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  • Adding Life To Worlds With Dialogue Barks

    - Natalie Mikkelson
  • Barks: What are they?

    Barks are the bouts of disconnected dialogue that NPCs so love to blurt out, often completely out of nowhere. In theory they feel so wrong but, in action, they can feel so right. And they're one of my favourite types of dialogue for breathing life into a space, to really bring it alive for a bustling, living feeling. So in this article I'm going to focus on how we can make use of them in open world games.

    Overheard conversations

    To make world building barks sound the most natural, I like to use them in one of two ways:

    1. Thinking aloud
    2. Overheard banter

    When we have an NPC thinking aloud, we get some interesting opinions, dreams and personal thoughts that form. None of these things would be said out loud in real life, but in a game world we end up with a small but intimate glimpse into the lives of its inhabitants.

    I also like to think of barks as small excerpts of a longer conversation. If we were to add full-blown conversations for every single NPC to walk the streets of our worlds, it would be an overload of information. It would be confusing, difficult to follow and distracting. But if we focus on the middle or end of a conversation, we can extract the juiciest lines to convey just enough of the important information. Just like you might overhear part of a conversation in real life. And it actually works!

    But! Knowing the types of barks is great and all, but you have to come up with SO many variations of chatter, like, MILLIONS of variations until your brain turns to a sad mush. How to come up with so many lines? And how to make it actually sound good? And realistic? Here are some brainstorming ideas I commonly use:

    Look to the verbs

    What might the NPC be doing while they're speaking? Are they in the middle of something? Did the player just interrupt them? Distract them? Make them jump? Or not even register on their radar? People don't make a habit of just loitering on corners, doing absolutely nothing, waiting to spout their unprompted musings at total randos. So a good point to start from is to list a bunch of verbs and just see what triggers in your thoughts. Just write!

    Perhaps they're deep in concentration, fixing a car engine with their own live commentary. Maybe they're resting from a hard day's work and enjoying the sunshine, the little things. Perhaps they're hiding from a sibling after an argument, quietly ranting about their unfair behaviour.


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