RPGs – Skipping Dialogue

So to follow up the Skyrim article I thought I’d have a go at trying to talk about what is essentially one of the most common ways to deliver exposition in RPGs, Dialogue. I can’t think of a single game in the genre that doesn’t have some sort of spoken language to communicate and who wouldn’t want to? It’s easy to understand as we do it in everyday life and when well crafted, it can do the job that 4 pages of a book does in shorter time. Although, during the hours I spend losing myself in these various titles, I find myself skipping through the talks or conversations with NPCs. A controversial move because why would you want to skip possible important information about the story your character is wrapped up in? And to be honest I don’t really know.

Some part of me thinks it’s my inner child wanting to just skip to the action or to the bits where I can shoot a bow or explore somewhere, but after an hour or so I realised I have no idea why I am murdering these animals or why I am collecting a random book. Another part thinks it’s plain boredom and sometimes it is. When you are sitting through your 23rd text box of pure plain text for a side quest with no relevance to the main story, you start to get a bit exhausted and just want to get it over and done with. However, the part that I feel is most probable is just me not feeling immersed in the game. In World of Warcraft for example, I always went to the exclamation-marked NPC, picked up the quest and went to complete it without even reading a single piece of information. Now it’s not that the WoW Universe has bad writing or story to explore, my good friend has shown me that with his constant lectures, but it could just be down to not having a voice to put behind it.

In Skyrim, a game where I feel interested in almost every conversation, the game stops everything around, zooms you into their uncomfortably detailed face and reads out the text in a believable and accurate voice. Doing that directs my attention to exactly where Bethesda wants me to be and can then create a story that’s worthy of keeping that attainment, so when I accidentally kill the pet bunny instead of saving it I feel a little bit more guilt. In Bethesda’s other successful RPG, Fallout, the player has consequences to their actions via the Karma system. This means that certain dialogue options affects the rating of whether they are considered good or bad and get rewards like certain quests available to them or punishments like hunting parties going after you in the middle of your travels. So not only do they have the immersive features mentioned in Skyrim but they have some validity to your actions so you have to actual process the information given to you otherwise you could end up having an entire faction against you.

Although, this can be time-consuming for developers and that’s understandable, but that didn’t stop the MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic. Whilst it isn’t as indepth as a £40 AAA game title in the RPG genre, it simply gives you two options of either making your character more align with the Force or the Sith. This made me more intrigued than any MMO had, not only is it in the Star Wars universe, but allows me to roleplay as a bounty hunter who would ditched his morals for more money. Not to mention the game itself is pretty fun but I’ll leave that for another time.

On the other hand, there’s evidence like the Pokemon series that blows this theory all out the water. This is a game which is reltable to a book when it comes to talking to NPCs. The game rarely offers interaction with conversations and often it’s just a  silly comment or remark. Yet I find myself actually wanting to talk to characters unlike being forced to but it doesn’t have a single voice sound effect in the whole game besides the bleeping of lines being written. As to why, I feel it’s because I know the conversations aren’t going to be a novel every time I talk and it could just simply be a witty one liner. It could due to the simplicity of the words used or the casual tone the overall game presents itself in that makes me want to explore it. It could just be because it allows me to input names that are used in the conversations but that doesn’t really help with immersion when you call your character ‘cuntface’. I’ll probably never know, but all I know is Pokémon sometimes makes me care more about a 3×3 sprite of a character than a 3D model hand crafted by a prestigious designer with millions of speech interactions.

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So to conclude, I won’t listen to the important lore or impressive story arc a team of writers have had numerous brainstorms to create, but I will want to hear about how a kid likes to wear shorts because they are comfy to wear. Fuck me right?
Press Any Button to Skip
-Sam Burdis

P.S After writing this I played some Witcher 3 and add it to the list of games that do offer immersive conversations and amazing stories. It also uses all the factors I named as well to achieve it so boom the correlation lives on.

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RPGs – Skipping Dialogue

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition – The Time Machine of Video Games

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When the fifth installment to Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls RPG series came out in November 2011, the reception received was on another level. For me, this ‘gamer’ who played Call of Duty: Zombies until he couldn’t feel his fingers (or when dinner was ready), I didn’t understand it. Who would want to walk and explore… In a video game? Why would you want to listen to someone talk about dragons? Who cares, I thought. When I played it on my brother’s steam account, I skipped all the dialogue and all the story I came across. Consequently, I gained minimal satisfaction from the game and thought it was one of those rare moments where I just didn’t agree with the hype train and quit to go lose more hours screaming at people on CoD or something along those lines.

As I made more friends (somehow) in my school life and as time went on, I found out that many placed Skyrim in a good light and any of my past problems were plainly met with the response of ‘roleplay’. Now if the genre RPG Adventure didn’t give it away already, roleplaying games are intended for the audience to pick it up and immerse themselves into the character they create. At the time, I had just realised that sitting in front of an Xbox 360 from dusk till dawn wasn’t the whole experience with gaming, as I had just bought a new PC. So imagine my surprise when my friends ask me to ACT in a video game, silly no? Well, since I was scared to be a social minority I went home and tried it again. Alas, no improvement. I don’t know whether it was the game running at maximum 20 FPS or my uneducated brain not understanding half the mannerisms or lore. Although I managed to run through a decent amount of the game – since I couldn’t be bothered walking everywhere once fast traveling was an option – I disappointingly dropped it and jumped on to the next bandwagon, which was some small indie game called ‘Minecraft’.
Circa October 27, 2016. My nicely nicknamed ‘Skyrim friends’ perk up once more but this time to inform me that a ‘Special Edition’ of the game had been released. I was half amazed at the fact that Bethesda had managed to get away with a £40 remastered edition of a game that was only 5 years old but also half intrigued once more by the sudden buzz for the game. Seeming as it was a big deal to my friends, I managed to fit some time in my super busy schedule to give it a look.

Just as a little input, since the last time I picked this up I had managed to get a computer that wasn’t just scrap parts and developed at least some knowledge of the outside world.

After the relatively short download period, I jumped in and spent some time creating a character that would actually be fun to be, I chose an Orc who, due to a shitty ass childhood, wants to go do some magic at Winterhold College and named him the creative and definitely LORE friendly ‘Michael’. After some hesitation I decided to give myself a little challenge and set it to the second hardest difficulty, ‘Master’, since I figured it would be easy enough. Unfortunately, I remembered the main twists and events of the main questline from my previous endeavour so after the chains of the tutorial and the first mission broke loose I went off to explore.

Instantly it felt different, whether it was these allegedly ‘high definition’ graphics brought about in the Special Edition or the cognitive change that comes with aging. I started to appreciate the beauty of the game. I realised that people didn’t walk around just for the sake of roleplay, they actually wanted to look around at the scenery and hidden locations you only really find by straying off the path. From the impressive structure of Winterhold College to the vast wastelands of The Pale. I was yearning to keep finding locations and thinking of my character’s reaction or thoughts in those situations .

I guess half of the game is about crafting your own narrative, with some essentials elements (i.e being a dragonborn) required to have the main story make sense. As Michael, as mentioned before my aim was to reach Winterhold College, the mage capital of Skyrim, but I wanted to make sure he knew his stuff first and made him go help Whiterun or any Imperial cities. I went for a playstyle of covering every spell area and not specialising in one (which was a pain when it came to leveling up) and a good ol’trusty mace, because sometimes the traditional methods work best. At first, it all seemed fine and dandy, with a cool ass lightning bolt followed by a swift swing of the mace combo, I seemed unstoppable in the early levels. Then later on I started to realise my flaw. I had gone too general and my skills were all spread out thinly whilst my enemies at the same level as me could easily throw a fireball my way and make my day a lot worst.

It also could have been the fact that I chose ‘Master’ difficulty. If you are thinking of doing a playthrough on it, prepare to be scared of literally anything that moves. Whether it’s a rookie bandit or a wild bear, they are all going to put up a fight. You think, maybe, that by pushing to get a higher level mace or armor you’ll be safe….but No, that just allows you to chip a little more health away from their looming health bar as they maul your eyes out with a rusty iron dagger. Heaven forbid if I ever get a dragon encounter that isn’t near a city, because even with the support of the hundreds of troops to help me slay the beast, the amount of close calls was insane. Even the death toll of anyone who attempted to help could rival the Battle of the Somme. Not to mention if you accidentally hit somebody else with a lone arrow the guards instantly turn on you and make you reload your save.

A highlight of that shows this difficulty to me was when I had to go up the big ol’ mountain (Players know which one I mean) to meet the Greybeards, after preparing for a while I got the courage to start climbing. Nevertheless, on the way up I got through the wolfs and bears ok on my own then , on the home straight, I came across a Frost Troll. Sure it looked scary enough but after easily sweeping through the various hostile wildlife before I thought it’d be a simple battle. Firstly, I attempted to just hit it and what do you know? I did about 2 HP of damage and was flung into space in one hit. My second attempt was to get one of the pilgrims that sit on the side of the hill to help me. After baiting the Frost troll to come and get one of them involved, I had a glimmer of hope that Michael could slay this monster, but no, after around four hits the pilgrim made their way down the mountain a much different and steeper path. Leaving me to yelp in fear before exploring this new path down the mountain myself, slapping my rag doll limbs against the trees as I went. After around 30 attempts of just trying variations of tickling the troll with my attacks I got a good idea – a seemingly rare moment. I dropped all my stuff in a bottomless chest and ran straight at the troll, naked. The troll must have been bewildered by the spectacle of a naked orc sprinting directly at him because Michael jumped around the monster and ran into the sunset with ease. Yet, the Frost troll started to pursue, so after pausing the game to start the Benny Hill theme song I run as fast as the stamina bar allowed it and dodge any hostile creature I came across before I made it to the temple victorious, naked, but victorious, (Made the conversations with the Greybeards a bit more interesting anyway)

To make the role-play that little bit more serious, I devised a few in-character gameplay elements like no fast traveling, no map etc which (whilst at first a nuisance) doubled my game time and doubled my enjoyment due to actually seeing more of the game and finding caves or secrets on my own travels. However, it made me re-consider my choice on difficulty more often, since you wonder why at level 21 you can’t kill a Mudcrab easily.

Recently, I finally got to the grand Mage Capital and started to the questline for Winterhold, although I have the game down for a while. The curse of playing it through already made me remember most of the questlines so the betrayals and twists in the stories of the common quests weren’t as effective as their intended to be. Although, I did have a lot of a fun with the game with all the side quests and while I may exaggerate the difficulty, it definitely added an extra element of knowing you can’t take on the world, or in fact, anything.

If this sounds like your cup of tea and somehow you’ve managed to avoid it then I’d suggest giving it a go. Hell, if you are one for story, the LORE inside this game is incredible large. Not even mentioning the depth of detail in the small things like items having so many variations, loads of ways to improve weapons, various skills and skill trees that allow for customisation. A favourite of mine was the alchemy or Enchanting which typically gave me the edge for surviving brutal dungeons. Locations themselves were also well designed and crafted with some sort of story to tell everytime, even through small stuff like the placement of objects can tell a better story than the group of writers for The Big Bang Theory could ever make. I feel myself wanting to start this up again and finally put an end to Michael’s story (and the fact I have barely made a dent in this game with 100+ hours) but apparently I need time for A-levels.

There’s a good chance Skyrim may stick around for another ten years though. The active modding community surrounding it allows for almost every element of the game to be changed for your liking, whether that means realistic HD textures or flying Thomas the tank engines. There’s also the big fanbase for LORE, with numerous subreddits dedicated to theories of the metaphysics surrounding separate gods and planes of existence, like arguing whether or not chickens are animals or a desperate cry from Ius to escape from the Akatosh party. It could very well be a game that stays popular till the end of time, or , at least till Elder Scrolls VI comes out.

 

Skyrim belongs to the nords,

-Sam Burdis

P.S When I went back  to get pictures for this, I attempted to do a random dungeon I found with a few only a few small goblin-like creatures (Falmers) in, it took me 4 hours. Tried again in the default, low difficulty with the same loadout, 20 minutes. With this information I don’t recommend ‘Master’ difficulty on your first play through if you value your sanity.

P.P.S After many attempts, I can’t get past one of the starting quests for Solitude. It seems after killing numerous dragons and acquiring the best possible armor and upgrades possible at the moment, I am no match for a singular frost Draugr Scourge.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition – The Time Machine of Video Games