Making the Storyworld Come Alive
In an open world the player will come across non player characters that may respond when questioned or when caught in a situation. To state the obvious, these responses can be mutterings, shouted orders, general news and gossip, directions, reactions to a theft or a killing, and much more. The idea of course is to enhance the feeling of realism.
Writing AI lines is one task that many video game writers dread. This is because you may have to think up five ways of saying exactly the same thing for any given character. When there are 20 or 30 characters then you are looking at over 100 variations of the same thing. That takes some impressive mind gymnastics, and the task can quickly feel like facing the washing-up mountain after a New Year’s Eve do.
But there are ways of making the job easier, even enjoyable. To write well it is important to write with gusto, right? Well the same goes for AI. In fact, writing AI lines can be fun (no seriously) and is narratively very useful. It is where the astute writer will find extra space to add context and colour to the overall narrative world.
Sources of Inspiration
Although AI lines are mostly written for non-player characters, it is important to remember that each character can and must have his/her own background. By giving NPCs traits you are making AI lines easier to write. Every facet of the character will give you, the writer, a source of inspiration. Then, once you have the raw material, you just need to get creative!
Just a few lines of bio will do to differentiate NPC types from each other, nothing as elaborate as a main character bio. The voice attributed to the lines may pop up in various situations and may even be attached to a variety of characters. This means the bio must be short and non-restrictive. It can feature personality traits, background info, backstory and location in the storyworld.
Personality is the most obvious source of inspiration. A brash character will use different words to tell you where to get off than a bashful one.
Where your characters come from will determine how they speak. It is important to write for their social and geographic background. An upper class person will not address a tavern keeper in the same way as someone from the lower classes. Likewise, a New Yorker will use different slang to a Londoner. Writing in class and background will allow you to sustain variety among the characters while adding authenticity.
You can generally invent a basic backstory for each NPC voice. For example, he or she may have left their family in the country to find a better life in the city. From this simple non-restrictive element you can tap into a whole seam of ideas. For example the character may refer to say their brother when it is convenient to do so. Not only will this give you a unique source of inspiration, it will people the NPC’s world and make him or her all the more plausible.
Example: “Should have listened to our Robbie, now look at me, up shit creek without a bleedin’ paddle!”
If you know your NPC will be met at a specific place-type, say, down at the docks, then you can delve into the vocabulary and sayings in keeping with that place.
If you know the given line will take place after a specific mainpath event, then you can have the NPC make a comment on what has passed. This of course means you need to check where and when the lines may be triggered in the game.
That said, it might be that the lines are generic throughout the game, in which case it’s better to take your inspirations from the points above.
Coming next: A Practical Tip for Writing AI Lines.