A Little More Conversation: Wasteland 2

The first footage of Wasteland 2 caused the internet to grumble, even though the game hadn’t inadvertently become a third-person cover shooter. The concerned comments mostly swarmed around the keyword dialogue system and there was sense to the criticism. The keyword system remains but hovering over an available choice will now cause a preview sentence to appear, providing context before a choice is made. inXile have also clarified details about the camera system and HUD.

While the dialogue system in the video was a callback to the original Wasteland, it was also potentially confusing and could have been a hindrance to roleplay, causing characters to go dangerously off message, like a politician with an ounce of human feeling. If conversations worked as displayed, it would be entirely possible to respond to a romantic overture – “your EYES sparkle like sapphires, revealing the gentle soul within” – with a fumbled and accidental threat – “yes, I have been collecting EYES for many years. I take them from my fallen enemies.”

Keywords will mostly be collected through conversation but there are other means:

Keywords are also added to the keyword list through perception skill use and environmental description text. For example, if you use perception to examine an object in the world, your observations might reveal a new keyword. Or, if you explored the level and triggered the descriptor text of some object or feature, it too might unlock a keyword.

The update post, over on the Kickstarter page, goes on to provide a dialogue example. As for the camera, it can rotate freely or in 90 degree increments, but world-spinning can also be disabled and the maps have been designed to allow pre-Foucauldian thinkers to “play the entire game”. A top-down view is also confirmed, discovered by zooming out, during the extremities of which the camera’s position shifts.

If such is your will, I shall not prevent you from the entire, lengthy post.


  1. mrd says:

    I didn’t back this. What is wrong with me?

    • apocraphyn says:

      I can’t say. Regardless, you’re a terrible human being and you should be ashamed of yourself.

      • caddyB says:

        You should send the money you saved by not backing this to me, so that you can make amends.

      • mrd says:

        I am. But… visiting their Kickstarter page shows I can still give them money via their own page and be slightly less terrible. Right? Right? Right?

        • DonJefe says:

          If you do, the gods of Wasteland and Fallout may be willing to forgive you.

        • wolfinexile says:

          Perhaps if you do that, the fallout from your lack of backing can be lessened in the wasteland that is your conscience.

    • Martel says:

      No worries, they got plenty and now you can buy it when it comes out.

    • wccrawford says:

      Perhaps you simply hadn’t played the original when it first came out, and had no idea how good the game could be?

      It’s an absolute crime that you can’t buy the original right now. The graphics were horrible, but the gameplay was amazing. (I’m sure modern offerings overshadow it, though.)

      It was definitely in my top 3 games from back then, and I spent way too much money backing Wasteland 2’s kickstarter. And I haven’t been disappointed yet.

      • dancingcrab says:

        Well, you kinda can – I believe Brian Fargo confirmed that he’d secured the rights to include the original Wasteland with WL2. Thus, by backing or purchasing Wasteland 2, we are once more able to legally own a new copy of Wasteland!

        • Azdeus says:

          The annoying and strange part about that though, is that he is only allowed to release it to us once Wasteland 2 is released. Kind of ruining it for me, since I will be well to busy with W2 to play W1 then.

      • jrodman says:

        I kind of dislike this old games embedded in new games.
        I just want to buy a copy of the old game. Why can’t I?

        Of course I already backed Wasteland 2, so I guess Wasteland is coming to me all the same in some kind of combo deal, but I’d love to be counted as “wanted to pay for wasteland 1, today.”

        • TΛPETRVE says:

          Just grab yourself a copy from Abandonia. It’s not like it makes much of a difference. I’m currently looking for the C64 version of the original, which comes in a gorgeous centerfold cardboard case, but until I get my fingers on that, the download will do. Yeah, I know, Abandonware does not legally exist, but it’s not like there’s much of an alternative, now is it.

  2. P4p3Rc1iP says:

    This gets better and better. Why didn’t I give them any money?

  3. Jack-Dandy says:

    Great update.

    I’m really hopeful for what they’re offering here- I want Fallout 1+2’s great RPG elements (open world you can get into, amusing dialogue), but this time coupled with an interesting battle system as well.

    Super-glad I pledged for this. For those interested, you can still pre-order a copy on the InXile site. The extra dosh will probably help them out, too.

  4. Enkinan says:

    When I see a Wasteland 2 Kickstarter update email I immediately stop what I am doing (Working, driving, having sex) and read it.

    You can just tell these guys love their job and really want to deliver. Being updated so fully during the process, and having them really listen to feedback is so refreshing and amazing. Can’t say how glad I am for it to be happening to a sequel to one of the games that made me love computer gaming.

    • battles_atlas says:

      If only I could receive emails during sex. It would pretty much be the best thing ever then.

      • jpvg says:

        Train your donkey to keep still and place the laptop on the back. Carrots helps. It is surely possible.

    • Gamboni says:

      From Brian Fargo’s interviews there’s a really strong sense of “we’re finally getting to do what we love”, and the whole thing just radiates this earnestness and dedication. They’ve handled the whole thing exceptionally well, which I suppose comes in large part from Fargo’s experience. If they pull Wasteland 2 off, they will be very comfortably catering to a niche audience for years to come, a niche audience that is very passionate and loyal.

  5. BobbyDylan says:

    I’m gonna buy it when it comes out.

    • tigerfort says:

      Woah – oldschool purchasing. Does anyone still do that, these days?

  6. LionsPhil says:

    If conversations worked as displayed, it would be entirely possible to respond to a romantic overture – “your EYES sparkle like sapphires, revealing the gentle soul within” – with a fumbled and accidental threat – “yes, I have been collecting EYES for many years. I take them from my fallen enemies.”

    So you’re saying I can’t play as Jeff from Coupling?

  7. Snargelfargen says:

    Oddly I’ve always enjoyed keyword based dialogue. While I do enjoy roleplaying a specific character, I think it’s delightful when they go and do something that completely surprises me. Those spontaneous “oops” moments helped make my Mass Effect Shephard a pretty interesting guy. Also, at the end of the day, the player is still selecting from a list of dialogue. You’re always playing someone else’s story, unlike tabletop roleplaying where the player has at least some agency.

    Anyways, I got into gaming in the early 90’s, so Wasteland passed me by completely. Watching the press without nostalgia is interesting. The gameplay video reminds me a bit of Odium, although I hope it turns out better.

  8. Drake Sigar says:

    Wise move adding some clarity to the keyword system.

  9. InternetBatman says:

    Keyword dialogue isn’t my favorite, but I think it’s important to many fans of the original so I’m okay with it.

  10. jellydonut says:

    The response to the feedback is great.

    I’m glad to hear the UI elements will be customizable in size as well, not just location. The size shown in the preview video was just way too big for my tastes.

  11. noom says:

    God dammit! Honestly cannot understand the concern over the keywords system. It offers incredible flexibility, and you know what? It’s better in RP terms too. They’re your characters, so you best know how they’d approach a subject. Just click the keyword and let your imagination do the rest.

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      And if what the developer thinks the keyword means doesn’t match what your imagination says?

      • Snargelfargen says:

        Use your imagination AFTER you click the keyword. Gotta let your characters grow and change. Going into any rpg with a pre-concieved notion of how your character will react in any given situation isn’t roleplaying.

        Of course it goes both ways. If a game has poor writing on top of a keyword system, then it can really suck.

        • JFS says:

          Ah… well, I’d say it is. In fact, it’d be good roleplaying to have a plan about your character’s behaviour and attitudes beforehand, and not just roll the dice to let your char decide for itself. Actually this “strategy” sounds outright strange.

          • Snargelfargen says:

            Yeah to clarify, there’s nothing wrong with having a well-thought-out personality. It just stops being roleplaying if reduced to a list of character traits which must be followed in every situation. It feels like tabletop gaming has spent years trying to escape arbitrary constraints like the stereotypical “lawful good paladin”.

            What could prompt somebody to make an uncharacteristic decision? I think that part is fascinating! Take the paladin for example. It sucks that roleplaying systems too often punish players who try to venture outside of the archetypes that have been constructed for them.

            Anyways, rolling with unexpected character developments is mostly a video-game phenomenon, I’m not recommending it for tabletop games. I’m not sure it’s even possible to retroactively roleplay a character without resorting to absurdities like rolling the dice for EVERYTHING like you said. Another of those things haunting tabletop gaming, hmm.

      • presence says:

        I’m going to call Fargo when I get to each dialogue so that he can enter my characters’ responses and put in the result tree for each one. I always start playing at midnight so he’s not going to be lonely during those long dark nights.’

      • sockpuppetclock says:

        I imagine it’ll be like Morrowind where the keywords let the character comment on or explain that thing more while actual choices are put into FULL SENTENCED options.

    • Lemming says:

      Gotta agree, and also I feel this is closer to what table RPGs entail. If I’m playing D&D, say, I will say things like “I ask about the village”, I don’t say “But what lies in yonder village my good man?”

      I realise there are some that do go in for the full dramatic reading approach, but it all boils down to key words in conversation.

    • LintMan says:

      I really like that the keyword system will eliminate most of the “dialog maze” that haunts most RPGs, where certain dialog options move you on to the next topic of conversation, removing all your other choices about the current topic, so then you need to restart the conversation or circle back around in order to ask the questions that got dropped off.

      This drives me nuts. I hate having to evaluate the conversation choices based on whether they will preclude being able to ask other questions because of some dialog state machine.

      • jrodman says:

        I think it might feel legitimate (if quite different) if the untaken options closed off forever. Like a lady that you had intended to woo was angered and offended by you, and so the option was withdrawn. A choice made, intended or not.

        It could be irritating but it would make the finite state machine not feel stupid. It would have heft, and a purpose.

        • LintMan says:

          I’m totally OK with a branching dialog path where some options preclude others*, such as if you anger or offend someone. My complaint is where perfectly valid options just disappear because of the dialog state mechanics.


          NPC: “A thief is trying to steal the Frobozz from the Well of Eternal Wetness!”

          Option 1: “What did the thief look like?”

          Option 2: “What’s a Frobozz?”

          Option 3: “Where is the Well of Eternal Wetness?”

          All good questions, and you decide to start with Option 1. But, GRRRR, it turns out the game has set this to be the segue to the set of dialog giving you the quest to stop the thief, and now Options 2 and 3 are gone. In real life, you would just return to those questions after discussing the quest (or perhaps even postponing the quest decision until they were answered), but here the dialog maze leaves you stranded: You don’t get to find out what a Frobozz is or where the Well of Eternal Wetness is, unless you re-loop through the whole conversation.

          * Thinking about it a bit more, it would actually be preferable if all the dialog options remained available, but instead just the NPC response changes. So even if you anger/offend the NPC, you can still ask for some nookie, but now their response if to tell you to get bent. That’s far more satisfying than just having the option to ask disappear.

  12. Frank says:

    Hello, internet. You are wrong again:

    “holding your mouse over a keyword will show you a preview of the sentence your Rangers will say.”

    Do you see now? Do you? Bah.

    • LintMan says:

      To be fair, in the update Fargo states this was a suggestion from the fans. So likely it did not exist until the fans started speaking up about it.

  13. Eddy9000 says:

    Truth might be subjective but ‘Foucauldian’ is the dominant discourse when it comes to spelling his name.

    • Sparkasaurusmex says:

      I don’t think his name is spelled like that, either.

    • Premium User Badge

      Adam Smith says:

      Yes – that’s a sore-headed fool of an error. (edit: my error, I mean!)

      • zaxor0 says:

        The term “Foucauldian” is accepted in history and philosophy to refer to Foucault’s thinking. Foucaultian is also accepted but I think it appears less often in academic works. Although I’m not sure what Mr. Smith means by “pre-Foucauldian thinkers,” but I would like to know. Nor would I say that Foucault thinks that truth is subjective–that’s a rather strong claim for someone like Foucault.

  14. guygodbois00 says:

    Waiting really is the hardest part.

  15. wodin says:

    Below is the explanation of the keyword system..wow look at all the different things that can happen. Even different depending on the order you asked.

    Keyword Dialog System
    The last thing we want to talk about is the keyword dialog system. Many of our systems are designed to be a modern take on systems from the original Wasteland. We started with the Wasteland keyword system and updated it, adding layers of complexity that enable us to increase conversational reactivity.

    The foundation of the keyword system is the player building up a keyword library through interaction with NPCs and the world. The keyword list starts out empty, and as you speak with NPCs they will reveal new keywords to you. If the revealed keyword is only of interest to that NPC, it will go into a local list. You can click on words in the keyword list to navigate through the conversation. If the revealed keyword has importance beyond that particular conversation, it is put into the regional keyword list. These keywords are of interest to most of the NPCs you encounter that region. A third option, which is never required, is to type something in – a nod to Wasteland 1’s system.

    Keywords are also added to the keyword list through perception skill use and environmental description text. For example, if you use perception to examine an object in the world, your observations might reveal a new keyword. Or, if you explored the level and triggered the descriptor text of some object or feature, it too might unlock a keyword.

    The NPC’s reaction to any given keyword can be affected by a number of factors including: the party composition, previous gameplay choices, previously used keywords, previous player responses to NPC questions, character skills, character attributes, item inventory, equipped weapons and armor, prior party actions, and CNPCs in the party. In other words, there isn’t a one-to-one correlation between keywords and the NPC’s response.

    It is important that the player listens to (reads) what the NPCs are saying, because often you can judge by their tone the right way to approach the conversation. For instance, in some cases using a keyword at a particular point of the conversation changes the NPC’s answer to other keywords, or even ends the conversation all together.

    One of the suggestions from the fans was that the Ranger party should deliver a line of dialog instead of just barking a keyword. We really love this idea. Having full sentences creates a natural conversation flow. Additionally, this approach allows us to remove the ambiguity of keywords – holding your mouse over a keyword will show you a preview of the sentence your Rangers will say.

    A working example:

    NPC Bob, who is guarding some guns, has intro text that reveals two keywords he has more to say about. Clicking on Bob starts the dialog:

    >NPC Bob – “Hey strangers, we don’t normally see people out so far into the wasteland. Be careful, it is really dangerous out here unless you are heavily armed.”

    This introduces two keywords to the player that they can use to converse with NPC Bob, dangerous and armed. Using the keyword dangerous will prompt NPC Bob give you more information about what is up ahead.

    >Ranger Party (keyword = dangerous) –“What is so dangerous about these canyons?”

    >NPC Bob – “These canyons are crawling with the outcasts of every crappy society in the wasteland. You had better watch your step.”

    Using the armed keyword will have NPC Bob tell you about a possible mission.

    >Ranger Party (keyword = armed) –“How do you think we should be armed?”

    >NPC Bob – “It is best to have a lot of hollow point ammo out here for all the mutant creatures wandering around. I just came from a cave at the end of that canyon where I found a half destroyed case of ammo. You are welcome to help yourself if you find them. You are going to need all the help you can get out here.”

    It sounds promising enough, but if the party heads for that cave they will find themselves in an ambush from the Red Skorpion Militia.

    If you had used perception on Bob before talking to him, and you passed the perception skill check, the examine text would have revealed that Bob has the insignia of the Red Skorpion militia tattooed on his neck under his collar. This would put Red Skorpion into your local keywords for your conversation with NPC Bob. Holding your mouse over Red Skorpion, shows the sentence, “I see you are a member of the Red Skorpions.” The Rangers already know that the Red Skorpions are out to get them so calling out Bob as being one can have several effects on the conversation.

    For example, if you start the conversation by using Red Skorpion, Bob’s response would be to admit to being a member. Now when you mention armed, which had Bob give you the Trap/Mission before, he no longer tries to bait you, but he doesn’t warn you about it either:

    >Ranger Party (keyword = Red Skorpions) –“I see you are a member of the Red Skorpions.”

    >NPC Bob – “So what if I am? What are you going to do, shoot me just for having a tattoo?

    >Ranger Party (keyword = armed) – “How do you think we should be armed?”

    >NPC Bob – “Now that I think about it, I could really care less. Leave me alone and go bother someone else.”

    Knowing that the Red Skorpions are your enemy, you might cleverly choose to hold off revealing to Bob that you know he is one. If you wait to use the Red Skorpion keyword until after you had used armed (in which Bob tries to lure you into the trap), Bob would cave and tell you everything:

    >Ranger Party (keyword = armed) – “How do you think we should be armed?”

    >NPC Bob – “It is best to have a lot of hollow point ammo out here for all the mutant creatures wandering around. I just came from a cave at the end of that canyon where I found a half destroyed case of ammo. You are welcome to help yourself if you find them. You are going to need all the help you can get out here.”

    >Ranger Party (keyword = Red Skorpions) –“I see you are a member of the Red Skorpions.”

    >NPC Bob – “Okay, okay, you caught me. Listen, don’t kill me, I am only following orders. There is a patrol of Skorpions on the rim of the canyon ahead and I was supposed to send you down there. Meow that I warned you please let me live!”

    If you had explored the entire canyon before you got to Bob and you had found some blood stains on the ground you could use “blood stains” as a keyword and get Bob to inadvertently tell you about the cave full of loot he was looking for at the end of the yellow canyon.

    >Ranger Party (keyword = blood stains) – “What can you tell us about the blood stains on the trail?”

    >NPC Bob – “Oh, that was me. I was looking for a weapons stash I had heard about in that canyon and I was jumped by a pissed-off Honey Badger.”

    This essentially gives you a hint to find an inconspicuous cave that you wouldn’t get from just the Bob’s original keywords.

    Extending the above example, if your party had Red Skorpion armor equipped when you started that same conversation, it would change Bob’s intro text, and instead of him offering you keywords about dangerous and armed, he would just give you a line about how you are late to the ambush and the rest of the Skorpions are up ahead in the canyon.

    If you also had Rick Baychowski, who is on good terms with the Red Skorpions, in your party as a CNPC, Bob would greet Rick in his intro line. He would also reveal the ambush up ahead, and tell the party they can find some ammo in a shed down the path to the right.

    Events outside of the conversation can also unlock local keywords. For example, another NPC, Jim, might ask you to let Bob know his sister Sarah had just died. When then talking with Bob, he still delivers his intro line offering up the dangerous and armed keywords, but you also see the keyword Sarah. Holding the mouse over Sarah, you see the sentence “Jim just told me your sister is dead.” Clicking Sarah puts Bob into a panic and he runs away leaving you access to the gun cache. This might have been the only way to get those guns without killing Bob, and you couldn’t have done it if you didn’t talk to Jim first.

    Keep in mind that in this example, you still had the option of shooting Bob in the head before any of this dialog happened. This would have had its own level of reactivity. It would have given you access to the guns he was guarding but brought the ambush fight to this location. Meanwhile, using stealth to quietly kill Bob before talking to him gets you the guns without the fight – though you might stumble into the ambush later unless you learn about it another way.

    We hope you have enjoyed reading more about some of our systems in Wasteland 2. We want to continue this dialog with you and are always reading what you post. In the coming weeks and months we will be uploading more videos and posting more updates to show you what we’re up to here at inXile.

    As always, thanks for your support.

  16. Crazy Horse says:

    I can’t help but be a bit disheartened at all this sudden focus on the dialog aspect of WL2. I suppose it brings to mind just how much Fargo and co want to please so many people with every aspect of the game which I think can be fatal for the game’s ability to simply be what it organically wants to be — if that makes any sense.

    In the specific case of dialog trees (responsible for so much of the flavor of an RPG) is bland and predictable dialog flows/story arcs the only thing you can reasonably expect from a game whose design focus must ultimately be simply trying their hardest not to disappoint the backers? I can’t think of any truly memorable RPG where the designers didn’t take some risks or include some highly questionable elements. I think it will be very interesting to see five years from now in what ways Kickstarter created projects differ from conventionally created products.

    A game needs its own unique sort of flavor and charisma as much, if not far more so, than flawlessly sound mechanics to be anything more than something you’d both play through and forget in the course of a weekend — this doubly true for RPGs. The trouble with actually daring to have a personality is that while some will love you others will react negatively. Which is why the big-budget RPGs are the way they are.

    I’d be surprised if Wasteland 2 does not turn out to be a good and sound game but I don’t expect it to be a great or even a memorable one. I’ve higher hopes for what they develop after WL2 is out assuming it earns them the ability to develop whatever it is they want without constant feedback.

    • TΛPETRVE says:

      Sorry, that’s a massive load of bullshit. The writing has long been done, all they did was explaining the dialogue system to those who didn’t get the keyword system or were too insipidly in love with Fallout to recognise that this game will not get a standard linear dialogue tree as was the case with all the Infinity Engine RPGs.

      • Crazy Horse says:

        Ah, you’re one of those people.

        I’m aware of what Wasteland is, having spent enough time with it to want to back its sequel. I don’t particularly care what sort of mechanics it uses so long as it is a satisfying experience. You missed my point entirely. In any case adding a preview sentence function constitutes more then simply explaining a feature and the state of completion as far as the writing goes has no effect on the circumstances it was developed under. Kickstarter is still a wildcard. What sort of effect it will have on the creative side gaming industry remains to be seen.