Can talking to NPCs ever be fun?

Justin Achilli (a name that’ll be familiar to Vampire tabletop players since he was line developer for White Wolf, now working on CCP’s new MMOs) wrote this week about task resolution systems for conversation.

The vast majority of computer roleplaying games are designed with combat first and foremost. “Roleplaying” in a computer game context really means “advancement,” not “you take on the persona,” and as such, fighting stuff to level is your primary gameplay.

He’s pointing out that dialogue in computer RPGs isn’t fun gameplay and the rewards are usually either a bit more text or a slightly more convoluted path to the same scene that everyone would be directed into next anyway.

These are not “social interactions.” These are more obstacles to click through to get to the big fight at the end that you’re going to have to have anyway.

I’m not really sure how much I want actual social interactions with bots in my game, is the only thing. That’s just a little bit creepy and leads to people falling in love with characters in their Japanese dating games. I might be happy with an interactive fiction with cut scenes, like a film in which I can decide what sort of person I want my character to be and then stand back and watch them get on with it.

I actually liked Mass Effect’s dial that lets you roughly guide what sort of response you want to give and then let your character get on with it. But I’m glad people are thinking about how to make this side of the game world more fun and involving.

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12 thoughts on “Can talking to NPCs ever be fun?

  1. Everquest, where you actually had to type your conversations with NPCs, made this fun (Frustrating and fun). If you contained one of the ‘key’ words, they would reply, either with more dialogue, or a quest, or a quest completion. Which did mean that if you didn’t know the right keyword for a par ticular quest (Not necessarily hinted at), you couldn’t finish the quest….which led to a lot more interaction in zone chat…

  2. @Spinks: Have you played EVE?
    I think what they talk about is fairly simple. Your quest/mission givers in eve are “personas” that contact you (proactively sometimes) and you have standings with them. (standing is like reputation) So you do missions for them and your standings improve and they contact you for bigger missions with better payout.
    I imagine this underlying structure in WoDD mixed with some dialogue and fluff.

  3. Talking with NPCs could be fun if it had some effect on the world. If I’m rude enough, maybe they refuse to work with me, or attack me. If I’m nice enough I can sucker out some additional reward or information.

  4. I genuinely enjoyed talking to the party characters in Dragon Age. Especially since the things you say actually have an effect on their character development – only game I’ve ever seen to do that. Maybe Mass Effect does – I’m just starting it now :-p

  5. Wait. People can fall in love with characters in a Dating Simulation, but not in a full-fledged RPG like Mass Effect? If anything, I find characters become more compelling (and thus, attractive) when they’re actually engaged in the content: the girls (and boys, to be fair) of ME all have rich conversation systems and backgrounds, and they can kick ass and save your life on the battlefield when used properly. Compared to chatting with a girl in a slice-of-life storybook, I’m honestly convinced that I’d have a more lasting attraction to the ME girl (and Shepherd can definitely fall for his crew as well).

    Romance doesn’t have to be the crux of interaction to make it memorable or engaging.

    Incorporating interactions in an MMO would be incredibly challenging on some level, I believe. For one, if one line of behavior led to stronger (or easier-to-access) rewards, the choice would be removed by meta-gaming (you can’t be weaker than your contemporaries if you want to be competitive, after all). Moreover, maintaining a persistent world where your character has lasting impact on the world becomes very tricky when different player interactions lead to drastically different conclusions. For instance, no NPC’s life could ever be on the line – he would be dead in an instant, thanks to a griefer, leaving an incomplete experience for everyone else that comes after. Maybe clever use of phasing-style techniques could ameliorate this?

    • You’d be wrong. Clannad and Kanon, for example. You talk with people in Mass Effect, but you don’t care for them. Bioware isn’t a good enough storyteller to make you care. They can make you interested, can make a good world, but even in KOTOR they weren’t that good at it.

      • Posting an example. It’s from the anime, Clannad: After Story. I don’t have the game.

        I tell you, hard not to fall for Nagisa in that scene.

  6. Actually, one of the things I liked about ME was that the dialogue wheel was fairly impressionistic. In an RPG, I hate having words put in my mouth by a designer. The ME response wheel was an upgrade from this because it gave me general impressions I wanted to make, as opposed to making me choose from a literal “I say exactly this or I say exactly this” menu.

    Thanks for the linkback!

  7. What are social interactions in real life?

    Perhaps social interaction in real life hold some sort of mystery and romance because people don’t actually try and break them down like they would a game.

    Alot of conversations you have in real life might be no more than a flow chart conversation before you go off and perform some act.

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