Ugliness Unnoticed – Dialogue Boxes in Final Fantasy VII

In which the author explores what kinds of ‘poor craftsmanship’ can be gotten away with when developing dialogue boxes.

Recently when I was making a dialogue box system for The Book of Invasions, I decided I would open the PlayStation-era Final Fantasy games to see how they were done there. Specifically, I wanted to know:

  • Is it okay if a dialogue box obscures a character?
  • Does it need to be near the character who is speaking?
  • How big can I make them?

In the end, I discovered that the answer to each question (and some unasked questions) was: nothing matters very much.

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The Unresolved End Credits

At the end of Final Fantasy VII, after the credits and FMVs, there is a screen with lots of slowly animated stars. As this loops continuously, the main theme plays in the background.

When I saw this after my recent play-through, I figured it might shortly cut to another scene. When a short wait yielded nothing, I figured I was meant to press something. When this did nothing, I admit to feeling a pang of uneasiness.

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Circles, Diamonds and Squares in UI design

UI graphics are essential for providing information to the player that would be impractical to provide through the game’s environment. It would be difficult to inform the player of which weapons they can equip and how to equip them without a weapon wheel, for instance.

On the other hand, we don’t want our UI to intrude on the atmosphere of the game’s environment. While it’s almost impossible to make a UI that is entirely unintrusive, we can take some measures to limit that intrusiveness.

This is where it helps to know what effect the basic shapes give off, and what their strengths are.

The basic shapes
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The “And And Quest” in Dragon Age and Ni No Kuni

In which the author discusses a failing of conventional game design theory that has been generally resolved in other media long ago.

Measuring conflict

Conflict is essential to a plot. Some screenwriters go so far as to say that conflict is plot, and suitably, screenwriters have a lot of tools for testing to make sure a plot has sufficient conflict.

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Level Up Systems & Mad Max

Mad Max was an underwhelming game. I feel like it was almost something amazing, but after a few hours it became clear that it wasn’t going to deliver on its conceptual ambitions.

After my initial disappointment, however, I started to enjoy picking it apart, simply because it did a few things differently. Little things that other games don’t always give much attention to. One of those things was its level up system.

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Raph Koster’s Book

I’m always looking to get better at game design.

To this end, I ordered Raph Koster’s A Theory of Fun, which I’d heard was pretty good. I’ve already enjoyed quite a few of his articles, so I was pretty excited to read something of even more substance.

And then it arrived…

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How’s she cuttin, world?

We are a video game development team based in Cork, Ireland, with a heavy Gaelic cultural angle. We come from non-gamedev backgrounds, but expect to make a few small releases this year along with several write-ups about game design and game development (and other semi-related topics).

All the best,
Brian and Neil from Digital Rag Games

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