When the character’s emotions don’t match their actions, it looks extremely odd. Like someone is just reading lines from a script, trying to grasp at but not completely understanding how they’re supposed to act, voice, or react when something dramatic happens. They stand there making some idle gesture while some sounds come out of their mouth, or the player is freely moving the characters around while dialogue is being played in the background and the player is supposed to understand the emotion being portrayed based on a partially synced audio/video? This is the problem when companies develop a competency for portraying emotion through just dialogue or just video. With many developers not able to completely develop an understanding of getting their game’s acting and dialogue to be wholly believable, I wanted to at least delve into the different mechanisms developers can use in order to connect emotion, story, and motivation to the player.
This is Where You Talk (Press A to Continue)
The segmented dialogue system is employed quite a bit. Usually done when there isn’t a vocal accompaniment and more heavily used in pre-64bit era, it is a way to keep the pace of the dialogue with the ability of the reader (the player) and a cheap way to keep the player on pace with the action “at their leisure.”
There are two implementations of this. The first is when the dialogue comes up and the characters on screen move about and try to portray what the emotion behind the text requires; the second form of this is when the characters are just stationary, looking at you with those dead eyes while they wait for you to say “Ya, I got it. Anything else?”
How Long do I Need to Hold this Pose? (Acting)
Examples: Final Fantasy VI-XIV, World of Warcraft, Metal Gear Solid series, Grand Theft Auto series, Mario series, Legend of Zelda series, etc…
“Hold it right there!” (throwing an arm up and points finger at you, slightly contracting and extending my legs to make it look like I’m ready to run forward (or breathing or some other nonsense))
“You can’t just leave after causing such a mess” (wave arm behind you to show what mess I’m talking about, still bobbing slightly up and down)
The big issue is that the motions look completely clunky, like you’re trying to remember what’s supposed to come next but the thought hasn’t come to you yet until you get a nudge from the controller [A], “oh right, and now this new statement!” The Emotion and motion unnatural because it’s not supposed to be stop and go, but fluid and dynamic, moving from pose to pose in an organic way that reflects the kind of person you are with either exaggerated expressions or stoic calmness but always matching the tone and emotion of the situation. Because the motion is stop and go, the rhythm of the emotion becomes stop and go, causing a large disconnect with “this is how the character is supposed to feel. [A]. Ok, I get it now. He does feel this way”
In my experience, this has been very hit or miss. In earlier days with FFVI and games around the same generation, this method of action used to be more effective but seems less so nowadays. The sprites from SNES era games and low polygon-count in the PS1/N64 era lent itself to the believability of the scenes that were trying to be portrayed. There was a charm to how unrealistic-looking these characters were drawn and this charm made us want to believe their actions and motivation. Because the disparity between realistic and unrealistic –looking was so big, it felt more like we were watching a storybook being illustrated before us instead of expecting actors to enact a scene from a movie. Newer games have less of this luxury since games have been trying to become an alternative means to TV/Movie story-telling, both of which require fluidity in motion and emotional context in their dialogue.
Look into my eyes (No-Acting)
Examples: Final Fantasy VI-XIV, World of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto, Sims, Mario series, Legend of Zelda series, etc…
“Have you heard about the man that lives across the bridge” (as I stare through you)
“He’s been spouting off about some relic he dug up a few days ago” (it’s like you aren’t even there)
This kind of dialogue is harder to watch than the previous case because not only have you removed the slightest bit of emotion from their actions, you force the player make assumptions if there is any emotion involved in the dialogue throughout. What was the person talking about? Was there some tragedy that he was alluding to? Was he making fun of someone, or otherwise developing some emotion in the scene? If these aren’t clear from the start, the player is going to be searching for your context throughout the majority of the conversation and the emotion becomes lost at this point.
Shortened post today, but I’ll be exploring the other forms of dialogue conveyance in later posts.