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Video Game Writing Tip #4

Be Concise

There are two reasons to be concise when writing dialogue for a video game.

  1. Space is limited.
  2. Player attention span is limited.

The first limitation is the user interface (U.I.). If the game uses a text pop-up, then you have a character limitation. Since writing for Guild Wars 2, I’ve had to get better at relaying as much information as possible in a small space. It’s like writing flash fiction or tweeting. You have 140 characters, and that’s it. The only other challenge is that u can’t slip in2 geekspk 2 save characters.

There are, however, tricks you can learn to cut back the character count without sacrificing personality or meaning. Here are just a couple:

  • Contractions are your friend. “I’d” versus “I would”.
  • Drop unnecessary words like “very” and “really” and “so”. “I really want to kick your ass” is seven characters longer than “I want to kick your ass.” And yet, the second version is no less expressive. If anything, it’s more expressive, less watered down.
  • Get rid of leading words like “Well” and “Oh” and “Uh”. “Well, that was special” is six characters longer than “That was special.” It loses nothing when you ditch that superfluous word.

The second limitation mentioned is the player’s attention span. This is not a critique of players, but rather an understanding of how people play. When a player is in a game, they’re cruising through quickly, running from activity to activity, and clicking on various interesting spots. They may even be multi-tasking, watching TV while they’re playing.

The shorter the message, the more likely it is to get into the player’s brain as a complete whole. Even when vocalized, the shorter lines keep the player’s attention. During longer ones, the player’s attention may drift or get captured by something else. It doesn’t matter how brilliant your dialogue is. Short and brilliant is far better than long and brilliant, in video games.

When writing for video games, your best tool (next to grammar and punctuation) is a proverbial scalpel. Cut, cut, cut.

>>> Read Video Game Writing Tips #1-3.

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