So, we made the decision to put more into each companion than have more companions. It's something we have gravitated to over the years to make sure that companions do more in the game, and can change as well.
While I understand the desire to "put more into each companion" I'd really like to know what that actually means. What is it that needs so much effort when writing a companion? Then I tried to remember how companions worked in PoE and how they were integrated in the player's adventure. By coincidence I just read a long rant/analysis about the state of game writing on the RPGcodex. While there is a lot of stuff in there and you certainly don't need to agree with anything there was a passage about Durance's writing in PoE that is especially insightful for the question above (the article was actually recommended by Chris Avellone himself in Twitter, acknowledging own mistakes and shortcomings):
Take Pillars of Eternity. There are many people who say that Durance is a great companion. Personally, I disagree, because Durance doesn’t strike me as a particularly good or well-written character. However, I can see where they are coming from – is it really Durance himself that is good, or is it the backstory that he gives? I would argue the latter. The story about a great war against an avatar of an angry god that ends with the nuking of said avatar sounds pretty exciting to me. So here’s where the big problem appears – why does this not translate in any way into the narrative or gameplay of PoE itself? Why am I stuck going through the nonsensical main story of PoE instead of taking part in all those cool things? Durance’s story is neat, but it’s completely irrelevant. And worst of all, it spans over nearly the entire game, reminding you at all times that you are a sucker doing boring things while you could be doing cool things instead. The same can be said about all the NPCs who keep telling you that they come from whatever place with whatever weird environments. Lake of drowned tombs! Volcanic archipelago! Tundra! Wow, that’s nice! What a shame that I’m stuck going through generic fantasyland and will never get to visit all the things you are talking about, and not even a single piece of information included in your lore dumps is ever going to be put into practice again in the whole game.
Let's brake that down a bit to what is important here (and skip all the personal rant about the storyline in PoE, it's pretty irrelevant for this thread). The important message is that much of the narrative that went into Durance isn't exactly used to explore his relationship to the player charachter (=PC) or the party abut to transport as much lore about himself but also the whole setting as possible. Almost every dialogue the PC can have with Durance in PoE is about his past, about what he did and felt during another time. Many dialogue options that the writers constructed in the dialogues with Durance are not based on the stuff that actually happens in the game but about the PC's reaction to what happened to Durance in the past. And I get the concept of opening up and to talk about the stuff that occupies you. The question is though how much of that is needed in order to make an interest character and what else has to be sacrificed in order to do so. Is Durance a deep character because he has so much to say about his past or because he had an interesting life? What makes a deep character, and more important, what makes an interesting character? Feargus stated above that they have the goal that companions can do more in the game and that they can change - and I really like that approach because it's concentrated on the present, on the stuff that actually happens in the game. Imo interesting characters are those who do interesting things, who make interesting comments about the present events, who contribute to the present relationship to the PC and the group dynamics. Lore exposition doesn't make them that interesting, quite the opposite. The constant exposition to their backstory throughout almost the whole game can soon become boring and even annoying, taking away from the possibilities to react to the stuff that happens in the game itself.
Ask yourself: What would you prefer? A character who tells you in hundreds of lines in various dialogues about everything he did in the past? Or a character that concentrates on commenting and reacting to your adventures and what it means for the relationship to the PC?
In my opinion, Obsidian should really stop using companions for the overexpositon of lore and they should stop mistaking a huge backstory for an interesting companion. Of course some bits of backstory help to define a character and to make his actions understandable for the player but you don't need hundreds of lines of text for that, together with costly voice acting and overly branching dialogues. If your funds and personal is limited, concentrate on the present, not the past. Interestingly, the constant wish for "romances" in the fanbase covers this topic as well. A "romance" between the PC and another character is a concept that only works in the present. It's about an ongoing evolution of a relationship that happens during a game and it's not something that happened to a character long before the actual action started. So it seems I'm not alone in my wish for a much bigger concentration on the present, on reactive characters, on interesting relationships in the present.
I do know that this is often against the very interest of the writers. Writing a deep and compelling backstory to a certain character is much more comparable to writing a traditional story or novel than writing individual story bit for reactive dialogues, reactive relationships and dynamic events with often different characters. I get it that it's much more difficult to write that stuff because it's way more abstract and a lot of different concepts must work together to pull it of. But it pays off in the end because it result in a dynamic party that explores the PC's actions - and therefore creating agency - instead of just letting the player explore the decisions of his companions in the past. So Obsidian, cut the slack. Everything interesting you can come up with should happen IN the game, not before it. Every meaningful dialogue with companions should be of meaning in the context of the events that happen in the game and of meaning for the direct relationship between the PC and the companion. Your lore on PoE is solid, you don't need to cram us full with it at every possible occation and surely not in the very costly dialogues with companions. Use them for meaningful stuff that is of core interest to the agenda of the PC and his actions in the game. Good writers can give you an impression about the character, beliefs, agendas etc. of a companion in just a few lines. There is no need for hundreds of lines of dialogue for that, resulting in endless dialogues about stuff that would fit an external book better than its purpose in the game. I think you should ask every writer who wants to become involved with writing ©RPG companions whether they can make a mute character interesting - with actual proof. It's possible. But it certainly needs different means, means that are desperately needed for the writing in PoE2...
So I wonder how much of the effort Obsidian planned to put into the few companions in PoE2 actually will go into the present and how much will go into the past. If most of the effort goes into the former and therefore not more "deep" companions are possible, I'm satisfied. But if the latter is the case (again) and the writers are mostly occupied with writing elaborate backstories that are to be exposed to the player again during the course of the game I'm not happy at all. If PoE is anything to go to I'm at least dubious about it.
What do you think? What makes an interesting character for you? Do you prefer a dynamic companion who mostly consists of re/actions in/to the present adventure or do you prefer a character who mostly consists of stories about the past?
Edited by LordCrash, 30 January 2017 - 09:15 AM.