Reflecting on dialogue choices in games


Bethesda: “Say what you want, how WE want.”

Recently I decided to play through Skyrim and while the experience was overall fun, I felt like I couldn’t really play like how I wanted to in my imagination. Part of this is due to the limited combat system in Skyrim, but I thought that the dialogue options weren’t very interesting at all.

For the most part, Skyrim lets you choose the accept or deny quests, and during quests can sometimes check your Speech skill stat by allowing you to Bribe, Threaten or Persuade the person in question. The three types of responses usually have a particular set of tone to them, so for the most part I would choose Threaten to make my adventurer seem dangerous. However, this was in contrast to the curt, polite adventurer that the other normal dialogue options would indicate. Although this would probably take a lot more coding, it would have been nice to have an option during character creation to change the way of speaking, in the kind of way how you can change your Facebook language option to Pirate.


Hoist ye flags, mateys! Don’t go blabbering to them enemy, ya hear?

When you think seriously about it, most modern games have this same ‘wheel of dialogue’- Mass Effect, The Walking Dead, Elder Scrolls, and pretty much all Telltale games. It has its purpose in linear story moments, and works quite well with characters with an established personality but hardly works for self-created characters. My favorite ‘dialogue wheel’ choices personally come from Irem games, from the PachiPara single player modes, to the hilarious choices found between the serious moments of the Disaster Report series.

School the bully!

The third game in the Disaster Report series (ZZT3) is probably what comes the closest to my ideal when it comes to dialogue choices, although it doesn’t succeed quite as much as I hope. At the start of the game, you choose between a male or female self-insert character (as opposed to the more defined characters of 1 and 2) and between several topics you choose responses that define your main personality in the first part of the game. This affects mainly the reactions your character gives to the events in the story, and there are several times this can be changed in the story.

This is not only a way to define the type of character you’re playing as, but the genius lies in that you have to actively aim for the lines that work with your current personality… which is also ironically what makes this attempt fail. You’re locked out of several funny responses depending on whether a deadpan response is appropriate to the situation, if you decide to only aim for current-personality responses; at the same time choosing too many alternate personality responses just makes your character seem bipolar. Ultimately, it doesn’t end up affecting the story beyond how other characters respond to you, which is disappointing. Still, it was a fun take on player defined personality.

I’m still waiting for the perfect way of defining player created characters, but at the moment my biggest hope lies in ZZT4+, the latest game in the Disaster Report series. As Granzella has chosen to go the self-insert route, similar to ZZT3, I’m hoping that they also improve on the dialogue system as well. It would truly enhance the experience for me.


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