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Blog o' Romance

Posted by Chris Avellone , 23 July 2007 · 15287 views

So, I generally despise writing companion romances (I think unrequited and/or doomed ones are ultimately more dramatic), but there are some techniques I've accumulated over the years that I try to incorporate into writing and designing romances in RPGs.

A lot of these things came out while writing Gannayev-of-Dreams in Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, and I suppose it could hold true for other inter-party romances in games. What follows is a summary of some points we kicked around for how to foster romances with the PC.



Any suggestions or examples of other techniques that work would be welcome because us Obsidian folks (or at least me) aren't the romantic types.

Note: I'm going to cite examples from Season 1 of Lost a lot, so if the character examples below don't make sense to you, watch that and come back - although there's no spoilers below. I think. It's hard to tell with Lost what's a spoiler and what's not. Also, I haven't watched Lost past Season 2, so it's possible all the examples below are overturned in Season 3.

Anyway, here's how to foster romance between characters - part one, and subject to iteration.
  • First, the NPC romantic interest must be good in combat or contributes effectively to a mission. It is much easier to like/love someone who fulfills an effective combat role in the party (Final Fantasy VI/Final Fantasy III was always my model for this). Kate from Lost, for example, pulls this off - she's a good tracker, good with a gun, and can handle herself in a fight for the most part.
  • The NPC is not subservient to the player, but either equal or not quite his or her equal. Kate from Lost does not feel she’s worthy of Jack, but she can compete with him and give him a run for his money.
  • At the same time, the romantic NPC has to be good at what they do - whether they are wizard, rogue, or whatever, it should be clear that the romance NPC is skilled at their profession. Slacking or whining is not an admirable romantic quality.
  • The love interest doesn't have to like the PC, oddly enough, but it should be clear they admire or respect them for who they are, not what they can do. Regardless of Jack being a doctor, Kate thinks Jack’s heroic and ethical qualities are admirable.
  • Independent. If the player wasn't around, the NPC would be able to act independently, and they can think for themselves. They don't always blindly agree with the player and only have a life when they are around. In game, you want to give them individual AI, opinions, disagree at times, discuss, etc. The player wants someone to care about, not a drone who nods all the time.
  • At some point, the NPC love interest is willing to sacrifice something of some importance for the player for solely altruistic reasons. They may give up a weapon, a philosophical position, or something of value to them simply because their feelings for the player matters more.
  • Intelligent and/or cunning.
  • Witty. Again, Kate from Lost. Booksmart is fine, but you need someone you can banter with, not just recite physics formulas.
  • R-E-S-P-E-C-T, not just for the PC for the NPC, but vice versa. The NPC doesn't behave condescendingly, doesn't throw games to let the player win, subdue their own abilities to make the player shine - they respect the player enough to not treat them subserviently. At the beginning of the romance, this may not be the case, but later on, it should be clear the NPC feels the PC can stand on their own two feet, and the NPC respects them. They don't have to agree all the time, but they don't think the player's a dummy.
  • Good VO, as I'm sure you know. The right voice actor can make or break a romantic interest immediately.
  • This is personal preference, but I would always err on keeping "the chase" going, and have no consummation until the end of the game, if at all - again, I advocate no consummation (I've seen it kill Cheers and Moonlighting among others), but that gets some players pretty upset. Keep the player guessing as to the NPC feelings, even if the hints seem pretty obvious - this makes for good drama.
  • Some admirable quality in the romantic NPC. For example (and not to say that I'm in love with Dr. Doom), Dr. Doom in the Marvel Comics, for all his bad guy megalomania, is obviously (1) smart, (2) is devoted to the people of his country, and (3) is constantly looking for a way to save his mother from hell. For a bad guy, these are some pretty admirable qualities beyond just conquering the world.
  • The romantic NPC should be picky, it's obvious he/she has high standards. In Planescape: Torment, we made it pretty clear that Annah and Fall-From-Grace didn't express interest in just anyone, and the player was the only one out of thousands that ever piqued their interest.
  • Attractive. Note that this is hard to do (we've had to constantly iterate romantic visual concepts, and it's just as hard as finding the voice actor), so what I've found is best is (1) let the player make the call, but even better, (2) make sure you seed the world with people who remark on how attractive/intelligent/witty the female or male NPC is - the power of suggestion and rivalry can reinforce to a PC that the NPC is an object to be desired. For example, AGAIN WITH THE @#$!@$ LOST, Sawyer fulfills this role with Kate (and he is a romantic rival as well).

That’s all I got for now. Any advice on what you guys think works and doesn't is welcome - I could use it.

Chris

  • OBqrcole19 likes this



Edited for brevity...
QUOTE
* The NPC romantic interest must be good in combat and/or contribute effectively to a mission.
* The NPC is not subservient to the player, but either equal or not quite his or her equal.
* At the same time, the romantic NPC has to be good at what they do - whether they are wizard, rogue, or whatever, it should be clear that the romance NPC is skilled at their profession. Slacking or whining is not an admirable romantic quality.
* The love interest doesn't have to like the PC, oddly enough, but it should be clear they admire or respect them for who they are, not what they can do.
* Independent.
* R-E-S-P-E-C-T, not just for the PC for the NPC, but vice versa.
* Good VO.
* Attractive.
* The romantic NPC should be picky, it's obvious he/she has high standards.
* Intelligent and/or cunning.

All of these are portrayed in Nathyrra, a romance-capable henchman in NWN:HotU. She was in line to become a Matron Mother, but due to her house being destroyed she ended up being a Red Sister, the ultimate drow assassin. She does great in combat (especially with the AI mod) and keeps my bacon safe. She views herself as being on the same level as the player character, and the player can reciprocate through dialog if they wish (I always do because I pursue the romance aspect). Initially she views the PC as just another lowly male, but he earns her respect and love as the campaign progresses and his victories mount. She's independent; if the PC wasn't there she'd be helping people escape drow tyranny, and initially she only goes along with him because he represents a possible solution to the problem of the Valsharess. She has great VO (I think), and her portrait is certainly fetching. Alas, her NWN character model is low-poly and crude, but she still manages a pretty face and beautiful white hair.

I really like that, by the end of the game, all that has taken place is a confession of love. No quick night in the sack, no oddly-named children (Quayle?!?) being born, just the beginnings of a real romance, which can and probably should be set outside the game context. In the game, so long as there is the main quest to complete, there can be a romantic edge, but really they are building a friendship, a hopefully lasting bond between each other. There's time for huggy-smoochy afterward - in the epilogue and the player's imagination.

She's not very witty, but that's okay given where she comes from. Regardless there are a few dialogs where she and the PC can banter back and forth (you're cute when you're angry) and it's fun, if short. She doesn't really sacrifice anything for the PC, but then she's already leading a self-sacrificing life helping people escape the Underdark, and that continues, with the PC at her side, according to the game's epilogues (if she's romanced).

As far as admirable qualities go, she's committed to helping people, to turning her life around, and to battling the demons of her past. I respect her far more than any CRPG NPC I've experienced, and her 'romance' is as close to perfection as I've seen yet, based my preferences of course.

You asked for suggestions, so besides offering what I think is an excellent case study, here are some additional thoughts:

* Background; the NPC has been alive for at least two decades before meeting the PC, so there exists potential for much discussion that could help the player paint a mental picture of what the NPC is like. Nathyrra does this by talking about her House (family and youth), her training as a Red Sister, how she met the Seer, things to be aware of in the Underdark, and why she decided to turn her life around. If the NPC is enjoyable to begin with, then I absolutely love asking them about their past and learning of things they did and how they came to be in their current situation with their current ideology.

* Interaction with other NPCs; the PC isn't the only person in the game world capable of conversation.

* The best and longest lasting romances are based on a solid friendship. When a disagreement occurs and heated words are exchanged, it is the strength of the underlying friendship that will make or break the relationship. Thus there's really no need to write romance novels for game dialog; and writing for friendships is easier and more fun.

I'd hoped to write more, but I'm tired and can't think straight. I hope you get the point of what I was trying to convey. I was enjoying Elanee up until the point where she decided to jump in the sack with my character; that was a real WTF moment given that I didn't think they'd developed a close enough bond by that point. Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but given the typical instability and brevity of many of today's relationships, I see no reason to change.
I will agree with you Chris that doomed or tragic romance is often more touching and dramatic than 'happily ever after' kind. However do note that this kind of ending, often leaves many viewers feeling unsatisfied with the conclusion. That is why they resort to writing fan fictions or venting at you for breaking their hearts.

So an alternative would be giving the players a choice to experience both kind of endings in the game. One tragic, the other a satisfying kind. An example of such game? Your very own Knights of the Old Republic 2's Atton Rand with his several possible conclusive outcomes.

Another thing I feel is that, romance is should never be declared openly or blatantly between the characters. Like you mentioned, it works best by dropping hints or occasional exchanges in flirting.

Also I thought that Obsidian could use the PC's attributes to provide players with bonus influence points with certain opposite NPCs based on their first encounter and impressions. For instance some women enjoy men with muscular body(strength check). Some prefer intelligent/wise characters(Intelligence/Wisdom check) while others simply like good looking ones(Charisma check)
    • OBqrcole19 likes this
Firstly I have to say I've only played NWN2 of your games, and for me the two most interesting characters were not romance options - Neeshka, and Khelgar. My male tiefling would love a bit of tail, and my female dwarf loves the battle crazed Khelgar (ok so she is a Priest of Clangedin).

The thing you skipped that was the problem in the romance for me is personality and conversation.

Casavir had basically no conversation and thus really developed no personality beyound "dour".

Elanee just annoyed the heck out of me with her self rightousness. The Druid was more judgemental than the Paladin, and she turns out to be a psycho stalker woman, breaking suspension of disbeleif if you are not playing a short lived race ie human.

This is compounded by the fact that, at least in Casavir's case (I have not stomached Elanee that much yet), he finally confesses his love, you hop in the sack and then you cannot talk to him about it again. Same old redundant conversations as before... aaarrgghhhh. More than anything that ruined the Casavir romance, the fact that there is no way for your character to express an interest in him before his confession just makes it worse. At least with Elanee there is a chance to make suggestive comments earlier in the mod (you can ask if she is offering to have your kids, which she, showing an utter lack of wit, rejects).

I know that creating romance is hard going, but romance is far more meaningful when you can communicate with the intended person, and the intended person communicates back. Interaction when the PC is not around is meaningless, its "Out of Character' information. What matters is what the NPC does when the PC can see it, and what the NPC does with/for/to the PC. Just hanging out and killing monsters is a foundation for friendship, it takes a lot more to get some love happening.

Oh you also might want to try following this thread and its 2 subsequent Romance threads (yes over 30 pages of discussion) to get some ideas of what a bunch of players think about romance. (Plus some interesting debate about Romance, Love and Alignment.)
Caution - The poster is over-caffeinated at the moment.

In short, romance interest NPCs should be designed to constantly stroke the ego of the PC, which is the technique you've accumulated for years...O.K. since somethings won't change. According to your theory, I think this individual can win the best romance interest NPC award if she fails to be the PC president.

Talking of advice, what is the opinion of your girlfriend on this article? Also, how about the opinion of J.E.Sawyer's girl friend as well? You might be able to get worthy advice and/or spice up your relationship...with your girlfriend and/or with Sawyer. wink.gif
Kate & Sawyer? Anyway, I'm compelled to point-by-point this, since you used bullets.

QUOTE
First, the NPC romantic interest must be good in combat or contributes effectively to a mission. It is much easier to like/love someone who fulfills an effective combat role in the party (Final Fantasy VI/Final Fantasy III was always my model for this). Kate from Lost, for example, pulls this off - she's a good tracker, good with a gun, and can handle herself in a fight for the most part.

Or they could be quite a burden at first, intentionally (to make your life harder) or through chance/injury. The impression left on the player would certainly be greater than if she just makes a good cleric (since you really need to impress the player more than their character).

QUOTE
* The NPC is not subservient to the player, but either equal or not quite his or her equal. Kate from Lost does not feel she’s worthy of Jack, but she can compete with him and give him a run for his money.

A much darker "romance" could come from exploiting someone who's obviously in awe of you. You could keep her on by giving gushing apologies for the things you put her through or made her witness. Over time you can see the character mature and end up being your most judgemental companion. It would be extra-awesome if this path did not use "I'm a jerk" evil dialog options.

QUOTE
* At the same time, the romantic NPC has to be good at what they do - whether they are wizard, rogue, or whatever, it should be clear that the romance NPC is skilled at their profession. Slacking or whining is not an admirable romantic quality.

I don't think an incompetent NPC would be very attractive, but a slightly bumbling or shy one might be endearing and sweet, especially a male NPC.

QUOTE
* The love interest doesn't have to like the PC, oddly enough, but it should be clear they admire or respect them for who they are, not what they can do. Regardless of Jack being a doctor, Kate thinks Jack’s heroic and ethical qualities are admirable.
* Independent. If the player wasn't around, the NPC would be able to act independently, and they can think for themselves. They don't always blindly agree with the player and only have a life when they are around. In game, you want to give them individual AI, opinions, disagree at times, discuss, etc. The player wants someone to care about, not a drone who nods all the time.

Well, the "in awe" love interest should be easily captivated by your deeds until she finds out who you really are. But for almost every other romance, yeah sure.

QUOTE
* At some point, the NPC love interest is willing to sacrifice something of some importance for the player for solely altruistic reasons. They may give up a weapon, a philosophical position, or something of value to them simply because their feelings for the player matters more.

And their sacrifice may be obviously excessive, the player's acceptance of it would regress the romance. Take that player! Try to apply logic to romance, will you!

QUOTE
* R-E-S-P-E-C-T, not just for the PC for the NPC, but vice versa. The NPC doesn't behave condescendingly, doesn't throw games to let the player win, subdue their own abilities to make the player shine - they respect the player enough to not treat them subserviently. At the beginning of the romance, this may not be the case, but later on, it should be clear the NPC feels the PC can stand on their own two feet, and the NPC respects them. They don't have to agree all the time, but they don't think the player's a dummy.

Respect, respect, respect, can't you have at least one romance based off of pity? Probably not. I'm thinking Michael and Jan from The Office, though that's simplifying it a bit. Co-dependent romance NPCs?

QUOTE
* Good VO, as I'm sure you know. The right voice actor can make or break a romantic interest immediately.

As well as good direction of that voice from someone with a thorough understanding the script.

QUOTE
* This is personal preference, but I would always err on keeping "the chase" going, and have no consummation until the end of the game, if at all - again, I advocate no consummation (I've seen it kill Cheers and Moonlighting among others), but that gets some players pretty upset. Keep the player guessing as to the NPC feelings, even if the hints seem pretty obvious - this makes for good drama.

It's the way they usually play out though. The player could sleep with the NPC very quickly, and the romance could center around the tawdry relationship that follows. This would continue to affect the player even if the romance is ended (see what happens when you try to remove her from your party).

QUOTE
* The romantic NPC should be picky, it's obvious he/she has high standards. In Planescape: Torment, we made it pretty clear that Annah and Fall-From-Grace didn't express interest in just anyone, and the player was the only one out of thousands that ever piqued their interest.

Yes in the long run, but the relationship could well have started out very "casual" and develop in layers towards a deeper connection between the NPC and the PC.

QUOTE
* Attractive. Note that this is hard to do (we've had to constantly iterate romantic visual concepts, and it's just as hard as finding the voice actor), so what I've found is best is (1) let the player make the call, but even better, (2) make sure you seed the world with people who remark on how attractive/intelligent/witty the female or male NPC is - the power of suggestion and rivalry can reinforce to a PC that the NPC is an object to be desired. For example, AGAIN WITH THE @#$!@$ LOST, Sawyer fulfills this role with Kate (and he is a romantic rival as well).

Attitude, personality, and charisma (the word not the Attribute) play a great deal into someone's attractiveness. Some more unconventional beauty would be nice though, not just different kinds of pretty (like Kesai-Serris). An initially mundane or somewhat unattractive feature of the NPC could become increasingly appealing through repetition in the dialog ("She seems distant and somehow distraught. Her eyes are sparkingling and her nostrils are flaring on her gigantic, slightly upturned nose.")

And you're quite obviously in love with Dr. Doom.
I think that the best way to write a good romance is to draw on your personal experiences and write about things that you feel passionate and excited about yourself.

No offense to you Chris, but if writing romances is something that you despise, I honestly think that you're better off with getting a writer that enjoys it to write the romance. If you have to resort to some kind of artificial point by point list, it won't turn out well to begin with, so you might as well not even bother.
Well, I think not only should there be choices but I would like to see more of the playful aspects of romance (i.e. flirting). Perhaps them going on a date, like a romantic caravan ride rofl. What reminded me of it was Final Fantasy 7 and how Aeris and Cloud (or others) got to go on a special, but fun date. Romance does not always have to be serious tongue.gif. In addition, I personally liked Anomen and how I was able to do an in-depth side-quest with him.

In the conversation options, I would like to feel like I really know the characters. I just felt short-changed with Elanee and Casavir because I felt Elanee was just an obsessed stalker and Casavir was too hung up on Old Owl Well. I am not sure if Elanee had much room for potential, but Casavir did such as the lost conversation option about how some battles are hard to face. Why did he leave the service of Neverwinter? Did he have anymore loves before the pc? Why did it end? Etc. Not every conversation option has to be serious, it could be something about their childhood or something.. I dunno stuff that people would talk about when they are trying to get to know each other.
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Selene Moonsong
Jul 24 2007 03:59 PM
Chris,

I hope you know what you've started here and are paying attentin to this thread in the NWN 2 MotB forum as well laughing.gif

I have to agree with the people who have posted above: if you don't like writing romance, get someone who does or don't do it. Talk to some romance writers, perhaps - it's not the maddest suggestion in the world. Perhaps I'm being picky but it does seem to me (and, from the forums, many others) that it rather comes across that the romances in NWN2 were written with great reluctance by someone who would rather be doing something else. I guess there'd be an outcry if you cut the romance plots altogether but, personally, I'd rather have nothing than something done half-heartedly.

Also I'm not sure a list in an altogether helpful approach (but, hey, what do I know?) - the problem with romance, I think, is that it's so incredibly personal. One woman's Prince is another woman's frog. I didn't particularly like the romantic interests in NWN2 - although well voice-acted Casivir was way too angsty and his declaration came as something as a shock to me because I'd basically just ignored him. Elanee was just ... a bit ... blah? I'm sorry that's not very articulate but she was kind of grim and self-righteous and uninteresting. Also the love story such as it was had a sort of tedious inevitability to it: if you hang around with these people long enough they'll eventually decide they love you. And the influence mechanic doesn't help either. Because the only way to gain influence is, essentially, to suck up to your companions there's no sense of interaction there. Its them speaking and you trying to guess the right response.

Perhaps part of the difficulty is that romance plots in computer games tend to contain very little tension or conflict. Assuming you don't set out to sabotage them, they tend to just happen. Couldn't there be romantic rivalry? And why can't there be doomed or thwarted love stories? FF7's Aeris was a very successful tragedy, wasn't it?

But Aeris tragedy is somewhat similar to along the lines of Shandra I think. Both are linear and choices you make won't change their outcome in the end. Lastly, while both are potentials for romance characters, they became the subject of hate-mances instead.
I strongly dislike tragedies so if you feel compelled to write one, please make it an option as suggested above. Life has enough tragedy already, I don't need more of it in the games I play for entertainment.

When it comes to content, I'm not interested in NPCs who need counseling, ala Baldur's Gate 2, and I'm also not interested in overly cheery NPCs. That's why I used Nathyrra as an example, because I feel she represents a good balance. (I haven't played any console RPGs so I can't comment on those.)
QUOTE(Sobriquet @ Jul 25 2007, 03:37 AM)
Talk to some romance writers, perhaps - it's not the maddest suggestion in the world.


No, it's not--but writing romantic development in linear prose is somewhat different from writing it in a branching-interactive setting, particularly one in which the player character may be a homicidal maniac, or a kleptomaniac, or a sociopath, etc. etc. Unlike in a flat one-on-one romance story, the PC is not a fixed concept, it's something that the player makes up as he/she goes along, as the game exploration and dialogue options allow. Even people who are genuinely enthusiastic about this style of CRPG romance inevitably have a moment where they stare at a reply screen and conclude, "Well, that sucks. My character wouldn't say anything remotely like any of these to Suzie the Sorceress to comfort her about the loss of her favorite penny loafers."

Even if you get a great critical-path romance outline from someone who is very very skilled at flat narrative*, you still need to bend and shape that into something you can guide a large percentage of your player base through without them feeling that they have no influence over the course of the romance, or are being forced into a tiny box of reply options in order to play nice with the romance NPC. (And, of course, if the interactive person is ham-fisted about their job, it may end up still feeling too linear, or being almost impossible to navigate because the new options tend to sabotage the critical path... etc. etc.)

Actually, I was a little surprised to see that the original post doesn't really address any of the interactive challenges, which are more than just a mechanical concern. They color the type of character and the types of situations you can successfully communicate in the game romance. What personality types do you choose to exploit on the PC side, and which will the NPC either reject outright (and how will they know?) or cut off the romance with if they show up too often?

After all, somebody has to decide things like "When can we assume that the PC probably really does like the NPC and will avoid being deliberately cruel?"

NPC: "Oh, <charname/>, you really are one giant barrel of role-playing love. Now that we are at a dramatic inflection point approximately 60 percent through our romance, I think it important that we have a serious talk."
PC1: "Sure, honey. What's on your mind?"
PC2: "Get away from me before I sand your face off with a cheese grater."

If you don't offer cheese graters in the early going, players will complain that they feel they were forced into the romance, that their "Grugnak the Destroyer" PC concept was not properly honored by the designers, blah blah. Continue to offer cheese graters too late and, on some subtle level, it can color the player's feelings toward the NPC and about the relationship. (In the real world, we may occasionally bite back a really great cutting remark we thought of firing at a loved one, but if every time we see them we strongly consider making them cry, it's not a Quality Relationship.)

These types of things don't come up in a flat narrative--sure, a romance novelist may "let you inside the head" of a character to see the different options they consider in certain situations, but the scope is nothing like this.

* - There's a bigger "Why games should/shouldn't be written by Hollywood screenwriters" debate here as well...
Tragedies in entertainment can be successful if done right with a sense of a 'happy ending' closure.

James Cameron's Titanic anyone?

First of all I also register my vote for bringing in the writer who *wants* and *enjoys* writing the romances for writing the romances (hey, if I wrote/coded about 10 now for three different games for free, on my own time, there are gotta be people who'd do it for money). Secondly, I think no matter what bullets you will include up there it's a flawed way of thinking. Because a romance in a CRPG is going to be good not because it follows a "model", but because it is a story within the story, and an interesting story. Both the NPC and the relationship has to be discovered. And that means a LOT of content, not one dialogue where they kissed and made (or not made) out. I know that the voice-over is the new thing that everyone quotes when they say they can't write full-scaled romances any more, so I will express my personal opinion that voicing the first line and any emotional lines only is perfectly fine. So, all hail interesting and long romances that can truly become the material for bards' songs! (That's my personal measure of whether I should or should not incude a romance with that character - will it make for a good bard's song or not) original.gif
QUOTE(jcompton @ Jul 25 2007, 04:18 PM)
No, it's not--but writing romantic development in linear prose is somewhat different from writing it in a branching-interactive setting, particularly one in which the player character may be a homicidal maniac, or a kleptomaniac, or a sociopath, etc. etc.


This is, of course, very true. I understand it's a completely different ball game but I thought it might be illuminating from a consulatative perspective. I mean, I imagine you'd get a very different list than the one above - although, admittedly, some of it might be completely irrelevant.

In most the romance plots I've played through the interactive element has usually consisted of: "want a romance with NPC" / "want to be friends with NPC" / "want to be cruel to the NPC" / "completely uninterested in talking with NPC" with a dialogue choice for each alternative, usually, actually in that order. And there's often very little room to manoeuvre within that i.e. you romance a person wrong or you romance them right and if you acccidentally cheese-grater them you've very often messed it up completely. I'm not saying that the NPCs should open themselves masochistically to regular cheese-gratings but sometimes I would really appreciate the opportunity to have a row or say the really funny cutting remark and, you know, it not sabotage everything. Perhaps I'm just a bad person to date but very few of my relationships have revolved around me always saying the nice line at the top!

I guess the thing is, it rather feels like there are two options: romance and not-romance. And nothing in between. ?But maybe I'm doing romance plots an injustice, but generally I don't remember them with any particular affection.
QUOTE(Sobriquet @ Jul 26 2007, 01:09 AM)
This is, of course, very true. I understand it's a completely different ball game but I thought it might be illuminating from a consulatative perspective.


Oh, absolutely. And it's also an interesting choice to think about for the imperfect world we live in:

- Would you rather have an interactive romance that is interactive but not especially romantic, or romantic but not especially interactive?

QUOTE
I guess the thing is, it rather feels like there are two options: romance and not-romance. And nothing in between. ?But maybe I'm doing romance plots an injustice, but generally I don't remember them with any particular affection.


A lot of complaints come from the opposite direction as well. In a measurable number of them, it is possible to just sort of float by choosing the noncommittal responses, and still get to the end of the romance.

That leads to another design question I'm surprised didn't come up in the original post:

- How difficult should the romance be? Accidental clickage of cheese graters aside, should it just be outright impossible to randomly guess your way through the romance? Should it actually be Hard to get the NPC to love you forever (or love you so much they have to leave you/kill you/betray you/whatever, if you want to play it dark)? Conversely, should it be Hard to get the NPC to break the romance?

I feel that a romance that is part of a larger RPG challenge should not be itself a minigame. If you're ever putting the player in a situation with four choices, three of which are romance-breaking but none of which are patently offensive or dismissive, you're probably making it too hard. If there are totally unspoken challenges (You have to volunteer to buy Jim the Jester a new hat at one of the first two haberdashers you encounter, even though Jim's never mentioned wanting a new hat, or else he terminates the romance), that's also too hard. Don't make it "original Pirates" simple ("shall I Make Pleasant Conversation, or just Propose Marriage?") but don't require the player to collect the rose, the perfume, the candles, the massage oil, the book of poetry, and train up CHA or Bluff before the romance can be completed.

That's not to say that you shouldn't expect the player to be observant about the NPC's personality. ("Why did Chaquilla get so angry and stomp off when I asked her if she was going to write a letter home? ...oh, right, she's told me before that her brother slaughtered her entire family and left her just barely clinging to life!" That's valid, if extreme.)
I prefer a CRPG romance, or friendship, be simple yet rewarding. Few people are likely wanting to write a novel to support a romanceable NPC, and fewer people are likely to enjoy reading it when there are quests to solve and bad guys to take out or replace. This becomes more important if there is a word budget and if you're going to voice every word. The more complicated it gets, the more words are involved.

Friendships can be easier to write, allow for greater leeway, and are more realistic in the context of battles and questing. They let us have fun and joke around without the seemingly inevitable romp in the sack that is often associated with CRPG romances. Friendship can preserve a relationship even after the romance has gone from a bonfire to a smoldering ember, though that's usually far into the future of most games' timelines. Friendships can have a romantic edge to them as two characters draw closer, but the usually hard and fast reality of the game's story prevents them from settling down and focusing on their feelings.

Such a relationship provides positive feedback to the player who spends time investing in the character, moreso than mere influence. "Yay, I avoided betrayal" isn't as enjoyable as "this is my loyal friend and I trust him/her with my life", or "this is the love of my life and we're inseparable" if you wish to pursue the romance option.

Going back to my example of Nathyrra, it was nice working with her throughout the campaign, and even though there was a romantic aspect to the relationship, it didn't come into play until the latter stages of the game, and it was kept simple: a confession of love and the brief exploration of how that would affect each character's future. The epilogue wrapped it up nicely and the player's imagination was allowed to do the rest.
QUOTE
Going back to my example of Nathyrra, it was nice working with her throughout the campaign, and even though there was a romantic aspect to the relationship, it didn't come into play until the latter stages of the game, and it was kept simple: a confession of love and the brief exploration of how that would affect each character's future. The epilogue wrapped it up nicely and the player's imagination was allowed to do the rest.


That would be my anti-romance. I want to see the relationship developing and be much more interesting than "I love you, let's sleep together," plus romantic epilogue. In this cases, I generally just chose not to say "I love you" and sleep with the character, and that's what I did with Casavir, because it was simply uninteresting.

I love a romance to be a mini-game - not a very tough one, mind, but a mini-game where everything about your character affects which way the relationship goes - towards friendship, or towards love. And, of course, I want player to have a reasonable degree of control over fixing screw-ups via the Player-initiated options.

But that's just me. I just love to have the romantic element in my games, along with the friendship element. I want to have my heroines to have a sweeping love stories to match the tale of their heroic endeavours on the Main Story Line front.
QUOTE(Domi @ Jul 26 2007, 12:28 PM)
QUOTE
Going back to my example of Nathyrra, it was nice working with her throughout the campaign, and even though there was a romantic aspect to the relationship, it didn't come into play until the latter stages of the game, and it was kept simple: a confession of love and the brief exploration of how that would affect each character's future. The epilogue wrapped it up nicely and the player's imagination was allowed to do the rest.

That would be my anti-romance. I want to see the relationship developing and be much more interesting than "I love you, let's sleep together," plus romantic epilogue. In this cases, I generally just chose not to say "I love you" and sleep with the character, and that's what I did with Casavir, because it was simply uninteresting.

Just to be clear; one cannot sleep with Nathyrra. It's simply not an option. There is one dialog where she confesses her love and the player can reciprocate if they wish, and then there are maybe one or two brief discussions before the campaign ends. No gratuitous (ick) sex. That's why I prefer it over the other CRPG romances I've experienced.
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Selene Moonsong
Jul 26 2007 02:36 PM
A couple of things I definately agree with here, and some suggestions...

1. If you have someone on staff who is interested in writing romances, by all means let them write the plots and dialogue, or find someone with an interest and talent for it to do it.

2. Gratuitous sex isn't needed. If there is to be such a moment in a tale, do it in such a way that it is not the most important moment in the relationship, but a new beginning instead.

3. Continue the romance afterwards, rather than allow the confession of love to be the end of the romance tale and come off more like a completed checklist item for a quest. Confessed love can lead to additional friction or concerns between the involved characters and can lead to all new lines of dialogue exchanges.

4. When including conflict in a romance, give the character opportunities to make up for their own mistakes, rather than leave it up to the NPC. Don't allow the dialogue options to simply end a romance with a single selection by the character, without later giving the character a chance to redeem his or her self and make ammends. Romance shouldn't be a dead end.

Of course, these are just my suggestions bat.gif I mean innocent.gif

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