Game Audio: Dialogue Matters
Conversation in video games exists as the foremost way to guide the player through the game and is a hallmark of story-driven game and adventure games. It can make or break the immersion for a player, so it's very important to get it bang on. Conversations keep the story moving. Players, whether they think they do or not, need dialogue to give them information about what they’re meant be doing.
Games have always relied on a foundation of words and ideas to conceive their worlds and animate them with life. Firstly the conversation needs a purpose, for example if it is with a publican then they need to provide that service quickly. Secondly, the dialogue needs to be not only aware of the narrative in the overarching story but also what is happening in the nearby area.
Role playing games (RPG) are known to be one of the greatest genre of games; when you play a role in a game you personify another character. The most popular RPG’s live and die by the strength of their dialogue and the player's ability to influence the non-player characters. Not only can this dialogue portray the main storyline, it can also give various backstories and lore about the world the player is exploring.
Game dialogue becomes more interactive when conversations can take different paths. The player reads dialogue and chooses their response from a limited set of choices available to them. Conversation typically moves forward such that the player cannot go back to previous topics or responses.
One common technique employed to give the player a greater illusion of freedom is to have multiple responses lead to the same path. This is usually done as an attempt to limit the quantity of dialogue that must be produced for the game. Therefore, branching dialogue usually curves back in on itself such that while an individual choice may immediately produce a unique response, the rest of the conversation is typically not unique to that choice.
A good example of great dialogue are games like 2018's God Of War, as it relies heavily on developed characters portraying the main story, whilst at the same time relating to real world emotions. The main storyline, which overall is very simple, is based around delivering the ashes of the late mother at the highest peak in Norse realms. However, the story is really focused on a developing relationship between father and son, with a few bumps along the way. This story is very relatable, which in turn allows players to develop an attachment to the story and to the characters themselves. This is why it's so important to cast appropriately and have directors and writers collaborate to really understand the characters and their inner motives and emotions. This method can also be conveyed through narration of the story. A creative use of narration directly tied to a character is used in Ninja Theory's Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. The story is presented by a voice present in Senua’s head. Senua suffers from psychosis and Ninja Theory does a great job of portraying the story with one of the many voices she can hear. In order to achieve this, the sound designers use certain Binaural Recording techniques, so that the voice sounds internal to you, which can be rather unsettling at points throughout the game.
Another utilisation of dialogue is to provide information to the player. This is especially present in competitive multiplayer games like Overwatch. The game has a wide range of characters with different abilities including some potentially game changing abilities. To highlight to the opposition that an ultimate ability is heading their direction, Blizzard employs Dialogue Lines which cut above the rest of the mix. The lines are fed to players with directional information so that it plays back from the direction the ultimate is being used, which gives time to player to make a decision about how they react to the situation. Other popular uses of this method are games like Call of Duty and Battlefield, soldiers may shout “grenade” if a grenade lands nearby or “incoming” if an artillery strike is landing on their position.
The video game spectrum is vast, from tiny indie projects with barely any dialogue to massive, high-budget games with lengthy scripts, dozens of characters and even full performance capture that involves full face and body movement. Games with minimal game narrative may still need small bits of dialogue recorded to communicate player information, objectives, progress or encourage the player; including things like "Ready! Game Over! Great Job!" might all be given voice. Whether your game has traditional dialogue or not, the human voice is a great tool to add an extra level of detail to games. From giving information or telling an intricate story, dialogue matters.