Spirit Island Development Update: For my third Unity prototype, I created an "interrupt system" for the player to interact with and impact a linear dialogue chain. The goal is for the player to feel like less of an observer and more of an active participant during a dialogue scene.
Part 1: Inspiration
Part 2: Design
Part 3: Postmortem
The stage was set. I had my reasons, my design, and my prototype.
And it worked! Kinda.
For the first time, I didn't have a formal survey for testers to complete once they played through the prototype. Instead, I observed them (as usual) then had a follow-up conversation with each.
I focused on what expository information they were able to glean from the experience and how the "interruption system" helped or hurt immersion.
What is the background story of this scene?
What is your objective as the player-character?
What did you think about being able to trigger voiceovers in the middle of dialogue?
Happily, the overwhelming majority of testers had determined the objective of their character. There were varying degrees of comprehension of the other story points that I wanted them to receive. In the prototype, I had the scene programmed to wrap up as soon as the three artifacts in the scene had been observed. This meant that one excitable tapper wrapped up the entire experience in less than two minutes, missing basically everything that I had wanted her to learn.
The self-described "puzzle gamers" seemed to act in one of two ways:
Stubbornly refusing to tap on anything until the dialogue was completely finished, aghast at the idea of missing any dialogue which might help them progress the story.
Tapping fiendishly and right away, setting off a cavalcade of confusingly overlapping voiceovers and finishing off the entire experience prematurely.
The second issue is one that I can clear up with some code redesign, disallowing the player certain access at certain times. For example, I might remove the player's ability to click on an artifact while a different artifact's voiceover was playing.
The first issue requires thinking closely about player psychology. As a friend put while testing: "If I was really in the back of a car with someone droning on and on, I would have no problem picking up my phone and scrolling through it. But I'm not in the back of a car, I'm playing an adventure game."
As far as if they "liked" it? Well, besides the big issue mentioned above, testers did seem to feel like being able to interrupt the dialogue and having it react to them added to their experience. My feeling is that it is absolutely worth testing again after some editing.
Plans for redesign...
It is clear that what I have to do is make the player feel comfortable with interrupting the in-game dialogue. I have to convince them that: this dialogue is optional and completely unnecessary to progressing the story.
My revision gameplan:
Restructure and edit the dialogue so that all of the necessary information is conveyed immediately and succinctly. This was my plan all along, but I need to push it even further.
Create a very obvious moment that tells the player that they can "tune out." The Sheriff could turn the radio on, remark "I love this song!" and then launch into a tirade about the recent weather her town's been having.
Adjust the code so that it limits how quickly the player can click on things and activate the artifact-triggered voiceover.
It is no guarantee that this fix will successfully bypass the psychological problem uncovered during testing, and It'll certainly need more testing with the new prototype. I am still excited about the possibility of adding to player engagement during linear dialogue and so I'll keep on pushing this prototype!