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Diegetic conversations controlled by a game system.

Participating in Dialogues is a natural way of communicating between humans, and for this reason it is perhaps not too surprising that computer games often have a system to support this communication form. However, for a game the Dialogues can in addition to being between humans be between characters or between players and the game system. When aimed at communicating with computer-controlled characters or the game system itself, the system must not only be able to transfer utterances but also be able to parse and respond to them. While applying this limitation to system supporting Dialogues between humans significantly limits what can be discussed, it does allow the system to act as a translator between different human languages.

Note: Many of the patterns concerning dialogues were first identified in the research reported in chapter 3 of the PhD thesis Steps Towards Creating Socially Competent Game Characters[1] by Jenny Brusk. This thesis also describes how to model dialogues in Harel statecharts.


Early Adventure and Online Games such as the Zork series, MUD2 and DragonMud used text interfaces. These mixed dialogues between several players with those between individual players and the system as well as between characters in the game worlds. Later graphical Adventure, such as Grim Fandango, Maniac Mansion, and The Dig maintained Dialogues for conversations with computer-controlled characters while letting players interact with their game worlds through other means. Façade uses a similar system for Dialogues between the player's character and two computer-controlled characters, but does this integrated with a real-time graphical environment.

Graphical Computer-based Roleplaying Games such as those in the Dragon Age, Fallout, and Mass Effect series provide Dialogues with many characters, adding special depth to the conversations with characters that are friendly or important to the player's character.

FPS Games make limited use of Dialogues but both the Battlefield series and the Left 4 Dead series show how pie menus systems can be used to quickly communicate statement about the current context and what needs to be done.

Using the pattern

Dialogues are typically only using in Computer Games. The main distinction between different Dialogues in games is whether they are used to communicate directly with the game system, i.e. create Illocutionary Interfaces, or are used to communicate with Characters in the Game Worlds. This is most typically Non-Player Characters, where Companions and Helpers may have more elaborate Dialogue systems since their interactions and relations to Player Characters are most important. However, Dialogues can be designed to function between players, as is for example the case in the Battlefield and Left 4 Dead series where they provide quick communication functionality about a limited set of subjects. An added bonus to such systems is that they by being presented in the players' language of choice work as a context-limited translator. Chat Channels can be seen both as an alternative to more structured Dialogues or complements to these, but Chat Channels used together with Non-Player Characters or Performative Utterances are in practice Dialogue systems.

Naturally, the intended use of Dialogues are necessary to consider when designing them. Information Passing is a typical part of all intended use of Dialogues, but more specific uses include providing, progressing, and reporting on Quests and other Ephemeral Goals. Less common are Requesting Support or demanding Outspoken Support. Dialogues can also be suitable for creating Internal Conflicts, partly since they can easily set different goals against each other as options for the next utterance to say.

While many dialogue systems are Single-Initiative Dialogues in that players need to activate them for them to occur, another possibility is that of Mixed Initiative Dialogues where Non-Player Characters can start the Dialogues with players. Examples of when this occurs is in the Elder Scrolls series and Fallout series. Regardless of who starts a dialogue, another design choice is how players create their utterances and commit to having them said. Choosing one out of several options (as in Grim Fandango and the Dragon Age and Fallout series) or letting player write complete free-text sentences (as in DragonMud or the Zork series) are examples Chunk-based Dialogue Processing but a lesser explored option is that of Incremental Dialogue Processing. This, which is found in Façade, lets the Dialogues be Gameplay Integrated Conversations. The main purpose of this it to help contain Diegetic Consistency so that not for example a pursuit may be completely halted as the players initiates a conversation with some random NPC. Any Dialogue system can provide Gameplay Integrated Conversations simply by running in parallel with other event loops in the game but this requires players to shift between the modes; Incremental Dialogue Processing makes these shifts simpler.

Feedback to utterances initiated by players or simply utterances by NPCs can take several forms in Dialogues. The simplest to create is Canned Text Responses but Context Dependent Dialogues provide Contextualized Conversational Responses. This may be done by algorithmically creating utterances as the Dialogues unfold, but Location-Specific Dialogues and Character-Specific Dialogues may be sufficient to make the Dialogues seem context dependent without requiring advance parsing and text generation systems. Regardless of chosen option, Dialogues typically have Basic Input Feedback to ensure that participants know that their utterance has been received and understood.

Challenges can be added to the difficulty of using Dialogues. For example, players may need to use Delicate Phrasing (as in some of the challenges in Grim Fandango) or require Colloquial Mastery. When the Dialogues are with Non-Player Characters further options opens up for designing for skill requirements regarding Brokering, making False Accusations, or Maintaining Lies. Ambiguous Responses from Non-Player Characters also increases difficulty in Dialogues, making players have to guess or create hypotheses about the true meaning of utterances.

While Dialogues consist of Information Passing, what can be said in one Dialogue can be modified by the knowledge the player has acquired earlier, i.e. through earlier Information Passing. One specific types of Information Passing that can serve in both these ways (and as Clues) is Gossip. Since Dialogues most often try to be Thematically Consistent Dialogues they cannot direct communicate information about the game state and for this reason most Dialogues have Indirect Information - the utterance may of course also have diegetically Indirect Information.

The nature of communicating makes it possible to support Dialogues in Game World contexts where other types of interaction might not be possible, e.g. Dialogues may be possible to have with those in Inaccessible Areas. All these aspects make Dialogues good ways for players to explore Detective Structures.

Diegetic Aspects

Given that many Dialogues take place between Characters in Game Worlds, they need to be crafted to fit the game's setting if the game should have Diegetic Consistency. This primarily consists of making sure one has Thematically Consistent Dialogues unless Contextualized Conversational Responses provide this already.

Interface Aspects

Dialogues are either an interface or the interface to the game in which it exists, so the pattern is a. How the interfaces of the Dialogues themselves are actually implemented is another aspect. In most cases this is done in a separate part of the graphical interface, either in a dedicated screen area, through Secondary Interface Screens, or through Command Line Systems. However, responses to these may be co-located in the Game Worlds through Game State Indicators such as speech bubbles.

A major limitation to the complexity of Dialogues or Contextualized Conversational Responses is when they are to be communicated partially or wholly by voice acting.

Narrative Aspects

Predetermined Story Structures are typically created through Dialogues since many Dialogues are created so the series of utterances made will have a causality.


Dialogues are a form of Communication Channel. All statements in Dialogues are examples of Information Passing but the ones that also change the game state are in addition Performative Utterances. When a game's interface is a Dialogues, the game has an Illocutionary Interface.

Since Dialogues can control the content within them, they allow a means for having Diegetic Communication in a game. Being designed before gameplay occurs, Dialogues are Predetermined Story Structures.


Can Instantiate

Communication Channels, Clues, Diegetic Communication, Game State Indicators, Gossip, Illocutionary Interfaces, Indirect Information, Information Passing, Internal Conflicts, Performative Utterances, Predetermined Story Structures

with Contextualized Conversational Responses

Thematically Consistent Dialogues

with Non-Player Characters

Brokering, False Accusations, Maintaining Lies

Can Modulate

Companions, Detective Structures, Ephemeral Goals, Helpers, Non-Player Characters, Quests

Can Be Instantiated By

Canned Text Responses, Command Line Systems, Contextualized Conversational Responses, Non-Player Characters, Secondary Interface Screens

Chat Channels together with Non-Player Characters or Performative Utterances

Can Be Modulated By

Ambiguous Responses, Basic Input Feedback, Character-Specific Dialogues, Chunk-based Dialogue Processing, Colloquial Mastery, Context Dependent Dialogues, Delicate Phrasing, Gameplay Integrated Conversations, Gossip, Inaccessible Areas, Incremental Dialogue Processing, Indirect Information, Information Passing, Location-Specific Dialogues, Mixed Initiative Dialogues, Outspoken Support, Requesting Support, Single-Initiative Dialogues, Thematically Consistent Dialogues

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



While many of the patterns discussed as part of this pattern have been described by Brusk[1] and others, the pattern Dialogues in itself was created in this wiki.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Brusk, J. 2014. Steps Towards Creating Socially Competent Game Characters. Doctoral thesis, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.