Welcome to my next system and tonight we are going to talk about social interaction inside games and how avatars interact with one another. Right now, conversation is usually controlled by picking options in game and then the NPCs are responding to your choice and all players always have all the cards up their sleeves, you always know all of the options and exactly what you are going to say, no one is the world is bothered with your silence, except in some cases (I’m looking at you The Walking Dead).
This is the most common use of social interaction systems right now, to convey a story to a action or adventure game. It’s not especially intuitive or reworking what we know about social interaction in games. Neither is it the focus of any game on the current market that I can think off. Conversations are frowned upon as a “non-epic” way to play a game.
Imagine if every player that played a game had to use as much wits and reflexes during a hectic busy meeting or convincing that mafioso to give you 1 more day to pay back your debt as playing a fast paced action shooter. Wouldn’t it be epic to be able to put a conversation system into a game and say: “Heck, this is my primary gameplay mode, this is what the game is centered about”. To create that system we have to go back a step and think, what makes conversation so enjoyable? What parts of conversation in our life makes us want to connect and socialise with other people?
Conversation for me isn’t just about telling people a story or sharing information, it’s about caring, having fun with friends. Imagine a “friends night out” without any conversation, it would be pretty dull, even if you were the best of friends. So there are alot of different things you want to get out of conversation, how do we put it into a game?
First we look at how conversations are actually being used in our real world, science conducted by Uppsala University tells us that in a conversation there are “turns”. These turns aren’t solid, but generally, the person the current speaker is looking at will be the “next speaker”. That means that if Steve would be looking at Jenny when he is talking, Jenny would be the first one to get a chance to talk. If jenny only laughs or says something like “Yes” the turn then goes to anyone who isn’t Jenny.
Given this information, we know the flow of conversation, but we do not know how pacing in conversation is created yet. In conversations, when we are talking to eachother, most of the time the conversation between two persons flow together (not that they finish each others sentences, but that the conversation is quickly picked up by the second person) which means, the system should most likely include something that makes conversations float together.
They also researched this, and concluded that the next speaker generally starts speaking somewhere between -0.4 to 0.4 seconds, meaning people start talking generally before the other person stopped talking. So we got a window to put our conversation into before the turn leaves you.
So on to the system and let us leave cold facts for now. The system I imagine would be using all of this info to create a hectic and interesting system for conversation, it doesn’t maybe fit the “chill with friends” part of conversation but more the being threatened by a ganglord or in a bussiness meeting with a hard to break client. So the system would have to record who the current speaker (NPC or avatar) is actually looking at inside the game world while the very same avatar is speaking. Depending on who was in focus while the person was talking, gets the next turn.
The turns are more a free ticket to be the next speaker, it lets you get a chance to say something before anyone else gets a shot. but if you miss your window (1-2 seconds of reaction) the turn is up for anyone to take it. You are still allowed to say something here (To give the player a chance to save a conversation if he fucks up). but now that the main part of the system is about reactions, pressing the right dialog option and reading through all that text isn’t maybe the best idea, how do we apply this system in a smooth way?
It would require everyone to use microphones and translate all the conversation options into simple codewords. Let’s take an example where you, the player is threatened. The threatener asks you “Any Last Words, scum?”. The very moment that he starts talking, on the screen 4 words are seen, Anger, Fear, Relief and Justice.
For the player to respond, he would just say the word that relates the most to how he would react. Let us say the player says Anger and the player avatar screams at the top of his lungs “F**K YOU, YOU SON OF A B***H” and getting shot in the head. Now what if he would have stayed silent? The avatar just wouldn’t react and the threatener could maybe ask you something more, giving you other alternatives to go to or showing more weaknesses or just shooting you in the head.
I will look more deeply into conversation systems later. But the clock is ticking and it’s becoming awfully late. So I wish you all a good night!