Dialogue Boss Fight: Design Discussion

nathanlink169

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Alright this is going to be a long post. The design of this is a little complicated, so I want to make sure I have all the details covered.

The Idea

One of the major hooks of the game is going to be talking. Longer dialogue trees in general. If the player is able to read the conversation correctly, they will be able to extract more information from NPC's. This isn't something that will happen with every NPC, just NPC's of note.

Part of this feature is the idea of Dialogue Bosses. Longer Dialogue options that provide a different challenge than just "reducing the enemies health to zero". These encounters will change how the next section (or even the rest of the game) will play. For example:

You are negotiating your gangs turf with the opposing gang. You manage to get three out of five towns. Those three towns will not have enemies in them, but the other two will. Or maybe you manage to get four out of five, but really anger the opposing leader. That town will be filled to the brim with enemies, tougher ones than usual.

Of course, this has to be balanced carefully, and they will not be the only source for XP in the game.

Event[0] and Inspiration

In terms of the actual implementation, I'm taking a page from the game Event[0]. If you haven't played it, it's a bit on the expensive side for the amount of actual gameplay that's there, but I found it to be a great game. If you're interested, go take a look now because I'm about to spoil all of how one of the main mechanics works (although not any plot points). This post will still be here when you finish.

If you want a video look on how it works, Mark Brown did a great summary of it for Game Maker's Toolkit:
There is an AI in the game that you can talk to. You can type any message to it, and it will come back with (usually) a believable response for the plot and given input. How?

1: A spellchecker will correct any grammar errors
2: A thesaurus will go through and change any keywords to words the AI is looking for. For example: People, crewmates, and staff will all become "crew".
3: The AI takes a look at where it is in the game. For every point in the game, it has a list of keywords that it's looking for, and a few responses given those keywords.
4: The AI will look for the keywords in the players input. It will then match the list of keywords with whatever best matches its own list that it's looking for
5: The AI will pick one of the phrases associated with that picked set.

(Does that make sense? Probably not. The video explains it much better than I can.)

The AI also has its own emotional range, based on whether it is currently stressed, and whether the AI likes you or not. This also influences which response it selects.

Why am I explaining all this? Well:

The Implementation
As for how to create these dialogues, I have an external tool that I made. You can read a bit about it here: https://forums.rpgmakerweb.com/index.php?threads/rpg-maker-mv-dialogue-editor.111291/

I'm planning on taking some of that implementation for my own use. The player will not be able to write in their own dialogue, which eliminates a lot of the heavy lifting of that implementation. Specifically, 1-4. My plan is better laid out in visual form:
upload_2019-8-22_21-29-58.png

Each of those two choices will lead to two separate sets of 9-choices, and one of those 9-choices will be determined by the NPC's current emotional state. Checks can also be made for previous events (i.e., if the player has won the last three-of-three towns, the NPC can react differently to if the NPC just won the last three-of-three).

Hopefully this all makes sense, and can lead to some interesting Dialogue Bosses. How do you feel about this? Have any suggestions/criticisms about the feature design or implementation? Please let me know!
 

gstv87

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Those three towns will not have enemies in them, but the other two will

then the problem itself is not dialogue related, but gameplay related.
you should probably design the gameplay first, with the dialogue in mind, and then add the branching dialogue on top, relying on and limited by what the gameplay allows you.
should be easier that way.

one game that handles balancing of several variables at the same time is Reigns.
try dissecting it as "event X = have Y points in parameter Z by question N", and you'll probably figure out it's internal logic.
at any given input, the game sends an order of +/- to the whole set, and has all those event trigger conditions in the background.
that's the foundation.... the bounding logic that limits the game function.... everything else? is content: "add this NPC by question X", "add this line of dialogue if question Y was answered TRUE", "open this branch if NPC Z exists", "add NPC Z if condition N", etc.

 

nathanlink169

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then the problem itself is not dialogue related, but gameplay related.
you should probably design the gameplay first, with the dialogue in mind, and then add the branching dialogue on top, relying on and limited by what the gameplay allows you.
should be easier that way.

I'm not certain that I follow this. The point of "the three towns will not have enemies, but the other two will" wasn't a negative point, but something that's by design. Is there a problem with that that I'm not seeing?

In terms of designing gameplay first and adding the branching dialogue later: in my view, the branching dialogue is an essential part of gameplay and one of the core features. I'm not certain it's something that shouldn't be thought of and designed in parallel with the main mechanics.

As for Reigns, I'll take a look at that! I haven't heard of it before, and more study material is always good! :smile: Thank you for the feedback!
 

alice_gristle

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Sounds pretty cool. So in a nutshell, I get to pick two or three things to say, but the responses to those depend on how the other guy is feeling? What's the "Dialogue Boss" really about? Dealing with opposing gang leaders through dialogue (instead of combat)? That seems cool, but also depends on your skill in creating believable characters, and having them say believable things. Are you knowledgeable in gang and/or criminal mentality? Also, d'you think your game will happen in a modern world, or a more, uh, how to put it... more, uh, barbarous world?

And, um, sorry for the question barrage! :biggrin:
 

Kes

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@nathanlink169 Game Mechanics Design is for looking at aspects of game play at a more conceptual level. It is not for discussing implementation. I suggest that you use the discussion to clarify your design, and only then think about how to implement it. If you want help with that aspect, you will need to start a thread in the Support forum for the engine you are using.

However, also note that G.M.D. is not for giving feedback on specific individual projects, though one can be used as an example. What that means in this case is that answers might not be relevant to your particular game, and that is okay. If a reply isn't relevant, just ignore it. It could be invaluable for someone else. Please don't try and bring it back to your game with replies like "oh, that doesn't fit what I want to do" or similar.
 

gstv87

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I'm not certain that I follow this. The point of "the three towns will not have enemies, but the other two will" wasn't a negative point, but something that's by design. Is there a problem with that that I'm not seeing?

I mean, when your gameplay will have ties to your choices like that, you better start with designing the managing of the choices at the gameplay level, and then on top of that build the dialogue.

rather than starting to think how to manage the dialogue first, and how it would react to the choices, and then from there build the gameplay based on the resulting possibilities.

I mentioned Reigns as an example because it's a game with LOTS of choices (*the* gameplay, is nothing but choices), and if you were to try and account for every possible outcome of every possible choice, the ramifications would blow out in no time.
that's most likely not what the developers did, but the opposite: they started with a number of NPCs, they built entry and exit points for those NPCs and their various narratives, and then from there wrote the choices to make that happen.
you'll see many situations where the dialogue is virtually the same: "Rebellion! Shall we fight back?", "Famine! Should we give out food?", "Sir, we need to build ... ", etc.
 
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xoferew

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That sounds cool and also like a huge amount of work! ^_^ Just a terminology issue, "calm" and "relaxed" are similar, also someone feeling "calm" and "neutral" towards me seem similar. Should the opposite of "angry" be "pleased"? The NPC could be pleased with me or pleased in general that his/her schemes are going well and thus be in a magnanimous mood?

For every nine responses is there one best response the player would benefit from eliciting? And it differs based on the NPC, like some will give the best response when they are in a positive mood while others will let a secret slip if they are stressed or infuriated?
 

Restart

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The event[0] approach is a fairly common one, but it's easy to screw up in a way that leads to poor AI behavior (see Facade as an example, where any sentence containing the word 'melon' immediately results in a bad ending, because the synonym dictionary goes 'melons is slang for breasts', which means any sentence with 'melon' means you are crudely hitting on this guy's wife, so you get kicked out of his home)
 

turbobumblepuppy

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This is a really cool idea and is something I've also been thinking about implementing in a couple of RPG Maker games I'm working on, to different levels of difficulty. I think what could work is a concept similar to the karma and factions points systems in Fallout New Vegas. If you say something to encourage someone in a particular faction or take action that will benefit them, you get +1 (or however many) points to their faction's approval rating, and in reverse, if you say or do something to annoy them you get -1 (or whatever amount of) points in their faction's approval rating, which then triggers certain dialogue branches (i.e., A for Positive, B for Neutral, C for Negative) at a very simpified level, which of course would expand within the game.

In addition to this, I've been trying to figure out a way that the responses could be generated from some kind of adjective/subject word bank, which could at least give the appearance of a form of AI conversation. I haven't had so much time to go into it yet, but the vague idea is for NPC1 to say, 'Hi, it's a [/variable X response] day today, isn't it?" or "Oh, my [/variable Y response] is hurting today." It's not true AI, of course, but the NPC responses would be a little more varied than the usual, "I saw an airship coming this way," on repeat, at least. It might just be simpler to have a randomised set of responses, I haven't looked too far into these ideas yet, as I said, but this concept could be developed so that it reveals specific dialogue branches depending on your approval rating level with the particular faction or specific NPC(s) within it.
 

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