I Am Error: Character interaction in gaming
|September 7, 2011||Posted by S.A.Perkins under I Am Error|
Many of you know I’m a big fan of both Mass Effect and Fallout, two series of games which highlight their system of interaction towards NPCs (non-playable characters). Don’t get me wrong, I love the system of interaction in those games, but there lies a distinct difference between interaction and real speech. For example, in Mass Effect, you can pick from a range of dialogue options depending on your current situation, and your player character will play out those lines, and sure, you get different responses, but the problem is that often those conversations don’t feel… real. There was a conversation I had as a paragon (good) Commander Shepard, talking to a police officer about a situation I had just resolved. He gave me a reward and thanked me, which I believe I deserved, given my positive attitude towards him. But then, playing through the same side quest again as a renegade (bad) Commander Shepard, I was once again greeted by the same thank you and given the same reward, despite the fact I had just accused the same police officer of being an incompetent arse. I was left a tad dumbfounded by the fact that my choice had no consequence on what happened. Many people would say that the story branches depending on your choice of dialogue, but while the story does just that, the interactions do not. You have the same, linear path down a dialogue, and after that there is nothing really different that you can achieve by choosing different interaction styles. I may be wrong here, but I noticed very little difference between interactions on the two extremes of good/bad dialogue choices.
Then of course, if you want to delve into the whole morality thing with these interactions, you have to ask yourself: depending on the character you are interacting with, wouldn’t the good and bad dialogue options be reversed? Example: when talking with a really good character in the game, one of the companion NPCs, Samara, you do in fact talk like a good guy when you pick the dialogue options following the paragon route. And when you pick the renegade options, you talk like a bit of a dick, but again, there is no real difference in the end result of that conversation. However, when you turn around and talk to one of the really evil characters, Jack, surely picking the ‘good’ option, to her character at least, would be to act like a bit of an arsehole? If you tell her that her ideas are stupid and give her a bit of a verbal middle-finger, surely you are, to her, a bad guy? The morality system in these interactions is a little skewed, which again leads to me thinking that the realism of character interactions isn’t that real at all. Speaking of realism; if a random man with guns strapped to his back walked up to you in the middle of a heated debate and demanded to be intimately involved in your issues, would you go into an in-depth discussion about what was wrong? I wouldn’t. So why, when Shepard barges into everybody’s face and pesters them about their problems, does everyone just open up and spill their guts? If that doesn’t highlight the damaged realism of Mass Effect’s character interactions, I don’t know what will.
When you take Fallout and the character interactions within that game, the realism really is… real (yes, I know, I’m punching myself as I type for that particular sentence). If you go up to a character, tell him you like his hair, then walk away with a “have a nice day”, when you return to him he’ll be more inclined to say hello and actually tell you something. If, as an evil character, you go up to the same guy and tell him that you think that he looks like the rear end of a Deathclaw and walk away by kicking him in the daddy-bags and setting fire to his house, when you come back he’s going to try to blow your brains out (this interaction is not possible, but I wish it was). Why? Because the interaction is slightly more realistic than some others you might find in other games. Characters actually react to the way you interact with them, and they also react outside of dialogue. In Mass Effect, you can spend a good five minutes blasting an outline around a common bystander, and they’ll turn around and give you a nice wave, but in Fallout, if you shoot in someone’s direction, and they might not just cower on the ground, they may well pull out a gun and shoot back; and they don’t aim to miss. I even like the way that some people react to other conversations with other people. Go to somebody in the house next door and tell them that their neighbour is a bit of a boring sod, and when you visit their neighbour, they’ll be affronted by your insult. It works, because it mirrors real-life interactions. If someone is offering you a present and you call them a Peter Molyneux, they’ll take the present back. They won’t say, “That hurt my feelings, but here, have the present anyway, and thank you very much for being such a nice guy.”
The problem is, you go from realistic, detailed interactions like those mentioned above, to rather simplified, idiotic inter-character interactions, and to bring this to attention, I mention the Fable games. Forget all the bugs and all the things wrong with them (yes Molyneux, I’m the only person willing to forget all the things wrong with them), but focus on the interactions between characters. In Fable 2, the interactions were so very, very, very simple that they were reduced to Sims style grunts, dances and fart noises. I’m not even going to mention the word realism… apart from this one time. Along the lines of continuous, consistent reactions to those interactions, Fable 2 was one of the worst games for actually remembering what the hell just went on. You could go up to a guy, shove your arse in his face, tell him he was a chicken (by clucking like a chicken, which more screams “I am insane” than anything else) and shoot his wife in the face with a blunderbuss, and he would call you a monster. Then, you could go up to him, hug him, dance with him and tell him a joke, and hey, what do you know, suddenly you’re his best buddy. Let’s forget the fact that I just shot his wife in the face with a blunderbuss. If I wanted a mindless system of character interaction, I would have finally taken the plunge, shoved forks into my brain and sat on my chair listening to the dialogue from Enchanted Arms. Don’t know what that is? You don’t want to!
Then we had Fable 3, which did the totally innovative thing of giving your character a voice, which was completely unheard of in any game before ever. Problem was, apart from the odd cutscene where your character had to speak, the interaction system was just another repetition of the same god awful Sims grunts, laughs and fart noises. I’m beginning to wonder if there is any hope left for the world anywhere. Yes, dialogue changed here and there, depending on player choices, but that had completely arse-all to do with the way I interacted with my characters. I spent the entire game buying every house in Albion and wrenching the rent up so high that even Scrooge McDuck would have been hard pressed to afford my prices, yet I treated everyone really nicely. The result? Everyone still bloody hated me! I spent twenty-seven minutes trying to get some woman to like me enough to marry her for some damn achievement, but by the end of it, despite the fact that I had done everything under the sun to impress her, which included journeying into the far corners of the world and trying to find the decaying corpse of Metal Gear Solid: Rising (yes, it’s that dead), she still called me an arsehole and told me to shove it. The answer: blunderbuss. Sorry, no, you can’t get blunderbusses in Fable 3. I think I shoved a fireball in her face instead. In fact, I spent the entire game saving up enough money so that I could *SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS* but despite the fact that I *SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS* they all still hated me! It was like no matter what I did to them, my personal, face to face interactions with the people of the world had no effect on their opinion of me at all. It would be like, to give an example, seeing Sean Bean walking down the street, going to talk to him face to face with the impression that he was a nice bloke, spending an absolutely great half an hour with him, and then, once he walked away, turning to your friend beside you and saying, “Wow, that man clearly sucks arse.”
You know what? Character interaction in video games has become so unbelievably dire that I have lost what remained of my faith in it ever being realistic enough that I would be satisfied. Take Fallout 3 and New Vegas as a slight shining example of what character interaction might be like in a video game, but apart from that, we’re on dire straits. It’s almost as if games developers have written a story for a video game, given it an entirely linear railing to follow (here’s looking at you once again Molyneux, you and The Road), and decided, “Hold on guys, this is too much like a movie. Let’s add some interchangeable player dialogue in there.” I wouldn’t mind so much had one of the support staff then suggested, “How about we change the way people speak and react according to that interchangeable interaction?”’ but it seems that most of them were suddenly overtaken by pictures of naked ladies or distracted by shiny objects glittering across the room. But who really cares any more? I mean, judging by the common gamer interactions in what we call the ‘real world’, I don’t think I would want interactions in game that represented real life nerd conversations. They follow either two lines of thought: “Oh my god the new game coming out portrays that certain character with a shade of hair colour two shades lighter then in the previous one it is totally going to suck” or the ever popular “Do you think that there will be more n4k3d chicks in this game?” Sorry, I’m over generalising a little bit here. But lets face it, it’s gotten to the point now were two people can’t interact in the same room if they aren’t on MSN, and that’s just *CENSORED*.