Free text input is out at this stage. Even a brief cost/benefit study (read: panicked brainstorm) tells me that the hours that I would set aside to figuring this out, covering all the potential issues, attempting to allow for those issues and testing would not necessarily benefit the game or gameplay massively.
So what lies between simply having three responses to choose from and free text? An obvious step is that the three options each lead somewhere different – in either a major or minor way. One statement from NPC leads to three potential answers which then triggers a specific response leading to three potential answers – on repeat. This isn’t particularly groundbreaking but would at least make it more interesting; so why not stop there?
I have been starting to question why it would need to be different or bigger than a branch of conversation options and I guess the answer is simple: it doesn’t have to be, but I keep returning to the fact that this is a party not a single player character. In many if not most situations there will be up to three (maybe more) characters present, perhaps it’s worth considering who says it and how they would be inclined to say it?
With this in mind I’ve been reviewing my user input screen and modified it to include a row of text buttons above the standard text line responses. Essentially the user will select who will say what from the list of options. To avoid unnecessary button mashing it will default to the party leader but can be changed to one of the other party members where desired. Of course there being a party leader is something I’ll have to implement before that works particularly well, so I’m also adding changing and tracking who the party leader is to my to-do list.
Before I go too much further with building out this method of dealing with conversation I intend to storyboard a number of key interactions and see what difference including this option may actually make to the game play. I also intend to have a number of others not connected to this project go through the storyboarded parts of the game as a type of choose-your-own-adventure to get an outsiders perspective. I believe as a concept it seems sound, but what will it actually do for the player and for the characters?
TL:DR; Two people can say the same thing and somehow it can mean two completely different things. Could that be the key to more interesting text dialogues in this game?