The Dialogue Wheel – Pros, Cons and the Falcon PunchFebruary 3, 2010
Playing Mass Effect 2 has led me to think about the dialogue wheel, the nifty little system that allows the player to choose conversation options when interacting with NPCs in the game. This isn’t my first exposure to it; I was familiar with the dialogue wheel from the original Mass Effect, and it has already been confirmed that Star Wars: The Old Republic will feature a similar if not identical system.
The idea behind it is pretty simple: the dialogue wheel comes up whenever you encounter an NPC you can speak with. Your dialogue choices are arranged around the wheel, and usually just a short snippet of a summary of what you want to say is shown. In Mass Effect, there’s even a pattern as to how these dialogue options are placed. Often, you’ll find the “paragon” or the goody-two-shoes option on the upper right, the “renegade” or the badass option on the bottom, and a more neutral option sandwiched between the two.
Given that the company behind the Mass Effect games is also the one behind SW:TOR, it’s pretty safe to assume that this pattern may be utilized in the upcoming MMORPG as well. Frankly, I’m pretty happy about this because I’m quite a fan of the dialogue wheel, though I do have some concerns. But first, let me go through the pros of this system:
1. It’s clean and tidy. A lot of UIs for MMOs are already way too cluttered, but the dialogue wheel is compact while still managing to serve its purpose.
2. It’s easy for the player to learn where everything is on the wheel. For example, in Mass Effect, whenever you wanted to learn more about something, the “Investigate” option will always appear on the left, and the “Charm” and “Intimidate” options are always going to be on the upper and lower left, respectively.
3. In my opinion, the most important advantage of the dialogue wheel is that for full voice-over games like Mass Effect and Star Wars: The Old Republic, you really don’t need anything more than the brief summaries that are shown. After all, what’s the point of displaying the full dialogue option when it’s just going to be read back to you seconds later?
And now for the cons. For the most part, the summaries on the dialogue wheel correspond well to what actually comes out of your character’s mouth…but sometimes you might just be surprised. The dialogue wheel leaves opportunities for players to select a response with the intent for their character to behave or say something in a certain way, only to have them end up doing something totally unexpected. For example, I doubt many people saw the following coming when they chose the dialogue option innocently labeled “I’ll shut you up!”
Sure, you can point out that any result would have been a renegade response based on the fact that the option was on the lower right portion of the wheel, but the last time I checked, sucker-punching someone in the face isn’t the only way to shut them up.
The fact that the summaries might not accurately reflect the full response is the biggest disadvantage of the dialogue wheel and my main concern regarding its implementation in SW:TOR. It’s all fine and good when something like this happens in a single player game like Mass Effect. Really hate the outcome of your choice? No problem, just reload and try again. But MMO players don’t often have that kind of luxury. While I have faith that Bioware will figure out a way to ensure their players won’t accidentally commit some major action without getting plenty of warning, not ever knowing for certain what your character might say or do will make many think twice before locking in on a dialogue option, thus making this system a possible impediment to the immersive experience and to a player’s overall sense of control.