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Old 04-20-2009, 11:34 PM   #1
Serpentine Cougar
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Do Dialogue Trees Stink?

I saw this article on dialogue trees the other day, and I'm interested to hear what you think about it.

Originally Posted by The Article
My issue with most conversations with NPCs that have dialogue trees is that they’re not cinematic enough. Lip-syncing and body language is almost always off ... dialogue trees hardly ever have a natural rhythm to them as you’ll find yourself going back to an earlier branch, selecting a different option, or listening to the same bits of dialogue over and over ’til you realize the NPC has nothing more to say. ...

... all we’re doing is exhausting all the possibilities of each dialogue tree. If we’re going to listen to all that anyway, I feel it would be best for designers to streamline that into a fully-realized custscene, rather than extend it out to an empty feeling, long-winded conversation. ...

My modest proposal ... would be to portray most conversations in cutscenes, giving you a choice only in the beginning of the cutscene, and maybe once or twice later on. ... Fewer choices, at the behest of more engaging drama. ...

Give me some choice, sure, but don’t ask me what I think every five seconds. If a game really wants to engross us in its characters, it should give us a protagonist who IS a character, someone who can make up their own mind every once in awhile. We could coax them into situations, sure. Then cut the strings and watch in awe as we would any good film. Because really, that’s what these games are striving for, am I right?
I've noticed that with dialogue trees, I'm always going back and trying other options, for fear that I'm missing out on something. It takes away some of my enjoyment of the game because I'm so focused on getting as many of the dialogue options as I can, whereas in a more linear, cutscene-based game I'm more laid back because I know I'm going to see all the cutscenes there are. But I also like the potential for choices and consequences in dialogue trees. So I like his idea of having fewer options, yet having those options be more meaningful.

What do you think?

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Old 04-21-2009, 04:58 AM   #2
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No, they do not stink. They're data lawl.

But i see your point and agree it with, often do i find myself also wanting to see and hear everything there is to hear in any conversation in a dialogue tree.
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Old 04-21-2009, 07:24 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Serpentine Cougar View Post
Do Dialogue Trees Stink?


All right then. Dialogs provide interactivity unlike cutscenes. They allow you to make the choices and shape your character instead of just watch a predetermined character play out their role. They can allow you to use skills/feats/abilities in creative ways (Dementation dialog options in VtM:Bloodlines for example), they can allow your character to act in direct or subtle ways, reflect morality etc. It generally helps making the game more interesting when it has dialog instead of monologue.

Sure, in some games dialog is just information dispensers, (Morrowind was notoriously poor in that regard, if you could even call that a dialog system. Felt more like you were browsing a bulletin board than talking to someone) but that's a problem with game design, not with dialogs themselves.

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Old 04-21-2009, 10:14 AM   #4
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While I don't think dialogue trees stink, the article has a point, though some games partly avoids this problem (like the Witcher where consequences often came much later).
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Old 04-21-2009, 02:13 PM   #5
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i think that dialog trees do need some refining yet. the traditional method is long, and i often find myself just clicking through them without bothering to listen to the voice acting or watching the associated "cutscene". that plus if you read your available choices too quickly, you could end up missing something that changes the entire tone of the response. of course, this also gives devs an excuse to not include voiceovers for your main character as well.

on the other hand, simplified systems like the dialog wheel in Mass Effect are a bit too dumbed down. its great for making snap decisions, and it did make me pay more attention to what was going on in the cutscene since the dialog selections don't do much to interrupt the scene. the problem is that your character doesn't always say what you think they're going to say. if i pick a more negative response, i don't really need my character to start spitting out curse words and start ranting like some glorified fool to show how negative s/he is about their response.

a better system, i think, would be to map out various general responses. for example, instead of just listing a quick summary of what your character will say (which may or may not be accurate), just ask the player if they want to give a positive or negative response, and then follow that up with a response type. ie, if i want to give a negative response that's polite, then i would first select Negative (or similar), and then, another menu would pop up with the options of say polite, sarcastic, or crude (or possibly more). that way, you would have a much better idea as to how your character would respond all while maintaining your character as part of the cutscene.

just my two pennies.

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Old 04-21-2009, 03:50 PM   #6
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One thing that becomes problematic with dialogue trees is that that they're either too verbose or not complex enough. For example, using differently worded lines that reach the same conclusion.

A problem that I believe happens too often is the lack of other types of PC to NPC interactions. Dialogue is too isolated; in reality, most person-to-person communication is body language. Therefore, developers should open up the typical conversation session to body gestures (Yes, including that gesture), voice inflection, current character appearance (You wouldn't want to dress in street clothes when meeting with an important businessman, especially when he has mafia connection, no?), etc.
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Old 04-21-2009, 04:57 PM   #7
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You're talking the "fake choice" scenario, which is a pet peeve of mine. Just about every CRPG that I've played has employed this cop-out tactic at one time or another.

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