Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Discussion point: What kind of game deserves a high score in Dialogue and Acting?

By The TAG Team


Dialogue and Acting

(No, we haven’t forgotten E, we are just leaving it as the last category.)

Although the name of this category mentions acting, it is just dialogue most of the games have so far offered. Indeed, from the very beginning of the blog reviewers have considered also the quality of the prose, when evaluating this category. It is simple to say what is bad writing - misspellings are usually one good sign. But when it comes to deciding what is good writing, we are inevitably led again to the discussion how subjective such evaluations are. After all, we all like different styles of writing and these preferences inevitably affect our views - a pun-infested game is regarded differently by a reviewer adoring puns than by a reviewer hating puns.


This game will separate the pun haters from the pun lovers

Despite this subjectivity, can we still find some general criteria to follow when reviewing dialogue and other writing? Other questions you might consider:
  • Since acting is mentioned in the name of the category, should we leave the highest scores only for games with actual acting (voice or full)? Or is this a nonsensical restriction and should we take the acting into account in evaluation of this category, only if the game contains it?
  • Just like with almost all categories, we can ask whether we should regard dialogue in isolation from all the other elements of the game or whether we should consider how well the dialogue enhances the other elements of the game, such as the story and the general feel of the game. For instance, could an otherwise good dialogue be considered bad, if it doesn’t fit in with the style of the game?
  • Should we demand good English of all games? Or should we be lenient, if the developers are not native speakers? 
  • We’ve often considered characters when evaluating this category. Indeed, dialogue is something closely connected with characters, since it is the characters who are speaking, but is there an alternative? For example, should we consider characters when reviewing story and setting?

15 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Hijacking deleted top comment to direct people to relevant analytic material.

      Renowned screenwriting guru Robert McKee has written a book called Dialogue. While I haven't read it, it seems like a good place to go for in-depth understanding of mechanics of good dialogue.

      A famous concept regarding dialogue in screenwriting is SUBTEXT. There are so many articles and tutorials about it, that instead of linking specific ones I'm providing search engine links:

      http://www.google.com/search?q=dialogue+subtext
      https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=dialogue+subtext

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  2. Tackling some of your questions:

    - Demanding of good English... YES. The game should be fluent for the audience it was released for. If it is released in France, I would expect good French scripting. And so on. If the developers are not native speakers, they should have enlisted at least one native speaker to read over the translations, if they planned on shipping to another country.

    Obvious exception: if you are writing dialog for a foreign character (such as, say, a Spanish-speaker visiting an English speaking country), you would expect that character to have imperfect speech. But this should be an obvious part of the character design.

    Recent examples in the TAG reviews might include the Inspector Gadget game, where often characters in non-English countries were speaking in perfect English, which was rightfully noted by the reviewer as being incongruous.

    (Side note: "incongruous" became my favorite vocabulary word in middle school, when I learned it from the description of the bathroom in Lefty's Bar in LSL1.)

    - Characters should reflect more on story and setting, and the purview of this category should be whether or not the dialog fits the characters.

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    1. Concerning the language of the games, I'd like to raise a related question: what should we do with games not made in English? For instance, one source of our playing list, the Wikipedia Notable Adventure Games List, mentions a Polish game, Tajemnica Statuetki, published in 1993, assumedly with no English translation ever made. I am not sure if any of our reviewers understands Polish, but assuming they don't, what should we do? Should we just ignore the game altogether? Should we try to play it - perhaps with the aid of Google Translate? And if we played it, how could we then fairly evaluate the dialogue and the text of the game?

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    2. >For instance, one source of our playing list, the Wikipedia Notable Adventure Games List, mentions a Polish game, Tajemnica Statuetki, published in 1993, assumedly with no English translation ever made. I am not sure if any of our reviewers understands Polish, but assuming they don't, what should we do? Should we just ignore the game altogether? Should we try to play it - perhaps with the aid of Google Translate? And if we played it, how could we then fairly evaluate the dialogue and the text of the game?
      If you DO play it, I don't think it should be given a rating at all. It's not fair to the game to judge its writing based on clunky machine translations, nor is it fair to judge the design and solvability of its puzzles based on imperfect understanding of the provided clues. There's just no way to give it a fair shake.

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    3. I think it should either not be played, or if a volunteer wanted to review it, it should not be graded, as Adamant said. Treat it as a lost classic, in a way. Because of the time spent translating, and the questionable quality of it, how could you measure the time spent playing? Also, unless someone is a glutton for punishment, I think just a playing of the first few scenes or chapters or whatever would be appropriate, because of the effort to translate it would likely be torture to the reviewer...

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  3. "For instance, could an otherwise good dialogue be considered bad, if it doesn’t fit in with the style of the game?"

    This immediately made me think of the townspeople in Quest for Glory IV, whose voice actors went hilariously off-script on most of their lines. Would that be worth more points, since the additions are almost all really funny (and, in my opinion, funnier than many of the actual jokes written in the game)? Or would it bring the score down, since some of the jokes break the fourth wall a little too much, even for a QFG game, and poke holes in immersion and atmosphere (in this case the adlibbed dialogue doesn't really fit the characters as written)?

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  4. If the category is "dialogue and acting," it seems clear that "action" is part of it. There is no acting in an Infocom game, except to the extent that the non-dialogue text might describe actions. "(He takes another swig from the bottle before continuing.) Want some whiskey? Of course you do!"

    I don't remember if that scene actually plays out that way. I'm just suggesting that the action description there, if it was written that way, would constitute a form of acting. I think that characters who move or act in a way that reinforces their character and/or the dialogue should get higher scores than pure dialogue. This is why even a book can have "acting."

    There is more to it than that. I think the goal should be to write great dialogue that immerses players in the game and makes them feel as though they are there. If for a moment (or many moments) you forget that you are playing a game, and instead feel as if you are Guybrush Threepwood on an island run by rather silly pirates, then the dialogue is right.

    If you instead sit there going through each inventory item asking yourself, "Hmm, can I get past the dogs by feeding them moldy cheese?" then the best-crafted dialogue in the world can't save the story.

    Voice acting is of course its own form of acting - the characters might not need to animate if the voice intonations help players experience the mood of the scene better.

    Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption should rate highly on dialogue, but I'm not sure about the acting rating. We have no voice acting. Certain scenes are acted out, but perhaps not as extensively as in Quest for Glory III. Probably the upper limit on dialogue and acting should be 7 or 8 because of those restrictions. 10 should be reserved for an Oscar-winning film if we really want to make these ratings objective and independent of when the game was released.

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  5. >Just like with almost all categories, we can ask
    >whether we should regard dialogue in isolation
    >from all the other elements of the game or whether
    >we should consider how well the dialogue enhances the
    >other elements of the game, such as the story and the
    >general feel of the game. For instance, could an
    >otherwise good dialogue be considered bad, if it doesn’t
    >fit in with the style of the game?

    Several kind of conflicts between individually good aspects of a work can exist. There's a term, "ludonarrative dissonance" (disagreement between story and gameplay). This video brings up "cinemanarrative dissonance":

    https://youtu.be/04zaTjuV60A

    I presume the dialogue version would be called "dialoguenarrative dissonance".

    I suggest this issue can be largely tackled in the Environment & Atmoshpere category, which could be slightly redefined to measure the overall cohesion of a game's aspects to create a definite theme/style/mood.

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    1. But yes, I would consider that bad dialogue. If it doesn't make sense for the actors, or doesn't fit in with the story, it doesn't belong there and should be downrated.

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    2. But what if it is the *story* that doesn't fit with the dialogue? Which one should be blamed if they don't fit with each other?

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    3. In a properly-told story, the dialogue *is* the story. If they don't support each other, the dialogue is bad. In game terms, a wall of text in a game is not a story, it's a wall of text. The actual story is the combination of character actions and dialogue.

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  6. Another question that should be asked is the importance of dialogue trees. Are they necessary for a high rating? Or do you believe less interactivity allows for tighter characterisation and more natural conversations?

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    1. Hmmm, I don't know if they are as important for this rating directly. A lot of it has to do with Puzzles, no? For example, in Monkey Island, while the dialog trees are often hilarious, their main purpose is as a puzzle -- choosing the right like to result in the correct outcome.

      But a game without that could also be well rated for this. Check out, for example, the review of Quest for Glory 2, where Trickster says:
      I think the dialogue in Quest for Glory II is an absolute highlight. There was an incredible amount of it, and the vast majority of it is well written, entertaining, and at times downright funny

      And this was without dialog trees.

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