Now We’re Talking!
We are rapidly approaching 1300 backers and $80,000 in pledges - That’s what I’m talking about!
Actually, no (but thank you!); this time I’m talking about the Hero-U dialogue system.
A central feature of Hero-U is conversation with other characters. This is probably the feature that sets us most apart from other games.
Sure, there is dialogue in almost every game, but it is usually a filler. Dialogue helps to flesh out a character’s personality, but it’s often one-dimensional. Either you see the dialogue in a cutscene (in-game film clip) or you get the same dialogue over and over when you click on a character.
Hero-U treats dialogue as a simulation rather than fixed scripts or filler. Conversations with the same characters change constantly. This can happen because of what Shawn said to them previously, or because of his reputation with the character, or simply as the result of passing time.
There are still rules to dialogue - we aren’t up to the level of artificial intelligence in Ex Machina yet. When Shawn enters a scene for the first time in an event, it’s likely a character will greet him with the latest news. If the player clicks on that character, Shawn can start a relevant discussion.
The discussion topics change for every character on most days. If they’ve already talked with Shawn about something, that dialogue option will no longer appear.
Can I Interest You in an Almost New Lockpick?
For example, let’s say Shawn meets Joel Kayro outside the rogue class early in the game. After the initial greeting, Shawn has a few possible discussion topics:
- Talk to Joel
- Buy from Joel
Choosing Talk to Joel might lead to:
- Ask about Joel
- Ask about Tools
- Ask about Information
Those topics are available because Joel has just introduced himself, the class lecture was about rogue tools, and Joel has mentioned that he sometimes has useful information… for a price.
In this case, Joel’s priority is to sell tools to Shawn, so even if Shawn asks about Joel, he’ll get a sales pitch on Joel’s useful stock of equipment. Asking about Tools gives more detailed information about them.
As for actually buying the tools, some options will only appear if Shawn has enough money to afford them. In addition, Joel’s stock changes throughout the game as he begins to sell more expensive and valuable goods.
Let’s say Shawn Asks about Information. Joel knows that one of Shawn’s first unpleasant encounters was with Mr. Terk, Hero-U’s disciplinarian. So that topic might interest Shawn (and be valuable to the player). In classic “the first one is free” fashion, Joel doesn’t charge for that information. Later on, everything he reveals has a price.
Each time Shawn meets with Joel, they can have a different conversation. Nothing in dialogue is mandatory in terms of puzzle solutions, but sometimes characters give Shawn useful hints. More importantly, as in a film or a novel, dialogue is the heart of the story. By talking with other characters, Shawn learns about the University, the characters, local politics, and various mysteries.
Dialogue is also the key to building relationships. Most characters like it when you talk to them, especially if you talk about things that matter to them. Every time Shawn talks to a character, he has a chance to gain or lose reputation with that character or with others who may be listening. Shawn might also improve a character skill such as Charm, Smarts, or Moxie.
Dialogue Choices - Much More than Words
Creating the game dialogue for Hero-U is one of Lori’s major responsibilities. Besides writing tens of thousands of individual messages, she is using the power of our proprietary Composer scripting system to create dependencies.
Composer allows her to decide if game text is only available once, once per day, or repeatedly. She makes other dialogue dependent on previous game actions. For example, if Shawn and his roommate Aeolus are discussing Sophia, the receptionist, it makes a difference whether Shawn has met Sophia and talked to her.
This is handled by “script tags”. When Shawn talks to Sophia in the reception area, the dialogue script sets a tag. Some of the conversations with Aeolus in the dorm later only appear if Shawn has talked to Sophia first. Here is one of many possible paths through that dialogue. On the next day, the conversation will be different, but may refer back to the choices made in today’s conversation.
It is impossible to go through every dialogue option in one playthrough of Hero-U. Subtle differences in conversational choices and meeting other characters affect the available choices. This gives a different mood to similar conversations across multiple playthroughs.
It’s hard to convey just how many dialogue scripts Lori is creating for Hero-U, and the degree of complexity of each one. When you play the game, you will follow the path you choose through the dialogue, seeing just a fraction of the available possibilities. Each path will be part of a satisfying story involving Shawn and the other characters. The next time you play, you will likely see different conversations.
Keep on Talking
Please share this article on Twitter, reddit, Facebook, Google+, and other social media. The more people who learn about Hero-U, the better we will be able to fine-tune and improve the conversation systems and individual dialogue choices.
Hero-U Game Development Status
A few days ago I posted a long update on status of the game development as an update to the previous Kickstarter. Rather than cross-post it here, here’s a link to that update.
Please note that we’ve added a new “Digital Deluxe” reward tier at $150. It’s a great deal for international backers in that it contains only digital and virtual rewards. No worries about international shipping or VAT charges.
Lori and I are currently working on our first Let’s Play video as we play the Hero-U combat demo. We will share that with you when it’s ready.
Talking About Other Kickstarter Games
Umbra (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1062682568/umbra) is a great looking hack-and-slash role playing game. When you’re tired of talking, and want to beat up some baddies, it might be just the ticket. With 9 days to go, they’ve passed their $225,000 goal and are working on numerous stretch goals, including custom equipment upgrades just for Kickstarter backers.
Regalia - Of Men and Monarchs (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1719693924/regalia-of-men-and-monarchs) mixes JRPG and Western RPG ideas. The Regalia team promises tactical battles and a rich story. This could be a beautiful and very fun game. The project has just launched on Kickstarter and is over 40% of the way to its $40,000 goal.
For the Love of Spock (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/adamnimoy/for-the-love-of-spock-a-documentary-film) is a documentary going into depth on the fictional life of Mr. Spock from Star Trek. The project is spearheaded by Leonard Nimoy’s son, Adam Nimoy. The original Star Trek show was a huge influence on Lori and me during our childhood, and of course Spock was the iconic character in that show. Zachary Quinto, who played Spock in the most recent film version of Star Trek, has agreed to narrate the film. I’m supporting the project.