The art of in-game dialogue without voice actors

game dialogue

Hello, everyone. We’re deep into scriptwriting with Debris and I’d like to share a cool tool we’ve been using to help us with game dialogue. Plug in your headphones for this one.

In-game dialogue: the problem

We noticed while testing early sequences of Debris that it was extremely hard to get a sense of pacing. How can you tell if game dialogue is working if you can’t hear it in context? Well, you can read it aloud as you play, but that gets tiring. Really tiring.

Virtual assistance

What do you think of when I mention Cortana? Wife material? Ok, bad example. What about Siri, Alexa, or even Microsoft Sam? Helpful AI assistants that tell us things we want to know? Liberators from the tyranny of the keyboard? Or just voices we can make say funny things? We’ve taken the latter concept and turned it into a game development tool.

Playing with pacing

Graham, one of our developers, had an idea. He created a system where at a push of a button, each line of our Ink script gets vocalized by built-in text-to-speech software and exported into WAV files which then get imported into Unity. Not only that, but it does a specific voice for each gender. Enter Microsoft Mark and Microsoft Zira, the two main characters of Debris:

That’s the very first public showing of Debris’ script. Impressed? We call it our UPS system, because of the terrible delivery. Seriously though, we call it Cortana 2.

And just so you don’t think our game sucks because the script sounds bad, let’s hear the Mark & Zira renditions of some classic game dialogue for comparison.

Like Half Life 2:



Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater:

Did it work?

With the game dialogue playing in the right sequence and at the right time, there’s a much better sense of how it actually feels to be in the world of Debris. We’ve discovered situations where you’re too busy dealing with mechanical aspects (orientation, navigation, combat, etc.) to focus on what’s being said. There are also segments where depending on what order the player performs certain actions, the logic of the narrative gets broken.

Testing our branching narrative in text-based Inky (more on that later) can help us find sequencing issues, but you never know what a player might do until they actually get to move around. Also, there’s a certain type of person whose tries to break everything they touch, which is a beloved trait in game development. This tool let’s all testers experience the game dialogue as it blends with the mechanics.

Finally, our text-to-speech game dialogue tool has helped us with level design. Our unique terrain generation system allows us to make quick changes, so we can tweak levels to craft moments that look and sound right.

  • Hearing the game dialogue helps with pacing, narrative development and level design.

  • Every line is funny, except the ones that are supposed to be.

  • You get a lot of this.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to get in touch if you like. Until next time!

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