Just Imagine the Whiteboard Dialogue Trees
This summer at the big GCDC games conference in Leipzig, Germany, I attended a session where design vets Ken Ralston and Bob Bates talked storytelling in games. When Ralston said that he hated the way game stories tease deeper subtext, and then fail to pay off on all the choices, I wanted to stand up and cheer. This is a problem in Mass Effect, where talky sections unfold like dull, flat sine waves, punctuated by sawtooth-style segments of manic action. On the one hand, the system's been nicely refined to allow more natural pacing by letting you choose a conversational approach before someone else finishes speaking. But it's still like playing the weird descendent of an old choose-your-own-adventure book, with spurts of action inelegantly sandwiched between exhaustive dialogue trees that don't change the game to speak of. Smoothly paced or no, your conversations don't shape your experience in Mass Effect so much as shuffle you along like a weirdly glib FedEx operative.