Hey there. We’ve built up a backlog of questions in response to some of our previous blogs about Dialogue, so we thought it was about time we answer them.
A big thanks goes out to Dylan Connor for these questions.
After this post, we’ll be taking a bit of a break from weekly posts to accommodate an ever-busier schedule. We hope you’ve enjoyed these early looks at Dialogue. We’ll be back with more announcements about this and future work as soon as we can.
For now, enjoy!
The relevance of scientific research in Dialogue: A Writer’s Story
Did you write Adrian’s experience and thoughts towards research to generally mimic your own experiences and thoughts? Or did you try to create some separation from the character and flesh out a distinctly unique character using your background knowledge? Whichever way you went, what were some of the difficulties in going that route?
While representing our experiences alone would be valuable, we wanted to have various points of view available to the player. After all, working in a research lab is not the same for everyone, and since it is a focus of Dialogue, we needed to make sure various aspects were explored within the game. Without spoiling too much, we’ll say that there’s more than one researcher in the game. This means that there isn’t one single character representing our point of view, but rather that they approach research from different angles, and have had different experiences within it.
The hardest part of the process was understanding how these things would be conveyed to the player. Lucille isn’t a researcher, so she should ideally ask the questions the player is thinking. However, different researchers get different amounts of screen time, and might argue their points more or less strongly. We hope we manage to give players a balanced look into research by the end of the game.
Primer on Dialogue: A Writer’s Story
You mention having personal experience with some of the subjects… was it easier to write about fields you have experience with?
Common advice for content creators is ‘write what you know’. We’ve heard this reframed as ‘know what you write’ and whole-heartedly agree. It is definitely possible to write about experiences that are not your own, but doing so responsibly and with a good deal of research is important. Writing what you know takes some of the burden off of that research.
And where did you draw inspiration from when building characters and themes you don’t have much experience with?
When writing a character whose traits and experiences we haven’t experienced personally, we start with a few questions. Do we know someone with some of those traits? Have we seen anyone go through a similar situation? Can we talk to them about it, and ask questions if necessary? Compared to other games, Dialogue has a relatively small cast (about a dozen characters). This allowed us to create characters that are interesting and diverse while ensuring they all had a basis in experiences we knew or could learn about.
Nice art! How much of the art comes simply from the mind of Zoë versus the team giving direction for tone and physicality of the locales?
The overall style was largely up to Zoë (O’Shea – our artist for Dialogue), though we would check in with feedback as the style developed. Individual characters and scenes had some fixed parameters due to being described or mentioned in the dialogue, and we tried to find a balance between providing enough detail for Zoë to build off of, and leaving enough flexible and up to her judgment.
Faces of Adrian
When you are mocking up expressions and choosing what to do for each dialogue, does it mostly come down to isolating a core emotion? Happiness, Sadness, Excitement, Anger etc. And then just kind of having a funnel of sorts that buckets each of those emotions into the visual you think is most appropriate? Or is there more to it here?
The expressions were initially designed to cast a wide emotional net, but over time we refined this to match what we felt was needed for a particular character’s scene. Some characters simply don’t have the opportunity to get angry in the script, for example, so there was no need to have that expression for that character. On the other hand, some characters required several different takes on a ‘neutral’ expression, since they were quite even emotionally but deserved some nuance in their expressions.
Have you had any issues where the voice acting pushed one tone a little more and you meant to go with another tone are conflicted on what visual to go with because of that dichotomy?
There were often three forces which could be at odds – the voice acting, the intended tone of the writing, and the needs of visual feedback for the game. At various points these did in fact clash, so we just had to use our best judgment in finding a balance.
From Plans to Scenes
How do you keep everything in order and making sense pre-twine? Do you go with hand drawn decision trees of some sort? Or did you use some kind of coding schema that told you A goes to B? Or is it just an explosion of paper and dialogue that Dust needs to make sense of come twine time? (Twine time… I like the sound of that)
Actually, for this project, much of the writing went straight into Twine (via Dustin and Flo in equal portions), since it is great for visualizing any kind of branching structure. We also maintained a company wiki to store and share writing and design documents. There were certainly a fair share of scrap pages with esoteric diagrams throughout the process though.
Also, what were some of the shortcomings of Twine? Any things you really had to work around to make it function properly given your needs?
Twine can work with real-time effects, but it’s certainly not one of its strengths. Also, making something look and feel good (or at least different from many other Twine creations) takes time.