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What makes an interesting companion? Lore vessels and the past vs reactive dynamics and the present

writing storytelling; companions; narrative;

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#21
jones092201

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"the joinable companions should be the focus o' developing the story o' a crpg. the companions can grow, and player choices can change the ways in which they grow, but the motivations and personality o' the joinables is not so dynamic as to hinder quality writing.  the essential qualities o' the companions (and major npcs such as the game's Ultimate Bad Guy) is known qualities that a writer can use as a foundation for story development.  
 

I would suggest that this can be detrimental to the narrative, if implemented wrong. While I agree that joinables need to have crisis points and visible growth, I think Dragon Age Inquisition proved how fixating on companions  can lead to a weaker story.

Inquisition has great companions, and bioware spent a load of time building their importance to the PC, and there are many great moments where you feel connected to the companions: Dorian's meeting with his father, when all your companions get drunk together in the tavern...

however, the overall story of Inquisition is weak, and it lacks any of the great moments that really made Dragon Age Origins so wonderful. I may have written this already but:

In Origins, I chose whether or not to father a child infused with the power of an old god, whether to defile the ashes of the messiah character (Andraste), whether I would free the tormented soul of some dwarf trapped in a golem body, and whether or not to have sex with a desire demon inside the mind of a possessed child.

 

in Inquisition, I think there was pool that maybe I could corrupt?

 

point is- it seems like all the thought went into creating this vivid companions, which resulted in a fairly bland fantasy plot, that relied on a recycled villain, and an antagonistic force that was essentially just the blight by a different name.

 

while it's clear the companions need to function differently from POE, granting them more agency along the prime narrative, and also presenting your character with contrasting and affirming view points, it can't come at the expense of the story.

At least, that's what I think

 

Also, agree that Kreia was an excellent character, often overlooked


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#22
LordCrash

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Well, ok, kind of. And yes, that improves the probability that the "old" characters are less used as lore vessels.

But the issue stays the same for the four new oompanions. I'm curious how Obsidian will handle them in respect to the older companions and whether they put more effort in the new ones than the old ones.

#23
dark___devil

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Both should be best.You can't write a good interactive character without giving him a good story and reason to become what he have become.That doesn't mean that he must give you his live story in a exposition type of a dialogue(unless he is that kind of personality or situation).A good thing will be if companion makes you guest what kind of live have lived trough his/her actions and opinions(You know like real people in real life).


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#24
Gromnir

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"the joinable companions should be the focus o' developing the story o' a crpg. the companions can grow, and player choices can change the ways in which they grow, but the motivations and personality o' the joinables is not so dynamic as to hinder quality writing.  the essential qualities o' the companions (and major npcs such as the game's Ultimate Bad Guy) is known qualities that a writer can use as a foundation for story development.  
 

I would suggest that this can be detrimental to the narrative, if implemented wrong. While I agree that joinables need to have crisis points and visible growth, I think Dragon Age Inquisition proved how fixating on companions  can lead to a weaker story.

Inquisition has great companions, and bioware spent a load of time building their importance to the PC, and there are many great moments where you feel connected to the companions: Dorian's meeting with his father, when all your companions get drunk together in the tavern...

however, the overall story of Inquisition is weak, and it lacks any of the great moments that really made Dragon Age Origins so wonderful. I may have written this already but:

In Origins, I chose whether or not to father a child infused with the power of an old god, whether to defile the ashes of the messiah character (Andraste), whether I would free the tormented soul of some dwarf trapped in a golem body, and whether or not to have sex with a desire demon inside the mind of a possessed child.

 

in Inquisition, I think there was pool that maybe I could corrupt?

 

point is- it seems like all the thought went into creating this vivid companions, which resulted in a fairly bland fantasy plot, that relied on a recycled villain, and an antagonistic force that was essentially just the blight by a different name.

 

while it's clear the companions need to function differently from POE, granting them more agency along the prime narrative, and also presenting your character with contrasting and affirming view points, it can't come at the expense of the story.

At least, that's what I think

 

Also, agree that Kreia was an excellent character, often overlooked

 

is indeed a potential problem that in the absence o' a compelling protagonist, joinables could overwhelm and distract.  'course the problem you describe would seem to be a recognition o' the failure to develop an da:i Adversary rather than an issue with the companions. adversary doesn't need be a person or monster, but will almost always be so in a crpg as one typical needs be given the opportunity to fight the UBG.  got a game wherein combat is vital from start to finish and then not have a way to resolve conflict with combat will be disappointing to many.

 

develop companions who all contribute to core theme also helps avoid the distraction o' companions in the absence o' a compelling protagonist.  all the poe companions contributed to thematic development o' faith.  haven't played da:i so we cannot say if all da:i companions were working to advance a single theme, or they were simple telling their own and largely insular tales.  again, Gromnir is specific speaking o' using the companions to tell the critical path story rather than the often mistaken crpg design o' having the companion stories be insular and tangential. 

 

regardless, make sure the Adversary is developed and use companions to reinforce core themes.  should avoid the issues you raise.

 

HA! Good Fun!



#25
Flouride

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This thread needs more Steven Heck!


Edited by Flouride, 30 January 2017 - 10:36 AM.

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#26
dark___devil

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"the joinable companions should be the focus o' developing the story o' a crpg. the companions can grow, and player choices can change the ways in which they grow, but the motivations and personality o' the joinables is not so dynamic as to hinder quality writing.  the essential qualities o' the companions (and major npcs such as the game's Ultimate Bad Guy) is known qualities that a writer can use as a foundation for story development.  
 

I would suggest that this can be detrimental to the narrative, if implemented wrong. While I agree that joinables need to have crisis points and visible growth, I think Dragon Age Inquisition proved how fixating on companions  can lead to a weaker story.

Inquisition has great companions, and bioware spent a load of time building their importance to the PC, and there are many great moments where you feel connected to the companions: Dorian's meeting with his father, when all your companions get drunk together in the tavern...

however, the overall story of Inquisition is weak, and it lacks any of the great moments that really made Dragon Age Origins so wonderful. I may have written this already but:

In Origins, I chose whether or not to father a child infused with the power of an old god, whether to defile the ashes of the messiah character (Andraste), whether I would free the tormented soul of some dwarf trapped in a golem body, and whether or not to have sex with a desire demon inside the mind of a possessed child.

 

in Inquisition, I think there was pool that maybe I could corrupt?

 

point is- it seems like all the thought went into creating this vivid companions, which resulted in a fairly bland fantasy plot, that relied on a recycled villain, and an antagonistic force that was essentially just the blight by a different name.

 

while it's clear the companions need to function differently from POE, granting them more agency along the prime narrative, and also presenting your character with contrasting and affirming view points, it can't come at the expense of the story.

At least, that's what I think

 

Also, agree that Kreia was an excellent character, often overlooked

 

I am surprised that you found interesting characters in DAI.I liked only two Cassandra and the elf fellow, the rest were forgettable at best,only ting that remember about them is that there was like 3 gays or something.Two dudes tried to sleep with me and some communist didn't wanted to sleep with me because she liked women.Btw i agree  with you and love Kreia :)


Edited by dark___devil, 30 January 2017 - 10:39 AM.


#27
Gromnir

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This thread needs more Steven Heck!

am admitted more likely to use ravel and kreia as examples, but no doubt we can work some ap references into the mix.

 

am sad to say we ain't played tyranny yet, so am gonna be complete lost with any reference to obsidian's most recent rpg title.  we almost always wait six months before purchasing a new title.  crowdfunding projects being notable exceptions.

 

HA! Good Fun!



#28
Ganrich

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I think we will see a similar theme in this game that the companions will adhere to. It seems Eothas is a bit enraged, and that is odd for the God of Redemption. This would also tie him somewhat into the concept of forgiveness, potentially. I could definitely be wrong here.

Eder - trying to redeem himself from not switching sides with his brother during the Saint's War, and forgiving himself that mistake.

Pallegina - probably finding redemption in some capacity with the Vailian Republics.

Aloth - he has family issues, and they could be moved into the forefront of this game.

These are just potential examples, and they may vary based on our decisions in PoE1. That could be problematic for the devs. We will see. As for Eothas? I have no clue, but I haven't had coffee yet.

I agree that tying the companions to the theme really is good for both the companions and the over all narrative. It makes the story more cohesive, and I won't go into issues that DAI has.

#29
jones092201

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This thread needs more Steven Heck!

am admitted more likely to use ravel and kreia as examples, but no doubt we can work some ap references into the mix.

 

am sad to say we ain't played tyranny yet, so am gonna be complete lost with any reference to obsidian's most recent rpg title.  we almost always wait six months before purchasing a new title.  crowdfunding projects being notable exceptions.

 

HA! Good Fun!

 

 

Well, aside from being a fun game, it exemplifies what obsidian can do with smaller companion casts; the successes and the pitfalls. i feel like it's a good indication of some of the changes going into POE 2, though i don't know who is working on POE 2 that worked on Tyranny.



#30
Fluffle

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I must say I found that there were indeed interesting companions in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

The companions were the strengths of the game and to me they showed that there still is some part of old Bioware in modern Bioware.

 

But as was pointed out already while the companions were well done the main story lacked very much in quality.

 

My favorite companion in DA:I was Cole, hands down!

 

Oh yes: And for most interesting banters, you should always have Cole and Solas in a party!


Edited by Fluffle, 30 January 2017 - 10:48 AM.


#31
LordCrash

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Certainly, though, this is a product of the character being written as well as narrative needs? A companion who sees their best days behind them will always contextualize the events of the present into their view of their past achievements, while a companion who is looking to make a better future will always contextualize the events of the present with their hope for enacting change in the future. The former may materialize in telling stories of past exploits, the other in praising or criticizing the PC for how their choices align with the NPC's goal.

 Good and valid point. I have the feeling though that there is a certain tendency to "balance" all the available companions to make them all "deep" in a way that ends up with all of them offering tons of information. My core point is not that you can't or shouldn't look in the past for motivation or explanation of personal beliefs and agendas. There are certain types of people (like Durance) for which their past is core to their actions in the present, I fully agree with that. But - in my feeling - too often "depth" in CRPGs is mistaken for "writing more text" and good companion writing is mistaken for offering as much backstory as possible. But that's imo the wrong way of building a character in a CRPG, especially when you're pretty constrained by limited funds. You should first look what makes your character tick and then try to convey that message in as least words as possible! Of course there can be deviations from that, for example if you want to write a very talkative (maybe even to annoying degrees) character on purpose. But the "less is more" mantra is imo essential to video game writing, especially if you consider that video games offer a lot of other ways to present a character (audio and visuals). Sometimes writers seem to be so obsessive with their texts that information is transported in redundant forms, for example by writing about the look of a character while at the same time the portrait of the respective character is visually presented. Torment, by the way, is even much more guilty of that than Pillars. Torment is marketed by its internal word count, just think about that. It's well known in literature that a long books isn't necessarily a good book and the same is true for video game writing, even to a bigger degree imo.

I even have a suggestion for future companions, a suggestion that could perhaps serve as a compromise between the desires of writers and the needs and wishes of players: Writers could/should write an external short story about each companion, without being constricted by ingame design, different dialogue branches, the overall ingame storyline or players being able to skip certain elements of this backstory - and therefore also being of less hassle for the writer which should result in faster outputs.
That way every player who is interested in extensive backstories and deeper information about the lore of their companions could read the short story before playing. For the game itself that would result in a streamlined conversation situation (no downtimes anymore in which you have or are supposed to read line after line of background information about the lore of a character at certain points in the game) with companions who only shortly refer to their psst - if necessary for understanding their present action or comment - while concentrating to give reactive and proactive input to the the PC's decision and to the current events in the game.
 

And either may need to give some setting or history information about a town, a faction, an event because the developers can't rely on having the player stumble across it in a book so they can make an informed decision as a simple narrative function.

I don't know, really. I personally think there are often better ways to give information about lore and setting than by abusing companions for that transportation of pure background information. Sometimes it happens naturally and it's well suited within the context of a quest or a personal dialogue but too often it's all too obvious that some dialogue has the sole purpose of well, giving background information. For me, that's bad writing - or maybe even worse - underestimating either the own skill to transport an important message by non-text means or by underestimating the players to get the meaning.

#32
Gromnir

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I think we will see a similar theme in this game that the companions will adhere to. It seems Eothas is a bit enraged, and that is odd for the God of Redemption. This would also tie him somewhat into the concept of forgiveness, potentially. I could definitely be wrong here.

 

redemption as the thematic focus sounds like a viable and laudable option for the poe2 story.  faith were at the core o' poe, and redemption is gonna be new enough so as not to be repetitive.  at same time, redemption is close tied to faith so writers can build 'pon previous game rather than simple abandoning thematic threads from the first title. 

 

'course we got no idea what obsidian is actual gonna do, so...

 

HA! Good Fun!


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#33
Varana

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A companion who sees their best days behind them will always contextualize the events of the present into their view of their past achievements, while a companion who is looking to make a better future will always contextualize the events of the present with their hope for enacting change in the future. The former may materialize in telling stories of past exploits, the other in praising or criticizing the PC for how their choices align with the NPC's goal.  
 
And either may need to give some setting or history information about a town, a faction, an event because the developers can't rely on having the player stumble across it in a book so they can make an informed decision as a simple narrative function.

The point with Durance and GM, however, was that they didn't contextualise present events in most of their dialogue.

They suffered much, I think, from the fact that their personal quest was exploring their past through dialogue. Now, in theory that's not eintirely a bad thing, and Avellone should be commended for trying to do something else than the usual companion quest. The concept needs work, though, for getting better at being a quest.
So they had lots of dialogue that was completely separated from the rest of the game. They didn't respond to anything you did, they reacted to the passing of time. And while Durance's ramblings were somewhat relevant to the main plot (by giving more information about nuking Eothas), the GM's story was basically self-contained.

Which means that in this case, several unfortunate decisions came together to create a showcase of lore-dump NPCs. The other NPCs are a lot better at this.
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#34
Ganrich

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I think we will see a similar theme in this game that the companions will adhere to. It seems Eothas is a bit enraged, and that is odd for the God of Redemption. This would also tie him somewhat into the concept of forgiveness, potentially. I could definitely be wrong here.

redemption as the thematic focus sounds like a viable and laudable option for the poe2 story.  faith were at the core o' poe, and redemption is gonna be new enough so as not to be repetitive.  at same time, redemption is close tied to faith so writers can build 'pon previous game rather than simple abandoning thematic threads from the first title. 
 
'course we got no idea what obsidian is actual gonna do, so...
 
HA! Good Fun!

Agreed, and Eder's story was very pointed in that direction at the end of his arc, and both Aloth and Pallegina have the potential to go there as well. I like the idea of a redemption theme, personally.

#35
jones092201

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I think we will see a similar theme in this game that the companions will adhere to. It seems Eothas is a bit enraged, and that is odd for the God of Redemption. This would also tie him somewhat into the concept of forgiveness, potentially. I could definitely be wrong here.

Eder - trying to redeem himself from not switching sides with his brother during the Saint's War, and forgiving himself that mistake.

Pallegina - probably finding redemption in some capacity with the Vailian Republics.

Aloth - he has family issues, and they could be moved into the forefront of this game.

These are just potential examples, and they may vary based on our decisions in PoE1. That could be problematic for the devs. We will see. As for Eothas? I have no clue, but I haven't had coffee yet.

I agree that tying the companions to the theme really is good for both the companions and the over all narrative. It makes the story more cohesive, and I won't go into issues that DAI has.

 

agree in principal.

All three retuning characters are going to share this specific event (Eothas return) with the character, and thus how they react can be less lore-drop (as this thread is honing in on) and more reaction and conversation by which the player and PC conceptualize this event.

Eder, who held onto his faith in a very pure, personal, and benevolent way (as opposed to Durance), now has to realize that his god, who he quietly considered more kind than the other gods (and also, i kind of thought that too from the ending of the first game, and the WM content), now has to realize that Eothas is the same self-serving fiery creature of vengeance.

Palegina- my assumption is that she will look at the atrocities of the Valian Trading Company and realize that she has given her life to something oppressive in nature

Aloth- no idea. Honestly, he never struck me as that interesting. I just keep him around because mages are so versatile. hopefully, Isylmr will take over and create havok and ruin!



#36
FlintlockJazz

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This thread needs more Steven Heck!

EVERYTHING needs more Steven Heck, at all times!  

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#37
dark___devil

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AP have some very good characters.I would love to see a sequel.It is shame that i couldn't bang Sis :)



#38
LordCrash

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While we're at overall themes and concepts: Maybe it's not the best idea to establish an overall theme and make every other element just a mere representation of that theme. I think it's true that each companion had issues with faith or tackled faith in PoE, reflecting the overall theme of the main narrative, but that's in no way a good thing imo. On the opposite, "intentional storytelling" of that kind is imo a flawed concept, abusing characters for the exploration of externally injected and superficial concepts. I guess that's also a problem I had with the writing in PoE in general. It didn't feel very natural and organic and it was too much focused on exploring themes that very likely are of much bigger interest for their writers than for the ingame protagonists and characters. A lot of people accused Baldur's Gate of being "overly serious" and they have a point. But PoE was even more guilty of that imo. There were some more "down-to-earth" characters like Eder who felt more natural in their behaviour while others felt like they were written with the overall theme of faith in mind - instead of being just thrown into a setting in which this topic becomes important somewhat durnig the journey. Personally, I wish PoE2 to be less intentional and less dominated by central narrative themes, especially in the field of character writing. And not every character needs to be super complex, super troubled or super involved in philosophial questions. The whole game should offer a more down-to-earth story that is dominated by relationships and human behaviour and less by big superficial concepts. The core of every good and intriguing story is imo a personal tale, not a philosophical one.

Edited by LordCrash, 30 January 2017 - 11:06 AM.


#39
Gromnir

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A companion who sees their best days behind them will always contextualize the events of the present into their view of their past achievements, while a companion who is looking to make a better future will always contextualize the events of the present with their hope for enacting change in the future. The former may materialize in telling stories of past exploits, the other in praising or criticizing the PC for how their choices align with the NPC's goal.  
 
And either may need to give some setting or history information about a town, a faction, an event because the developers can't rely on having the player stumble across it in a book so they can make an informed decision as a simple narrative function.

The point with Durance and GM, however, was that they didn't contextualise present events in most of their dialogue.

They suffered much, I think, from the fact that their personal quest was exploring their past through dialogue. Now, in theory that's not eintirely a bad thing,

am disagreeing a bit.  where the lore from durance and gm were largely incidental to the exploration o' their personal quest, we had no complaint.  exploring the past o' a character  being required to advance a companion quest were not, in our estimation, problematic. as amentep observes, the demands o' the narrative is gonna alter the degree to which such background info is necessary and vital. explore nature o' hollowborn were necessary for us to appreciate the choices gm made, yes?  

 

am gonna note that regardless o' fact the narrative makes it plausible to have deep (and tedious) explorations o' a companion's past through dialogue, it don't mean a writer must needs utilize such an option.  we still prefer show, don't tell.  use events and encounters as 'posed to dialogue chains to explore past would be best even if it is taking more effort. use companions as a way to provide lore beyond what is emotional evocative is gonna be resulting in a severe diminished return on writer investment.  the dialogue-focused lore exposition should be kept to a minimum.  if a dialogue don't contribute to emotional impact o' character's story, then consider cutting it.

 

HA! Good Fun!


Edited by Gromnir, 30 January 2017 - 11:14 AM.


#40
jones092201

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While we're at overall themes and concepts: Maybe it's not the best idea to establish an overall theme and make every other element just a mere representation of that theme. I think it's true that each companion had issues with faith or tackled faith in PoE, reflecting the overall theme of the main narrative, but that's in no way a good thing imo. On the opposite, "intentional storytelling" of that kind is imo a flawed concept, abusing characters for the exploration of externally injected and superficial concepts. I guess that's also a problem I had with the writing in PoE in general. It didn't feel very natural and organic and it was too much focused on exploring themes that very likely are of much bigger interest for their writers than for the ingame protagonists and characters. A lot of people accused Baldur's Gate of being "overly serious" and they have a point. But PoE was even more guilty of that imo. There were some more "down-to-earth" characters like Eder who felt more natural in their behaviour while others felt like they were written with the overall theme of faith in mind - instead of being just thrown into a setting in which this topic becomes important somewhat durnig the journey. Personally, I wish PoE2 to be less intentional and less dominated by central narrative themes, especially in the field of character writing. And not every character needs to be super complex, super troubled or super involved in philosophial questions. The whole game should offer a more down-to-earth story that is dominated by relationships and human behaviour and less by big superficial concepts. The core of every good and intriguing story is imo a personal tale, not a philosophical one.

 

not to disagree with some good points, but Torment is all theme driven, and it created some interesting characters, while managing to avoid substantive lore drops from those characters, and to relay relevant past character interactions through the events---thinking specifically of the skull guy---

 

however they do have the plot device of memory loss.


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