Gamifying Dialogue

Gamifying Dialogue - YouTube

While I love a good story, I usually hate dialogue. It’s like… I’m having fun exploring and moving my character around and then I have to stop and talk to this person - and the conversation isn’t always quick. Because of that, I’ve been struggling with how to tell a story in a game.

I think a part of it is the writing quality, but I like the examples and ideas that this guy Eric Crosby presents. My favourite one is with that nocturnal game he shows, Where the Water Tastes like Wine, where you’re telling a stranger a story. You don’t know the exact story you’re character is telling, because to tell the story, the character is doing a DDR-style game. If the story was good or fitting, you would get more interactions with the strangers. As Eric says, the act of telling the story is more important.

I liked Valhalla’s take, too. You listen to the customer’s story about themselves and try to make a drink for them that would satisfy them. It sounds like what kinda drink you give them can alter the story and their character arcs.

I’m currently playing the mobile game Landscapes. Our main character Austin moved back into his family mansion and wants to help renovate it. The gameplay is a Match 3 stages where you earn stars. You use the stars to renovate the house and get more of the story. The gameplay and story feel a bit segregated, but I personally like it, especially since the conversations are just a few lines, each.


I also find long dialogues boring, especially when they feel like filler and lack value. However, in my biggest project, a metroidvania game with a strong RPG aspect, some form of dialogue is necessary. With that in mind, I have developed my own set of rules regarding information handling and dialogues:

  1. Not all NPCs have to offer dialogue at the same time. When the character approaches an NPC, a symbol will indicate if they are available to talk or busy. This can change as the character progresses, making NPCs who didn’t offer dialogue before now available, and vice versa. This eliminates repetitive dialogue.

  2. The character should have a notebook or diary. Any important information extracted from dialogues with NPCs should be recorded in the notebook. For example, after talking to the cook, a message will appear on-screen saying “New notes added to the diary,” and in the diary, it will read something like: “The cook at the Rotten Rat Restaurant in the city of Stinky River told me the Mayor’s safe combination is 4379.” This eliminates the need to revisit lots of NPCs (if the player doesn’t remember which NPC had that information).

  3. There should be a way to exit the conversation at any time. One of the things I detest in a game is being forced to iterate through all the messages in a long conversation without the option to leave. However, this also means that the dialogue with the NPC will remain available until the player finishes the conversation. It’s important to note that while there should always be a way to exit the conversation after each message, the player shouldn’t be able to skip an entire conversation by holding down a button, as it would ruin the gameplay experience.

  4. Anything that can be visually deduced should not be explicitly explained by an NPC.

  5. It’s fine for characters to have lines in the dialogue that help build their personality, but they shouldn’t narrate their entire life story. When personal messages exist, they should be engaging and brief. Less is more.

  6. Maps should work similarly to the notebook: when the character discovers a new location (whether through exploration, an NPC’s information, or reading a text fragment), the location should be marked on the map so that the player can remember it by consulting maps, not revisiting NPCs.

And thanks for sharing that video, I’ll be taking a look on it later.


2 and 3 are great rules! I can see 2 being especially great with Puzzle games because players won’t have to memorize steps or answers.

There’s something I was thinking of where we could bring the game’s genres out in conversations, like through minigames. With a friend, you’re playing a minigame as you two chat. With an enemy, there’s a minigame to represent the argument.

For example, one game I’ve had on the shelf is a platformer and when the MC wants to spend time with a friend, you can go to them and pick one of two or three minigame choices to represent an activity. You pick the game (DDR-style dancing, platformer walk, phone game) and during the sessions, you two can chat about anything.

You’re welcome. I know it’s been awhile since I replied, but I hope you got around to watching it. I recommend it.

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