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Chris Avellone Dialogue Monologue

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Chris Avellone Dialogue Monologue

Interview - posted by Vault Dweller on Tue 24 July 2007, 01:42:40

Tags: Chris Avellone; Obsidian Entertainment

VD: Many moons ago I asked Chris to answer a few questions for our dialogue interview. Chris was too busy at that time, but promised to do it in the future. Unfortunately, he lost the questions, but being too proud to admit that, he wrote a monologue about dialogues instead. Without further ado...​


I'm Chris Avellone. I'm the Creative Director at Obsidian Entertainment.

I know, somehow, I am going to regret giving an interview to RPG Codex, a website that rarely fails to push my buttons with the frequency of a junior high school Soul Calibur addict on summer vacation.

VD: We are your conscience, Chris. That very loud voice that tells you "You can DEFINITELY do better, so stop fucking around and design something awesome already." Plus our love for you is beautiful and pure. How can you say no to that?​


I just finished designing a few of the companions for Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer expansion (Kaelyn the Dove and Gannayev-of-Dreams, based on concepts by George Ziets and brought to you in stunning visuals by Justin Cherry) and I'm now back on the Aliens RPG with SEGA, so here are some thoughts on dialogue writing - for games.


As a "twist," I’m going to do this interview primarily through visuals, which is how I think game interactions should be in the first place - mostly because a good chunk of human dialogue is essentially communicated non-verbally anyway.

VD: Hmm... less text, more visuals... It sounds crazy, but I think it might work. You should try it in a video game one day. You never know, maybe there is a market for such things.​


First, some concrete examples from other media forms that answer why I think dialogue in games can make the player feel like a badass - and have the same emotional payoff as beating the shit out of someone with a club.



(Thanks to Ferret Baudoin for pointing out the dinner party in Dune as a great dialogue scene.) And, my personal dialogue hero:


Here is (one) of the core problems with dialogue in RPGs.



I don’t understand game writing being perceived like this...


...unless you're writing romances. I prefer hate-mances. Or unrequited miserable expressions of pseudo-affection that hint at the underlying struggle of the human soul to put a lofty veneer on a nerdly dream of having dirty sex with that hot chick in your Algebra class.


Part of a dialogue writer's job is being able to write a bunch of personalities at once. You store them up, like a chorus that follows you around.


Sometimes they don't always come out, and you need to use a little inspiration. For Brian Mitsoda (Vampire, TORN, and now an unannounced project at Obsidian), he slugs his way through with brute force.


For Josh Sawyer, I sometimes see him using his religion and history degrees/passions to fuel his writing. A lot of the excellent attention to FR theology in the Black Isle (and Neverwinter 2) games is indicative of this. You'll probably see it in the Black Hound mod as well.


Oh, and if you're wondering what those scribbles are on Josh's forearms, those are his tattoos, because Josh carries his writing skills onto his own body, which is more hardcore than I can ever hope to be.

Me, I use caffeine.


I can't really recommend caffeine, especially if you're sitting in a doctor's office at the end of Torment trying to explain to the doctor why your heart might be trying to beat its way out of your chest.

Whichever way you use, however, you need to let the personalities express themselves.


No matter what, though, sometimes a personality just doesn't want to cooperate.


So you have to use other means.



The best part about dialogue is designing branching (with all due respect to Daniel Erickson of Bioware, who inspired this in his talk at the GDC writing bootcamp).


I usually find branching to encourage writing rather than hamper it, mostly because if you're ever debating which way the dialogue should go, you can actually go both routes, which for me, is more fun.


That's all the visuals I can squeeze out. I could do more, but I hate RPG Codex and I hate doing anything "for the kids." To grow strong, kids must suffer.

In the interests of possibly including some detailed answers about game dialogue - I included some notes on how one can write romances in RPGs in a link, below. These came out while working with our main story guy, George Ziets, on Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, where we were kicking around romance layouts with some of the companions - I did the one for Gannayev, our badass hagspawn spirit shaman.

You can find the writing-romance notes at the Obsidian blogs.

And my cartoon mockery (sometimes directed at RPG Codex) continues at my blog, which is not company safe, much like RPG Codex.

VD: Don't forget to click on that link. It shows what I have to go through each time I need to ask Chris a question.
Thanks for reading/looking.

Chris Avellone
Design Guy
Obsidian Entertainment

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