I have gotten the conversational system operational enough to do some testing with it, and it’s not coming out well. There are two problems.
The first problem arises from the difficulty of carrying on conversations about third parties when it’s difficult to find the background information necessary for those conversations. If somebody asks me how I feel about Skordokott, I need to look up my relationship with Skordokott. If this were real, I wouldn’t need to consult data to know how I feel about somebody; the answer would come from my heart.
My new screen layout should go a long way to fix this problem. Still, I’m not comfortable with the artificiality of the system. It makes conversation seem overly mechanical; the player should be expressing feelings, not looking them up.
The obvious solution is to liberate the player from pre-defined relationships; let him make up whatever he wants. But this robs the game of any emotional context. It’s not as if he's being dumped into the middle of a social group without any history with the characters. There is history and the player needs to know that history. But must it be the same every time?
Perhaps the thing to do is to freeze the player’s relationships with the other actors but to vary their relationships with each other. No, that’s still too messy. OK, how about this: all relationships are fixed at the outset. The player must read a few stories that lay out those relationships. There are a few scenarios with different relationships among the actors; each scenario has its own introductory stories to present those relationships. Or perhaps this information could be imparted in the actor description displays that the player should read anyway.
I like this idea. It means that the player will have to learn those predefined relationships for that scenario. That’s an imposition, but it’s certainly better than the clumsy way of learning those relationships currently in force.
But what would be the point of conversation, then? If everybody is familiar with all the other relationships (as they should be), then why bother gossiping in the first place? Perhaps conversations should be about events rather than relationships. That will require some major changes, but it makes a lot more sense.
This gives me much to cogitate upon.