GDC #1

February 21, 2008 at 1:26 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Today was the first day of GDC, and let me say, it was no easy task waking up like a normal person. Okay let’s be real here, I didn’t even have to wake up like a normal person. The first session we went to was at 12pm. So that meant waking up at 10:30. That’s like sleeping in if you’re a high school kid. But boheeny-lifestyle aside, it was good to get to that 12pm session because it ended up being very interesting and relevant to what I’m struggling with right now in my game: bringing out the personalities of my characters in as few words as possible without sounding cliche or contrived. The speaker, David Freeman, created a list of techniques for writing compelling dialogue. He drew from a variety of examples which included tv shows, movies, and plays:

1. Characters should sound as unique and different as possible.
2. Characters personalities should be multi-sided.
3. You must capture the rhythm of spoken speech (much of the dialogue found in games sounds contrived because it doesn’t reflect the way people typically talk to each other in real life).
4. Good dialogue surprises us regularly (through the use of things like revealing aspects of the characters’ personalities or relationships, external interruptions, plot twists, jokes, etc.)
5. Good dialogue contains subtext which provides the meat of character development (the most important things are not the literal words spoken by the characters, but the feelings and emotions that are implied by what they say).
6. Characters should reveal their different sides in different situations (for example, a character would speak one way to their friend, but another totally different way towards their boss).
7. Good dialogue reveals relationships.
8. Good dialogue gives us a sense of time and place.
9. Good dialogue gives us a sense of the person’s profession.

The thing I found the most interesting about this session was that it made a science out of something as fundamental as everyday conversation (#3). I’ve never before looked for patterns in my conversations with other people which would indicate that I’m a real person and not a robot, but there is a science to it just like with everything else. He took a scene from the show “My So Called Life” and dissected it; pointing out all the different rules of “realistic conversation” that it followed. For example: starting to say something and then backing up and rewording the sentence (“But why are you… I mean… what’s the point?”), fragment sentences, answering questions with more questions, interruptions, responses that imply an answer to a question rather than a direct answer (Q: “Do you know everyone in Annapolis?” A: “You forget I’m a Bona Fide Ring Knocker.” –Top Gun), etc.

He also used an episode of Grey’s Anatomy to show how writers often use side characters to metaphorically bring out the main character’s personality traits. After the protagonist nearly drowned herself in the bathtub, her roommate responded with a comment about how the previous night she (the roommate, not the protagonist) had eaten everything in the fridge, including a tub of butter (“there’s no judgement here”). Although the outward expression was different, both characters related on the level of feeling depressed and empty… and in doing so, the writer used the roommate to exemplify the main character’s inner-struggle.

I feel like I learned a lot, and I took a lot of notes like I always do. When I write, I think I follow a lot of these “rules” innately… although immediately after the session I had the urge to go back home and play my game so I could look for bits of dialogue that could be improved. It’s definitely more of a challenge following all these rules because of the limited space allotted to 16-bit rpgs… but I think a lot of it can still carry over (hopefully).

We went to another writing session afterwards where panelists spoke about their favorite storytelling games… it was interesting, but not as informative. I was so antsy from the caffeine in the milk tea I had during lunch that towards the end of the session I kept imagining a crazy man standing up and making jibberish noises when someone asked a long-winded question. I told George what I was thinking and he kept trying to make me laugh by showing me what it would look like if someone actually were to do that.

man: Begging your pardon, but given the role of modern MMORPGs, and the feelings generated by the characters in—–
speaker: I’m sorry sir, can you please restate your question?
man: Um, yes… the premise behind modern MMORPGs implicated the use of a storyline which allows the player to immerse themselves in basic——

Although we’re supposed to meet up with some people later tonight, we drove back home after that session so we’d miss traffic… yay for that! And… right next to the convention there is an Ice Bee… self serve REAL frozen yogurt! Not that janky stuff from Yogurt Park that is just overly sugary ice water-milk and intense flavoring without a hint of sour-yogurt in it that tastes good for the first 3 bites and makes you feel awful after you finish it. No no my friends, this is the real deal. Real delicious yogurt and fresh toppings. I just loaded it up with tons of strawberries, mangos, blueberries, kiwis, and colorful flake cereal. Made the drive home a real treat.


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    Wow, is that where Crazy Dave came from? I can totally imagine George doing that! Hee-hee!

  2. I loved this post i will be reading it again!

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