Questions, skill improvement, and respectful critique involving game writing.
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In a project I've been working on a bit, I plan to have the reader not find out a few characters' names until late in the story. I've been wondering what people's opinions are on the best way to present dialogue between those characters when there isn't a name to put above the textbox like you would do normally - not necessarily just in my specific case, but in general as well.
Options I've thought of so far:
- Just putting "???" in the name part of the textbox - I've seen this done pretty often when a character just hasn't been introduced quite yet, but I feel like it would get silly if they stay nameless for a decent amount of time. It also wouldn't work if two characters whose names you don't know are both in the scene at the same time, which might end up happening.
- Giving the characters a description instead of a name in the textbox, like "The Mysterious Woman" or something - also might get a bit silly if it goes on for too long, but there are cases like Ladykiller in a Bind where the characters are always referred to by titles and it seems to work well and fit the atmosphere.
- Giving the characters a nickname the main character has decided to call them since they don't know their real name - this could also be a good option as long as the story is always from the same main character's perspective.
- Using word bubbles next to the sprites instead of the traditional textbox at the bottom - this could be nice especially if it goes with the aesthetic of the game, but it also sounds like it could be difficult and cumbersome to program.
- Keeping the textbox, but having a little portrait of the character talking beside the text instead of a name at the top - this is something I personally like the look of, but it might be a bit strange if the sprite is on screen at the same time as the portrait in the corner
Has anyone ever thought of or encountered any different ways to do it? Are there more positives and negatives I didn't list? What would be your personal preference for a VN you were reading?
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Well, based on my experience with writing dialogue and the VN's I played, the most commonly used are the ??? or the use of character descriptions. The use of nicknames is quite interesting and really fun but that would really be based on the personality of the character. Personally, I would prefer using character descriptions as it adds more flair than then generic ??? Don't forget that if your using descriptions then you have to make it based on what the reader/player can see. For example, instead of using "Mysterious Woman" you can also used "Lavish Business Woman" or "Blonde office worker." However, I would sometimes use the ??? as well as the character descriptions; usually when I really want to convey to the readers/players a sense of mystery as it makes them wonder why others have description while this person only has ??? In the end, it's up to your personal preference
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I use the person's occupation (for example "Desk Clerk") when the occupation is clearly show by the screen image. Otherwise I'll use the generic terms "Man" or "Woman"
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I find ??? To be really tiresome after a little while, and there's often the issue that everyone not- named are identified the exact same way. This will especially be a problem if more than one unnamed character is in the same scene, or even shortly after each other.
Using a nickname is a great way to let us get to know the protag better, it gives us a glimpse into how they perceive the world and the ppl around them we might not see otherwise, and is by far my most preferred description style.
Generic descriptions, like profession or a more generic first impression would probably be my 2nd choice, though I find both the tiny portrait and the word bubbles intriguing. Anything that let's me better link the dialogue to the speaker, and helps me remember the character.
(I have a very hard time remembering names, so giving me a personalised description of the character first often helps me keep them distinct in my brain and better relate to their character later, actually)
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Theoretically, you could of course just... not use names at all, just the images of the characters. Only use names when referring to them by the main character (or other characters). This would mean that you would need to be very particular in WHEN to use that name, so that the player will associate the correct sprite / character image with the name (if you later on only uses the name while talking about a character). The nameless characters will then only be shown as a character image, and if later referenced, you could go with things like "you know, the girl with the huge... earrings! Yeah, I meant earrings!" and so on.
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This is something I've also thought about. Most VNs I've played have used "???", but I've also seen character descriptions/nicknames as placeholders as well. I agree that "???" will get confusing if there are several unknown characters in a scene, so I like using character-given descriptions for unnamed characters ("Strange Man," "Handsome Bartender," etc.). I feel like this also depends on the protagonist, as certain protagonists would likely have more humorous or serious nicknames depending on their personalities (and sometimes, this adds to the atmosphere of comedy/mystique, depending on how you handle it).
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I like the picture or, in a worse case scenario, nothing at all. (Assuming that I can figure it out.) ??? doesn't bother me, though. (Although "the mysterious man" probably would.) If a nickname was used frequently enough, I'd be okay with that, too.
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I like titles, because then it’s a little easier to keep track of who’s talking
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One strategy I love every time I see something deal with as-yet-unnamed characters is a colorful description of how that person is perceived by the protagonist at that moment in time that gets updated as the dialogue goes on.
This really only works for characters that haven't been introduced, though. For minor unnamed characters, I prefer a short description a la Persona, i.e. Spacey Girl, Funky Student, Sweaty Guy.
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I'm in favor of a short description and/or protagonist-given nicknames, depending on the personality of the protagonist. One of my favorite examples of this was in clua's game The Knife of the Traitor
. For the few lines where the protagonist, Os, doesn't know Lilja's name, he's referred to as "WTF." Corvus is something like "Weird Chicken Thing" for a while.
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I generally think of these issues in relation to how people think in the real world, giving me these priorities:
1. Description - identifying a person by something about them, like their appearance or their occupation, is common
2. Nickname - giving them a nickname can be more memorable, but less useful
3. Portrait - this is a visual version of a description and can be redundant
4. ??? - This tends to break my immersion, especially if it's used for a long time.
If you could pull off word balloons, those would be number one.
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