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Avoiding the JRPG Curse of Verbal Diarrhea

An overview of how we're trying to limit dialogue sequences with Trudy while infusing its language with a bit of personality.

JRPGs, and by extension SRPGs, have an unfortunate tendency to use text as filler. Even with numerous types of fast-forward buttons -- something of a band aid solution -- their dialogue sequences are often very lengthy.

Luminous Arc starts off with roughly 150 text boxes. Such quantities are pretty common throughout the entire experience.

Verbal diarrhea is never necessary, though, and with Trudy's Mechanicals we're taking multiple steps to avoid it:

  1. Dialogue sequences are often optional. If the player doesn't want to listen to a character, he can simply choose not to initiate the conversation.
  2. Colourful tid-bits are non-blocking. This means that if an enemy or an NPC wants to deliver a bark-style one-liner, it simply fades in and out. The text itself is aesthetic and doesn't hijack the player's interface, leaving him free to navigate the UI or issue battle commands.
  3. Cutscenes are short and to the point. Characters don't prattle on if they don't have anything interesting to say, and the player never needs to wait too long before he's back in the "driver's seat". A skip option is also implemented as it's an expected standard for those who are not interested in the story or might be replaying the game.

This less-is-more approach means that our script is much, much smaller than that of a typical tactics game. As a result, we're taking extra care to make sure the language itself feels unique and interesting.

Here are some examples:

Slang

Planescape: Torment is famous for its cant, Victorian slang that adds personality to its setting. Seeing as Steampunk has its roots in a romanticized Victorian era, we decided to take a similar approach with Trudy.

A few examples of facial expression that accompany the text of Trudy's main characters.

Although it's tempting to go overboard with jargon, it doesn't help if the script can't be understood by most people. Consequently the use of slang is somewhat conservative and the words we picked often have current-day connotations.

Here are some examples:

  • Barker - A gun. Not immediately obvious, but easily grasped given proper context.
  • Nibbed - Arrested. As in nabbed, or kidnapped. The word doesn't have a strict association with the police, but its sentiment is easily understood.
  • Lushery - A public drinking den. Lush isn't a common term for alcohol, but this one was just too amusing to pass up.

Names

Naming characters in a fictional setting is a bit tricky. You typically want to steer clear of popular current-day names that might break the suspension of disbelief, e.g., Mike Smith or John Brown. On the other hand, something truly alien might prove too difficult to vocalize internally, while symbolic names like "Black Lightning" tend to come off awkward and hokey.

Of course we could've simply used Victorian era names, but I wanted to differentiate Trudy from typical Steampunk pulp.

Unlike the lead stars of the game, NPC dialogues are not accompanied by "talking heads". This is to save on production costs as well as prevent NPC barks from taking up too much space on the screen.

Our solution was to use old Greek and Slavic names.

The result is not entirely alien, but it's enough to stand out. Characters are given names such as Renatus, Tatjana, Darko, Milos, Daria, etc., which keeps the naming conventions consistent and adds a bit of flavour to the world.

Proverbs

Finally, proverbs are my favourite trick for imbuing a setting with a sense of culture and history.

Proverbs are usually quite short, but they convey words of wisdom that often speak volumes about an entire society. In keeping with our naming approach, I picked out a couple of Greek and Slavic proverbs suitable to our script:


"Gray hair is a sign of age, not wisdom."

"As long as a child does not cry, it does not matter what pleases it."

"Eat and drink with your relatives; do business with strangers."


Radek Koncewicz is the CEO and Creative Lead of Incubator Games, and also runs the game design blog Significant-Bits.  

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