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Article - 'Dialogue' by Guest

An item about Game Design posted on Aug 8, 2003

Blurb

Mr. Ys new article in a two-part set.

Body

Dialogue





There have been a few articles on dialogue at Gaming World, I think, but Im contributing my bit anyways. Dont look below if youre upset by the news :D.





First, what is the purpose of dialogue? Well, it is the most basic and well-used form of showing action in games. Dialogue can show many things, such as meetings, greetings, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, desires, lies, and all the other pretty poetic stuff : D. Now then, how is dialogue done effectively? I hope to answer that question in various sections of this article, so please read on.





To do this tutorial, well pretend that were making a new game. Well call it The Adventures of the Young Lad with Hidden Magic Powers Inherited From His Evil Father, and it stars everybodys favorite hero Alex. Right then, onto the show.





I. The Primary Goals of Dialogue


There are some basic goals to follow when writing dialogue. It is my general rule that each conversation must do one or more of these three things, or else it has no purpose. So now, your primary goals with dialogue are to-





1. Explain the environment and the world: This dialogue explains what has happened, is happening, and will happen in the games world. This includes information on places, NPCs, items, history, legends, and the world in general (It may also include other things, but I chose to give a general summary of whats included in this article). This is the basic kind of information, the kind of stuff that Common Villagers 1 and 2 dish out when you talk to them.


2. Explain more about a character: This dialogue will give the player clues as to the characters in the conversation, such as their secrets or their past. Try to keep these kinds of dialogues limited to important characters in the game; no one cares to hear about how Common Villager 3s father sailed across the ocean (At least in most cases; I suppose theres a few game designers that could pull this off). Also, make sure you space out the information given; Ill explain this better later, but basically you shouldnt shove information down the players throat. I wont give any names, but theres a certain well-known RPG with awesome CBS, CMS, and graphics, yet that same feeling of forced information (Many complained the game lacked story altogether).


3. Lighten the game- Yep, theres dialogue for making jokes too. These kinds of conversations should typically be kept between the party and those Common Villagers. They can make jokes, be they silly or tied to the story; I generally find the former to do better though. Although many of the Grand Adventure-type games lack good jokes in order to get a more serious tone, I think every game designer should try to use them. Jokes will lighten the game at times and help vary the games pace and feeling, which is good when used sparingly. The key rules with joke dialogues [and jokes altogether in RPGs] are to keep them short, not to use them too much or too little, and to make smooth transitions from the "fun, happy parts of the game with jokes" to the "serious parts of the game with plot twists and heavy story elements". And if you dont consider yourself good enough to see these things, a few beta testers can find the errors.





II. Before We Begin...


Before you even begin to write dialogue for your game, you have to establish the rules. How friendly is the main character that is speaking? How friendly is the world in general? And before you write any dialogue, always make sure you firmly understand the general concepts of the two or more participants in the conversation- what are the thoughts, beliefs, ideas, and other things floating about in their heads? Dont be afraid to generalize a bit; you dont need to give Common Villagers 1 & 2 different and radical beliefs on the world, and in fact I do not recommend doing so. Something that really helps set the Important Characters out from the Not-So-Importants is their beliefs; the Common Villagers (If you havent noticed already, I use the term Common Villagers for all non-important people) will share common beliefs while the Important Characters will generally be strong, independent, and free-minded to their own opinions.





III. General Rules of Thumb


There are several standard rules you should follow no matter what kind of dialogue youre making. Firstly, always use good grammar and spelling, no matter how much trouble you might have doing so. Depending on your style of messages, you may have face pictures or not. Face pictures will help individualize your characters a lot more, but it will also make your game much more traditional in the sense of normal mainstream games. If you choose not to use them, make sure you separate character messages in different boxes. An example of a bad way to do this...


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Alex| Hi there, Im Alex.


Susie| Hello, Im Susie.


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All I have to say is a flat-out no to this. Separating your messages looks much more professional and unique, and will help your characters messages stand out better.





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Alex| Hi there, Im Alex.


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Susie| Hello, Im Susie.


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Although you probably cant tell by reading here, the second example looks much nicer.





Two more suggestions... First, if youre using RM2K and you have a character say more than 4 lines, youll want to try to get messages in the last message boxes to be at least two lines long; it doesnt look nice to see messages continue onto a second box just to take one more line. My last suggestion is more of an idea than a rule- if you arent showing face pictures in dialogue, try to show whos speaking by action. Try moving the characters as they talk during dramatic cinemas, or showing emotion by making them jump or walk. This will help the player recognize who is speaking, which helps in cinemas where you cant afford confusion.





IV. Making the Conversation, Part 1


This first section will explain how to show a general meeting between the party and the Common Villager. Lets say now that, in our own made-believe game, Alex has just entered the town of Peacefulton, and talks to Bob at the Weapon Shop. Here first is an example of a bad dialogue...





Bob| Hello there welcome to Peacefulton. The King of Peacefulton stole a bunch of gold from the royal treasury, but it belongs to everybody.





That doesnt sound good right there; it seems like Bob is just throwing out that bit of information just as naturally as he would sit down to eat his lunch. Instead, try to make him more hesitant to tell you that information...





Bob| Hello there, sir, this is our local armory.


Alex| It doesnt look like it has much to sell though...


Bob| Oh, well, thats the Kings fault.


Alex| What?


Bob| You see, the King has a special fund called the Royal Treasury, where most of our taxes go. The money is supposed to be split among everybody, but the King recently took much of it for his own furniture. Its sickening, but we cant do anything about it.





There now, thats a lot nicer. Not only have we made the dialogue more natural, weve also described the environment in dialogue and weve shown even more information- we learn from the second example that the King spent the money on furniture, and that the regular citizens are unhappy. So then, weve gotten the basic dialogue down. I wont explain how to do a Joke dialogue, as its simple to do if you understand the Environment Explanation dialogue; however, I will explain how to do a Character Explanation dialogue.





V. Making a Conversation, Part 2


Now I will explain how to write the important discussion, and more importantly how to show emotion. Lets imagine that good old Alex is talking with his former girlfriend Ashley about why he left town at an early age. Alex doesnt want to talk about it, because he secretly left because he felt Ashley didnt like him anymore. Lets look at a bad example...





Alex| Hello Ashley.


Ashley| Hi Alex. Boy, I missed you back home.


Alex| Yeah, its too bad I left, huh?


Ashley| Yeah, why did you leave?


Alex| I dont want to tell you.


Ashley| Oh come on, tell me.


Alex| Okay then. I left because I thought you didnt like me.


Ashley| Alex thats not true.


Alex| Okay then, I guess we can forget about it. Lets go to bed now, we must get up early tomorrow to go to the Big Castle.





Hoo boy, I can just about smell the lameness coming off of that : D. For one thing, it seems way too rushed; Alex seems much too ready to tell Ashley why he left. Also, whats with the pathetic hellos? Old friends would be friendlier than that, I think. Finally, we need to pause the dialogue at points to help emphasize emotion. Heres the newer version of the conversation...





Alex| Ashley, its been so long since I last saw you!


Ashley| Yeah, the same can be said here. Last we met, you were just leaving Peacefulton...


Alex| [pause] Yes, thats correct.


Ashley| Alex, Ive been wondering for a long time now... why did you leave town?


Alex| [pause] I dont want to talk about that, Ashley. Lets talk about something else, okay?


Ashley| No, were staying on this topic. [pause] Why did you leave, Alex? It was so sudden, no real goodbyes and no warning.


Alex| Urgh...[pause] Ashley, its not something youll want to hear...


Ashley| Alex, I know I want to hear it. Just tell me, okay?


Alex| Alright then, but dont get angry. [pause] I left town because you were being really mean to me at the time, and I thought you didnt like me anymore.


Ashley| Alex, thats simply ridiculous. Well always be friends, okay? Always.


[pause for a few moments]


Ashley| Right then, we cant just stand around here like idiots. Lets head to bed, we need our rest if we plan to reach the Big Castle by tomorrow night.


Alex| ... Okay.





A much lengthier conversation, but also much nicer. The characters seem natural enough, and pause at the correct moments to add effect. Also, I hope that from reading this example youve gotten an idea of how to show emotion- basically, try to pause the characters in important speech. Try hard to place yourself in each characters shoes and say what comes naturally for each situation, then modify what youd say to fit the characters style.





VI. The Conclusion


Thanks for reading my article. Remember to be patient when writing dialogue; it takes quite a long time to learn how to write it fluently, so you should be prepared to redo your work if its unnatural. Good luck with your conversations, may they be wonderfully natural!