Dialogue in Dialoguer
I wanted to write once again about writing, but this time focus on the tools we use. Heroes Must Die already has several thousand lines of dialogue partway through, and I expect it to have the equivalent of several novels by the time we are done. So how do we manage all of this dialogue? Dialoguer.
Dialoguer is a wonderful tool by Tony Coculuzzi that we gladly shelled out for to handle all of our dialogue. It can be used for simple clickthrough text, complex branching text, visual implementation with portraits, and more. We use all of these things and damn does it save time.
I don't know Tony except through this product and he certainly didn't ask me to write this. There's my disclaimer. Now I want to talk through the writing process with a focus on how we use this tool.
After working hard enough to make the $35 Dialoguer costs (My preferred method is shaking down elementary school children), we had to make some customizations. We talked a little bit about how many choices the player could have to choose from at a time (two), color scheme for interface (Final Fantasy-reminiscent blue), and what do about portraits (shot-reverse shot structure with comic book portraits). After some tweaking the player dialogue interface looked like this:
When writing interactive works, be it a choose-your-own-adventure novel, audience-driven theatrical show, or video game, you really need to understand the structure. Visualization is necessary. Heroes Must Die was sketched out a corkboard before any software got involved, and the overall story flow and level design come in flowchart, not document, form.
Dialoguer lays things out visually. It can not only handle branches within each conversation, but can store variables to log and recall decisions made during dialogue to use later. How that actually works is a post for another day by our programmers. However, I as a designer and writer LOVE the interface.
Down the left is a list of dialogues. On top are a few small buttons to add key items - dialog box, branching dialog box, endpoint, etc. It's easy enough to just bang out the text in the boxes and see how each screen of dialogue flows into the next. But it has more options too.
Branching dialogue boxes allow you to list choices, which are nice and easy to track as you actually just draw lines between the choice you make the dialog box it leads to, as you can see on the right. Plus you can use the metadata fields to implement custom work (we use it for portraits).
Personally I LOVE Dialoguer. The visual system is so much easier. I've written branching dialogue in formatted Word documents for previous games and this is much more efficient and easier to troubleshoot. My only complaint is that there is no real way to rearrange and organize dialogue or delete unneeded ones from the middle. Hopefully that will be addressed in the next update.
Still, I highly recommend it. I've been living in it for a year and plan to see it through for the hundreds of thousands of words the game will be, and happy for the tool.