You know, Borderlands got me thinking about the portrayal of non-player characters. Funny how, despite the general lack of dialogue (spoken or otherwise), you get a pretty clear picture of each character and their personality. Sure, they don’t have much personality, but they have some, which is more than most games can boast. The characters are certainly colorful, I’ll give it that much. *snerk*

But you know what that made me realize? The important of the adage “actions speak louder than words.” Even a mountain of dialogue (unless it’s spoken and well-acted) won’t tell you as much about a character as their actions will. If the game is limited by the amount of dialogue it can present to you (see: evolving conversation), giving key characters a couple defining actions can more than make up for it.

I didn’t play Half Life: Blue Shift, but I did know a little about Barney before he showed up in Half-Life 2. Apart from his snarking in the face of the generally humorless … uh, everyone else, one of the things that made him immediately endearing to me was that he awarded me with the ever-useful crowbar. Great for slow zombies and crates, it’s easily one of the most versatile weapons short of the gravity gun. Thanks, Barney!

One of the other things Borderlands helped me realize, is that forcing the character to move constantly between one or more areas (let’s say at least three) means they won’t focus too closely on the details of any one of them. Then, if you have limited development resources, you can share around the amount of detail that goes into each area because the average player won’t take the time to examine every part.

So, the worry I had before about not being able to get as much oomph out of “evolving dialogue” is probably forgivable with the addition of at least two other important things: a sufficient gameplay experience to serve as a distraction, and at least two extra areas to explore that are of equal interest to the player. Between gameplay and exploration options, unimportant NPCs only need, maybe, a half-dozen lines of dialogue.