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A short rant about dialogue and roleplaying in Skyrim


LibertyPrime

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My first TES game was Skyrim, although I am by no means your average casual gamer. I am a PC gamer since I was 6, and have played many classics throughout my entire life. The Myth series, Quake, the original Tribes, CS 1.0, Starcraft, Fallout, and the list goes on and on.

 

When I first played Skyrim, I was amazed, almost numbed by the seemingly infinite possibilities. I was never actually a fan of RPGs of any sort - western or eastern - so I thought I would dive into the genre, starting by Skyrim. Obviously, as we all know Skyrim isn't exactly the epitome of a deep and complex RPG (or even a game, anyway). Still, as much as I hate to say this, it holds a special place in my heart.

 

I then proceeded to play Oblivion. I thought to myself, "it was probably for the best; after all, after all these years, I'm sure the best mods and their final releases must have been released already, so I have more choices and don't have to worry about updating stuff every once in a while so often". After many times reinstalling the game from scratch, I managed to get a neat a very stable installation going, with LwPK and all (which would not have been possible without the help of the excellent modders over at the LwPK section).

 

I was frankly amazed by the game; it felt more vivid, somewhat more realistic, and the world itself seemed to interact more with the player. And the dialogue, OH the dialogue...

 

- Heard any good news lately?

- I saw some mudcrabs by the river recently. Annoying creatures.

 

- Bye.

 

- Goodbye.

 

- Farewell.

 

- See you.

 

- Bye. (rinse and repeat)

 

As annoying and INCREDIBLY REPETITIVE as the dialogues got eventually (I don't think Bethesda realized players would play the game for more than a couple of hours, anyway), I always liked hearing someone talking near me.

 

I started comparing the dialogue in Skyrim and Oblivion and realized something that might be obvious to some, but was not to me at first glance (or hearing); Bethesda went with a more 'specific' approach in Skyrim. People would play dialogue lines exclusive to them, and only once in a while. It seems brilliant, right? That way, we don't have to hear about the affairs with mudcrabs of random people in Skyrim over and over.

 

Unfortunately, that system quickly fails to deliver. As everyone who plays Skyrim for more than a couple dozen hours must know, that dialogue system actually turns out to be WORSE than the one in Oblivion. Because there are little to no generic dialogue lines anymore, you'll hear someone saying the EXACT same thing over and over, whenever you approach them. An example is the Winking Skeever; I've lost count of how many times I've listened to the owner arguing to his son about who would be the new owner once he passes out. It gets incredibly superficial and obviously repetitive/unrealistic, unless you're roleplaying about someone who is stuck in a time paradox or something of that sort. :s

 

I'd love of Bethesda took the best of Oblivion and Skyrim when it comes to dialogue and put it into the next TES. I know voice acting is expensive, but considering how much Skyrim sold, I don't think Bethesda has money issues...

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I think the game developers wanted to add so much more to the game but Bethesda (and every other 3rd party company for that matter) are just greedy and thinking about how much they need to have in the game to make the most money. Nearly all games nowadays are suffering from this.

It's not about making the best game possible anymore, it's about making the most money from it :(

 

I saw a video with the guy who made baldur's gate a while back where he explains how everytime he goes to try and make a new game and get financial support from a 3rd party they always want to turn it into a first person shooter etc... multi million industri game and they (are mostly much younger people with very little interest in playing games) will have their will otherwise they won't get any support.

 

Crowd founding is the way to go from now on If we want unique and awesome computer games with a soul.

 

Thank god we have the loverslab people to mod our game :)

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The main problem with dialogue is having too much of it. I know that sounds weird but the huge amount of space the dialogue files would take up not to mention the price of voice acting would be too much. This bugged me a lot with skyrim how everyone sounded like: robert picardo aka the doctor from star trek voyager, batoh from ghost in the shell, whatshername from babylon 5, and so on. Then the big screw up with esbern's voice where some parts of it were the actual voice actor and some parts were an impersonator that wasn't even close to the original voice artist. I am just really glad they didn't hire stallone or arnold to do any voices in skyrim then over use them like the others lol.

 

There are a LOT of voiceover artists that need work, lots of them you may have heard in american dubbed anime and over used too and others from other things. I heard the voice of batoh from ghost in the shell recently in call of duty advanced warfare he was that scientist guy that fixes the player's arm in the beginning. I don't think any game other than skyrim has so many different npc in it, so trying to voice them all is tough like I said. Nobody wants to download 50gb of audio data remember titanfall?

 

Every time a game like skyrim comes out it will be up to the modders to supply unique voices for the npcs and we won't get those great voice actor voices we will get squeaky nerds and people that sound like peter griffith and so on. The next elderscrolls game that comes out and also the next fallout game that comes out, how many different voices will they have? the last few splinter cell games had the same voices for the bad guys. It would be nice to get all unique voices but I doubt they will do it ever.

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I don't think the problem is with the dialogue itself, but rather how they tried to make every dialogue a "scene". The problem is, said scene is often not a once-in-a-playthrough one which makes them annoying after a while. But it's not always the case.

 

Take Whiterun for example : That old woman looking for her son that was kidnapped by the Thalmor. You see her scene, talk to her about it, then you start a quest and it's over (not sure if it's repeatable if you don't talk to her, but that could be to account for the player maybe skipping it). You get to start to quest before it even "started" because of the scene itself, which is awesome.

 

But then you get that seen from the winking skeever that, like you said, keeps repeating itself. All they could have done is add a dialogue option, to either the innkeepr or the son, to talk about said new owner and why it's so hard to decide or if the kid even wants to do it. Once that's done then stop the scene from happening, Don't even need to make a quest over it (though that could be nice).

 

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Admittedly i've not played morrowwind or oblivion as neither really appealed to me but i did play all the fallout series from 1 to new vega's and the dialogue issue is in all of them just like it is in skyrim and my first impression of skyrim was that it was fallout 3 with a fantasy skin

 

Beth just don't do character development/dialogue well for some reason (Bioware use to with dragon age origins etc but then fucked it up with dragon age 2) but we get open worldness in exchange which bioware never seemed to manage (mass effect 2 for instance the huge citadel we have access to what 4 floors of and dialogue with 20ish npc's)

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NPC's that develop over time have to be tracked in some way or another, depending on the complexity of their story it can be as simple as a variable to allow certain dialogue or their own quest to track and control everything. Also, each story advance would need an event to trigger the change, there are a number of stories that are ready to go in the game they just are not used (the amount of things in the game not used as pretty large). An example is the relationship between Jon Battle-Born and Olfina Grey-Mane, the civil war keeps them apart since their families are on opposite sides but once the war is over their relationship could advance or there could be changes in them if one of  them is killed in the battle for Whiterun. As it is I think they were falling behind on development and decided to concentrate on the 'essential' things and left any npc development that was not quest related out.

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It's too easy to think that command-line RPGs like Zork (I played this once on an XT) have it better because they relied on your imagination and that the developers devoted much effort to provide detail in the dialogue to push the game forward, and that some FPS shooters like Half-Life 2 are effective in that you get to be more personal with the NPCs (but you're very much in a linear storyline).

 

But in games like Skyrim, you have to put up with the game's limitations (and things like the Unofficial Patch and Cutting Floor try to salvage what was left unused) in dialogue, and that the Beth devs have hundreds if not thousands of NPCs to provide different types of dialogue and voiceovers, not all of which are detailed and close to "real" dialogue (unless we have the familiar Vilja, whom she holds more unique dialogue than you can shake, or Serana).

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to probably misquote - "I'd be more aggressive and surly with a belly full of mead" - Skjel the Gray. (I.e. it's all about the mods). Oblivion is good, Fallout:NV - better, Skyrim - as good as it gets at this point in time. (But that's modded, not vanilla). Nice there is flexibility built in and they let you use it. 

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i felt HOW DUMB skyrim was in terms of dialogue and facial expressions

 

 

if you remove the lipsync its the same shit, all characters doesn't have a Single and fucking expression, sadness or nothing

 

and when you see it on CK, its just DULL and Horrible, life if they never did it

 

 

NV and fallout 3 had the same recording from oblivion and the expressions were FAR MILLION TIMES better than skyrim

 

YOU CAN SEE THE FEAR IN HER FUCKING FACE, SHE'S SCARED.

 

kMpHtSq.jpg

 

 

In skyrim they simply removed that to test the new fucking tool that they made instead of using 3rd party, which failed HARD, and they dumbed the game so the peasantry can play without blaming the game like what they did to NV, Fallout 3 and oblivion

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From what I have seen in the CK there were a number of changes in the engine between FONV and Skyrim and many were not for the better. Quite a few things that could be done easily in FONV and earlier games have to be done by script or can't be done at all. There are settings in the dialogue still for emotion and are used in a number of places but I don't think they finished that part of the game.

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animations have always been a weak point in bethesda games unfortunately. I REALLY hope that fallout 4 improves upon these problems, they should take notes from the far cry series, regardless of how you may feel about that franchise, they did an amazing job with character animations and personalities.

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i felt HOW DUMB skyrim was in terms of dialogue and facial expressions

 

 

if you remove the lipsync its the same shit, all characters doesn't have a Single and fucking expression, sadness or nothing

 

and when you see it on CK, its just DULL and Horrible, life if they never did it

 

 

NV and fallout 3 had the same recording from oblivion and the expressions were FAR MILLION TIMES better than skyrim

 

YOU CAN SEE THE FEAR IN HER FUCKING FACE, SHE'S SCARED.

 

kMpHtSq.jpg

 

 

In skyrim they simply removed that to test the new fucking tool that they made instead of using 3rd party, which failed HARD, and they dumbed the game so the peasantry can play without blaming the game like what they did to NV, Fallout 3 and oblivion

 

I'm sorry, but to me she seems to have taken too much Jet, not afraid. But anyway.

 

Skyrims does in fact have emotions, however, they are much more subtle, as well as the fact that you do not zoom in on their face (there's a mod for that though) makes it harder to see them. And let's face it : the fact that Oblivion, Fallout 3 & NV have more expressive emotions is partly because the face are simpler. It's easier to animate a stick figure than a fully drawn one. If they went crazy with emotions it might have looked stupid on some chars.

 

In fact, take the Dragon Age series. Some NPCs are fine with emotions but the other 50% of the time it looks completely retarded or exaggerated (especially the player, even Inquisition suffers from that).

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It's a design conundrum..

 

 

You could go oldschool and have no voiceacting, text only. This has many advantages, though most of them come down to price. It's obviously cheaper to not hire voice-actors, but more importantly, when your developers designing quests don't constantly have to stop and wonder "Can i write this? Do we have room for this in our VO budget?", you'll see massive gains in the quality and quantity of writing going into the game.

But it also comes at a high cost, you'll have a dead-silent world where NPC's move around and do NPC stuff like visiting market stalls, but nothing is ever said, no emotions are ever expressed, just silent husks moving about, and you can't design quests wherein players learn of things by overhearing dialogue, and it becomes hard to bring across tone and meaning to things (example: having a Nord attack your Elven char whilst screaming "Skyrim for the Nords!" adds flavour to that encounter).

 

 

You could try full-blown voice acting, which has the obvious advantage that people speak, you can hear and understand them, and if you want to bring something across, you just have the NPC say it. But the downside is again cost, even a big company like Bethesda will only record so much dialogue or hire so many voice actors because it's super expensive and time-consuming. There will be limits, and those limits will even impact quest variety and the like, because going outside the box means recording all new audio to do so. And of course, nomatter how much incidental dialogue you try to record, it will always repeat, you'll always have that moment where the player stops up at the Whiterun market, hears Ysolda ask Carlotta about her green apples for a 50'th time, and get annoyed by it.

 

 

So i don't know, maybe a better solution for a big open-world RPG is to use Simlish? For those not aware, "Simlish", named after the "Sims" games, is when the NPC's speak in a voiced but incomprihensible and made-up gibberish language (and then of course using Text when the player needs to understand what's said).

Using Simlish would allow your NPC's to interact verbally with other NPC's when going to the market for instance, create a sound-scape and make the world seem lived in, and Simlish can convey emotions just fine just via tone and inflections. You would not have to record unique lines for every quest as you can string togeather Simlish recordings and make something that sounds appropriate. And since none of us will understand a word of it, we're not going to be bothered by repeated incidental chatter, it's all gibberish anyway.

The downside is that you still can't design quests where the player learns via overhearing dialogue, they speak, but we don'tr understand it, so that's out. And also, you can't have explicity stated motivations from random NPC's (such as that "Skyrim for the Nords!" example i listed above), although you can do better with Simlish than having no voice, atleast you can bring across an emotion via the tone and inflection.

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I can just imagine a toll bandit trying to intimidate my char by spouting complete gibbrish and waving his arms about. I think I'll stick to the repeatable scenes over Simlish :P

 

But yeah, it's a budget thing mostly. Bethesda's stuck between a rock and a hard place, both options will annoy people.

 

And honestly, repeatable scenes are not that bad. Sure, we hear them up to 50 times a day. But at least we hear something. At least we know the NPCs have something other to do than walk around and desperately wait for us to talk to them.

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I can just imagine a toll bandit trying to intimidate my char by spouting complete gibbrish and waving his arms about. I think I'll stick to the repeatable scenes over Simlish :P

 

But yeah, it's a budget thing mostly. Bethesda's stuck between a rock and a hard place, both options will annoy people.

 

And honestly, repeatable scenes are not that bad. Sure, we hear them up to 50 times a day. But at least we hear something. At least we know the NPCs have something other to do than walk around and desperately wait for us to talk to them.

 

Heh, well he woulden't, since Simlish is gibberish, such a scene would play out via a textbox rather than spoken word, so more like Morrowind than Skyrim essentially ;)

 

But to make a point: There's Simlish and then there's Simlish..

 

If your mental image of what it would be is how The Sims did it, then yeah, it would be silly. The way The Sims did it is actually a rather poor exicution of it in my opinion, whenever i've seen those games played, i always found it jarring and that i had to adjust to it, because it really did sound comical.

 

But on the flipside, look at a game like "Brothers: A tale of two sons". That uses Simlish, but the exicution of it is so much better it's like night and day, i did not find it jarring or silly in that game at all, nor did i have problems understanding what was beeing communicated by it.

 

 

So as always, exicution matters, like, a whole bunch. You get the same fully voiced dialogue, it's great when done by a competent voice actor, but when done poorly? Uhhh.. it can get real bad :lol:

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It's a design conundrum..

 

 

You could go oldschool and have no voiceacting, text only. This has many advantages, though most of them come down to price. It's obviously cheaper to not hire voice-actors, but more importantly, when your developers designing quests don't constantly have to stop and wonder "Can i write this? Do we have room for this in our VO budget?", you'll see massive gains in the quality and quantity of writing going into the game.

But it also comes at a high cost, you'll have a dead-silent world where NPC's move around and do NPC stuff like visiting market stalls, but nothing is ever said, no emotions are ever expressed, just silent husks moving about, and you can't design quests wherein players learn of things by overhearing dialogue, and it becomes hard to bring across tone and meaning to things (example: having a Nord attack your Elven char whilst screaming "Skyrim for the Nords!" adds flavour to that encounter).

 

 

You could try full-blown voice acting, which has the obvious advantage that people speak, you can hear and understand them, and if you want to bring something across, you just have the NPC say it. But the downside is again cost, even a big company like Bethesda will only record so much dialogue or hire so many voice actors because it's super expensive and time-consuming. There will be limits, and those limits will even impact quest variety and the like, because going outside the box means recording all new audio to do so. And of course, nomatter how much incidental dialogue you try to record, it will always repeat, you'll always have that moment where the player stops up at the Whiterun market, hears Ysolda ask Carlotta about her green apples for a 50'th time, and get annoyed by it.

 

 

So i don't know, maybe a better solution for a big open-world RPG is to use Simlish? For those not aware, "Simlish", named after the "Sims" games, is when the NPC's speak in a voiced but incomprihensible and made-up gibberish language (and then of course using Text when the player needs to understand what's said).

Using Simlish would allow your NPC's to interact verbally with other NPC's when going to the market for instance, create a sound-scape and make the world seem lived in, and Simlish can convey emotions just fine just via tone and inflections. You would not have to record unique lines for every quest as you can string togeather Simlish recordings and make something that sounds appropriate. And since none of us will understand a word of it, we're not going to be bothered by repeated incidental chatter, it's all gibberish anyway.

The downside is that you still can't design quests where the player learns via overhearing dialogue, they speak, but we don'tr understand it, so that's out. And also, you can't have explicity stated motivations from random NPC's (such as that "Skyrim for the Nords!" example i listed above), although you can do better with Simlish than having no voice, atleast you can bring across an emotion via the tone and inflection.

 

To be fair it is a tough call to make and it depends greatly on the player, the first time i saw the 10 minute long intro to mass effect 2 i thought it was cool (well worth whatever they spent) by the time i'd been forced to watch it 3 times since you can't skip it then it had got old and i went and made a cup of coffee (money not well spent)

 

IMO they should go back to text more since voice dialogue while nice i rarely listen to if subtitles/text are their as i've read through what the character is trying to say so i'm clicking the mouse to continue the dialogue before they have finished playing the voiced dialogue

 

 

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Guest Mogie56

Voice acting may be expensive but it is only because they think they need expensive actors to do it. Then they use that one actor for no less then 3 characters and up to 10 characters.

How many times and how many different ways does "What tis it" have to be said or "Let me guess, someone stoll your sweetroll" and one character has but one lousy annoying irritating line. "Do you get to the cloud district often - Oh what am I saying of course you don't". and how many times do you want to kill that SOB. 10,000 spoken words all of which are one time amusing one liners. but I think what ruins the dialogue most is it's pacing-timing. Like a good joke only to have the punch line spoken first. 

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Repetition is the inevitable enemy of immersion with these big sprawling sandboxy RPGs for which open ended exploration is the emphasis rather than herding you from one well conceived but ultimately thinly veiled set piece to the next like the Baldur's Gate type games do.  Any RPGer with some mileage on their clock is well practiced at using their imagination to paper over the cracks that mods don't cover though I'd say. 

 

I can deal with the verbal repetition though I wish they'd employed some neat procedural system of chopping up and remixing phrases a bit to keep things a lot fresher. Maybe they should employ some of the machinima guys for guidance in future seeing as they do amazing things with what little there is. 

 

But that's far too much to have ever expected in Skyrim's case, where the voice acting is so frequently delivered by the same actor in precisely the same tone for entire chunks of script, in a few cases NPCs in the same room have exactly the same fucking voice! It's just beyond cheap, actually in this day and age it's insulting.

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