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Faction Trinity?

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I just got the StarCraft Battle Chest, and have been reliving my college days of siege tanks and arbiters. I've also been playing some Halo 2 lately, and I've started to think a little more about the three-race system seen in three of my favorite sci-fi franchises, and no doubt in other places as well. I'll use primarily StarCraft terminology. The Terran/Protoss/Zerg trichotomy is very well-balanced and conducive to varied play. The Zerg are soulless, mindless killing machines, the Protoss are ancient, high-minded aristocrats, and the Terrans are brutish humans, mortal and vain. Parallels to this trinity of races can be seen in the Human/Covenant/Flood dynamic of Halo and the Marine/Predator/Alien system of AvP. It can also be seen, in varied forms, in Tolkien-esque universes. What do you suppose is the fundamental underlying order that makes this combination so rewarding and successful?

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The Starcraft theme was originally along the lines of "Rock Paper Scissors". Halo 2 let the humans (or at least the MC) get stuck in the middle, which made for a more exciting game. Half-Life 2 doesn't really have a reason (humans - combine - headcrabs).

Personally, I think yer trying to read too much into things... how many factions there are really isn't what makes the game, it's how they're presented and used, and if they make a significant contribution.

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It has to do with the fact that people find certain number preferable to others and will automatically pick those numbers. 3 and 7 are the two most common numbers that people will use. For instance if asked to pick a number between 1 and 10 most people will choose 3 or 7. And since seven factions is harder to design for and implement, designers choose 3.

As a side note how many games do people know of where their are 4 factions? There are probably very few.

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Quote:
Original post by Sta7ic
Personally, I think yer trying to read too much into things... how many factions there are really isn't what makes the game, it's how they're presented and used, and if they make a significant contribution.


True, it's not so much the number 3 that's important. What matters is that all the factions are so unique, and none of them particularly likes each others..

For an example, take a look at the Warhammer 40k universe. There are far more factions, no two of them would ever dream of even a cease-fire. It accomplishes much the same thing. An intriguing setting with lots of potential for storytelling.

I think one of the important things is (obviously) that every faction is unique, and fleshed out with a good history/culture and motivation, and that every faction is constantly outnumbered in a sense.

Of course, the numbers have some significance as well. If you have two factions, it's a simple 1 on 1 battle, which doesn't leave much of room for surprises. If you have 4 factions, it's a bit too easy to just group them into two alliances, which then turns it into the above 1 vs 1.
With 3, there's no "fair" or stable configuration possible. If two sides ally, they vastly outnumber their foe, and then they have a very good reason to start backstabbing each others. if there are no alliances, then they're all outnumbered and fighting for survival. Of course, this also works with 5 or bigger numbers of factions. What matters is that the factions have some room for manouvering, by attacking or not attacking different opponents.

Of course, another reason for having 3 factions is that then you can put humans in the usual "in between" role. You have the wild, primitive killers below you(zerg, flood, headcrabs, Orks, Genestealers), and the advanced, hi tech and arrogant faction above. (Protoss, Covenant, Combine, Eldar)

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I tend to agree with Spoonbender in that 2 sides don't offer a lot of textured complexity (look at Command and Conquer) in an RTS game. Odd numbers seem to offer more opportunity for intrigue and betrayal, but I can still remember when tons of RTS games were coming out with "four warring factions which... blah blah blah." Other games, though, don't necessarily have this requirement. You need many factions for an empire game; you really only need two for an action game.

I also think that Sta7ic has a point in that this may just be a case of narrowing the data and then seeing a coincidence. Look at other franchises: Doom, for example, has only 2 factions (humans vs. demons); Star Trek has tons; and the blend of Aliens and Predators is actually two franchises that didn't really belong together (both were straight 1 on 1 in each movie).

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Quote:
The Terran/Protoss/Zerg trichotomy is very well-balanced and conducive to varied play. The Zerg are soulless, mindless killing machines, the Protoss are ancient, high-minded aristocrats, and the Terrans are brutish humans, mortal and vain.


I took this to mean that you're asking, not why are there 3 combinations, in particular, but rather, why these particular attributes? Mindless killing machine, high minded aristocrat, and terrans. By tolkienesque, I'm assuming you mean something like "Orcs, elves, and humans" which also display the kind of attributes you've described.

I think that it's a result of taking attributes we're familiar with and then exaggerating them to an extreme. This makes them alien. But these particular attributes are chosen, I think, because other attributes simply wouldn't be as dramatic or create as severe a sense of danger.

Mindless insect minded creatures, with no other thought than to kill you, is scary. On the other hand, Protoss/Combine/Covenent/Elf attributes tend to be cold, logical, calculating. The exact opposite of the mindless side, and arguably just as scary. An invading force who perceives you as pathetic and weak, shows you no mercy, and systematically eliminates you with surgical precision - yeah, that's scary.

Humans tend to be in the middle of these two extremes, so we're left with being able to sort of identify with them, but not be able to compete with them on their own terms. They're definately alien.

But take other extremes of humanity, and they just don't seem as scary. A race of incredibly lazy people? Extreme industriousness? Stupidity? Diplomacy? I can't really think of anything else that you can turn into a weapon as well as you can single-minded, reckless determination or cold and calculated logic. Anything else just seems like a moderate threat at best.

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Thanks, everyone. I guess the fact that there are three was less interesting to me than the characteristics that Taolung hit upon so well. I always identify with the Terran-types, partly out of species solidarity, and partly because they always strike me as being so much more sympathetic. I think it's related mostly to their view of death.

The Zerg are easy to kill, but they don't really notice when you kill them. The hive mind, the notion of a "swarm" as a single entity, and the lack of personal characteristics makes them totally expendable. The Protoss are quite difficult to kill, but they sort of like it, with their fancy honor system and such. Terrans bleed when you cut them, but they care about surviving, since they have other things to do outside the battlefield.

Well, this was mostly a flight of fancy. Thanks for the perspectives, everybody.

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Actually, the number three is very prominent in video games...Especially the older ones. Take a look at various older games and you'll know what I mean.

Standard number of lives in most games of early video gaming - 3
jumps to kill bosses in SMB3 - 3
Starting hearts in Zelda - 3
Levels per world/stage in numerous games - 3
Average number of "Special" moves in early fighting games - 3
Number of different punches and different kicks in Street Fighter 2 - 3
Standard number of difficulties - 3
hits to kill most bosses in SMB2 - 3

The list goes on and on. 3 is a very standard number in video games...its kind of amazing how much power it has.

Granted there are alot of games out there that do not use three as a standard or max of something, but it is still one of the most common numbers in the gaming industry.

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shows why it took ages for blizzard to balance it ^_^

Anyways. 3 and 7. Primes.
yeah its all in the prime numbers. they bring variation and infinite mathematical joy. They're also irreductible.

so on this line, do consider 5 and 11.

btw.. warcraft had these non playable guys who would attack you. I like to call them the fifth faction. Just because the number 5 is cool like that.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Quote:
Original post by Taolung
But take other extremes of humanity, and they just don't seem as scary. A race of incredibly lazy people? Extreme industriousness? Stupidity? Diplomacy? I can't really think of anything else that you can turn into a weapon as well as you can single-minded, reckless determination or cold and calculated logic. Anything else just seems like a moderate threat at best.

Deception for starters, possibly.
This may be a barely discernable(sp?) difference, but the star trek races seem to run the gamut of human extremes. Take for instance the Cardassians, the human extreme of deception and manipulation(Romulans belong more in the cold logic category naturally).
There are also the Shadows from Babylon 5, whose tactics are a combination of logic, mindless killing, and manipulation.
Independence Day featured essentially sentient locusts, as well as the Magog of Andromeda, the Replicators of Stargate, and in Battlestation, a book containing a collection of stories featuring a single campaign. One might put that in the category of extreme pursuit of wealth. A variant on this can be seen in the spider-like enemies in Stargate Atlantis, who only periodically plunder because they wish to eat.
There's the scientist or need to understand, like Brainiac from Superman or the Martians in Stranger In A Strange Land-although I never feel the need to destroy things I understand but I suppose that's the only way to make a villain out of someone with that trait.
The one I always thought ripened things up for a great sequel was the 'it's not personal, but my boss is gonna get pissed if I don't blow up your planet'. This can be seen in Robotech.
As alluded to, who needs an extreme, lots of sci-fi features aliens who simply want to conquer stuff the old-fashioned way.
Religion, I think that's covered by the Covenant.

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When it comes to factions I personally prefer the 5-way style that was used to represent the color connections of Magic: the Gathering. I keep thinking that if DAOC had incorporated this it would have made the game ALOT more interesting.

The Basics
All 5 factions are layed out in a pentagon

1
2 3
4 5

Each Side is allied with each of its neighbors, but is opposed to each of its un-connected opponents.

I.E 1 is allied with 2 and 3, but is enemies with 4 and 5. Since your two allies are always enemies, and your enemies are always allied to one of your friends it could be very interesting.

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