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Ode to Short Dialog: Reconsidering the Sound Bite
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Ode to Short Dialog: Reconsidering the Sound Bite


October 14, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next
 

Snubbing the Nose

Well, on the nose or off it, what's it going to be? Trying to transcribe the concept wholesale into video games doesn't really get us anywhere. Translation is required; the formula needs to be re-derived. Keeping dialog strictly indirect might not be possible, but here's the thing: That rule is just an easy-to-spot result of dialog that's in character and in context. Even lines that are brutally direct don't need to be without personality or context.

I'll look at some of the point capture lines in Dawn of War, by way of example. When you tell a squad to take a point, they spend some time raising a flag over it, then they need to tell you they've finished. The trained and orderly Space Marines get by with "Objective achieved!"

The more macabre and poetical Dark Eldar prefer, "Our flag flies proudly here," which is more than twice as long, but still under two seconds. Ditto for "It now belongs to da Orks!" On the nose and plenty of character there. "In context and in character" (ICIC) is longer than "on the nose," but it's also less than two seconds-and it might just work.

The Art of Public Speaking

Writing dialog in games comes with its own challenges. Very short dialog has the ability to work itself into the fabric (or gearwork, if you prefer) of the game, to become an aspect of the environment and player experience where longer dialog generally does not fit well.

At its most powerful, very short dialog has to balance a number of factors. It conveys game-related information in an easily recognizable, aerodynamic formulation that somehow, despite its brevity, remains in context and in character. It doesn't stick out, jar, or bore the player, and it takes a front- or back-stage position as needed.

Assassin's Creed is worth considering for its dialog. On the street, passersby and guards comment on what you're doing in muttered reactions. Scaling a wall or jumping around will earn you a "What is he doing?" while outright murder results in gasps, yells, and shouts. By and large, the dialog works well. It is to the point, short enough to respond to, and is "ICIC."


Ubisoft Montreal's Assassin's Creed

In Bioshock, likewise, the dialog you hear from the splicers, little sisters, and other characters is mostly short, and more importantly, written to be overheard in short snippets. It melds beautifully into the tapestry of the game's remarkable soundscape.

Interestingly, both of these games also feature excellent use of longer dialog, such as in the conversations with Al Mualim, the bureau chiefs, and your assassination targets in Assassin's Creed, and the voice tapes in Bioshock.

Note that in neither case are you required to listen to this dialog during intense gameplay. In fact, both games are generally designed to let you listen to them as a breather between bouts of action.


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