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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Two Right Ways and One Wrong Way To Present Information In-Game Through NPCs

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - And of course, I go into detail about the wrong way.

Suppose you are a game developer. You're aware of the (lamentable) trend that instruction manuals are a fading memory, and players don't want to read those anyway. They want in-context information presented at least somewhat naturally, not in an out-of-game experience. And so, you want to present them that kind of information in an accessible-at-any-time format that they can optionally check out whenever by using the protagonist's talk/interact-with-the-environment button.

You have three options with the usage of dedicated non-playable characters (NPCs), which can also take non-character forms (like an in-game book shelf):
  1. Upon starting a conversation, the NPC prompts the player to select from a menu of topics they'd like to hear about. They pick one, hear the topic, and the conversation ends. The player could talk to the NPC again and select a different topic if they wish.
  2. There are several NPCs that the player can interact with, with each having a different topic to cover. Talking to the NPC again will make them repeat their topic.
  3. Have one NPC that cycles through topics each time you talk to them. Sometimes at random and sometimes in a set order.
Options #1 and #2 are perfectly acceptable. #1 is advisable if you want to promote a specific character as a great resource for the protagonist character, like a mentor or a know-it-all. #2 is fine if you don't want your helpful NPCs to have much characterisation. Maybe a set of colour-coded triplets who are each an expert on a different subject.

Option #3, an NPC that cycles through topics in a non-player-determined order, is awful, and that's the subject of this article. Take a look at this disastrous scenario from Team Kirby Clash Deluxe:

I mentioned in my Team Kirby Clash Deluxe guide that Gem Apples, the game's equivalent to real-money currency and what you need to buy items, grows on a tree. This tree replenishes with Gem Apples every 12 (real) hours. You collect them by talking to the sleeping Bandana Waddle Dee who sits by the tree.

The optimal thing to do is to return to the game and collect the Gem Apples every 12 hours with not a minute to spare, or else you'll eventually be missing opportunities to get more apples. But you might slip a bit and forget when the apples will next replenish.
Team Kirby Clash Deluxe Nintendo 3DS Bandana Waddle Dee next harvest of Gem Apples
How long will it take for Bandana Waddle Dee to give us the information we want to know?

Talking to Bandana Waddle Dee again will get you an update on when the next replenishment time is. Well, eventually. You'll have to get through a lot of dialogue to get there. Take a look at the horrors of Option #3, transcribed:
“It's Wednesday, 3/6/2019!
 On Wednesdays, you earn extra Water Fragments! Try and get as many as you can!”

“Here's something you ought to know...
If you buy Gem Apples, the tree will grow. That means more apples with every harvest!
Looks like it'll grow if you buy 150 more!”

“Here's something you ought to know...
If you complete Heroic Missions, you'll receive rewards!
Want to know what you'll get? Check before you start a quest or in your profile.
It'd be nice if I could get a reward, too...”

“Have a watery Wednesday!
You'll get double the Water Fragments from each quest.”

“Here's something you ought to know...
You can capture an image of the screen by holding down X and pressing L+R.
I want to take lots of pictures and show them off to my friends!”

“Here's something you ought to know...
When you call on Wandering Adventurers, your Nintendo 3DS friends might come visit.
What kind of weapons and armor will they have? I can't wait to see!”

“The next harvest of Gem Apples will be ready in 2 minutes.”
I have to press Up on the Control Pad seven times and press the A button seventeen times to finally get to the piece of information I wanted to know, sitting through mostly useless information to get there. Knowing when my Gem Apple tree will grow to the next level is useful information if I plan on spending money on the game, but the rest of that is far less useful than knowing when the tree is going to replenish.

HAL Laboratory did enough of a bad job when they chose Option #3 as their NPC information dispensing choice, but then they did even worse when they had a completely awful order of information presented. It should go from most useful to least useful, from a player perspective. If they were really dedicated to making Option #3 work, perhaps they could order Bandana Waddle Dee's statements differently for players who have made more progress in the game than beginners—the players far more likely to know the game's mechanics already and likely already know what day of the week it is that Bandana Waddle Dee doesn't need to say it twice.

You can bash my low-quality video-recording if you want, but even if the 3DS had the Nintendo Switch's Video Capture functionality, all of this useless information-dispensing wouldn't fit in one 30-second capture. That's how long it is.

I hope HAL has learned since then. You can use their failing as a learning opportunity for yourself. (After all, we ARE supposing you're a game developer.)

Team Kirby Clash Deluxe Bandana Waddle Dee be nice could get a reward too
My beautiful reward! Aaarrrggghhh!”

By the way. Daylight Saving Time is in less than a week. If you change your Nintendo 3DS's clock for that, then the tree freaks out and you're penalised by not being able to get any apples for a day. Hope that gets you looking forward to our upcoming Daylight Saving Time article!

Ludwig wrote this article just because he wanted to complain about Team Kirby Clash Deluxe's Waddle Dee dialogue sequence, but then decided that he should additionally offer some constructive takeaway for you. Obviously he spent far more time writing this article than the amount of time he has cumulatively been inconvenienced by this order of information from Bandana Waddle Dee.

The upcoming (2019) Daylight Saving Time article is here. It goes into its origins.


  1. Hold the phone here. Premium currency in A KIRBY GAME?! They already crossed the line with that, now they're just kicking puppies.


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