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Human Relationships in Games

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I was recently playing KOTOR 2, a game with some interesting ideas with regards to player choice, but obviously rushed and unfinished. The most interesting thing to me was the influence system, how if you got to know someone more and befriend them, they'd start to sway to your line of thinking, whether it be towards the light side or the dark side. Most of the time, I would guess that developers lack the time to really fill out content regarding all the possible creatable relationships between NPC's and player character(s.) To that end, I'd like to figure out what characters would embody the basic characteristics that people have, and how to mix and match the most interesting of those qualities into a small party of NPC's. Since a smaller group is probably going to be easier to flesh out, relationship wise. Any suggestions?

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I guess that it isn't clear what kinds of characteristics you're wanting to exhibit. As you probably already know, RPG's have been trying to do this for years. The traditional way to do it is to assign a number to characteristics like Intelligence, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma, etc., and then use those numbers to determine the outcome of situations. If you want to stress interpersonal relationships, then perhaps you want to pick attributes that are more specifically social, like Honesty, Humor, Morality, Loyalty, Friendliness, etc., just to name a few. The hard part is to formalize situations into a space where you can determine how variance in such traits changes things. As far as relationships among people are identified, I suppose that you can use the trait-values to determine the likelihood that a given relationship will form among people or that one will endure. Either way, it seems that the designer would have to know to some extent in advance what relationships are possible.

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IT seems to me that NPCs’ traits to create complex relationships with Player have to be specific to game/story context. To have NPCs have a generalized and huge set of behaviors would be too complex and underutilized, thus a waste of resources.

There is an interesting book on writing/creating interesting NPC, that I found useful : Creating Emotion in Games: The Art and Craft of Emotioneering

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From the "Characters To Fall In Love With" thread, here is a list of some character traits:

- wounded
- confident
- unconfident
- shy
- playful
- sad
- dominant
- submissive
- dangerous
- intelligent
- innocent
- jaded
- lonely
- loyal
- jealous
- generous
- nurturing
- helpful
- handicapped
- mystical
- creative
- successful


And here, from my developer journal entry on creating characters, are personality traits and motivations we can distribute among our cast of characters:

Personality Axes

Social Position (Leader, Follower, Switch, Loner)
Social Orientation (Introverted, Extroverted)
Serotonin Level (Optimist, Pessimist)
Testosterone Level (Excessive, High, Low, Insufficient)
- Male: Brute, Alpha, Mama's Boy, Poof
- Female: Butch, Alpha, Mothering, Fainting Lady
Energy Level (Intense, Laid-back)
Anticipation (Paranoid, Cautious, Easy-going, Reckless)
Acting Ability (can't lie worth a darn, lies passably, professional actor/spy)
Self-Esteem (High, Low)
Self-Discipline (Hedonist, Ascetic)
Attention (Attention-seeking, Attention-avoiding)
Morality (Immoral, Amoral, Relativistic Morality, Absolute Morality)
Base Emotion (Bored, Annoyed, Happy, Anxious, Content, Sad, Angry, Mischievious, Self-righteous, Stoic)


So, if you select an element from each of those axes, that should give you a fairly good start on your character's personality. Each major character should also have about 2 motivations:

Motivations
- fear/protection/defensiveness
- anger/dislike/revenge
- rivalry/competition/urge to dominance
- desire to be helpful/useful/submissive/loyal
- ambition/need to live up to personal mythology/vow
- loneliness or other desire/lust
- desire to be part of a group/good citizen
- curiosity/boredom/love of mayhem
- whimsy/playfulness

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Quote:
Original post by Beige
Most of the time, I would guess that developers lack the time to really fill out content regarding all the possible creatable relationships between NPC's and player character(s.) To that end, I'd like to figure out what characters would embody the basic characteristics that people have, and how to mix and match the most interesting of those qualities into a small party of NPC's. Since a smaller group is probably going to be easier to flesh out, relationship wise.
This is how I understand your situation: You are looking for a set of characteristic such that an interdependent dynamic is created among a small group of characters. In a nutshell, this is the same type of question that a "class designer" encounters when designer the classes in an RPG that favors teamwork/group-based combat (classes such as tank, healer, enfeebler, damage dealer, puller/seeker, etc...)

There are several things you need to define before diving into selecting the characteristics. One of them is the objective of the dynamic. In the class design example, the primary objective of the dynamic is to distribute the strengths and weaknesses (related to the killing of monsters) such that a group is able to defeat monsters that not be defeated by individuals. The secondary objective is to allow flexible composition of the group, such that there are more than one effective compositions.

My suggestion is that the first thing you need to do is to define the type of dynamic, and the relation between this dynamic and the overall game. At this stage you would decide whether you want the dynamic to be complete or not, interdependent or contrasting. These decisions are based on what your story is about, and how the chosen dynamic enhances the presentation of the meaning of the story. In the second stage you would distribute the characteristics among the agents. In order to do that you need to identify the relevant spectra related to the characteristics. In the class example these 'spectra' correspond to Hitpoint, Mana, AttackPower, etc, all of these spectra are related to the killing of monsters. In your case the spectra will be relevant to the objective of your dynamic.

Quote:
Example (From this forum about 3 months ago):
Three kids from different backgrounds are left to take care of the house while the parents are gone for the week. The meaning of the situation is how differences should be understood and be synergized to solve problems. None of the three is able to fix all the problems in the house, at different moments they must combine, and at others they must separate. The objective of the dynamic is to create a group of two agents that holds contrasting views related to problem solving (the third is the PC who serves as a swing voter). Furthermore, the contrasting views must make perfect sense at where the two agents come from, however, because the new situation is not identical to what they are used to, therefore their philosophies no longer apply all the time. Spectra related to problem solving can come from how they define, evaluate, acknowledge, solve, share, and learn from problems.

The following describes how a personality is derived from a philosophical difference on how the two agents define problems, one of the six spectral catagories listed above.

At where one of them is from, "What comes fast goes fast", there is no value on solving problems that sudden occur. They see it as a disturbance that will solve itself through time. The corresponding manifestation of this philosophy on the personality level, is that the agent does not panick in face of what other would consider an emergency. This can be translated into a calm personality that is very observant of the 'hidden waves', and long-term trends, with good accumulative memory, meticulous, plans ahead, anticipatory. In a nutshell, this character is very careful, has a lot of control, seems to know everything, that blows up when something does not happen the way expected, but at the same time hides the anger to maintain the calmness. When this character commits a mistake, it is likely to forget the incident. And exceptions in life are not valued much. This character is similar to those that practice yoga yet have very short (but hidden) temper.

The point of focus here, is that the choice of characteristic is tied to the objective of the dynamic and the meaning of the story. In this case there is a philosophical basis for the choice of personality.

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Quote:
Original post by tellman
IT seems to me that NPCs’ traits to create complex relationships with Player have to be specific to game/story context. To have NPCs have a generalized and huge set of behaviors would be too complex and underutilized, thus a waste of resources.

There is an interesting book on writing/creating interesting NPC, that I found useful : Creating Emotion in Games: The Art and Craft of Emotioneering


I don't want to take a by-the-numbers approach to the characters, it doesn't seem that such a thing would make for a very compelling story.

I will check out the book if I get a chance, though.

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Quote:
Original post by EstokThis is how I understand your situation: You are looking for a set of characteristic such that an interdependent dynamic is created among a small group of characters. In a nutshell, this is the same type of question that a "class designer" encounters when designer the classes in an RPG that favors teamwork/group-based combat (classes such as tank, healer, enfeebler, damage dealer, puller/seeker, etc...)

There are several things you need to define before diving into selecting the characteristics. One of them is the objective of the dynamic. In the class design example, the primary objective of the dynamic is to distribute the strengths and weaknesses (related to the killing of monsters) such that a group is able to defeat monsters that not be defeated by individuals. The secondary objective is to allow flexible composition of the group, such that there are more than one effective compositions.


Hmm. I guess my objective would be to create an intentionally imperfect system, then; that would make for the most compelling and involving characters, I think.

Quote:
My suggestion is that the first thing you need to do is to define the type of dynamic, and the relation between this dynamic and the overall game. At this stage you would decide whether you want the dynamic to be complete or not, interdependent or contrasting.


I'm not quite sure what you mean here....

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Take any sitcom, there is a dynamics among the main characters. Usually all of them are imperfect, however each of them correspond to a different dynamic that is used to hightlight or enhance different settings and objectives. These are the questions that I am asking:

Are you looking for a dynamic that is:

- typical for a certain setting? (to model)
- atypical for a certain setting? (to initiate interest)
- relevant to a topic of discussion? (to highlight)

Quote:
Example (From this forum half a year ago):
The game takes place in a late stage of a fedual war, in which the player is a has become aware of a conspiracy of betrayal. The objective of the player is to identify the traitor and to decide the best action. A dynamic exists between the PC, the emperor, and the fellow commanders. Relevant topics include motivation, trust (loyalty), and manipulation. The objective of the dynamic is to create a situation in which each agent is a possible traitor, yet on the first glance none of them can be a traitor. The dynamic is used to highlight the insecurity of being involved in the situation, by providing security, and breaking them. In this specific example you do not play in first person, and your avatar is intentionally not a strategist to show how a normal person would break down emotionally in face of the pressure and fear created by the rest of the dynamic.


The original quote touched on completeness, and interdependence.

Completeness refers to whether the dynamics is used to present an overall flaw shared by the individuals and the combination of them. Take the class design analogy again, a designer can intentionally provide no 'tank' class to eliminate a style of gameplay, and the gameplay revolves around strategies in which no one in your group can take hits. An example of 'incomplete' dynamic can be a game in which you are part of a member of a noble endeavor in which none of them has true loyalty. This is incomplete (incomplete by design) if the game story is about loyalty, and the characters are skewed toward one end of the spectrum.

Interdependence refers to whether the agents in the dynamics complement one another or are intertwined. The example about the three kids is an example of interdependent character design. When they are put away from their adapted environment, their sets of abilities become crippled by the altered premises, and must borrow the strenghts of one another to solve problems. The opposite of being interdependent is being interchangeable.

The choices depend on what you want to do with the game. In order to answer that you can refine on your question on what are the most compelling factors in a dynamics to you. From there you can derived the characteristics that will create that dynamics.

In the quoted example above. The compelling factor (the objective of the dynamics) is the sense of mystery, uncertainty, tension, and insecurity.

I was reading this again:
Quote:
To that end, I'd like to figure out what characters would embody the basic characteristics that people have, and how to mix and match the most interesting of those qualities into a small party of NPC's.
What I have been saying is that there is a relation between characters, dynamics, and the objective of the story that you seem to have overlooked. A character set is not about mixing and matching interesting qualities, but to do it in a meaningful way.

However, if you ignore this relation, here is the more direct discussion.

Obviously there are many dynamics and relationships. Dynamics reside in an environment. To prevent the discussion to become too abstract and generalized, how about you provide a starting dynamic pertaining to your intented target game environment to limit the scope of the discussion.

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Between what Sunandshadow described contextually, and Estok's carrying it further in terms of content implementations in technique, approach and style, you could say in reply from the player benefit point of view that there is a lot of room utilizing these relationships to add enormous connection and dramatic dynamic to the engagement and relationship the player has with the state of play.

Adventuredesign

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