The exposition dump

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Milennin, Mar 23, 2019.

?

Your preferred way to handle exposition?

  1. Wall of dialogue, so it only needs to be brought up once

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  2. Dialogue spread out over the course of multiple scenes

    5 vote(s)
    16.1%
  3. Optional dialogue choices, or through exploration

    16 vote(s)
    51.6%
  4. Cutscenes that show the story through visuals

    7 vote(s)
    22.6%
  5. Playable cutscenes to show events

    1 vote(s)
    3.2%
  6. None at all, because my game is too kool for skool

    2 vote(s)
    6.5%
  1. Milennin

    Milennin "With a bang and a boom!" Veteran

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    The infamous exposition dump, when you need to explain your game's background lore, villain, story advancements and whatnot. What is your preferred way of getting this information out to your player? Added some options to the poll for several ways to go about it, but maybe you've got something entirely different.
     
    #1
  2. Ms Littlefish

    Ms Littlefish Dangerously Caffeinated Global Mod

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    Most games should probably use a combination of delivery. The average RPG just has way too much to digest in a single text crawl. Not to mention, the big selling point of video games is they're interactive! A cutscene now and again is more than fine but I hate it when the game is constantly locking up and you're forced to sit pretty. I'd much rather explore around and interact with both characters and environments. There are so many ways to deliver great dialogue without seizing complete control away from the player. Dumping huge chunks just tends to lead to confusion and forgetting important details. Trickle it in as it becomes relevant. I might not remember!
     
    #2
  3. Kes

    Kes Global Moderators Global Mod

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    Exposition is not a mechanic as such.

    I've moved this thread to General Discussion. Please be sure to post your threads in the correct forum next time. Thank you.


    The problem with a poll is that it implies that there is one single way that is preferred. But I use 2, 3, 4, and 5 and a couple of other things as well. I think that using a variety of methods is infinitely preferable to picking just one and sticking with it.
     
    #3
  4. Blackyu

    Blackyu Professional Procrastinator and proud to be ! Veteran

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    Well, I commonly use a few ways, but if I had to pick one from the list, it would be cutscenes, generally flashbacks presented to the player so they can learn what a situation is about.
    I have an example : In my game, there is a part where the character you play as (called Lana) gets chased after by a psychotic killer (Owen), but right as Lana became too tired to run, Owen mistakes her for a character named Dahlia, who was never spoken about before.
    A few minutes later, as Lana falls unconscious, the player witnesses some kind of conversation flashback where they learn that Owen and Dahlia were friends back in Ganoy asylum, and Dahlia had helped Owen maintain his sanity several times.
    As it turns out, Dahlia was Lana's grandmother, it can easily be guessed at using pieces of dialogue between Owen and Dahlia in the flashback, as well as Owen and Lana during the game.

    So yeah, bits of dialogue and cutscenes meant to the player are my favorite methods of exposition. That way the player learns smoothly via the interactions between the characters and it never feels too forced, as long as it's used at the right time.
     
    #4
  5. The Mighty Palm

    The Mighty Palm Resident Palm Tree Restaff

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    Exposition is like a massive chocolate cake. Eat it slowly over time, because if you try to take it all in at once you'll probably get sick.
     
    #5
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  6. Yougotsomechocolate

    Yougotsomechocolate Random Chest Veteran

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    You could put some history into books, and the player has the option of reading them. As far as exposition, It's okay if it doesn't take 10 mins till you can play the game again.
     
    #6
  7. KazukiT

    KazukiT Veteran Veteran

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    I feel dialogue should be spread out throughout the game and the current arc of the story. This way the player doesn't get overwhelmed by information or becomes bored. : /
     
    #7
  8. mobiusclimber

    mobiusclimber Veteran Veteran

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    Ideally, through natural-sounding dialogue (not like "You are my grandson! What was your name again?"), visual cues and short cut-scenes to advance the plot. But every game is different and should be developed slowly with the backstory / history / etc kept in mind. Everything should push that background forward while making the decisions and actions of your characters feel obvious (as in, that's the only natural thing these people would do in this situation).
     
    #8
  9. kirbwarrior

    kirbwarrior Veteran Veteran

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    From the tons I've seen on the subject, I think the best implementation is to give the minimum required to understand the story through events/cutscenes/whatever and leave all the lore easily accessible in some manner for players with questions.

    But that's for words. Show, don't tell, the information. Background lore will have an effect on buildings, roads, ruins, etc. The villain's actions are as important as reasons behind them. A lot can be explained without words to the player because having to deal with it is already telling so much.

    The other thing to take into account of is actually looking at your exposition and asking yourself "How much does the player need to know to follow the plot and enjoy it?". A lot of games over-exaggerate how much is necessary, including and especially AAA games. As an example, the opening text scroll in FF6 can actually be dropped. If it is, then you're now in the same situation as Terra (barely knowing anything that's going on) and the game explains everything as needed as it goes on, with enough clarity to easily pick up and connect things.

    A simpler way of looking at it is; Give the player enough information they want to know more, not know less.
     
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  10. Aesica

    Aesica undefined Veteran

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    I wish this was a multiple choice poll because most of these ways (except perhaps the wall of text) are better depending on the circumstance. Like if a character is recalling a past event, let me play out the flashback. If the bad guys are scheming, let me watch them do their thing. Trying to depict an oppressed town? Let me explore the town, talk to people, and see just how bad things are for them. For a larger, ongoing plot, break it up into separate cutscenes every dungeon or so instead of one giant data dump cutscene.

    Just please, don't make it endless pages of static dialog. That's almost never a good idea, and comes off (to me) as incredibly lazy.
     
    #10
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  11. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    I use cutscenes for story advancement, but dialogue (spread across multiple scenes and sometimes just little bits outside of scenes) for background story that isn't in the "camera's view" (the place and time that the main characters are in).
     
    #11
  12. watermark

    watermark Veteran Veteran

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    This reminds me of the lore dump in Elder Scrolls games, Oblivion in particular.

    They put lots and lots of text in these optional in-game books that you can read at your leisure. I think this works really well.

    I guess lots of text works when you don't have to read it, but can read it when you want to.
     
    #12
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  13. SOC

    SOC "God is my Judge" Veteran

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    I'm really struggling with this in my current project. I'm finding it very difficult to get the balance between not doing a huge exposition dump at the beginning of the game, but also providing enough backstory and world building to actually engage the player enough to "have a reason" to play my game and begin the journey/plot. I've been able to include a battle early on so the player at least has that, but it's kind of followed by several minutes of cutscenes without player control and just a lot of reading.

    Hmm. I guess just making this post gave me some new ideas. In these cutscenes, the party members are automatically moved to the locations of where the next "scene" takes place in the story, so maybe if instead I allowed the player to explore and go to these locations on their own while being guided by dialogue/gab windows/etc., this could potentially solve the issue.
     
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  14. LycanDiva

    LycanDiva Villager Member

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    For lore that isn't super-important to the main plot or more detail on lore that is important to the plot, I prefer it scattered around in places like bookshelves and random NPC dialogue. For character backstories, I like the good-old flashback, both interactive and cutscene varieties. And, of course, everyone's favorite, the Villainous Monologue for when the bad guys think they're finally free to complete their evil plans now that they have the hero(es) "totally cornered" and "at their mercy." (Silly villains, victory is for protagonists!)
     
    #14
  15. EthanFox

    EthanFox Veteran Veteran

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    I voted for "none at all", though being "too cool for school" has little to do with it :hwink:

    It won't be news to anyone here, but naturally you get the phrase "show, don't tell", in that you want to try and show the user as much as possible to explain why the world is the way it is. Videogames kinda have an extra layer on top of this, which is "play, don't show" where great gaming experiences tend to have the user actually execute the actions which impart the nature of the world and story.

    Because we're talking about RPGs, realistically, I think you have to do some text exposition. Also, you're probably attracting the kind of player who likes that. Sometimes it's easier just to tell something if showing them would take a long time, and ultimately not be all that fun.

    My current game is something of a graphic adventure, so it involves a large number of cutscenes. That being said, I'm trying hard to drip-feed relevant information only when it's needed, so the player will discover more about the world over time, rather than in one go. That being said, that approach isn't necessarily better; it's all about what you want the player to know.

    Exposition might be clunky, but it's also fast. You may really need the player to know a great deal within moments of the game starting. Depends on your story.
     
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  16. Benevolentwanderer

    Benevolentwanderer Veteran Veteran

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    @SOC I think you can generally assume that anyone who makes it past the opening menu is, in fact, here to play your game, and doesn't need you to immediately give them Cool Story Info to get them to play! They're already there, so you can choose how fast to show them more than moment-to-moment gameplay narrative ;)

    So, here's an example from what I think is pretty commonly agreed to be a game with good narrative storytelling: Undertale. (I will try to omit spoilers, but the game is what, four years old at this point?)

    Almost every piece of set dressing in the entire game can be examined for dialogue. This dialogue typically is just goofy, but occasionally portentous... not that the player would know!

    There are about three backstories in Undertale. There is the backstory given in the pre-menu picture series, there is the story of the group of friends the character makes in the middle section of the game, and there's the narrative-driving story that underlies the whole plot, not just bits and pieces of it. When is the player first filled in on the narrative-driving story?

    The very last area in the game, right before the final scene.

    The vast majority of playtime is still spent with a (non replaying) player totally in the dark about this unspoken story. The player and the main character are the only ones who don't know what happened. The world is full of objects that visually reference this story or have tooltips that hint at it. There are cutscenes, that, on replay, seem so blatantly obvious you can't believe you didn't get it the first time. But the player doesn't know, so they don't notice those things were important until later, they just absorb them as a cute little detail.

    This leaves the game with inherent replay value even when no new material is unlocked, which is an awesome structure for short, tightly plotted games, but not so great for long, sprawling ones. However, I think the main takeaway is that if you build your game in such a way that players are encouraged to check every rock for information, they probably will, and you can quite reliably dispense important background info that way. Save cutscenes for choke points where the plot is being advanced by other characters doing something. Don't show events the main character wouldn't know about, just their consequences. Keep in mind that things that have more consequences should be mentioned more often, and thus be less likely to be missed by a player.

    You'd think this approach would lead to a very minimalist game with a lack of plot development, but it can actually make for a game with a plot that seems much more elaborate and lush than if information about what's really happening was easy to get.
     
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  17. Bonkers

    Bonkers Bioware, do you need a nap? Restaff

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    Show don't tell. A cut-scene will be more engaging, and have an opportunity to do more than a simple explanation.
     
    #17
  18. DownwardSpiral

    DownwardSpiral I need help, thanks. Member

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    I think most folks here have covered all the bases, so here's my own take.

    Consider your audience. Perhaps they prefer a more active gaming experience. There are games like Morrowind that 'throw' the player right into the world and let them orient themselves to the story. There may be some exposition, but used in moderation. (It should be noted that you learn 'topics' when you talk to people in the world which branches off if you ask about it)

    Perhaps your audience prefers the passive experience, like watching a movie (or playing a telltale game, of course.)

    Some may not sit through an info dump in any case. They may just shut the game off because they think its boring.

    I usually enjoy reading unless its actually valuable time wasted when I could be exploring and progressing the story.

    It may not even be the audience, If you can write a brief, simple intro that sets the tone nicely, I think you should apply for a job at a big game dev studio... Simplicity could be a good approach to communicating the more nuanced subjects. Generally you should keep most topics in bitesize pieces so it doesnt become a chore to orient yourself to.

    Thats just my two cents, you can disagree if you like.
     
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