Jay Barnson penned a new development update for his upcoming indie humor-filled RPG Frayed Knights, musing on the game's dialog design.
#1 I decided to have conversations be full-fledged scripted conversations between all characters in the party, both among themselves and with NPCs, rather than the traditional approach of letting the NPC do all the talking in big blocks with a few one-line choices that will usually all be selected anyway. I can pull more characterization and humor out that way.
#2 I have a lot of optional events or events that can occur in a free-form order.
These two design features have a somewhat complicated relationship. To understand this, you should recognize that traditional dialogs with NPCs in moden(ish) RPGs tend to be fairly generic and relatively context-free. The game simply locks out dialog options that no longer make sense, and the NPC spouts off blocks of exposition that only occasionally seem out-of-place given the current game state, and then only by player request. The player's brain can fill in it's own context to form the other side of the conversation, and even work itself into knots suspending disbelief when an NPC is talking about a dead villain as if he was still alive.
But when writing two-sided (or more-sided) conversations, having only one side be an active participant in the conversation sounds weird. Plus, I'm trying to make the dialogs at least somewhat amusing some of the time (though too many dialogs do get played pretty straight there's just not much I can do with them).
So for me, at least my style of writing for this game, this means the dialogs should be much more context-sensitive and refer back to the current game state and choices the player has made.