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Wavinator

All dressed up and nothing to say...

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What do you really expect out of NPC conversation? A friend and I were playing Baldur''s Gate:Dark Alliance for the PS2 when we both (almost simultaneously) commented on how boring it was to have a village full of townspeople who had absolutely nothing to say. (Why did they bother putting them there in the first place, if you couldn''t interact with them? An animated backdrop would have been much more efficient.) It got me thinking about what it is that we really expect our NPCs to say to us. Sure, name, job, current state of events and this or that quest to kill foozle... but what else? In many games generic NPCs have either nothing or a few one liners to say. But even if you had an army of people to sit down and write out content, would giving them reams and reams of conversation be all that significant? Honestly, in most games we''re there to kill somebody, get something, solve a puzzle or two, grab some money and go home. Conversation that doesn''t dovetail into that purpose often seems pointless. Even if an NPC could chatter on and on about friends and families, hobbies, aspirations, etc., etc. ad naseum... what would be the point? A more immersive world? Not if you couldn''t affect anything they were talking about. Unless you were doing a Shenmue type story game, it seems to me conversation has to be imminently practical and relevant. Anything else, to me, implies dramatically different gameplay. -------------------- Just waiting for the mothership...

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What would you want out of Baldur''s Gate? You seem to be that no conversation is boring, but conversation that doesn''t directly deal with the task at hand is pointless.

I would like to see a dialog system that adjusts itself according to what you''ve done, even in the little things. Had to run away from a monster to come back to town and heal? That should be just as much a topic of conversation as you successfully beating the monster. Did you rough up one of the townsfolk? That should get around too. What you do to affect the game world should be reflected in how the game world talks to you.

Take care,
Bill

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quote:
Original post by Wavinator
What do you really expect out of NPC conversation?

It got me thinking about what it is that we really expect our NPCs to say to us. Sure, name, job, current state of events and this or that quest to kill foozle... but what else?

In many games generic NPCs have either nothing or a few one liners to say. But even if you had an army of people to sit down and write out content, would giving them reams and reams of conversation be all that significant?

I agree that there should be no superfluous conversation.

That said, the definition of superfluous is up to you. It''s ok for an irrelevant NPC to talk about his job if he shares some backstory when he does so. And it''s ok for another NPC to mention some sort of rumour which turns out to be false. It''s all adding to the game.

I don''t remember any "one-liner" NPCs in Ultima 7. Not all of them were interesting, but they all had something relevant to say. And there were a lot of them. I don''t think it''s too difficult, given a little thought.

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Relevant conversation...
  • NPC''s choice of words is indicating his attitude towards you. Is a fight about to happen because he did not take kindly towards your bumping into him as you crossed paths?
  • NPC works in the service or merchant industry and is assessing your needs and attempting to provide service for you.
  • NPC is a local or passerby and has information about the world around him.
  • NPC is carrying out a deed and relates what that is and how that works; essentially a more specific example of above.
  • NPC is interested in contracting you to provide a service or sell something. This is the inverse of the NPC being the service or retail merchant.
  • NPC needs help for some task.
  • NPC is a swindler and a scam artist and you are his next victim. Lucky you.
  • NPC is passing a message (or threat) on to you.
  • NPC is commenting on your behavior in an attempt to steer you into being a more effective individual.

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Well, here''s an idea, although it may be a little specific for some people''s use.

You identify your centers of conversation. Taverns, town squares, etc. For each one, create a database to keep track of ''information topics.'' So if you mess up in one village, there''s a chance the people in the next one won''t have heard about it.

Then, give each character ''character values'' which affect their opinions on the news events. If you were to talk to a grumpy old man about having killed a monster, he''d just say something like ''bah, there''ll only be another one next week.''

Then, you can combine the two - and, voila! An instant gossip system. NPCs can only talk about topics which they have flagged in the database - the others are ones that they don''t ''know'' about. Trying to talk to an NPC about an event they''re not aware of will generate a different results depending on their character values. They may want to rush off to the pub straight away to find out about it, or they may not care.

Superpig
- saving pigs from untimely fates
- sleeps in a ham-mock at www.thebinaryrefinery.cjb.net

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I don''t know. It seems to me having more superfluous conversation would mean players didn''t automatically assume that everything people told them was relevant to the task at hand. Just like in real life, you meet people on the street (well, admittedly I don''t go up and start up conversations with people, which is a rather silly convention of RPGs, but anyways), and they may ignore you, they may shun you, they may discuss the weather, and they may have something of interest to say about local events.

I thought the Fallout games did a pretty good job with NPC conversations. Even if some NPCs only got short lines, they were usually somehow relevant to the game world. They were superfluous in the sense that they didn''t necessarily benefit your immediate mission, but they added flavour to the game world and I appreciated this.

R.

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If anyone here wonder how tons of extra conversation from npc''s can be an entirely good thing.. well, I got but one thing to say. Ultima 7.

That you could talk lengthy with anyone you met, were just one of the things that worked perfectly in that game. What other games has made such a realistic world like that? I remember how it seemed that every npc in that game were an individual with his or her own way of living.

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Well, the last 2 replies were kind of what I was saying. Nothing should be ''useless'', and I think it is a waste of time adding stuff like chatterbots to games just so that NPCs can have a pretense of being able to talk when they are still conveying no information whatsoever. But there is more to ''useful conversation'' than directly pushing the plot along one notch. It''s not at all hard to come up with something interesting for an NPC to say. And if you are really struggling, then does that NPC need to be there in the first place? So anyway, I agree that the conversation should be practical, but not necessarily relevant. Something that may seem irrelevant to the player at one point may be relevant later on. Or may give a better understanding of something else. It''s a terrible waste if you limit NPCs to merely being another plot flag device.

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I have a question related to this topic:

Lets say the NPC can handle a wide variety of topics, how does the player talk to NPC about them?
The classic approach is to present player with multiple choice lines, so player just chooses a topic he wants NPC to talk about. This works fine for small set of topics, but what if there are like 50 things? the multiple choice list would be too messy.
So what''s the alternative?
I suppose one could make a parser that analyzes what player types in, sort of like a search engine. That has its own problems. Can you think of better approaches or should I pursue the parser idea?

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I was musing about a sort of Meme based system, where NPCs would talk with each other and transmit knowledge units between each other. I discarded it as being uselessly realistic. I like the town hall idea, where each NPC has a chance to know some meme, and will tell you about the various things he learns / has access to.

As far as interface, you could have something like the Zork - Nemesis system. You can ask a character about anything on a map, anything you''ve recorded or photographed, anything you have in your inventory, or just sort of respond ( angry, threaten, like, interested ) to the character.

in our current case, if you walk up and talk to a NPC, he may lead the conversation with something that he thinks you might be interested in that he heard, ( dragons in the hills, etc ) with something that you are rumored to have done ( the widow metlis had her hut broken into and her 1 gold peice stolen and her cat shaved. ), or wait for you to direct the conversation.

You could direct the conversation by asking him about a note you were given, a item you have or whatever.

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But wait, following some of these suggestions we would have missed out on the best line of dialogue ever in an RPG:

"I''m selling tomatoes." (Courtesy Dragon Warrior 1 and Nintendo, who changed the original sexually suggestive Japanese line)

-------------------

There isn''t any problem with "irrelevant" conversations as long as they are short and interesting in some fashion. Take for example Golden Sun for the GBA. In that you can talk to people and also read their minds. There is a lot of interesting humor that comes from the differences between what people *say* and what they actually think, but almost none of it is relevant to your actual mission.

The problem I see is when the people don''t add any flavor OR say anything relevant most of the time, but you feel compelled to talk to everyone in case you miss something. In many games it feels like a chore to walk around town talking to everybody just so you don''t miss out on some tidbit.

So, as the number of people in town grows it has to become clear which people you *have* to talk to. Maybe give them a mark over their head if they have something important to say, or give them a portrait or something. I think the thing you want to avoid is having people wade through meaningless conversation after conversation.

I think people are missing on of the points of NPCs. It isn''t just talking, it''s looking alive. If you don''t believe this go track down Gdleen for the Super Famicom. In the towns nobody moves, they just stand perfectly still. It is *really* eerie and strange. (I think it was intentional) Having a dog running around that says "arf arf" when you talk to it adds vitality, but obviously doesn''t add to the backstory or drop clues or whatever.

Furthermore, I would stay way from saying things like "I''ll just have every NPC able to talk about 50 different things using advanced AI algorithms, and tailor their responses to the current game state..." Yeah, you *could* do that, but how much value-added is there compared to the work it would take? Spending a lot of time and resources on some amazing conversation engine seems like a waste unless conversation is going to be a main point of the game. Essentially that solution is "I''ll just spend a lot more resources and make it better!" Which is valid, but how feasible/desireable is that? It''s a lot easier to just script people better than develop crazy AI schemes.


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I like short and potentially irrelevant (I think its irrelevant at the time but latter on I realize it wasn’t). There’s also the comical one liners found in the ff series. I have no problem with the repetitive default msg. Like after you have probed the shop keeper for all the info all he will say is “go away”, or “I have to get back to work”.

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quote:
Original post by berserk
I suppose one could make a parser that analyzes what player types in, sort of like a search engine. That has its own problems. Can you think of better approaches or should I pursue the parser idea?

a.) Pursue the parse idea.
b.) Use a point-and-click sentence builder. Click on a person (subject), click on another person or object (sentence object), click on a verb (ask, say, tell, whatever) and click on a specific property of the object. Generate NPC response.

I like b used in conjunction with a, so experienced/hardcore gamers gain the speed of the commandline while relative newbs get to use a semi-intuitive point and click interface.

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I got a few other things that interest me:

Assume a 3D game with 1st point of view. Assume it''s multiplayer and several people are able to hear conversations between others if they are close enough. What should happen when several players attempt to talk to the same NPC at the same time?

I would like to find an alternative to having NPCs "multitask" conversations (like in Diablo), I want a more realistic approach.
NPC would queue a question and respond when he''s done answering to another player. It would also be possible to interrupt conversations.

Do you think it''s any good?

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quote:
Original post by berserk
Assume a 3D game with 1st point of view. Assume it''s multiplayer and several people are able to hear conversations between others if they are close enough. What should happen when several players attempt to talk to the same NPC at the same time?

He should tell others (the ones butting in) to wait their turn unless it''s very important (or the interrupting party has higher social status than the original conversant).

If I was a Lord and came across a blacksmith conversing with a farmer, if he told me to wait until he was done with the farmer, he''d be tied to a stake before the words left his mouth!

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There are a few problems with the idea of a parser, graphical or otherwise. One is that in a typical RPG when you press ''A'' or whatever you assumedly ask some normal conversation opener like "what''s up?" Do you want the player to have to type or graphically construct a sentence the first time they meet an NPC, just to get the basic conversation going?

A good example is a shopkeeper. Do I really need to say "what do you have on sale?" It seems at the least there should be a default behavior - if I go to shop 99% of the time I am looking to buy/sell. I would hate to have to drag around verbs and such to do that.

The other problem is not really with a parsing system per se, but a problem a parser is likely to expose. Most NPC''s have nothing noteworthy to say about most items. I would hate to see something like:

PLAYER: "Can you tell me about this ?"
NPC: "Hmm I''m afraid I can''t help you with that."
PLAYER: "Can you tell me about this ?"
NPC: "Hmm I''m afraid I can''t help you with that."
PLAYER: "Have you seen ?"
NPC: "Hmm I can''t say that I have."

In typical games most NPC''s have one useful thing to talk about. A parser would mean just hunting for that one thing. It is rare that your NPC''s will have something useful to say about the majority of things you can ask them, which means you most likely will be just aksing them over and over about everything in your inventory.

A good example of this is a game like Daggerfall. Villagers occasionally had useful things to say about all sorts of things, but usually they didn''t. So if you wanted information you would walk up to one, ask them a bunch of questions, get a bunch of negatives, then go to the next person. Very tedious, when all you really want to do is yell "CAN SOMEBODY TELL ME WHERE THIS FREAKING GUY LIVES ALREADY!" (You could also use different tone''s of voice, but there was no way of knowing which would work best, so it was pointless)

In a way that is why I would say a conversation tree might be better, where you can ask only about relative topics. Then you don''t waste time asking all sorts of questions the person knows nothing about.

Another approach would be to give the players some clue about what the person knows about. A gem dealer might know about gems, the town gossip might have some good info. It might be hard to generalize this to random people in the populace however. Chances are if you just happen on someone you have no idea what they do or don''t know, so you have to just keep asking away.

The only way a parser seems useful to me is if the NPC''s can converse about enough stuff so that a tree of single response is less efficient. If your NPC''s can talk about loads of things a tree might get unweildy. But in a typical game a parser would be silly. How do you know what to ask them about?

The typical game is designed to get you the information/humor/whatever with as little work as possible, at the expense of converstional freedom. If you look at my "I''m selling tomatoes" example, the good thing is you don''t have to reach for 5 minutes to ask the proper question to get the woman to talk about tomatoes. The bad thing is that''s really the whole conversation. I can''t then say "oh, that''s nice. Lovely hair by the way. Could I buy a tomatoe or two?"

The question is really how conversant are your NPCs going to be? Note that is NOT the same as "what interface do you converse with?" You could slap a parser on Final Fantasy and all you would end up with would be a really tedious game. So if you are going to have a parser, conversation has got to be a really major focus of the game. If you are going to have a parser you need a well-developed NPC system that makes it worthwhile. If in reality each NPC just says the same thing as every other NPC, or just knows about 1 or 2 topics, a parser becomes a negative.







quote:
Original post by Oluseyi
[quote]Original post by berserk
I suppose one could make a parser that analyzes what player types in, sort of like a search engine. That has its own problems. Can you think of better approaches or should I pursue the parser idea?

a.) Pursue the parse idea.
b.) Use a point-and-click sentence builder. Click on a person (subject), click on another person or object (sentence object), click on a verb (ask, say, tell, whatever) and click on a specific property of the object. Generate NPC response.


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quote:
Original post by AnonPoster
A good example is a shopkeeper. Do I really need to say "what do you have on sale?" It seems at the least there should be a default behavior - if I go to shop 99% of the time I am looking to buy/sell. I would hate to have to drag around verbs and such to do that.

You answered your own question. Have default conversational openers handled automatically.

quote:

In typical games most NPC''s have one useful thing to talk about. A parser would mean just hunting for that one thing. It is rare that your NPC''s will have something useful to say about the majority of things you can ask them, which means you most likely will be just aksing them over and over about everything in your inventory.

An intelligent graphical system would only present relevant options, and the text parser could feature an IntelliSense-style popup that lists relevant options in the commandline.

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quote:
Original post by Oluseyi

You answered your own question. Have default conversational openers handled automatically.



Hmm yes I did, but I sort of meant to in case the orginal poster was reading.



quote:

An intelligent graphical system would only present relevant options, and the text parser could feature an IntelliSense-style popup that lists relevant options in the commandline.



I guess the question then is, how is that really different from a tree or Ultima type thing?

If you know all the relevant subjects because you are presented with some list, why not just go through the list in order, rather than actually creating sentences out of them or whatever? I mean, if I know there are 10 things an NPC will respond to, I''ll just go through and ask about each of those ten things.

(BTW I have no idea if IntelliSense is something you made up or actually refers to something)

My fundamental question would be what is this new conversation engine trying to achieve?

It might be useful to look at something like the old parser based Infocom and other quest games. I think in those games having a parser made sense, because you had *some* idea of what you needed to do, but not the exact specifics. You could still be clever and get interesting answers and tidbits out of things other people might not have asked, but you also had good information about the task at hand.

The thing I think that differentiates that from the typical RPG is that in an RPG often there isn''t a lot of context to clue you in. You walk into a town and there is some guy standing there - that might be literally all you know. As I mentioned in Daggerfall you could speak with different tones and about different subjects, but there was no way to tell which tone would be effective or which subject the person would know about.

It might make sense to perhaps have basic NPC''s follow a tree or just a straight single response and have a few NPCs who are more germane to the plot use a parser. Assumedly you have a better idea what to talk about with those NPCs. I think that is a fundamental problem I am seeing - when you first meet someone how do you know what to talk about?

If you compare once again to old parser games, generally instead of a person you have a room or a situation, and the description describes things you will probably be interested in. I mean, if you walk into a room and the description says "a room with lots of shelves" you might think "look shelf." But if you are playing an RPG and you talk to someone with no description, and whose graphics don''t convey much, you don''t know where to begin.

What might make sense is to have every NPC start with some pre-fab speech that you could then ask about. For example, if some townsperson said "yesterday I though I saw someone sneaking around behind the shed" you might say "where is the shed?" or "show me the shed" or "who was it?" or whatever. Or you might ask about something totally random, or remember someone else telling you something about this person.

Basically what I am saying is that IMO the best way for a parser system to be fun is if you don''t know exactly what to do, but you have a good idea of where to start and what the relevant topics are, at least some of them.

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quote:
Original post by Oluseyi
An intelligent graphical system would only present relevant options, and the text parser could feature an IntelliSense-style popup that lists relevant options in the commandline.


Don''t you mean AutoComplete? (Then again, you usually say what you mean )

This sounds a little like the way things like the old Lucasarts point-and-click games worked - you build up a ''sentence line'' by clicking on a verb and one or two objects, and then ''execute'' it. It worked pretty well, but as has been said, limits your choice of verbs and objects. It wouldn''t take much more to limit the choice to only those things which are relevant, defeating the point of the system.

An AutoComplete system might be an idea, though, thinking about it. The game has a built-in dictionary. When you start typing, the text shows up with the stuff you typed in one color and the game''s "guess" afterwards. So, I type ''DR'' and the game fills in ''AGON.'' Because the game has guessed my word correctly, I hit space and move onto the next word.

The main advantage of this approach is that while you give the player access to any word in the dictionary, you''re still not giving them unprecedented language access.

(G2G, more later maybe).

Superpig
- saving pigs from untimely fates
- sleeps in a ham-mock at www.thebinaryrefinery.cjb.net

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quote:
Original post by AnonPoster
I guess the question then is, how is that really different from a tree or Ultima type thing?

For one thing, you don''t have to manually scroll through a tree. Usability improvements = happier users.

For another, it allows you to generally constrain/prompt the user without making the options. I''ll explain in response to the next quote.

quote:
Original post by AnonPoster
If you know all the relevant subjects because you are presented with some list, why not just go through the list in order, rather than actually creating sentences out of them or whatever? I mean, if I know there are 10 things an NPC will respond to, I''ll just go through and ask about each of those ten things.

The system I propose is designed to support "intuition". Say you initiate a conversation with an NPC (and the opening dialog is automatically spoken). You can choose to ask a question and the system will present you with a list of relevant abstract or concrete entities to ask about (ranging from people/places to events) - but only entities that the NPC logically could/would know about. If necessary, you can ask about a specific property of said entity.

How does this improve on selecting from, say, 10 possible questions? You don''t need to prepare specific questions per NPC/knowledge item, and the system scales as you add more NPCs seamlessly. Developer benefits. It also benefits the user by providing a simple yet flexible and robut means of querying anyone in the system about nearly anything - and quickly!

quote:
Original post by AnonPoster
(BTW I have no idea if IntelliSense is something you made up or actually refers to something)

quote:
Original post by superpig
Don''t you mean AutoComplete? (Then again, you usually say what you mean )

IntelliSense is that feature of MS Office and Visual Studio applications that presents parameters, attribute lists or spelling suggestions as you type. AutoComplete enhances/complements IntelliSense by inserting the remaining text of your selection into your document. With respect to this idea, IntelliSense would see text like "ask John Mike''s" and pop up all the possible attributes of Mike (just like when you type "struct_name." in MSVC).

quote:
Original post by AnonPoster
Basically what I am saying is that IMO the best way for a parser system to be fun is if you don''t know exactly what to do, but you have a good idea of where to start and what the relevant topics are, at least some of them.

I concur.

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Just a quickie...

Sometimes superfluous conversation serves the purpose of establishing the personalities and convictions of the people in a village. Later you may have the opportunity to save them from a dire fate, or, if you decide to go another path, let your perception of the people in the village decide what course you choose.

This is especially true in a non-linear storyline where the player''s decisions are based on what relationship they want to have with the NPCs they come across. Those players that know they won''t get the Blackstar life-stealing sword unless the Village of Denahom gets trampled by the Behemoth won''t care much about conversation.

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As for Wavinator''s original question, I don''t mind NPCs talking about non-essential stuff provided these three points are satisfied: 1) Their conversation is entertaining or adds to immersion. 2) It doesn''t take too long to figure out I''m listening to non-essential information and have the choice to end the conversation if I get bored with it. 3)I can make an educated guess as to who can and can not provide essential information, so I don''t feel like I have to start a conversation with everybody just to make sure I learn everything I''m supposed to.

As for the conversation-engine tangent in this thread,
quote:
Assume it''s multiplayer and several people are able to hear conversations between others if they are close enough. What should happen when several players attempt to talk to the same NPC at the same time?

I would like to find an alternative to having NPCs "multitask" conversations (like in Diablo), I want a more realistic approach.
NPC would queue a question and respond when he''s done answering to another player. It would also be possible to interrupt conversations.
I''m putting the finishing touches on a conversation engine that does just that. There is a conversation queue which holds each character''s intended contributions to the conversation. Each of these intended contributions has a priority. Questions are given a lower priority than statements of information, which tends to keep everybody on the same topic until it is played out. Priority is also adjusted by social rank so that characters with higher social status will usually get in whatever they want to say first. The player''s contributions to the conversation are queued just like other characters'', with the exception that the player can choose the priority of his speeches. A speech queued at the highest priority will interrupt the current speaker in mid-sentence.

I fooled around with using auto-complete and settled on an almost-auto-complete solution that I refer to as pre-emptive parsing. I have the forward slash set to work like hitting the tab key once at the Linux command line (completes as much of the word as possible), while hitting the tab key cycles through all the remaining relevant possibilities. This works because the engine evaluates the command line at every keystroke, and always knows what kind of word to expect (a command name, a character name, a spell name, a resource name, etc) based on the previous word. There is a hint beneath the command line so that the player knows what kind of word is currently allowable.

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A lot of these ideas for conversation engines are very clever, but I don't see them being implemented in a mainstream game in any kind of viable way. Command lines, text parsers, selecting verbs and objects for those verbs...it's all very interesting stuff from an intellectual point of view, but I'm afraid I'm having some difficulty imagining the average gamer being willing to sit through having to use them. Text parsers worked well for the Infocom games, because that was the only real structure upon which to base that type of game. Command line interfaces seem unnecessarily anachronistic.

It's fine to come up with a lot of ways and means to accomplish something, but if you and your friends are the only ones willing to use it, the system becomes nothing more than a fancy technology demo.

I don't mean to come off as critical...I think a lot of these ideas are very clever. But how will the average gamer feel about them?

Chris Crawford's Erasmatron is a good example of a complex and innovative system to support multilinear storytelling and conversations through the objsect/subject/verb paradigm, but it's just way too complicated for most people to be able to pick up easily.

Just my two cents...

R.

[edited by - Tacit on May 7, 2002 11:58:22 AM]

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In response to those who said scripting conversation trees and building knowledge bases for all the NPC''s in a game would be more effort than its worth. . .

Alot of classic RPG''s used a system that could still be useful today: Most NPC''s use a simple method of conversation (ie click for a one-liner), while the important "Character" NPC''s had a more complex mode (ie conversation tree and/or knowledge base). This method makes alot of sense in that it does not waste developer time in crafting indepth non-essential conversations, or the player''s time in pursuing indepth conversations that are tangenital to the plot (unless, of course, the conversation or character is inherently interesting for some other reason).

Which NPC''s are there for "flavor" or "background" and which are important characters to the plot can be differentiated by unique appearance, highlighting, seperate "portrait" screen, (in case you''re not familiar. . .alot of these classic RPG''s took you to a different screen for important conversations, with a close-up of the character''s face. this method was of course far more useful in those low-res no-polycount days than today) playing a .wav when the character approaches, and I''m sure there''s more.

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quote:
Tacit said:
A lot of these ideas for conversation engines are very clever, but I don''t see them being implemented in a mainstream game in any kind of viable way. Command lines, text parsers, selecting verbs and objects for those verbs...it''s all very interesting stuff from an intellectual point of view, but I''m afraid I''m having some difficulty imagining the average gamer being willing to sit through having to use them. Text parsers worked well for the Infocom games, because that was the only real structure upon which to base that type of game. Command line interfaces seem unnecessarily anachronistic.


I disagree. There is a solid niche market for deep RPG''s, which has been quite impoverished until very recently. If a game like Morrowind can sell well in today''s gaming climate, I don''t think these players will be scared off by clicking a verb and an object. As far as using a command line with IntelliSense/AutoComplete. . . It''d be a risk. That much is true, but I have enough faith in the average hardcore RPGer''s intelligence that if (and only if) the system added significantly to the game''s roleplaying possibilities (which is pretty much the idea), they would embrace it at the very least as a necessary evil, if not actively enjoy the change. Command line interfaces are known for their capability for expressivness, so its a natural fit.
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And in direct response to Wavinator''s original post- I for one have been noticing a real dearth of interesting conversation in modern RPG''s. Even the conversation trees in Fallout & Fallout 2 would be an improvement, if only because a great number of the NPC''s had interesting personalities and your conversation choices had a real impact on gameplay (unless you''re a quickload junkie ).

It seems like the RPG market is more or less split into two camps. For clarity, I''ll refer to them as the "PC camp" and the "console camp", even though there''s some crossover.

The PC camp wants to see depth, more non-linearity. These are the people who''ll munch your command line interface for breakfast and ask for seconds. These people are the escapists. (still a very nice nomenclature ) They want to live in your world, and in-depth conversation with NPC''s is practically a requisite.

The console camp wants an accessible interface, nice graphics and cutscenes, and a solid plot. They play RPG''s as a kind of hyper-extended movie, with a beginning, middle, and end. As far as conversation with non-essential characters go, it''d better move them further along the plot or lead to a quest, or they''re not interested. Of course, these people are your finishers.

So as far as conversation goes-

PC/esapists: The more indepth, the better. As long as the conversation''s interesting, they''ll keep talking.

Console/finishers: Keep it short, and to the point. (hmmm. . . looking at the length this post, you can probably tell which type of gamer *I* am ) Character exposition of main characters is ok, plot development is obviously ok, but "flavor" text should be kept to a minimum.

If you see the Buddha on the road, Kill Him. -apocryphal

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About conversation interface:
I think it''s best to have a list of multiple choice "questions" for basic/default topics, and then a line for parser to process special requests. Everything that involves parser would require the player to know what to ask for, maybe this particular NPC is a spy and you can talk to him as a spy only if you give him some password or money. If the player doesn''t know this NPC is a spy, he shouldn''t find out about it by reading available list of responces from the multiple choice window.

About NPC conversation queues:

What if someone tries to "queue" the same topic many times? This definitely shouldn''t be allowed.
And what if the person who "queued" a topic while someone else was talking didn''t wait for the original conversation to end and just left? would NPC continue saying stuff to nobody? there''ll need to be a check if both sides are still interested

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