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Dauntless

Injecting personality into Strategy games

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I was listening to Dixie Chicks song, "Travelin Soldier" (yeah yeah, a part asian wannabe game programmer that listens to "real" Country music...so I''m a bit odd, sue me ) when I started thinking about the lack of personality and attachment in strategy games. When I watch movies like Glory, The Patriot, We Were Soldiers, Braveheart or countless other war movies on a grand scale, you have a feeling of attachment to the soldiers. You feel their fear, their anguish and their passion. And yet in games, none of these elements are present. Is it partially because of the point of view? In movies they often zoom in on soldiers faces, and then it becomes more personal, less distant and cold. I would really really like to capture that sense of personality and attachment in my strategy game but other than the point of view change, I can''t think of how else to do it. I''d like a cinematic feel to my game in that the player shouldn''t be so busy clicking on things that he forgets about the big picture itself. But more importantly I want the player to see his units as people, as living things....both his own troops as well as his enemy. Since my game has Commander objects in charge of BattleGroups, I was thinking of having them be very much like NPC''s in roleplaying games. Giving each one a personality which makes them unique. Also, by having Commanders and the Clusters (groups of units) gain experience they will overtime feel less and less like cannon fodder. I really want to get rid of the cannon fodder mentality that is so prevalent in many games and make the players feel attached to their units. Another thought I had to make Commanders and Clusters feel unique is to watch a little mini-screen of the Commander go off into battle after delivering a little ra-ra speech. Somehow the Commander has to show his personality other than it just being hidden by a bunch of statistics. Ditto for famous fighting units that have proven themselves in battle. Anyone have any other ideas on how to make units in a game feel like they are living breathing people?

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Well, I think that to give your units personality, I''d suggest doing two things.

First off, it might help defeat the "drone" feeling that a lot of soldiers have if you made them harder than usual to get- if they''re harder to get, then the player will value them a little more individually- for example of this, see Original War. Of course, having a limited number of troops and permanant troop death has its'' own issues, but there''s a happy balance to be struck.

Also, do what you can to try and establish the untis as different "Characters"- By this, I''d suggest things like having a large selection of portraits/sprites/stock dialog for the characters. Another interesting idea might be to give each character a simple background, and then pick a portriat, sprite, and dialog filter based on that... For a good example of dialog filters, see the playstation RPG Chrono Cross- it features 40+ characters, and to seperate them in scenes with "stock dialog", it runs a filter over said dialog based on the character speaking. While it''s a bit cheesy at the time, it does strike a balance between giving each character individual speech patterns and not having to write and dialog for 40 different characters.

Just a few ideas. Having significantly different graphics and voice clips may help, too- compare, say, the units in Total Annihilation with the units in Starcraft. The Starcraft units, even though they are ultimatley just drones, individually have a lot more personality- created by their individual pictures and voice clips, as opposed to the generic "clanks and whirrs" of the Total Annihilation units.

Although you may not ever really get players to see your units as more than generic drones, some of these methods should allow you to give them more "personality"- thereby taking a few steps in the direction you''re aiming for.

- HC

-- EMail: cloweh@rpi.edu
-- AIM: SeigfriedH

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Other things that might help you value them more:

- in most games your soldiers just die, in the worst case they leave a corps for two minutes and then they are gone.
It would be nice to have them lay there, and you need special gravedigger troops or red cross troops to go fetch them and put them into graves. Personal graves add to your score, massgraves get negative into your score. Letting them be subtracts points from your score, the longer they lay and rot, the longer and more points they actually subtract points.
It could even add to your interaction with other players, as you can make treaties (like in real wars) to go pick up your dead.

-War memorials after every battle. You get an advanced list with the names of the dead after a battle.

-Veterans. War veterans, that survived a slaughtering battle get annoyingly public in the public opinion. Taking good care of your soldiers and taking less risk will make them more mild after a battle, and make the public opinion less influenced.
The more negative the public opinion, the bigger the chance of you getting kicked out by a revolution.

Just a few ideas.

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I think giving your main commanders names and personalities is an excellent idea. I know in Rainbow Six each team member had a name and history (not much for personality though) and when a member was killed (in that game it''s permanent) for some characters you would feel kindof bad, "That was my best sharp shooter, those monsters!."

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I could relate to the soldiers in Close Combat pretty well. They ducked if they were under fire, they became afraid if their comrades died, they had a chance to suddenly go from a total moral breakdown to heroic morale. All-around realism (including graphics, sounds and soldier actions), a game scale small enough to be able to watch the actions of a single soldier and a good morale simulation did the trick.

The other way I would have the player care for his troops is through gameplay. I wouldn''t want him to care for _all_ the troops. A small core of hard to replace elite and battle-hardened units receive a lot of attention. Anything that sets a unit apart from the other units (commanders, heroes/aces, special abilities gained through combat, a history of battles the unit fought and commendations it received, frag count) make it a lot easier for the player to become attached to a unit. All of these were (successfully) applied in Panzer General.

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One simple way to add a bit of emotion is with clever use of sound effects.

In most RTS games, the units'' sound effects are limited to a selection of acknowledgement noises which, while they can add personality to a unit type, don''t really create any tension.

I was thinking of using sound clips in a slightly different way. Sure, there would be some acknowledgement clips, but in most cases a simple ''yes sir'' would probably suffice. I''d go for more event clips for different situations. For example, when a unit comes under heavy fire, you''d get a suitably panicked radio message, possibly cut off by static when the unit finally gets wasted. A unit on breaking point might report back with hysterical shouting. You get the idea.

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quote:
Original post by Sandman
I was thinking of using sound clips in a slightly different way. Sure, there would be some acknowledgement clips, but in most cases a simple ''yes sir'' would probably suffice. I''d go for more event clips for different situations. For example, when a unit comes under heavy fire, you''d get a suitably panicked radio message, possibly cut off by static when the unit finally gets wasted. A unit on breaking point might report back with hysterical shouting. You get the idea.
That''s exactly what I have in mind. With sound effects, we can create tensions of what a war feels like from the soldier''s point of view. Instead of an unknown voice "our soldiers are under attack" we can make the soldiers themselves to report (or the commander) that they are attacked. If there are two or more reports, we should give the player a more stresful situation by switching the reports back and forward. When one troops down, we give them some kind of static sound effect. But the problem is, this only applies in a war where transimition technology exists. What happens if it''s a medieval war?


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Military officers who lead soldiers into battle and bring the majority back after hardship should create high morale among their soldiers, making them something you''d want to keep around. Think of a bond developing between the soldiers and the officers that is not much unlike the horse/rider bond I proposed with regard to horse riding.

I don''t think the player would want to lose the power of that bond which creates a more effective fighting unit.

So, you have a battalion composed of soldiers and officers. You send them off to battle, and the bond builds between the officers and the soldiers. As a player, your best bet is to not transfer the soldiers to serve under a different set of officers, as this requires rebuilding bonds.

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Maybe the fact that units in stratagy games are highly expendable and generaly unlimited you could try doing it so your squad or army has game long characters, so you could add a bit of depth to them, personalitys can change across levels due to the game story and then any cut scenes can be used to get to know your people.

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What about allowing players to "import" a handful of units from previous runs of the same game?

The imports would be part of an elite core that you start out with, which would make for different sorts of missions. And, of course, between each game they''ve aged.

This was one of the few things I liked about Disciples: between levels you could retain one leader and three items. Picking just one leader was annoying (as then only one ends up feeling like a "real" person), but it did add a feeling of continuity.

But it would depend on whether that makes sense for the type of game you''re considering.

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Have your soldiers talk to one another when you leave them close by, change stance from time to time, scratch etc. However, when they are aware of the enemy or are in an exposed or critical part of the map they shut up, point their guns ahead of them and scan the landscape for danger.

An inexperienced soldier, on seeing a friend get shot, might try to be the hero by going to rescue him. Then you can hear his superior shouting ''get back here, soldier, that''s an order!''.

I don''t think many war games manage to make the soldiers seem sufficiently inexperienced - most of them probably will be - and that might help us relate to them.

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Thanks on all the replies....lots of good ideas here

I think having lots of unique "profiles" (icons, .wav or animated .gif clips) are good ways of personalizing the units. I also like the concept of having to take care of your troops otherwise they may become less willing to fight, and conversely, a soldier who looks up to his commanding officer will be more willing to fight for him.

In some respects this is about morale, but I think it goes deeper than that. I remember hearing war stories in more ancient times of soldiers hearing the sounds of the wounded out on the battlefield slowly dying...and they''d just clamp on their ears so so they wouldn''t have to hear their friends dying on the battlefield. The superalitive medical evacuation system that the US has employed since Korea (we were the first to use helicopters as med evac units) gave a considerable morale boost to the soldiers.

Then there''s the concept of having Commanders that troops would go to hell and back with. While having morale is a pretty easy concept to get across personally (having as one person suggested, corpses or wounded on the battlefield for the player to witness) is pretty easy....but getting Commanders characterization down might be a bit harder.

In my single player campaign, I''m definitely going to have some Commanders play NPC like roles. They will be advisors as well as pivotal players in the single player campaign. So I think in my single player game, I can get the Commanders across as real live human beings fairly easily (I''ll probably come up with little movie clips or audio clips with their speeches). How to do this in a non-linear form though will not be as easy.

I''m definitely including unit persistence in my game. In fact, as another person suggested, I''m going to have military banners and standard bearers to represent each organized unit down to the "company" level. I''d like to have an option for players to come up with their own banners and standards and motto''s for each "regiment". I think this will help encourage a feeling of "esprit de corps" and the standards will showcase a list of every battle that the unit has fought in and any citations it has won.

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