mass effect 2

a review of Mass Effect 2
a videogame developed by bioware
and published by electronic arts
for Microsoft Windows, the microsoft xbox 360 and the sony playstation 3 computer entertainment system
text by Toph Stuart

2.5 stars

Bottom line: Mass Effect 2 is Star Trek: The Next Generation: Away Team: The Game of the Movie anymore -- it's an actual videogame.”

I could see what they were going for with Mass Effect. They didn’t really make it, but I could see what they were going for. They were shooting for a Star Trek: The Next Generation: Away Team: The Game of the Movie type deal, where it’s got one of those fiction-universes that nerds like to call “science fiction” as opposed to “science fantasy,” or “space opera” or whatever, at which point they’ll start talking about Star Wars. Totally different thing! In science fiction, it’s a bunch of aliens that look like humans in makeup, each representative of some aspect of human culture magnified, and it’s all about exploration of uncharted worlds, interstellar politics, and the management of a post-scarcity civilization.

Problem with that is, they left out too much of the science. All the technology is dubiously explained, if it’s ever explained at all, and the cultures too dirty and squabbling. They never get around to the real philosophical, clash of ideology stuff because everyone’s a cheat and a liar. Every single bunker on every single outer world is the same prefab made by some ranch house developer back in Ohio. The tantalizing, scattered remains of ancient civilizations are reduced to checkmarks in a questlog. Stuck somewhere between the glistening braininess of Star Trek, the dilapidated nobility of Star Wars, and the mechanical, near-future spacepunk of Aliens space marines, it loses all its cohesiveness and ends up feeling a lot like those terrible Star Wars prequels: talking heads yapping at each other about hecking space Congress in sterile, underwhelming boxrooms. There’s lots of interesting ideas in Mass Effect’s universe, but they’re almost completely expository. How do you know about biotics? Because Kaidan is one, and he tells you about them. How do you know about asari? Because Liara is one, and she tells you about them. Even TNG, the chattiest program ever to air on network television, managed to show more often than it told. Mass Effect’s best moments, worldbuildingwise, are when it finally manages to design missions around the obviously enormous amount of fiction undergirding the plot — rescuing a bureaucrat from mistreated biotic terrorists, for example. Then they ruin the whole clash of complex cultures idea by making the villains Robot Cthulus From Outer Space so the galaxy can put their differences behind them and band together to blah blah.

Still, spacefaring taps into something fresh and starry-eyed in each of us (just ask Carl Sagan). Moreso for me: everyone wants to be an astronaut when he’s a kid, but I wanted to be one literally until I was seventeen. I still have the Space Shuttle Operator’s Manual hanging around in my old bedroom in my parents’ house. Mass Effect’s cosmic stuff, when it works, is breathtaking: the shimmering Milky Way on your galaxy map; cruising around on a rocky, uncharted world in your rover, enormous red giant low and massive in the sky. That the game goes out of its way to provide geological and astronomical data for every (game-mechanically irrelevant) heavenly body you can fly to or through is pretty fantastic. Then they go and heck it up by making every single star system have strictly concentric planetary orbits on a single plane. You have to wonder where these guys’ priorities are.

The game you’re actually playing in this universe is Knights of the Old Republic except with third-person cover shooting. The shooting’s ok, nothing to write home about, a little stilted and samey but with some satisfying feedback. Trying to micromanage your teammates is an exercise in stutter-stopping futility and you end up hotkeying all your own abilities and letting your team run around like idiots so you don’t have to retreat into the pause menu every ten seconds. I don’t want to disparage it too much though, it’s certainly serviceable and the idea of putting an actual realtime action game in the middle of what is otherwise an RPG is a fantastic idea that I hope other developers pay the hell attention to (Bethesda).

In between being the most effective special forces infantry unit in galactic history, you talk to people. If you put points into your Nice Skill, you can pick Blue Words which make you nice. If you put points into your Mean Skill, you can pick Red Words which make you mean. They call this the “paragon/renegade” system, and Bioware tried to head off the eyerolling you’re doing right now just reading about it by making it slightly more nuanced than previous efforts. Yeah, ok, it’s still binary, and yeah, you’re still managing a score (boost chain the joke-boast for maximum paragon points!), but at least paragon isn’t equivalent to “Jesus the Christ” and renegade isn’t equivalent to “animal rapist.” Paragons are sometimes deceptive and forceful, especially to bad people, and renegades are more like “loose cannons” who play by their own rules and like to cut through crap and red tape than people who are Actually Evil.

It’s nice on paper but it only sort of plays out in practice. Paragon remains drearily saintly; renegade does get to be Han Soloish but there’s also an exasperating amount of truly arbitrary evil in there. One problem is that the game wants to shackle two separate psychological spectra to this one mechanical binary: one the one hand law-abiding and diplomatic (lawful good) vs. individualistic and brash (chaotic good), and on the other not racist vs. racist. Yeah, you read that right. For whatever reason, the game pits galactic cooperation against me-first xenophobia as though that were a legitimate moral choice, and then chains those ideologies to what is essentially a personality trait. If you want to play a brash and take-no-stuff non-racist, you’re going to have some schizophrenic paragon/renegade scores. This wouldn’t be a problem in a more intelligent RPG which localized the consequences of your decisions and didn’t attach them to some overarching, abstract moral spectrum (Fallout), but since you have to manage your morality points in order to unlock later paragon/renegade options, you’re forced to play along.

Playing renegade is obviously ten thousand times more fun, except all those times you have to be psychotic. It’s nice to be able to just punch people instead of dealing with their bullstuff, something no game has got right since Full Throttle. It’s a dilemma game designers haven’t yet resolved: managing the persuade-intimidate axis. No games writer is talented enough to write any dialogue that would actually be persuasive to anyone with any conviction dealing with life-or-death situations that implicate deeply-held principles. That goes double because the player character invariably stumbles upon and associates with people for a grand total of ten minutes before attempting to change their life situation and ethics, because the game is obligated to keep moving and expose the player to a wide variety of situations and characters. It just isn’t believable. On the other hand, you really do play the most lethal person in the entire galaxy, a role thrust on you by the game’s mechanics (shoot hecktons of people). It’s entirely believable that you would intimidate the living stuff out of everybody. That they will do what you demand, because forced, and then be sullen about it, instead of unconvincingly seeing the light, makes it all the more plausible. In fiction, verisimilitude is king, and the fact that game mechanics invariably make you a mass murderer means that only intimidating options have any ring of authenticity. Paragon comes off best when the persuasiveness appeals to the target’s self-interest rather than their inner moralist, but doing that exclusively and jettisoning all the boy scouting makes the paragon character look like a slimy asshole (who by virtue of his sliminess saves lives). I think that’s great and Bioware should commit to it, but they won’t, because they’re too terrified of their own customers.

 

Well, now there’s Mass Effect 2. Instead of trying to make a “free-roaming roleplaying experience,” Bioware made a videogame. Everywhere they sliced and cut was an improvement. No more picking up dozens of items good only for selling; now you just get money and buy discrete upgrades to your team’s abilities. Skills are much less granular and each character gets fewer of them, so that leveling makes more of an immediate difference and the characters are more differentiated. To compensate for that simplification, they’ve added a cute Vagrant Story-lite attribute system to the combat. Enemies are either synthetic or organic, and can have four different kinds of healthbars. On your end, you’ve got slow-firing vs. fast-firing weapons, six different ammo types to choose from, and a range of biotic abilities (magic). Each of those combinations of weapons/powers is good against a couple of enemy attributes/healthbars, so every battle is a little tactical puzzle where you’re figuring out the best combination of weapon, ammo and power to use against the particular enemies you’re fighting. The shooting itself is more crunchy and visceral. Actions have more physical effects — charging around the battlefield, slo-mo to pick up headshots, throwing enemies around with biotics – and feel less like number manipulation. Perhaps most boldly, the game is split into discrete missions that can’t be repeated, like Mario levels. It’s brisk.

Talking is also somewhat improved. Renegade is little less unremittingly evil (still racist though) and paragon can be craven and deceptive. They’ve also made it more obvious that in the big nasty universe being nice to everybody all the time can actually have negative consequences. Most of these you don’t feel in the game itself; instead you can transparently see them setting up the sequel (the Mass Effect series tracks your story decisions across all three games) every time you let some murderer go with a “I better not see you again.” Yeah, I bet he’ll be slaughtering children in the streets fourteen hours into Mass Effect 3, way to go Officer Friendly.

The vestigial free-roaming stuff is the game’s biggest weakness. Instead of cruising around on alien planets you now wave your mouse over them and try to find resources on a god damned line graph. Exploring will find you more missions (cool) but also cost you fuel in a halfassed echo of the first game’s hidden desire to be about space exploration and the associated logistical difficulties. A lot of the political machinations and attachments are dispensed with in favor of making the game almost completely about your crew, gaining their “loyalty” (this is actually a binary game mechanic: do a “loyalty mission,” crewmember x is now “loyal”), and then flying out to the big final mission where people can totally die if you weren’t nice enough to them. Basically, they’ve almost made it an action game. I can’t see how Mass Effect 3 wouldn’t be improved by going further down that path. Instead of “exploring” (hasn’t anyone other than the galaxy’s biggest badass tasked solely with its defense charted these little planets already?), just have a hub area where you pick the order of missions you want. Just do dialogue and action, forget all the empty space and let’s hecking go.

It’s not that there isn’t room to do the real Star Trek game that Bioware originally intended. Forget the galaxy-threatening uberenemies. Let the player decide whose agent he shall be, and engage in real, risky, dangerous exploration on their behalf; exploration whose thrill comes out of managing resource limitations (see Oregon Trail, Outpost: what do I pack?). Claim worlds, negotiate cultural differences. Keep the visceral third-person shooting for when things get rough. Actually, polish the first game’s driving segments and make that a real mechanic too, part and parcel of the danger and rewards of trailblazing. Privateer crossed with Star Control 2 and Gears of War. Yeah! Someone make that. But not you, Bioware. You stick with the simple stuff, and we’ll see if we can’t get a decent cover shooter out of you yet.

–Toph Stuart

Comments

28 Responses to mass effect 2

  1. This review was an excellent dose of reality-check. Truth be told, I would MUCH PREFER a perfect idealization of the first Mass Effect, but Mass Effect 2 is still better. I’d LIKE Bioware to improve the bullstuff parts until they’re effectively The Point, but you make a really solid case for why they’re simply not up to the task.

  2. With the paragon aspect of the game, can you convince people to do the killing so that you don’t have to? Turn the thing into an adventure game where the goal is to be as insidious as possible. I suck at shooters.

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  4. i encourage all readers to click the abdn signature for this review

  5. The only reason I liked the first one was the Away Team Game stuff.

    But then, that was pre-Traveller.

  6. Cuba you know I love you but my brain skipped when it hit “spacepunk” and now I have to take a break before I read the rest.

    LATER!!!!! :

    I was never interested ME 1, and got about 3 hours into 2 before setting it down, probably forever. This is a great articulation of why I just couldn’t be bothered, that also it credit for the strengths that just were not enough, or promising enough, for me.

    You make it sounds like, maybe, within a half-dozen games, BioWare will have refined their trademark systems into something that doesn’t make me want to saw off my own hands.

  7. Man, I totally didn’t even remember there was another ME2 review on here. Oh well.

  8. “With the paragon aspect of the game, can you convince people to do the killing so that you don’t have to?”

    No. In the moral universe of the game, that would be a more renegade thing to do anyway.

    It’s hilarious, I was playing the DLC after writing this review quasi-rekindled my interest in the game, and in one of them there are paragon actions where you punch people (in righteous fury). That’s when I really started seeing pink. Clearly everyone, including me, said “renegade is more awesome because you punch people,” and Bioware’s response was “oh stuff, better let paragons punch people too.” Maybe there’s less hope for ME3 than I thought.

  9. @cubalibre: Instead of making it a sliding scale between two ends of a dichotomy, in the next one they ought to make your actions affect NPCs on a per-case basis. Maybe you normally play as nice guy, then you be a real horrible jackass once. That carries more weight than all of your good deeds put together because it goes against everything the NPCs have come to expect of you. They feel betrayed, they can’t trust you. Some of them’ll get over it fairly quickly, others can’t let go of grudges…it’ll take the rest of the game to build back their respect. I dunno, something like that would be interesting.

  10. Or maybe we should give the hell up on dynamic narratives because they disgustingly parody real morality, scorn the language of videogames and cinema, and even within their own realm have consistently done nothing but degenerate since 1983’s Ultima IV.

    Hey just thinking out loud here.

  11. @Inverse Square: I suppose I was thinking about it within its own terms, but overall I tend to agree with you.

  12. @ Inverse Square.

    You’ve perfectly encapsulated into words why I don’t like ME2 style choice narratives. Give me my ultra linear MGS, FF or Uncharted and I’ll be happy.

    I hate cliches, but “spreading too thin” is succinctly apt here.

    For all of last year read and listened to people circle jerking about ME2. But when push came to shove and I played it on my PS3 I was left faceplanted.

  13. Gotta say that while I do basically believe what I just said, reading it back it comes across slightly aggressive. I’ll just say that morality systems have potential, but clicking on words is not a legitimate source of entertainment.

  14. I wouldn’t be so hasty. Clicking on words can be a great source of entertainment. Insert Planescape reference here.

    Fallout already had this perfectly, as I pointed out in the article. In that game your “morality” (called karma) was tracked on a scale but meant nothing to anybody except in a very very few cases where savants, animals or other naive people could “sense” your “real character.” Which is pretty cool. Otherwise, the game had a reputation system where your actions would cause interested people to like or dislike you accordingly, but which did not affect your reputation among disinterested people and – most importantly – did not affect your ability to make any available choice later on.

    The real problem with paragon/renegade isn’t the duality of the choices (which is, after all, just a species of linearity, which is what we’re all pushing for) but rather that you must act paragon now in order to act paragon later. This removes even the illusion of choice; you may as well pick “paragon” or “renegade” as a character trait in the beginning and let the game choose responses for you. (This isn’t exactly true – the game is forgiving enough with points that you can dip a bit into the other path without foreclosing your main later on – but true enough to make the point.) Later “neutral” responses exist solely to allow you to progress if you’ve screwed yourself by too much paragon/renegade balancing. I shouldn’t have to game the dialogue system like this if I want to punch a guy today and save a guy tomorrow.

  15. The level on which you are evaluating these games is appealing to me, but I think everyone who enjoys dialogue systems needs to take a step back and ask themselves what they’re witnessing.

    For most of the time, what are you doing with these things? Scrolling down lists, clicking the words you imagine you’d say, hearing/reading the result. What is it we find entertaining about this?

    Well, the writing/voice acting might be good, but that cannot be the core of it, because you can get writing/voice acting that is pretty much inherently better by watching a film.

    Maybe it’s the intellectual enrichment that comes from moral choices. This is cool, but not all dialogue choices present it.

    Maybe it’s the power fantasy. You can be talking about dull things, but hey, you get to pretend that you are commander Shepard. You get to pretend that clicking “We all have needs, Miranda…” in a menu means that it’s you who is doing the knobbing. If this is the core of the appeal of dialogue systems, I hope we can agree that they’re not in a good place.

    I’m a bit more idealistic than to suggest that it’s all down to that idea of the privilege of involvement. I believe that clicking on lists of words is fun because there is a momentary challenge in it. This is what I see in myself when I try the games out. There’s the list, there’s the thing I want to say, there’s a slight rewording of the thing I want to say, there’s a thing that I might want to say first, etc. This asks of me the bare minimum of thought for me to acknowledge that yes, this is a game.

    The absolute bare minimum of involvement is adventure game dialogue trees. Putting in a slider bar between the flavors of words that you click may just be one small step up from the absolute bare minimum of involvement.

    I’m not interested in pretending to be commander Shepard. I know many, many better sources of acting and writing. And I don’t want the bare minimum of involvement; I want something made by a person who puts my involvement first. I want my involvement to be interesting, deep, quickly responded to (so that this depth is accessible), and (almost) unceasing.

    Morality systems can be extremely interesting! I might go as far as to say that they are the ultimate goal of my thinking about video games. But in order to have any beauty to them, in order to fulfill their potential, I believe they need to emerge from an ethic of involvement, and here they are emerging from something very ugly.

    Dialogue systems are never interesting enough to function independently of some stupid RPG or third person shooter. There can be no better piece of evidence than this to the effect that a thing is not in tune with the language of video games. I love the general aesthetics of Lucasarts and Black Isle games, but I don’t see there being a future for them.

  16. I agree that, though improved, there are still problems with the Paragon/Renegade system. I think the simplest solution would to be to drop the moral element altogether (accepting that someone like Shepard would have to be deceptive and violent a lot anyway) and focus on subtlety vs brute force behavior. It would be more about problem solving approach and interpersonal dynamics than what a great person you are. In my opinion at least, this would seem to align it better with making higher level skills available based on past behavior.

    Inverse Square, I’m interested in hearing more of your (and anyone else’s) thoughts about dialogue systems. I have been playing around with a prototype for a game that is heavy on interaction with NPCs and I have been trying to envision it more like a card game or Dragon Quest battle than a dialogue tree. While I basically agree that there is something clunky about dialogue systems, The Lucas games made them enjoyable through great writing alone and Fallout and Planescape:Torment are pretty well loved because they got a lot of things right with their systems. But you’re probably right that most of the time, they are not “fun” enough to carry a game as the core mechanic. The Mass Effect games rely as much on the shooter aspect and the first one also focused a lot more exploration. While the dialogue system is one of the most novel things about both, and still probably qualifies as their core mechanic, no one would probably play either if the action had been any less satisfying — look at the terrible reception Alpha Protocol got because the guns were basically considered broken.

  17. Well you should probably read up by the various valiant attempts to make computers talk.

    Storytron is made by an cool guy called Chris Crawford, who, right from the late seventies, wanted to make emotionally revelatory games. http://www.storytron.com/

    Glass Rose is interesting http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKxX-FW9KRo

    You may want to email Santiago Siri: http://weplaylife.com/ He spent a while on a dynamic dialogue system called “Utopia” that tried to allow for analogue input (as in, you didn’t have to be either forceful or subtle; you were presented with a 2D graph and you clicked on the exact co-ordinate of emotion you wanted to express). He didn’t release the game though. Try and find out why.

    For my part, I spent a year working on a game that tried to combine platforming with competitive debate. Like Santiago, I didn’t release it – in my case because I didn’t want to inflict it on anyone.

    In my game, you were in a debate. You had to think of arguments. When you thought of an argument, you would hold shift and type in a 1-3 word summary. The game had about 8 arguments it would recognize, all of which had many, many different wordings so that they could be recognized properly. If you managed to think of an argument, a soundbite would play for a couple of minutes – it would have dialogue in it that would be interesting to listen to, and you’d earn points. During this time you would be platforming, and you would also have to think of another argument – if the soundbite finished and you hadn’t thought of anything new to say, you would start to lose points.

    It sounded good in theory. In practise, my heart was in the wrong place. The soundbites constituted a contrived-feeling way of communicating with the player, and the system constituted a shallow-feeling way for the player to examine the themes of the game. Which is to say: the gameplay sabotaged it as a discussion, and the discussion sabotaged it as a game, as usual.

    Mass Effect’s dialogue system is, I guess, appropriate to its form. It’s sort of like an extension of the part at the beginning where you try to create a face. The whole game is about having agency over this fantastical thing. When it creates “paragon” and “renegade”, similar to how other games make good and evil, it isn’t trying to examine our conceptions of good and evil. It’s just trying to create something for you to latch onto and think of as being a choice, even if it does end up examining conceptions of good and evil along the way.

  18. I think that a few things in particular are slowing things down in terms of games that offer full story-worlds.

    1- It’s all about superhero morality. Real morality is confusing and there’s never any clear indication you’ve done the right thing. The climax to the revenge subplot in GTA4 is a perfect example of a more mature understanding of morality. It doesn’t even offer any practical consequences. The only consequence is that you have to live with your decision.

    2- There’s too much emphasis on verbal storytelling, even in video games where the majority of your interactions are physical. This reduces the core of the game, action scenes and whatever, to means to an end rather than the stage where the story really takes place and is changed.

    3- The understanding seems to be that the game itself needs to “register” the story in order for it to be meaningful. The greatest moments in any competitive game weren’t orchestrated by the inventors of Chess and Baseball. The goal should be to try and offer AI as complex as another player could be and then for the developers to give up the title of “storyteller”, since it’s not their responsibility to list the decisions we should be allowed to make.

    And then, the player who’s grown up on spoon-fed storytelling needs to recognize that just because it didn’t climax in a cut-scene doesn’t make their experience in the game any less significant.

  19. Inverse: Bioware dialogue systems are clearly another method of individuation and control, a method of immersion. The idea that they’re based on “morality” is risible because the idea that they might actually examine the concept of morality is preposterous. The idea that I just want to access the writing itself is belied by the fact that much superior writing can be found elsewhere. (Though, actually, it’s probably better-written than the things it aspires to be, i.e. Star Trek and Babylon 5.) No, the point is for me to be able to feel like I get to control what Shepard does and who Shepard is. I can be mean Shepard or nice Shepard. (They can’t even spell Shepherd right.) That’s not the most compelling thing in videogames, but like, it’s pretty fun. Obviously I had some decent fun with it. You’re correct that it only works because there is a competent third-person shooter attached, but I don’t see that as damning, any more than it’s damning that I wouldn’t want to play Mount & Blade’s 4x-lite overworld segments without the actual combat in between. (Well, actually, maybe I would, if it were more complex – but it doesn’t need to be more complex, because it supports the deep combat engine.) The real fun comes in making up stories to reconcile the Shepard you choose to present in the dialogue scenes with The Most Lethal Person in the Galaxy, which is what the shooter mechanics force you to be, no matter your dialogue choices. I guess a better game wouldn’t allow you to create that dissonance (Red Dead Redemption ****), or at least fully own it (Fallout ****).

    Gilbert: re: 3: seems to me there’s room in the world, and my life, for both types of games. I have no ideological commitment to What A Game Should Be (I realize this is a break from ABDN’s ostensible mission statement), and there’s no reason why in a particular mood I mightn’t prefer a game that spoonfeeds me story in between my bouts of agency to one that generates “narratives” later in the telling out of interacting with a complex system, just as there’s no reason I mightn’t, on a more general level, prefer watching a movie to playing a game.

    Hilarity: Dragon Age 2 demo (which reveals DA2 an action-buffed, pared-down version of DA1 in much the same way that ME2 is to ME1) features an ME-style dialogue system, except this time the “neutral” responses are replaced by “innocently snarky” responses, represented by a little comedy mask icon (“paragon” is an olive branch and “renegade” is a closed fist). No idea if this new third way has a NameTM(c) like paragon or renegade, nor if the game tracks your Dialogue Points to lock choices later (though it doesn’t seem to). It’s simultaneously such a step in the right direction and a step in the wrong direction that, coupled with absolutely horrific writing (leagues worse than either ME), convinces me that Bioware is fumbling around completely in the dark with no idea of what makes anything they make good or bad, hitting upon success completely by accident. From my experience, describes most developers.

  20. Woah! Nice new layout you got there. And the archive works now! Awesome.

  21. My God… it’s full of stars!

    Also, I secretly hope that this is a brilliant response to the horrible Gawker redesign.

  22. Inverse, thanks for the links.

    Glass Rose seems sort of interesting, but I doubt I’ll get a chance to play it on my US PS2. I’ve looked around for descriptions of the systems used in the game, but found mostly negative reviews with little detail.

    I’ve read a couple of things by Crawford and checked out the Storytron stuff in the past. I got pretty deep into text parsing in the past — studying ELIZA and SHRDLU and some of the more advanced text adventures, but I’m trying to stick to a gamepad now and do something that’s a cross between a card battle game and Phoenix Wright.

    All links and references to Utopia I could find were either broken or now hidden behind logins. The game looks interesting though. I did find a small Flickr set of screenshots and while it looks like something I’d like to try, it seems to be even more of an abstraction than what I’m going for.

    The trick is finding the right level of abstraction without it being obvious that all you’re doing is playing with a load of stats. What I’ve mostly settled on, instead of syntax and keywords, is the ability to prompt reactions from NPCs not only by showing them inventory items, but using a “memory inventory” to collect subjects from discussions that you can bring up in other conversations. Then instead of simply approaching this as a question & answer exchange, trying to turn it into a battle system using spell & attack-like skills where you try to whittle down the NPC’s resistance to giving you info, access to parts of a level, etc. The main thing I want to incorporate is the gambling-like risk & reward balance you get form an RPG battle system. There will still be EXP in some form & boss battles, but instead of being rewarded with loot, you’re playing for important information and game progress.

    Cuba: I doubt I’ll be playing Dragon Age 2. I tried the demo and hated just about everything about it.

  23. Good luck I guess, but don’t expect your efforts to be well received by me. What you describe does sound like a take on talking computers that is informed by the things that we find to be fun. But don’t forget that all of the dialogue that actually emerges from this system is going to be judged as dialogue. People will (reasonably) expect sincere emotions and beautiful prose, before they yield any empathy, before they will find themselves to be deeply moved – and deeply moving people ought to be your goal. The question is whether you can provide this in the context of a genuinely interesting, genuinely interactive system.

    Grim Fandango provided beautiful dialogue in the context of a dull, barely interactive system

    Planescape Torment provided beautiful dialogue in the context of a curious, slightly interactive system

    Ultima IV provided simplistic dialogue in the context of a fascinating, quite interactive system.

    Gravitation provided no dialogue, in the context of a sublime, completely interactive system.

    All these games provided sincere emotions. I sternly say that people who continue trying to use dialogue as a means of expression in the context of a game are kidding themselves. To begin setting up choices that go beyond “the line of dialogue will not be delivered until you click on it” means forgetting about expressive verbal articulation, because that articulation will require a period of noninteractivity and an environment of spectation (as opposed to engagement).

  24. Sublime is the last word I’d use to describe any facet of Gravitation.

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