In some ways, Dialogue: A Writer’s Story is my ideal game.
I’ve written at length in the past about how important and powerful I feel language and dialogue are in games, and how much the quality of your game is reflected by the quality of the writing.
As is true of so many creative mediums, writing underpins everything, but is often given short shrift. Think of how easily you can name and identify tens or even hundreds of actors, and probably list at least a handful of powerful Hollywood directors; but how many screenwriters can you name?
And the same is true in gaming, where a handful of celebrity designers are spotlighted while writing talent is almost never showcased or promoted. Despite the fact that writers give us the entire framework from which movies and the narratives of video games are derived, they’re almost never a part of the marketing push of blockbuster (or AAA) franchises.
So Dialogue: A Writer’s Story, is a refreshing acknowledgement of the power of words, not only in video games but in almost every interaction in our lives. Words not only influence our relationships, but provide an entire cognitive structure through which to perceive and process the world around us.
Dialogue drags these ideas to the forefront, not only emphasize how important language is but actually making it a central gameplay mechanic.
How it works
Where other games have made dialogue trees a mechanic (like the #Telltale #WalkingDead games, or #MassEffect), Dialogue makes conversation the mechanic, letting you explore discussions the way you might explore the over world map of other games.
As you converse and discover new facets of your interlocutor you unlock new Thoughts, which allow you to introduce new ideas and hear fresh dialogue in other parts of a conversation. The setup makes you consider a casual chat in a fascinating new way, as a web of social interactions, shared history and a balance between curiosity and learned information about the person you’re speaking with.
At least, that’s how the system works during exploratory conversations, with are more leisurely and provide more room for depth and analysis. Their counterpart, active conversations, task you with choosing responses in real time, and the effects of your choices are modified by items your character can equip called Focuses.
The two-pronged approach adds a bit of diversity and keeps either mechanic from getting stale; the active conversations are a nice dose of momentum, while the exploratory conversations are a wonderful excuse to make a cup of tea or coffee and really dive into the game’s characters.
This dual approach also applies to Dialogue’s story, which follows a science fiction writer, Lucille, laboring on a novel, contrasted by her neighbor Adrian, who is a research scientist and very bookish in a completely different way.
The exchanges between Adrian and Lucille are a great example of how minute differences may at first seem very important (Lucille’s creative focus versus Adrian’s much more technical methodology) but are eventually effaced by much broader similarities. The choices the player makes in conversation will reverberate through Lucille’s life, and will help define the shape that her novel takes.
The game’s inspirations are immediately obvious after a cursory investigation of its creators, a pair of British developers (Flo, a writer, and Dust, a designer) who founded #TeaPoweredGames and who both have experience writing during their research jobs. It’s a charming project with firm mechanical underpinnings, and you can find it for sale now at itch.io.
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Genre: Adventure, Narrative
Release date: November 8th, 2016
Creator: Tea-powered Games