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举例论述游戏会话机制的设计挑战及技巧

发布时间:2012-07-10 14:38:56 Tags:,,

作者:Eric Schwarz

一般来说,电子游戏主要围绕若干简单的互动。战斗无疑是最常出现的模式,但当然这里还有其他众多形式——赛车、进行体育运动等。但开发者尚有待真正掌握的是,同人类兴趣更密切相关的内容——“简单”同他人交谈。

尝试模拟会话会面临各种独特挑战。多数游戏都有明确的成败状态,所以对话需要符合我们预想的成败规则。会话需要给予玩家反应性感觉,否则就会变得不自然,或者甚至是缺乏互动性。虽然开发者尝试通过多种方式避开这一问题,但鲜少开发者在创造真实可信的对话互动上真正取得成功。

本文中,我将进一步细分这些挑战,举例若干制作有趣会话的技巧,以及几点基于新视角处理乏味会话机制的建议。虽然我这里主要以角色扮演以为例,但这只是因为其他游戏的例子很少,尤其是主要围绕会话元素的主流游戏。还需注意的是,本文假设众多会话内容——这里主要围绕内容膨胀以及只适合于游戏需要众多谈话内容情况的会话。

会话的恐怖谷理论

虽然运用泛滥的恐怖谷理论(游戏邦注:恐怖谷理论是一个关于人类对机器人和非人类物体的感觉的假设。它在1970年由日本机器人专家森昌弘提出。根据森昌弘的理论,随着类人物体的拟人程度增加,人类对它的好感度亦随之改变。恐怖谷就是随着械器人到达“接近人类”程度时候,人类好感度突然下降的范围)在电子游戏中常被运用于图像背景中,但这在会话中表现得尤其明显。试想每次当你体验游戏时,角色总是陈述对特定情境而言毫无意义的内容。也许你会听到会话内容自行进行重复。也许特定话语中途出现断句,接到另一句内容。或者,在你初次完成游戏后,你会发现,多数会话选项都令角色做出相同回应。

这对玩家来说也是如此。虽然游戏会在会话中提供截然不同的选择,或是允许各种询问方式,但这些内容通常相当于A、B和C之间的简单选择——表达差异微乎其微。在《质量效应》中,我无法选择以自大方式,或是恭敬、暗讽方式表述内容——我必须就既有选项进行选择,如果其中没有我喜欢的选项,我需要进行其他内容。关于所有这些会话选择,我们可以通过将所有内容归结成基本选择省下众多时间。

即便我们能够自己选择回复语气,内容含义也是由开发者预先设定 from gamasutra.com

即便我们能够自己选择回复语气,内容含义也是由开发者预先设定 from gamasutra.com

这里的原因非常明显——没有创造超智能的AI解析文本,提供适合语境的反应,然后创造相应技术,即时演绎这些会话内容,我们很难创造能够真正匹配玩家陈述内容的会话。会话内容有限。虽然很多互动能够通过特定规则组合进行支配(游戏邦注:在此我们提取自身对于现实的构想),但谈及另一人类则就缺乏可预见性。人类有其个性,他们会做出轻率且出乎意料的决策,他们会让情感支配他们。回头想想,即便是今天,你因冲动谈论或操作某事的情况(虽然行为背后可能存在若干规则),这些都不是你能够预测的,而且你比任何人更了解自己。

虽然我们在将暴力之类的活动抽象化方面受过多年训练,我们可以基于支配运动的规则和简单物理近似值把握足球比赛之类的活动,但我们对于他人的了解甚少,即便我们很了解某人,我们也无法预测陌生人的行为——换而言之,相同规则并不适用。多数电子游戏内容靠生成不同演员能够进行互动的相同规则维持运作——在射击游戏中,你通过射击敌人同游戏空间进行互动,无论你进行多数次战斗, 敌人都以能够预测的有限方式进行运作;在赛车游戏中,你通过驾驶车辆同他人角逐,力争先达到终点而进行互动,但这不适用于谈话。

模拟人类

这个问题的首个解决方案是创造这样的角色互动机制:并非主要提供具体内容,而更多是能够对玩家的输入内容做出高度反应性的内容。由于开发者无法针对具体情境的可能结果撰写独特会话内容,这通常意味着配合模板或重复会话内容,但从理论上来说,这是否真的就是糟糕想法?毕竟,我们已接受许多电子游戏的近似情况。我们清楚,“弹药不够”之类的嘲讽主要充当另一游戏机制的听觉反馈,我们也清楚,游戏后端只有这么多的会话内容。

聪明开发者知道如何隔开这些话语,以延长内容长度——例如记录同句话语的10种不同变体,确保玩家尽量少听到重复内容。通过巧妙落实内容,令人印象深的是,玩家能够经常修饰它们。我们通常无法长久记住这些内容,所以制作利用短期记忆局限性的会话内容能够帮它们分担很多工作。但关于更有意义、更值得记忆的会话,这一方式很快失去效用,因为长期记忆在此处于主导地位。

这一问题只有两个解决方案——或创建这样的会话机制:多数会话只进行一次,但有些会根据玩法需求无限进行重复;或是这样的会话机制:可利用的回应数量急剧增加。这意味着创建一套规则组,模拟人类互动,提供玩法灵活性,即便这意味着放弃“沉浸性元素”。显然,这些会因所创建的游戏而异——例如,射击游戏的需求和约会模拟游戏截然不同。

morrowind的会话缺乏情感共鸣,但包含众多细节和普遍机制,以判断个体对于玩家的反应 from gamasutra.com

morrowind的会话缺乏情感共鸣,但包含众多细节和普遍机制,以判断个体对于玩家的反应 from gamasutra.com

后个解决方案在传统角色扮演游戏中非常普遍。《上古卷轴》系列(游戏邦注:直到最近)通过关键字模拟询问路线。玩家将接触到存在10、20或者更多询问的列表,从很大程度上看他们将接收到针对情境而出现细微变化的类似回应(例如推进情节的会话,或是细微变体,如代名词或性别术语发生变化)。例如在《魔卷晨风》中,多数角色会反复叙述相同会话内容,但机制在此处于主导地位——角色的个人反应调节器会根据玩家行为而发生改变(也许询问禁忌主题会让你面临-20的反应惩罚),种族或文化背景也会影响个体所提供的信息(所以询问他人另一地点的事件几乎没有什么价值)。

这类机制的一个大问题是,由于你应对的是规则组合,忽然间设计师和程序员需要基于玩法规则思考会话。会话无法再着眼于向玩家传递众多独特情感和微妙差异——现在会话主要围绕因果关系和成败,需要基于此进行制作。和任何游戏一样,这些规则需要始终如一、具有可预见性、足够通俗易懂。通过有效将会话转变成迷你游戏,会话受限于与其他游戏相同的限制因素。

树状会话

树状会话也是角色扮演游戏的一个重要元素,是目前最热门的会话模拟方式。会话之树同其名称相同,以若干询问主题的形式呈现,这些随后分解成更多路线。例如,会话之树的结构如下:一般询问 -> 说明 -> 意见,最终意见将玩家带回会话的“根源”。

显然,开发者可以通过会话之树完成很多操作,《异域镇魂曲》之类的游戏就是最佳证明,其中包含众多独特会话内容及询问路径,这些构成核心玩法内容。但同时,核心限制因素变得非常明显:虽然你可以通过会话之树的格式获取若干捷径,但很快这将变成无限蔓生的会话。运用会话之树,我们很快就会感受到上面提到的内容膨胀,若玩家发现游戏采用过多捷径(游戏邦注:截然不同的会话选项面临相同回应),那么会话之树追求的真实感就会被削弱。

会话之树能够提供更详细的内容但需要很多文字内容,无法进行呈现 from gamasutra.com

会话之树能够提供更详细的内容但需要很多文字内容,无法呈现所有文字 from gamasutra.com

但尽管出现膨胀,显而易见的是,会话之树存在显著优势——它们擅于模仿会话行为,即便是你需要就玩家的询问制作独特内容,这一模式的一大优点是,角色也呈现更多的个性,玩家能够以更差异化的方式表达观点,最重要的是,会话的机制元素不复存在。虽然这里总是存在yes/no的二元选择,但很多游戏巧妙模糊会话变体的转换位置——例如,《龙腾世纪:起源》会显示会话之后影响数量的增减情况,但会故意隐藏具体产生影响的会话选项,以更好模拟同他人交谈的行为,而非从列表中选择回应,进而达到最佳效果。

此外,重复利用的会话内容(游戏邦注:这是开发者的“欺骗行为)有些略显不公。通常,重复利用反应及添加额外话语,进而调整会话方向能够被我们所接受。多数玩家不会真正注意到这些——下次当你体验围绕会话的角色扮演游戏时,注意你听到多少次“anyway”、“however”和“meanwhile”之类的连接表述,在各情况中,它们都被用于掩饰会话出现分支,需要重新汇聚。只要你把握这点,你将惊讶地发现,许多会话都是照本宣科,但只要存在足够独特话语继续维持这种幻觉,会话就能够顺利运作。

我们还需要考虑玩家自身的情感影响和投资。玩家通常不是开发者,他们不会着迷于所运用的技巧和捷径——体验游戏时,他们通常持有截然不同的心态,享受于游戏呈现给他们的内容,而非着眼于细节或是寻找漏洞。因此正如我想要抱怨Commander Shepard的话语没有给《质量效应》带来丝毫影响,我必须承认,作为玩家,起初能够发表这些话语依然是件很棒的事情——在我看来,这就像是真实决策,它给叙述语气带来的影响无可否认。虽然这对游戏影响不大(游戏邦注:无论Shepard是空想家,还是实用主义者),但对我来说意义显著。

总结

遗憾的是,开发者鲜少通过其他方式处理会话内容——虽然我能够采用文本分析器,但这和上述关键字机制大同小异,唯一差别是合理询问内容保持模糊。虽然游戏行业积极模仿消灭另一人类或驾车行为,但更复杂、更精细但更缺乏可预见性和确定性的交谈方式依然悬而未决。

尽管如此,既有会话机制依然能够通过若干方式进行强化,进而创造出感觉更自然、更真实的会话:

1. 放弃UI。有时,更可取的是通过让玩家进行实际操作,而非从列表中选择选项或是将内容输进会话框,进而生成结果。典型例子是《半条命2》,在此Alyx Vance将就玩家能够在游戏世界中进行的所有操作做出反应,这些并非深刻互动,游戏属于射击游戏,因此它们在玩法方面毫无意义,但通过兵工厂中的工具唤起反应要比在菜单中选择更有满足感。即将问世的Naughty Dog新款动作游戏《The Last of Us》旨在将此带入新高度。

2. 情感影响不代表细节。普遍错误观念是,玩家需要配音员、管弦乐队和好莱坞风格的导演,方能同游戏角色建立联系。我们的大脑愿意填充异常数量的描述缺口,有时最迷人的体验存在于我们自身的头脑中,而非代码之中。玩家带给游戏机制的情感远比创作者尝试通过共鸣技巧从用户身上提取的反应更强有力。

3. 记住玩家的操作。这是细微内容,但促使角色在游戏中收获真实感的一个关键方式是让他们参考过去的事件,以同游戏世界建立联系。这些也无需是会话选择——《杀出重围》最令人印象深刻的一个时刻是,Paul Denton根据游戏初始任务的杀伤力水平责骂或表扬玩家,而其他角色则表现相反反应。这一简单差异(游戏邦注:这同游戏更广泛的机制配合,能够通过1-2变量进行追踪)比空间中的所有高成本过场动画更能够有效将玩家吸引至游戏之中。(本文为游戏邦/gamerboom.com编译,拒绝任何不保留版权的转载,如需转载请联系:游戏邦

Nothing Human: Creating More Convincing Conversations

by Eric Schwarz

Videogames are, generally speaking, about a few simple interactions.  Fighting is the one that undoubtedly shows up most often, but of course, there are plenty of other sorts – racing cars, playing sports, and so on.  But one thing that developers have yet to really master is something which is arguably far more pertinent to our interests as human beings – “simply” talking with other people.

There are all sorts of distinct challenges when attempting to simulate conversation. Most games have distinct failure and success states, so dialogue has to be able to fit into our preconceived rules about winning or losing the game.  It has to give players a feeling of reactivity, otherwise it comes across as unnatural and stilted or even non-interactive.  Although there are manifold ways in which developers attempt to circumvent these problems, few are ever really been successful in creating dialogue interactions that feel realistic and believable.

In this article, I’ll be breaking down some of those challenges in more detail and providing a few examples of techniques used to create compelling conversations, as well as a number of recommendations that can be used to approach tired dialogue systems from new angles.  Although I use role-playing games almost exclusively as examples here, it’s only because there are so few examples of other games, especially in the mainstream, that revolve so heavily around conversation.  Also note that this article assumes a large amount of dialogue – most of the concerns here regarding content bloat and dialogue obviously only apply when a game demands thousands upon thousands of lines, rather than a few hundred.

The Uncanny Valley of Dialogue

Although the much-abused term uncanny valley is almost always used in the context of graphics when it comes to videogames, it’s in dialogue where the uncanny valley becomes most obvious.  Just think about all the times you’ve been playing a game and a character’s said something that doesn’t make sense for a certain situation.  Perhaps you heard a dialogue line repeat itself.  Maybe a line was even cut off mid-sentence in favor of another one.  Or, after your first play-through of a game, maybe you found that most of the conversation options all caused characters to respond in the same way.

This goes doubly true for the player as well.  Even though games will often provide radically different choices in dialogue, or allow for multiple lines of inquiry, those lines always equate to simple choices between A, B, and C – there’s little in the way of nuance and expression.  In Mass Effect, I can’t choose to say a line in a cocky manner, or a respectful manner, or a snide one – I have to choose between the options given to me, and if I’m not given an option I like, then I’ll have to pick another one.  For all those dialogue choices out there, a lot of time could be saved by realistically boiling everything down to the essential choices.

The reason for this is obvious – short of creating some sort of super-intelligent AI to parse text and provide responses that make sense in context, and then coming up with technology to voice-act those lines in real-time, it’s pretty much impossible to have dialogue that is truly adaptive to what the player can say.  Dialogue content is completely finite.  Although many interactions can be governed by sets of rules (wherein we abstract our conceptions of reality), speaking to another human being is something that is not so easily predicted.  People have personalities, they make rash and unpredictable decisions, they let emotions guide them.  Think back on all the times, even just today, when you said or did something based on impulse – while there might be some rules behind how you behave, they’re certainly not things that you can divine, and you likely know yourself better than anyone else!

While we’ve had years and years of training to abstract activities like violence, and others, such as a football game, can be understood in terms of the rules governing the sport and simple approximations of physics, we have little understanding of other people, and even if we get to know someone very, very well, we can’t predict complete strangers – in other words, the same rules don’t apply.  Most videogame content works by producing sets of common rules that different actors can interact within – in a shooter, you interact with the world by shooting at enemies, who behave in predictable and finite ways no matter how many you fight; in a racing game you interact by piloting a vehicle in competition with others to reach a final point – but that doesn’t work very well for talking.

Approximating Humanity

The first solution to this problem is to create a system for interacting with characters that deals less with providing highly specific content, and more with content that is highly reactive to the player’s input.  Since developers can’t write unique lines for absolutely every single possible outcome to a situation, this usually means going with templates, or reusing dialogue lines, but on paper, does this seem like such a bad idea?  After all, we already accept a great deal of approximation from videogames.  We understand that quips like “low on ammo!” serve as auditory feedback on another game mechanic, and we also accept that, under the hood, the game only has so many lines available to offer.

Smart developers know how to space out these lines to get the most mileage out of them – such as recording 10 different variations on the same line and making sure that players hear repeats as little as possible.  With a smart implementation, it’s impressive how often players’ brains will trick them.  We don’t have extremely long-term memories for most things, so creating dialogue content that exploits the limitations of short-term memory will do a lot of the work for them.  But when it comes to more significant, memorable dialogue, that approach quickly becomes useless as long-term memory takes over.

There’s really only two solutions to the problem – either create a dialogue system wherein most dialogue only plays once, but some will repeat indefinitely based on the needs of gameplay, or create a dialogue system wherein the amount of available responses increases dramatically.  Specifically, this means building a set of rules just like any other for the game, ones that approximate human interaction, and provide gameplay flexibility, even if it means giving up the “immersion factor.”  Obviously these will vary based on the game being created – the needs of a shooter are very different from those of a dating sim, for instance.

The latter solution used to be very common in older role-playing games.  The Elder Scrolls series, up until fairly recently, used keywords to simulate paths of inquiry.  Players could have a list of ten, twenty or more inquiries, and would largely receive the same responses, with variations for specific cases (like plot-advancing dialogue, or minor variations such as changing pronouns and gendered terms around).  In Morrowind, for instance, most characters would recite the same lines over and over again, but mechanics took over – a character’s individual reaction modifier would change based on the player’s behavior (maybe asking about a taboo subject would net you a -20 reaction penalty), and racial or cultural background would also affect what a person could offer information on (so asking people about events on the other side of the world would rarely be worthwhile).

The big issue with such a system is that, now that you’re dealing with a ruleset, suddenly designers and programmers have to start thinking about dialogue in terms of gameplay rules.  No longer can conversations be about conveying lots of unique emotions and subtleties to the player – now they’re about cause and effect, winning and losing – and have to be crafted with that in mind.  And, like any game, those rules have to be consistent, predictable, and simple enough to understand.  By effectively turning dialogue into a mini-game, it becomes subject to all of the same constraints any other game is.

Dialogue by the Tree

Dialogue trees are a staple of role-playing games as well, and by far the most popular way to simulate conversation.  Dialogue trees, true to their namesake, take the form of a number of topics of inquiry, which then branch out into more paths.  For example, a dialogue tree structure might consist of: general inquiry -> clarification -> opinion, with the final option taking the player back to the “root” of the conversation.

Obviously, developers can do a lot with dialogue trees, and games like Planescape: Torment are testament to that, with thousands of unique lines of dialogue and dozens of paths of inquiry that, in themselves, make up much of the gameplay.  At the same time, however, the key limitation becomes abundantly clear: while you can take a few shortcuts with a dialogue tree format, pretty soon you’re going to end up with huge, sprawling conversations.  The content bloat mentioned earlier is felt very quickly when using dialogue trees, and if players notice too many shortcuts being taken (like identical responses to two radically different dialogue options) then the sense of realism that dialogue trees usually go for is completely shattered.

Despite the bloat, however, it’s clear that dialogue trees have a big advantage – they do a much better job at simulating the act of conversation.  Even if you need (mostly) unique lines for every inquiry the player makes, the big benefit of that is that characters can have much more personality, the player is able to express an opinion in more nuanced ways, and, most importantly, that the mechanical side of dialogue disappears.  While there’s always going to be a binary yes or no choice, many games do an excellent job of obscuring exactly where the variables in conversations are flipped – Dragon Age: Origins, for example, will show the amount of influence earned or lost after a conversation, but deliberately hides what dialogue options actually affect it, to better simulate the act of talking to a person rather than picking responses from a list for best effect.

Additionally, the reuse lines as “cheating” on the part of the developers might be a little unfair.  Usually, it’s actually quite acceptable to reuse responses and add separate lines in that help redirect the conversation.  Most players never really notice these – next time you’re playing a dialogue-heavy role-playing game, take note of how many times you hear connecting statements like “anyway”, “however”, “meanwhile”, and so on – in almost every instance, they’re being used to disguise points where the conversation has branched and needs to re-converge.  Once you pick up on this, it’s surprising just how scripted many conversations really are, but so long as there are enough unique lines to keep the illusion going, it works splendidly.

There’s also the player’s own emotional impact and investment to consider.  Gamers are usually not developers, and they’re not going to be keen to the tricks and shortcuts used – they’re often in a very different mindset when playing games, enjoying the content as it’s presented to them rather than fussing over the details or looking for holes to poke.  Therefore, as much as I want to complain about Commander Shepard’s heroic speech influencing absolutely nothing in Mass Effect, I have to admit that, as a player, it’s still pretty cool to be able to give that speech in the first place – to me, it feels like a real decision, and the way that it influences the tone of the narrative can’t be denied.  Even if it doesn’t really matter to the game whether Shepard’s an idealist or pragmatist, it matters to me.

Closing Thoughts

The unfortunate fact is that there are very few other ways that developers have actually handled dialogue – although I could bring up text parsers, they’re really not much different from the keyword system mentioned above, except that the possible inquiries are kept ambiguous.  For all the games industry has managed to so effectively simulate the act of killing another human being, or driving a car, the more complex and subtle, less predictable and deterministic act of talking to another person is something that’s still up in the air.

That said, there’s a few ways that existing dialogue systems can be enhanced to produce conversations that feel more natural and realistic:

1. Abandon the UI.  Sometimes, it’s better to produce results by getting the player to actually do something rather than picking options off of a list or typing them into a dialogue box.  A great example of this can be seen in Half-Life 2, where Alyx Vance will react to all the things the player can do in the game world – they’re not deep interactions, sure, and the game is a shooter so there’s little meaning behind them as far as gameplay goes, but there’s something far more satisfying about using the tools available in one’s arsenal to provoke a response rather than selecting “(Shine flashlight in Alyx’s eyes)” in a menu.  The upcoming Naughty Dog action game, The Last of Us, looks to be taking this model to new heights.

2. Emotional impact doesn’t mean detail.  It’s a common misconception that players need voice acting, an orchestral score and Hollywood-style direction to connect with the characters in games.  Our brains are willing to fill in an exceptional number of gaps in presentation, and sometimes the most engaging experiences are the ones that exist in our own heads rather than in code.  The emotions that players bring to the mechanics of a game are far more potent than the ones that writers try to squeeze out of an audience via sympathetic techniques.

3. Remember what the player’s done.  This is a little thing, but one of the key ways to make characters feel real in a game is to make them reference past events to provide a sense of continuity to the world.  These don’t have to be dialogue choices either – one of Deus Ex’s most remembered moment is Paul Denton scolding or praising the player depending on the level of lethality used in the game’s opening mission, while other characters have the opposite reaction.  This simple distinction, which ties in with the broader mechanics of the game and was probably tracked in all of one or two variables, does more to draw the player into the game than all the expensive cinematic sequences in the world.

As usual, thanks for reading, and please feel free to leave comments below!(Source:gamasutra


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