Dialogue in Skywind
Written by oldmanlaertes
Morrowind and Skyrim deal with dialogue in very different ways. Where Morrowind’s system is largely text-based and static, Skyrim’s relies heavily on voice acting and moves at its own pace. Not surprisingly, we’ve received a number of questions about how we plan to address these differences. It can be a bit difficult for us to convey our plans and progress on this topic since it’s not much of a visual process, but hopefully this post can shed some light on how dialogue is faring in the transition from Morrowind to Skywind.
If you’ve played Morrowind, you’ll know that most NPCs have a lot to say about various topics. If you’ve got a question about ingredients, places, people, races, most NPCs will have an answer. These answers can be very long, and are often shared by every NPC in town. This is fine in the Morrowind engine, since none of these lines are voice acted and the dialogue interface is designed for reading at your own pace; however, this does not translate as well into the Skyrim engine.
To make these generic responses fit Skywind’s dialogue system better, most generic lines have been chopped up into more manageable chunks, and most of the player prompts have been converted from simple keywords (as they were in Morrowind) to coherent statements and questions. In addition, to reduce the huge amount of generic lines shared between NPCs, our resident wizard Taerkalith has allocated each NPC a filter faction to help determine which lines they will or won’t say, working to spread repetitive dialogue amongst far fewer NPCs. (Note: if you find yourself missing the encyclopaedic exposition of Morrowind’s NPCs, never fear; most of the game’s dense miscellanea will be covered in conversations with savants, so be sure to give them a visit if you’re ever feeling nostalgic.)
The other big concern with generic dialogue in Skywind is making sure NPCs have something to say in situations outside of player conversation. Vanilla Morrowind included things like greetings and combat lines, but there are no NPC responses for situations like sneak detection, opening a bartering menu, or finding a dead body. We’ve used the Morrowind dialogue wherever possible, but we’ve also added a number of newly written lines to fill in the gaps.
Skywind’s biggest writing project so far has been the addition of idle banter for individual NPCs. This consists of lines or conversations between NPCs that trigger without player interaction, ideally adding a bit of life to the background. Morrowind has a few idle lines already, but these are generic and spread very thin amongst a large number of NPCs. The common complaint with idle banter in games like Morrowind and Skyrim is that it can be too repetitive, which in turn ruins immersion rather than heightening it. Our goal has been to do something different in an attempt to mitigate this.
Since 2014, our head writer Justafan has overseen the writing and editing of around 9,000 lines of idle banter for the base game. The goal here was to give every NPC a few lines of idle banter specific to them - a process which involved considering their location, class, surroundings, and pre-existing dialogue to come up with lines and conversations that would naturally take place on a day-to-day basis.
This amount of specific dialogue may seem excessive, but it gives us the flexibility to have idle banter occur throughout the game and across the map without becoming too repetitive or stale. Our particular focus in implementing these lines will be to make sure they add to the atmosphere without becoming distracting, which means a lot of tinkering with line frequency to ensure replayability – we understand how much time you can spend in a single place while playing through Morrowind, and we wouldn’t want to throw everything at you in one go.
Perhaps the most exciting news is that voice acting is now in full swing. A number of VAs have passed through sound quality checking and are in the process of recording their lines, while a handful of NPCs have already been completed. Organising this has been a mammoth task – we have over 100 assigned voice actors at this point, with each covering 1-5 NPCs. Nearly every unique NPC has been assigned to a voice actor, but we’re still a little short on female voices, particularly for Dark Elves, Argonians, and Orcs. If you have good quality recording equipment and acting experience, please leave an audition in the appropriate audition threads in the voice acting forum [https://tesrenewal.com/forums/voice-acting].
As with anything else in the project, we can’t give an accurate estimate as to when any of this work will be fully implemented. Ultimately, nothing gets done without dedicated volunteers. If you have no applicable skills but still want to contribute, you can help prepare voice files for implementation here [https://tesrenewal.com/forums/voice-acting/no-skill-required-naming-voice-files]. We’d greatly appreciate your help in making Skywind’s NPCs come to life.