Game Development Reference
points, or how to upgrade his armor in the moment before he transitions back to
story. So when that first line of dialogue starts, remind the player where he left the
story and what the situation is. Draw out the first idea of the new story moment a
bit longer than seems necessary or even repeat the notion—not the actual dialogue—
to make sure the player has grasped the new situation. If states change too fast, if
dialogue begins and the player can't immediately follow it, the player will stop and
separate himself from the experience, which is the moment we never want to allow.
Don't Ask Players to Track the Plot Alone
For the same reasons it is important to ground the player, it is equally important
to give the player some ability to track the plot besides memory. RPGs tend to
be longer and more complicated than games from other genres, and the constant
state changes make keeping track of plot harder than in even the longest book. A
comprehensive journal system, on-demand playback of key story moments, lines for
traveling companions that remind the player of past events—all of these can be used
to great affect to make certain the player never has to wonder where he is and what
he was supposed to be doing.
The Infantilizing of Linearity and the Tyranny of Choice
We've already touched upon the need for choice to enable player agency, but it is
the balance between too few and too many options that preserves the momentum of
the story. Remove all options from a particular scene, dialogue, or plot and it will
quickly become apparent to the player. The player feels infantilized by the sudden
shift to linearity, not trusted to make decisions, and therefore disconnects from the
On the flip side, giving a player too many choices creates a sense of paralysis that
can just as easily cause a disconnect. Having to stop, either in dialogue or otherwise,
and consider more than three to four routes or possibilities at one time means the
player can neither decide quickly nor keep all of the various choices in mind at once.
The result is a sense of pressure and confusion that quickly becomes oppressive.
Don't Write Game Instructions as Dialogue
Easily one of the worst offenses for world consistency, the writing of gameplay in-
structions (as opposed to in-story directions on where to go next) as in-game dialogue
negates any ability for the player to suspend disbelief and live within the game world.
On-screen pop-ups, interactive tutorials, or even instructions accessible through the
options menu are all preferable to putting instructions in the mouths of characters
who are supposed to be living, breathing people grounded in the world.
Let the Player Do More Listening than Talking
This is a fairly straightforward rule and obviously applies to dialogue writing. Don't
confuse player control and agency with shoving a ton of words in the player's mouth.
The player should lead, choose, react, and interpret. The player should not narrate.