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  • Adding Life To Worlds With Dialogue Barks

    - Natalie Mikkelson

  • Everybody has an opinion

    Of course, following on from politics, it's important to try and get views from both sides. There will always be conflicting opinions, and that makes a society not only interesting but realistic too. Be sure to consider all angles, at least as long as an opinion doesn't conflict with your lore i.e. a dictatorship brainwashing people to only say positive things about the government.

    It can sometimes be too easy to push our own typical world opinions on a game environment where, in actual fact, people have evolved under completely different norms. For example: Slavery! Most people in our world would be outright disgusted with the concept of slavery. But what about a world built on slavery? Most inhabitants will likely be blind to the immoralities of it. Perhaps they have their own rationalizations to support it as a totally normal concept. Their opinions should generally (but not necessarily always) lean towards how they're used to living.

    This is definitely a trap I've fallen into before (particularly our slave-happy faction in Kenshi), so it's a good idea to really climb into the mindsets of your societies. 

    Acknowledge me, notice me

    Reactions to the player themselves are one of my favourite ways to use barks. We can simply acknowledge the player's existence to make them feel really involved and immersed in the world as opposed to just an onlooker. Or we can use them as a subtle but powerful reward to reflect the player's actions, victories and choices.

    The more part the player has in the world, the better

    • Observation
      • Comment on the player's appearance, armour, weapon or mere presence
      • Insult the player; compliment the player. Be curious at the sight of a new face; be scared and suspicious.
    • Positive reinforcement
      • Regale the player for their good deeds. Congratulate them, thank them, worship them
    • Negative reinforcement
      • Condemn the player for their naughty deeds. Shame them, boo them, snub them

    Gameplay aids

    Information, hints and tips help to nudge the player in the best direction for their own enjoyment. Dialogues (in this case of course, barks or ambient chatter) are possibly the clearest and easiest tool we have in our arsenal to help with this: We can literally tell the player what to do!

    Aside from danger warnings and gameplay tips, it's crucial that game goals are clear to the player. Make sure your barks don't muddy up those goals with an information overload of other potential (but wrong!) goals. Solidify what the player should be aiming for; reinforce those goals using barks as one of many other tools: NPCs can gossip about legendary rumours (dangle carrots, as mentioned above in Politics) or they can flat out tell the player where to go! Goal-related barks can help us break away from relying on rigid quest systems to guide the player and this is the biggest way I so love to use them.

    Open world games can be overwhelming as they get bigger and badder by the year, and players could use a little pointer to keep them from veering off the optimal track designed for them. Difficulty is an immersion killer, but helpful barks can prevent the player from getting stuck.

    And that's all I got. It can be hard to churn out so many people's voices, but my only final advice on this would be to just write. Even the bad ideas. Just write them down. Hitting that writing flow and removing judgement on what you create can churn out a surprising amount of good ideas!


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