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makeshiftwings

a better conversation engine

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so, anyone else out there sick of those same old conversation-tree style conversations? I know I am. I know this topic''s been talked about before but i''d like to get some ideas from people on what they''d like to see in a conversation system for a game, or any games that have done something particularly cool. The main thing i dislike about the "conversation tree" or worse, the "walk up to the guy and press A" style conversations is that it never really feels like i''m in control of what the character is saying. You''re usually stuck with a few choices that don''t really fit with what you think your character would say. Also, talking never seemed like a challenge, or even a game, it just felt like stories you had to read before you got to the actual game part, which was finding swords and killing monsters. It is a much different feel from pen&paper rpgs, where conversation is often an important part of strategy, and requires skill, not just clicking through every option in a conversation tree until you get the right answer. Now, one conversation system that i thought was great was The Sims. Granted, they all talked gibberish, but other than that i thought it was brilliant. The people you talked to had different moods and you had a variety of different "concepts" (flirt, joke, etc.) to use when you were talking instead of just sentences that the designer chose. So.... anyway, i''m trying to come up with a system that uses that sort of idea in a more rpg-ish setting, or at least in a game that requires actual sentences and information, not just sims-babbling. The idea would be that you could develop a character in your party with high charisma / diplomacy type skills. People walking around in the game could have little emoticon-like things, as the sims did, showing their mood. Maybe with thought bubbles, or maybe using the classic anime cues like that weird drop of water that appears on people''s heads when they are frustrated. Instead of a conversation-tree style list of things to say, you would have choices like flirt, intimidate, grovel, compliment, etc. The person you''re talking to would have hidden meters gauging things like Anger, Fear, Lust, etc. There would also be choices on the conversation menu like "Ask question", which would bring up some kind of sub-menu where you could ask about things, and a "Command" menu, where you could try and get the person to do things like "Run away", "Surrender", "Join my party", or "Give me..." which would bring up their inventory window, letting you demand that they give you all their gold or the key to the evil wizard''s tower. Whether or not they answer your questions or give in to your demands would depend on how high their appropriate meters were. Different NPCs would also have different weights to how their meters work. So the gate guard with a thing for cute elf girls might be easy to seduce, but difficult to intimidate. Also, conversation should be a viable option on every npc, even enemies. So when the giant red dragon spots you marching into its lair, its Anger meter is probably pretty high, but a character with really good diplomacy skills might be able to convince the dragon to leave the party alone. And as the fighters in the party are killing orcs, the diplomat could be standing back shouting intimidating things at their leader, trying to Command him to Surrender. One problem i see with this is it makes conversations kindof vague. At most, NPCs could have particular lines to say when they are in a particular mood, but it seems like it would be difficult to generate exactly what the dragon would say on the fly, and writing every possible response to every possible emotional state would take too long. So a certain amount of sims-style non-conversation would be unavoidable. (Maybe just some growls and some animation to show the current state of the character). So, before this gets any longer, the most important question first: Would this be fun? Or would it be too convoluted and leave people wishing there were just some old school conversation trees that did the work for them? And also, has anyone seen any games that do something similar to this? Anyone have any other ideas?

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Daggerfall allowed the player to choose the tone of voice the character used in conversation, so you might get a better bargain if you matched your attitude with your stats. I never noticed a difference though.

I think you''d get stumped in cut-scenes using an approach like that, because you couldn''t have big haughty villains making massive threats in a language the player understood. Or you could, it just wouldn''t be consistent.

However, it might work in an MMORPG, I can envision conversations with NPCs in ultima online being carried out in such a fashion.

George D. Filiotis

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Great idea, wings. I posted a topic like this once, but suprisingly, a lot of people told me they liked Deus Ex''s conversation engine (can you even call that a conversation engine?) Anyway, that works fine for Deus Ex, but I want something a little more like what you''re talking about.

A game with a similar conversation system to the one you speak of is a PSX game called Sentient. There are no emoticons or anything. If you want to know what mood someone is in, you can just read the expression off their face. It''s really hard to make friends in Sentient for some reason... I guess that makes it more realistic.

I don''t think cutscenes would be a problem. You just have to design flexible in-game cutscenes..... kinda like the ones in FFT.



-Forcas


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Guest Anonymous Poster
The problem with Daggerfall was that there was no way to tell which tone of voice worked with each person, it seemed totally random. So I just always chose the first one because it was quickest.

Also it is always annoying in games when you talk to someone and they don''t give you info, but then you talk to them again in another tone of voice or with a different phrase and they cough it up. Basically it just makes talking a tedious chore focused on extracting info from people; if at first you don''t suceed, try and try again...if you make someone angry you shouldn''t be able to just talk to them again a different way and get what you were looking for. Or if you pick choice #1 from a menu and don''t get the full story you shouldn''t be able to go right back and pick choice #2.

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quote:
Original post by Anonymous Poster
Also it is always annoying in games when you talk to someone and they don''t give you info, but then you talk to them again in another tone of voice or with a different phrase and they cough it up. Basically it just makes talking a tedious chore focused on extracting info from people; if at first you don''t suceed, try and try again...if you make someone angry you shouldn''t be able to just talk to them again a different way and get what you were looking for. Or if you pick choice #1 from a menu and don''t get the full story you shouldn''t be able to go right back and pick choice #2.

i agree... to make this new conversation interface effective, you would have to have the character AI remember if it "likes" the player, how it has been treated in previous conversations, et ceters... although if you pulled it off this would be really neat (you could try being nice to everyone, although some would see you are trying to use them perhaps; you could try to bully NPCs if you think it will work on them)...

--- krez (krezisback@aol.com)

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I agree that changing voice tone in order to extract important game info is bad design. However it would be great if you could use voice inflections to gain extra tidbits of information out of NPCs. For instance you may approach a woman and use a regular tone to get whatever she has to say to you, and then you might use a more "hey baby" kinda tone to see if you can sweeten her up to giving you some more. You could get angry and yell at a hobo to make him spit out extra info. To extend this further would be to have the NPC track the players use of inflections. For instance if a player talks bad to a woman then instantly sweetens up, the NPC doesn''t accept this change and walks away. Using this you could make so that a player would have to go through a small range of inflections to gain extra data. And again this isn''t data the player needs to have, but would provide him with some extra info on maybe a secret passageway or hidden item or something like that.

And speaking of voice inflections, not only would I like a good conversation engine, but an emotions engine to go with it. Deus Ex''s conv engine was ok, but what I really liked was that characters shrugged their shoulders, spread their hands, and all that body language that added to the speech dramatically. Not many game use facial expressions but they should start being considered now with the graphics power we have these days. Definetly.

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I''m all for anything that adds more role-playing to cRPG''s, and conversation is certainly a big part of role-playing. I''m working on implementing real-time conversation, where the player and NPC''s can interrupt each other in mid-sentence. Each character''s speach text scrolls through a word balloon, and any character may try to interrupt the speach (the scroll) at any point. I can only think of two uses for this (giving a character a ''SILENCE!'' command or telling him to stop babbling and get to the point), but it''s something I''ve wanted to see done, so I''m doing it.

The scrolling word balloons also allow for multiple characters to be talking at the same time (with multiple balloons on the screen), forcing the player to focus on one at the expense of possibly missing something important being said in another one. I think this would be pretty cool to use in a crowd scene, where the player can try to eavesdrop on different conversations simultaneously, but I don''t think I''m going to take it quite that far.

Sean

"Justice and liberty
You can''t buy
But you don''t get free"

- Bruce Dickenson

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quote:
Original post by Sean99
I''m all for anything that adds more role-playing to cRPG''s, and conversation is certainly a big part of role-playing. I''m working on implementing real-time conversation, where the player and NPC''s can interrupt each other in mid-sentence. Each character''s speach text scrolls through a word balloon, and any character may try to interrupt the speach (the scroll) at any point. I can only think of two uses for this (giving a character a ''SILENCE!'' command or telling him to stop babbling and get to the point), but it''s something I''ve wanted to see done, so I''m doing it.

The scrolling word balloons also allow for multiple characters to be talking at the same time (with multiple balloons on the screen), forcing the player to focus on one at the expense of possibly missing something important being said in another one. I think this would be pretty cool to use in a crowd scene, where the player can try to eavesdrop on different conversations simultaneously, but I don''t think I''m going to take it quite that far.

Sean

"Justice and liberty
You can''t buy
But you don''t get free"

- Bruce Dickenson




Yeah I think that''s definitely the right direction to go in. It makes conversation just like any other action which makes it more atomic.



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quote:
Original post by Gaiiden
And speaking of voice inflections, not only would I like a good conversation engine, but an emotions engine to go with it. Deus Ex''s conv engine was ok, but what I really liked was that characters shrugged their shoulders, spread their hands, and all that body language that added to the speech dramatically. Not many game use facial expressions but they should start being considered now with the graphics power we have these days. Definetly.

See SCEE Team SoHo''s The Getaway. Fascinating technology. The characters have full skeletal animation (yawn!) and full facial animation using interpolation of the skeletal positions (of the face). This is connected to the speech engine, so the facial expressions change in realtime in concert with the annotated text fed to it.

GamaSutra has an article on it.

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