Game Development Reference
In-Depth Information
When to Deliver It and How Much at a Time
Pacing is exposition's eminence grise. An awful lot of explanation can be doled out
if it's done in such a way that the player doesn't realize he's being given a lecture. As
a general rule, shorter bits of exposition are better than longer ones, and tying them
into player actions means they're more likely to be received well. The pages from an
ancient diary will carry more weight if the player takes them off of a revenant's corpse
after a hard-fought battle instead of picking them up randomly every 15 feet.
Part and parcel with that is making sure that the content the player receives is ap-
propriate. That doesn't mean that it has to be “on the nose,” one-on-one instructions
on how to beat the next monster. Rather, it means that what comes across should
be useful and relevant—maybe not always immediately, but in such a way that the
player will be able to use it without endless slogging through his journal. If necessary,
this can be reinforced with dialogue or inner monologue—the standard “Hey, I'll bet
that is what the old guy with the lizard head was talking about” affirmation, though
hopefully done with more originality and less Scooby-Doo.
11.8 Dialogue
Horror game dialogue is hard to write. In many cases, the writer is trying to trans-
mit over-the-top emotions like terror, megalomania, and unthinking devotion to
soul-devouring cosmic entities whose mere names are sufficient to inspire endless
Lovecraft-derived gibbering. All of these can be difficult to write without sounding
completely goofy, overwritten, or derivative.
An additional challenge is writing effective disbelief. If everyone in a horror
game believes that there's something nasty in the woods, then it's a short step to
arming the local citizenry and taking care of the lurking critters en masse. But horror
games don't work that way. There need to be plenty of civilians who don't believe
in the monster in order to move the discovery-style plot along, no matter that the
player knows there's a monster because he's seen it on the cover of the box, and if he
doesn't get the monsters he paid for, he's going after the developers with a sock full of
Conversely, there are horror games where The Whole Town Is In On It. In
that case, the player knows that the NPCs know something but has limited means
to extract the information, and the writer runs the risk of having the endlessly eva-
sive dialogue these characters spout turn tooth-grindingly annoying. The fourteenth
time a player hears, “Ye'll be larnin' soon enough, heh heh heh” from the creepy
innkeeper with the bulging eyes and fish-scale rash is about the thirteenth time too
And so, the challenges in doing horror dialogue are simple to see but difficult
to overcome. Provide sufficient information to the player to allow them to keep
advancing, while supporting the mood and tone and not having your characters
come across like morons.
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