Branching Conversation Systems and the Working Writer, Part 5: Arts and Craft

This is the fifth part in a multi-part series on branching conversation systems (crossposted at Gamasutra.com). See the Introduction for context.

Last time, we went over high-level principles you should keep in mind when constructing a branching conversation scene. This time, we’re going to talk specifics–ideas to apply on a line-by-line level. Think of this as a toolbox, with specialized tools to be used in the correct circumstances. Continue reading

Branching Conversation Systems and the Working Writer, Part 4: Key Principles

This is the fourth part in a multi-part series on branching conversation systems (crossposted at Gamasutra.com). See the Introduction for context.

You have the tools. You know how to structure a conversation so you can work with and maintain it across a game’s full development cycle. Now… how do you make that conversation good?

This post attempts to summarize some key principles to keep in mind throughout the writing process. Some of these principles are obvious but nonetheless important–it’s surprisingly easy to lose sight of storytelling fundamentals when focusing on the complexities of branching. We’ll get into greater specifics next time, but the ideals below should suffuse everything you do. Continue reading

Branching Conversation Systems and the Working Writer, Part 3: Building a Conversation Tree

This is the third part in a multi-part series on branching conversation systems (crossposted at Gamasutra.com). See the Introduction for context.

I’ll promise you one thing: It won’t get less exciting than this. The good news is, we’re keeping it short.

This is the part in our series where we discuss not art, but craft–and only craft. I’m not going to give advice on writing sparkling dialogue or how to grab the Player’s attention. Today, we’re going to talk about how to build the sprawling nightmare that is a branching conversation while making it easy to understand, easy to edit, and easy to script.

I can’t emphasize enough how important this is–a brilliant conversation that looks like a tangled knot will drag your project down when your variables turn out to be buggy or a story element must change. Spending hours trying to untangle your own work (or expecting colleagues to do so) isn’t an efficient use of time, especially when it’s not necessary. Continue reading

Branching Conversation Systems and the Working Writer, Part 2: Design Considerations

This is the second part in a multi-part series on branching conversation systems (crossposted at Gamasutra.com). See the Introduction for context.

So you’ve decided that a branching conversation system is the best choice for your game. You’ve got the writing and programming expertise to make it work, and the budget to support implementation and testing. But how will your system really function? You know your high-level goals, but it’s time to refine.

In this post, we’ll discuss some of the largest design decisions you’ll need to make before writing begins. Continue reading

Branching Conversation Systems and the Working Writer, Part 1: Introduction

This is the first part in a multi-part series on branching conversation systems (crossposted at Gamasutra.com). See “This Blog Series” (below) for an overview of each part; experienced game writers may wish to skim early posts and jump directly into later segments as they’re added.

Video games are bad at handling conversations. Video games are especially bad at handling interactive conversations. There’s a reason most classic games are remembered for their gameplay or atmosphere rather than their dialogue: talking isn’t a strength of the medium.

But dialogue is a powerful and versatile storytelling tool–it characterizes, it builds relationships, it turns subtext into text, it gives rhythm and pacing to scenes, it creates an “index” of key words and phrases to a narrative, it brings drama into quiet moments… and so on. Foregoing dialogue altogether enormously limits the kinds of stories a video game can tell. So we’ve been using it from almost the beginning, despite our better judgment. Continue reading