In which we look at how to form interesting main characters and NPC's, and how to make their dialogue intriguing!

The driving forces of your story are your main characters. So you have to spend extra time chiseling these little imaginary people (yes, even for mute characters like Link and Crono need this) and putting more care into them than just lumping them into the typical archetypes: warrior, healer, ninja, cyber-samurai, emo cyborg, black mage, white mage, blue mage, purple mage, green mage, time mage, kawaii mage, weeaboo mage, etc.

Doing this is very lazy. I'm not saying not to do this. I'm saying don't do this alone. Nothing is wrong with using archetypes as a framework for your characters. It has worked and will continue to work forever and ever, but you have to create interesting personalities to properly flesh out these frameworks. Or am I the only one tired of hearing about the cute little blonde healer girl who giggles and titters during conversation, or the reclusive mysterious warrior with an emotional past.

You want your main characters to be this simple?

So, so, so, what do I suggest?

1. Distinguish your characters from each other. Giving your characters little (or big) creative quirks and idiosyncrasies give them that "memorable" element, instead of using an archetype (white haired villain standing in a cold wind...), which is recycled and rehashed in a hundred different games. There must be at least one crucial aspect of each character to separate them from every other character in your story, so why not go the extra step and give them an aspect that would separate them from every other character in every game?

I'm not just talking about appearance (scar on face...). There are many ways you can do this:

a) Disposition – What is their main personality like? Are they bitter? Are they friendly? How do they act to certain people? Talkative? Shy? Think about people you know in real and think about what separates their personalities.

b) Tics – Includes quirks. Is your character frequently uneasy? Do they usually cower when confronted? Do they give the silent treatment? Do they cry easily? Do they smash things when they are easy? Do they fall in love easily?

c) Goal in life – Everyone wants something out of life. Does he have a hobby, a profession he wishes to excel in? What does your character want? It may not be something related to the main crisis but it could be integrated into a sub-plot somehow, or not. Nevertheless, knowing your character's ambitions helps make him easier to relate to, more accessible.

d) Culture – This would probably fit into disposition and tics/physical behaviour, but it also includes a character's dialect (will be discussed later) or how he reacts or feels towards certain things. I'm talking more about dwarves hating elves.

e) Personal Relationships – Basically, how your main characters feel about characters. What kind of relationships do they have with these characters? Are these relationships under strain? Do these relationships help the character's inner struggle and external struggle? Do these relationships help expose the characters for what they really are?

2. Know how much to reveal and how much to focus. It's up to you, the game maker, to determine how much of each character's personality will be known to be player or revealed to the other characters, and when. Be careful about revealing too many unnecessary details and be careful about not revealing enough and leaving the character confused, unless it's done in an interesting way to generate mystery and curiosity. And major characters should always have more depth in their personality than minor ones.

3. Even rocks undergo weathering in harsh conditions. Not to say to make characters like rocks, but I'm saying that no character should enter the game and end the game unaffected by the events that transpire throughout the plot. Even if it's just a little, it should be shown. Remember, your player is going to invest in the characters and he wants them to animate, not be robots.

4. Challenge your characters. Put your characters through all you can put them through without reaching the point of emo or farce. This is what a plot is all about – putting characters into situations and letting them find their way out. And since your player is controlling the character, this would keep your player interested in your game. Just don't overwhelm your player with an endless series of difficult-ass puzzles, battles and situations.

Before we move onto dialogue, this a list of possible stock characters that I think are frequently seen in games:

• The Insincere Man
• The Flatterer
• The Garrulous Man
• The Boor
• The Complaisant Man
• The Man without Moral Feeling
• The Talkative Man
• The Fabricator
• The Shamelessly Greedy Man
• The Pennypincher
• The Offensive Man
• The Hapless Man
• The Officious Man
• The Absent-Minded Man
• The Unsociable Man
• The Superstitious Man
• The Faultfinder
• The Suspicious Man
• The Repulsive Man
• The Unpleasant Man
• The Man of Petty Ambition
• The Stingy Man
• The Show-Off
• The Arrogant Man
• The Coward
• The Oligarchical Man
• The Late Learner
• The Slanderer
• The Lover of Bad Company
• The Basely Covetous Man

This is where many game makers stumble. In adventure games and RPG's, knowing how to write good, proper, interesting dialogue is a must for creating a good game. Dialogue in games is a bit different from dialogue in literature.Each moment of dialogue in games should ideally do at two of the following, but is necessary to do at LEAST one:

1. Further or advance plot.
2. Build character by revealing behaviour or by communicating history or facts.
3. Build comic relief or atmosphere.
4. Give a helpful tip to the player.

If your dialogue does not do any of those four basic things, scrap it and start over. The last thing we want to be is wordy or didactic in games. The longer the dialogue session, the better it will have to be, to keep the player's attention. Once you lose the player's attention, you lose everything that you are trying to convey. Therefore, I think it's safer to not carry on a dialogue for too long, unless it's a critical scene or a scene you think you can handle very well.


/!\ IMPORTANT /!\ - Dialogue in a game should always be easily understood and accessible to the player. Move beyond this and it's going to be frustrating for the player to read and connect with what is being said.


But that's not all when it comes to writing dialogue. There are many pitfalls designers run into when writing dialogue and I will state a few:

1. Meaningless everyday talk. Unless you are trying to build atmosphere by dialogue, keep this to a bare minimum. And I mean MINIMUM. Dialog that faithfully reproduces normal social interaction will be boring. In real life, a lot of our conversation begins with pleasantries that have little meaning: "How are you today?" "Surely is a nice day today, don't you think?" If you put these phrases into your dialog, you'll put players to sleep. So eliminate these pleasant redundancies and get right to the point. The trick is to do this and still make your dialog sound natural. Keep every word essential to the flow of the story and you'll keep your player's interest.

2. The use of purple prose. Purple prose is a term used to describe passages, or sometimes entire literary works, written in prose so overly extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself. This also applies to characters speaking in needlessly big words in unnecessarily over-sophisticated ways. If you do this, the entire point of what the dialogue is trying to convey is lost, as attention is mostly drawn to, "Wow, that's a big word!" than what the big word is actually trying to say. Nobody says not to be poetic with your dialogue, but know your limit.

3. The overuse of jargon in dialogue. It pains me to have to read through dialogue that puts forth a thousand references to the history of the game world, for e.g. "The Sacred Cavern of the Wildebeest Nosferatu Cthulu has been banished by the Ur-goth to the San-Chile Pampas Kingdom by Borgatudoto Magic." Unless the player is acquainted with all of these terms, don't overuse them. This is frustrating to read and could be said in simpler ways than spouting ten imaginary terms per paragraph. Don't use them unless absolutely necessary.

4. Stiff dialogue. Stiff dialogue is dialogue that seems unreal when written. For example: "I have to go to the market tomorrow. I do not want to arrive late, although I prefer not to be awakened early in the morning." Nobody talks like that. This line could easily be reproduced as, "I have to go to the market tomorrow but damnit, I don't want to wake up so early in the morning. But I don't want to be late either." See how the message comes off clearer there, and with more 'push'?

5. The use of melodrama. Melodramatic dialogue is never, ever good in games. And hardly can it be done well in books. Melodramatic dialogue is dialogue that goes like, "Noooooooooooo!!! You killed my father! I will get my revenge!!" or "My... My love... I will never forget you..." This hardly ever expresses the emotion it wants to express and worse, comes off the opposite way: hilarious. Keep the tone restrained. Restrain emotion and this helps build even more emotion. Let it all out and it parodies itself. This also brings me to another point that should be included in this, but I think needed to be separated for emphasis.

6. The use of ellipses (...) in dialogue. I don't know about you but I am tired of reading that dialogue that goes like this... I get all emo when I read it... I wish they would stop doing it... So stop doing it. It's meant to convey sadness but it doesn't. It just ends up being the same as melodrama.

7. Use of anime faces in dialogue (^_^). This is lazy and unless you are going for a mock-Japanese style, you should not do it. Heck, if you're going for a Japanese style, keep it to the bare minimum at least. Just make real faces instead of text ones if you want to convey emotion by visuals.

8. Don't let one character talk for too long. This isn't a monologue. It's a dialogue. If a character is speaking to another, he's bound to get interrupted somewhere fifty dialogue boxes in. This keeps the sense of interaction and keeps the player from drifting off.


So, how would I go about writing good dialogue? You can check out how people talk in real life. Remember, good dialogue does not faithfully reproduce real dialogue. But you can look at it for inspiration.

It is up to you to decide which characters will stand out from the crowd, or maybe you just want some of them to fade in. Most people talk differently - depending on where they live, where they come from, what class they are, what kind of person they are, their education level, if they read a lot, if they have a speech impediment or not, if they are outspoken or not... there's a number of factors that can affect how a person talks. The only advice I can give is listen to when people speak. Listen to their intonations and the way they form their words during speech. A friendly janitor may talk differently from an uptight scholar.

Think about the characteristics of the people in your story. A shy person is going to be more restrained with his dialogue than an outspoken person. An upper class scholar may use bigger words and speak more eloquently than a lower class bum. Does your character come from Boston? It wouldn't hurt to 'shape' the dialogue a bit with the phonetic spelling of some words in the Bostonian accent. Try not to incorporate too much of yourself when you are writing dialogue. Think about your characters instead. You have a little boy whose dog just died - he is not going to talk like how you are going to talk if your dog just died. You have a barfly - he might slur a different way from you. You have a princess - she isn't going to talk the way you do. Think about how a little boy, a barfly and a princess in medieval times will talk. What will they say if they were real? It's hard, yeah, but you have to spend a lot of time imagining.


Dialect is a great way to distinguish characters from others, in terms of class, age, culture or even just wacky personality. It is also a tool should not be overused to the point where we don't or cannot relate to the character at all.

Imagine if every character in a game you are playing is speaking in a thick Irish accent or Cockney or something. Or any accent that only a certain audience will be able to 'get'. You'll probably get turned off because although you the designer may have thought the thick accent had given flavour to the dialogue, the player cannot understand what they are even saying in the first place. The player is going to be confused and frustrated, and if they are willing to keep playing, they will have to be willing to analyze, decipher and translate every single word that is being said. And this takes away from what dialogue is trying to convey.

Remember I said dialogue is all about being accessible to the player.

The designer also has to be aware of the mood of his game. In a not-serious game, it would be alright to make all slum people mumble and grumble and purposely mispronounce everything, as characters may appear more as caricature than fully-fleshed out beings. This is acceptable in a light-hearted game. For example, for pirate talk:

"Hello, friend! Look over there! It's a beer!"
could become
"Arrr, matey! Avast! I just laid me eyes on some grog!"

But in a serious game, there might be less tolerance for characters that are supposed to be more realistic and the player might become less tolerant of it.


There is some horrible, I mean HORRIBLE, NPC dialogue out there. I have played too many games where I go up to talk to an NPC and all he says is, "Good day," or "Armour shop is good. Good armour," or trivial bollocks like that. It makes me want to talk to nobody.

I'm going to restate the four basic uses of dialogue in games:

1. Further or advance the plot. This NPC whould play some integral part in the actual plot, rather than the ones that just hang around, doing nothing. Many of these are located throughout many games. Examples could be Emperor Gestahl in Final Fantasy VI, or Kino in Chrono Trigger, but there are many, many more.

2. Build character by revealing behaviour or communicating history or facts. These are the NPC's that have evoke a personal, emotional or behavioural response from characters so that more of the history or behavioural patterns of the character can be shown or revealed. For example, a beggar might show a character to be selfish or greedy, and might show another to be kind and giving. These characters may also bring about reactions that could reveal more about the character's history.

3. Bring about comic relief or atmosphere. If an NPC does not accomplish any of the other things stated, they should at least be funny, for the sake of comic relief. The mood of the game should be considered, considering how much comic relief characters should be in the game. Comic relief characters tend to be very memorable. If they're not bringing comic relief, they should be relating some sort of information that is not arbitrary and directly related to the current atmosphere of a location to give the location more 'liveliness'.

4. Give a helpful tip to the player. These are the NPC's that are knowledgeable fact-spewers and history lesson-givers who know of the lore in the game world. However, this NPC should be more than just a newspaper. They should have do it in some sort of innovative way that connects with the other characters. An NPC should never just randomly tell the character so-and-so is located in so-and-so. There should be some little anecdote accompanying it, or some reason if not an anecdote. It's also a good tip to 'overhear' these conversations than the NPC speaking directly to the character about them.

DO: Lady: "My child is very sick. He came down with the disease." Mountaineer: "No problem, ma'am! I know the cure flower is at the top of the mountain there. I can bring one back for you." Lady: "You're such a gentleman! Wanna hook up later tee hee ^_^?"
DON'T: "A cure flower is at the top of the mountain."


1. Short sentences increase tension, long sentences reduce it. But short sentences also make the player read more quickly, which tends to give the reader less time to savor an emotion. Long sentences force the player to read slowly, which tends to allow the player time to get deeper into an emotion. But remember you can always control the speed at which the dialogue comes along, technically. But just don't make the words crawl on the screen. It's frustrating.

2. I said this before but try your best to integrate action and movement during your dialogue. It is unreal for a bunch of characters to just stand up and talk to each other for a long time without any movement. It also helps convey emotion.

3. If your dialogue has to be a long one, accompany it with something, like pictures or illustrations or cut to different scenes to explain what is going on. Show, don't just tell. This hooks the player more into the story.



1. Would I prefer play a game where the characters are more than mere archetypes?
2. In my game, how much are my characters distinguished from each other?
3. How much can I say about my characters? What are their hobbies, life goals, feelings about certain things? Would I want to play a game that has a slight focus on these things, with respect to the protagonist?
4. Should a character change by the end of the story?


1. Does a character talking in dialect or improper English say anything about the character?
2. Has melodramatic dialogue ever evoked a dramatic response from me?
3. Would I want to read a game's dialogue that uses jargon the whole way through?
4. Does everyday talk make good dialogue?
5. How long would a dialogue have to be before I start getting bored with it?


Stay tuned for the FIFTH article in the Game Designer's Manifesto series: SHAPING YOUR WORLD!

Former chapters:


Pages: 1
"Armour shop is good. Good armour."

I think that's become one of my new favorite quotes, right up there with "I'm ready to play, Clown Man!"
Crap. Does this mean I have to delete all my (...)'s, now?
I think the (...)'s depend on how they are used. For example, if a guard were to ask a prisoner a question, and the prisoner refused to speak, showing "...." would indicate to the player that the prisoner has chosen to remain quiet.

Also, if there is a cutscene where one person is speaking to another (perhaps the immediate character the player has control of) but you don't want to reveal the extent of that conversation having a couple of instances of "...." back and forth between the two would indicate the characters are talking. This is a good example of when you want the player to know a conversation has taken place but don't want the player to know what was discussed, which could be good for a plot twist down the road. However, this could also be easily abused so it should be done only when the situation calls.

As for "..." within dialogue, I find it appropriate only to some degree. For example, let's say the hero is angry at his friend and accusing him of something, only to stop midway and change his tone and attitude upon realizing it's his fault. The hero's dialogue could go something like:

"It's not my fault, you're the one that hit the switch! Why can't you just man up... sorry, you're right, it's my fault."

But I agree with Strangeluv, too many instances of "..." gets old and tedious and should be used sparingly.
Excellent tips. I will definitely keep all these dialouge factors in mind. Good shit.
Pages: 1