Game Development Reference
Your characters are going to be your primary method of delivering what you write to
your audience. By what they say and do, you'll expose the beats of the story, reveal
the personalities of the characters, and unveil your plot.
The Player Character: Putting Words into the Player's Mouth
One of the most difficult things about making games is managing expectations. If the
player expects one thing and gets another, you run the risk of creating a disconnect,
a point where the player breaks his suspension of disbelief and loses his immersion
in your game. One of the easiest ways to create a disconnect is to have the player
character say something that the player doesn't feel is appropriate to that character.
For instance, one of the biggest complaints about the original Thief game was that
the main character would sometimes make wry remarks at unexpected times. These
remarks would kick the player's immersion right out of the game.
To avoid disconnects like this, you have to establish the personality and dia-
logue style of the main character from the very beginning of the game and stick to it
throughout the entire experience. Further, pay attention to the action in the game:
if the player is trying to be stealthy, don't have his player character talk while he's in a
sneaky section. Work with designers and programmers to make sure you know when
gameplay like this will happen.
Another facet of modern games is that almost all of them are about power fan-
tasies. As such, one of your jobs as a writer is to make the player character say things
that make the player feel smarter, funnier, or tougher than the universe he's walking
around in. The main character doesn't have to know everything, but, in any verbal
joust, he needs to come out on top.
Non-Player Characters: Your Most Important Characters
Non-player characters (NPCs) should be the primary vehicle for exposition in your
game. They can tell the player where to go, where the plot currently stands, and
information that the player needs to overcome the various puzzles he will face. Most
importantly, the dialogue of your NPCs helps reinforce the personality of the game
world. This makes it important to make sure your NPCs' voices don't betray things
like anachronisms or cultural references that your audience will feel are inappropriate
to the setting. For example, don't have the NPC say “Dude!” if the game takes place
in a medieval world.
One of the best ways to tell story through dialogue is by having two non-player
characters talk with one another. In this way, you are not putting words or unwanted
emotions into the player's mouth. However, just like any time the player must choose
between words and action, you must always assume the player will choose action.
The player may not want to stick around to hear the NPCs talk; thus you are back
to those cracks we talked about above.