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As developers, not everything we do is creating the game â€“ sometimes we are scrambling to fix major problems that have come about because of reasons beyond our control. This happened last week when our companyâ€™s internal site unexpectedly went offline and we were suddenly left without our entire compiled knowledge resource for the game - which is the absolutely last thing you want to happen to your project! So began about two days of back and forth with our hosting service to figure out what happened, if any of the info was lost, and what we needed to do to restore it. Luckily, no permanent damage was done, but it certainly killed my time to work on anything else during those 48 frantic hours. These are the kinds of problems that happen sometimes in game development. You roll with it, try to fix the issues, and hope itâ€™s the worst thing that occurs during development.
Work progresses on the game steadily. When Iâ€™m not wearing the production or business hats (or customer service hats), Iâ€™ve been writing dialogue for the game. I just finished another one of the sub-leader characters, and it was a hefty chunk of writing. Reacitivity and random events can really jack up the dialogue count easily. While it would be easier to scale back the number of interactions, I want to make sure the player has plenty of face time with each of the characters and some special situations that only show up under the right conditions. Most of these dialogues will be revised once we get them tested in the game, so the writing is never â€œdone doneâ€ until the gameâ€™s out, and even then, it would be easy for us to send out an update to add some new events or even replies to provide some unanticipated options on replays. Being indie and funded by Kickstarter allows us to control our product after it goes out for as long as we want to keep on providing new content for it â€“ thanks again for that opportunity!
We may keep our heads down for the next month, but donâ€™t panic if you donâ€™t hear anything from us for a while â€“ it means weâ€™re hard at work on Dead State. Weâ€™re still in the early post-funding stages, and we want to quickly get to the â€œshowing offâ€ stage of development. Until the next update, weâ€™ll be here and on the message boards if you need to get a hold of us. Thanks for your continued support and enthusiasm.
And a sampling from update #22:
Design continues to work primarily on dialogue. As stated before, there is not only a lot of dialogue, but complex dialogue that spans great lengths of time and decisions rather than the length of completing a quest. I thought it might be interesting to shed some light on our ally creation and dialogue writing process. It starts with Annie and I discussing concepts for characters in the shelter. Usually, everyone we add needs to create a potential conflict or interaction with one or more other characters in the shelter, plus bring a set of skills and personality traits that are not duplicated by another member of the group. We usually try to figure out if the character is going to be more useful in combat or out of combat, or if they unlock some other potential aspect of the shelter, like a new type of job or a prized skill (like a doctor). We also try to figure out if the character is traveling alone or with others â€“ if theyâ€™re traveling with someone, it instantly creates an interesting narrative point, but that bond needs to be reinforced throughout the dialogue and even in the gameplay.
After weâ€™ve come up with the basics of the character, we put together a bio for the character. We use backstory for writing purposes only, to give us a more fully-fleshed out character whose life did not begin when the player met them. While youâ€™ll never see the backstories we create, elements of their lives will creep into their dialogue, and an attentive/inquisitive player will learn a lot more about their allies over time. Sometimes you may not know about certain aspects of the character unless a certain path is triggered, like watching them die from infection or gaining enough trust from a friend of theirs. However, like in real life, you will never fully understand everything there is to know about an ally (unless youâ€™re one of the writers). We translate their former profession and hobbies into stats and skills. Someone who was a park ranger might have a high survival skill because they can identify plants and a higher vigor because of time spent walking trails. They may have a perk for traveling faster on the area map because they know how to lead people through difficult terrain. These are gameplay skills that may make an ally more appealing if their characterâ€™s dialogue makes them seem difficult or combative with other allies. We balance gameplay advantages and personality flaws for every character you can add in the shelter.
Before writing the character, a list of every interaction possible with the player or other allies is made. This outline is used as a guide to track all the events we need to write. If we feel thereâ€™s a lack of interesting dramatic points or decisions, we will add them at this stage or while writing. We also simplify any chains of events that seem too complex or frustrating for a player to figure out. Some adjustment may be made to pace a characterâ€™s arc out over time to make sure they continue to pop up in the story. Additionally, we figure out any random events this character might be associated with and questions that the player may want to ask them (including dialogue for resolving personal requests).
From here, itâ€™s all dialogue writing, which can introduce even more nuances and character developments that can only come out as we are subjecting ourselves to that characterâ€™s point of view. And now you understand a bit more about the dialogue process. Weâ€™re hoping the extra effort provides an experience that you wonâ€™t find anywhere else.