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Update #5: Negotiation

Discussion in 'Titan Outpost' started by MF, Feb 9, 2018.

  1. MF The Boar Studio Developer

    MF
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    Hi there! It's been a while, but I promised a gameplay video for this update and I wanted to deliver so I had to get rid of some placeholder art to make it presentable. Took longer than I expected, but here it is. Keep in mind this is not the most exciting part of the game, it's basically part of the initial 'tutorial' quest before you even hook up the first pump.



    Negotiation works as follows:

    The reason most RPG’s have similar tree-based dialogue is underlying data systems. What I mean is, whether it’s Torment’s dialogue or Fallout 4’s retard wheel, it’s basically the same thing with a different level of writing quality: A state machine of responses that you click through until they’re resolved. They can vary in complexity and depth, they can vary in amounts of skill checks involved and they can vary in quality, but they’re always tree-based state machines. The don’t vary in structure.

    Someone compared this game to No Truce With the Furies. I checked it out and read a few development blog posts. What they’re doing with dialogue seems really interesting but deep down it’s still a (really cool) dialogue tree abstraction.

    What I’m doing is new. I thought about how human beings have conversations and how you decide what to say in a P&P game. Usually, you have something you want out of a conversation, a goal. You also have a few things to say to get there, but what and how you say them depends on the other person’s actions and cues. So I ditched the tree structure in favour of a parallel interrupt system for negotiations.

    You can interject with leverage, you can change the goal of your conversation, you can select pushy responses or backpedal and you can influence the dialogue in other ways. You can finally cover the flanks in a battle of words instead of always taking it head on with a couple of options. There is a lot more player agency involved. This is much harder to program, which is why I think most developers don’t bother. Getting every writer to a programming level where they could set up a conversation like this is not viable for most studios.

    The downside? It’s a lot of work. So a lot of dialogue in the game is still a traditional tree system. For flavour, exposition and story progression, the tree system works fine. Whenever negotiation or trade is involved, though, I switch to the interrupt system. Let me walk you through it. At the 3:50 mark in the video, the negotiation begins.

    In the negotiation screen, in the top left you can set your goals. This negotiation only has one goal, to convince Karen to do your work for you without mentioning it in her report. This goal is not binary, there are multiple levels of success or failure. If you are convincing enough, your goal will be met. If you barely convince her, she will do as you ask, but mention it in her report, hurting your reputation. If you fail to convince her, she will refuse. There is another, more complicated outcome but that is beyond the scope of this update.

    After setting a goal, the negotiation difficulty is set. This determines how your negotiation skill stacks up against the potential danger or reward of each line you utter. To the right you can see the character portrait. Below the portrait is the disposition tracker. This player character has average awareness, so it can roughly estimate how the other person feels. With higher awareness, you can see the actually numbers involved here. A higher disposition will make it easier to convince this person. You can increase or hurt disposition throughout the game, by being nice or helping someone. High charisma helps here. Below the disposition is the stat box. Here you can see the relevant stats, in this case your negotiation skill and the other person's skill, which you can't see because you need really high awareness for that. Below that is the 'sway' indicator. This determines how convincing you've been so far. If it's green, you're usually fine.

    In the middle are lines you can use to convince the other person. They have a risk value and a reward value. Risk determines how much of a disposition hit the character will take towards this person if the line fails, reward determines how much the person is swayed by this argument. Failure or success is determined by the negotiation stat and current state of the negotiation in progress.

    To the left is the 'charm' button, which you can use once per negotiation if your charisma is high enough. If it's not high enough or the disposition is simply too low, though, this charm line will backfire. This character has Charisma 10 and high negotiation skill so it's a breeze.

    Below that is the leverage area. Right now, the player has no leverage in this conversation, but leverage is a trump card you can use to increase sway without risk. You can gain leverage by finding some dirt on the character, for example.

    That's it for this update. I wanted to narrate the video, but my microphones are all packed up for studio work this weekend. I'll be abroad next week and didn't want to delay this update any further.

    I hope you like it. If there's anything in the video you want to know more about, feel free to ask.

    PS That glitch at the tower is because I was using bloaty capture software to record the video and my PC couldn't handle the strain.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2018
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  2. Vault Dweller Commissar, Red Star Studio Developer

    Vault Dweller
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    The dialogue system looks great; what a fantastic new direction to explore. It's much more complex (yet easy to understand) than what I imagined when I started reading. I'd only suggest to add more charm-like abilities with different pros and cons. Essentially, in any negotiation you have 4 different directions: charm (relying on them liking you, tied to your Charisma), manipulation (playing on their fears, greed, ambitions, etc; requires perception to figure out what these fears and ambitions are), persuasion (relying on strength of your arguments; intelligence-driven), and subtlety (leading them gently to the decision you want them to make, seemingly without any input from you by asking the right questions; let's say wisdom or a mix of charisma and perception). Usually you use 2-3, sometimes all 4.
     
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  3. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
    MF Does your indie studio have a title?
     
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  4. TZ3K Arcane

    TZ3K
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    Intriguing.
     
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  5. MF The Boar Studio Developer

    MF
    Joined:
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    Thanks, man. Means a lot!

    I like the breakdown in four directions. Reading it, I immediately thought of an 'insight' ability that directly unveils new fear/ambition related leverage based on awareness. Stuff like that is already in, but leverage is gained elsewhere. Hacking is a useful skill in that regard, for example. But adding more abilities in the negotiation phase itself is not a bad idea. I'll experiment with it.

    The Boar Studio. My surname is De Boer and most English speakers butcher the pronunciation to be homophonic with 'Boar'. Spur of the moment thing, I had to separate it from my music endeavours business-wise to be able to write the music for my own game and that's what I came up with. Boars are an RPG staple, so there's that. :)
     
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  6. agentorange Arcane Patron

    agentorange
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    Really fascinating read. It's always bothered me as well that no matter how much dressing up a dialogue system gets, it can always be stripped down to a basically binary (maybe ternary) path. In most video game dialogues one rarely if ever gets the sense of having convinced the other party, but rather that a new page of dialogue has been uncovered, if that makes sense--it is very far from the way that a conversation can organically grow and shift in a PNP RPG. Deus Ex: Human Revolution experimented with a sort of dialogue "battle" system, but at the end of the day it too was just a bit of flair added on top of a traditional dialogue core. AoD overcame this in part through sheer volume of possible outcomes and story variance, as well as the number of skills that could affect a dialogue, but the individual dialogues themselves were still quite traditional in the way they branched.

    Do you plan to hire an artist to do some portraits for the characters? The detailed portraits in AoD really helped to lend the game some much needed visual character as the graphics were quite basic. Especially since the game is going for a relatively small cast of complex characters, I think it would help to make them all feel as distinct as possible.

    Edit: Impressive that you are also doing the music. Some really nice ambient tracks in the video, reminiscent, again, of Fallout and AoD.
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2018
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  7. MF The Boar Studio Developer

    MF
    Joined:
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    Location:
    Amsterdam
    Thanks. The back-and-forth nature of PNP interaction is what I'm trying to capture, and I think ditching the tree structure is going to get me close.

    I tried hiring an artist for the portraits, but he produced even worse stuff than what I could do myself. Wasn't cheap either, so bad luck I guess. I love AOD's portraits but they wouldn't fit this game's aesthetic. Maybe I'll hire another artist, but I kinda like doing them myself. I like to think I got better at making the portraits. I attached one to this post, let me know what you think. Maybe it's good enough, maybe it's not. Karl's portrait in the video is not making it in, that was the first one I did and it sucks.

    I've definitely improved in the 3D modelling department, though, so the character models have gotten to the point that zooming in the camera on the model might be the better option. But I really like portraits so that would be a last resort.

    PS I wrote a tool where you can sculpt your character like you can do in Bethesda games Mount & Blade. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be and it's already saved me a lot of time. It was for my own development use in making character prototypes at first, but it's good enough for the player to use at chargen now. [​IMG]
     

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  8. Urthor Learned Patron

    Urthor
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    Probably should jettison portraits if all your 3D faces are as good as the one in that screenshot, that's impressive work to say the least.
     
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