Out Of Order retrospective: The big (speak) easy
Written by Tim Furnish
Differentiation and integration
So, what would I try and do were I to start creating new characters for a new game (or, to put it another way, what would I have the audacity to suggest to someone trying to write conversations and dialogue for characters in their own game)? First of all, I'd work out what makes each character different to everyone else. Multiple differences, if possible. Then, while writing their dialogue, I'd try and reinforce a part of their unique personality or opinion or outlook on life as often as possible. I'd make sure I gave the player conversational choices, alongside those which further the plot or solve puzzles or give hints, which lead to nothing more than the character reciting some schtick which does nothing but demonstrate their views or their place in the world. The characters which seem more developed in Out Of Order were written in this way; the doctor in particular has several conversation choices which do nothing but let him talk about being a doctor. That's because, if you were in the situation faced by Hurford in the game, one of the obvious things you'd want to say to an alien doctor is "What's it like being a doctor here?" and the absence of the question would have been peculiar to say the least. Even if players don't choose to ask the doctor about himself, they're aware from the point of seeing the option onwards that they can ask the doctor about himself later on if they want to.
So, to other adventure game developers out there, I say this: it's perfectly reasonable that the player's enjoying the ambience and fiction of your game rather than just wanting to plough through it as fast as they can. Let players who want to engage in small-talk engage in small-talk and, when they do, give them something worth reading (or hearing, if you're having recorded speech for your characters). Worth reading doesn't have to mean funny, although in Out Of Order that's what I was going for much of the time. If your game's meant to be spooky, then have characters reciting (possibly unrelated) spooky stories just to build up atmosphere. Just make the character in question tell the story, not you the writer.
I tried, when creating the characters which appear in Out Of Order, not to simply rely on stereotypes. The shouty guy isn't a big, bellowy, Brian-Blessed-like character. Bob the shop-owning nerd doesn't rely on internet memes and World-Of-Warcraft-related in jokes to be funny (which would age pretty badly anyway). Sylvia maybe comes closest to being a stereotypical celebrity, except she's not just there to be short with people who don't recognise her in the street; she also has a genuinely useful and artistic talent which features in one of the game's puzzles. In any case, the last thing I wanted to do was to create non-player characters which players would think they'd seen before in other games (or, indeed, earlier in the same game, although I may have missed that mark a little as discussed above).