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.
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?
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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.