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How to make the player feel attached to an NPC?

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Just wondering if anyone''s got ideas for this. In films, the viewer can feel attached to someone who isn''t the main character, say, the main character''s girlfriend. To do this, you still need to see a lot of them in the film. Something like the main character keeps going to see them, or they keep seeing the main character. Then, if they die, the viewer can feel kind of upset. The thing is, in games, I don''t think it''s very practical to keep having to go see someone or keep meeting them, so the player will never feel much for them. Any ideas on how you could make the player more attached to NPCs in a game? --------------------------------------- Let''s struggle for our dream of Game! http://andrewporritt.4t.com

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Maybe I''m not right, but if you continue to show the main character''s girlfriend, wouldn''t she become a main character as well? This is open for discussion though.

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The PS2 game ICO has an NPC that you become quite attached to, since the game ends if she gets caught.

I didn''t like that game.

Anyways, its quite possible to become attached to NPCs, its just a matter of there being a subplot circulating around those NPCs and a degree of effort required to help out those NPCs. Dragon Warrior 7 on the PS1 is the perfect example of this, where in the bulk of the game was helping out towns filled with NPCs. Sometimes the stories didn''t work out and you finished more pissed off at those NPCs then happy for them, but it was all good.

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Remeber Aries from Final Fantasy VII? Its certainly possible to get the player attached to a girlfriend, problem is how. Let the girlfriend do something important for the player (hack a securty system, ect) and then let her get busted doing it. Players want to "get into the game", so the player would feel somewhat guilty letting his girlfriend get busted helping him.

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quote:
Original post by Evangelion
Remeber Aries from Final Fantasy VII? Its certainly possible to get the player attached to a girlfriend, problem is how. Let the girlfriend do something important for the player (hack a securty system, ect) and then let her get busted doing it. Players want to "get into the game", so the player would feel somewhat guilty letting his girlfriend get busted helping him.
It was also the element of suprise that they added when Aeris had died, you really opened your heart to the character and felt for them. This is what I thought was great about the game, you got the chance to play many of the characters, and really got to understand the characters and their interactions with eachother.

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I suggest you check out Fire Emblem for the GBA. It''s a linear strategy/rpg hybrid with great characters that you do find yourself becoming attached to.

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Interesting topic. Most NPC''s are little more than locations to buy items. For an NPC to become admired/hated they must have a personality. It is the personality that people connect with, not what they do. Of course they will have to be an integral part of the story/plot or the player won''t have a need to feel attached. Look at any character, good or evil, that left an impression on you (evoked an emotional response in some way) and try to figure out what it is about the personality that caused that reaction. In most cases it is becuase of something that you can relate to or is repulsive to you. Just remember, no one is perfect, no one is completely good or evil, no one wins or loses all the time, and a character without flaws is enough to ruin the feeling of connecting. A great place for working out character personalities would be a fantasy writers group. It takes more than a general idea to make a believable character and even more work to get an emotional attachment from the audience. Good luck.

"If you are not willing to try, you will never succeed!"

Grellin

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Now, wait a second, can an NPC be somebody in your army that raises levels and follows orders? In Myth, when I had heroic soldiers with impressive stats and capabilities, I''d look for them on the field, and give them dangerous jobs or keep them out of trouble. Sometimes I''d groom a specific soldier for greatness, giving him easy tasks until he became supertough, while countless other grunts died in my employ.

I don''t think that''s really an NPC. If it''s to be a non-playable character, you really shouldn''t get to interact with it on that level. I guess the closest I''d want to get is the sidekicks in Fallout and Diablo. The dog in Fallout was my favorite. When you get it, it''s far tougher than you are, and can single-handedly (no hands, but...) take out monsters and people you yourself couldn''t match. As you get tougher, he contributes less and less, and there''s the inevitable moment when you first go up against a supermutant with a gattling laser, and he vaporizes the dog. I flip out every time that happens. The dog is obsolete as a fighter at that point, and can''t possibly survive the later infiltration levels, but I still get so emotional when someone kills him. I wish that there was a chance to give the dog to a little kid or something before you take that mission. I don''t just want to turn it out into the cold...

So, there''s one way. If you don''t want to give the NPC such an active role, you''ll have to build the character in cutscenes or mission briefings or something.

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In Castlevania 3, there''s a secret room you can find with an old man (ghost) and his dog (also a ghost). Neither are evil, and the dog is just jumping around all happily, but if he touches you, it hurts. You can kill the dog, and if you do, the old man runs over to its body, kneels beside it, and starts crying. Eventually they both fade away.

I always felt sorry for that old man, and tried to avoid killing the dog when I could.

(so...you can feel emotional attachment for NPCs even if you''ve only just seen them ... so long as it''s presented well)

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Guest Anonymous Poster
How about the annoying guy in Icewind Dale that just kept asking you stupid questions? Didn''t necessarily feel attached to him but there was definitely an emotional reaction to him (namely intense anger). Same with the snot-nosed kid in the new Zelda game. Annoying characters have a place in video games too

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First of all get rid of the notion of an NPC. If you want the player to get attached to the character then the character should be PLAYING with the player. As we all know an NPC is a non playing character.

To get the player to feel attached to a character in the game that they aren't actively playing, tie that character closely into the story. It shouldn't be so tied in though that the game ends if the character is loss, this is a little extreme. If the character is powerful and offers a good advantage to the player, then he/she will feel more inclined to want to keep that character around. Lets say the character isn't powerful, but its your character's elderly father. You have to protect him from mercenaries that are sent out to hunt him. How do you encourage the player to want to keep him around and actually care that eh's there? Lets say that because he's around, your character gets plusses. Because he's your father you may get bonuses for spirit or charisma. He could be a better barterer than you and find you extraordinarly cheap deals in towns. When a character offers the player advantages, then the player will care about them.

Now how do you make the player care about the story so that they learn about the character you're trying to get them attached to? Perhaps intertwine tips into the story as it is told. Don't make them essential to know, like "your next mission is in blablah and its not going to be told to you anymore except for in this story cut scene", but rather have them just simple tips, maybe how to improve the character that you're promoting. Or even clues to secret quests in the game. You need a hook to get the player to listen. Once he's listening then you can feed him a tragic story about the character. Tragedy is good for making people care. This is one reason why alot of shakespears plays were extraordinarly popular.

So combine in game bonuses sourced from the character, and techniques to hook the player into the characters story, as well as incorperating the character into the player's character's story, and the story of the game, then you begin to pull the player deeper into your game world. Attachment will grow naturally once they're hooked in. Through these techniques you could even get the player attached to a building in the game. Its not only limited to just characters. Religious temples, character's houses, Castles, dungeons, or even a battle field from ancient times. Give it a background history, make it a key location in the game the player has to visit alot, offer bonuses, and the player will begin to care about it more. Send an evil army through to destroy it and the player will get mad and want his revenge, making the quest to kill the evil army more personal, not only to the character the player is playing, but to the player himself.

edit: doublespaced paragraphs

[edited by - iNfuSeD on January 16, 2004 6:26:25 PM]

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quote:
Original post by Iron Chef Carnage
The dog in Fallout was my favorite. When you get it, it''s far tougher than you are, and can single-handedly (no hands, but...) take out monsters and people you yourself couldn''t match. As you get tougher, he contributes less and less, and there''s the inevitable moment when you first go up against a supermutant with a gattling laser, and he vaporizes the dog. I flip out every time that happens. The dog is obsolete as a fighter at that point, and can''t possibly survive the later infiltration levels, but I still get so emotional when someone kills him. I wish that there was a chance to give the dog to a little kid or something before you take that mission. I don''t just want to turn it out into the cold...



Maybe a good way for the dog to be more involved in the game, is offer a chance for the player to give it up. Maybe to a kid, maybe releasing it to the wild. Through out the game the dog doesn''t just act as a battle companion, but as a friend. Looking at my previous post, make it so the dog gives your character bonuses. Maybe cause he is a friend. If you toss your dog an iguana on a stick once in awhile, then mayeb this increases his friend rating, making him stronger and giving you better bonuses, suddle bonuses but still bonuses non the less. When you have a pet you''re happier. After you''ve let the dog go into the wild, then maybe far later in the game you cross paths again. This time the dog is a mutant. What happened to your pet? Does he even remember you? Will he attack you? Should you try to talk to him? If you still have his favourite toy in your inventory (gives you a small bonus thats pretty much useless, just to encourage you to keep it), then perhaps he''ll recognize this and remember who you are. Maybe you''ll engage in battle with your pooch. Do you shoot your own dog? He''s a mutant now what do you do? Should you try to find him a cure? Would this scenerio make you feel more attached to the dog? It would definatly put me into a state of emotion. Anger, confusion, sadness, a big ol cocktail of feelings. If you do manage to make him remember you and he joins your party again, then now you got your doggy back and he is upgraded. He can now fight the huge battles with you. Once again you are attached to the dog again emotionally, maybe even more than when you first had him.

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Good thinking, but if that was to be the case, I''d rather see the dog be less scripted into the game. In Fallout, he was like a sidequest. If you could have just captured and domesticated him, then he wouldn''t be quite so intrinsic to the story, and would be even more valuable, since you basically created that character.

What I''m afraid of is a FAQ that tells you how to get the dog, and what to feed him so that later in the game he comes back as an invincible mutant dog. If he was like a mini-game, and you could start with a dog, or a cat, or even a little kid or a raider, and train, raise, or reform them over the course of the game, you''d have a much more nuanced reward system.

I think this is probably the best way to get an emotionally important character without actually writing them into the story as an important character.

Also, iNfuSeD, use paragraphs, man. The post before last is a nightmare.

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[qoute]First of all get rid of the notion of an NPC. If you want the player to get attached to the character then the character should be PLAYING with the player. As we all know an NPC is a non playing character.

Alright, I have a problem here. In general, everyone seems to want to have non-linear stories where the players choices define how the story progresses. Forget the fact that this usually yields crappy stories, if you can''t even develop the NPCs, then where is there any story in game?

The concept behing emotional-attachment comes from an extention of human traits. Humans can only express empathy for things that seem to be human as well, or at least display things that mean a lot to them. If a dog gets hurt, you get worried because as a living thing, you can sympathize with its pain based on your own past experience with pain. Or the old man upset about his dead dog, you can sympathize with his sense of loss, unless you''re a cold bastard.

Now, the problem with taking an interesting in your own character is that people can''t have empathy with themselves. Why, its yourself, or at least what we''d be led to believe. If you want to have an emotional attachment to a playable character, that character has to detach itself from the player so that the player can empathize with it as a separate entity. Why is it said when Aeris dies? She was a seperate entity from the player.

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There was a very good book on this subject published recently - "Creating Emotion in Games: The Craft and Art of Emotioneering". I was very impressed with the amount of useful advice in this book - usually books like this are 90% fluff, but this one was 100% useful. It describes simple techniques for many tasks, such as generating emotions toward NPC''s, getting the player to identify with their roles, plotting issues (deepening techniques, fighting cliche''s), etc. Seriously this is the best Game Design book I have ever read. I recommend it very much.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Metal Gear Solid 2, the characters keep talking to each other.. ie. when you save a game you talk to your Girlfriend, and she talks about things like their relationship with each other such as do you remember what day tomorrow is? do you remember when we first met? good luck Jack! etc. I was wondering what the point of this was, and I thought that maybe it was to emphasise that the character that you control (it is a 3rd person action / stealth game) isn''t a cyborg with no past no future and no emotions, but he is a normal special forces guy, with hopes and dreams.. it isn''t just the mission success that matters to him (and her), but their normal lives too. Whereas if you consider many other games, *the characters seem to only exist so that they can complete their missions.* Unlike say, Half Life and many other first-person shooters. And when the main character dies from your mistakes, the continue screen is shown and you hear the colonel / Rose saying Jack, Jack answer me etc. Rose sounds distressed.

I''m not sure if this works to create an emotional attachment, but it does contextualise the fictional conflict that they find themselves in the middle of.

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Here''s a few thoughts:

Shared experiences/shared danger. I''m no psychologist, but I reckon this is an important one. Half-Life is a good example of this - in interviews and such, the guys at Valve often mention how suprised they were that people became attached/responded to the Barneys and scientists in the original game (one of the main reasons they souped up the NPCs so much in HL2). Given that all the Barneys are identical and don''t do much, it is a bit suprising. I''ve noticed it myself on occasion - you recruit a Barney, bring him along with you for a while, and sooner or later he gets taken out. I''ve often found myself reacting to this with annoyance at the hostiles, disappointment, etc. To a very mild extent granted, but still pretty impressive for what seems like a fairly lifeless, cardboard character in an action game.

I think shared experience is the key to that one - the player and the NPC were working through the game world together, facing the risks and overcoming the obstacles side by side. The Barney is effectively another player, even if the PC is obviously the dominant character in the partnership. You should probably look into the psychology of it, but basically it seems to be a bonding thing that humans do in response to shared danger and such. No fancy plots, not much dialogue other than a few well-placed one-liners, no character development as such, but nonetheless you do get attached to the little buggers. Obviously this is in the context of an FPS, which is about as immersive as it gets in computer games - hard to say how that would extend to more abstract/less personal genres like party-based RPGs or RTSs.

A few other points;
As folks above have mentioned, some kind of personality is essential, even a very basic one. Humans need something to relate to. Doesn''t have to be particularly dynamic or responsive, just needs to be something consistent in the voice/dialogue and actions that a player can pick up on.

Graphics/modelling. This might be an important factor in that people will probably relate better to something that looks "alive". E.g., if you compare the NPCs in games from Half-Life''s generation with modern ones, they look "dead". The eyes are probably the worst aspect of this - they have fixed, wooden stares from low res, "painted-on" eyes. They don''t look around they don''t blink much, and they certainly don''t make eye-contact - very important if you''re trying to relate to someone. Even without proper facial animation, a few glances thrown around, and better eye-contact/focusing could do a lot for an NPC''s ability to seem like a person and not just a prop.

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The way to ''miss'' a NPC would be if they provided you with useful info/items for a while, so you got used to seeing them around. If they died or went missing, you''d lose something - whilst not vital to the game, it''d be enough to make you miss their ''help''

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quote:
Original post by f8k8
Just wondering if anyone''s got ideas for this. In films, the viewer can feel attached to someone who isn''t the main character, say, the main character''s girlfriend. To do this, you still need to see a lot of them in the film.


This isn''t always the case. The girlfriend could be in a position to know or to have something important to the main character which is exposited (shown, said or done) early in the film. This is what used to be called the MacGuffin (the gun shown going into the drawer early in the film is later accessed to shoot the bad guy). In fact, the more hidden and unrevealed the important exposition is, the more anticipation the audience will feel trying to guess when they will see it a second time. So, the condition of seeing them a lot is not the case. People will remember. If you feel they need to see it a lot, either you have assumed a short attention span audience or, what you have chosen to underrepresent the importance of the item or relationship to the viewer in in scene demonstration in character in action.

quote:

The thing is, in games, I don''t think it''s very practical to keep having to go see someone or keep meeting them, so the player will never feel much for them. Any ideas on how you could make the player more attached to NPCs in a game?


It''s a matter of technique. You can use a flashback: Mel Gibson in Braveheart sees his dead wife a few times at key moments in development of plot points or act switches or turnarounds as they are generically called.

The same technique was used just as effectively with the scarf that tied Mel and his dead wife together at her wedding, which Mel finds at her death site, has in his hand as he is tortured near the end, is in the possession of Robert the Bruce as he changes his mind and leads the scots to victory. This is an instance of object of possession representing all the data relative to the person it originates from. You remeber everything about the dead wife when mel handles the cloth, subconsciously or not, and Robert the Bruce remembers everthing Braveheart was as he handles it later.

There are ways. Tricks of the trade you have to watch for in use. I read an article on a sid meier interview some years back where he said something like, ''the really important things in games are the things you miss until the things the designer wanted you to see become less noticable through repetition, and the real design subtleties come out as more revealed." This is why, even as an accomplished writer, I still watch my favorite movies dozens of times, and game designers probably play games dozens of times also, to find things they did not see executed before.

Addy

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Guest Anonymous Poster
wmotional reactions to teir death, if other characters mourn their death (with good voice acting etc) then this may ell strike a chord with the audience.

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who needs voice acting to convey mourning? When shadow died in ff3 (us) i cried. He was my favourite character. (i was young at the time give me a break). Though when i found out i could save him i was overjoyed!
Have you ever seen the videogames directors cut animation for Rise of the Mushroom Kingdom? When mario dies there is a beautifully done cut scene that requires no fancy pre rendering, no voice overs, or anything fancy besides some nifty flash effects and celine dion midi''d over top of it. That scene brings a tear to my eye every time I see it.
You don''t need voices, facial expressions, music or anything really to convey any kind of emotion. Body language and cinamatography is good enough to convey just about anything. One of pixar animation''s earlier short film, with the baby lamp, the mama lamp, and the little ball, prooves this point effectively. You can tell that the little lamp is sad that its ball is gone. You can tell that it is happy when the ball comes back. There is no way to know this other than how the lamp moves. Its a great short film to study. Its part of their legacy as well, you''ll see the lamp and ball in their logo in every movie they do now a days. Emotional reactions can be triggered with minimal resources as long as you know what you''re doing, quite easily.

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All this talk of emotions in NPC reminds me of an Ikea commercial. Basiclly it starts off with a girl taking an old lamp out of her house and leaving it on curb, then putting a new lamp in its place. The Commercial then continues showing the lamp out in the cold it starts raining and the girl turns on the new lamp. I honestly felt sad for the little lamp. Then this swedish guy appears and says "You feel sorry for this lamp? It is just a lamp the new one is much better." It was a very effective commercial.

Now as far as dog meat the dog from fallout goes. It doesn''t matter that he was next to useless by mid game. I still kept him with me, he was my favorite companion. In fact I reloaded almost everytime he died.

Back to the topic at hand.

I think the key to making people care about NPCs is not with a system of bonuses. But rather by fleshing them out make the npcs real. Give them past and personalites that are evident througout the game. What about if every time you entered a town your party would split up and do there own thing? You could meet them in town and interact with them. This would allow the player to interact with the NPC on a more involved level and could be used to add subplots to the game.

For instance one of your NPCs could have be a drug addict, however you don''t know this at first. You only discover this after series of optional town interactions. There could be the option to help this npc and get them off drugs or if you don''t then there could be a moment later in the game where the NPC is forced to betray the player.

Like wise it would also be possible to include a bonus system with that system I just mentioned. With the addition of bonuses for bonding with NPCs.

-----------------------------------------------------
Writer, Programer, Cook, I''m a Jack of all Trades
Current Design project
Chaos Factor Design Document

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