Game Notes: VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action







This game made me question the value of dialog choices.
By being better without them.

I first played this game while working on “Torment: Tides of Numenera” And what struck me hardest was that Vallhalla’s conversations are designed with a totally different philosophy and portrayal goal than most other“narrative games”.

Where other games focus the player’s ability to express a chosen personality. Vallhalla is about active listening,

There are no dialog choices, and the main character has a personality that you cannot directly affect.

Because the dialogs are linear, each character unfolds in a natural progression as they slowly drop their guard and sobriety. And instead of selecting “nice” or “asshole” options, the player character reacts according to her personality.

But the player still does have the opportunity to make decisions a compelling and indirect way.

When a character asks for a drink, you can decide to give them what they want and how much alcohol to pour into it. And those choices actually do push and branch the conversations in ways similar to ordinary dialogue choices.

And that creates a subtle and interesting choice that reflects your ideas about the character you’re serving and how much you value Jill’s livelihood (actively putting up with assholes to pay your rent. )

And this highlights my concern with constant dialog choices, the way they are currently designed (in games like mass effect) they are explicitly performative, Repeatedly asking what character you want to be instead of asking you to express how you feel about a situation.

Vallhalla’s narrative success has made me face how much of a limitation the branching dialog can be. And it will no longer be a default tool when I design narratives.