Dialogue vs. Riddles


I don’t like riddles/puzzles in adventures. Never have. Some are forced (“Before we chase after the mysterious killer, we have to reassemble this industrial vacuum cleaner”). Almost all are jarring, stalling. Almost every riddle would be cut out of a movie because they stall the storyflow and make no sense.

So, if you ask me where the focus should be in my game, I would place it on Dialogue. I know, people don’t want to read, people are easily bored. But what do we have in movies: Scenery, Movement, Expression, Dialogue, Action….  Rarely riddles.

If riddles are the difference between 1.5 hours of a movie and 9 hours of a game, they can’t be the solution.

I will try to wrestle with this, but I had a first idea yesterday: I can use some ideas which I have gathered for my “rpg concept”:

Basically, the first step is to make the system good. I have the feeling (which is certainly a very arrogant one) that on average, most decisions in game development are “convenient”. “Well, audience wants a story where those things happen, the other games usually do it like that, what about dialogues, well these are usually done like this, blabla.” They usually focus on a good polished product, not on reinventing the system.

How many games try to be innovative? Not many, in innovation there is danger. Mankind will go the easiest way until it sinks into the sea, only then will we start to think about boats. Even though there are other possibilities, we will burn petrol until it’s gone, then we will realise “damn, we need it to manufacture plastic”. That’s just the way we are. We will make the same FIFA game every year until we no longer make any profit. That means, things will never change, until nobody buys those games anymore, THEN “the genre is dead”.

I think, before I write a single line of text, I need to find a way to make the whole thing meaningful and interesting in general. A bad system can’t be saved by good writing (i.e. the dialogue is totally unwanted and unnecessary, but brilliant). One example is the dialogue system of Mass Effect 2, with spontaneous good/evil QTE decisions, good idea!

But here is my first idea, I will model my own dialogue system on my favourite dialogues in books. Games usually make a big mistake: They remove subtext from dialogues. Have you ever seen a game where you have those 2 options among your dialogue options:

“I will certainly do that!” (truth)
“I will certainly do that” (lie)

They always assume, if I say yes to somebody in a game THAT I MEAN IT. Yes, I will complete that quest (fuck off!). That’s bullshit, you don’t know how people talk. If you remove the inside of things, they collapse. If you remove all the awkwardness, politics, intrigue, manipulation and guesswork from talking to people, then YES, it’s boring and irrelevant.

LA Noire tried to do a lot of things there, but it didn’t really work.

In books you get six channels of information:

What the hero thinks.
What the hero says.
Outside perspective of the hero.
What the conversational partner says.
What hero can deduce from the partner’s tone, expression and body language.
Outside perspective of the partner (not necessarily the same as the one above)

In games, we only get 2 to 4 of those. I want to provide all 6. Combined with dialogues you can honestly botch, with consequences, with special rewards if you did it really well.

I prefer this a lot over “hmm, I forgot to bring my car keys, so I just go back to… Oh damn, I need to fetch my 3 key cards first and solve that number slider puzzle again.”