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Dialogue Training Continued

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This guide is a WIP by Dude101 of Mutants Rising, please leave comments and suggestions in the talk page. It is assumed you have read Writers Training part II

Start nodesEdit

Your scriptor will be very happy if you have a single static start node, but it is very hard to write a character with one standard hello line, except when it comes to basic dialogues. There is a remedy though as in FO2 you can script 20 different return comments, which can be cycled through randomly. There is no way to set this up in the FMF tool though, and you would need to liaise with your scriptor to do this. Most major characters require specific conversation return nodes though and here is a list of examples:

  • PC is unknown to NPC:

NPC: "Hey stranger"

PC: Hi I am <PC>

  • Return node (PC is known to NPC)

"Hello again <PC>"

  • Quest specific return

NPC: "Have you done such and such yet?"

  • Conversation specific return node i.e. a return node the reflects the last thing that was said to the NPC:

NPC + PC (Some interactive dialogue followed by)

NPC "I am really upset about this"

PC "I will leave you to it [end]"

and then on return the first thing the NPC says is:

NPC "I am still really upset"

PC "K, just give me some epic loot already"

  • Game over node. This is the return node for an NPC in the event that everything that can be achieved with them, has been achieved.

NPC "Wow, I can't believe we managed to kill Zorgon. Thanks so much <PC>"

Dialogue fine tuning - Ardent + Dude101Edit

A detailed dialogue that wants to give the impression that it was fine tuned to the smallest of detail should take into account several things:

- Don't just use a mechanical return response option e.g. When the PC introduces him/her self he would say something like "Hi, I'm <PC>.", and later when interacting with the same NPC, the obvious first PC input response would be "Hello again!". Try and keep it interesting where possible, and avoid mechanical options where the PC knows the NPC. Use return lines for character specific items e.g. the PC asks the NPC:

"Tell me the story of Buffalo Bill", and then on return, the first thing the <PC> asks is:

"Could you remind me the story of Buffalo Bill, please?". Here is another example:

PC: "Can I have this fluffy towel?",

NPC: "No! It's for members only!"

On the second attempt:

PC: "Please, can I have this fluffy towel?",

NPC: "I told you it was for members only!"

  • Traders

When you write a trader, remember to add some important, though not very interesting lines:

PC: "I'd like to trade" *barter*

NPC: "Anything else I can do for you?"

PC: "Yes, show me your stuff again"

PC: "No, thanks. I'll be going now"

If the trader can answer questions, add also something like this:

PC: "No, I've got all I need, but I'd like to ask some questions if you don't mind."

Generally, short cuts to other parts of the dialogue are good, because you spare the player the pain of terminating the dialogue just to open it again, simply to ask a question after bartering, etc. This improves the overall impression of the mod.

  • Gender

Another very important thing is to remember is that PCs can have two genders and sometimes you have to take that into account.:

  • If the NPC addresses the player: "Hello, young man!". Be sure to add also: "Hello, young lady!"
  • If the NPC insults the player e.g. "You fucking dick!". I'm not a specialist in English vernacular, but I'm pretty positive you would rarely call this to a lady. So, change the bad word accordingly to: "You fucking twat!", or something.
  • If the PC is making sexual innuendo's to the NPC, you might want to invent an alternative route for a lady - not all NPCs are bisexual like Davin.

Things to remember when writing dialogue for scripters - ArdentEdit

Unless you're a writer/scripter, you should remember that your dialogue will be put into code by somebody else. It is advisable to remember several things that are important to scripters to facilitate their work. The following is more or less relevant depending on whether you write your dialogues in the FMF dialogue tool, or in notepad:

  • Put in descriptions.

I noticed many of the FMF-created dialogues are missing initial descriptions of characters. There is an option to do this. Use it. The descriptions usual look something like this:

First look - when you move the cursor over the NPC, you'll see a description of what first hits PC's eyes.

{100}{}{You see the bartender.}

'Second look - when you have talked to the person, you know some more about them. This is usually the line containing the name of the person.

{101}{}{You see Jim.}

Detailed description - this line appears when you use the binocular option on the NPC. It describes the person in more detail.

{102}{}{You see a balding man with a hideous scar through his forehead and left eye. He mutters something to himself while cleaning a glass with a dirty piece of cloth.}

  • MSG Comments

All comments should be preceded with the # sign. Generally, comments are good. They enable the scripter to understand better what should be happening. Always comment if there are specific requirements for a response, like Intelligence >= 7, Luck >= 5, Gambling < 40, etc. In the case of the FMF tool, use the designer notes box.

  • Put in floats.

Some characters will float messages without dude having to click on them (remember Tom Moore from Vault City?). Some NPCs will only reply in floating messages. In specific cases, put in floats for combat, or comments on when the NPC receives damage (for instance, an NPC who is immobilised, will not fight, but may float some messages when combat is on, or when you hit them with a weapon.).

Working with the FMF toolEdit

DO NOT USE the stat check options ever. Use FMF simply to construct a nice tree, and leave notes for your scripter in the design notes section. Why you ask? well spend a few hours writing a nice piece of dialogue then try and convert it into MSG and SSL, and see for your self. You need to be DJ Unique or some ubber 1337 scripter to set the conditions right for conversion. I know it is possible as DJ Unique did it for me once, but no one I know is able to work out the correct conditions for script output, and I know some serious people.

So, just write some notes for who ever is scripting it. The tree will convert fine if it is simple.

Dumb Dialog(ue)Edit

Why? why do you and many others ignore the dumb path? Do you know how annoying it is to tack on dumb options after an FMF has been converted? it is very annoying, and the dumb player will suffer for it with a lack of any real effort being put into his/her options. It is especially annoying when no dumb path exists. Dumb dialogue is an opportunity for the mod author to openly mock the player for choosing such a stupid character. Just imagine those SOBs who poon you in FOnline and the type of single player character they will no doubt roll... that's motivation (you bastards). You can take the piss out of the player by making them say really stupid shit, and you can also have the player be exploited by NPCs who are smarter. Dumb characters deserve their own unique responses.

A lot of the time you can tack on dumb PC responses to standard nodes, but you should always try and put something unique in for them. Dumb characters also require their own [End], [Wait], and [continue] node options. Don't forget that - otherwise dumb guys will be stuck in dialogues forever. Please avoid the usual BS lazy nodes you find everywhere in dumb dialogue: NPC: "You are so stupid"

PC: "ME KILL YOU" That is very annoying, but the most annoying thing is that some people *cough* Fonline feel the need to make every shop keeper give you that type of dialogue, every time you talk to them.


"There are several approaches to writing dumb dialogue. The simplest one is to write dumb dialogue with the normal node structure. This way you save on the number of nodes; you write fewer NPC's responses and everything is easier. However, this often leads to dumb dialogues being very uninventive and too similar in structure. The other method is similar to the first one, only you try to diverge the two paths (iq >= 4 and < 4). This however requires much discipline and hard work.

This is why you may want to try the third approach. Don't write any dumb dialogue. Finish the normal tree first. Give yourself a break - I don't know about you, but I'm pretty fed up with an NPC after writing 200 lines of dialogue for them. If I tried writing dumb dialogue straight afterwards, it would be uninventive and boring, which is exactly what we want to avoid. Leave the NPC for a week. Return to them with a fresh head and write dumb dialogue as if it were something completely new. The results may be much better. You will want to alter the way dialogue goes with normal and dumb dudes.

Try to imagine how this NPC would react to a mentally challenged person. Will they patiently answer their questions, trying hard to understand whatever the PC is saying? Will they get pissed off with the player? Will they pity them? Will they treat them as a child/animal and not give any serious/meaningful response? Will they try to cheat the PC? Will they be sceptical towards Dude and reluctant to give them any quests? Being dumb is a struggle. Watch 'Forrest Gump' to see why." - Ardent

Working with SPECIAL + StatsEdit

Here are some examples of how SPECIAL stats can be used to influence a conversation

  • Strength

NPC: "Why should I join your party /give you this item / trust you?"

PC: "I am a big mother and I do what I want."

  • Perception

NPC: "Thanks for that [He then mutters to himself]--you stupid mother fraxzor."

Normal PC: "No worries." (except the player is all pissed off his character was not paying enough attention, so he could not respond to that insult)

High PE guy: "What you say about my mumma!" It is better to use this trick when it comes to NPCs exposing their inner thoughts when their guards are down.

  • Endurance

Well this could be used for a skill check in, say, an arm wrestling match or in a drinking contest. Use your imagination. Maybe it could be used in a conversation role, with a particularly boring character who sends most PCs to sleep. A Scriptors note: "watch out when checking endurance in sex nodes. There's a handy sex macro that checks several stats and perks to determine the quality of your sexual exploits." - Ardent

  • Charisma

Well, this is an obvious one as well, but what a lot of people have trouble with is distinguishing high Speech craft options with CH options. CH options don't necessarily have to be eloquent like high Speech options, because it is an innate stat and not an ability e.g.:

NPC: "Why should I give you this über laser weapon?"

CH: "Well, you know I can use it to kill bad guys." *success*

High Speech: "I will use it to smite thy enemies down and I will whisper your name into their ears as finish them off, so they know who brings them death" * success* A lot of people (including myself) roll the speech and CH into the same response, and check both skills. I think it is a bit lazy. Maybe you need high Charisma and some Speech ability, or high Speech and average CH. It all depends.

  • Intelligence

I find some people roll IN into a stat check with Science, like CH and Speech above, but again it does not have to be the same response--maybe you want to give the player some mentalist-type options where they have the ability to take apart the NPC's response and psychoanalyse them, or maybe you want to give smart characters the option to read between the lines: NPC: "I like to go to the luminous caves on Monday mornings"

Normal PC: "Luminous caves?"

Smart PC: "Why the tradition?" and after you are granted exclusive info, you can either go on a new smart-PC branch or go back to the standard "Luminous caves?" response.

  • Luck

"The most obvious use is in any kind of dialogue-driven gambling. All dice rolls and stuff could be either checked with Luck or Gambling skill. But, as with Speech-craft and Charisma, Luck and Gambling can be quite different.

Gambling - tricks and skills of the gambling trade. Observing your adversaries, controlling your reactions, cheating so that no one can see, etc. Gambling should be used when a game is played. Luck - Favourable random events. I've seen some script where you can guess a computer password. This is done with a luck roll. It could also be used in a similar manner in a dialogue - Remember Fallout 1 and the Raider camp? If you had high luck, the Khans would take you for Garl's father. A whole quest may be based upon a successful luck roll - someone mistakes you for another person, because "luckily" you are similar in some way to the intended recipient." - Ardent

Tricks of the TradeEdit

So you are writing a piece of dialogue, and you are running low on ideas. You need the dialogue to be a tree as opposed to a piece of linear text, that the player will simply respond 1,1,1 to.

  • Keep them on their toes. The "ideal" response should not always be option number one. Allot of players simply hit 1 on the keyboard until the text is over and they have the quest to rescue the princess in their pipboy. Put some really bad options on the number one slot every now and then, but always mix things up to keep the player focused on the dialogue. Only use this trick if your dialogue is not a pile of shize-mo or the player will hate you.

Ideally each node should have at least two options. If you cannot think of a ways to provide more choice then you can use a few tricks of the trade:

  • 1) The false choice. Neverwinter knights is famous for this, and if you look at the dialogue or attempt to play it a few times, you will notice eventually. Example:

NPC "I have this supercool tech I use to control my brain!"

Player response options:

A) Supercool Tech?

B) Control your brain?

NPC "Yes this supercool tech controls my brain"

both player options lead to the same NPC response, but the player still feels involved in the process; well that is until they play it again and realise they where screwed, but most people wont.

  • Cheap shots:
  • 2) The arbitrary I want to fight you option that no one chooses (mostly no one). Maybe the NPC does not want to fight and this leads to some new options.
  • 3) An end node no one choses e.g. "I don't have time for this [leave]". This can even lead to a continued conversation, where the NPC stops you leaving and places you back on a linear piece of text, that looks like a tree with a response of "it's super important to the world and stuff"

Characters should have characterEdit

Thoughts on speech - Zenbitz of PARPGEdit

  • Speech" type skills

Most games have some "speech" skill used to influence NPCs. Generally in an RPG you talk to NPCs and get them to give you stuff (including jobs, quests), or information. There should be different "types" of arguments - represented by different dialog trees - that could be used by the player to "get what he wants". Different NPC personalities are going to have different responses to different types of "speech".

  • Appeal to Reason

Using a logical argument to convince NPC of your needs

  • Appeal to Emotion

Using rhetoric to convince the NPC of your needs - there are several subtypes of these. Appeal to Righteousness, Appeal to Faith, Appeal to Pity. Details would be left up to dialog writers. These might include "whining" or "nagging" as well - just keep talking until their willpower to resist fails.

  • Appeal to Fear

This is sort of a subtype of emotion, but basically - it's threatening the PC. If the threat is real and severe, it could be considered an appeal to reason.

  • Appeal to Greed

This is another one that could be rational or emotional. Basically, it's offering the PC something in exchange for their agreement, etc.

Really deep thoughts about NPCs and their disturbing personalities - Zenbitz of PARPGEdit

NPCs should have a personality. It should be defined quantitatively, and the game mechanics should take it into account. One thought I had was to use a standard personality scale - like:

 Dichotomies
 Extroversion 	Introversion
 Sensing 	Intuition
 Thinking 	Feeling
 Judging 	Perceiving

But... that's kind of ridiculous in a RPG. "Feeling". But we could maybe come up with 4 other dichotomies:

 Untrustworthy <---> Honest
 Violent       <---> Pacifistic
 Foolhardy     <---> Cautious
 Avaricious    <---> Generous

(I used words that start with different letters to short hand it) These are all cherry picked because they are relevant for "adventures" like in RPGs. A PCs actions can usually be graded on these scales. If you lie - point of "U", forgo a reward, point of "G".

These are kind of like the 8 virtues of Ultima IV (yes, I am old) but since our game is amoral... we have to go both ways. PC starts right in the middle on these, and as he does stuff, his 4 counters swing one way or the other. The people he might will react to him based on these scores - and how they compare to their own scores. (It might be a stretch to say that Greedy people like each other... but hey). This would also be of influence as to whether an NPC "joins up" - and how long they stick around to witness you egregious crimes against humanity!

High-Level Writing Principles by J.E. SawyerEdit

  • Dialogue should inform and entertain players -- inform them about the world and quests, entertain them with interesting characters and prose. If you aren't informing or entertaining, think hard about what you're trying to accomplish.
  • Write an outline. Really. Just do it. You should have an idea of where you are going before you set out. If you don't know where you're going when you write your conversation, chances are the player is going to get lost at some point.
  • Always give at least two options. At a bare minimum, you should always have an option that says, "Let's talk about something else," that leads back to a node where you can say, "Goodbye." You may think that your dialogue is riveting and no one could possibly want to stop reading/hearing it, but believe me -- someone out there does.
  • Never give false options. Do not create multiple options that lead to the same result. It insults players' intelligence and does not reward them for the choices they make.
  • Don't put words in the player's mouth. With the exception of conditional replies (gender, skills, stats, etc.), phrase things in a straightforward manner that does not mix a request for information with an emotionally loaded bias ("I'd like to know what's going on here, jackass.").
  • Keep skills, stats, gender, and previous story resolutions in mind and reward the player's choices. If it doesn't feel like a reward, it isn't; it's just a false option with a tag in front of it. Note: entertainment value can be a valid reward.
  • The writing style and structure are the project's; the character belongs to you and the world. As long as the dialogue follows project standards and feels like it is grounded in the world, it is your challenge and responsibility to make the character enjoyable and distinct.

All of these principles exist to support this basic idea: your audience is playing a game and they want to be rewarded for spending time involving themselves with conversation. If it is a chore, is non-reactive, is confusing, or is downright boring, it is the author's failing, not the player's.

Generic WritingEdit

Has anyone heard of the "Less generic NPC mods" for Morrowind? well these mods add character to existing non-people who are not worth talking to. If you want someone to actually enjoy your writing, then you should write something worth reading. "I saw a mudcrab yesterday! terrible creatures", type stuff should be avoided, but more specifically the repetition of it. That line would have been an Epic win with a huge WTF factor if only one person said it, and if they had a ridiculous tale to go with it.

Generic messages are very helpful though when creating NPCs like guards, but these messages should be in the form of float nodes, so the player does not get pissed off waiting for the dialogue screen to open and close, for absolutely no reason.

"Write at least ten generic floats, marked with subsequent numbers. Why is that important? Since your scripter will apply the floater_rand command, which will randomly choose the lines in a given range, it is best that the numbers be e.g.: 100-109, without any "blanks" in between, as this may give "error" messages in some cases.

Why at least ten? Simply because it looks better. Try also adding specific lines commenting on the player's features, such as appearance (e.g. depending on the armour (s)he's wearing, or his/her gender), on the quests that (s)he did, on his/her reputation, karma titles, etc. Have a look at the msg file of a New Reno prostitute. IIRC, there are 300+ different lines that they use - commenting on the dude being prizefighter, wasting the Enclave, Porn Star reputation, Made Man reputation, power armour, etc. Your scripter will hate you for this. But players will love it. And that's what it's all about." - Ardent. Joshua E. Sawyer and Obsidian refer to this type of dialogue as:

  • Barkstrings

"I am a believer in what Obsidian calls "barkstrings". Generic, rank-and-file characters in the world typically do not have full dialogue trees. Instead, they have a large list of reactive one-off lines that they will say either in passing or when you interact with them. As long as barkstrings react to things in a meaningful fashion, it's usually more satisfying than drilling generic characters for generic information through a dialogue tree.

Background characters should also be engaged in meaningful action. A world where people endlessly, randomly mill about feels like a world without purpose. Communities should have a focus and characters within communities should have roles that they fill." - Joshua E. Sawyer

NPCs and Epic LootEdit

NPCs should NOT need to justify their existence in the eyes of the gamer with l00t. knocking together a POS dialogue, then tacking on an epic item reward for something, is very cheap and is not fun at all.

The worst kind of NPCs are those whose entire existence is based around a piece of epic loot. People will think of these NPCs as resources to be harvested and not characters, breaking any immersion you managed to create. These subtle things are what ruin games. Loot based NPCs are utterly shallow and rubbish, but are sometimes useful. The problem I have is with writers who see that angle of dialogue as the default, and not as a tool for the occasional strategic spoon feeding of the player.

Quest MachinesEdit

Sokil the Colly mod author introduced me to the phrase "quest machine", it is a description you can apply to allot of NPCs in modern games. Playing an RPG is all about quests, but you have to remember you are trying to create an immersive world that is believable.

The player should never be spoon fed quests, or at least you could avoid this as much as possible or you will end up with your NPCs feeling like resources again and not people. The best example of fail is the "nuke megaton" quest in FO3, where you approach a guy at the bar, and he not only gives you a quest immediately with no real reason to do it, but he gives you a quest to destroy the entire town you are in... How stupid is that? very! but the thing is that if Mister Burke was written a little differently and if the quest delivery was approached from a different angle it would have worked. Everyone secretly loves that quest, but the player needs an excuse to justify the existence of it.

Quests should be earned. When you are writing a character you need to find plausible excuses to feed the player quests; the simplist approach to feeding the player quests is the sliding scale system, where the NPC gives you some trivial POS quest, then gradually builds you up to more interesting stuff as he/she gets to know and trust you. This is very effective because you can build relationships with the player to base the entire quest giving process around, which generates immersion. Another one of my favorites and the approach that would have made the FO3 megaton quest work is simply by hearing something you where not meant to. Imagine Mister Burke is talking to some guy about nuking megaton, or that he is talking to you and he makes an unconscious comment about hating the town. Those pieces of info you where not supposed to know could lead to a quest delivery that was not so unbelievable.

Here are some other examples of quest delivery excuses:

1) The player is not from around town, so is neutral to any internal power struggle

2) The player is an unknown so the NPC will not be exposed as perpetrating the quest by proxy using the player

3) The NPC is desperate and has no choice

4) The NPC is giving you the quest so he/she can exploit you

5) An NPC casualy mentions some issue when talking about something completely different. This has to be very subtle overwise the player will see the spoon approaching their mouth. Ideally casually given quests should be specialised to skill or stat checks, so that they are delivered in a less obvious way. For example:

NPC "I heard the enclave on the radio the other day, but I could not really hear what they where saying"

Normal PC "What are the enclave doing around here

A PC with Tech skills "Maybe I can take a look at the radio"

The normal PC would never see that there was a hidden quest there. You will find players coming back to your game all the time, simply to discover new things. There are loads of ways to find excuses to spoon feed quests to the player, without them noticing. I will try and think of more and add them later. Please leave comments in the talk page if you have input as well.

The Popular CultureEdit

So there is a film or game out you really like, maybe it has been out a few years now. You are writing some dialogue, or you have no inspiration at the time. Something happens! the voice at the back of you head forces your fingers to write something like "Don't judge me, you're not a judge on the X-Factor" or some such stuff. You think it is great, but I can assure you it is not.

Pop culture references have to be relevant to the work, if you choose to use them at all. It is natural for writers to take what came before and forge something new, but anything as obvious as that "leads to the dark-side".

In Fallout there is allot of cultural heritage you can draw on legitimately. I hear you say "Whatever man, my mod is meant to be fun. Don't be so serious" - okay fine - if you want to write something that is not so serious, at least use pop-culture that has been around for more than 5 minutes. You can get away with references to stuff more than a decade ago, if it has not been quoted to death already. Don't saturate your mod with lolz or Continuum will murder you.

On a brighter note the English translator of Oblivion Lost, confided in me his pain at spending hours translating TV non-sense into English for us, but luckily for us: it was all Russian pop-culture, so our minds where spared rape. You can get away with using foreign pop-culture references as us English are to ignorant to notice.

Good ReadsEdit

To be continuedEdit

I threw this guide together and vomited out without to much thought. I am sure I will think of more to add, and please leave comments/ suggestions / ideas. Any helpful articles links would also be appreciated (in the Discussion section).

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