I’ve done many types of writing over the course of my life including many types of fiction and non-fiction. Some of the most fascinating writing I’ve ever had to do was in video games.
I’ve written before about how oddly liberating writing under constraints can be, and game writing is some of the most restrained writing you’ll ever have to do.
Lately I’ve been playing Bioware’s new Star Wars: The Old Republic game. It’s an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online game) similar to World of Warcraft in many respects, which I was never really a big fan of.
Bioware, however, is well known among gamers for the incredible quality of the storytelling in their games. The problem was that they weren’t known for multi-player games; mostly they created epic-scale games with incredible stories that you play through on your own.
It’s long been hoped that they would be able to bring a richness of story to MMOs that has so far been lacking. They met my hopes, and then exceeded them. Not only did they craft stories (multiple, yes) that are as good as those found in their other games, they’ve done unique story lines for different types of characters you might play, different decision paths you as the player may head down, and most impressively at all, they’ve included some stories called Flashpoints that accommodate several players at once.
The general complexity of these multi-player conversations is nothing I’d think of as out of the ordinary. During the course of a conversation, the character your group of friends is talking to will speak. (And in The Old Republic, they really do speak. The amount of voice acting in the game is astounding, and of incredibly high quality.)
After they’ve said their piece though, you’ll inevitably come to a decision point. This is where in a typical solo game you’d choose what your character says, and the game goes on from there, telling you what the reaction is depending on how you act. Generally you have several possible ways to react to any decision point - a “good” option and a “bad” option, and sometimes a middle-of-the-road option.
That’s exactly what happens here too, in multi-player flashpoints, with several big differences I’ve never encountered before.
If you are playing along with 2 other people and they’re both part of the conversation, all of you decide what you want your individual character to say. All 3 characters are present as a group talking to the game character.
Once you’ve all picked your dialogue option, the game “rolls the dice” for you and assigns you a number.
Once ALL of you have picked your dialogue options and have your numbers, the game decides which character speaks. The rule seems to be highest number gets to speak, and in the case of a tie, the one who chose their option fastest speaks.
I can’t express well enough just how unique and exhilarating it was to have conversations like this in a game where I wasn’t in complete control over what happened. It lead to me seeing dialogue options I wouldn’t otherwise have seen, which was fantastic; it felt like a much more living, breathing conversation where you’re not just talking to a computer. It felt much more alive. It was hard to believe such a simple mechanic could provide such a huge benefit.
Context is everything when writing dialogue, whether it’s in a book or a video game. I often find myself falling into the habit of just writing dialogue lines straight out, with little or no context. So far everything I’ve got up in the other sections are first drafts, so that’s okay. Star Wars: The Old Republic has reminded me to make sure I have good context for any conversation.