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

Dayrth wrote:
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

I can't disagree. You put it down on paper and describe it, and it would be tough to justify. Perhaps it's because with Fallout they're SO front and center. Or it's just a matter of personal preference. In Fable though, I liked that I had reputation and that my story arc really affected how the world around me interacted. It's all just illusion, but for me, that illusion worked better.

Of course, I just spent another 4 hours in Fallout, loving it, so I do hope y'all understand that I'm digging the game.

rabbit wrote:
(duh. of course. Dave Grossman. Fixed.)

Not quite "fixed." The first two Monkey Island games were led by Ron Gilbert, and Dave and Tim were (first-time) content programmers and writers. Referring to the Monkey games as "Tim's games" and Dave as "part of Tim's team" is kind of insulting to both Dave and Ron, not to mention everyone else who worked on them.

Especially since if I'm remembering correctly, Tim told me that the specific dialogue exchanges you mention were written by Dave.

I haven't been able to read the rest of the article because the credit-where-credit's-due issue is just too distracting.

rabbit wrote:
Of course, I just spent another 4 hours in Fallout, loving it, so I do hope y'all understand that I'm digging the game.

You clearly hate it, and I shall crucify you and everyone on the podcast in my next email.

I listened to the podcast and I agree, generally, with the dialogue tree argument. But that's what we are stuck with guys, untill we get voice automated programs (Dragon Speak) in our games. Are you to lazy to use your eyes and read print in the year 2008? Just kidding.
Keep it going boys, it just keep getting better.

p.s. They are just opinions, and that is what makes your podcast great. If y'all praise a game or rip it up, so what? I just like to hear what y'all really feel about the games that come your way. That's why the podcast is so listenable, it's not about make it or break it- it's about, "let's talk about it".

rabbit wrote:
In Fable though, I liked that I had reputation and that my story arc really affected how the world around me interacted. It's all just illusion, but for me, that illusion worked better.

Of course, I just spent another 4 hours in Fallout, loving it, so I do hope y'all understand that I'm digging the game.

Maybe you're not that far into Fallout but i've got quite the reputation. Not sure if this should be spoilered but...

spoilers wrote:
[color=white] Three-Dog is always telling people what i've done on the radio. People walk up to me in friendly settlements, tell me how much they love me and what i've been doing, give me some food or ammo then saunter back off. When i talk to the more main NPCs in friendly settlements they'll start off the conversation with things like, "Wow! I'm so glad you're back. I feel much safer when you're around." etc.[/color]

Can i shout, "Not finished the game! Opinion void!" now?

I haven't played Fallout 3 yet, but the dialogue is Oblivion drove me mad for many reasons.

Mass Effect also used very typical dialogue trees, yet the reason it was so much more entertaining is that the designers resisted the drive to make every random NPC someone to talk to. Because you could only speak to specific characters it totally eliminated redundant dialogue, and the dialogue was specific to that NPC.

Oblivion, and by the sounds of it Fallout 3, give every NPC something to say, and as the player you have to speak to each one and follow every branch of the tree, just in case there is important or interesting information. ME and the Witcher don't and as a result they are far more satisfying to play.

MrDeVil909 wrote:
I haven't played Fallout 3 yet, but the dialogue is Oblivion drove me mad for many reasons.

Mass Effect also used very typical dialogue trees, yet the reason it was so much more entertaining is that the designers resisted the drive to make every random NPC someone to talk to. Because you could only speak to specific characters it totally eliminated redundant dialogue, and the dialogue was specific to that NPC.

Oblivion, and by the sounds of it Fallout 3, give every NPC something to say, and as the player you have to speak to each one and follow every branch of the tree, just in case there is important or interesting information. ME and the Witcher don't and as a result they are far more satisfying to play.

In FO3 you can't speak to all of the NPCs. Some will just 'say' something out loud as a response or some will open up a quick dialogue that tells you to speak with their leader or something.

Anybody remember Starship Titanic? That game had what was actually a pretty impressive text parser with which you could feasible say just about anything to any character and get some sort of response. The idea was interesting, but in the end really just ended up being a thin veneer over a fairly typical dialogue tree... it was just that the valid options were invisible to the user. This actually made the game pretty freaking impossible to finish, because even if you knew what needed to happen, forming the sentence correctly could be a tough job. Unlike similar IF games the range of potential topics and words was just broad enough to make finding the right words kind of brutal. Instead of a "pixel hunt" you were engaged in a "terminology hunt". Rough stuff, that.

Dysplastic wrote:
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.

Bingo. I agree completely. Just like escort missions and quick timer events, there is always a right way and a wrong way to use them.

Serengeti wrote:
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.

Actually, it's pretty robust, and you don't really come across it unless you're _trying_ to break it. Say, asking about BSG would prompt a "wtf" response. But asking about deathclaws, the town, so on. Besides, you could do it halfway:

Options for stuff you as the player knows: (Which would just feed that into the parser), for important stuff you _Need_ to have. You could even relate it to intelligence and all Ala fallout 2. (For example, lots of charisma and intelligence gets you being able to read stuff from the NPC, that shows in the list.)

A entry box: For anything else.

The other thing about ALICE is it's context and subject sensitive. So, asking about deathclaws, you could then say "How fast do they move" and he tells you how fast deathclaws move.

Overall, it's designed to be a conversational simulator, so it's not as much hunting for keywords.

http://alicebot.blogspot.com/ That's the homepage for what I'm talking about. Play around with it a little, it'll be a little clearer.

Dysplastic wrote:
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.

This is the problem I have in general.

IT's always kick the dog or feed it alpo.

I like the way Fable tries to give you some choice better. It's more natural. Less interruptive. More flowing.

SolGrundy wrote:

I haven't been able to read the rest of the article because the credit-where-credit's-due issue is just too distracting.

OK, all attribution removed. Does that make it better? I certainly meant no offense to anyone who worked on these awesome games, but perhaps I could be forgiven for not knowing the attribution of specific lines of dialog, while not particularly having any excuse for brainfarting the players behind the different SCUMM games.

It's perhaps a separate article, but I do think that Schafer in his later games continues this tradition of being hyper conscious of the restrictions of his communication options and plays with them brilliantly. To me it's this, as much as humor, that makes me think of him having any kind of signature "style."

Kannon wrote:
Serengeti wrote:
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.

Actually, it's pretty robust, and you don't really come across it unless you're _trying_ to break it. Say, asking about BSG would prompt a "wtf" response. But asking about deathclaws, the town, so on. Besides, you could do it halfway:

Options for stuff you as the player knows: (Which would just feed that into the parser), for important stuff you _Need_ to have. You could even relate it to intelligence and all Ala fallout 2. (For example, lots of charisma and intelligence gets you being able to read stuff from the NPC, that shows in the list.)

A entry box: For anything else.

The other thing about ALICE is it's context and subject sensitive. So, asking about deathclaws, you could then say "How fast do they move" and he tells you how fast deathclaws move.

Overall, it's designed to be a conversational simulator, so it's not as much hunting for keywords.

http://alicebot.blogspot.com/ That's the homepage for what I'm talking about. Play around with it a little, it'll be a little clearer.

From work with AI in a few research projects, the problem becomes being able to guide you on any sort of path when you can ask anything. It breaks the suspension of disbelief really, really quickly as people tend to ask things in two or three interactions that get a canned "WTF?" response. I can also say that the whole, "Ask the npc about _______" where the blank is filled in with a keyword to the plot you're working on, offered as a short list of topics, often leads to the same situation. Player frustration builds quickly, and the permutations spiral out of control. Dialogue trees are the outcome that at least answer the simple question of, "did I get all the info from the npc?"

By no means is this a defense of the current state of NPC interaction, I think it's clunky too. I just thought I'd throw out that ALICE is a whole separate can of worms.

Kind of ridiculous man. I vow that some day I will finish the Monkey Island games, but when I got to the end of the second one the computer I played it on died and I haven't given them a good go since. I will not read this article until those games have been finished!

Kannon wrote:
Actually, it's pretty robust, and you don't really come across it unless you're _trying_ to break it. Say, asking about BSG would prompt a "wtf" response. But asking about deathclaws, the town, so on. Besides, you could do it halfway:

Options for stuff you as the player knows: (Which would just feed that into the parser), for important stuff you _Need_ to have. You could even relate it to intelligence and all Ala fallout 2. (For example, lots of charisma and intelligence gets you being able to read stuff from the NPC, that shows in the list.)

A entry box: For anything else.

The other thing about ALICE is it's context and subject sensitive. So, asking about deathclaws, you could then say "How fast do they move" and he tells you how fast deathclaws move.

Overall, it's designed to be a conversational simulator, so it's not as much hunting for keywords.

http://alicebot.blogspot.com/ That's the homepage for what I'm talking about. Play around with it a little, it'll be a little clearer.

Actually I did play with it before I composed my response, just in case the technology had advanced since I'd last touched it. Unfortuantely, my opinion remains unchanged. I chatted with ALICE for about 5 minutes about everyday stuff, weather, sports, etc, and the responses were close, but just didn't quite match the questions. That's the key problem of course; to preserve belief, the answers cannot be 'close', they have to be exact. Here's an example of a conversation I just had:

Human: Want to date?
ALICE: OK, I will date.
Human: Where do you want to go?
ALICE: Why don't you just download me to your computer?
Human: Not on the first date!
ALICE: Off the first date.

I imagine that the AI could be customized for a specific purpose, like a game, but I just don't see it working well enough, yet.

Serengeti wrote:
#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 don't think anyone was suggesting that all environment interaction go back to text parsing. However, dialog via text parsing seems like it would offer more options than selecting from three pre-written dialog branches.

Serengeti wrote:
I chatted with ALICE for about 5 minutes about everyday stuff, weather, sports, etc, and the responses were close, but just didn't quite match the questions. That's the key problem of course; to preserve belief, the answers cannot be 'close', they have to be exact.

You might want to mention that to the folks who write the dialog trees now. I'm not sure many of them get that.

Thanks for sharing the ALICE website. There is a link on there that allows you to chat with G.O.D.

We had this conversation:

Human: Where are you?
God: I am in myself's computer in Heaven. Where are you?
Human: I am on the Planet Sera
God: How do you like being on it?
Human: It's terrible
God: You're kidding. it is?
Human: There is war
God: There sure is.
Human: We are fighting against the Locust race
God: Do you think I am fighting against the Locust race too?
Human: How can we defeat the locust
God: A lot of hard work.

I liked this particular exchange:

Human: what is the meaning of life
God: Actually, it's twenty-three, not forty-two.

wordsmythe wrote:
Serengeti wrote:
#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 don't think anyone was suggesting that all environment interaction go back to text parsing. However, dialog via text parsing seems like it would offer more options than selecting from three pre-written dialog branches.

wordsmythe wrote:

You might want to mention that to the folks who write the dialog trees now. I'm not sure many of them get that.

MEOW! Someone's catty today!

I think you know what he meant and were just passing over it for convenience at the chance to make a snarky comment. The first point - in more complex games there are many more things that you could ask about. Not that descriptions of the environment itself would regress back to some text-based interface.

Second point - bots just don't have any sense of what's going on. They have no idea of joking, conversational reference and re-reference, sarcasm or emotion. I suppose a text parsing bot with emotes similar to Fable 2 (or even smileys) would help a little in giving the tone of your intent.... otherwise how do you make it evident to an AI/robot that you want them dead and you wouldn't help them if their body was on fire?

AI:[Observation] Master, i do believe that this technology is not yet ready for implementation...

Duoae:[Quip] Quiet you!

wordsmythe wrote:
Serengeti wrote:
I chatted with ALICE for about 5 minutes about everyday stuff, weather, sports, etc, and the responses were close, but just didn't quite match the questions. That's the key problem of course; to preserve belief, the answers cannot be 'close', they have to be exact.

You might want to mention that to the folks who write the dialog trees now. I'm not sure many of them get that.

I'm not sure what the argument is here, my point was that AI responses typically don't fit the question/statement quite right, and that it breaks immersion.

I'll grant you that sometimes the responses in games' dialog trees isn't Shakespeare, but with the exception of bad localizations, they usually make sense. Specifically talking about FO3, after 60+ hours of gameplay, I haven't encountered an NPC response that didn't match my input.

Serengeti wrote:
AI responses typically don't fit the question/statement quite right, and that it breaks immersion. ... Specifically talking about FO3, after 60+ hours of gameplay, I haven't encountered an NPC response that didn't match my input.

Part of why it always matches is that your choices are so restricted. Duoae's issue of inflection, sarcasm, etc. is subverted because dialog trees take the near infinite possibilities of the English language and hack them down to a handful of options, which they then script responses to.

I guess what I would argue in favor of (and what I think appeals to Rabbit) is a broader array of possible inputs. In the best of all possible worlds, you'd pay a bunch of PhD candidates in literature, poetry, psychology, sociology, rhetoric, drama, etc. and bundle them with the game's packaging. Somewhere short of that is a decent AI bot like Alice. For some reason, however, we're using very blunt tools when it comes to character interaction, and very few designers seem to see that as a cause for concern or an opportunity to innovate.

Know what really bugs me about dialog trees? It's that they're not dialog webs. I really don't like dialog options like "Let's talk about something else." I further dislike when dialog advances in one branch don't influence other, potentially related branches of conversation. That sort of thing is just as bad for my experience as a half-appropriate response.

wordsmythe wrote:
Serengeti wrote:
AI responses typically don't fit the question/statement quite right, and that it breaks immersion. ... Specifically talking about FO3, after 60+ hours of gameplay, I haven't encountered an NPC response that didn't match my input.

Part of why it always matches is that your choices are so restricted. Duoae's issue of inflection, sarcasm, etc. is subverted because dialog trees take the near infinite possibilities of the English language and hack them down to a handful of options, which they then script responses to.

I guess what I would argue in favor of (and what I think appeals to Rabbit) is a broader array of possible inputs. In the best of all possible worlds, you'd pay a bunch of PhD candidates in literature, poetry, psychology, sociology, rhetoric, drama, etc. and bundle them with the game's packaging. Somewhere short of that is a decent AI bot like Alice. For some reason, however, we're using very blunt tools when it comes to character interaction, and very few designers seem to see that as a cause for concern or an opportunity to innovate.

I agree on these points, and FO3 could definitely have benefitted from more dialog options, but there has to be a happy medium between a two-choice tree and the infinite possibilities of an input box. Yes, AI would theoretically allow infinite choices, but until the AI is actually able to understand what the input means, the output is still finite.

Regarding innovation; a good story doesn't really sell games as well as good graphics does, so I can certainly understand why developers don't spend as much money on the story as some of us would like. Going back to the early days of gaming, the difference in graphics and gameplay from one title to the next was so small that storytelling really did sell a game. Those days are probably gone now.

wordsmythe wrote:
Know what really bugs me about dialog trees? It's that they're not dialog webs. I really don't like dialog options like "Let's talk about something else." I further dislike when dialog advances in one branch don't influence other, potentially related branches of conversation. That sort of thing is just as bad for my experience as a half-appropriate response.

Again, I agree, and fixing this problem is definitely in the realm of possibility. Of course the primary factor here is, again, development resources. It would obviously take significantly more time to build a system of entangled dialog webs, and even more time to make sure they made sense as they fit together; probably not a job too many developers would be pining to take on.

Dysplastic wrote:
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.

Ding ding, we have a winner. "Fallout 3" dialogue is not "Fallout" dialogue. It often makes you feel limited and inept because it avoids some of the more obvious choices the player want to use.

Hm, perhaps the ALICE website is a bad place to start. (They do well on the software, but the dialog isn't too good.) I'm not going to disagree with you, it still has a long way to go... but, well, it's no less immersion breaking than clumsy dialog trees.

It is, however, doable. Especially if you keep the scope deliberately small.

Especially since huge swaths of dialog can be nonspecific. You'd really only have to tweak the specifics for each character. I mean, they're all inhabiting the same world.

Serengeti wrote:
Regarding innovation; a good story doesn't really sell games as well as good graphics does, so I can certainly understand why developers don't spend as much money on the story as some of us would like. Going back to the early days of gaming, the difference in graphics and gameplay from one title to the next was so small that storytelling really did sell a game. Those days are probably gone now.

I'm not asking for narrative innovation, though. This would be an innovation in mechanics, which I think is a fair bit more attainable, and much easier to sell to consumers, corporate suits, and (potentially) to other developers.

Indeed. If I saw previews for an RPG that had more of a dialog web, instead of the normal trees... I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

One of the best dialogue tree systems (or variation) is the one in Vampire Bloodlines. It is tied a lot with character personality and user abilities. I don't like dialogue trees a lot, but right now is the most realistic way to tell rpg stories.

What I want to see is options tied to personality, to attitude towards the NPCs and the PC, options tied to abilities, situation variations... So that you can advance the story in different ways that will change the world in which you are playing. For example, asking for information with persuasion, agressiveness, bribing, returning it with a favor... So basically giving role playing choices, guess this what is missing in a lot of rpg from the story side.

anyone wrote:
One of the best dialogue tree systems (or variation) is the one in Vampire Bloodlines. It is tied a lot with character personality and user abilities. I don't like dialogue trees a lot, but right now is the most realistic way to tell rpg stories.

What I want to see is options tied to personality, to attitude towards the NPCs and the PC, options tied to abilities, situation variations... So that you can advance the story in different ways that will change the world in which you are playing. For example, asking for information with persuasion, agressiveness, bribing, returning it with a favor... So basically giving role playing choices, guess this what is missing in a lot of rpg from the story side.

Heck, I get excited when dialog options include one that starts with "[lie]."

I haven't read the article yet. At some point I do plan to play Monkey Island for the first time. Still, I've read most of the comments and it seems like the problem people have with dialogue trees is poor implementation. Lazy, unimaginative writers. Restricted options without cause. Not really an inherent problem with the structure itself.

Quintin_Stone wrote:
I haven't read the article yet. At some point I do plan to play Monkey Island for the first time. Still, I've read most of the comments and it seems like the problem people have with dialogue trees is poor implementation. Lazy, unimaginative writers. Restricted options without cause. Not really an inherent problem with the structure itself.

Dude, the internal irony of this post is insane and quite funny.

1: Didn't read article.
2: Read most of the comments (way more words than the article)
3: "Lazy, unimaginative writers." - don't disagree, but can't help but make a snarky comment about lazy readers! See 1.

Snark aside, I agree with your assessment, but I think the structure is also to blame.