As with most things, the conversations themselves are data driven, which configures what image, text and which side of the screen to place the image on. When I get the scripting sorted out they'll be trigged by the mission scripts to tell you your current objectives and other info.
They currently freeze the actual gameplay until you're done reading, but I might make that optional - after playing Bioshock and Deus Ex recently I think that getting orders on the fly while you're still in the middle of something else is a great way to make things more urgent and keep the player juggling multiple things at once.
In the background you can also see the wind effect. It's a pretty minimal effect (largely based on the wind in Wind Waker) but it took a surprisingly large amount of tweeking to get it to animate nicely.