Game Dialogue: Make Every Word Count

Introduction

Recently I’ve been reading a book on writing and this has given me a few ideas regarding writing in video games, especially as an independent developer. As game developers, we are tasked with crafting experiences, and we should use our writing to improve those experiences for our players. I’m no writing expert, but this is what I’ve noticed.

Have you ever read game dialogue that made you want to mash the skip button due to cliches, or poor writing? I have, and as game developers, good story and character development is based on good dialogue — spoken or unspoken. To make a point, let’s  look at an example of bad dialogue.

Bad Dialogue

Tom: “Hey Ben. How are you?”
Ben: “I’m fine Tom. How are you?”
Tom: “Great! Are you ready for an adventure of a lifetime?”
Ben: “You bet! I can’t wait to go to Arklandia.”

This dialogue between Ben and Tom is similar to a regular conversation but doesn’t fulfill a purpose. We learn that they’re going on an adventure to Arklandia, but, we don’t learn why. Furthermore, the greeting does nothing to expand on the characters, and make the text longer than it needs to be. A Regular conversation doesn’t fit into dialogue, because of redundancies. Our job when writing for our game is weeding them out.

Now, here’s an example of good dialogue that imparts the same information and more.

Good Dialogue

Tom: “Are you ready? This will our last day here Ben.”
Ben: “Yea, I’m ready. I loved this place, but it’s as barren as the wasteland now.”
Tom: “Okay, onward to Arklandia, onward to a new life.”
Ben: “Yea… a new life.”

This is an example of good dialogue with a bit of fluff, although it can still be improved. In this case, we learned their motive for leaving, the fact that they’re leaving their lives behind, and made Ben seem more depressed about the starting the adventure. The reason this works is because of what we’re trying to achieve. In this example, we have a clearer purpose; give our characters clear intent for leaving and entice the player.

Concept

Every piece of text in our game should have a purpose; every word is precious in crafting the experience we want for our players. Don’t think of your dialogue as regular conversation; remove the redundancies and think of it as a subset of conversation. Try to say more with less.

We can pull a player into the game world and show them an experience first hand; players today are used to seeing everything in terms of scenes in a movie. Every scene in our game can help push our story forward or lend to our writing, always keep that in mind.

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