Taming the Dialogue of Forgotton Anne
Interactive conversation is an important part of Forgotton Anne. When in-game characters speak to Anne, we want the player to choose how to respond. Here’s a simple example:
Branched dialogue easily turns into a flood of new branches, leading to even more dialogue. Before you know it, we are navigating our way through a massive conversational labyrinth. One of my challenges is to keep these branches under control and decide when to give the illusion of choice and when to present the player with choices that actually affect the story.
The Illusion of Choice
Duality is an important part of the gameplay and story of Forgotton Anne. We try to reflect that theme in dialogue choices as well. We always present the player with two alternative ways to respond – but only two. (Except in one very special case, which I won’t spoil here.)
Even dialogue with just two responses will run wild if not kept under control. This is why we sometimes give players the illusion of choice. For instance, we could conclude the above example like this:
No matter what you choose, you eventually get the same result. Only the mood differs. There is another benefit to this structure: I can reuse Bonku’s last line. This brings us to the next part…
Economizing dialogue while keeping the artistic qualities of the game is an important part of writing an indie-production like Forgotton Anne. While writing branched dialogue, I have to keep in mind that players will only hear one of the branches. Every time I add a line to branched dialogue, I’m creating content that only 50% of players will experience. However, that dialogue still needs to be edited, proofread, recorded, subtitled, implemented, and localized. In other words: we need to make it short and sweet.
Keeping Dialogue Active
In Forgotton Anne, characters speak often and they have a lot to say at times. We occasionally add dialogue choices solely for the purpose of keeping the conversation active and offer players an opportunity to flavor their experience.
Handling Complex Branching Conversations
Some conversations in Forgotton Anne are illusions of choice, but many are vast dialogue trees that heavily impact the story. We needed a quick way to test these conversations before implementing them in the game. For that, we use an open-source interactive storytelling tool called Twine.
I write the first rough draft of the conversation in Twine once we have agreed on the dialogue structure and content. We then test the interactive dialogue and find out what to keep, cut, and improve.
A branched dialogue tree from Forgotton Anne with six different endings. Start point to the left, endings to the right.
Remembering Player Choice
We often need to store the player’s choices and make sure we follow up on them later in the story. For instance, if players choose to scorn a character in dialogue, that character will most likely remember this and treat the players accordingly when they next meet. This means more dialogue.
3,5 feature film scripts
The dialogue script of Forgotton Anne is around 400 pages, thats approximately 3,5 feature films. On top of that comes the user interface text, the achievements, the collectibles, and all the thoughts and examine texts of the game.
Revising, subtitling, and keeping track of all this text took both our home made dialogue system, color coding, spreadsheets, and a big effort from the entire team. We really hope you will enjoy it.
Thanks for reading.