Backstory & Dialogue Feedback

4X strategy game from Proxy Studios

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GriddleOctopus
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Backstory & Dialogue Feedback

Post by GriddleOctopus » Tue Oct 08, 2013 11:32 am

Hello there, I'm the guy writing the history / dialogue / flavour text and so on.

Just thought I'd pop in to say that if you've got any feedback, or you spot a bug, or a line doesn't make sense ( :shock: ), please post it below and I'll have a look at it.

Cheers!
Dan
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Monaldinio
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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by Monaldinio » Mon Oct 21, 2013 7:01 pm

The backstory and factions are pretty generic. I'm not sure what happened to the nations of Earth, but the backstory is insufficient to account for such a dramatic change by 2100. Nothing in the faction backstory is exciting or provides character to the factions. As much as I have made fun of Games Workshop for their poor game mechanics, the one thing they get right is a solid backstory for each faction/race that gives them a unique feel. It greatly enhances the appeal of the game.
While reading about the red faction there was a moment when I hesitated to leave this game for good because of the liberal bias and cliche xenophobia. What was great about Alpha Centauri, among other things, that it was above and beyond nowadays morality and politics (true science fiction). You could easily settle in the ideology and concepts of any faction without being restricted to a specific moral alignment or judgement. Of course, at this point I did not realize yet there's no much setting or plot here to worry about.

dalves
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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by dalves » Mon Oct 21, 2013 10:48 pm

I wouldn't say "liberal bias" and "cliche xenophobia". For example, the answer of the Solar Dinasty for accepting a gift would say something about more getting concumbines for the palace. In the same way the leader of the Togra University would call other leaders "monkeys" in his praise. Personally, I felt that the factions feel like carictures of the ones on Alpha Centauri. There's a bit of a disconnect between the history (that doesn't feel serious) and gameplay.

jdmillard
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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by jdmillard » Tue Oct 22, 2013 3:41 pm

All the factions follow super radical versions of their root ideology. Even the "peace, love, trees, and harmony" faction is willing to kill people to protect trees (it says so in the faction back story that was published... a generation was raised in space that never met anyone who disagreed with them thus creating a radicalized group). Games are a business and businesses usually don't like politics because nobody wants to offend and send away half of their business (or even 10% for that matter... that's a lot of business lost). The safest way to play this is to simply "make fun" of all the factions in their radical form. I too raised an eyebrow at some of the back story and feel like there is a bit of a bias when the wackiest factions are the guns and religion ones and the communist one seems almost okay. As I mentioned, I understand that these are the radicalized forms and thus deserve a wacky image. However, I think some wacky light needs to be shed equally on these groups.

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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by dalves » Tue Oct 22, 2013 4:22 pm

Out of curiosity, which faction do you identify as the communist one?

I would think first of the Solar Dinasty, as the heir of the Chinese Communist Party, but it has stopped being about communism to be about authoritarism. And I find them one of the wackiest factions. The leader agrees to praise by saying that he is a perfect man and claims that he will use gift money to buy concumbines.

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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by jdmillard » Tue Oct 22, 2013 4:50 pm

dalves wrote:Out of curiosity, which faction do you identify as the communist one?

I would think first of the Solar Dinasty, as the heir of the Chinese Communist Party, but it has stopped being about communism to be about authoritarism. And I find them one of the wackiest factions. The leader agrees to praise by saying that he is a perfect man and claims that he will use gift money to buy concumbines.
Nicely added. I wasn't overly familiar with the Solar Dynasty because they were killed off early in my game.

I tend to "brush off" the wackiness of the faction that I pick, because once I pick them, I'm the leader. This is one of the reasons that I'd like to customize the name of the faction that I play.

dalves
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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by dalves » Tue Oct 22, 2013 4:56 pm

I'm the opposite, I tend to notice more the wackiness of my own faction as I am more exposed to their expressions in the diplomatic interactions. However, after some time I tend to only read the short description of the action. [offers opinion]

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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by SephiRok » Tue Oct 22, 2013 5:04 pm

Please note we'll be recording some voice overs tomorrow and we'll be adding them in over the next week or two. These will be for the intro, the faction quotes, the faction welcome messages and about two dozen report quotes similar to Xenomorph Activities that are not displayed yet -- each with it's own image, quote and flavor description.
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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by jdmillard » Tue Oct 22, 2013 5:11 pm

SephiRok wrote:Please note we'll be recording some voice overs tomorrow and we'll be adding them in over the next week or two. These will be for the intro, the faction quotes, the faction welcome messages and about two dozen report quotes similar to Xenomorph Activities that are not displayed yet -- each with it's own image, quote and flavor description.
Sweet. I like the idea of a monologue during the beginning movie that changes based on the faction you pick. It will be the voice of the faction leader... dramatically explaining the influences the brought them to Pandora (from that faction's perspective) and what future plans they have for the planet.

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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by SephiRok » Tue Oct 22, 2013 5:20 pm

You misunderstood. The lines of the intro will stay the same and there will be only one voice, we're not that rich. :)
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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by jdmillard » Tue Oct 22, 2013 5:29 pm

Lol. At then end of the day, voices are not a deal-breaker for me. I'm not too worried about it. ;)
Last edited by jdmillard on Tue Oct 22, 2013 5:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

dalves
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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by dalves » Tue Oct 22, 2013 5:36 pm

One voice, if done properly, can do wonders. For example, Civilization 4 quotations.

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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by SephiRok » Sat Oct 26, 2013 5:17 pm

Added voice clips for Divine Ascension's quote and welcome and the first city built quote, more coming next week.
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richmcd
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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by richmcd » Wed Oct 30, 2013 12:22 am

Hi there! I'm very excited to play Pandora. I love Civ V and Galactic Civ, but they feel rather bland and board-gamey. I miss the strong setting and characterization from Alpha Centauri, which I feel still holds up as an incredible achievement in emergent story-telling. Shame it looks like cack now! And that interface...

I doubt I'll have much to offer on the gameplay side; I play Civ to quite a high level, but I never really have any strong opinions on the mechanics. I feel much more qualified to give feedback on the setting and dialogue, because in real life I'm a developmental editor, specializing in sci-fi and other genre fiction. Basically clients send me first drafts of novels and I advise them on setting, characterization, pacing etc. They redraft and we move onto line editing. Then we keep revising and revising until it's ready to be published. It's the best job! Admittedly there's a huge difference between static fiction and interactive/procedural/emergent storytelling, but the fundamentals are the same.

Unfortunately the game crashed before I could start :( I don't think it's worth submitting a bug report. My graphics card is completely kaput. New computer arrives next week.

But I did notice a few things while I was looking over the factions:

Noxium Corp's flavour text says "offer and demand" - the idiom is "supply and demand". I think "offer" will sound weird to most English speakers here.

One of the perks is "exploitive". "Exploitative" is much more common. However, I think there's less of a call to change this, especially if you don't want it to sound like a negative trait. "Exploitive" is an obscure variant, but it's immediately clear what it means.

To echo earlier comments, my initial concern is that the factions seem like parodies of the AC ones. For example, "Noxium Corp" doesn't seem like the kind of name a real company would give themselves. It would be like calling yourself "Evil, Inc." The strength of AC was that the settings and factions were very believable and distinct. They represented political extremes, but in the fiction of the setting they were convincing. Parody and meta-humour is fine, but is it really suited to this kind of game? Nothing kills humour like repetition, and 4X games are all about replayability. And nothing breaks immersion like being meta about the setting; it draws attention to the artificiality of it.

Another issue is that the set-up doesn't immediately grab me. Obviously you can't steal AC's backstory entirely, but they certainly hit upon a very neat way of having all these political extremes on one planet: the colonists were supposed to arrive as a unit, but they rebelled in transit and split into factions led by various charismatic individuals. It was a one way trip, and they had no choice. The factions sprang up en route, making the best of a bad situation. From the player's point of view, it's simple and easy to imagine, with only a little bit of handwaving required to accept it all.

In your setting it seems like the different factions are pre-existing and very distinct off-world entities (some religious, some corporate, some academic etc.) who all independently AND simultaneously fund and organise colonizing missions. That's... weird. Maybe it will make more sense when I get access to more in game backstory, but at the moment I can't say I fully understand what sort of society would give rise to this kind of situation. Which isn't a huge problem. It's just more obviously fudged together for the sake of game mechanics than AC. So already immersion is on the back foot.

Anyway, I accept I'm probably prejudging things unfairly. I hope to be of more use when I can actually play the game!

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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by Strategia » Wed Oct 30, 2013 7:44 am

richmcd wrote:I doubt I'll have much to offer on the gameplay side; I play Civ to quite a high level, but I never really have any strong opinions on the mechanics. I feel much more qualified to give feedback on the setting and dialogue, because in real life I'm a developmental editor, specializing in sci-fi and other genre fiction. Basically clients send me first drafts of novels and I advise them on setting, characterization, pacing etc. They redraft and we move onto line editing. Then we keep revising and revising until it's ready to be published. It's the best job! Admittedly there's a huge difference between static fiction and interactive/procedural/emergent storytelling, but the fundamentals are the same.
How do you land a job like that? That sounds awesome.
To echo earlier comments, my initial concern is that the factions seem like parodies of the AC ones. For example, "Noxium Corp" doesn't seem like the kind of name a real company would give themselves. It would be like calling yourself "Evil, Inc." The strength of AC was that the settings and factions were very believable and distinct. They represented political extremes, but in the fiction of the setting they were convincing. Parody and meta-humour is fine, but is it really suited to this kind of game? Nothing kills humour like repetition, and 4X games are all about replayability. And nothing breaks immersion like being meta about the setting; it draws attention to the artificiality of it.
While I'll definitely give you the "repetition kills humour, and 4X is about replayability" aspect, I personally find the level of meta in the game and the backstory to be quite refreshing. Granted, sometimes it goes a little too far (the Noxium Corporation was a-ok with Imperium taking over Callisto, 'cause they think space piracy is a legitimate business model? Sorry, not buying it), but on the whole, I find it to be a welcome change from games and other forms of fiction who take themselves entirely seriously, and who make up their future history out of whole cloth with no actual link to the real world (usually you'll see the future history begin with some arbitrary development ~20 years from when it was written, with no regard for how the real world could develop to such a point). Seeing base names like Kim Il-sung (Solar Dynasty), Merrill (Noxium) and Stalingrad (Imperium) really makes it feel like the world is connected to our own, with people whose knowledge of history actually encompasses the mid- to late-20th and early-21st centuries, as well as everything preceding and following it.
In your setting it seems like the different factions are pre-existing and very distinct off-world entities (some religious, some corporate, some academic etc.) who all independently AND simultaneously fund and organise colonizing missions. That's... weird. Maybe it will make more sense when I get access to more in game backstory, but at the moment I can't say I fully understand what sort of society would give rise to this kind of situation. Which isn't a huge problem. It's just more obviously fudged together for the sake of game mechanics than AC. So already immersion is on the back foot.
There's some detailed backstory on each of the factions in the in-game compendium, and an out-of-game timeline document, which sheds a lot more light on how the situation at the start of the game came to be, but it's unfortunately not very obvious unless you actually go looking for it.

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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by richmcd » Wed Oct 30, 2013 12:21 pm

Strategia wrote: How do you land a job like that? That sounds awesome.
I'm freelance. The self-publishing boom has created a lot of demand for editors outside the traditional publishing model. In fact there's almost certainly a glut of them now. But most editors just offer a line-editing/proof-reading service, and there's a lot of shoddy work out there. You can also get beta readers who'll give you a very broad critique. There still don't seem to be many of us who'll offer the whole gamut, from "Here's this plot I've been scribbling on napkins, what do you think?" via "Does Prince Hyperio's transition from bookish teen heartthrob to ninja drag queen follow a believable arc?"/"How do I improve the pacing in the aquarium showdown scene?" to "Are you sure that's how you spell 'minuscule'?"/"WHY HAS THE KINDLE EATEN ALL MY PARAGRAPH BREAKS?" and all the (many) steps in between. There are writing coaches and courses, but they're expensive and often snobbish about genre fiction. Those that aren't tend to just serve up reheated versions of "show don't tell, dummy", which can lead to spectacularly bad results when followed blindly.

Despite self-published fiction's poor reputation, there are a lot of good writers out there, fuelled almost entirely by enthusiasm. Which is brilliant, but it's a double-edged sword. Unfortunately, many of them think the process for writing a book is: i) write first draft; ii) correct grammar and spelling; iii) OMG PUBLISH!!! which is why so much self-published fiction is half-baked. Getting to the end of a first draft is an extraordinary achievement, but it's just the beginning. I think my clients' hearts always sink when I explain to them how much work needs to be done. But it's a rewarding process, and the books are always better for it.

I see the same problem in gaming. Lots of people complain that there are no good game writers, but that's nonsense. There's a ton of great writers, all as enthusiastic as my clients. But there's far too little attention given to editing, beyond simple spelling and grammar (and even that's usually abysmal). 90% of video game writing reads like a first draft, and runs on far too long. Which is weird, because you'd have thought that if anyone understood the "polish until it's perfect" model, where you trim and tweak and go over the same thing hundreds of times until you hate the sight of it, it would be game developers!

What really baffles me is that, compared with everything else that goes into making a game, writing costs peanuts. It must represent barely 1% of the total budget. Yet it makes up a much higher percentage of the experience, even for those who aren't into writing. Making it perfect seems like good business sense.

(I don't direct any of that criticism at Dan or anyone at Proxy Studios, by the way. Just by having this dedicated backstory and dialogue thread, you've already done more than I've seen in any of the other beta tests I've done!)
There's some detailed backstory on each of the factions in the in-game compendium, and an out-of-game timeline document, which sheds a lot more light on how the situation at the start of the game came to be, but it's unfortunately not very obvious unless you actually go looking for it.
Ah. That's what I'm itching to see! Unfortunately it was when I pressed the Background button that the game crashed. I'll dig out the timeline and have a look. Hopefully that will keep me satisfied until my new computer arrives. Thanks for pointing it out.

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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by richmcd » Wed Oct 30, 2013 1:47 pm

Ah. I see the "offer and demand"/"supply and demand" error from Noxium's quote is fixed in the lore pdf. I guess the in game version got out of sync somehow. (Or you've updated the pdf since I pointed it out.)

I'm enjoying the lore document so far. It's quite well-written, I feel I understand the setting a bit better, and my initial reaction from trying to play the game was, as I suspected, a little hasty. I'm still not big on all the faction names, some of which I think are quite bland and hold back the much more interesting stuff that's actually in the descriptions. (Especially Imperium! As a sci-fi/fantasy editor, I'd pay good money to never see the word "Imperium" again. My eyes just glaze over.) But I appreciate that there's a balance to be struck, and that the factions need to be quite generic to allow players to put their own spin on them as they play.

First reactions (I've only read it once, quickly, over lunch):

i) It's rather long. I'd be strongly inclined to cut the word counts of the faction descriptions in half (at least for the longer ones). The writing is solid, for the most part, but the sheer amount of it is dragging it down. I think there's a good chance that a lot of people will stop reading before the end. (And by that I'm afraid I mean any given section, not the whole document.) Far better to leave people wanting more. Cutting also forces you to think about what's really important.

ii) There's a strong dash addiction. I have it too when I'm writing quickly (and brackets! -- love 'em), but they really disrupt the rhythm when they're overused, and that stop-start style is rather tiring to get through. Personally, I'd recommend ditching most of them. Most times you can recast the sentence, and often the included aside isn't actually that important.

iii) There's also a hyphen addiction. Less worrisome, but some of them are considered incorrect by most style guides. (I hesitate to ever call any writing "wrong". There's nothing more stifling than grammar pedantry. But if you're going to do something non-standard, I think there should be a good reason.) The normal rule is that you don't hyphenate when using an adverb. So "colourfully named" not "colourfully-named" in Lady Lilith Vermillion's description and possibly more than a dozen other examples. Having said all that, I'd say the one in "you're all being automatically-blackmailed" actually IS just wrong. Even if you want there to be a new invention called "automatic-blackmail", rather than just using the word generally, that would make it "you're all being automatic-blackmailed".

iv) On top of all that, it could generally do with another proof/fact-check. "Like Napoleon 400 years before" should be "300", surely? Is "community party" deliberate or an error? And there were a few weird commas and other oddities that I'm afraid I don't have time to note down.

v) I'm still not sold on the tone.
Chad and buck didn't make it through the 2070s -- a loophole in their procurement software saw a disgruntled employee dump a small satellite-rod on their rural Californian home, obliterating it and the local area -- and the company was left in trust for their body-building club
That's funny and quite pithy (although there's that dash addiction!), and it made me smile to read it, which of course is great. But the downside is that I now don't see the faction as anything other than a joke. It's nice satire, but I'm not sure it's great world building.

Another example:
Set up in 2022 by an anonymous donor, initially as a research lab to discover better shower curtains, the University grew fat on corporate donations for its research.
That undercuts the whole faction for me (I'm either going to have to pretend it isn't true, or treat the faction as a parody), and I don't think it's as good a joke as the first, mainly because of where the punchline sits in the sentence, but also because its silliness is isolated. I think the first joke tells a very short, complete story, with some quick and dirty characterization, which is excellent writing. The second just seems like a wacky aside.

But this is going to be an aesthetic preference. Alpha Centauri was certainly very po-faced and serious about its world building, and I doubt Strategia will be alone in preferring something less dour. I'd agree for static fiction, but in a video game it seems like the safe choice as far as immersion is concerned. Of course, all this will depend on how serious the game itself is. But from what I've read, this lightness of style doesn't extend past the writing. I worry that's going to create a weird disconnect.

This is all sounding rather negative! But while I think there are certainly improvements to be made, it's still very strong by video game standards. I was part of the beta test for Fallen Enchantress and I gave up very quickly. Brad Wardell is a talented guy in many fields, but a writer he ain't! The factions were so pathologically bland and uninspiring that I couldn't motivate myself to play more than a few dozen turns. Reading the lore document has made me more interested to play.
Last edited by richmcd on Wed Oct 30, 2013 7:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by GriddleOctopus » Wed Oct 30, 2013 5:39 pm

Hi guys,

Thanks for all that feedback. I'm only a part-time contributor so I only get to pop in here every now and then. This is the first game I've worked on, so this is all really helpful.

I'm giving everything a final pass tonight. I can't do anything about the faction names and directions - they were established when I started - but I'll try to tone down the wackiness (which is entirely my call and not Sephirok's - the developers even got me to tone down Togra a lot more after my first draft.) Those two jokes you call out Rich, the Imperium founders and the shower curtain, probably do need cutting. It is a little too light for such a grim world.

I'll clean up the punctuation, yeah. As you can tell from this, I have a tendency to overuse dashes and hyphens (mainly because I'm a recovering semicolon addict.

And, yes, Monaldino, regarding the timeline; I followed Kurzweil's Singularity thesis in planning out the future of the Earth, which allows for seemingly-mad acceleration of tech by mid-century.

There were some hard limits in place which meant I had to further push the tech and diversity. I had to get the factions to Pandora by 2100, which proved rather difficult even assuming the Accelerando actually happens. And given that the nearest plausible location for Pandora was 20+ light years away, I had a struggle justifying them finding it, sending back messages, then sending out colony ships.

And, yes, I'm a liberal. :D
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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by richmcd » Wed Oct 30, 2013 5:53 pm

Thanks for the reply. I think the wackiness is well-written, and would be a great design choice in certain contexts, it just doesn't fit THIS game. You'd need wacky, faction-specific buildings and traits, and a lot more events and faction-specific dialogue. To be honest, that's a game I'd love to play. But you have to do it all or nothing.

It's the kind of thing you'd have to have in place from the beginning. SMAC feels like the kind of game where they really sat down and thought what kind of story experience they wanted the player to have, and then they worked out the balancing later. My impression so far is that this is a game where the cool mechanics were designed first and the story/setting is being bolted on later and... that's always going to be obvious. Still, I think there's a lot that can be done to smooth things over. It's whether you have time. Are you the only guy on the writing side of things?

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Re: Backstory / Dialogue

Post by jdmillard » Wed Oct 30, 2013 8:33 pm

GriddleOctopus wrote:And, yes, I'm a liberal. :D
You can be whatever you want, but publishing your view of humanity is something that fits better in a book where can try to convince others of your views. Putting it here won't be converting others to your cause, rather it will alienate those who disagree with you because this "history" doesn't even consider that their point of view might be legitimate (I said legitimate, not correct... there's a difference).

I'm speaking from a business perspective. It's not worth losing credibility with a sizable portion of the market. Before you attack me, recall that I've said nothing specific about my political persuasion.

And I agree with most of what richmcd said.

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