Captain’s Log #2 – Dialogue

This is an archived Kickstarter update, originally only available to Nelly’s Backers:


I’ve spent most of August up in Edinburgh at a fringe festival known as “The Edinburgh Fringe Festival”. I’ve been performing in a free fringe comedy show by night, and working on Nelly Cootalot by day. Well… by afternoon/evening.

Dialogue: “It’s All Talk”

As promised in last month’s update. I’m going to look at the way dialogue (or ‘dialog’ for US readers) will work in Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet. While graphics and music contribute enormously to the atmosphere of an adventure game, it’s often in exchanges between characters that the story develops and the most memorable moments occur.


As Don Quixote taught us, too much reading is bad for you. Adventure games can sometimes overwhelm players with text, and once a player starts skipping text without reading it they’re not really engaging with the story world. I do love the lengthy diary entries in the Myst games and Syberia, which provide the back-story to the world you’re exploring. But reading those diaries is (somewhat) optional, and that’s the way it should be. I’ve tried to come up with a few ways of making conversations more interactive.

I’ll continue using a device I used in Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy!, of beginning a conversation with the non-player character asking the player a question. This rarely has a significant impact on the game, but it turns an introductory dialogue into a more interactive experience.

Nelly Cootalot is accosted by Commodore LXIV:

Commodore LXIV: All right newcomer, I need your name and occupation.

  • 1) Nelly Cootalot, adventurer!
  • 2) Bella Cruise, loss adjuster.
  • 3) Edelweiss Fume, giraffe repairwoman

Nelly: Adelweiss Fume, giraffe repairwoman.

Commodore LXIV: Hmph. I don’t think we don’t need a giraffe repairwoman here.

Nelly: It’s that kind of complacent attitude that leads to giraffe-failure.

Unlike the first Nelly game, in The Fowl Fleet I’m trying to limit myself to around 5 dialogue options available at any one time. This is to avoid the situation where the player is given a dozen subjects and feels obliged to trawl through every one before the game can continue.

Likewise, I am trying to limit the number of lines spoken between characters without the player being presented with dialogue options (inspired by a blog by Wadjet Eye Games’s Dave Gilbert). After 5-7 lines I try to include a subject change or a question which can be presented in the form of a new dialogue option. That way the player can choose to continue the dialogue, change topic, or leave the conversation. Hopefully this will avoid trapping the player in extended dialogue sequences which lack interactivity.

Style and Tone

It’s no secret that Nelly Cootalot is a light-hearted nautical adventure. (Unless that was a secret? If so, sorry. ) This means the tone is balanced between the historical and the farcical: nerdy pop-culture references as well as allusions to folklore and proper actual literature (see: books).

In writing the dialogue I draw upon / plagiarise a number of influences. The first is comedy recordings, such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the Monty Python LPs, where the dialogue is sharp, wordy, obscure and often absurdly convoluted. The second influence is Looney Tunes and other old cartoons. For Nelly Cootalot I’m more interested in the characters’ wise-cracking wit, rather than slapstick and mayhem for which those cartoons are often remembered.

Nelly Cootalot encounters the formidable Harbour Master Van Zandt:

Van Zandt: Nelly Cootalot.

Nelly: You’ve heard of me?

Van Zandt: Regrettably. People say you’re something of a loose cannon… We don’t allow loose cannons in Groat Harbour.

Nelly: What’re you on about? [Points at a cannon] I can see a loose cannon over there.

Van Zandt: It’s a metaphor.

Nelly: It looks like a cannon.

Inevitably, one of the biggest influences is adventure game classics like Day of the Tentacle and Monkey Island. In contrast to adventures like Myst or Quest for Glory, which allowed the player to invent their own character, those LucasArts games created strongly characterised protagonists.


I’d summarise Nelly Cootalot’s character as witty, kind and not always that bright. She’s an outsider, which is helpful for the player. It means she can ask questions about everything, but also prick the pomposity of the people she meets. That said, I try not to resort to sarcasm too often, to avoid the smart-alec humour exemplified by Simon the Sorcerer. (I quite like Simon the Sorceror, but real-world Nelly finds him very annoying.)

Nelly Cootalot meets lexicographer Dr Periwig:

Nelly: Ahoy, I’m Nelly!

Dr Periwig: Welcome, Willkommen, Bienvenue!

Nelly: Why are you talking like a hotel?

Dr Periwig: Words, my dear! For Doctor Periwig, words are a passion!

Nelly: What’s so great about words?

Dr Periwig: I delight in them! In interlocution, in quill and ink, in etymological lineages as old as the skies! I catch words as they flutter from the lips and I pin them like butterflies.

Nelly: So you’re…?

Dr Periwig: Writing a dictionary, yes.

Nelly: Geez, you made it sound like it was interesting!

Wherever possible I try to give the non-player characters a distinct idiom, drawing on different bits of dialect and vocabulary to separate them from one another. Of course, I also draw on stock character types, famous fictional characters and historical figures. Dr Periwig, for instance, is a more vain and pompous incarnation of Dr Johnson.

Next Time…

Next time on the Captain’s Log I hope to be able to show you the in-game characters which will be based on backers at the Davy Jones tier.

Over and out!

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