October 21, 2008

Week 11 tutorial activity – non-linear dialogue

Filed under: ECU MInT,GDT3102 Writing for Games — steve @ 7:42 am

Dialogue development for a non-linear sequence in the game concept Psycho-Ego:

Developing a multi branching dialogue tree is somewhat problematic due to 2 main reasons:

1. How to develop something for a printed documentation format that will enable the reader to follow a complex dialogue tree easily [examples seen tend to use hyperlinked questions and responses thus making it easier to link the logic flow of the dialogue responses together]

2. How far should the dialogue tree branch? Should the dialogue be a puzzle in itself, or should it constantly return to the same path?

 No doubt it gets down to the nature of the game that the dialogue is being developed for: in a 3D RPG/Adventure game where the player character would be expected to explore the world at hand, part of that exploration would be through enquiry of NPCs. However, if the player character was to just stand still and get involved in solving massive amounts of dialogue puzzles with NPCs then it perhaps would not be much of an ‘adventure’ game in a 3D sense. That then would suggest that the dialogue tree would not branch far for individual NPC conversations so that the player can readily find out what he/she needs to know and keep moving in the game.

 As Bateman (2007, p. 93) indicated that game spine dialogue should be placed at the beginning or end of a conversation “where it’s essentially guaranteed to be found” then in a simple branching dialogue structure that required information would make up the bulk of the dialogue. And, if we do not wish for our player to get paranoid that he/she is missing important information “Gee, I wonder whether I missed some crucial information because I didn’t go down every path of the dialogue tree. Maybe I’d better restore and go back and do that.” (Bates, 2001, p. 112) then each branch of the simple dialogue tree needs to lead the player in the right direction.

So, taking a simple approach where ” all roads lead to Rome” so to speak, reduces the need of the first problem stated above as to how to represent a complex dialogue tree for a print format. By providing the player with choices – not many choices admittedly, but choices nonetheless -  gives the player a sense of agency to enhance a non-linear structure while reducing the need to represent a myriad of dialogue tree responses and answers on a linear piece of paper…

Naturally this is for the 3D RPG/Adventure game concept mentioned here and may not work for all dialogue trees. However, perhaps, in usual digital environments where complex dialogue trees can be represented with hyperlinked questions and answers, representing complex dialogue would not be a problem in any case.

Example from level 10 interactive dialogue in the game concept Psycho-Ego:


The Player           1. Who is Elpis?

or                            2. Who are you men?

                                 If 1:

Iapetos                   Elpis was the only child of Emperor Adrastos. You look remarkably like the Emperor, young man, and his son would be about your age now.

                                 Else 2:

Herakles               We three were the Emperor’s most trusted soldiers before he disappeared. I am Herakles, while this is [pointing at] Iapetos and [pointing at] Nikephoros.

The Player           1. What are you doing here?

or                            2. What happened to the Emperor?

                                 If 1:

Herakles               We are investigating some of Kerberos’ henchmen who have set up camp at Endymion, not far from here – we think they might have information concerning the Emperor’s disappearance.

                                 Else 2:

Nikephoros           We don’t really know – at least I don’t – however Herakles and Iapetos here suspect he is being held captive somewhere. We might know more when we get to Kerberos’ henchmen at Endymion.

The Player           1. Who’s Kerberos?

or                            2. When are you going to Endymion?

or                            3. Where is the Emperor being held captive?

                                 If 1:

Nikephoros           If I remember correctly, Kerberos used to be one of the Emperor’s closest friends, however he expected the Emperor to grant him special benefits or something, which the Emperor declined – Kerberos left in a jealous fit of rage – that’s all anyone really knows… In the mean time we’re waiting here for Aiolos.

                                 Else 2:

Herakles               Once our friend Aiolos arrives, however I think someone needs to go to Alcyone and find out where he is as he should be here by now.

                                 Else 3:

Iapetos                   That’s what we hope to find out at Endymion once our friend Aiolos arrives here. Maybe someone should go to Alcyone and see what’s keeping him.



Bateman, C. (Ed.). (2007a). Keeping the Player on Track. Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames. Boston, Massachusetts: Charles River Media.  

Bates, B. (2001). Designing the Puzzle. Game Design: The Art and Business of Creating Games (pp. 104-122). Roseville, California, USA: Prima Tech.

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