Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Rain Slick Precipice Flavor Dialog

I'm still on my Rain Slick Precipice kick, and I had a thought while I was driving today, and I had a kind of interesting thought about tailoring the game's dialog to the player choices. This is by no means an original idea, but I had it specifically for OTSRPoD 3, so there.

Team Fortress 2 and all Valve games have something called "response rules"; when the rule is met, the game calls a piece of dialog related to the rule. It's a way of deepening immersion by making AI (or other player characters) seem intelligent and react to both their circumstances and various unique player interactions.   In TF2 specifically, you can change your character's response rules by equipping different weapons; when your Demoman uses his default bottle to kill somebody, he'll use a line that references drinking (Ay, me bottle o' scrumpy!), but when you equip a sword, he'll use a line that references the sword (or makes Highlander jokes). TF2 has a ton of response rules: characters may make comments when taking or dealing damage to particular classes, when using particular weapons, or when they are near enemies while specific events are happening.

This, combined with some free time to think while I was driving, gave me an idea for "flavored dialog". The idea here is that while writing some pieces of dialog, room be left for distinct player-driven circumstances. This may include weapon choices, accessory choices, and class combos.

For example, perhaps Tycho is  saying "I'm going to murder you." This dialog could possibly be punched up by having him reference the class he's using, so he might say "I'm going to transform into a terrifying dinosaur and murder you." With the Gardnar pin, he it could be "Come over here, I have a trowel I wanna show you. Just for, like, a second."

Now, the main reason I bring this up is because of something that happened in the first two Penny Arcade games: characters would often explicitly reference the combat they participated in and the game was functionally aware that Gabe, Tycho and the player were essentially murderers. This was intriguing, because it touched on a duality in many video games: combat is often seen as an abstract mechanism, rather than a functional portion of the story. Pokemon was like this: you might force your sentient cloud of toxic gas to poison a preschooler's pet dog, then order your half-ton narcoleptic bear-thing to beat it into unconsciousness--and afterwards, this five-year-old would ask for your phone number so she could call you to do it again later. I liked the idea that combat was treated as a continuous part of the story, and the horrifying violence was often lampshaded in the game's dialog.

So the incongruity of the combat system is a ripe process for this kind of joke, and it bridges the divide between the abstract of combat and the stract of the story. Don't do it too often, of course, but bring that shit up sometimes.

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