Dialogue? Yeah, spell check. Dialogue.
After weeks and months of stalling and procrastination, I finally got the courage to play Mass Effect. Perhaps you've never heard of it. Mass Effect is a small video game made by Bioware, a tiny, independent group of ragtag nerds with a love for speaking and the occasional action. It's about aliens and spaceships and going pew pew pew with your fancy space gun. But it's not your ordinary space shooter, it's a game with a grossly expansive universe with lots of attention to the tiniest details. For example, did you know the Salarians live relatively short lives due to their metabolism? Did you also know the average Krogan can bench press 600 pounds? And that the SSV Normandy was not named for the World War II battle, but after Normandy Mining, a former mining company based in Australia? Well when you talk to people like I do in Mass Effect, you can find all sorts of useless information on various alien species, class hierarchy, eating habits, hygiene, favorite color, and more. I've played through several hours of the game and I feel I've barely scratched the surface not just because I take my fucking time sightseeing like I always do in games of this scope, but because I have to talk to everything that moves. It's an unfortunate side affect of my completionist syndrome. Of course the game doesn't help since conversations can last a really long time. I'm expected at one point in the game to run into one of the maintenance workers at the Citadel and ask him in detail about his race, job, favorite football team, and last sexual encounter because I would not be surprised.
But I do exaggerate just a smidge... or I'm playing it wrong. Mass Effect is a very talkative game with the inability to shut up when I'm in control. I guess if you're trying to build a universe from scratch, one way is to have it in your face all the time, and people totally dig that. From my point of view, as long as the dialogue is good and in no way hokey, go ahead and talk my ear off because getting to know the various groups, races, and their history will undoubtedly help understanding the entire story when it's time to blow up the Death Star or whatever happens at the end. There's an entire universe to explore filled with some odd creatures that all speak English. Star Trek, much?
What I'm trying to say is that while the choices aren't detrimental to the game, maybe games should consider cutting some unnecessary branches on some of those dialogue trees or even streamlining some of the options. Too often I go to a crew member or complete stranger and we chat for a second... and then Shepard gets all inquisitive. And so 6 different questions show up. Sometimes I wish there was an "all of the above" choice where the morality portion is not involved just to save my mouse a few clicks. The alternative would be to avoid everyone at all costs and just stick to the essentials, but I fear there's something I'll be missing if I say nothing at all so will continue to speak to the most trivial members of society gaining as much knowledge as I can.
So that's my Mass Effect experience in a nutshell so far, but you might be wondering if I have some vendetta against dialogue trees. Well, not really. The whole point of a dialogue tree is not just to inform or decide between a good and bad outcome, but also to increase the replay value of a game. In the case of Mass Effect, Bioware's goal was for the player (that's me... and probably you) to try out every possible scenario and choose Shepard's past, present, and future. It's like reading a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book over and over reading every possible outcome. Right now I'm attempting to create a good Shepard because that's how I always roll, but a part of me wants to create asshole Shepard for the hell of it.
Now with that out of the way, I was trying to find out what the last game I played at length that had dialogue in tree form. The Sam & Max games come to mind, but that's typical of that genre. Before that, I believe it was Persona 4... and I remember their dialogue trees making a huge difference in how Charlie Tunoku's year would turn out with all the intimacy, popularity, and Social Links. Unfortunately that also means 98% of normal gamers will never get a unique experience due to the 60-100 hours of actual game... that's a lot of JRPG to swallow. That means parts of the game will forever be unknown to me because I doubt I'll touch Persona 4 again.
I think I'm finally out of things to say so I guess this is the part of the blog where I ask a question about what you think about dialogue trees.
- What's your opinion on dialogue trees?
- Is there a game out there with the perfect dialogue tree construct?
- Do you love having dialogue trees as a means to make decisions?
- Are you indifferent towards them?
- Do you hate them with a passion because you think it's a poor way to tell a story or because you think predetermining your own fate is stupid?