Easy with the talky, guys

Introduced my wife to Dragon Age: Origins last night. Here I was hoping for something that would impress Ms. “I’ve got books by Tennessee Williams and Dylan Thomas in my collection and you don’t”, but it didn’t go so well.

She really disliked the talking intermissions. Or rather, she disliked how frequent and long they were. Also disliked the interaction via multiple possible answers, I imagine because she couldn’t completely gauge the result of the choices before selecting a response. And I can’t say I blame her too much. On the length issue, I mean. There is such a thing as too much sometimes, particularly when the player actually wants to get down to, you know, adventuring, and not having to listen to merchants say their 5-10 second peace every damn time you want to access their goods.

Now, I understand this is story-driven, and the vehicle chosen to deliver that story is voiced NPCs. That much is fine, and actually experiencing the level of narrative in DA:O fills my geeky heart with a joy I cannot explain. You don’t get this kind of steak often, and the voice acting sauce it comes with is supreme. But, that said, the inconvenient truth behind this is that there is a ton of it, whether you like it or not. Voiced NPCs work great but only up to a point where they start becoming an annoyance for many players. I think future titles *coughstarwarscough* have to be mindful of this and teach their NPCs how brevity really is the soul of wit.

20 thoughts on “Easy with the talky, guys”

  1. That’s funny because I am the exact opposite. I wish I could just watch a bot do all the work to get me to the talking points so I can actually *play* there.

  2. This is why Mass Effect failed for me. Too much talk, not enough action. That and the action took seconds for me to die…uh finish combat.
    Maybe this is why MMO’s prevail for so many as the talk is cheap, and the booty plentiful..

  3. Neverwinter Nights 2 is a great example of what you’re talking about as well. It just got to be too much.

  4. You do know you can hit ESC and it skips the talking? Kinda kills the game if you do it the first time, but I’m really all set with the camp merchant telling me about his hat for the 100th time.

    It’s funny, because I find that if I somewhat force myself to listen and read everything, I enjoy the game a whole lot more. When I get lazy and stop reading the random codex stuff, DA starts to feel like an updated Diablo clone (in a bad way). The old “the gamers will find a way to optimize the fun out” is so true, even for single player games.

  5. I much more enjoy the cut scenes in Dragon Age than, say, Grand Theft Auto IV. Actually being able to play through them and make choices within them is much better in my opinion.

    One of the problems in designing “choice-based” interaction is specifically what you mention here. While you are told there are consequences to your actions, you don’t get a lot of feedback as to how those consequences matter. I think they could design things a little better to give some indication to where your actions will lead.

    I still think the best cut scenes in any game series is Half Life. They do an excellent job of mixing play with story advancement in those scenes.

  6. I thought Mass Effect was much worse at the beginning, though it lightened up later. I just got done asking the bard to tell me all her tales she knew, and I actually watched it all.

    I save before almost every conversation now, which makes it slow going..

  7. “There is such a thing as too much sometimes, particularly when the player actually wants to get down to, you know, adventuring, and not having to listen to merchants say their 5-10 second peace every damn time you want to access their goods.”

    Dude. ESC button. Life-saver!

  8. Yeah, there was an option I thought for the subtitles to be toggled on/off, so if I’m feeling in the mood for a quicker pace, or it’s stuff I’ve already heard (like the vendor), a lot of times reading and then tapping ESC is better for me.

    Until I found the ESC fix though, I /agree, can get tiresome with all that dialogue.

    As for the web o’choices, that took me a while to get used to as well, considering my mostly MMO background. It’s strangely unnerving not to be able to check out all the dialogue possibilities before choosing. Eventually I personally just had to let go and answer with the “voice” of my character, and it helped me accept it somewhat.

  9. But ESC works “best” on the second and later playthroughs doesn’t it? When I tried it pressing ESC gave me my dialogue options at the bottom right away, but if there was any interaction still to be had (as in, not a straight up cutscene like, say, the Joining) all ESC did was to show me the options immediately. The NPC I’m interacting with still babbles on and on and and at that point I’m pretty much forced to either sit through the NPC talking so I don’t miss essential information, or just pick whatever response I think best with partial information.

    It’s not -that- critical because you get the “last phrase” method, where you get the NPCs last phrase up on top if you wait a little, and that should be enough for you to base your decision on in most cases, but then that begs the question… if I can get by just fine (information wise) by using that “last phrase” why did you make me lose so much time listen to you babble on about unimportant or “color” stuff in the previous 9 phrases?

    The quality of the narrative so far has been outstanding, but do interactions have to be sooo draaawwwn oooout by default? What’s the point of having such good narrative if you’re extending things so much many of your players just skip it?

  10. **here may be spoilers**

    Take as a good example of all this the quest before the Joining, when Duncan sends you to the wilds with the other two recruits and the junior Warden. That’s an interaction that goes on and on and on if you choose to explore it just a bit, and the worst part is that that exploration turns out to be completely and utterly meaningless in the end after the Joining since three of four NPCs taking part in that intermission will no longer be around in short order, and the one who remains with you doesn’t start liking/disliking you until much later (that’s when I observed the like/dislike mechanism kick in at least).

    Even the mission description in itself is full of utterly unimportant information that Duncan goes into at length. Christ almighty, ever since -arriving- at Ostegar (or probably earlier) we’ve either known or could easily tell the Joining was (a) secret and (b) probably dangerous. What’s the point to keep insisting on how secret and dangerous it is? Why are those dialogue trees even there? We’ve already established it’s secret, we’ve already established Duncan doesn’t want to talk about it until it’s time, we’ve already established the other recruits are hesitant… why keep banging and banging on that point, giving you chances to explore dialogue which will ultimately be meaningless because (a) you can’t avoid the Joining and (b) 3/4ths of that NPC group will not be there much longer anyway and (c) the one who remains doesn’t start reacting to your choices until later.

    Same thing with the blood and the treaties. Yes, all the detail adds color for sure, and some color is nice to have, but it’s so drawn out it begs to be compressed a bit.

    1. This I just don’t get. The dialog options are just that, options. If you don’t care to listen to the details, don’t ask the NPC the question.

      The whole point of those soon-to-be-dead characters acting like ‘real’ characters is that the game sets you up for people dying. If it was obvious that the people who just joined you are throw-aways, watching them die would be a ‘gee, no one saw that coming’ moment. I at least was surprised, especially when Duncan put his dagger through the second guy. Remove that interaction and it becomes another generic people dying in an RPG moment.

      Also, info about the joining is an on-going story as the story progresses. Right after the joining, you don’t know all the details of what just happened to you, and you slowly learn those as you progress (going to the deep roads, the ability to sense darkspawn and they sensing you, the expected death).

      1. “If you don’t care to listen to the details, don’t ask the NPC the question.”

        That works in some cases, but not always. Case in point, the interaction about the child in the Redcliff castle where you don’t get all the choices available until you start exploring conversation paths. Which means going into the details necessarily.

        In other cases, you’re pretty much “forced to” (not really, but you know) explore conversation paths just out of fear you might be missing an opening avenue or crucial information by not doing so. Ex., the Lady that mysteriously comes out of the same Redcliff castle before you even go in. The whole situation stinks and given what had transpired in the village so far there’s a ton of questions to ask, so you pretty much have to go down each path until you get to it.

        In other cases, you’re right. You don’t have to do this.

        re: the leading up to the Joining it’s not that I think there’s no need to establish these characters and they should be throwaways, but I thought the way the Joining itself was handled since you arrive at Ostegar is pretty heavy-handed. Yes, it’s mysterious and secret. I get it. I got it the first time when Duncan said so after meeting the King. Show me the other two recruits reacting to it, fine. It’s good. But show me once. They talk about the Joining when you meet them, then again before setting out to the wilds, then again after returning from the wilds, then -again- before starting the ceremony. Jiminy Cricket… It’s secret, mysterious and they’re hesitant. I get it. I got it the first time. Going back to their issues with the Joining more than that only felt annoying to me, and it didn’t add anything important to the story (or their own stories, even).

        It’s not the subject itself, it’s how it was presented during Ostegar. Thankfully things get better after that point, from what I could play after that.

        1. I don’t remember it being that repetitive in Ostegar, but I’ve only played through it once so many it’s more noticeable on repeats. I’ve noticed that type of thing (repeating something) happens occasionally, but it’s maybe 1% of the dialog overall?

          The Redcliff example though kinda proves my point. You really DON’T have to ask her all those questions, but the game makes it interesting enough for you to do so. Maybe I’m not understanding you, but why is that bad? I think one of the things DA does really well is to NOT allow you to ask every question every time, so when choices do come up, it actually is a choice rather than a list. We are so conditioned to believe that if there is a list of questions, we can ask all of them and explore every branch. It’s great to have a game that limits you to just one, or cuts you off at an unexpected time.

          1. You don’t have to, but if you’re on the first playthrough yeah, you have to. Otherwise you’d be a dummy that in a situation where all contact has been lost with a castle, undead are attacking out of it every night, all are presumed dead then suddenly a woman shows up out of the castle acting all suspicious and wanting to take one person in… you don’t ask any questions and you say “okay, go dude”.

            So you don’t have to, but you really have to, and since she’s not forthcoming if you wanna have any idea of what’s going on you have to go down each lane.

  11. I do enjoy most of the dialog and often, as with Dreamfall and The Longest Journey, I wished that the game would play out by itself to be as it were a movie. Good dialog with proper voice acting is hard to find in most games.

  12. I read faster than they talk so I just turned subtitles on and if the conversation isn’t important I just hit Esc. Now if the voice actor is really good or the conversation important I want to hear the NPC’s say it. I’ve actually laughed at some of the stuff being said in my interactions with my party or their interactions with themselves.

    That said why the hell do I not speak…that IRRITATES me immensely (It’s one of the reasons I am not a huge fan of Half Life games). It’s the one area where I think Mass Effect did better than DA:O.

  13. I’d agree there is too much of a good thing where cut scenes and dialog are concerned in DA. They ARE good – really good. The voice acting is way above par and even the characters in the backgrounds are interesting to watch. But nevertheless there’s just too much.

    Leaving aside the obvious irritation of the shopkeepers all doing their set piece every single time you try to buy something, Dragon Age in general has a tendency to come across like a movie on occasions. And while the voice acting may be great *for a game* it wouldn’t really cut it as a made-for-tv special, let alone a cinema-release movie.

    Same with the storyline. Yes, it’s strong *for a game* but it doesn’t really stand much comparison with even a run of the mill fantasy novel, let alone Tennessee Williams.

    The strongest parts of Dragon Age by far are the combat sequences. That’s the part that a game does which you can’t find done better in other media. Particularly in the early stages DA seems to be all garnish and not much meat.

  14. I need a different difficulty setting.

    I started on hard, and played that way until level 12 or so, but it got to the point where I was having to reload 4 or more times for EVERY fight. Mage its the class I went with and I died every single time. So I bumped it down to normal…now I just destroy everything. I need something in between the two. I want the boss fights to be challenging, but not every fight to be a boss fight.

    And I have to disagree about the “not good enough for made for tv special” Hell its better than The Seeker (I think thats what its called). The only VA that gets on my nerves is Shale I simply hate the guy they used for him.

  15. This game is very story heavy. And maybe it could have used another pass through the editorial possess. But if you find you cannot be bothered to listen to the story… maybe this just isn’t the game for you.

    I personally wish they could have fleshed out your options a little more in many places. I don’t think they realized how much work having multiple origin stories would be.

    I found Shale rather endearing after I learned a little bit more of her back story.

  16. I picked up DA:O earlier in the week. So far, I’m LOVIN the voice acting. It’s just… so good. If I’m tired of hearing someone blather about something, I usually have the option to tell them to shut-up once they are done talking, or to even just hit the ESC key to get straight to that “shut up” option.

    The voice actors are just really good, the dialog is well written, but the actors make it so believable. There’s a lot of talent there. But yeah, you gotta be in the mood to hear a story, not play an action game to enjoy a good story.

    Just like at the movies… you know you are going to be sitting down watching for a while, but it might just be a good watch.

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