Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dialogue Trees

Dialogue in games can be a tricky thing. If there are too few options of what the player can say, said player can feel limited and more of an observer than a participant in whatever story is being told. Trying to make a whole range of choices and branching conversations, on the other hand, is a huge amount of work and produces a shorter game for the same amount of resources. Even if there are only three points where a conversation branches two ways depending on the player's choices, any given player will only experience seven twelfths of the content written for that conversation. A conversation with four branching points of three choices each will result in players seeing just over a third of everything written. If the outcomes of certain conversations affect other, later, conversations, it gets even more inefficient.

What's the answer, then? I can't say that I know for sure, but as a player of story-driven games, I'm engaged as long as I can find a dialogue option that roughly describes what I'm feeling. The important in most situations, I think, is not real choice, but the feeling that you have an accurate way of responding to events and other characters in the game. For example, in the human noble origin story in Dragon Age: Origins, you're told that you're not allowed to go with your father's army. The dialogue options provide many ways of responding to this, from frustration to relief, but the conclusion is the same: you're not allowed to go. In this way, with many options quickly leading back to one main thread, the player has choice and the developers don't need to write novels of content for every conversation.

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