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Showing content with the highest reputation on 09/28/2012 in all areas

  1. 15 points
    Character building for games isn’t easy, and it requires a lot of effort, especially when it comes to companions. I’ve had the good fortune to work on a variety of titles with strong support characters over the years, and I enjoy writing them a great deal. I still can’t believe I get paid to do this (don’t cut me off, Feargus). There are a few guidelines I try to follow when designing companions (some of these are dependent on the engine and franchise). - Combat/Challenge-viable. Any companion that can’t hold their weight and help support the home team in some fashion isn’t going to last long in the hearts of players (well, maybe a very forgiving few). This is something I learned way back in Fallout 2 when it became clear that Cassidy was far preferred over Myron, for example (and not just because Myron was an ****, which factors into another point below). It’s also a lesson I picked up while playing Final Fantasy III – every character needs to contribute to the mechanics and challenge mechanics in some fashion (whether combat or stealth or whatever the game’s challenge is). - Companions should be optional. Whenever possible, the player should never be forced to take them or in the case of true psychopaths, even let them live. The golden rule is the companion should be a support character or a walking/breathing slab of target practice if the players don’t like or want anything to do with the companion. - Next, assuming the players like the companion, the companion should serve as a sounding board for the theme of the game. It’s not mandatory, but there’s no better way to reinforce the narrative than someone who is walking beside the player for 70-80% of the game. This worked well with Kreia in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, it was the spine of most of the companions in Planescape: Torment, and it worked well with Kaelyn the Dove in NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer. - The companion needs to ego-stroke the player in a variety of ways. Sometimes this can be romance, sometimes this can be simply reactivity (either brief barks or conversations about the player’s actions), or any of a variety of methods. Ultimately, however, any companion that simply sits around bitching, complaining, and haranguing the player isn’t someone you want to drag into the nearest dungeon to help clear it out… you may simply want to throw them in the dungeon and lock the door. - A visual and vocal/audio hook. This may be the result of many, many years of comic books, but whenever possible, I try to suggest a variety of “visual ego signatures” that can be integrated into the character design, and audio hooks as well. For example, when doing the Fallout New Vegas: DLC, Dead Money, the visual signatures were Dog/God’s bear trap that was still clamped on his arm (along with his name carved in his chest so it could be seen in reverse in a mirror), Dean’s dapper lounge singer suit to contrast with his ghoulish appearance, and even something as simple as Christine’s throat scar (which we had to position carefully so the bomb collar wouldn’t obscure it). All of these things serve to tag the character and helps make them stand out. Each had their own vocal hooks as well (Dog/God’s voice would change based on his personality, Dean had the drippy smooth singer voice, and Christine’s vocal hook was she didn’t speak at all). - Speaking of Kaelyn, companions are also a great means of foreshadowing as well. Kaelyn’s relationship with her deity and his role in the Forgotten Realms ended up being a nice way to subtly build on the end game without directly hammering the player over the head with exposition. - Reactivity, not just to player’s actions but to the environment and events taking place. The Mask of the Betrayer’s barks for when companions would enter certain areas, for example, did a great job of showcasing their personality and also a bit of lore/rumors about the location you were visiting. If we’re able to do the same with game mechanics and combat, that’s an ever better bonus (“aim for the eyes!” “Knock him down again!” “Good one!” “Did Dogmeat just knock down that super mutant?!” “I’m doing the best I can with this crappy knife you gave me!”) So in terms of companions for Project: Eternity, the process works like so: - Establish the game mechanics for the title, and when possible, link that into the lore and narrative while you’re doing it. What’s the central system mechanic of the game? (For example, in Mask of the Betrayer, the soul-eating mechanic and basic combat were the two principle systems the player was interacting with.) - Design characters that support that game mechanic, and if it’s been properly integrated with the lore and narrative, make sure they discuss that angle as well, either though exchanges or reactions to it taking place in the environment. - Next up, figure out exactly where that character shines in terms of the game mechanics – why would a player bring this companion along? Are they a tank, a healer, or perfect for sniping enemies from a mile away? This shouldn’t overlap with another companion’s specialty if you can help it. - Build a barebones background. Were they once a scout, an assassin, a merchant, a Sith Lord, a smuggler, a bartender, etc.? What led them to that… and what led them to where they are today in the world? I say barebones, because I prefer to leave wiggle room for exploration and fleshing out the background while writing the character – the most likely avenue a player has to discover a CNPC’s history is through talking to them, so I let the CNPC do most of the work and try to focus on giving the details there and then. - Gather whatever reference art you can that you feel capture’s the hook of the character (for example, in Dead Money, Dog/God’s reference art often revolved around Mr. Hyde from Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentleman comic) and sit down and discuss the “whys” of each piece with the concept artist. I am fortunate to work with Brian Menze and he’s done a lot of the companions for Obsidian and Black Isle over the years, and seeing what he takes from the brief character descriptions and runs with them is really nice to behold (for example, Darth Nihilus). The important thing about Brian’s approach is he takes a lot of time to delve into the visuals of each franchise he works with and makes sure he’s capturing the art direction as well – and it really served us well while he was designing Kreia, Atton, and the other heroes/villains of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II. - Build a tone. This starts as soon as you start writing – and sometimes, the tone surprises me once I actually start writing. The cadence of how the character talks, their slang, the subjects that interest them – I start a conversation with the character and try to imagine what I’d like to ask them about as players… and often, I try to steer the conversation into game mechanic help, gifts, new perks and skills to learn from the companion (which we used a lot in Torment, KOTOR2, and Dead Money, for example). The player should feel that they are gaining something of value from the interaction, even if the interaction isn’t mandatory – exploring a character’s personality should be as much fun as exploring a dungeon. - Keep the theme in mind. As mentioned before, I try to keep the game’s theme in mind while writing (the nature of the Force in K2, the suffering of the spirit in Torment, the idea of “letting go”/obsession/greed in Dead Money) and try to find ways to weave that into the character’s conversation and their history. You don’t want to hammer it home too much, but you want to include enough hooks so when the player thinks back on the conversation, it’ll start to sink in and all click into place once the game enters its final stages. That’s a bit about characterization – in future blogs, I’d go over a bit about constructing game stories and narratives, discuss some of the companion mechanics we’ve used over the years (influence, reputation, etc.), and anything else you guys would like to read. Thanks for reading!
  2. 4 points
    Great article! I wanted to comment about the first point, combat. While I agree with you, I think it's also important to not make the companions too great. In BG2, for example, some of the companions were built with some downright weird stats allocation - Anomen, a cleric, had 13 wisdom, many fighters had less than 18 strength and many were uselessly multiclassed. This just made them more interesting and usually really drove the character point home. This worked because in party-based RPGs, as long as the companion has a role he can feel serviceably, he is useful enough. He does after all have 5 more charactesr to help him pull the weight, and you only really need one character of each role. So, what I'm trying to say is that I'll love to see characters creativity also presented in their stats and such even if it doesn't make 100% strategic sense. Another thing I think is important and you didn't mention - Most recent RPGs chose to have mostly the player initiate dialogue with companions. You know, you talk to them, you see what's new, they tell you about themselves then you do it again an hour later to see if any new option popped up. While this is fine, I think this is a bit overplayed. I think these sort of dialogues work much better when they are initiated by the companion (like the BG2 banters.) I think it makes them feel more alive and active when they can decide to talk with you just as much as you can decide to talk with them. And since you mentioned influence - I personally hope to not see it in P:E. I think it ruins the immersion and makes me care a little less about the companion - Especially if there are "prizes" for high loyalty. Instead of caring about this character as a person, he becomes a tool I use to gain some bonuses or to "max out" the loyalty meter.
  3. 2 points
    Oh how glad I am to read this. A lot of people ask for companions who despise the main character (or something along these lines). What they miss, I think, is that if a companion really couldn't care less about the main character, he wouldn't really be fun to travel with. There'd be no arguements, no criticism (when I think someone's stupid, would I bother to tell them?), no witty banter. As for the influence: I want it badly. Mostly because I've seen it done wrong in modern games, and want to see it done right. To gain influence over someone in DA:O, you need to say what they like and be in accord with their worldview (so if Morrighan is all for natural selection, you should be too, otherwise nothing good's on the horizont). So you end up maneuvering among what to tell and whom to take. Which is ridiculous and doesn't work like that at all. What I probably liked the most about PS:T was that characters reacted favourably not to the 'likeable' option, but to the 'smart' option. The whole Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon quest is actually telling Dak'kon he doesn't know a thing about his own faith and his own head. And that's an interesting thing to do, and also — that's something that would get my own favour and interest (if a bit Stockholm Syndrom) in the real world. And that's something I really want to see in P:E.
  4. 2 points
    i agree very much, hide the numbers! i always end up playing in a way where i try to get the highest score with everyone - i just can't resist the numbers away with them! let us _feel_ the reaction of the guy, don't show us the numerical equivalent!
  5. 2 points
    Isn't the fact that the companion has agreed to accompany the player and accept their leadership a type of ego stroking, in and of itself. For instance Roche and Iorveth, may accompany the player at various points in the Witcher 2 but in now way are they subordinate to Geralt, their paths and goals have just happened to collide. In a way this is a far more realistic implementation than the traditional party mechanic. That being said the mechanic presented in both Torment, Kotor 2 and Dead Money to explain this subjugation of free will was logical and didn't diminish the companions in too great a fashion. Indeed Kreia still emerges as the most principled of individuals in the whole Star Wars universe. But looking at the characters of Dead Money for instance (especially Dean Domino) would they have ever accepted to even accompany the Courier if not for Elijahs forced co-operation.
  6. 2 points
    re: Influence meter, I don't mind having it, but don't show the player. This is something that should be a background mechanic. And as to player initiated vs companion initiated dialogue, these should not be exclusive. You should be able to initiate dialogue with your companions whenever you want, but your companions should be able to do the same.
  7. 1 point
    Hear, hear! I think there is a great deal of room for innovation in the relationships between players and companions. Many RPGs today have reduced companion interaction to a post-quest checklist: do something in the world, return to base and talk to everyone, repeat. It would be wonderful to have these interactions happen in a more organic way, as they do in real life. To me, that means having companions with their own hopes/dreams/opinions who react to their their circumstances in a way that reveals those things. Sometimes they need to tell you something important. Sometimes they really want a beer right now. And they probably don't want to tell you their deep dark secrets while standing in the middle of a crowded street. So let's hear what the companion says when there's only one room left at the inn.... awkward. Let's have one companion burst in and tell me the need to talk about one of the other guys. Let's have someone disappear for a day and not tell me where they were...
  8. 1 point
    This was a very enjoyable read, thanks Chris. I do have a few notes which I hope you'll read; "The companion needs to ego-stroke the player in a variety of ways. Sometimes this can be romance, sometimes this can be simply reactivity (either brief barks or conversations about the player’s actions), or any of a variety of methods. Ultimately, however, any companion that simply sits around bitching, complaining, and haranguing the player isn’t someone you want to drag into the nearest dungeon to help clear it out… you may simply want to throw them in the dungeon and lock the door." I don't feel like this counts for every NPC. Xan in BG1 was one of my favorites, and all he does is complain. Kreia in KotOR2 strokes your ego occasionally by telling you how important you are, but most of the time she's tearing you down. I even enjoyed Skie in BG1 who constantly bitches about how awful life as an adventurer is, though that's mostly because I enjoyed the sounding board of having a relatively normal person in an adventuring group (because really, it's a horrible life). A friend of mine mentioned during the olympics that we should have 1 normal person running along with the athletes, just for a comparison. Skie was that normal person to me Err, anyway, "they don't all have to kiss your ass" was my general message here, though I'm sure you already have that covered. Another point I actually feel more strongly about; Companion's lives should not revolve 100% about the player character. In 90% of RPG's, companions live and die by their masters and drop whatever they want when their boss comes calling. They'll mention their sidequest but often happily drop it when they get told 'no'. Likewise, when they're not in the party they'll just stand about in a tavern, waiting to be picked up and in the party, they'll not antagonise NPC's if you don't want them to, you can completely dicate their life. I feel this usually doesn't do justice to the character. I liked how, in BG2, Aerie and Haer'dalis had their own (doomed) romance because it didn't involve the player character (who probably had his own romance) and one of the few things I liked about Dragon Age 2 was that while not in your party, your companions would be out doing stuff (Aveline worked at the city guard, Anders would heal people at his clinic, etc). These are after all people, not robots you just pick up in some random dungeon (and PS:T taught me, even those can have more free will than that). I really enjoyed reading what you wrote, it gave me new insights in character creation. Carry on, good sir, I will be following this blog closely!
  9. 1 point
    I agree. If the numbers are hidden (both the current influence score and the increase/decrease popups) it will feel much more natural (see #1). You will get to feel how companions think of you, whether it's clear as crystal or more obscured (see #2). #1 Treat a companion like dirt? After a while she starts to greet you more and more bitterly. Be nice to a cranky companion? He's still a prick to everyone else, but when talking to you he develops a normal tone. With hints like this, coupled with the fact that the player should remember which companions he's been friendly or unfriendly to, the whole influence/friendship part of companions will feel much more natural and less like you're simply manipulating these pieces of data for some reward. It would also be nice if companions started out with different opinions of you based on their personality as well as your character's class/race/background. A former reclusive might start out with a lower opinion of you than the other companions just because that's how he is - and if you're an Elf he'll start out even lower because of his racist views. #2 Say one companion is a noble and harmonic knight. Or he may have been schooled as one, but may not live up to that expectation all the time. Anyway, that is what is expected of him. So when you insult his political and religious views, his opinion of you drops to resentment. But because of his schooling, he does not show it in any way. Perhaps you'll only see his true opinion of you in some stressful situation where his facade breaks down for a moment, and if you're an observant player, you'll notice that he actually hates you and so you make up a plan to increase his opinion of you the next chance you get - if it's even possible at this point...
  10. 1 point
    I'm a little weirded out at the paragraph on "ego stroking" the PC. Could you explain further? Taken too far, this could mean that companions have little identity of their own. I've also always enjoyed "bitchy" characters that don't just roll over for the PC.
  11. 1 point
    Great read, thanks for taking the time out to post this. However I should point out I have no problem with a character upstaging the character. If the story calls for it, and it makes sense in the world/lore. I don't see it as a problem. However I can see why you don't do this due to some peoples dislike for it. I also like the comment about PC personality having an effect on available characters, I loathe when a character sticks around even when you do something that goes against their beliefs right in front of them. I would be all for them leaving/ attacking the character based on past/previous/current decisions/actions.
  12. 1 point
    To dmbot's point about companions initiating the dialogue: I agree that it does make them feel more alive, but it can sometimes be annoying, particularly if it's out of context. In BG2 I would be in some dark, messed up dungeon and then Jaheria and Aerie would start cat fighting over who likes me more (who could blame them). There would always be a dialogue option where you could tell them "not now" or "no one cares" but I never chose those for fear of affecting the relationship with them. So, while I do like when they bring stuff up, there's a time and place. Certain dialogues should probably only be initiated in towns, or traveling between places on the map. I always enjoyed the scenarios in the old SNES rpgs where you would sleep at an inn, and then a couple of your characters would wake up (with the world now tinted blue) and start talking about whatever.
  13. 1 point
    I think it's fair and a good point - companions shouldn't be (1) more powerful than the player, to the point where they can handle the combats by themselves, (2) upstage the player, and (3) seem to have used the ruleset in ways the player cannot to their advantage (ex: they're allowed to have stat allocations that no normal player could have made). All these things can breed resentment. A lot of the CNPC-initiated companion stuff makes them feel more alive, as long as the execution is handled correctly and it makes sense in the context of the situation. I probably should have mentioned that you need to have balanced companion choices based on player personality - if they are a psychotic, there should be some companions that will stick with you, and the same is true if you walk middle of the road or walk the paladin's road as well. This can depend on alignment range, karma range, or faction range. Anyway, blah blah blah words words words
  14. 1 point
    At work, we have a lot of rules for how to write. These range from punctuation (single-spacing after terminal punctuation) to spelling ("all right" vs. "alright") to structural (where a "goodbye" response should be relative to a "start combat" response and where that should be relative to a "friendly" response). Every project has a document (or documents) on the specific guidelines for that project. In spite of all the details, there are certain high-level principles that tend to be common. Okay, maybe it's just in my mind, but here are principles that I believe are important for writing player-driven dialogue in choice-heavy RPGs. * Dialogue should inform and entertain players -- inform them about the world and quests, entertain them with interesting characters and prose. If you aren't informing or entertaining, think hard about what you're trying to accomplish. * Write an outline. Really. Just do it. You should have an idea of where you are going before you set out. If you don't know where you're going when you write your conversation, chances are the player is going to get lost at some point. * Always give at least two options. At a bare minimum, you should always have an option that says, "Let's talk about something else," that leads back to a node where you can say, "Goodbye." You may think that your dialogue is riveting and no one could possibly want to stop reading/hearing it, but believe me -- someone out there does. * Never give false options. Do not create multiple options that lead to the same result. It insults players' intelligence and does not reward them for the choices they make. * Don't put words in the player's mouth. With the exception of conditional replies (gender, skills, stats, etc.), phrase things in a straightforward manner that does not mix a request for information with an emotionally loaded bias ("I'd like to know what's going on here, jackass."). * Keep skills, stats, gender, and previous story resolutions in mind and reward the player's choices. If it doesn't feel like a reward, it isn't; it's just a false option with a tag in front of it. Note: entertainment value can be a valid reward. * The writing style and structure are the project's; the character belongs to you and the world. As long as the dialogue follows project standards and feels like it is grounded in the world, it is your challenge and responsibility to make the character enjoyable and distinct. All of these principles exist to support this basic idea: your audience is playing a game and they want to be rewarded for spending time involving themselves with conversation. If it is a chore, is non-reactive, is confusing, or is downright boring, it is the author's failing, not the player's.
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