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 about Vallhalla’s was that its conversations were designed with a different philosophy than other “narrative games”.

Where most games focus on 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 has the opportunity to make decisions in 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.