The art of conversation




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Interviews-Qualitative

For the qualitative interviews we have 3 subjects that we interviewed, with 3 different outputs. For subject #1 we have a hardcore player that thinks that dialogue can add a lot of entertainment to a game, particular in the RPG genre. For a game like Secret of Monkey Island he clearly states that the dialogue within is fantastic and funny and plays a huge part in the enjoyment of the game, but as a game mechanism it does not work as there is no consequence and it is only about finding the right combination. The dialogue however adds to the replay ability of the game.

He generally enjoys good dialogue but seems to not really care about consequence. As he says about Vampire: Bloodlines: I remember feeling like the choices you made with regards to what you say had a big impact on small events in the game and alliances and such but never really CARED about it. He also adds in general terms: Rarely do you really care about the dialogue and tend to forget it straight away.

This subject scored as a “Participant” in the personality part of the questionnaire and in the player type part he scored evenly as both “Wanderer” and “Participant” so the relation between the personality type and player type is quite clear.

His replies seem to fit with our predictions and descriptions of how a player of this type would react. He does like good conversation as it adds a lot to the game-play experience which can relate to the explorative aspect of this player type. However he doesn’t seem to care a lot. Can this be said to be due to a lack of good conversation in newer games (he expressed an interest in playing many of these games again after being part of our survey)? Or are conversations in games just not relevant to any player type as visual exploration can satisfy the needs of the exploring type of player (wanderer/explorer), as opposed to the need of good text and dialogue in the old MUD's (Multi-User Dungeon) of the eighties.
Our second subject tells a bit of a different story. This subject is a hardcore player that scores as a Wanderer/Participant in the personality type part and scored highest as a Manager in the playing style part with Participant coming in second with 2 points apart. This subject seems to really like a good swelling dialogue with many options and subsequent consequences to be explored. As he says about Fallout: I really liked how your character traits could influence your conversations options. Also it added a lot of replay ability that you felt you had the potential to miss out on different options, again depending on your character spec. He seems to really like games like Planescape Torment and Baldur’s Gate II, although he thinks there might be too much text in the former. For the latter he says the following: I found myself constantly loading savegames in order to try different conversations options when facing major NPC’s, or challenging encounters. This fits with our own description of this player type in the ‘consequence’ section (see ‘Consequence vs. inconsequence’). He saves and loads, not to find the best possible outcome, but to experience all the possibilities and consequences there may be in these encounters.

The last game we mention is Morrowind, as it can’t all be positive. For this game our subject says the following: [….]Also, their (Bethesda) idea about using single words instead of sentences as reply options, had a very negative influence on my perception of the game avatar. My mage had become a simpleton when he talked to people. This would imply that this subject prefers to have actual dialogue options instead of simple keywords. Something that would make his gaming experience feel more realistic instead of getting the feeling that his main avatar is, as he puts it, a simpleton. As parting words to underline this notion he writes: I really hope that the success of the Elder Scrolls series doesn’t inspire a trend in how best practice should be (regarding conversations).


Our third and final subject is a hardcore player that scores as a Manager in the personality type and as a Manager in the player style with Conqueror in second, three points behind. Our third subject was a bit short but clear. For Secret of Monkey Island he says: Purely an adventure-puzzle game but the dialogue is sometimes very funny. This goes very well with the overall feedback from the quantitative replies, but his comments for Fallout sets him apart, as he writes: Often a question of loading/saving a lot until you find the “right” way to solve a dialogue.

This reply would match our description of a Conqueror type player as this subject's replies indicates that he only views dialogue in games as a game mechanism that has to be broken, a puzzle that has to be solved. This does also fit the Manager type so he does fit his type, as according to the test. For his general comment he writes: In most games dialogue is pointless and usually quite boring but it often has to be solved in order to receive some kind of reward. In this aspect it works as a puzzle where the content is not really relevant. He says much the same about Vampire: Bloodlines: The dialogue is too long and boring for me to really care about them, although many were necessary to solve in the right way in order to progress in the game.

This third subject can raise many of the same questions as we expressed with the first subject, only in a slightly different context. If this subject is a Manager he cares little for the content of the conversations and purely sees them as a game mechanism that has to be beaten. This is a trait that both Manager’s and Conqueror’s can be said to have where the big difference is that the Conqueror wants to utterly defeat the game while the Manager wants to master the system.

Quantitative comments

This section will have a look at the comments that people wrote in the survey.


There are many different comments pertaining to many different aspects of conversation. Some were outright silly such as “Where is World of Warcraft!!!!!!”, to the more serious where we get some good pointers from various people.

Quite a few expressed the sentiment that if they are to play a character or a role in a game, they would need some meaningful and dynamic conversation to “act” on otherwise the whole thing will be empty (from data-collection one):


You can't play a role without having others to interact with, whether they're virtual or not. To me, roleplaying games are more about being part of an elaborate story which you are able to affect through both dialogue and action, than they are about finding the "phat lewt" or whatever and slaughtering enemies (which can also be fun, but should never be the driving force behind a roleplaying game). Yay for dialogues!
There's simply too little of it these days. If I'm meant to play a role, at least give me some dialogue to act on
This indicates that these players think that good dynamic conversations with some degree of consequence is necessary for a game to be immersive and fun to play and very much so in the RPG genre. It is a very valid point that is being raised here. If game designers want players to be immersed in their game they should put a lot of effort into creating good dynamic conversation with consequence to some extent. Of course it can be difficult to satisfy all players, as these comments also show. Take for example these two comments:
[…]since the games mentioned are set in inherently unrealistic settings it is hard for them to feel realistic. Also because a lot of exposition of the story is required there's always something slightly unnatural about dialogue in games; much in the same way as many films really. You get the feeling that nobody would really say those things in real life.
Versus
The dialogues in many of these games are too realistic imo. It gets boring if you have to run back and forth from one NPC to another to find some clue you missed.
This would show a conflict of interest between players, which of course is to be expected. Another example:
Dialogue should be spoken, no reading please! 
Versus
Often you get tired of hearing a voice-over of the conversation and just use the text instead
There is one comment saying that it would be more realistic if the dialogue could be in the same way as the well-known Eliza chat-bot, but the trouble of doing this we have described in the ‘consequence vs. inconsequence section.
An overall theme of many of the comments pertains to humour. This can be a part of why Secret of Monkey Island and Fallout scores very highly in our survey, but many comments herald humour as a key item of all dialogue in games. Examples:
As I'm mainly an adventure gamer good conversations and dialogue are very important to me (the same is true for action games, but perhaps less so). An example of a game where I thought the dialogue was exemplary is Grim Fandango. Clever, witty dialogue which was both entertaining and relevant to the puzzles in the game while also moving the story along. That's what matters in a game.
Oblivion was, in my oppinion, badly written concerning choices. Monkey Island and Fallout had humour, which is very important for me.
the dark humour in fallout is a great deal of what did the trick for me (especially Fallout2) and the options to be both cruel and friendly. On the other side, the sillyness in all the monkey island games (and especially the discworld games) made you wanna play it again. I would have loved to see both discworld noir and legend of kyrandia here (malcolm's revenge especially, don't know how many times I played that game, just to try out different dialogues)
funny is better 
This could indicate that the entertainment value of a given conversation has to be high, where humour (and especially the dark/twisted kind) seems to win hearts. This is not to say that a serious conversation can not be entertaining, that would just require an immersive storyline.
Some comments voice a longing for more consequential dialogue in newer games.
It's nice to have dialogue tailored to your response/character/actions. It's always a shame to play a game and no matter what you say, you get a generic response (BG: Dark Alliance II is a good example. Play an evil Drow or a good cleric, whatever you say will get you the same answer.
When you have the possibility of being evil in a game it should reflect in your dialogue options and not just be ”Thank you for saving me!” “Give me your money!”
Finally we will leave you with the longest comment received in the survey. It is almost a full page, and it has some good pointers, so enjoy:
Dialog is one of the key elements in regards to creating real characters as opposed to caricatures, and in that sense real personality. Graphics and behaviours help sell expressions, but much like movies dialog and interaction is what makes believable memorable characters. This is particularly evident in Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops, in which the graphics (in a sense) have reverted being on the PSP, but further more the cut scenes are dynamically animated comic book panels. Given the abstract design of which; it's mostly through dialog in which the emotional context is created. A similar point could be made in light of Thief, in which a majority of personalities are conveyed through dialog as opposed to cut scenes with behaviour and animated interaction.

In some cases; where voice over content isn’t present; the dialog is even more crucial as it lacks the emotive qualities that can [almost] hide bad dialog. In this situation; if characters sound the same, it negates the immersive aspects of a created world. In effect; some of this is evident in games like Oblivion and more recently STALKER. In which most of the secondary characters sound exactly the same as general npc's. Alternatively; a game such as Deus Ex features characters with unique voices; from the protagonist to a certain tertiary npc's; in effect creating memorable characters.

More than just creating personalities, dialog is crucial in regards to maintaining the immersive aspects of the world in which the player is to be part of. Essentially alludes to the feel of the world, and it's sense of history and/or the players part in that history (or history with them) - not necessarily exposition. Such is evident in both STALKER and Deus Ex. Just creating a grim atmosphere with violence and eye-candy doesn’t necessarily make an immersive game; such is the case with Gears of War; lacking any real characters/personalities - mostly spewing redundant dialog, it's evidenced with poor writing; alluding to something that's happened - more of a tease for a franchise than an actual storytelling/world creating device.

Conclusion

The conclusion to our problem of discerning whether there was a correlation between one’s playing style as described by Bateman & Boon and one’s preferences concerning conversations/dialogue options in games is that such a correlation is quite weak (if at all apparent) in general, but sometimes relevant when looking at specific games. This does not mean that a stronger correlation doesn’t exist: it just means that based on our questions and methods in the survey, no such observation could be clearly and indisputably registered.


In respect to our predictions, we did observe that a slightly larger percentage of players disposed towards the Type 3 Wanderer and Type 4 Participant answered question 32 more positively, than players disposed towards Type 1 Conqueror and Type 2 Manager. But the difference was almost negligible, and not in any way conclusive.

Another prediction we made didn’t come true either; more “dimensions” in the dialogue options do not increase the feeling of realism or influence.

We were however right on the mark when we predicted that the less “dialogue-heavy” games like Morrowind or Oblivion would have fewer checked boxes in the first question concerning the conversations in games: “Did you enjoy them?”.
Our qualitative interviews underlined our suspicions4 regarding player types i.e. a player disposed towards a Manager/Conqueror playing style sees dialogue as a game mechanic, that has to be beaten, while a player disposed towards the Wanderer/Participant playing style was more inclined to see the dialogue as something to be acted upon, as they are playing a role-playing game. Consequence is more important to the latter than to the former according to our interviews.

Implication

When viewing our overall goal of finding best-practice methods, the best advice based on our quantitative data would be to go back to older titles like Fallout and Planescape: Torment, and learn from these games, as they are clearly the highest rated games across the six combinations.

If conversations in games have an Achilles-heel, it would have to be the realism-factor. Whether this is a solvable problem is debateable, as maybe it’s practically impossible to simulate real-life conversations (and would you even want to?). More “dimensions” do certainly not help this feeling.

Helping reward the player through the conversations should also be a priority, but again only if this is at all possible.

It also seems to be of some importance that the decisions the player makes in regards to the dialogue options matter in the game-world, as the games that score highly/lowly in the Influence combination are also likely to be top/bottom of the list for a Positive rating (Monkey Island being the clear exception). This indicates that games with a highly consequential dialogue will be more popular with players of these types of games.
The qualitative interviews give another picture altogether. In those interviews we actually saw the player types behave as they were “supposed to”, so to speak. What didn’t seem apparent on the quantitative survey seems quite apparent in the qualitative interviews, but obviously the low number of interviewees restrict us from placing much importance on these findings, but if they are correct, then it would seem we asked the wrong questions in our quantitative survey.

Literature

Bateman, C. & Boon, R.: “21st Century Game Design 2005”, Charles River Media 2005.


iHobo Survey and Player types ( http://ihobo.com/_oldsite/articles/DGD1.shtml )
Ermi, L. & Mäyrä, F.: “Fundamental Components of the Game-play Experience: Analysing Immersion”, DiGRA 2005.
Pittenger, D.J.: “Measuring the MBTI... And Coming Up Short”, http://www.indiana.edu/~jobtalk/HRMWebsite/hrm/articles/develop/mbti.pdf, Journal of Career Planning & Placement. 1993.
Tieger, P.D., and Barron-Tieger, B.: “Personality Typing: A First Step to a Satisfying Career”. Journal of Career Planning and Employment, 53:50- 56, 1993.
Bartle, R.: “Hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades: Players who suit MUDs”, http://www.mud.co.uk/richard/hcds.htm, 1996.
Myers, Isabel Briggs; McCaulley Mary H.; Quenk, Naomi L.; Hammer, Allen L. (1998). MBTI Manual (A guide to the development and use of the Myers Briggs type indicator). Consulting Psychologists Press; 3rd ed edition.

Games

Accolade. Law of the West. Accolade, 1985.

Bethesda Softworks. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Ubisoft 2002.

Bethesda Softworks. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. 2K Games, 2006.

BioWare. Baldur’s Gate I and Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, Black Isle Studios, 1998 and 2000.

BioWare. Neverwinter Nights. Atari, 2002.

Black Isle Studios. Fallout. Interplay, 1997

Black Isle Studios. Planescape: Torment. Interplay, 1999.

CSI series. Ubisoft, various dates.

DreamCatcher Interactive. Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express. Agatha Christie Limited, 2006.

Lucasfilm Games. The Secret of Monkey Island. Lucasfilm Games, 1990.

Namco. Pac-Man. Namco, 1979.

Obsidian Entertainment. Neverwinter Nights 2. Atari, 2006.

Piranha Bytes. Gothic 3. JoWood, 2006.

Troika Games. The Temple of Elemental Evil. Atari, 2003.

Troika Games. Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines. Activision, 2004.



1 For complete review: http://pc.ign.com/objects/823/823614.html

2 We are aware of the problems in labelling these games as role-playing games. However there are not any good alternatives to this genre label.

3 http://ihobo.com/_oldsite/articles/DGD1.shtml

4 See ’consequence vs inconsequence’ section

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