'It should seep in by osmosis': Devs discuss what makes great flavor text
"It should seep in by osmosis, minimize the amount you take the player away from the gameplay."
- Game designer Brian Reynolds, speaking to PCGamer about what good flavor text looks like in games.
When we talk about writing in games, flavor text -- those little one-to-three sentence snippets appended to everything from item descriptions to map locations -- is often overlooked in favor of focusing on big, meaty bits like The Dialogue or The Narrative.
Not so at PCGamer, which recently published a feature in which folks from around the game industry share their thoughts on the value of flavor text in games, and how to write it well.
For example, game designer Brian Reynolds (currently working on Nexon and Big Huge Games' mobile game DomiNations) recalled that he sought inspiration in Frank Herbert's Dune books when trying to figure out how to write good flavor text as a designer on Firaxis' sci-fi game Alpha Centauri.
"What I liked was that in one or two sentences [Herbert] would sketch a whole chunk of his universe that wasn't the stuff that was explicitly gone into detail in the actual text," Reynolds told PCGamer. "It was showing these other forces and philosophies, or cast new lights on existing characters. I turned out to be reasonably good at making up these little chunks and building a world that way. It was a great way to flesh out a world, a social world with characters and conflicts."
Elsewhere in the article, departed Failbetter founder Alexis Kennedy (currently at work on Cultist Simulator at his new studio Weather Factory) suggests that flavor text is an ideal way to both support and spice up your larger narratives and world-building -- but you have to keep it both interesting and short.
"As a games writer you have the player's attention for an instant between the interactions of the game, and the moment you lose it you're giving them homework and they skim," Kennedy said. "For years [at Failbetter] we tried to find ways of forcing players to read, and we realized there's no point. If you're interested in the text, you'll read it."
For more insight from Reynolds and Kennedy, as well as a translator on the Souls series who works directly on the games' flavor-ridden item descriptions, check out the full article over on PCGamer's website.