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"The Academy" conundrum


Llyranor

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I doubt many people are fans of the way NWN handled the tutorial. Yay academy! 'Go attack the dummy for XP!'

 

Now, what if such a 'tutorial' was a full-blown scenario? What if character creation took 5 hrs, for example? How much 'character creation' are players willing to go through before actually tackling the 'real game'? I'm sure many RPG players are fans of character creation, but is there such a thing as too much of it - regardless of how it's being fleshed out?

 

Let's say, in a completely hypothetical situation, you were to play an RPG where you start off as a new army recruit. Let's say the game is made from the NWN2 toolset, and that it was modded to disregard the default character creation screen, except for gender and race/appearance. Classes, abilities, skills, feats, spells would be a thing of the past, at least as they work in standard DnD.

 

What if, say, for example, the game would start with you having already signed up your name to enlist. You would start off showing up at boot camp. You would get a brief interview with the recruiting officer, confirming your enlistment, asking you a few questions - why you joined the army, who you are exactly, your background, your areas of past expertise, previous jobs/professions, what role you would prefer having once you wear the uniform, etc. Basically, setting up a name, a background, a face for an otherwise nameless character. Much like Arcanum or Fallout, you might get some advantages and benefits depending on your background. Were you a pig farmer? +1 to charisma towards pig, -1 personal hygiene or whatever.

 

At some point, you would be subject to a physical examination and an evaluation of your mental status by the medical staff? Again, you can list out things you've had in your past medical history, which can confer pros and cons. You can be assessed. "Fairly strong individual, but appears unkempt, intelligence seems of average or above average caliber, appears to have auditory hallucinations, etc" Again, bonuses and penalties. This would, of course, require sufficient balancing.

 

As well, this wouldn't just presented as some sort of Q&A session or something. You'd be interacting with NPCs - the recruiting officer, the medical personel, fellow new recruits, and so on. This is where you'd be beginning to form and define your relationships with those around you - those you'd be spending time with during the 'real game'.

 

Eventually, you would end up getting formal training as a soldier. This wouldn't consist of a tedious tutorial on 'how to play the game' (click on a spell, click on the target, get xp and a free scroll! congrats!). It would have to be presented in a realistic manner. The instructor would teach you how to maneuver efficient in light armor, how to handle basic weapons - the sword, the spear, the dagger, etc. You might get some basic teaching on stopping bleeding, stabilizing wounds. This wouldn't just be a matter of 'learning new skilsl for your character' such as obtaining new weapon feats. You are in a teaching session. There is a teacher, and there are your fellow recruits. There would interaction between NPCs presented as realistically as possible. You would learn HOW exactly these skills would be learnt, not just something purely abstract. 'Hold the spear this way, follow your opponent's movement, do not loosen your grip, etc', 'apply this type of herb to the injury, the piece of cloth you use to tie around it needs to be tightened and the knot must done this way'. There would be some give and take in terms of interaction between you and the teacher and the other learners.

 

Depending on your preferences, you would get some elective courses as well in areas of specialty that you were deemed suitable for. Advanced wound care, specialized swordsmanship, perhaps some magic. These would be your 'class'. Depending on how you actually perform in these courses, you might learn different abilities. During a swordsfight, you might learn either 'power bash' or 'kick dirt' or 'swift feign' depending on what actions you choose during the lessons, for example. You learn when to strike, how to strike. Is it best to attack the legs in this situation, or should I got for the weapon arm?

 

In magic, perhaps your grasp of it is limited at first, and spells you try to control are a bit random. You learn to feel its flow, understand the philosophy behind it, how to visualize and take control of it. Perhaps initially, for example, you learn how to handle fire. As you cast it on an opponent, does it heat up his weapon and cause him to drop it, does it blind him temporarily, does it miss completely, or does it hit you back in the face? As you gain 'levels' and your control becomes more refined, you get the opportunity to affect it more to your will.

 

Perhaps you get some teachings in terms of martial philosophy. You learn how to apply tactics both during battle and before it, you learn that much of the battle's outcome comes from your preparations before it occurs.

 

And you would get evaluated. You would get study time, you would go to the library, perhaps read more on the subjects. Your fellow recruits would be there. You would get to know them better. You might choose to slack off, perhaps offering you new abilities as well <_<

 

Now, this wouldn't be the start of the real game yet, more of a prologue/tutorial. After all, story-wise, nothing much as happened. Though, you would be learning the ropes, your character would learn how to be a soldier, the player would learn about these new gameplay additions, and you would develop interactions and relationships with your surrounding NPCs. In that sense, the story is already flowing, it's just that nothing has 'happened' yet. Thus, this would still be character creation.

 

How do you guys feel about character creation? Is there such a thing as too fleshed-out a process? Would too many options keep you away?

 

More to the point of this thread, what exactly about character creation (and I mean in general - the above is just one possible example) do you really like? What features thrill you, which ones wouldn't you like to see? I ask this in terms of already existing games, possibly upcoming ones, or hypothetical/ideal games.

 

What does well-executed character creation mean to you? I appreciate any feedback.

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I think a more interesting approach is to set a player against a series of tasks in such an academy. In handling each task, the player is really telling the computer their style of play, and subtly creating their character behind the scenes.

 

If you sneak past a guard, then you might be picking a stealth skill.

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Personally, I hate long tutorials. I prefer them to be optional as well.

 

As for character creation, I'd prefer not to have such a drawn out process. I like distributing skills and whatnot, but I'm fond of the current character screen before the game actually begins.

"Console exclusive is such a harsh word." - Darque

"Console exclusive is two words Darque." - Nartwak (in response to Darque's observation)

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I just don't like the idea of having to "build" my character throughout some tutorial that doesn't really even have an impact on the story itself. I understand where the concept is coming from, but I just can't see myself enjoying going through a lengthy character creation process every time I want to play a new character.

"Console exclusive is such a harsh word." - Darque

"Console exclusive is two words Darque." - Nartwak (in response to Darque's observation)

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I think a more interesting approach is to set a player against a series of tasks in such an academy.  In handling each task, the player is really telling the computer their style of play, and subtly creating their character behind the scenes.

 

If you sneak past a guard, then you might be picking a stealth skill.

Yeah, in the sense that, even upon being set up with certain instructions during a particular lesson, your ways of tackling it and thus what you would learn from said lesson would be be defined by the actions/choices you would take in order to accomplish your objective.

 

Don't want to study? Sneak into the kitchen to steal some food. Learn the trade in the process. It would something of a balancing process, where you weigh the benefits of studying as opposed to acquiring more 'practical' skills.

 

I just don't like the idea of having to "build" my character throughout some tutorial that doesn't really even have an impact on the story itself.  I understand where the concept is coming from, but I just can't see myself enjoying going through a lengthy character creation process every time I want to play a new character.

Ah, but you would already be in the process of defining your character not just as a gameplay entity but also as an individual in said world, developing relationships with those around. This would be the place where character development would start. Learn about your comrades - how they react to some situations, what makes them tick. What is story if not a scenario enabling you to interact with the environment and its people? You are propelled in the role of a soldier, your obstacle is to graduate - how do you proceed in tackling such a task? Sure, nothing 'happens' as in the city isn't being attacked, no one is being murdered, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Capturing the thrill of being a new recruit having just joined and going through a training session - more as a storytelling sequence than an actual 'tutorial'. Drama, emotions, plot twists - all those can be developed within the setting of a 'classroom' without resorting to external factors driving the world and the story. There is a real impact in terms of the characters. That would be the focus of such an area - character creation, but more importantly: character development.

 

The point of replayability is one worth mentioning. I guess making it skippable would work. I think the solution could be to make the scenario *interactive*. The point isn't to spoonfed the player 'how to play'. The player already knows how to play NWN2, it'd just be a process of defining the actual character. In effect, the player would be actively roleplaying the character. It wouldn't be a 'save the world' situation, but it could a much more personal process just as well.

 

'Deflect your opponent's blows. Do not be lured by the desire to directly oppose it.'

1) 'I see. By deflecting it, I would redirect the opponent's strength away from myself, and potentially unbalance him/her in the process.'

--> 'Yes. In doing so, you might uncover an opening, and thus an opportunity to retaliate.'

A) 'I understand. I will retain this lesson.'

B) 'Hmm, I'm still unsure whether simply preemptively striking wouldn't be more efficient and effective.'

2) 'Nonsense. If I cut him/her short, his/her movements would be halted mid-way, rendering the attack ineffective. This would give me the opportunity to strike as well.'

--> ''You make a good point. Though, would this course of action not lead to wasted energy from your part as well. Taking a full blow head-on is no simple task.'

A) 'Not if I can easily overpower the enemy. I refuse to avoid a confrontation on the mere speculation that I am too weak.'

B) 'That makes sense. Still, I believe the subsequent opening would be worth such a price. If I can disable the enemy quickly, the problem would be solved.'

C) 'I would know more of what you have spoken of, then. Perhaps I did not register the technique correctly. Please show me again.'

3) 'Hmm, perhaps if I simply dodged it. There would be little danger to myself, and the opponent would waste his/her strength.'

--> Perhaps, but would that lead simply nowhere? You would be no closer to defeating your opponent.

A) 'If the sole objective is to defeat him/her, then wearing him/her down is a valid tactic. I am not subject to a time limit, am I?

B) 'Hmm, what if I dodged in such a manner that I would position myself in an advantageous position, either to permit a quicker retaliation of my part, or to put the opponent in a position where striking again would be more awkward.'

C) 'Or I could try as you say. Deflecting the blow.... Is this correct?'

 

So it wouldn't just be a process of character 'creation'. You would be defining his/her personality, effectively roleplaying him/her. Add in meaningful character interaction (fellow students would interject their own beliefs into the previous example, for example), and is this really less appealing than a tense situation where 'stuff happens'?

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Yes, and 'Ultra-flexible character creation: define your character throughout the game' is a much better selling point than having a five-hour academy - for however fun it is, it might still be seen as that.

"An electric puddle is not what I need right now." (Nina Kalenkov)

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My point is that if you're going to have character 'creation' so fleshed-out, essentially it's moved beyong the point of creation and into development. In which case, it's better to think of it not as character creation but as a whole-game development process. You avoid the problem that some players will simply turn off to anything that's perceived as no more than extended character creation.

 

I guess I'm thinking something along the lines of Morrowind, except that as you focus on a smaller number of skills your 'major' and 'minor' skills emerge through gameplay rather than being chosen by you at the outset.

"An electric puddle is not what I need right now." (Nina Kalenkov)

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Some of that reminds me of a concept I posted once at RPG Codex, and that will for the most part be the basis of my attempt at a NWN2 module:

 

The game section begins with a routine prisoner transfer. You and other prisoners have been 'recycled' and are going to be sent to a working colony. Just like the others, you have to go trough a routine check to gather your vital information so a file containing your information is readily available to the directors of the colony.

 

A guard opens you cell door, and tells you to get ready. This gives player control of the character (although like in Morrowind, its fixed in a first person perspective). You are guided to the medical area, and told to place yourself in line. As you wait, your hear minor whispered conversations between other inmates, and they express their curiosity as to where they'll be taken. After some moments waiting, its your turn.

 

In this section, a doctor tells you to enter the room. He's sitting behind his table, with his assistant on his right side and a nurse on his left. He tells his assistant to give you your file. The assistant takes it out and places it on the doctor's table, but clumsily hits a receptacle, which falls, letting the beverage inside it spread all over the table, including your file. The doctor threatens to fire the assistant on the spot on grounds of continuous incompetence, but calms a little after the assistant apologizes several times in a row. The nurse just smiles. Disgruntled, the doctor complains that a copy of your file would take too long to track down, so he decides to ask you your information.

 

The first element is the name. Aside the standard opportunity of typing their name, players could be given a random name generator as well. After that, you're taken by the nurse to an adjoining room. Here she tells you to quickly take your clothes off and to place yourself on top of a weighing scale. She looks you over, glancing at the weight reading. Then she grabs a small paper and starts dictating to yourself as she types. "The specimen is ...." and here you select your gender. She complains that she knows that, and keeps writing, murmuring your weight (but not saying the actual value loud). She tells you to dress up, and to rejoin the doctor in the other room.

 

After this, the doctor asks you about your background, if there is anything you'd like to mention. Here you're given a choice of background (similar to a Trait). You can also opt to choose 'none'.

 

>At this point, i was considering the option of the doctor to ask the player what his physical aptitudes are, which would prompt for a point-buy system of attributes: Power, Speed, Endurance, Sense, Insight, and Charm.

 

Incidentally i could instead create a section, prior to the guard letting you out of your cell, where you're training, and each part of training determined your stats. For instance, in one 'month' (similar to SS2's years, but with actual gameplay), you could be training Speed in recreation hour, and the amount of time it takes you to run trough an obstacle course (randonly generated) would determine your Speed. In another month, you could be studying in the prison's library and be told to read some books, and questions about them would determine your Insight rating, etc. I only have problems with applying a similar scheme to Charm.<

 

Regardless, after all the info is given, you and the remaining prisoners are taken to the upper part of the building. Your character sees the outside for the first time, but its only momentarily, as a bulky ship heads towards the building, landing afterwards. You're quickly told to enter.

 

After a brief moment, the prisoners are all put inside cells in an area of the ship, which takes off as soon as a guard informs the navigation room that all the prisoners are locked up. The ship heads towards the colony, accompanied by small escort vehicules (small, one-man flying vehicules, controlled by guards).

 

You remain silent during the trip, and there are no incidents worthy of memory, merely the ocasional prisoner insulting the guards, or cursing the day he was caught. All is calm, until everyone feels something coliding against the ship. Everyone feels the shock, and within seconds, all the electronic and mechanical systems fail, momentarily disabling communications, engines, and power routing. The power is eventually back up, but the cells' electronic blocking system goes haywire, and the doors are unlocked for a while. All the prisoners try to leave the cells as quickly as possible before power comes back on, and the guards are ultimately powerless to contain all the escapees. Small skirmishes ensue, and there are casualties on both sides, but the prisoners manage to create a small stronghold, defending the room in which they were being held. Taking up the weapons of the guards, a small number of escapees decides to seize control of the ship.

 

As they plan this, something else collides against the ship, but this time explosions can be heard. A warning that the engine room has been hit is heard across the various speakers spread over the ship, and now its no longer about escaping, its about surviving. Every prisoner for themself is the motto, and several groups go for several possible escape routes. At this point the player chooses the directions he wants to go.

 

Whatever the direction, the player will be confronted with several obstacles, which are mostly left to the player to decide how to act. In these sections, a group of escapees might need the players' help in doing something, and doing that something will provide the player with skills.

 

For instance, a group of escapees are cornered by guards and are fighting back with ranged weapons. One of the prisoners is shot and dies, and one of the other prisoners tells you to pick up the gun and help them. You can help them, or leave the area and go into other directions. In another section, an old escapee might have been shot and is dying. He tells you that you need to pass trough the door in the room but the door is locked. He knows how to open locked doors but in his current condition, trying to escape is useless. He then teaches you how to handle locks, and you learn the skill, allowing you to then escape trough the door. Some of the skills available to learn include the usage of ranged weapons, melee weapons, lock picking, hand to hand combat, stealth, etc. I'm thinking if its viable to create solutions where the character can be told how to cast certain spells (like Cure or Harm).

 

Either way, there will be several escape points, which you can reach by successfully passing trough the afforementioned situations, or even by avoiding them. By the end, all it matters is escaping - even if you don't learn any skills now, they will be available at a future date.

 

The closer you get to the exit, the more you feel the ship collapsing. Debries and smoke are everywhere, alert claxons sound loudly in competition with cries for help. Whatever escape location you reach, you manage to see the ship quickly plummeting to the ground. As you do, The ship breaks in several pieces as more explosions are felt and heard, and in a moment of blind faith, you decide to jump. When you do, you manage to fall on top the back of one of the one-man flying vehicules that followed the ship. The guard notices you and starts trying to push you off the edge of the vehicule. A small battle ensues (possibly with a sort of minigame, to determine who gets the most hits against the opponent).

 

a) If you fail to get control of the vehicule and throwing the guard away from it, you just fall into the water, and manage to dive up to the surface, dragging yourself onto thr shore

 

b) If you do manage to get the better of him, then both of you will fall off the vehicule, into the water, while the vehicule trails off and crashes. You manage to dive up to the surface, dragging the body of the guard. After dragging yourself and him to the shore, you check him and notice he's dead. You then decide to take his uniform and general clothing.

 

*If you managed to learn melee skills, the guard will have a dagger. If you learned the ranged weapons skill, he'll have a small, low-power firearm with a small amount of ammo.

 

At this point the player would be able to explore the world.

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It's not exactly uncommon to start with a stock character and then customise it as you play the game (by whatever means).

 

Have to be a really good game to make me want to play it again and go over the same tutorial over and over, especially one that lasted hours rather than minites.

I have to agree with Volourn.  Bioware is pretty much dead now.  Deals like this kills development studios.

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Tutorials need to be separate from the game. No compromise on this one from me. If I want to go through the tutorial, which is an OUT OF CHARACTER process, then I should just load it up like you can in BG 2 or ToEE (one of the things right in that game).

 

Once I am in the game I want the OOC nonsense out of it.

Harvey

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You sneaky devil, you.

 

Well, not that it matters much but... Basically the similarity is that you are the sole survivor of the crash (at least at first glance) and you are also greeted by someone who happened to be there. He's not Virgil 2.0., though... The character will never join your party, for instance.

 

But wheter that someone will be important or not, who's to say?

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I have a crush on Ender *blushes*

Interesting thread, and sounds like a nice character creation process. I'll looking forward to playing your NWN2 mod (which, btw, does not have a FPS view, though I'm sure you could emulate it via making the PC cutscene_invisible). I get the point of replayability being an issue, as the others have pointed out.

 

Some of comments you said in the thread:

"Well, interactivity is fine and all, but what would be the purpose of that here? You're creating your character."

 

"The purpose of the initial sequence is not to allow the player to have a freeform gameplay right off the bat (specially not inside a prison facility), its just meant to explain the events leading up to the beginning of the story, and allowing the player to have some measure of active hand in the outcome of the character's development (i'm not intending for this part of the story to be shockfull of roleplaying)."

I think that's where our philosophies in terms of 'character creation' might differ. Growing up on console RPGs, character interaction has become a pivotal part of my expectations in RPGs (though I'm completely dissatisfied with the way both console and PC RPGs have handled themselves as a storytelling medium, but that is a story for another time). The purpose of boot camp wouldn't be purely 'character creation'. When in school, for example, you aren't just there for learning - it's an entire social entity in itself, and so many others things occur while there. You would be effectively actively playing your character. This would in effect be like a 'mini-hub' (or a pseudo-'town', if you will).

 

I think I see where my mistake was. Replayability in a long and arduous character creation process can be a chore. Perhaps I was putting too much emphasis in it, then. What if, you were given relatively free reign to roleplay a character that would have ended up in a such situation, and that the character creation process was a secondary effect? The focus would thus be in the character vanquishing obstacles in such a setting, much like in any other setting, rather than a direct focus on 'making' a character. Much like learning is just a toxic side-effect from going to school :(

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(Approved by Fio, so feel free to use it)

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