Looping dialogue is the bane of every gamer’s existence.
Plenty of games focus on the experience of building relationships with non-playable characters. As a player progresses through a game, however, it’s easy to spot when corners have been cut with dialogue trees that feed back into each other. We can often end up being subjected to the same lines of exposition delivered multiple times as we seek to have more thorough conversations with characters within the game.
As virtual reality comes to the forefront of gaming, though, these shortcuts are going to have to disappear. Creating realistic, lifelike characters means new and innovative ways of building conversations with NPCs—and that means that gamers will be able to become all the more invested in the companions we pick up on our digital travels.
Limitations to Solid Conversation
There are plenty of limitations to producing solid, engaging character interactions in games.
Decades ago, developers were limited with how much data there was to work with in games, and as such, NPC interactions were brief and repetitive. If a character in a town isn’t important to the plot in games from this era, they’ll likely have a single line of dialogue that they’ll parrot to the player during every single interaction.
The lack of diversity in NPC interactions has even been the subject of parody.
As technology has advanced, it’s become possible to add more and more dialogue into an NPC conversation. These conversations mean a lot more work for developers, though, and it’s often the case that a line of text will end up being repeated when a conversation loops around to discuss the same subject more than once.
As virtual reality revolves entirely around immersion, it’s important that small moments like this don’t distract from the player’s experience. Non-player characters need to feel genuine and organic, and it’s not always possible to achieve this with a traditional dialogue tree.
A Million Different Approaches
Every game studio approaches dialogue differently, and the form that conversations take often dramatically affects the way players associate with characters within a game.
To avoid the problem of looping dialogue, adventure game juggernaut Telltale has decided to forego giving the player the option to ask endless questions of each character they meet—every text option appears once and is then gone forever, as the conversation moves forward.
This approach makes for conversations that feel more natural, but it also means that the player needs to be more careful about which dialogue choices we make, adding an extra layer of tension to conversations that would otherwise be relatively casual. It’s also not possible to have lengthy conversations with characters, as the flow of the story marches forward.
Virtual Reality and Believable Conversations
In VR, conversations with NPCs should always work to make a game feel authentic. Players should be comfortable in investing in our relationships (whatever those may be) with the characters around us.
It’s not the quantity of conversation dialogue that’s important to developing this bond—there’s more to it than that: conversations can’t loop around endlessly, and dialogue has to be believable and feel natural. This takes skilled writing, and as VR develops, gamers will be able to spot a well-designed game by how natural the dialogue feels.
There’s more to interactions than just words, though. In Loading Human, each dialogue and interaction reveal important characterization details and even plot points. Players learn as much about various characters from their mannerisms as they do from the actual messages relayed.
For example, two characters that the player interacts with a lot in the first chapter are Alice, the player’s romantic partner, and Lucy, an artificial intelligence that gives the player guidance and instruction at times.
Alice is adventurous, creative, and spontaneous, and the way she reacts to the player reflects this—both in her speech, and in her body language as the player talks to her. Meanwhile, the AI Lucy’s voice sounds synthetic, but beneath her artificial tone lies dialogue that reflects her caring nature.
The dialogue for these two characters, and the way that it’s delivered, provides a great layer of subtext and nuance that make these interactions feel more alive, and less like a scripted experience.
This is an essential part of creating meaningful encounters in virtual reality. As players, we’re not just listening to the dialogue—we’re looking for social cues from the characters we talk to. Getting this right is at the heart of a believable VR conversation with a fictional character.
The Phenomenal Potential
Though there may be plenty of pitfalls when it comes to creating genuinely believable conversations in VR, there’s a lot to be excited about.
When game developers get it right, non-player characters can really come to life. This will be felt all the more keenly in VR, as gamers discover new best friends who are simulated, but no less realistic than human alternatives.
To experience a well-written, carefully crafted VR friendship, pre-order the first chapter of Loading Human, coming to PlayStation VR October 13th!