Game Design Game Development Geek / Technical

Freshly Squeezed Progress Report: Asking a Character about a Topic

In the previous report, I had started the work of designing dialogue systems, which required stepping back to design the concept of knowledge for a given character in The Dungeon Under My House, my second Freshly Squeezed Entertainment project.

I made some great progress in the last week.

Sprint 37: Pre-production and initialization

Planned and incomplete:

  • Characters speak when TALKed to

As you know, The Dungeon Under My House will be a non-violent 1st-person dungeon crawler. Most dungeon crawlers tend to feature hack-n-slash game play at their cores, and at best you’ll find people saying, “Well, this game allows you to be a pacifist if you want.” But those games clearly still have violence as a key aspect of the game.

So if not violence, then what? The challenge I’ve set out for myself is to make conversation and dialogue the focus of the game.

But I’m not interested in writing a visual novel or the typical branching dialogue that seems to be the state of the art in most games.

And I’m not interested in merely dressing up combat so that instead of swords and armor you use insults and witty retorts. That’s still combat.

Instead, the game play of conversation will revolve around knowledge acquisition.

Maybe. I’m still learning about the nature of conversation and dialogue and relationships.

In last week’s report, I started implementing the concept of a character’s Cognition, which represents their knowledge, values, beliefs, and attitudes.

A character can know about Topics, which represent their awareness of something in the game.

And so the focus this past week was on taking this internal, foundational work that I did the week before and make it visible and tangible for the player, if only to make it less hand-wavy and more concrete for myself.

Seriously, I could spend a lot of time learning about linguistics, philosophy, and models of communication, but at some point, I do need to make something.

So I started out by letting the player click on one of the party members, which pops up a menu. Which presents an option to ASK a question, and then you can select any character currently on the screen, then you can select a Topic to ask about.

The Dungeon Under My House - initiating a question

Now, right away, a design decision I have to make is whether or not the player has access to a party member’s knowledge. In this game, the main character represents the player. Yet there is a party you form with other characters. I think I like the idea that you would need to talk with your party members to share knowledge, and perhaps I can even provide an option to “chit-chat” so that all knowledge is mutually shared to make it less tedious.

Anyway, I have also been very concerned about how intuitive and easy it will be to go through the asking-question flow as a player. When you want to ask someone a question in real life, are you thinking, “I want to know more about that cat, so I will ask Chris” or are you thinking, “I will ask Chris, who knows something about that cat.”

So I decided to cut out one step by allowing the player to click on a character first, which already communicates an intent to talk with that character by the player’s main character, then click on ASK, then click on a Topic.

The Dungeon Under My House - initiating a question

By the end of the week, I had a working topic menu, with some sample topics seeded which represent knowledge of the individual members of the Explorer’s Club and the main character’s parents, plus some generic topics.

The Dungeon Under My House - initiating a question

I’m not an expert on user experience, but I was pretty proud of the idea of adding faces and icons at the top to make it obvious what you are doing at this step of the process.

I can already anticipate needing to provide built-in filters, such as People, Places, Things, or “Recently Learned” topics, or other things that might be useful to help navigate what I expect to become a very large list of topics. Maybe I can allow the player to choose specific topics to put into their first page so that they are easily at hand. We’ll see.

The Dungeon Under My House - initiating a question

The Dungeon Under My House - initiating a question

Once you select a topic, then a custom dialogue script is generated. Eventually the text and menu options can be more varied instead of always asking a question the same way, but for now I needed something I could interact with in the game.

Finally, since dialogue on the screen represented a situation in which the player had made a decision to ask the question, I now needed a way to persist this dialogue. I don’t want someone to ask a question, then restart the game partway through the discussion and have the game act like the question was never asked in the first place. All dialogue in the game is hard-coded at the moment, so this part took a bit of work, but now the decision is locked in.

So far, the question gets asked, but there is no response yet. Currently, no one in the game knows anything ABOUT the Topics they are aware of, so when I start working on it this week, the first thing to do is to create a simple response that will be the equivalent of a 404 error on a website: “I don’t know anything about XYZ.”

But then comes the real work of figuring out what Facts and Beliefs look like and how a character decides what to tell you, which leads to how you gain new knowledge, which I hope will be experienced as an exciting development by the player.

For now, I’m excited that this major aspect of the game’s design is starting to come together.

Thanks for reading!

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