introduced with a few scant lines of text. My interactions with them trapped in a handful of canned responses necessitated by the marriage of dialog trees and voice acting.

I imagine your writing background makes dialog trees especially excruciating. You can probably think of 10 better responses than whatever the game gives you. I sometimes wish I had a text parser from the old Infocom games, so I could add my own dialog and truly own the experience. Even endless variations of "Error, I have no idea what the hell you just said" are more enjoyable than some of these dialog trees.

Speaking of imagination, it seems in your quote above that you imagined details in the world where the dialog trees sucked the mystery out of conversation. My sister enjoys dialog trees more than I do, I wonder if she fills in the blanks with intuition and emotional language where you and I might simply focus on the words and choices.

I see where you're coming from Rabbit. I don't think it's so much that dialog trees are dated but that we just want more from the world than just interactions with important characters.

As for dialog trees, I have to echo everyone else here and say that I think that the reason they are still around is just because there is no better solution. Mass Effect's communication system got lots of hype but it was basically just streamlined dialog trees and to me they felt just as tiresome as any other game's dialog trees. Just as with the Elder Scrolls or other adventure RPGs, it was very simple to see the good, neutral and evil solution (Mass Effect further simplified it to where they placed the options on the dialog wheel). I think if there was a better solution to dialog trees, we would have it by now. Technology has made amazing leaps and bounds but dialog trees will forever be the answer. The only type of adventure RPGs without dialog trees are ones actively being controlled by another person's hand in real time (aka D&D).

I think the issue is less about the dialogue trees themselves and more about the consequences within a conversation. As indicated here and on the podcast, there's legitimate frustration when you're basically just clicking through a tree to get all the information you're looking for. However, Fallout 3 occasionally gives you a chance to circumvent certain quests or gain extra rewards if your character has a good speech/science/whatever skill.

If you try and use speech to convince someone not to attack you and you fail at your attempt, you don't get a do-over. Well, unless you reload a save and try again. So there are times when the gameplay implications are clear and the dialogue tree serves those situations well.

Like any tool, how you're using it is the important question, not whether or not it should be tossed out the window entirely.

Some of the frustration with dialogue trees for me is feeling I 'have' to go through them whether I want to or not. I wonder if it would help to label certain conversations (have the text in gold mb) as being ones that yield quests and have other, optional, conversations in a neutral colour. It would mean you could indulge in as little or as much conversation as you wanted without feeling you were going to miss vital quests.

(Yes, this is just an extension of WoW's golden question marks for quest givers idea.)

The main reason it bugs me, is because there _are_ better options. AIML and ALICE come to mind.

Kannon wrote:
The main reason it bugs me, is because there _are_ better options. AIML and ALICE come to mind.

I have no idea what that is.

All he and his brilliant team (including the not-to-be-second-fiddled Eric Wolpaw of Portal fame) really had to tell stories with was the words.

Rabbit, I love Erik for Portal too, but he was probably in kindergarten or something when Monkey Island came out. His first game dev credit was working on Psychonauts.

Also, you're stupid and wrong about dialogue trees as well.

No, really. A binary choice is not a false choice. It might be a highly restricted choice, but picking between "Of course I'd like to help you! Incidentally, I love kittens!", "Only if you pay me, asshole." and "NOW YOU DIE!!!" still allows you to personalise your narrative in ways that Monkey Island's "Um...", "Er...", "Hurgh?" doesn't.

I do understand if you're frustrated with games that treat their characters like walking wikis, but that's not the only way they have to be done. Obsidian/Black Isle, and Chris Avellone in particular do a very good job of playing out big confrontations with hostile characters via dialogue in their games.

Alien Love Gardener wrote:
Rabbit, I love Erik for Portal too, but he was probably in kindergarten or something when Monkey Island came out. His first game dev credit was working on Psychonauts. :P

Stop interrupting my senile ranting with your being all "right" and stuff. I tell you, the game was made by ALIEN BEES.

(duh. of course. Dave Grossman. Fixed.)

My reaction to your article was disagreement...but after some thought, I've actually come to agree with Rabbit to a certain degree.

I am not against Dialog Trees...but certainly we should expect that they would have evolved over the last 20 years? For the system to be exactly the same as what one would find in a 20 year old game is somewhat disappointing.

I'm not bothered by the system, it's just that I can see ways to improve upon it while retaining the positive aspects. For example, why not introduce a conversation log so that while in dialog it is possible to refer to a transcript of the conversation at any time (including old conversations). Doing so would allow for the removal of "trees" once they have been selected which would result in a more conversation-like flow rather than the current immersion breaking system. After all, nobody would answer me the same way after I've asked them 10 times "What is a deathclaw?".

My main complaint with dialog trees is the lack of "flow". Mass Effect offered a very similar system, but it's presentation of the system provided a flow to the conversations. It didn't feel like a menu of topics as much as a real conversation, yet it still allowed the topic selection and the player-driven character responses.

I'm not saying either of the above are good answers...I'm not a developer...my point just this: shouldn't we want developers to evolve the system?

One thing though, I would say that they really couldn't have gone with something other than a dialog tree based system. If they had gone a route differing too much from the original games I suspect they would have encountered heavy criticisms for betraying fallouts roots.

As it is, I think they've done a brilliant job of capturing the original fallout games method of "story-telling". By this I mean...fallout 1 and 2 didn't force feed the side stories to you...they took some attention and effort to discover. For me, the details of each place were presented by the objects in a room and the text descriptions that you found there. Anytime I entered a new room I would select anything and everything I could and read every description. The bits and pieces of information thus gathered could be combined to generate a narrative for that place and it's inhabitants.

In fallout 3, they've done an amazing job of laying out the same narratives without the text of the originals. When you walk into a place and look (really look) at what's in the room you can come away with a full narrative...you just have to pay attention and put all the pieces together. I'm not used to paying such attention to the environment of a game, but in Fallout 3 they've presented a level of detail to the environments that I think is nothing short of brilliant.

What I most love is that not everybody takes the same thing from what they see which makes discussing ones experiences in this game so interesting.

The biggest problem with dialogue trees is all the options are presented to you. You don't have to think about what you'd say, it's all there. What I'd like to see is your standard dialogue trees pertaining to main and side quests, and then perhaps a function taken from the old text-based games. The ability to type in several working phrases unbeknownst to the player, that give out more information and more options. I remember playing tons of text-based games, and yes it essentially used much larger dialogue trees in which the choices weren't shown, it gave a lot more sense of choice than if all the choices were just presented to you.

I think the biggest problem with Fallout 3's dialogue trees is how shallow and inpersonal they feel. It's the same thing I felt in mass effect - there is always the "nice, slightly mean, and evil" trifecta. It's not only tired and cliched, it makes for bad interaction. I love fallout 3, but if I could pick ONE aspect where I think they utterly failed the fallout franchise, it's dialogue.

I just played Fallout 2, and the dialogue trees in this game are amazing. They're hilarious, they offer realistic and varied options to answer even the most mundane of questions, and you could tell they were crafted with love and care. In fact, there is even a perk in fallout 2 to tell whether a certain dialogue choice would evoke a positive or negative reaction out of the NPC. This 10 year old game (allong with Planescape) represents to me the culmination of proper dialogue tree implementation. Fallout 3's clumsy, shallow dialogue is light-years behind, and it goes to show where the development priorities of modern teams really lie.

I think my thesis is really that dialogue trees can work really well so long as they are carefully crafted - and I think they are given a bad name by modern games where they seem like they were made by indonesion sweatshop workers.

I also agree with several of the above posters where I haven't been impressed with the alternatives - Fable 2 was a step in the right direction, but poorly implemented - farting doesn't impress many of the ladies where I'm from.

KocaKoala wrote:
The biggest problem with dialogue trees is all the options are presented to you. You don't have to think about what you'd say, it's all there. What I'd like to see is your standard dialogue trees pertaining to main and side quests, and then perhaps a function taken from the old text-based games. The ability to type in several working phrases unbeknownst to the player, that give out more information and more options. I remember playing tons of text-based games, and yes it essentially used much larger dialogue trees in which the choices weren't shown, it gave a lot more sense of choice than if all the choices were just presented to you.

Actually, if you've ever played the Starship Titanic game, they tried to get back to this style of gameplay. It was interesting, and if optimized, it could present some VERY interesting means for advancing story. Starship Titanic was not as complex as Fallout is by far, and it would mean a LOT of work, but the results might be satisfying enough to make it worthwhile. It might limit the console market, though. Only Microsoft has a small keyboard easily used in conjunction with the controller, and even that might not be an ideal experience.

KocaKoala wrote:
The biggest problem with dialogue trees is all the options are presented to you. You don't have to think about what you'd say, it's all there. What I'd like to see is your standard dialogue trees pertaining to main and side quests, and then perhaps a function taken from the old text-based games. The ability to type in several working phrases unbeknownst to the player, that give out more information and more options. I remember playing tons of text-based games, and yes it essentially used much larger dialogue trees in which the choices weren't shown, it gave a lot more sense of choice than if all the choices were just presented to you.

The Quest for Glory 2 remake (http://www.agdinteractive.com) released a couple months ago has an interesting option for npc interaction. It's basically a dialog-tree system with option text-parser entry. It works pretty well as the standard stuff is listed in the tree and more unusually inquiries can be submitted via the text-parser. It's especially nice in that questions your character has no business asking aren't listed in the dialog tree, yet are still reachable. The player character may not "know" a certain npc is related to a topic, but if the player has deduced it they may ask via the parser.

There are two problems in my opinion. First, I think many folks simply don't like the idea of having to type into a parser to get info (seeing it as work). Second, one benefit of a tree-based system is that the player won't miss any pertinent topics. I could see many players getting frustrated by the prospect of having to actually think about what queries they would pose.

Personally, I think it would be great to go this direction...I'm just not sure that most gamers would agree...

(edited for grammar)

Dysplastic wrote:
farting doesn't impress many of the ladies where I'm from.

I don't know. I've heard stories about Canadiennes.

Until they can create an AI that can pass a Turing Test, dialog trees are here to stay. The best we can do now is limit their use.

Having to go through a 10 level dialog tree to get information from an NPC is excruciating. I don't have time for it. I'm a GAMER WITH A JOB.

If I'm making a decision that will change the course of the game from that point on, then I don't have a problem with it.

I wonder if it would be feasible for some high level quests in an MMORPG to have actors running NPCs that would respond in character to player chats. Until it is, you're just going to have to play a pen and paper RPG if you want realistic interactive dialog.

KocaKoala wrote:
The biggest problem with dialogue trees is all the options are presented to you. You don't have to think about what you'd say, it's all there. What I'd like to see is your standard dialogue trees pertaining to main and side quests, and then perhaps a function taken from the old text-based games. The ability to type in several working phrases unbeknownst to the player, that give out more information and more options. I remember playing tons of text-based games, and yes it essentially used much larger dialogue trees in which the choices weren't shown, it gave a lot more sense of choice than if all the choices were just presented to you.

The first Fallout actually did this to some degree. You got your standard dialogue trees, and then you could type in topics you wanted to ask about. Mostly they didn't know what the hell you were on about, but sometimes you hit on some interesting extra information.

rabbit wrote:
Or maybe I'm just a grumpy old man.

Yep that's it. Basically all dialog choices in Fallout 3 fall into 2 categories, as you mentioned regarding Fable 2; helpful goody 2 shoes or uncaring rat bastard. Although I find the dialog choices in Fallout a little more nuanced. I generally pick the sarcastic helpful response. Of course if your Charisma is high or you have the Child perk you may get optional choices and more info.

spoiler wrote:

[color=white]I really liked when I got radiation sickness as part of the Wasteland Guide quest and one of the dialog choices to Moira actually said "I am too sick to be snide right now just heal me please". That was unexpected[/color]

I actually liked the way Mass Effect did dialog with the wheel and the optional choices off to the other side to get more info (aka Investigate). Also when you picked the dialog you saw your character speak it and then the character responded. It made the game more "cinematic" but less immersive. I do like the fact that in Fallout 3 the dialog choices you already went through are no longer highlighted so I can get a visual cue that I've been here before.

So far FO3 is awesome and I am usually surprised by some twist every time I play.

Alice is an ai framework that chatbots are built on. Aiml is the language the dialog is written in. it does a pretty good job parsing as well. With well written dialog, it's an awesome system.

Kannon wrote:
Alice is an ai framework that chatbots are built on. Aiml is the language the dialog is written in. it does a pretty good job parsing as well. With well written dialog, it's an awesome system.

The problem with chatbots and text-parsers is that they have to, by definition, include a "I don't understand" dialog option. With current technology there's just no way to provide an acceptable answer for every input. That's why I don't think it's a viable option. It's funny when a chatbot responds with gibberish, but put that into a game setting and it would just become immersion-breaking because of the frequency it would occur.

Lookingn back, I remember the days of text-parsing in games, and there are two good reasons it's not done anymore:

#1 - It's not fun. It never was. Anyone who claims differently is looking at the past through rose-colored glasses.

#2 - Games have become dramatically more complex. When your current environment can be summed up as, "You're in a small room, there's a desk with a mirror on it.", it's easy to figure out the keywords are "desk" and "mirror". When you're in a fully fleshed out 3D environment, it's not quite as easy, and I certainly wouldn't want to try and figure out what the magical word is in the environments of Fallout 3.

I think this really is more a matter of taste than anything else. Some people enjoy investigating the branches of possible interaction with NPCs, while other would prefer the kind of redundant skippable screen of text that WoW gives you.

Agree 100%, I don't see how Fable 2 is leaps and bounds above Fallout 3 in respect to dialogue. Anytime I feel like interacting with an NPC in a town while playing Fable 2 I end up with a crowd of 5 to 20 people standing around me or the entire town runs away from me scared. Talk about pulling you out of the game