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Dialogue Lists versus Build Your Own Phrases
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Jon Alma

Joined: 09 May 2005
Posts: 50
Location: The Sunny South of France

PostPosted: Wed Apr 20, 2011 11:54 am    Post subject: Dialogue Lists versus Build Your Own Phrases [quote]

I have ages ago implemented a dialogue system where dialogues are held in scripts and a list of potential player responses/questions is created based on whether the triggers for each response are met or not. So for instance dialogue options such as "Tell me your name" could always be flagged as active while questions such as "Who murdered Bilbo?" would only be triggered when the player has reached the part of the story following the death of the hobbit.

This system works quite nicely but in the end it is pretty much the standard approach and is fairly closed in that the player can only ask questions the designer has specifically foreseen.

As an alternative I have been toying with the idea of allowing the player to build sentences on their own using 'sentence trees' where initially the player can scroll through the first word/sub-phrase of the sentence, then the second and so on until a complete sentence is formed. For example, the first options might be the words 'Who', 'What', 'Where'. The player selects 'Where' and is given the options 'were you when', 'is the', 'am I?'. The player chooses 'is the' and the final set of options might be 'magic sword', 'dragon', 'bucket'. And obviously the player needs to know where the bucket is so the eventual sentence is 'Where ... is the ... bucket?'

In many ways this would give the player the advantages of a text parser without the need to remember which words the parser can recognise and with a bit of work on the usability it could be fairly easy to use (giving the option to select words and move forward and back with the cursor keys or the mouse/mouse wheel). It also opens up the dialogue possibilities ... to the extent that it would be necessary to build in real time generic responses to questions that are not 'hard coded' in the scripts.

I am very tempted to prototype this, but already I see the following being issues to deal with,

  • The usability will need work and even with a user friendly system this will always be slower than just selecting a dialogue option from a list - will it be too slow?
  • The generic answers may be too generic - I want to avoid each NPC feeling the same as the others always giving the same answers (I have ideas of using the same type of techniques for the NPC responses - building interesting and unique responses out of sub phrases but again this needs to be prototyped)
  • There is a risk that the only interesting answers will be those explicitly written into the NPC dialogue scripts this therefore being a dead give away on what is important - all answers are along the lines of "I don't know" apart from one which is more along the lines of "Ah yest the golden sword of fates which is rumoured to be found in the cavern of despair ..."
  • At the same time the player may be lost in a completely open conversation system with no way of knowing what questions will trigger responses that actually move the story along. Might be interesting for serious RPGers, but for a casual player will long dialogues be more a barrier than something interesting?

Any comments before I waste a weekend trying this out?

Legends from the Lost Realms
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Joined: 06 Jan 2004
Posts: 409
Location: Online

PostPosted: Wed Apr 20, 2011 10:50 pm    Post subject: [quote]

It sounds like an interesting idea, but it might be a lot of work for the player if they need to ask several NPCs the same question, such as "Where is the bucket?" The interface may need to provide a list of recently asked questions for the player to reselect from.

To make the selection process fast for the player, I would suggest showing the choices as a horizontal tree:

Each subsequent level would only appear when a choice was selected and the previous level should always be shown to allow the player to step back up.
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Rainer Deyke
Demon Hunter

Joined: 05 Jun 2002
Posts: 672

PostPosted: Thu Apr 21, 2011 4:30 am    Post subject: [quote]

I do like the idea of npc conversations with a bit of depth and variety. I don't like forming sentences.

If I'm looking for the golden sword, then I probably want to collect as much information about as possible. It is therefore better to have a generic "ask about golden sword" option than a specific "where is the golden sword" option. If the npc knows the legend of the knight who last wielded the golden sword, then I want to know about it, even if the npc does not know the specific location of the golden sword.

Another problem with forming sentences is that sentence order is very much language-dependent. For example, "Where is the golden sword" in Japanese would be something like "ゴールデンソードはどこですか", which word for word means "golden sword (topic marker) where is (question marker)".

Also, I really, really hate generic "I don't know" responses. They're a waste of the player's time, and worse, they break suspension of disbelief. Don't ever offer me a dialogue option that doesn't have a sensible response.

I think it makes more sense to have a list of possible conversation topics, filtered by circumstances and the specific npc, than to let the player construct custom sentences.
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