When dialogue wheels and romancing options become important

Discussion in 'General Gaming and Hardware Forum' started by The Dutch Ghost, Jun 5, 2013.

  1. The Dutch Ghost

    The Dutch Ghost Grouchy old man of NMA Moderator

    Jan 11, 2004
    Hello people,

    Sorry all, this post is a bit of a rant but I am really interested in hearing other people's opinions on these subjects.

    Today I was checking out one of those top ten/top twelve lists on poplar games and other media that is popular on the moment. (yes that was my first dumb mistake) when I found an list discussing Mass Effect 4 and what should be different in it.

    I don't recall clearly what exactly was written but in the point about morality and dialogue the writer discussed how brilliant dialogue wheels were but that the options were still limited regarding choices and that there should be more moral ambiguity.

    The thing is, with Mass Effect or other action-adventure games with stat elements today (I refuse to call them RPGs) is that there never was really much moral ambiguity to begin with.
    There barely was if I recall actual grey choices that could turn out for the best in the long term or for a specific group of people, and the universe is pretty much designed to be black and white. (it is clear who is evil, who is repressed and misunderstood, who are self serving), and the options in the dialogue wheel reflected that.

    There is the Paladin Good choice, the 'neutral' choice, and the 'dick' choice and I rather blame the whole dialogue wheel concept for that as it doesn't allow for much options.

    Truth be told I do wonder why the dialogue wheel is something that might be used again when if you really want to make the choices, answers and questions more complex and less 'good-evil' the dialogue tree is a far better system.

    The thing also is that game writers today treat morality very simplistic. While I can understand that gamers want to know for sure that what they choose is good or bad I am a bit annoyed when they complain when the choices are less clear, depending more on the player's own morality/mind set than what is good or bad in general. (what do I consider good or bad?)

    Something else that irks me a lot lately is how often now the subject of romance is brought up in games. If they are straight or same sex relations is not the point right now.

    Where they in the past something optional to give a bit of flavour to the game they now seem to be a demanded feature. If the gamer can not romance a woman or a man, and get kids and a house then a game is only half good.

    Why is it suddenly so important that the player is able to act like a husband or a wife during a storyline in which the player has to undertake a quest or a mission that could decide the fate of a region or even the planet, and even have to go through all kind of hoops in order to maintain that relationship?

    In a game like the Sims I can understand as it is a simulation of a computer person's life, but why is it so important now in other games?

    A lot of time and resources that could be spend on other game features such as the dialogue are now focused on creating a date simulator for digital characters and I am starting to wonder if gamers demand it as a substitute of getting into a relationship in real life.

    What is this need to get a player character hitched up with a digital male or female.

    People's thoughts?
  2. Crni Vuk

    Crni Vuk M4A3 Oldfag oTO Orderite

    Nov 25, 2008
    very good points. I shall comment on that latter :D
  3. Edmond Dantès

    Edmond Dantès It Wandered In From the Wastes

    Jul 15, 2008
    Games have pretty much always treated morality incredibly blandly, in part because morality is pretty difficult to implement with any depth.

    The dialogue wheel is just another incarnation of such a system. It’s easy to implement and fits well with a controller. A lot of players want transparency and instant feedback, and the standard dialogue wheel makes it blindingly obvious which choices lead to roughly which outcomes. A lot of older games, also those with dialogue trees, didn’t do a whole lot better to be honest. Baldur’s Gate and a lot of other old school RPG’s had good/evil reputation, Knights of the Old Republic had dark side/light side, Fallout had karma.

    Although you can go grey within those systems, the system itself hampers moral ambiguity. By communicating the moral value of the player's actions to the player, the game judges the actions of the player as if there was an omniscient God-like authority, deciding whether your actions were good, evil, or not significant enough to register on the moral-o-meter. Morality then, is indeed no longer in the players' hands. He cannot decide that an action was good, evil, or a necessary evil or anything else. He'll be deemed evil or good regardless of his own judgement.

    What, to me, felt like an enormous improvement in the morality department was Alpha Protocol. There wasn’t any general good or evil statistic, just your character, your choices as to how you solve problems, your choices as to how you treat other people, and those people’s responses to your actions and dialogue. I feel that’s pretty much the way forward to do morality in games: by no longer using morality systems but focusing on personal interactions and a more fleshed out, reactive world. Precursors to this way of handling morality were already present in Deus Ex, where characters judged you for your actions depending on what they thought was the correct way to behave, or The Witcher, but that game just threw shit at you for making pretty much any choice.

    Dragon Age came close it as well, but really missed its chance to improve on the standard good & evil choices. There’s no downside whatsoever to picking the goody-goody route and this made Loghain just an inept villain who unnecessarily used vile methods to unsuccessfully defend the realm. It would’ve been interesting to present the player with a scenario where the king really did turn out to be a complete dunce that endangered his army with needless heroics, where betraying him actually did improve strategic warfare, where the abhorrent practices of Loghain actually did work rather well at defending the country. Sadly, none of that happened.

    Dragon Age also seems, to me, to be the game that sprung forth the romance flurry.I guess if you no longer have a morality system in place, personal interactions and relationships with other characters become a vital part to fleshing out a moral world. Sadly, Dragon Age didn’t really care about fleshing out moral interactions, because you could just shower someone in gifts and your recent genocide would be forgiven.

    After the first Mass Effect and Dragon Age, pretty much every Bioware title and some other games seem to have included romances almost as if they were mandatory; probably because they are. They often spark controversy, make for great publicity, don’t cost a lot of time to make, and for some reason there's a market for them. They wouldn't be so bad if they weren't always a horribly shallow road towards the inevitable sex scene, but I guess that's what players expect and big titles rarely deviate from people's expectations.
  4. SnapSlav

    SnapSlav NMA's local DotA fanatic

    Jul 1, 2012
    The tragic irony that I noticed was, regarding the OP's point that needlessly including romance into a game diverts resources that otherwise could have been used to make a better game simply included a half-assed dating simulator, in the case of Steins;Gate, the exact opposite was true. In a culture where dating (and sex) simulators are a STAPLE of gaming, SG was just another Japanese Dating Simulator, with quirky excuses for the main character to have to form such complex relationships with the myriad of women around him, and get to know them all for the ultimate goal of the game. Yet, funnily enough, it resulted in a MAGNIFICENT title that spawned one of the most thought-provoking concepts of time travel that I've ever bore witness to, and the plot and premise were so intriguing that had I not been introduced to the IP via its anime adaptation, I might have been thrown for a loop that it even WAS a dating simulator!

    It's funny to me that something can be amazing, and focus so heavily on a gimmick that most (if not all) of us non-Japanese gamers can look upon as totally pointless and shallow, and yet half-hearted efforts to merely include such shallow payoff while focusing primarily on the *COUGH* "tried-and-true most popular" gameplay staples can end up feeling like such a rabid disappointment.

    I think the earliest games that come to memory that already HAD an incarnation of the typical "Romance System" that many do today were mostly the same developers doing it, today. Knight of the Old Republic included an in-depth (for the time) relationship tracking system with all of your crew members, one of which was largely aimed at cracking the resistant nut that was a female character in a somewhat character-driven and somewhat get-in-her-pants-driven story arc that ultimately was used to redeem her near the end of the game. It had much less shallow reasons that simply bedding her to have included that character arc to begin with, but since that was an end-game plot device that players weren't even aware of, it wasn't WHY most undertook the endeavor to being with; they just wanted to woo her. For the record, I think KOTOR was a masterpiece, and it's the only reason I haven't dismissed the Mass Effect series in entirety, because it essentially served as the basic blueprint for that series. If Sheppard was a Jedi and the graphics were a bit more dated, ME would be KOTOR. There was also Fable which included more so-called romance, but really that was just something that managed to make it through the final cut in a game that promised to deliver "everything" and because of the realities of production only delivered "something".

    To me, the real dilemma presented by dialog wheels isn't that there's too many of them, or that they are too simplistic to actually do true "moral ambiguity" justice, but rather that they're vague and unintuitive. In dialog trees, I can see where the conversation is going, so I more or less know what dialog options I can expect, the further down that rabbit hole I venture. But for the sake of cramming lengthy and voice acted replies into a single corner of a wheel, the responses are summed up for easy consumption by the gamer, and without a log of the various branchings the conversation has taken, every response is surprising (or confusing) because you've become lost in a virtual discussion that isn't transparent. Selecting "You're too hard on yourself" in the dialog tree will prompt the protagonist to make some kind of off-handed remark, NONE of which included those 5 words that were even selected in the first place! It's a shoddy system precisely because it's shoddy. The only reason that's not self-perpetuating is because its actual origins lie in convenience more than anything else.
    -"If there are 5 responses, and 4 are single sentence, and a 5th is a lengthy explanation, the player will know to choose #5 because 'that's the correct answer', so let's just 'sum up' EVERY response to make that choice less obvious!"
    -"Let's design a system that allows players to choose what their character says, without actually displaying what they're going to say, because we've invested a LOT into the voice acting, and we want as much of that to be a surprise as possible!"
    Rather than for its own merits, convenience dictated the course that the mechanic took.

    I don't dislike Romance in a game, nor do I dislike branching dialog in any of its forms. But I do hate it when they're done for some arbitrary reasons that ultimately reduce the impact they were supposed to provide. If my Romance had a pivotal impact to the rest of the game as was the case in KOTOR, then cool, I'm all for it! If my branching dialog is transparent enough that I KNOW where I'm taking the discussion and what points my character is trying to make are largely in my control, then however they dress it up is fine with me! But if something is thrown in for the sake of throwing it in, it better not distract from an otherwise excellent title, otherwise I'll simply ponder "Why even bother?"
  5. Ilosar

    Ilosar Vault Fossil

    Apr 20, 2010
    It's not like morality was extremely deep before Mass Effect. Good and evil choices, basta, that's what many games had in most cases (including Fallout and Torment to a lesser extent). Hell Baldur's Gate basically railroaded you into being a goody two shoes. Many side quests made absolutely no sense otherwise.

    They did kinda miss the mark a bit on that. Then again, many of Loghain's schemes are rather pragmatic (get the Circle on his side, neutralize the most important opposing Arl, send an assassin after your enemy) but he can't exactly predict Eamon's son being a secret mage that goes crazy, now can he? I actually think Dragon Age did well overall because the morality of your actions was up to you; you don't get slapped in the face by the game because you don't want to be an asshole (Alpha Protocol was also like that). Similarily, you don't get railroaded into being a goody two shoes and can behead your party members if they get too uppity or doom people to horrible fates without much repercussions.

    That also goes for Dragon Age 2 BTW; that game had tons of moral ambiguity, hell maybe too much since in the end everyone could lok like utter assholes. The dialog wheel didn't change that. Hell even Mass Effect has plenty ambiguity in issues like the Genophage, the Quarian/Geth conflict, and the principle behind the endings (the execution being another matter entirely). If only that series didn't have the Paragon/Renegade meter to drag. But I don't think the dialog wheel adds or remove moral ambiguity; it's all in the writing.

    I do agree with the romances, but only to a degree. Some people like them, and I honestly don't think we can really complain about them because most are completely optional content. If you wanna play a Forever Alone guy, you can. I also don't think that removing romances would enable them to put more money elsewhere. That's generally not how game development works.
  6. Crni Vuk

    Crni Vuk M4A3 Oldfag oTO Orderite

    Nov 25, 2008
    Thing is though, that Baldurs Gate was done with that in mind, and I enjoyed it very much as I think it had quite some quality in writting and quest designs which games today lack. And the romances somehow fitt to the game. Because yeah ... you can very easily fuck them up.

    Today I just dont know if I am getting old or what ever. But I have the feeling games should get away from those romances, unless they can do it right. They feel way to often forced.
  7. sea

    sea Vault Senior Citizen

    Oct 5, 2009
    It's pretty simple.

    The dialogue wheel is an interface convention and not a gameplay convention. It's a way of selecting options on a gamepad that is arguably more streamlined than traditional lists. Other than that, there is nothing about the dialogue wheel itself which is interesting or unique. However, there tend to be certain things implied in dialogue wheel use:
    • Choices are truncated/incomplete and will only be seen in full once selected.
    • Options (good vs evil) map to certain positions on the wheel, making consistency of selecting options easy.
    • Allows for "button mashing" dialogue sequences while maintaining the same result by keeping the stick firmly pointed in one direction.
    It's these trends that should be discussed and which are more harmful to games, in my opinion.
  8. Ilosar

    Ilosar Vault Fossil

    Apr 20, 2010
    Baldur's Gate had quality quest design? Go there, kill that. I've just desribed 90% of the game's quests. Rest are fetch quests and a few investigation like events, like finding the child killer. It's not exactly miles ahead of a Dragon Age. The two are actually pretty comparable on that front. Fallout would be a better example, and the series is one of a kind.

    I also fail to see how romances are more forced in modern Bioware games, where they are mostly optional and the player needs to initiate them in many cases, than in Baldur's Gate where your party members will randomly pause the game to talk and you either give them the answer they want to hear to continue the romance or blow them off rudely, with no option in-between.

    True, it does encourage you to take the top/middle/down option consistently, depending on karma meter/relashionship value you want. I'd say that's actually more of a karma meter problem (which is inavoidable because the concept itself kinda sucks). Mass Effect could have kept the exact same dialog wheel system and be much better had they ditched the Paragon/Renegade thing.
  9. woo1108

    woo1108 Vault Senior Citizen

    Sep 27, 2012
    I haven't played any bioware game but sound like it's main point is dialog and romance not quest and solving.

    For me, dialog is just one of the method to solve the situation not the main thing.

    For example, in Fallout, dialog plays huge role. but can't say Fallout is dialog game because there are other method(combat, repairing, delivering and so on) which solves same problem and have equel importance with dialog. if dialog governs other method than it became linear game since all the situation is drive to solved by dialog and other method plays little role so only thing left for player to change situation or solving it is just dialog alone.

    and for romance, it's just desert, not a main dish.
  10. Akratus

    Akratus Bleep bloop.

    May 14, 2011
    Bioware games are terrible, especially at dialogue. So what else is new?

    Shitty dialogue is shitty dialogue no matter the presentation employed.
  11. The Dutch Ghost

    The Dutch Ghost Grouchy old man of NMA Moderator

    Jan 11, 2004
    Hello all,

    I just want to make something clear before people misunderstand me.

    Regarding dialog, I don't have a problem at all if a solution to a problem or a quest is accomplished through a conversation.
    But what I do think is that it should be an accomplishment by the player rather than an obvious choice, and that the player's earlier actions and discoveries play a part in it.

    The best example which I still think is a great way to beat a 'boss' is explain to the Master why his plan to 'evolve' humanity is flawed.

    Romances in a game can be good if they are tied into the campaign/end game and actually open up new paths or solutions.
    What bothers me more is that it in general feels more tacked on and really doesn't change the game that much other than perhaps mentioned in the end game that the romance perhaps resulted in a child but that it for the rest did not matter.
  12. Crni Vuk

    Crni Vuk M4A3 Oldfag oTO Orderite

    Nov 25, 2008
    So? Thats what you do most of the time in Planescape Torment as well. Its more about what happens while you get to that target.

    Also I never had a problem with Bioware making such games, for that time Baldurs Gate was top notch. Even if not everything was super morally gray. No one ever said every RPG has to be like that. It can be quite tedious to try to squeeze such thing in every game.

    The problem is when there is no room for ANY game that is going in that direction. At least the industry allowed for such games like Planescape Torment or similar games, like Wasteland, Fallout etc.

    I see it like with movies and books. There has to be what one would describe as "shallow" or "epic" entertainment and of course the stuff that makes you think. I can enjoy both. And thx to kickstarter it seems at least with games those games that make you think are coming back to the PC. Games like Dragon Age though are more like a bad soap opera. There is no problem with games trying to be epic or doing the typical black and white thing. I think such games can be still awesome, with quality writing and content.

    So yeah, for what it does, Baldurs Gate is one of the best RPGs in my eyes.
  13. Ilosar

    Ilosar Vault Fossil

    Apr 20, 2010
    If you think Dragon Age has no moral ambuiguity, you haven't been paying attention. Yes the quest is to save Ferelden but then it was also like that in Fallout 1 and 2 and no one is saying these lack moral ambiguity.

    If you think Dragon Age 2 has no moral ambiguity, you flat-out haven't played the game.

    And Baldur's gate pretty much is black and white, save for a few parts, more than any other Bioware game save for KOTOR because there it's enforced by the setting. Every good guy is a hero, every villain is a hammy asshole.
  14. Walpknut

    Walpknut This ghoul has seen it all

    Dec 30, 2010
    Dialogue Wheels are just an interface convenience for consoles, you could potentialy give a myriad of choices wit ha wheel by just adding a "Detail" button to every option, but most developers just take is a shortcut to not having to write branching conversations and just give easy to pick options.

    On Moral Ambigüity, not all stories need or even benefit from it, specially if the writters aren't that skillfull. Mass Effect is a pulpy science fiction game, sometimes it gets Dellusions of Grandeur and that's when the game suffers the most.

    The only game that handles romance as a game mechanic well is Fire Emblem Awakening, not because the romances are that well written, most of them are very trite, and in some cases hilariously disturbing (Lon' Qu with Nowi LOL) but the romances result in one in a file time new unit that inherits the traits, class options and stats of the parents, so going all date sim Matchmaker on a playthrough can result in rather powerful units being added to your roster.

    Maybe the Persona games do it well too? altho you can go friendzoning all girls and still get the same result as long as you complete their sidequest.

    The only interesting romantic options in Mass Effect are Jack and Garrus, the other ones are too waifuish.

    And that is the reason romances are added in, people now need to be able to get a waifu with every game they play, when Chris Avellone revealed that there was an early plan for romance with Cass in New Vegas everyone went to the New Vegas uncut guy in the nexus askign him if he could "restore" it despite the fact that the content never got off the ground or into any line of code.
  15. woo1108

    woo1108 Vault Senior Citizen

    Sep 27, 2012
    Heck I rather choose Veronika or betsy :lol:
  16. Crni Vuk

    Crni Vuk M4A3 Oldfag oTO Orderite

    Nov 25, 2008
    yeah well, that might be because I had the feeling that dragoonage was more like a Dragonturd.

    Fun for a short time. But I never got this "hype" around that game. Also a lot of moral ambiguity? Not more then Baldurs Gate really ... not in my opinion. *Shrugs*

    Dragon Age was boring as shit in my eyes and design wise a mess. I think they did so much wrong with many of the locations, because I can hardly remember them. Its usually the job of designers to create a design that is communicating well. Neither the capital of Dragon Age nor the Dvarwen City really felt "interesting" as far as the Design goes. I also thought combat in DA was tedious. It was neither fast paced nor was it really tactical/deep enough. Neither fish nor meat how we say in German.

    Sure, there have been a few situations where I say, well done! Situations where you simply cant do something without feeling the consequences, like not killing the main bad guy, would make you loose party members and so on. But those are very rare situations, and even then. Not killing the bad guy that left you alone with your king on the battlefield could be also considered a "good choice" after all.

    In the end, dragonage was just "mediocre" as far as RPGs goes.

    And dont get me even started on the way how they show homosexuality or "relationships" between characters in general. Seriously. A 12 year old might have written such a plot. Your whole team is filled with whiners and totally ridiculous characters. Hell, I really hoped that the characters would feel more like in the small trailers they have shown, the Grey Warden, Stanm the Templar and all the others felt in the trailers like strong characters, and not like pussies. Its alright to give characters a certain attitude. But I am playing a damn fantasy RPG, not some soap opera.
  17. Ninjerk

    Ninjerk First time out of the vault

    Nov 8, 2008
    Forced as in contrived and immersion-breaking.
  18. SnapSlav

    SnapSlav NMA's local DotA fanatic

    Jul 1, 2012
    That still doesn't discount that they are largely entirely optional and must be initiated by the player. Contrived, sure, but they don't break immersion when you're not forced to see them, should you choose not to engage in them.

    By direct contrast, when the player is forced (literally having no control or choice in the matter) to sit through a cutscene detailing past romance and rekindling the flames of said romance in, say, Dead Space 3, that is quite immersion breaking, because it disrupts the pace that the game has been setting about slowly and meticulously building up tension. Suddenly we have to watch a statically-paced scene and see some emotional growth between two characters. Or worse, follow a REALLY tense hostage situation, which is only broken up by the onset of LITERAL DOOMSDAY, and yet we sit through a "moment" between two characters taking a break in the middle of it, the subject of which is their romance that redeems one or both of them in some way. Touching stuff, but just bizarre and inappropriate considering that looming APOCALYPSE right next to them. THOSE break immersion, because they're unavoidable.

    But Bioware stuff? Nah.
  19. Crni Vuk

    Crni Vuk M4A3 Oldfag oTO Orderite

    Nov 25, 2008
    biowhare romances mainly suck because of the bad writing.
  20. DarkCorp

    DarkCorp Sonny, I Watched the Vault Bein' Built!

    Oct 27, 2003
    I am surprised nobody mentioned D&D. I think the alignment system was amazing as it was quite in-depth.


    ALthough I agree that dependending on the writers ability and the type of story, the above may not always fit.