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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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#41
Ganrich

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Themes are important to writing. They give stories meaning beyond the tale itself, and that's why the stories that stick with us do so. To give a relatively modern example: LOTR has a great theme that the smallest of creatures can have the potential for great change. All four hobbits exhibit this too one extent or another.

PST was heavy handed in its philosophical tones for a video game, and it's considered one of the best game narratives around by many. Particularly on these forums. However, I would say the crisis of faith theme went over most players heads. It was subtle enough that people that enjoy writing noticed, and those that wanted a good game but aren't as big into story telling didn't. This world is more serious than BG, and I hope that doesn't change. I've also never heard anyone say BG was too serious. It had an Evil wizard with no internal monologue capabilities that constantly insulted you to your face (who was turned into a female in the second game) without realizing it, and a Ranger with a mental deficiency that talked in the third person while constantly referencing his hamster. These are not terribly serious characters, and one is the poster child of BG's companions (Minsc).

#42
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.

 
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.

Well yes, but Torment is by its very vision all about "high concept themes". And yet, there is some justification to call it pompous and superficial as well. But that's of course always up to discussion.

#43
Fenixp

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Games which obsidian/black isle has created with smaller number o' companions is the ones best received by the fanbase.

I ... Don't think much more than this needs to be said, really.
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#44
LordCrash

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Themes are important to writing. They give stories meaning beyond the tale itself, and that's why the stories that stick with us do so. To give a relatively modern example: LOTR has a great theme that the smallest of creatures can have the potential for great change. All four hobbits exhibit this too one extent or another.

That's not the only message of LOTR imo. It's maybe the less people and relationship focused message of LOTR, that might be true. Other messages are all connected with the relationship between characters like for example that you're only strong when you are united, that trusting your friends is a virtue as is personal sacrifice, that racial differences aren't important, that love is bigger than everything that stands between (even eternity), that friendship is at the core of a successful journey and so on...

So yes, of course every story has themes and concepts and rightfully so. But PoE has ONE concept - and a concept that couldn't be much more heavy handed and philosophical, way above every more down-to-earth approach that includes relationships between people. The point with PoE (compared with LOTR) is that every topic on a personal level seems way less important and fleshed out than this overall high and heavy handed concept of faith. And that has a certain effect as well. The theme in LOTR that even the smallest of creatures can have the potential for great change is important, true, but it's imo not the core theme that made so many people loving this story and there is a reason for that. This message is an educational one, a philosophical one but it bears little to no emotional meaning because it lacks every inter-personal dimension. It's a completely different story if you look at friendship in LOTR. There is the extremely important friendship between Sam and Frodo but also the freindship between Legolas and Gimli and Aragorn. Their mutual trust and the willingness to fight and sacrifice for each other is not only a central philosophical message but also an emotional one. It's one of these message that can make us emotionally attached to the characters and that's why most people remember the tale so well. It's by the way a psychological fact that people remember emotions much better than the actual stuff that happened. You might not even know exactly what happened in a situation long ago but if you know anything it's how you felt or how it made you feeling.

That's the reason why some philosophical, high-placed concepts like faith shouldn't dominate a tale, especially not if it's not centered around the cast and its relationships. What PoE lacked at its very core was the focus on human behaviour and a proper way to turn its serious concepts into a tale that allowed the player to become easily bond to the cast and the journey. It's not enough to fight against something and for some high principle. That's too superficial. Real and deep motivation always stems from relationships (or, in some cases, often "evil" ones, the lack of them)...
 

PST was heavy handed in its philosophical tones for a video game, and it's considered one of the best game narratives around by many.

Which is not that surprising given the fact how poorly most video game narratives are created.

If I make pizza and it doesn't taste so well I can always say: "Hey, it's at least the best pizza in town." That doesn't change the fact that the pizza doesn't taste that well. ;)
 

However, I would say the crisis of faith theme went over most players heads. It was subtle enough that people that enjoy writing noticed, and those that wanted a good game but aren't as big into story telling didn't. This world is more serious than BG, and I hope that doesn't change.

I've also never heard anyone say BG was too serious. It had an Evil wizard with no internal monologue capabilities that constantly insulted you to your face (who was turned into a female in the second game) without realizing it, and a Ranger with a mental deficiency that talked in the third person while constantly referencing his hamster. These are not terribly serious characters, and one is the poster child of BG's companions (Minsc).

The point is that the game took itself too seriously although there were definitely elements that weren't (like you pointed out above). That's what I meant with "overly serious".

And I honestly think that even a game like PoE with all its high concepts and seriousness needs elements that put it down to earth again and that includes a much bigger "human factor". Seriousness alone isn't the problem here, it's the lack of making it count.


 

Games which obsidian/black isle has created with smaller number o' companions is the ones best received by the fanbase.

I ... Don't think much more than this needs to be said, really.

Nope, not at all. It's actually a pretty pointless statement. Obsidian is a company with changing employees and writers. It's ridiculous to compare a game from about 15 or 10 years ago with a game today if most of the people working on these two games differ. Hell, there even worked some different people on PoE than now on PoE2. Apart from that this comparison only works if you assume that change or improvement is impossible which is also pretty baseless. And in the end, I would question the whole statement in general. Obsidian's PoE was in no way better received "by the fanbase" (whomever that is, but well, let's assume we know) than Black Isle's Baldur's Gate 2 although BG2 had twice the available companions.

And I still try to understand how your opinion that the less companions the better is directly connected with this thread in which I asked the question whether more effort should put into lore and backstory exposition or in reactive behaviour. I don't see how you answered that in any meaningful way so yeah, I think there needs to be said more than this. ;)

Edited by LordCrash, 30 January 2017 - 11:48 AM.


#45
Ganrich

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Obsidian (and Black Isle previously) has always been a bit more serious than Bioware was during the BG era. Fallout being the exception.

I know there are more examples of themes in LotR, but it was the first one that popped in my head.

I also don't see redemption as too high minded. Most people, at some point in their life, struggle with redemption. You hurt your significant other and need to make amends, you have grown apart from family, you have made a bad decision, etc. it's much more grounded a concept than I believe you're giving it credit for. It's much more grounded than "What does one life matter" or "What can change the nature of a man?" Those concepts aren't considered by most everyday people, and even when they do think about those concepts they don't think along those terms. They tend to be more defeatist when considering them. "I'm just little ole me. How can I make a difference?" "What can change the nature of a man" is even more obtuse. Not many people consider what their actions do to change the people around them, nor how those people have effected them.

BG's companions were the lens the player saw the world through, and there are more than a few silly ones. They can effect the tone of the story because they are always present. I still don't see it as overly serious, but it has great dramatic moments at times. YMMV.
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#46
Fenixp

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Nope, not at all. It's actually a pretty pointless statement. Obsidian is a company with changing employees and writers. It's ridiculous to compare a game from about 15 or 10 years ago with a game today if most of the people working on these two games differ. Hell, there even worked some different people on PoE than now on PoE2. Apart from that this comparison only works if you assume that change or improvement is impossible which is also pretty baseless. And in the end, I would question the whole statement in general. Obsidian's PoE was in no way better received "by the fanbase" (whomever that is, but well, let's assume we know) than Black Isle's Baldur's Gate 2 although BG2 had twice the available companions.

And I still try to understand how your opinion that the less companions the better is directly connected with this thread in which I asked the question whether more effort should put into lore and backstory exposition or in reactive behaviour. I don't see how you answered that in any meaningful way so yeah, I think there needs to be said more than this. ;)

First of all, I understand that you most likely couldn't care less, but if you want to take that tone with me, I'm out.

Secondly, "On the FIG comments I complained about the small number of available companions in PoE2 and that it would be great to have more of them, offering a much bigger choice whom you take along for your adventure." is literally the first sentence in the thread, so while reading your post, I assumed the entire time you're starting with that premise and suggesting that we should get more companions who are also more reactive. I apologize if I misunderstood.

And lastly, I still don't think there's all that much to discuss about it TBH. I lean towards the first Gromnir's post that got you so riled up. Pillars of Eternity was heavily leaning towards companions being a bunch of exposition dumps and that was a definite problem, but you'll get the same problem seen from the other side if they don't give you enough exposition to fit their characters - lonely introverts shouldn't really react all that much to social interactions, but they'll tell you a lot about themselves in 1 on 1 conversation, whereas choleric extroverts should jump in to talk with others and will adjust themselves to current situation a lot better, but they'll also get bored talking to PC too much. There's no right way to lean, just don't do too much of one thing and keep the companions varied.

#47
LordCrash

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Obsidian (and Black Isle previously) has always been a bit more serious than Bioware was during the BG era. Fallout being the exception.

I know there are more examples of themes in LotR, but it was the first one that popped in my head.

I also don't see redemption as too high minded. Most people, at some point in their life, struggle with redemption. You hurt your significant other and need to make amends, you have grown apart from family, you have made a bad decision, etc. it's much more grounded a concept than I believe you're giving it credit for. It's much more grounded than "What does one life matter" or "What can change the nature of a man?" Those concepts aren't considered by most everyday people, and even when they do think about those concepts they don't think along those terms. They tend to be more defeatist when considering them. "I'm just little ole me. How can I make a difference?" "What can change the nature of a man" is even more obtuse. Not many people consider what their actions do to change the people around them, nor how those people have effected them.

BG's companions were the lens the player saw the world through, and there are more than a few silly ones. They can effect the tone of the story because they are always present. I still don't see it as overly serious, but it has great dramatic moments at times. YMMV.

Well, yes, I guess every game wins the "Is my storytelling concept less obtuse than the one in Torment:ToN?" challenge. That's hardly something to go by. ;)

But you're right, redemption can be a good concept. But it depends how it is integrated into the storytelling and whether it stays in its high spheres or whether it really comes down to peoeple's issues and their relationships. That's the core question, whether they tackle the concept only or mostly in a more philosophical and obtuse way or whether they break it down to the lowest corners of human emotions and behaviour.

And then again I'm still no friend of shoving this concept into everything and everybody. It's not necessary that every companion needs a different aspect of redemption (or faith, in PoE) to talk about. As you probably remember not every major character in LOTR was connected with the "small people can reach big things" message, only some were, those for which this message among others was central to their journey and character development and - even more important - for which this message felt natural and organic.

#48
jones092201

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i think, at this point, it's time to pause to simplify the points we're touching on, so that, if a dev looks at the thread, we have specific problems we'd like to see addressed. And that's not to suggest that they will, or need to, or haven't discussed these issues, but:

(note: i'm just trying to compile what I've read here. Add or change, or refute as desired.)

 

1. a problem with POE joinable companions is the expansive lore and backstory relayed in their dialogue, best exemplified by characters like Durance and Grieving Mother. While their stories were interesting, and run concurrent to the main plot's narrative, the character relationship suffers because we felt like we were being lectured by this or that character.

2. a more responsive set of companions, who react to our decisions and thereby produce lasting and irrevocable consequences, both in relation to our character and to the game's overarching plot, might be a way to improve this dynamic.

3. While we're currently disagreeing on the need for, or extent to which, a larger thematic bond is imperative to creating these reactive, interesting characters, we do agree that we'd like some link that would run through them, which would allow for disagreement, bonding, and other character interactions (which is maybe a redundant statement regarding #2, but does touch on the specific means by which this link is established.)

4. Stephen Heck belongs in every Obsidian game.


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#49
LordCrash

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First of all, I understand that you most likely couldn't care less, but if you want to take that tone with me, I'm out.

It wasn't my intention to insult you in any way but to stay fair and honest, I wasn't so happy about the tone and intention of your post either. Anyway, I apologize.
 

Secondly, "On the FIG comments I complained about the small number of available companions in PoE2 and that it would be great to have more of them, offering a much bigger choice whom you take along for your adventure." is literally the first sentence in the thread, so while reading your post, I assumed the entire time you're starting with that premise and suggesting that we should get more companions who are also more reactive. I apologize if I misunderstood.

Yeah, ok, no problem, but I wrote a lot more than just the initial passage and I thought it was pretty clear that this topic is more about the question what an interesting companion should be like (it's also pretty well indicated in the headline). My personal wish for more companions only got me into this topic, it's not the core of it.
 

I lean towards the first Gromnir's post that got you so riled up. Pillars of Eternity was heavily leaning towards companions being a bunch of exposition dumps and that was a definite problem, but you'll get the same problem seen from the other side if they don't give you enough exposition to fit their characters - lonely introverts shouldn't really react all that much to social interactions, but they'll tell you a lot about themselves in 1 on 1 conversation, whereas choleric extroverts should jump in to talk with others and will adjust themselves to current situation a lot better, but they'll also get bored talking to PC too much. There's no right way to lean, just don't do too much of one thing and keep the companions varied.

You see, that's a good post contributing to the topic imo. So it's seems you're kind of interested in the topic after all, even though you think that there isn't much to discuss. ;)

(one mistake though: I got riled up by Gromnir's first post, you reference his second post.)


Edited by LordCrash, 30 January 2017 - 01:42 PM.


#50
Gromnir

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one aside: poe2 is a game.

 

is seeming obvious but overlooked.  crpg storytelling in a game is gonna be different than novels or movies or graphic novels. ideally, the crpg is gonna be reactive in ways other media is not and the technical demands for telling a crpg story is far different than is faced by the author with a pencil and a blank sheet o' paper. demands on the crpg storyteller is gonna be arguable greater, but limitations will necessarily result in a more narrowed focus.  

 

poe companions, for example, received a fair 'mount o' potential text, but consider the actual number o' times and the ways in which character quests were advanced in-game.  writer gots a half-dozen or so encounters to complete an entire companion story arc?  and each companion story arc will be, with some variation, largely insular. heck, in a novel or movie, the author knows with certainty the cast o' characters.  in a crpg such as poe, is possible the watcher will play solo.  heck, perhaps the watcher will only have aloth and hiravias in party.  imagine how much different a novel o' poe would be written simple by changing the companions o' the watcher. 

 

a crpg is, by no means, an ideal medium with which to tell a compelling and coherent story.  'course as the player is actual a character in the story, there is advantages. more emotional invested at the outset, yes?

 

point is, people often ignore the limitations o' a crpg insofar as storytelling is concerned.  use other medium as examples is not bad, but is rare gonna be complete analogous.  have mentioned on these boards before how we actual have a favorite paragraph from literature.  memorized.  

 

"a few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. it had begun to snow again. he watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. the time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. it was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. it was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. it lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. his soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

 

beautiful prose, but where is you gonna put such in a game such as poe2?  perhaps a bit o' narration?  is bunch o' writers working on poe2 and even if one ' them were a james joyce in disguise, am doubting such writing would have impact if the other contributing writers had a complete different prose style and tone. 

 

making a crpg story is more complex than is writing a novel or even than making a movie.  is collaborative.  is bounded by technical considerations.  is requiring subversion to needs o' gameplay.  is... different.  is our opinion that the storytelling goals in a crpg must be more straightforward than in other media. not need be any less profound, but the elegance and depth possible in other media is gonna  be acheived different in a game. keep focused so a collaborative team o' writers and artists and level designers might all work together to achieve the same goal.  in a game, compelling theme or character is gonna be acheived by depth rather than breadth.

 

different.

 

HA! Good Fun!


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#51
Yonjuro

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 Pillars of Eternity was heavily leaning towards companions being a bunch of exposition dumps and that was a definite problem, but you'll get the same problem seen from the other side if they don't give you enough exposition to fit their characters - lonely introverts shouldn't really react all that much to social interactions, but they'll tell you a lot about themselves in 1 on 1 conversation, whereas choleric extroverts should jump in to talk with others and will adjust themselves to current situation a lot better, but they'll also get bored talking to PC too much. There's no right way to lean, just don't do too much of one thing and keep the companions varied.

 

 

 

  The companions should have their own personalities. The PC needs to have lines to deal with each character in whatever way the player would like. You should be able to tell Durance that he needs to stop living in the past and get less of a lore dump from him. The OP mentions the codex article, which I read and, though it was a rant, it had a good point about the value of a good editor.

 

 The idea was that writers with deadlines are going to get things wrong sometimes and a good editor can fix that (make sure backstory is consistent, fix the tone, balance out vomiting of backstory/lore onto screen with advancing the story etc.) Ideally, an editor will not be one of the writers and will act as a gatekeeper (in the software development sense - someone with the power to stop a release until problems get fixed).

 

 In addition, a good editor can make sure that the player is able to give the PC a consistent personality. My point about being able to tell Durance to shut the hell up about the past means that Durance needs to have lines that aren't pure lore dump. Potentially, it would mitigate the dichotomy in question (whether true or false - I think it's a false one in general but it becomes true when you add budgets and deadlines). 


Edited by Yonjuro, 30 January 2017 - 01:02 PM.


#52
dark___devil

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one aside: poe2 is a game.

 

is seeming obvious but overlooked.  crpg storytelling in a game is gonna be different than novels or movies or graphic novels. ideally, the crpg is gonna be reactive in ways other media is not and the technical demands for telling a crpg story is far different than is faced by the author with a pencil and a blank sheet o' paper. demands on the crpg storyteller is gonna be arguable greater, but limitations will necessarily result in a more narrowed focus.  

 

poe companions, for example, received a fair 'mount o' potential text, but consider the actual number o' times and the ways in which character quests were advanced in-game.  writer gots a half-dozen or so encounters to complete an entire companion story arc?  and each companion story arc will be, with some variation, largely insular. heck, in a novel or movie, the author knows with certainty the cast o' characters.  in a crpg such as poe, is possible the watcher will play solo.  heck, perhaps the watcher will only have aloth and hiravias in party.  imagine how much different a novel o' poe would be written simple by changing the companions o' the watcher. 

 

a crpg is, by no means, an ideal medium with which to tell a compelling and coherent story.  'course as the player is actual a character in the story, there is advantages. more emotional invested at the outset, yes?

 

point is, people often ignore the limitations o' a crpg insofar as storytelling is concerned.  use other medium as examples is not bad, but is rare gonna be complete analogous.  have mentioned on these boards before how we actual have a favorite paragraph from literature.  memorized.  

 

"a few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. it had begun to snow again. he watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. the time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. it was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. it was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. it lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. his soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

 

beautiful prose, but where is you gonna put such in a game such as poe2?  perhaps a bit o' narration?  is bunch o' writers working on poe2 and even if one ' them were a james joyce in disguise, am doubting such writing would have impact if the other contributing writers had a complete different prose style and tone. 

 

making a crpg story is more complex than is writing a novel or even than making a movie.  is collaborative.  is bounded by technical considerations.  is requiring subversion to needs o' gameplay.  is... different.  is our opinion that the storytelling goals in a crpg must be more straightforward than in other media. not need be any less profound, but the elegance and depth possible in other media is gonna  be acheived different in a game. keep focused so a collaborative team o' writers and artists and level designers might all work together to achieve the same goal.  in a game, compelling theme or character is gonna be acheived by depth rather than breadth.

 

different.

 

HA! Good Fun!

It will be best if there is a bunch of side quest that written by different writers.Dyrford Ruins are my favourite story and dungeon in the game.



#53
Gromnir

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ps

 

we had some experience as a writer, in a previous life.  different than most other folks, Gromnir crafted detailed outlines before sitting down to do any genuine writing.  the thing is, if the writing were going well, the story would begin to write itself.  ideally, we were dictating.  characters were telling the story and we were simple trying to keep up with'em.  our initial outlines were invaluable to get us in the right frame o' mind to write, but they didn't limit us.  

 

most other writers we know is far less likely to develop the kinda detailed outlines we needed, but the sensation o' good writing being a transcendental condition whereby the story is experienced by the writer as 'posed to crafted by him/her is kinda common. am thinking most folks is gonna recognize how writing for a crpg is gonna be different than Gromnir experience. once the Team develops a story and setting and locations and quests, how much freedom does the crpg writer actual have?  programmer and art resources and whatnot is unlikely to be altered based on one o' the many writers realizing the story had taken him someplace different than he expected.  whatever outlines one gots at start is gonna need be adhered to with few chances for growth.  there is gonna be a plan and a goal and teamwork and is not gonna be much like other kinda writing at all.

 

different. much different.

 

HA! Good Fun!


Edited by Gromnir, 30 January 2017 - 01:52 PM.


#54
LuccA

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That's great! If there's one thread I wish the devs were reading, it would be this one. Interesting and evolving characters are what make memorable RPG's!

 

 

Anyway... The OP was very on-point in the first post. The companions should feel more reactive in the present as well, talking about it, discussing the main plot, quests, their personal quests, other companions' personal quests, maybe even some minor tasks with a funny line or another. It doesn't have to be an important interjection. Even the smallest of the fetch quests can become an opportunity for small talk between companions that highlight their personalities... In fact, it would be nice to see companions talking to each other in those interjections, instead of simply each one contributing with their commentary like in a line (of course that takes more time and care). It doesn't mean they can't talk about their past though, just find a better balance.

 

 

Regarding the number of available companions, if they would engage in banter between each other, relatively frequently in the game, this means that with every new companion the devs announce as a stretch goal, they'll have to write conversations between he/she and every other companion. It's an ascending-curve progression of man-power needed for each companion added. It's understandable that the number of companions is small, if that's the goal they wanna reach.

 

Personally, I would be happy with 7-8 companions and maybe just increase more development time if it's needed for more banters, dialogue trees etc, (although the release date is already established as Q1 2018 =s). I'm not sure if I'm a big fan of having 3 returning companions though. If the goal is to have a limited roster, I think it would be nicer if we discovered some new personalities instead of revisiting the old ones (having they appear as cameos would be enough for me). I hope I bite my tongue and they do some interesting and umpredictable developments for the returning companions though. 







Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: writing, storytelling;, companions;, narrative;

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