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  • Adding Life To Worlds With Dialogue Barks

    - Natalie Mikkelson

  • Life topics

    Now we move on to using topics as prompts. This can be day-to-day things. It's easy to veer towards more exciting content for barks; magical legends, grand rumours, but the day-to-day little things add a human level to NPCs that we can identify with from our own personal lives. A few ideas to get started:

    • Work: What are possible jobs that people might have? Maybe they're casually exclaiming that it's time for work. Maybe they're complaining of a pushy boss.
    • Family: From innocent annoyances to full-blown dramas, what relationship troubles might they have? Maybe they're muttering irritation at their bum of a lazy brother. Maybe they're heartbroken that their true love left them.
    • Dreams: What are the possibilities in your world, both small-time and big-time? What do people aspire to be? Maybe they want to open up their own ice cream shop. Maybe they want to join the mighty sell swords.

    Paint personalities

    To add further variety and contrast to barks, I like to map out a few different personality types behind the voices. Otherwise, you can unintentionally end up with a town full of people who talk the same, think the same and do the same. It's not particularly interesting, or immersive for that matter.

    You can take any jobs you listed above, then attach personalities within those. Perhaps you'll have a cheerful miner; thankful for everything he has in life. And a miserable miner; bitter and twisted, hating strangers and mad at his boss for having the gall to make him have to work, how dare they! How does their personality affect their reaction to the player? Maybe they're thirsty for chat; maybe they're disinterested enough to rudely brush off the player's intrusion.

    Come up with a few quirks too, some speech habits in particular. But nothing too over the top, since barks should be as subtle as possible, bearing in mind that they're often repeatable.

    Delve into politics & world conflicts

    As well as the more mundane parts of real life, we can also use barks to subtly unfold world lore to the player. Maybe even banish the need for long codexes! And while the small things help us relate to NPCs in our real lives, the present conflicts of the game world can help us immerse ourselves and relate as our avatar. Anything the player has a part in in the game world, or anything that involves us story-wise, will get our ears twitching to hear more. Because this concerns our mark on the world and what events unfold for us.

    We are selfish creatures, and we're only interested in things that involve us. The more an NPC's dialogue is directly related to the player's actions or impacts the player, the more compelling it will be.

    • Enemies:
      • Fear of dangers, gossiping about rumours, mourning loved ones, complaining or just curiosity about current dangers in the world
    • Legends:
      • Or as I also like to call them, Carrots. The tempting targets and treasures we want to dangle under the player's noses. Layer up on the pointers to game goals, they need to be as clear as possible and barks are just another tool to help with this
    • Regions:
      • Opinions, rumours, stories and gossip about other cultures and places. Don't underestimate people's interest in their neighbours or musings of infamous places.

    Rather than going too much into heavy world politics, I find the best way to reflect world conflicts in NPC barks is to combine it with their every day topics as covered above. For example, FFVII Remake did a nice job of reflecting how the main conflict affected the day to day lives of NPCs - delayed trains and travel disruptions caused by the damage to the reactors.


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