Looking for inspiration for your latest novel? Lucille is, and she is determined to find it in the people around her. But before she can do so, she needs to fully understand them.
In Dialogue: A Writer’s Story, you play as Lucille, a writer looking for inspiration for a novel that doesn’t even have a title yet. The game plays out via various conversations that you have with friends, family and others who aren’t so pleasant. Each one of these little scenes can be explored and altered in order to find that bit of inspiration that you are looking for.
Your room serves as your base of operations, where you can choose to progress with the story, look over previous conversations or choose different focuses and abilities to take with you. Conversations play out in one of three ways. Firstly, you have Telltale-esque conversations. These function very much like to they do in games like The Walking Dead, in that you have a few different dialogue choices that are timed. If you don’t answer within the time you give a rather non-committal response. The way in which you choose to communicate affects how people will respond to you and what inspiration you can get out of them.
There's more to it than that, though. Dialogue invites you to go over each conversation and explore it in detail, all in the name of improving your novel and understanding of the characters. There are several unlockable “focuses” that allow you to approach any given conversation in different ways. You may want to be friendly with everyone and choose the “keep smiling” focus, which will allow you to get bonuses for friendly dialogue options if the person likes what you are saying. Or, you may instead want Lucille to be more investigative and choose “observation” for your focus, allowing you to see in more detail how the other person reacts to things that are said.
Another way that you play through some conversations is by seeing them written out as if they were a play script. While viewing these scripts, you can select different highlighted areas of text to take the conversation in one direction or another. These different directions can then be viewed out in a grid pattern, visually representing the various directions you can take. This grid also allows you to go around the conversation to probe further and explore other avenues. As you take the conversation in different directions, you unlock new perspectives and thoughts as well as focuses. It's an extremely intriguing way to investigate the people you communicate with, allowing you to understand their motivations and behaviour in a deeper way. With the unlocking of new perspectives and thoughts comes the ability to revisit old conversations and find new things to talk about. The mix of these two types of these conversations makes progressing through Dialogue: A Writer's Story an enigmatic and engaging experience.
Finally, the last form of conversation is via email. Emails feel a bit like padding compared to the others, but you can still unlock useful bits and pieces and alter your responses through them. It did leave me wondering why none of these people seem to use text messaging though; there is not an emoji in sight.
While the animation is nearly non-existent, the artwork and style of the game works well. It reminded me a little of a Nick Sharratt illustration. In fact, the whole game is on point with its theme, with the conversations you have being sorted into acts and scenes. Dialogue: A Writer’s Story also asks, at the end of each act, if you want to go back through the scenes or if you want to carry on with the story, a decision that I find quite refreshing as it allows you to really own what you like in this game. The only thing that lets presentation down a little is that some of the voice acting isn’t brilliant.
Despite all these good points, it's unfortunate that the plot is also a bit, well… boring. To be honest, I didn’t really find any of the story that engaging. You essentially just chat with a specific sub-sect of people, and everyone you meet is either into research or has just left university and is a bit posh. Even your parents are a bit snobbish. They are all very individual, with their own well-defined personalities, but the struggling writer plot just didn’t do it for me. But then, maybe I am not exactly the target audience? Perhaps if you, too, are an author struggling to find inspiration then you may connect with the themes of Dialogue, but for me, there was little that truly grabbed my attention.
All that said, I found the main protagonist extremely likeable, and the way you can navigate her through these scenes by using a set of deceptively deep gameplay mechanics made the game a pleasant experience. Considering that I didn’t ever truly buy into the premise of the plot, that's a real credit to the way that the game plays and feels. Developer Tea Powered Games has some great ideas here, and I can't help but hope that its next title be something like a murder mystery game! But if you do fancy sliding into the shoes of a struggling writer, you could do worse than play Dialogue: A Writer’s Story.