Chris Avellone has been there for Torment, KOTOR2, Pillars of Eternity, and a metric fethton of other games you might know. His Q&A is in the comments section here, but I thought I'd pull out a few things I wanted to keep track of or thought were cool. Some of this is directly relevant to making supporting characters, which has always been a weakness of mine.

Q: Also, as a writer myself, one of the main issues I’ve found with writing characters is giving them distinct personalities within dialogue. Are there any tips you could give for that?

A: In terms of tips, I usually start with the location where the NPC is found - what do you want to reinforce about the location (aristocracy, farming town, refugee camp), and then try and script a personality that reinforces what you want the player to “feel” in that location (aloof disdain, salt of the earth, desperation reflecting on war/suffering)... Approaching each NPC you write with “what do they want and how will they get it from the PC” is great.

Q: In any case my question has to do with knights of the old republic 2. Many have considered it to be the anti- Star Wars story in many ways with the implied nefarious nature of the force. My question is what inspired you to take this much darker route with the story , as opposed to the light nature of the first game?

A: Well, when we got the Knights 2 opportunity, I was a little surprised. I’d had a lot of questions about the Star Wars universe for a long time, and I wasn’t sure how to tackle it - and then it occurred to me that the same questions I had might help form a context for the game (and giving them a voice in Kreia helped, especially as a sounding board companion).

Also, I have to confess - I’ve always loved The Empire Strikes Back, and the fact it was dark and that not everyone ends up happy at the end felt more satisfying and fair to me based on what I knew of the universe, and I thought it was a brave direction for the movies. That might have influenced me a little bit. ;)

...I think nihilism gives players something to fight against, especially in companions and in the world... and if you can give these NPCs hope or help the world, it sets an example against the seeming uselessness or darkness of it all.

Q: I assume you have to write webs of dialogue (when decisions come into play) and “flavor” text (same dialogue but something small changes based on context of the gameplay).

How do you actually move it from thought to written idea to final implementation (ingame)? How do you write a huge web of dialogue physically before you or someone else puts it on the engine/code, or do you always write directly to the game? An answer by example could do.

A: It varies. I start with the character’s purpose (merchant, ambient flavor, reinforcing a theme - refugee fleeing a war, major quest giver/faction leader, companion, major adversary), and then I run through a checklist of (let’s use Fallout as an example):
  • How reactive should the NPC be?
  • What can they react to about the PC? In Fallout, it’s: gender, gameplay style and build (Stealth Boy, Combat Boy, and Speech Boy - in Van Buren, we were going to add Science Boy), attributes, skills (we check attributes and skills a lot in our dialogues), Karma, faction allegiance, and local and global reactivity, among others.
  • From there, we ask what the NPC would logically react to first (the New California Republic would hate someone aligned with Caesar’s Legion, for example).
  • Then move into what the NPC should specifically react to (hey, this miner reacts specifically to someone with high Demolitions).
It becomes easier and more natural with practice. I don’t have a magic wand for it, although we did an exhaustive template for Van Buren area design to check all the categories above in a spreadsheet so we could make sure we were hitting all the right notes and balancing across areas.

Q: With regards to writing fantasy, do you make a conscientious effort to try to avoid some of the tropes that are mainstays in the genre?

A: Tropes = Yes and no. My first approach is to either ask “what’s a 180 response/design for this” (which I’m worried is becoming a personal trope/cliche) or “what bugs me/what do I hate about X” which gives me energy. Planescape Torment allowed for a lot of both (and every game since).

Q: And regarding writing characters, what do you think is the most important thing to keep in mind so that they are deep, interesting, and lifelike? Clearly defined goals, quirks, personality, flaws, tone of voice, or something else entirely? Thanks!

A: For characters = minor piece of advice: keep their purpose in mind. A merchant needs to be a merchant, a townsperson a townsperson - if you end up giving everyone a twist and a quirk, it makes the people you want to stand out lost in the crowd.