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October 14, 2008

Week 11 reading: Dialogue techniques

Filed under: ECU MInT,GDT3102 Writing for Games — steve @ 11:36 am

Week 11 Reading: Freeman, D. (2003). NPC and Dialogue Techniques Dialogue Interesting Techniques Dialogue Deepening Techniques. Creating Emotion in Games: The Craft and Art of Emotioneering (pp. 62-70; 71-88). Indianapolis, Indiana: New Riders.

So, giving our NPCs depth through dialogue, or perhaps indicating that the NPC has depth by the dialogue it responds with will be “Giving your NPCs heart and soul” (Freeman, 2003, p. 61). Exploring concepts such as emotional pain, regret, appreciation, wisdom, false emotions etc. in what Freeman calls “Technique Stacking” (p. 64), one could perhaps describe this ideal as not representing everything your NPC says or does through the use of face-on, literal values.

Perhaps this can be achieved using what Freeman described as “Deepening Techniques” (p. 68) where the NPC’s dialogue is really covering something else such as fear, pain, darker emotions or a secret. However, surely this would be part of the overall purpose of the NPC? Wouldn’t using those techniques imply that the NPC has an influential part on the game narrative? Why use such deeper emotive techniques in a NPC if the information provided to the Player has little, if anything, to do with the plot; and if it does have something to do with the plot then wouldn’t those techniques have been thought of when constructing the narrative?

Perhaps it really gets down to how the NPC provides information to the Player: not through dry dialogue as Freeman (2003) intended to illustrate with his “Weak Dialogue” example (p. 72) “COOK: Here’s your food”. Curiously, one did not find that dialogue weak when thinking of a surly cook, fed up with his job, environment and the materials he has to cook with, dishing out food with little hope of finding pride in his efforts. One can meet real cook’s like this; they have higher ambitions with their skills but due to circumstances beyond their control, it would appear, they have found themselves in a rut cooking bangers, mashed potatoes and gravy when what they wish to do is perfect the perfect green chicken curry. So, is the dialogue necessarily weak if it is simple, straight to the point and unembellished? Does that make it “robo-speak” (Rouse, p. 72)?

IF the NPC acts like a robot and speaks like a robot then of course it would be robotic. IF the NPC acts like a disgruntled man, in this example, and speaks like he doesn’t care anymore then perhaps that is what the writer wants. Does the character need to impart anymore information to the Player? How pivotal is the NPC to the Player’s journey? IF the Player is going to engage in lengthy dialogue with a NPC who is concerned, sarcastic, pleasant and apologetic, all in four lines (Freeman, p. 73), then there would need to be a good reason for it: is the cook the Player’s friend; will the cook provide the Player with pertinent information; or, help the Player in a moment of crisis? If all the Player is looking for is to obtain food, then why build so much drama into the act of obtaining it?

The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” also applies to dialogue: Lengthy dialogue to express emotions does not replace acting out those emotions by the NPC in the game. How much more could be expressed to the Player by a NPC through its acting out of the emotions rather than simply speaking it using different tones? One feels this is where Freeman, certainly in this reading, misses the bigger picture by failing to identify the need for additional direction in the script.

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