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Old 03-16-2010, 10:05 AM   #1
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Obsidian blog updates

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The blogs on Obsidian's forums have been updated recently with a couple of short but interesting posts. The first is from the keyboard of Josh Sawyer (lead designer on the ill-fated Baldur's Gate III, Neverwinter Nights 2, and the ill-fated Aliens RPG), entitled "high-level writing principles" and discussing the various rules that Obsidian on "how to write." Some of the points are elaborated upon in the comments section.
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I think that as long as it's clear to the player that their choices are having an impact (even if incremental), that's all that's necessary. Reactivity above and beyond that minimal threshold will produce more appreciation from the player, but not every choice can move mountains.
Chris Avellone the Grey, a Θ on one celestial cuff a Π on the other, has some advice for those interested in entering the industry on how to "decide where to interview".


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Old 03-16-2010, 01:39 PM   #2
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Reading Obsidian's tips makes me blush like a handmaiden winked at by that rugged mountaineer she fancies.

Specifically, I agree with Sawyer's advice on not giving false options, something that BioWare could learn. The rest of his advice only points to what is generally an accepted norm in RPG games today - give the player options, dialogue trees, choice-consequence, etc.

In fact, as Yahtzee once lamented over, the dialogue tree system, with its awkward "I'd like to know something about... Actually, I have some other questions... I better get going now" dialogue options is actually looking obsolete in an era of increasingly realistic graphics. The system worked in 2D, isometric games like Baldur's Gate or Planescape: Torment, maybe even the rudimentary Neverwinter Nights, but it makes cinema-inspired games like Dragon Age: Origins feel oddly disjointed.

But until we have a better solution (Mass Effect's influential dialogue wheel is not it), I suppose we will have to make do.


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Old 03-16-2010, 02:07 PM   #3
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But until we have a better solution (Mass Effect's influential dialogue wheel is not it), I suppose we will have to make do.
Lets hope Obsidians AP might do the magic trick. So far I enjoyed Biowares wheel. Though, that's mostly because your character is voiced.

So whatever its a list or a wheel is just GUI design thing.
Anyway, about the "false" options. NWN 2 didn't fully escape this, neither did TSL IIRC.

Its kind of odd to read this sort of out set rules, to make it good, but they didn't follow it themselfs fully.

Oh well, at least we get some insight on how they do things. Which is cool in my book.
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Old 03-16-2010, 03:11 PM   #4
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There is one exception in my mind when it comes to avoiding false choices, namely *lie* options. Often the cosequences wouldn't differ, though obviously ocasionally it might have concequences in the game.


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Old 03-16-2010, 03:57 PM   #5
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The system worked in 2D, isometric games like Baldur's Gate or Planescape: Torment, maybe even the rudimentary Neverwinter Nights, but it makes cinema-inspired games like Dragon Age: Origins feel oddly disjointed.
Yes. Its not like any other 3d Role Playing Games use's this system besides Dragon Age.

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Lets hope Obsidians AP might do the magic trick.
So far, I'm liking that system but there is one aspect of it that frustrates me: Timing. Basically, you have an option of picking three choices. One is James Bond style (which I'll be using for the majority of the game), the other is Jason Bourne (which I won't touch by the way) and the final one is that dude from 24. (Forgot his name.) I don't mind this aspect of the conversation system; heck I even like it and think its one of the more original ideas that I've seen and heard of. But the thing that I don't like about it is the fact that there's a timer that forces you to choose which option you want to pick in a manner of seconds. Usually, I choose to take my time and navigate on which option is the best whenever I'm role-playing. (Depending on what situation I'm in.)


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Old 03-16-2010, 05:03 PM   #6
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I actually like the timer, since there are only 3 possible choices, you'll always have time to "read" your choices, besides, it takes care of one big immersion breaker. Another thing is that acording to Obs, the consequences are on the whole equall, so it isn't the end of the world if you pick the "wrong" one.


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Old 03-16-2010, 05:23 PM   #7
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I actually like the timer, since there are only 3 possible choices, you'll always have time to "read" your choices, besides, it takes care of one big immersion breaker. Another thing is that acording to Obs, the consequences are on the whole equall, so it isn't the end of the world if you pick the "wrong" one.
Wouldn't that be a whole game full of "false options" in dialog then, if the consequences are the same no matter what you pick?

Personally I agree with what has been said above about the dialog timer, and it's one of the big reasons that Alpha Protocol is on my "wait and see" list rather than "must have". Introducing additional elements of stress in a game for no good reason seems stupid to me. Especially for us who aren't native English speakers and as such tend to read a little more slowly.

If the only reason is immersion, why not just show the player response options while the NPC is talking, then you can pick what to say before they're done and your guy can start responding immediately when it's their turn? (like you can in Mass Effect if you click to bring up the wheel while they're chattering)

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Old 03-16-2010, 05:44 PM   #8
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If the only reason is immersion, why not just show the player response options while the NPC is talking, then you can pick what to say before they're done and your guy can start responding immediately? (like you can in Mass Effect if you click to bring up the wheel while they're chattering)
It's been some time since I saw a video of AP showing off the dialog system, but I thought the system is doing exactly as you describe there: showing the responses while the NPC is still talking.

In any case, the timer is the only thing that's really bothering me. I tend to take my time reading the lines and weigh my options. Considering I hate gameplay involving a timer with passion, it's really something that worries me.


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Old 03-16-2010, 05:47 PM   #9
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I think the main idea behind it is to try and keep the conversation flowing smoothly so there are no breaks in the conversation. The whole "cinematic" thing that developers always go on about ad nauseam. There's nothing special about it though - it's the same thing as the ME system pretty much, just with a restricted input time.
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Old 03-16-2010, 05:47 PM   #10
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I'm still not 100% acquainted with the "timer", as in I'm not totally privy to the details, but from what I have seen is that the dialogue options do appear a good 10-15 seconds before the time runs out. Furthermore, since the options are limited up to four, one-word phrases, that further decreases the amount of "reading time" and focuses more on quick decision making.

While the concept sounds rather... limiting, I see it as this: It eliminates the urge (for some) to skip through NPC dialogue and to simply read through the player responses, and by limiting the options and the word-length, it makes paying attention to the NPC incumbent upon the player, and not by simply making dialogue "optional" like in other games.

The system does convey a more "immersive" atmosphere, but that seems simply secondary to promoting a more morally-impulsive environment, where simply "gaming" the system isn't going to get the "best" outcome. In fact, I've found myself often far too concerned with searching for and choosing the "best" option in a dialogue in RPGs, which inadvertently kills the true role-playing experience of fitting the player's own tastes. Alpha Protocol is a step forward to that goal, but it's not the definite answer.
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Old 03-16-2010, 07:13 PM   #11
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Honestly, I don't think that there's a one size fits all perfect dialogue system for all RPGs.

For instance, I think AP's dialogue system makes sense for AP (as long as the timer isn't too short), since you're playing as a superspy for whom split-second decisions in tense situations will probably be the most common dialogue situation. The dialogue system they're using makes sense for that.

However, in a game where you're not making split second decisions for the vast majority of the game's dialogue (e.g. Dragon Age, KOTOR, Fallout 2, etc.), a more in-depth, slower paced dialogue system makes more sense.



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Old 03-16-2010, 08:01 PM   #12
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Quote:
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Chris Avellone the Grey, a Θ on one celestial cuff a Π on the other, has some advice for those interested in entering the industry on how to "decide where to interview".
Great to hear advice like that from him, I plan to apply to some game studios when I graduate. Haven't decided if I'd like to enter game design or if I want to stick with marketing and web stuff though.


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Old 03-18-2010, 10:38 AM   #13
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I think the main idea behind it is to try and keep the conversation flowing smoothly so there are no breaks in the conversation. The whole "cinematic" thing that developers always go on about ad nauseam. There's nothing special about it though - it's the same thing as the ME system pretty much, just with a restricted input time.
While that is nice and all... having to go AFK for a RL issue and having this type of nonsense in a game turns me off of it... I come back and I'm completely lost or dead or something and that is a certain mark for said game to immediately go into my CD Mobile of N00ber & Useless games.

If this type of thing continues then I demand the Jeopardy theme be played while the timer is running!


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Old 03-18-2010, 11:58 AM   #14
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Yes. Its not like any other 3d Role Playing Games use's this system besides Dragon Age.
Come now, as much as I love to dig on Dragon Age, I specified that it was Dragon Age's cinema-inspired style that causes the problem. Knights of the Old Republic on the other hand, did not look quite as realistic, neither did Neverwinter Nights 2 - hence the dialogue system is understandable there. Watching a pseudo-movie where somebody keeps saying "Ask away. Very well. More questions? We'll see." is rather awkward, don't you agree.


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Old 03-18-2010, 01:04 PM   #15
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While that is nice and all... having to go AFK for a RL issue and having this type of nonsense in a game turns me off of it... I come back and I'm completely lost or dead or something and that is a certain mark for said game to immediately go into my CD Mobile of N00ber & Useless games.

If this type of thing continues then I demand the Jeopardy theme be played while the timer is running!
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I DON'T need a game giving me grief about making a dialogue choice.

"Reality" is nice and all.. but I already live that (well, not a super spy ), in the end, it's still just-a-game. I'm not seeing a good excuse should gawdz forbid you have more than 15secs. to make a decision...

Quicktime events are already a bane of the gaming world.. no need for it to bleed in to dialogues as well...


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Old 03-18-2010, 01:51 PM   #16
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How do they plan to address this with people who are dyslexic, or have other reading problems that make it much more difficult for them to read all the choices in a very short period of time? Have they even thought about this problem? Or is just me thinking like a doctor?


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Old 03-18-2010, 02:12 PM   #17
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How do they plan to address this with people who are dyslexic, or have other reading problems that make it much more difficult for them to read all the choices in a very short period of time? Have they even thought about this problem? Or is just me thinking like a doctor?
So far from what I've seen of the dialogue system in AP it are only like 4 words on the screen. Each an option to respond.
Often it discribes an emotion or attitude to take towards what the other character has said.

Instead of small phrases. I don't know why there's so much fear about the timing. I don't think it takes more then 15 seconds to read 4 words. Then choose.

But I guess will have to play to know if it works or not. I think like Sabre has mentioned, this sort system will work for the more cinematic/action orientated RPGs. Where it'll keep everything going on a good speed.
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Old 03-18-2010, 02:32 PM   #18
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How do they plan to address this with people who are dyslexic, or have other reading problems that make it much more difficult for them to read all the choices in a very short period of time? Have they even thought about this problem? Or is just me thinking like a doctor?
Jae, the choices are a single word. Have you looked at the screenshots?




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Old 03-18-2010, 02:35 PM   #19
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I don't know why there's so much fear about the timing. I don't think it takes more then 15 seconds to read 4 words. Then choose.
Some people (me included) just don't like when games wrestle the pacing of playing out of the hands in the player and force it into a one-size-fits-all mold. Especially when it adds nothing beneficial to the game. It would be like if a KOTOR/BG/NWN-styled game arbitrarily decided to decided to disable the pause feature during key battles to give them a more realistic pacing. It may provide increased realism, but at the expense of fun, which is never a good trade-off in my opinion.

It may only be a few words to read and choose from, but interactive cutscenes/quicktime events are a single symbol to look out for on the screen and respond to, but they still tend to be the part of games I have the biggest difficulty getting past. Not everyone plays games the same way, what's no big deal for some can be a major headache for others.

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Old 03-18-2010, 02:43 PM   #20
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Jae, the choices are a single word. Have you looked at the screenshots?
Right, and most of us here can read it just fine. What about people where English isn't their primary language, and the game isn't available in their language? I could easily see it taking longer than 15 seconds to puzzle out some of the words.

If they give you the option to turn off the timer, though, that solves the problem.


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Old 03-18-2010, 03:03 PM   #21
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Some people (me included) just don't like when games wrestle the pacing of playing out of the hands in the player and force it into a one-size-fits-all mold. Especially when it adds nothing beneficial to the game. It would be like if a KOTOR/BG/NWN-styled game arbitrarily decided to decided to disable the pause feature during key battles to give them a more realistic pacing. It may provide increased realism, but at the expense of fun, which is never a good trade-off in my opinion.
M'yeah, I can see where you're coming from, though starting to compare combat with conversations? I just really think this fits well for talking, nobody starts to think for like 5 minutes what to say.

Though I must admit, that in certain points its nicer to have time to think, cause it really makes the differance in how the game branches.

So that could seriously bite you in the behind. And might piss off people, plus its rather divious way to make replay the game. It's quiet a risk for Obsidian to take this route.

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It may only be a few words to read and choose from, but interactive cutscenes/quicktime events are a single symbol to look out for on the screen and respond to, but they still tend to be the part of games I have the biggest difficulty getting past. Not everyone plays games the same way, what's no big deal for some can be a major headache for others.
True, it takes away a lot of controle from the player. I'm not a heavy shooter fan, cause some of those games just ask of you to spend time to get good and quick. Which means you die a lot all of the time, reloading...

I don't enjoy that much. So I prefer RPG where the pacing and action far more controlable. But I really like this new approach, to at least try out something differant.

@Jae: I'm from Belgium, so my main langauge is Dutch. I've been playing games from a young age, so I missed out a lot sometimes, though I only started playing RPGs much later, as I didn't like reading so much, so I was racing and shooting away. Mind, that most games are made for older players: age 15 and above, most of those should have had enough English classes to get the gist of what is being said.
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Old 03-18-2010, 03:04 PM   #22
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Great Obsidian copies one to the worse things about Mass Effect 1 & 2, the Dialogue wheel and then adds an even more restrictive element to it, a timer. Hope they at least learned from BioWare’s mistake to move around the choice so I do not have the option to merely push the same key every time I want to choice the good option. The good news is, if they don’t move the choices around the timer will be as irreverent as the choices themselves.



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Old 03-18-2010, 04:00 PM   #23
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Right, and most of us here can read it just fine. What about people where English isn't their primary language, and the game isn't available in their language? I could easily see it taking longer than 15 seconds to puzzle out some of the words.
What if that same situation was applied to every previous RPG, where answers consisted of standard sentences? Would people prefer manually translating full sentences, verbatim, as opposed to one-word phrases on a time limit? The time taken to do the former would most likely be greater than the latter, I'm sure, as well as being far more tedious of an exercise. Really, this isn't a massive problem, in any scenario.
Quote:
Great Obsidian copies one to the worse things about Mass Effect 1 & 2, the Dialogue wheel and then adds an even more restrictive element to it, a timer. Hope they at least learned from BioWare’s mistake to move around the choice so I do not have the option to merely push the same key every time I want to choice the good option. The good news is, if they don’t move the choices around the timer will be as irreverent as the choices themselves.
The dialogue system in Alpha Protocol is linear; there are no "sub-menus", "go backs", "Goodbyes" like in Mass Effect, et al. It's similar in aesthetics, sure, but the application and structure is a radical departure from previous iterations of dialogue systems.

In other words, Obsidian has truly become the liberal scum of the game industry. Soon they'll be blamed for terrorism, the recession, and hemorrhoids.
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Old 03-18-2010, 04:52 PM   #24
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In other words, Obsidian has truly become the liberal scum of the game industry. Soon they'll be blamed for terrorism, the recession, and hemorrhoids.
You do know I like Obsidian when they actually release games. TSL IMO is a way better game than KOTOR, which is amazing to me considering the restriction LA put on Obsidian. While I was not a fan of Neverwiter Night 2, Mask of the Betrayer won me back over to Obsidian. I’m also looking forward to both Alpha Protocol and Fallout: New Vegas provided either or both are ever released for sale.

Still I do like BioWare, even though I do see fault in their games, but since playing the perfect game has not spoiled me to expect the perfect game (still have not found a perfect game), I play BioWare games. I may play less BioWare games and more Obsidian games if Obsidian were to release more games..



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Old 03-18-2010, 05:04 PM   #25
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What if that same situation was applied to every previous RPG, where answers consisted of standard sentences? Would people prefer manually translating full sentences, verbatim, as opposed to one-word phrases on a time limit? The time taken to do the former would most likely be greater than the latter, I'm sure, as well as being far more tedious of an exercise. Really, this isn't a massive problem, in any scenario.The dialogue system in Alpha Protocol is linear; there are no "sub-menus", "go backs", "Goodbyes" like in Mass Effect, et al. It's similar in aesthetics, sure, but the application and structure is a radical departure from previous iterations of dialogue systems.
Previous dialog systems' success or failure are irrelevant to the problems presented by the time-limit, since they had no time limit. I don't care about the aesthetics of the new system, I care about the time limit for those who will have trouble with it. If Obsidian allows that to be turned off or allows someone to pause the game if they need more time, fine. More likely, it'll be someone who mods it out. If Obsidian allows the timer turned off, you still have the option to leave it on if you prefer whatever it is that this new aesthetic will allegedly afford. I don't understand what the problem is with making this optional for those who might have trouble reading quickly.


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Old 03-18-2010, 05:16 PM   #26
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Jae, that's just inventing problems in order to critique the dialogue system over them. What if people who have no hands want to the play the game? How do they do that? Have you thought about THAT? HUH?

WON'T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN!



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Old 03-18-2010, 05:30 PM   #27
Jae Onasi
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Jae, that's just inventing problems in order to critique the dialogue system over them. What if people who have no hands want to the play the game? How do they do that? Have you thought about THAT? HUH?

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Old 03-18-2010, 06:46 PM   #28
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I don't mind the time limit, the selections are only 1 word each, like "Aggressive" or "Suave" so really the only problem is making up your mind fast enough, which is the point of having that feature.


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Old 03-18-2010, 08:41 PM   #29
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The dialogue timer was slightly annoying in Fahrenheit but it didn't make things impossible. This seems even like less of a problem since you don't have to read full sentences.


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Old 03-18-2010, 11:18 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by Jae Onasi View Post
What about people where English isn't their primary language, and the game isn't available in their language? I could easily see it taking longer than 15 seconds to puzzle out some of the words.
English isn't my primary language, and the game isn't available in my language. Wait 6 minutes while I try to figure out what you've written after that.

But yeah, if that's the case then they should either improve their English or not play the game at all, because that's how we non-English-native folks work.

You're also making silly arguments, Jae. What about blind people? The game is clearly offensively unplayable for blind people.


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Old 03-19-2010, 02:08 PM   #31
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I would think if one word options were enough to cause a big problem for a player then they would be completely lost long before even getting that far.

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