Building a Village – 05/06/2018

Hello villagers!

This Building a Village ​will be a little different than usual. Instead of recapping the past week’s work, I want to do a deep dive on the single most important feature of Village Monsters – its dialogue system!

Each kind of game values dialogue a little differently, but it’s the real bread-and-butter for a life sims like Village Monsters. Yet despite its importance, it’s often a double-edged sword that can end up doing more harm than good.

When dialogue start falling apart – getting too repetitious, too predictable, or maybe even too generic – it is often a death sentence for life sims. After all, these are games that value building immersive relationships with NPCs, and there’s no quicker way to ruin that then to feel like you’re talking with a boring robot.

There are certainly many ways to deal with this problem: some designers prefer having strict control over the script. Others may prefer using “adlib” style conversations to give the illusion of infinite content.

For Village Monsters I wanted to try something new – and this post will talk about what I’ve done.

A Deck of Dialogue

Picture a deck of cards – not for a specific game or anything, just something generic.

A deck consists of many cards of various types. The cards themselves dictate how and when they can be used, and cards of the same type typically share many attributes.

The deck represents all possible cards, but you must first draw them into your hand before you can play them. After a card is played you typically discard it so you cannot draw it again.

Ok, why am I wasting your time explaining how card games work? It’s relevant, I promise! You see, a deck of cards is the exact metaphor I used when designing Village Monster’s dialog system.

In my metaphor, each card in the deck is a single conversation, and each conversation has a topic. For example, “Hey, you new around here? Nice to meet you!” would be a card, and its topic would be “Introduction.”

The deck then represents all possible conversations and topics that a villager has available to them. Make sense? Let’s see how it’s used.

Small Talk

While the process is invisible to the player, the exact moment you enter a conversation is when the magic really happens.

First, a snapshot is taken of the world. This snapshot asks many questions about the current state of things, such as:

  • What time of day is it?
  • Where is this conversation taking place?
  • What’s the weather like?
  • Did the player do anything cool lately?
  • Is it a special holiday or event?
  • When’s the last time a piece of lore or story was shared?

The answers to these questions help establish the context the conversation is happening in. A rainy day could mean that the villager comments on the weather. A new player who hasn’t gone fishing may get some advice on how to get started.

To continue the deck metaphor, this process is like searching the deck for cards of specific types and adding them to your hand.

Now it’s time to ‘play’ one of the cards – in this context, that means selecting the actual set of dialogue for the villager to speak.

Of course, a bit of randomness is needed to make it less predictable for the player. The exact card that the villager ends up with is always randomly chosen from the hand we just made. That particular card is then discarded while the rest are shuffled back into the deck.

One last thing: in truth, the card is not really discarded. Instead, it sits outside the deck to ensure that it doesn’t come up again too soon. After a period of time it’s re-shuffled into the deck and can be picked again – and hopefully by then it won’t come across as too repetitious.

Putting it Together

In summary, this ‘deck-style’ system allows villagers to have natural sounding conversations while minimizing the player’s ability to predict what they’ll say. By tracking which cards were ‘read’ we can also ensure that players are never punished with repeat conversations for talking a lot to a villager.

All of this accomplishes our main goal: speaking with a villager should be a worthwhile action throughout the entire game.

I’ve been very happy with how this system has worked so far, but what I didn’t expect were the number of side benefits that began emerging.

In a lot of ways, the deck represents another layer of personality for each villager. This means that it’s not just the dialogue itself that’s important, but also the composition of the deck.

For example, a villager that works all day outside would naturally have a lot more to say about the weather than someone who stays indoors. This means that conversations with this villager are more weather focused, and this in turn reinforces their personality and role in the village.

As in real life, you may find yourself drawn to specific people because you know they have a lot to say about a subject you’re interested in. You may also try speaking with the same villagers in different situations to see what new things they’ll say.

I’m really looking forward for players to experience this dialogue system when Village Monsters releases later this year.

WARP DOGS Game of the Year…?

Image result for ghost of christmas present

Games.

Video games, to be specific. Seems like nary a year goes by without seeing a release or two that are rather quite good.

I had originally made this post to talk about my game of the year. It’s always a fun to think about and, hey, everyone is doing it.

So I began scrolling through the releases this year and compared it to the games I played. It only then that it hit me:

I didn’t play any good games released in 2016.

I played No Man’s Sky – bad game. Paper Jam – terrible. The Witness – pretentious garbage. Infinite Warfare – fine, but not GotY.

Clearly I know that a ton of good games came out this year. I just…never…actually got to any of them?

That doesn’t even seem possible. Surely I played at least one of them, if only by accident. Like, maybe I fell onto a controller and began to play Dark Souls 3…?

Turns out that the games I played – the good games, GotY contenders, anyway – were largely from last year. Or the year before that. Or like 20 years ago.

Well, this is going to be awkward, huh?

WARP DOGS’ GAME OF THE YEAR,

(ASSUMING IN THIS CONTEXT “OF THE YEAR” REFERS TO WHEN I PLAYED IT,

NOT NECESSARILY WHEN IT WAS RELEASED),

2016,

GOES TO:

The Witcher 3

If you sat me down in front of some very smart, very capable game designers and asked me to describe my perfect game, the end result would have probably still been less enjoyable than the Witcher 3.

It’s sublime.

It nails the humor and tone I want to see in video games. It absolutely crushes it with the world and the efforts it goes to build it up into something real. The story is fantastic. The combat is fantastic. Geralt – fantastic. All the characters – fantastic.

Graphics – gorgeous. Voice acting? Wonderful. Music? Oh my god.

Quests? Otherworldly. They’re all so good. Every single one of them – in the way they subvert your expectations, in how they play with your emotions, the themes they explore, the callbacks to the most obscure lore and myth.

And so on, and so on, and so on.

It’s also gigantic, but always in the right amount. It’s open world without quite rubbing your nose in it – no towers or minigame icons and checklists.

Don’t get me wrong, I still wanted to complete everything, explore everything and, indeed, check all the boxes. The difference is that it was always on my terms.

I did it because this world, these characters, deserve help. I cared. I did it to see the next thing – it was like Civilization’s “one more turn” syndrome, only it was the entire game.

What more can even be said about this game that hasn’t been addressed by countless others much smarter than I?

All I know is that as a game designer I am at once in awe and jealous of this world. There’s so much to be inspired by in the Witcher – not just 3, but the entire Witchering series generally – and I am overjoyed that they exist and are successful.

There are few games out there that can be said to have improved the entire industry by just existing. The Witcher 3 is absolutely, without a doubt, one of them.

Anyway. The Witcher 3: didn’t release this year, but gosh darnit it is easily my Game of the Year 2016

Deflated Expectations

I’ve dreamed about quitting my job and making indie games for half a decade now. I’m an escapist by nature, and thoughts of sitting at home making and play games all day sounded absolutely wonderful

What’s stopping me? Well, “life”, I suppose…there’s always some big expense or reason not to quit, and my responsibilities grow each year. No one wants to hear about the boring life of someone with suburban angst, so I won’t keep going

This time around I’ve pledged to at least dip my toes in the water – thus this site, this project. Small dips of the toe. Testing the waters. Mixing metaphors. That type of thing.

However, the world is very different than it was 5 years ago. The idea of a single developer creating a cool game that’s enough to sustain them was possible then, if not entirely probable. Nowadays? The competition is much, much stiffer in the indie world. I’m seeing games labeled as indie with cutting edge graphics, 10+ team members, and a big boy budget.

Worse, I’m seeing ideas very similar to my own. They can execute better by sheer numbers alone

Last night I felt down. Today I feel less down, and a bit inspired in the way an ant must feel when taking on preying mantis. I cannot imagine an ant would ever take on a preying mantis in the wild, but just imagine how pumped up he’d be. What’s he got to lose, you know? And if he wins?

Yeah. So my expectations for myself have been deflated, but it’s resulted in a boost to my confidence. Weird how that works.

Anyway. Back to work