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Update #73: Narrative Design: A Day in the Life, Companion Goals, and the Undead

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Personally, I never really liked "weird and different" companions.

 

When your party can pass of as a circus/fair attraction, it's time to raise alarm bells. It feels fake... after all, what are the chances that one guy will have followers from the most rare and amazing (sometimes even completely unique) races. For me that uniquness doesn't sell.

 

Honestly, I barely MOTB characters. I recall that bald female monk/mage that I suddenly found out was my chosen girl (despite me trying to get the winged chick and mostly ignoring her. Her declaration of love came out of nowhere.) I can't say I recall any other character.

 

NWN2 ... I liked most characters. The dwarf (Grobnar? Gromnir?)  was funny, the mage (Sand?) I loved for his snark/wit. Bishop seemed like a good character, although I didn't use him much (playing Paladin).

Neeska was OK, and I liked Elanee (I feel she gets a bad rep because of people overreacting to the "I watched you sleep" bit, interpreting it in a creepy/crazy fashion instead of a concerned/sweet it was meant to be)

Casavir was a bit of stick, but then again, some people are in RL too, so having every character be funny/super cool is intself unrealistic.

Ammon Jerro and Shandra were great.

There was also that little gnome fella who's name I forget.

 

Can't recall other characters from NWN2 atm.

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This is in response to Fenstermaker's open question.

 

There are a few things wrapped up in my opinion of an engrossing character. While most of this falls under the description of 'seemed like a real person,' I think that's a little vague to get any mileage out of somebody responding with that.

 

I don't really think interesting traits and repetitive quirks provide any sort of positive or thoughtful response from me; if characters (companions) are meant to provide a sensible mirror of the player character's actions or a window into the culture of the world they inhabit, the mere fact that they have unnatural traits isn't the point. In fact, I'd say some of the characters I've had the most personal attachment to haven't been anyone out of the ordinary. Some of the characters which I remember years later have become memorable from a few simple series of dialogues or actions. A youtube videogame critic named MrBtongue stated in one of his videos that he remembers Chief Hanlon's "cool story" dialogue quite fondly because the dialogue had no relation to gameplay and had nothing to do with anything in the game except from a perspective of the character in question.

 

I also fondly remember this dialogue, along with Joshua Graham's recitations and Arcade Gannon's deadpan jokes. I hope none of this is merely due to Josh's writing style and more to the reasons of why the dialogue exists.

 

The reason I'm not going to call these certain examples realistic characters is because realism to me means something more acted than written. A lot of people responded positively to Vaas in Far Cry 3 because he was professionally acted out ab lib, giving him a lot of detail that isn't given to characters who are written and then voice acted later. Written characters in videogames and books have lots of definitive statements, they always have a logic behind their statements, and they don't make the many mistakes people do in conversations every day. This isn't fun to listen to, prohibitively costly for tons of extra useless voice acting lines, and not worth the effort.

 

But what makes those previous FNV characters I mentioned so great was because, while they did not necessarily act like a real person, they were written in a way that produced investment in their lives from the player. There is a missing set of dialogue in Mass Effect 3 at the end of the game between the main character and something of a companion, Captain Anderson. It can be reintroduced back into the game by messing with a single file. This missing dialogue introduces some of the most captivating dialogue present in the Mass Effect series for a character very well known by that point. Anderson drops just a few lines about what he's never done in his life and then two to Shepard about family. This simple conversation underscores the entire point the story was going for, and is an example of some of the few moments of a very human conversation in the entire series.

 

What makes a great character or companion? Write them like they actually care about their lives. They say random things that interest them, and it's up to the PC to respond positively or dismiss it as pointless BS. They withhold information that they don't feel comfortable sharing not because the game needs to keep some ideas under the table, but because people everyday feel uncomfortable about sharing any number of things. Don't give them a backstory, give them the perception of their own backstory, and all the inhibitions and courage that that would give a real person.

 

Also I've never really played any old RPGs so I probably have no idea what I'm talking about.

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What, exactly, is a fenster, and how do you make one?

 

 

That means "window". :)

 

Eric: Fantastic update! It was so very funny!!! :yes:

Now I know that the game is in good hands. Nah! I already knew you were great!

As I really like the undead themes in CRPGs, I think those undead stages were interesting. Perchance, they imply a general experience raise as well? This would mean that a skeleton is one mean undead machine should you ever have to fight one! 

 

As for unassuming baddies on that dock: Dopplegangers and mimics are always useful monsters.

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*** "The words of someone who feels ever more the ent among saplings when playing CRPGs" ***

 

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The undead concept is cool, but it suffers from the same problem as the 'soulless child' monster from some updates ago. One (either undead or a child monster) would be created very rarely. I mean, how many rich people strike deals with animancers per day/week/month/year? How many undead are there in the world? Will we kill, um, destroy, most of them during the game?

 

Great update, BTW, very funny. I like Eric Fenstermaker's style.

Edited by Mico Selva

 

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Mr. Fenstermaker needs to write more updates :D

From now on I'm going to write to his work email account every day, imploring or, if need be, threatening him to do so.

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The companion I remember best from any game is definitely Alistair from Dragon Age. He's a cheerful, very human lad who tries so hard to be a man. The way he'd change gradually over the game if you repeatedly told him that the world was a hard place and he'd better harden up or be crushed - well, it was just a very believeable journey.

He's not your typical hero, he's even reluctant to be one, but he's loyal and wants to be a good person. I think his humanity and the tough positions he's thrust into despite not being ready made me feel sympathy for him and even like him.

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fantastic update.

 

as a min-maxer, i've always liked the companions that were mysterious but kept feeding you a little bit of content until you knew that you would hit it big with a story if you kept them in your party and invested time into them.

 

i also like companions with distinct personalities - not cliches. for example, the strong but lovable buffoon has been done to death and minsc was the epitome of this. one character that i would like to have in my party is Varsuvius from Order of the Stick: she's badass, she's got her own set of morals, she's capable of failing, but at the end of the day, her personality is a little eccentric. I imagine most "adventurers" are eccentric types since they so easily leave everything behind and travel the world.


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The undead concept is cool, but it suffers from the same problem as the 'soulless child' monster from some updates ago. One (either undead or a child monster) would be created very rarely. I mean, how many rich people strike deals with animancers per day/week/month/year? How many undead are there in the world? Will we kill, um, destroy, most of them during the game?

 

Great update, BTW, very funny. I like Eric Fenstermaker's style.

 

There are always too many undead in any fantasy game. Seriously, how many endless tombs are there for necromancers to go through, and how are there somehow a thousand times more dead people in all of them than living people anywhere?

 

And those tombs! Geeze no wonder everyone's poor and living in squalid little huts, they just save up for labyrinths of incredibly fantastical tombs and mausoleums and sarcophagus to bury every last member of their family in. A small town's cemetery is usually several times bigger and fancier than the town itself! And how do these things get built? It's got to be like a huge project, ongoing, there's got to be workers there all the time, twenty four seven trying to built out faster than people can die.

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The undead concept is cool, but it suffers from the same problem as the 'soulless child' monster from some updates ago. One (either undead or a child monster) would be created very rarely. I mean, how many rich people strike deals with animancers per day/week/month/year? How many undead are there in the world? Will we kill, um, destroy, most of them during the game?

 

Great update, BTW, very funny. I like Eric Fenstermaker's style.

 

The key to turning into an undead is to have a soul bound to a body. Paying someone to do it is only one way that this can happen. After all, the answer is in the premise already. If one can do it for the payment, why not do it for his own agenda and en masse. And we don't even know if that's the only way a soul can be bound to a body.

 

EDIT:

The last part has been explicitly answered in AMA. Having an animancer to bind your own spirit to your body is only one way that a soul can be bound to a body.

 

EDIT2:

May as well provide the link.

Edited by Jajo
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And those tombs! A small town's cemetery is usually several times bigger and fancier than the town itself! And how do these things get built?

That's easy! They didn't have TV or any video games back then. Just think of the Egyptians and them sturdy pyramids. :)

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*** "The words of someone who feels ever more the ent among saplings when playing CRPGs" ***

 

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one thing i dont see often, is the death of companions due to the player's actions. and i do not mean for them to die in combat. for example in ME2, depending on what you did about your companion's quests and the ship's upgrades, you could keep or lose the companions during the last mission. 

another example would be to make a companion hate you, then he betrays you and you have to fight him later. or he is taken hostage, you tell the kidnappers that they can shove it and they kill him. or you hold onto a rope to help him climb up a wall, but you dont have enough strength and he falls to his death

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The words freedom and liberty, are diminishing the true meaning of the abstract concept they try to explain. The true nature of freedom is such, that the human mind is unable to comprehend it, so we make a cage and name it freedom in order to give a tangible meaning to what we dont understand, just as our ancestors made gods like Thor or Zeus to explain thunder.

 

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Stupidity leads to willful ignorance - willful ignorance leads to hope - hope leads to sex - and that is how a new generation of fools is born!


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So alone.

 

Haha, fantastic, well-written update. What, exactly, is a fenster, and how do you make one?

 

Fenster means "window" in German. So, Fenstermakers, collectively, means those horrible, inhuman creatures who made the Windows operating system... KOS, I say.

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The Seven Blunders/Roots of Violence: Wealth without work. Pleasure without conscience. Knowledge without character. Commerce without morality. Science without humanity. Worship without sacrifice. Politics without principle. (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi)

 

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For me, a great cRPG companion is one that's interesting to have around. I know that's vague, but that's by design.

 

Ask me about any companion I've ever liked, and I can probably give you at least one unique reason why I liked them. Sometimes the reason I like them is because they're charming. Sometimes it's that they make me laugh. Sometimes it's that they make me question my choices. Sometimes it's that they make me feel good about my choices. Sometimes it's that they butt heads with me. Sometimes it's that they're complete wackjobs. Sometimes it's that I can't tell if they're manipulating me. The list of possible reasons I might dig a companion NPC is as long as the list of companion NPCs I dig.

 

But ask me to list the companions I dislike and why, and you'll get a hundred different variations on the same theme: they bring nothing to the table, they're bland, they're dead weight, they're predictable, they're no fun, they're boring, they're wastes of space, they fail to hold my attention. They are, in other words, not interesting to have around.

 

All the stuff that's already been said in this thread about what makes for good companions is also true, of course.

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Memorable characters, examples:
Mazzy, who wanted to be something that 2nd Edition D&D wouldn't let her be.  (If only she'd been born in NWN-era.)

Khelgar, who wanted to be something he didn't understand.

Ammon Jerro, who didn't understand and so became something he didn't want to be.

Minsc, because Boo, so there - but don't try to repeat 'a Minsc' , it's been done, move on.

 

I agree with what others have said, that a character needs to be their own person.  They can agree or disagree with the PC or other party members.  They can work to their own goals, which may or may not coincide with the main quest.  They can leave the team and come back later (though this is mostly just annoying from a gameplay perspective unless the absence is a short test of 'can you do without them?' proportions).   They should interact with each other, not just the PC (this helps with replayability with different party combinations)

 

My biggest problem with NWN2 OC companions was the lack of choice as to whether they were in the party.  Thankfully, we've been told that there won't be forced companions in PoE.

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There are always too many undead in any fantasy game. Seriously, how many endless tombs are there for necromancers to go through, and how are there somehow a thousand times more dead people in all of them than living people anywhere?

 

And those tombs! Geeze no wonder everyone's poor and living in squalid little huts, they just save up for labyrinths of incredibly fantastical tombs and mausoleums and sarcophagus to bury every last member of their family in. A small town's cemetery is usually several times bigger and fancier than the town itself! And how do these things get built? It's got to be like a huge project, ongoing, there's got to be workers there all the time, twenty four seven trying to built out faster than people can die.

 

 

Ok, but I refuse to accept something wrong just because it was wrong previously too.

 

 

The key to turning into an undead is to have a soul bound to a body. Paying someone to do it is only one way that this can happen. After all, the answer is in the premise already. If one can do it for the payment, why not do it for his own agenda and en masse. And we don't even know if that's the only way a soul can be bound to a body.

 

EDIT:

The last part has been explicitly answered in AMA. Having an animancer to bind your own spirit to your body is only one way that a soul can be bound to a body.

 

EDIT2:

May as well provide the link.

 

 

Cool, thanks. :)


 

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I'd be interested to hear, what do all of you think? Not so much specific characterizations, but more, what are the abstract qualities that make you enjoy and remember a companion? (e.g. They made you laugh, they seemed like a real person, their quest was engrossing, etc.)

 

 

What makes cRPG companions enjoyable for me, besides what others have already mentioned:

 

  • Companions having a deep connection to some of the areas/events you encounter as part of the main story line

     

    i.e. don't just let them be ambassadors for their race and class, but also for a tangible part of the game universe.

     

    Example: I replayed BG2 with Viconia in the party a while ago, and when I entered the Underdark in chapter 5, I was positively surprised by how she suddenly started to blossom as a character. She made snarky comments that were totally context-appropriate and provided some glimpses into her (cruel) past of growing up in the Underdark, she offered useful advice for how the party should navigate this dangerous environment and deal with various challenges in the Drow city, etc.

    In the surface world she had been like a fish out of water, but here she was in her element and went from anti-social back-row travel companion to proactive and valued (albeit slightly scary) party member.

    Also, there was a short but memorable encounter with some former family members of hers, which brought home just how deep the hatred and coldness had grown in her heart. (I mention this, because believable characterization is a rare thing in "evil" cRPG companions.)

     

    PS: I had the "Viconia Friendship" mod installed, so I'm not sure which dialog lines were part of the original game and which were added by that mod.

 

  • Companions having a profound reason for staying with you

     

    i.e. something better than "I like you and I'm a nice person, so I'll stay by your side forever" or "I'm bored and have got nothing better to do so I might as well keep traveling with you".

     

    Example: Dak'kon in PST, who was enslaved by an oath he made long ago. You knew he'd never leave you and you could always rely on him, but it was not a shallow "yay we're all friends" kind of relationship, it was actually rather tragic and could prick at your conscience.

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"Some ideas are so stupid that only an intellectual could believe them." -- attributed to George Orwell

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I love this take! Making the different types of undead different points on one long, downward progression is really a clever twist on a familiar concept. Nice work.

 

As per usual, every update makes me more and more impatient to get my hands on the finished product.

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I love this take! Making the different types of undead different points on one long, downward progression is really a clever twist on a familiar concept. Nice work.

 

So... a mummy is basically a fampyr whose bacterial decay has been halted through a secret chemical preservation process?


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