Fortress Occident Developer Blog

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Reinventing the dialogue

Some breather-weeks have passed in which we paid our technical debts, which spawned during the race to our internal playtest build. This update focuses on the state of the dialogues and as promised: a peek what we intend to do differently.

Right from the onset we knew that we had to cater our worldbuilder-in-chief, Robert, with the most expressive system we could build in terms of interactivity and also in terms of his writing ambition. His book, sadly available in Estonian only, is possibly one of the most interesting slipstream fantasy books that I have read and also in a large part the reason why I believe into our writing enough to dedicate myself to the game. Our world will be a cool one. Also, we have an actual published and talented author writing your story, how cool is that.

Orbiting senses

In terms of interactivity we need our protagonist to sense the surroundings in a literature-friendly manner. It reeks in the bathroom, but the smell is also so indescribable that they should have sent a poet. There is a suspicious track-mark on the pavement. You barely hear the seagulls over the sound of the engine.

We decided that your senses — both area and object related, tell you more about the world using what we call “sense orbs”. The orbs come in two types: in-world and orbital. In-world orbs are visible to the player and concern your perception — you see something and its location is marked. Smells, sounds are ofthen more transient and you cannot pinpoint their origin. This kind of sensory information, even your “gut feeling” hovers around your head as you travel the world. If interested you can click on them.

Suppose that you end a dialogue and have this specific “staircase wisdom” — you realize that you had a perfect counter to someones’ line or you have a feeling about something being really wrong with the corpse — you could have a monologue with that feeling to gather more insight into yourself or the world.

So the orbs share both tweet-like information and can be discussed with; they store the interacted-or-not status and are coloured to hint that you had to have a certain skill to interact with them.

The orb visual uses placeholder graphics.

Continue

We designed the dialogue interface in a manner which tells to the player “red goes forward”. Our dialogue options are (usually) red — if you have a choice you choose from the red ones. If you don’t have a choice, you click on the big red button. It goes slightly against the “red is the close button” convention, but we believe that the way in which we introduce our UI will avoid any confusion on the matter.

Dialogue window showing an empathy passive

The continue button sometimes changes colour. It needed some clever lookahead logic, but we foreshadow possible extra content which comes from having high skills in some stats. Suppose you have high drama: you might get an idea from your character facet called Drama: “It would be aproppriate to pause and inspect your sidearm thoughtfully.” Then, when you do that, you might be more successful in establishing Authority over someone. Sometimes they just add flavour or send you off to weird side-treks into someones psyche.

This foreshadowing with colour adds an interesting anticipation moments and also tells to the player that there are many paths through our game and not all of them are open to anyone.

Internally we call those moments Passive Checks and they are “take 7” type of non-rolls. You either pass the threshold with a skill and get its information or not and continue with slight nagging feeling that you should be more Dramatic in your next playthrough (or scum-save).

Checks

We have two kinds of checks which you can roll: Red ones and White ones. The White check signifies those dialogues in which you can convince someone or try something and while failing it affects the story (and sometimes in a beneficial manner) you can always come back later and re-try them.

There is a silent contract with the player that the writers adhere to: If you see a White Check you can re-roll it once you have improved as a person or have improved your odds (such as finding out some facts about the target and such). Also, the unmade White Checks remain in the menu for you to find even if you first encountered them somewhere “deep” in a dialogue.

The Red Checks are reserved for story events in which you can either succeed or fail and they are always tied to a choice. The silent contract here is that we make an effort to weave both successes and failures into the story. There are moments in which you wish for your character to fail a check.

Currently, and this might change depending on player feedback, we show your odds before the roll. Your stat, skill, bonuses and possible die rolls are matched against a target number and modifiers to the target number, which you have as of now.

This serves as a tool for the player to judge if she wants to drink alcohol; for example, before the roll, to deepen the intuiton of the character. We might decide that this information would be too much before the check and show what affected your roll only after you have passed it. This is something to playtest.

So, until next time when I hopefully tell about our character system.

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