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Interesting characters...

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What makes a character interesting? In my experience, an attractive character is first one we can care about. Not necessarely the blondest, nakedest bimbo or the purest, stoutest of paladin hearts but someone that catches our interest and about whom we'd like to know more. After all, when you meet, say, a girl in a bar, it boils down to that. Sure, the first thing that catches your eye is the physical part, but what keeps you coming back is your desire to get to know her better. Well, same thing with games. Sure, a good 3D model is important and if there's all the graphical bells and whistles, the better. But characters are meant to play different roles in games (unless you've taken a stand at the beginning of the project and purposely create nothing but eye-candy models). Personnally, I'm drawn to flawed characters. The bravest of hero or the evilest of villains is, to me, utterly boring. When someone is already at the top of his game, in a godlike state of power, what else is there to care about? To me, the underdogs are considerably more appealing. A broken hero, a villain who can himself be in danger of losing his life, a smart woman who's not all boobs, etc. Max Payne or God of War's Kratos are all but noble, but we like them just the same. So what are your characters doing in the game? Are they the player's avatars? Are they a mission objective? Are they guiding the player along like the guards in Half-Life's Black Mesa? Because if they just drop tidbits of information as you pass by, there's little need for attractiveness since you'd be hard-pressed to spend a lot of time listening to them. You are, after all, in a first person shooter and the gunfights await. A side note about FPS : I usually advise against making sidekicks too important because then, you have to force yourself to design situations -- usually scripted -- where they cannot die. To me, that ultimately leads to boredom. Sidekicks should be wastable, even by you. Sure, an obvious exception is Alyx in HL2, who's awesome to have around and I cared a lot for her. But that's expected from a game that cost 40 million dollars and was produced by the best studio in the business. And even so, as far as basic shooting is concerned, the moments where she was with me were actually the most boring because she's overpowered. She's a perfect shot, her gun deals massive damage and she's invulnerable because the story requires her to survive. So basically, you can just sit back and let her waste Combine grunts while you are, effectively, not playing (except for that horrible make-a-stand mission by the generator where she can in fact die.) Of course, I'm nit-picking. HL2 is a great game and a prime example of sidekicks that are -- and must be -- likable. But other games, like Star Trek Elite Force 2 for example, miss the mark because attempts were made at making characters attractive and believable, so you "feel you're in Star Trek". But the attempt is so obvious is actually backfires. As such, the player is contrieved in heavily scripted setpieces where each moment is a tedious chore that must be performed the way the designer intended because characters are an annoyance rather than a help, whether they're fighting with you or just talk in cutscenes. The missions are disjointed, they don't feel cohesive and the pacing of the game is constantly interrupted by an egregious sidekick or a scripted event. In short : not fun. So in my opinion, attractive characters are of better use elsewhere. RPGs are where the attractiveness of a character can shine. It's understandable : these games are much more story-driven than shooters, they use cutscenes, longer speeches, etc. So if you're going to talk to the player, you better make damn sure you've got something interesting to say, and use someone interesting to say it. Heck, even the faceless narrator in Dungeon Keeper was enjoyable because he reinforced the notion that 'Evil is good'. He reveled in your misdeeds. An attractive personnality is one you think about even when the character isn't there. That's what "attractive" means, after all. You want to go back to that person, miss them when absent, and there can be many reasons for that : a good script delivered by flawless voice acting (Legacy of Kain series), a whimsical, oddball quirkiness (The Cosmos King in Katamari Damacy) or just an incredibly pleasant sense of coexisting with characters that are the ultimate products of the world they live in (Manny Calavera from Grim Fandango, Ben from Full Throttle or Raz from Psychonauts). We are shaped by our environement, and memorable characters are no different. Ask yourself what role your character will play in the game. The way to make him attractive will then change accordingly.

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Original post by The Hidden Writer
Personnally, I'm drawn to flawed characters. [...] a smart woman who's not all boobs...


[lol] I'll assume that wasn't quite how that was meant to be phrased...

On a more serious note, what do you think about character archetypes or personality types? What ones are there? Are some inherently more appealing than others? Maybe which ones are more appealing depends on the player's own personality? Which ones combine well? Say you have ten slots for major characters (like in Xenallure [wink] ), what process do you use to decide what all of their personalities should be?

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On a more serious note, what do you think about character archetypes or personality types? What ones are there? Are some inherently more appealing than others?


Well, yeah, there are some 'classics'. For example, the underdog story is always a favourite. Everyone loves the poor guy who succeeds in front of impossible odds.

However, you must craft your characters not according to a certain pattern. You must let them live their own lives. You must let them become alive on their own. You are, in a way, the teller of the story of their life. They come to you asking to tell the world their story. So you musn't force them in a mold.


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Maybe which ones are more appealing depends on the player's own personality? Which ones combine well? Say you have ten slots for major characters (like in Xenallure ), what process do you use to decide what all of their personalities should be?


First, I believe 10 characters is way too much. Not everyone can pull off the crazyness of Killer 7. Heck, even just Max Payne and Mona Sax was more than enough to handle in MP2. Never forget you have a game to fuel, not an interactive novel. Don't tax your audience.

Second, what process to decide their personnalities? The world they live in and what they will do in the game. We're a product of our environement, and characters are no different. Ask yourself what kind of person would be born out of such a world. And more importantly, pinpoint what theese characters will do in the game. Will they just give the player info for 2 seconds and then they're gone? Will they be sidekicks that are there for a longer while? That will change their personnality. I know I'd hate a talkative sidekick. After all, I'm there to play a game and to do stuff. Not be bored to tears by speeches or hiphop teenagers if that personnality doesn't serve a purpose in the game.

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Ah, I can see that you have a different philosophy of artistic creation than I do - I am a structuralist who believes in designing characters and plots, while you are a naturalist (there's probably a better term, but I'm too half-asleep to think of it) who sees characters and stories as things that exist oout in the world and you just write about them when they come to you. This sort of difference in philosophy is not a bad thing, although it means it would be pretty useless for the two of us to try to discuss techniques for creating a story, since they will be extremely different.

Actually, Xenallure IS an interactive story game, although it's probably more like a multiplot novella than a novel - The current version of the plot outline consists of a prologue, 7 chapters each a week of game time long, and an epilogue. And talking to the 10 major characters IS a large portion of the gameplay, since it's a dating-sim style game where a gameplay goal is to build relationships with the characters. The target audience is an RPG/dating sim audience, which is used to lots of story and character interaction. None of the characters are your sidekick or 'in your party' traveling around with you, they all have their own houses in different areas of the game and sometimes visit other areas of the game, and you can talk to them each time you are in an area with one. So they are there for the whole game, but your choices determine whether you see any particular character every chapter or hardly at all. You can only see 2-5 of the characters in any given chapter.

I at first thought that 10 major characters would be way too many, but the more I've worked with them, the more I've found that if each character has one short story worth of subplot, 10 characters worth of subplot adds up to a nice RPG-sized amount of story. If you consider a game with an excellent story, like Final Fantasy 7 or Vagrant Story (my two fave RPGS) you will find that they do have around 10 major characters. And also, we need to have at least one character who will seem attractive to every type of player, and I think it would be hard to do that with a smaller pool of characters.

So, if you believe characters come from the world, I guess the next question is to ask you (whenever you have had a chance to read the design document I PMed you) what characters the description of Xenallure's world suggests to you. Hmm, maybe we should move this discussion to email since it's getting pretty Xenallure-specific.

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I too am drawn to flawed characters (I really want to read Dune Messiah again...). It's easier for me to relate to the person who's seen as a hero in the public eye but wants to escape off into the unknown than it is for me to relate to the dragon-slaying, princess-winning knight. Maybe it has something to do with my personality type. :)

I guess it should come as no surprise that the flaws in my characters play a huge role in the story I'm currently working on. Essentially, what I've done is had these characters (two of whom are best friends) develop their philosophies and moral compasses based around fairly simple lives, and then move them into a situation where their system of beliefs is actually put to the test. Although the external plot (the situation) has been interesting to develop, I'm more fond of the interplay between characters that it causes and the flaws it exposes, and how that will eventually strengthen the bond between the two best friends. The protagonist never becomes the flawless hero, the relationship between the two friends has a tendency to appear fragile but the bond is strong, and I'm happy to say that none of these are forced by the design of the story but rather are the result of the characters themselves. In fact, I changed a lot of things about the story because I felt that in order to get the characters to the point they needed to be for those situations, they would have to develop unnaturally, which bothers the hell out of me, quite frankly.

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Original post by sunandshadow
Ah, I can see that you have a different philosophy of artistic creation than I do - I am a structuralist who believes in designing characters and plots, while you are a naturalist (there's probably a better term, but I'm too half-asleep to think of it) who sees characters and stories as things that exist oout in the world and you just write about them when they come to you. This sort of difference in philosophy is not a bad thing, although it means it would be pretty useless for the two of us to try to discuss techniques for creating a story, since they will be extremely different.


I don't think I define myself as one or the other. I can take both approaches equally, they both have merit.

Sure, e-mail me for stuff not really releavant to this thread.

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Original post by The Hidden Writer
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Original post by sunandshadow
Ah, I can see that you have a different philosophy of artistic creation than I do - I am a structuralist who believes in designing characters and plots, while you are a naturalist (there's probably a better term, but I'm too half-asleep to think of it) who sees characters and stories as things that exist out in the world and you just write about them when they come to you. This sort of difference in philosophy is not a bad thing, although it means it would be pretty useless for the two of us to try to discuss techniques for creating a story, since they will be extremely different.


I don't think I define myself as one or the other. I can take both approaches equally, they both have merit.

Sure, e-mail me for stuff not really releavant to this thread.


Well, if you say, "However, you must craft your characters not according to a certain pattern." that seems pretty anti-structuralist to me. The structuralist way of looking at things is "All characters have a certain pattern, figure out what pattern you want and craft your character to fit it. Also, a cast of characters must have a certain pattern, figure out what pattern you want and choose your number and types of characters to build that pattern. I don't believe characters or stories come to me, I believe I have a big box of parts which I have collected from all the stories I've read, and when I create a story of my own I decide what my purpose is and assemble characters and plot out of my box of parts to serve my purpose effeciently, effectively, and interestingly.

In Xenallure's case, a major part of the purpose is that every player must feel attraction towards at leas one NPC. To achieve this effect I researched what different types of people most commonly considered attractive and tried to distribute these traits among the cast of characters such that each character got a set of traits that were complimentart to and reinforced each other.

For example, the character Kitten is the default 'dream girl'. She is a young curvaceous catgirl, not too skinny, innocent and eager to please and a bit in need of help from an older, wizer, stronger player.

Then for a more submissive straight man or gay woman we have the character Lillith. She is a black woman with a military bearing who is the leader of a group of human refugees and assigns the player quests to complete for her.

Or for a straight woman or gay man we have Skew, a wounded bitter emo type who needs to be healed and cheered up by the player's love and openmindedness.

Then again there's Lion, an animalistic jock alpha male who's self-confident and athletic, and wants the player to be his admiring sidekick, the one who 'domesticates' his wild oats, to badly mix a metaphor.

These archetypes of characters could exist in any game world - the details which flesh them out are specific to the world but the underlying character types were chosen purely to be attractive to different types of players.

(And yeah, I emailed you about the gameplay and design document stuff since it's not relevant here.)

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Original post by nekura
I too am drawn to flawed characters (I really want to read Dune Messiah again...). It's easier for me to relate to the person who's seen as a hero in the public eye but wants to escape off into the unknown than it is for me to relate to the dragon-slaying, princess-winning knight. Maybe it has something to do with my personality type. :)

I guess it should come as no surprise that the flaws in my characters play a huge role in the story I'm currently working on. Essentially, what I've done is had these characters (two of whom are best friends) develop their philosophies and moral compasses based around fairly simple lives, and then move them into a situation where their system of beliefs is actually put to the test. Although the external plot (the situation) has been interesting to develop, I'm more fond of the interplay between characters that it causes and the flaws it exposes, and how that will eventually strengthen the bond between the two best friends. The protagonist never becomes the flawless hero, the relationship between the two friends has a tendency to appear fragile but the bond is strong, and I'm happy to say that none of these are forced by the design of the story but rather are the result of the characters themselves. In fact, I changed a lot of things about the story because I felt that in order to get the characters to the point they needed to be for those situations, they would have to develop unnaturally, which bothers the hell out of me, quite frankly.


I think flawed characters simply are more appealing than unflawed characters, because perfection is boring. [wink] And natural character development is also good because if readers/players think something is unnatural it breaks their suspension of disbelief and makes them complain.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
There's nothing wrong with perfect characters. Aeris from FF7 is perfect, she's a living angel, beautiful and a nice/sweet personality. And she even sacrifice herself for earth.

If you ask FF7 players about their thoughts on Aeris, here's the reply:
perfect- yes
drawn to Aeris - yes
utterly boring - HELL NO
one you think about even when the character isn't there - yes
You want to go back to that person, miss them when absent - yes

Meet all your requirments and she's a PERFECT character. I think you are prejudice against perfect character, you already make the judgement against perfect character without even trying to create of one such character to use in your story.

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aeris is an all right character... of course they gave her a limit break 4 that made your whole party immune.. but this was often unreachable since it could not be obtained without prior knowledge of where it is =]

anyway, her role in the story was huge, she was a special character who stood out obviously because she was one of the last surviving ancients etc.. etc..

and think about when she died when you were depending on her more and more (for healing purposes) -- does that death 'enhance' her likability?

of course after the incident of her death, people spread rumors about the 'secret features' to gamesharking her alive, so she was seen as even more important in the far-fetched rumors.

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I don't think Aeris was perfect. For one thing, being only half ancient she couldn't hear the voices of the ancients clearly. For another thing, she did die - a truly perfect character would never make a mistake that got her killed. But yeah, she was almost perfect. That said, I thought Aeris was kind of boring, she didn't have a lot of personality. She had some cool story about her birth, but none about her as a child or teenager doing things on her own before the game started, or her hopes, fears, and desires during the game. She was indeed like an angel - very impersonal and not part of the earthy human realm of emotions, ambitions, urges, and mistakes. Both Tifa and Yuffie seemed more like real people with real psychology and feelings.

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Original post by sunandshadow
She was indeed like an angel - very impersonal and not part of the earthy human realm of emotions, ambitions, urges, and mistakes. Both Tifa and Yuffie seemed more like real people with real psychology and feelings.

I agree with this. To me, Aeris felt more like a plot element than a character, and so I had a hard time making a connection with her, whereas I would've been a lot sadder had I lost Tifa.

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Well, if you say, "However, you must craft your characters not according to a certain pattern." that seems pretty anti-structuralist to me. The structuralist way of looking at things is "All characters have a certain pattern, figure out what pattern you want and craft your character to fit it. Also, a cast of characters must have a certain pattern, figure out what pattern you want and choose your number and types of characters to build that pattern.


I have nothing against that, but I believe that pattern you speak of comes from the world, the game, the environement. True, a mold gives you security and then everyone on the project knows exactly what to do. However, I believe such patterns restrict creation, and then you have to do twists and turns to always make everything fit the character's pattern, since you cast him in a mold from which he can no longer escape. And a story should always shape a character. Not the other way around. I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.




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I don't believe characters or stories come to me, I believe I have a big box of parts which I have collected from all the stories I've read, and when I create a story of my own I decide what my purpose is and assemble characters and plot out of my box of parts to serve my purpose effeciently, effectively, and interestingly.


Ah, now I understand! In this case, yes, I am indeed more of a naturalist than a structuralist.

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Original post by The Hidden Writer
I have nothing against that, but I believe that pattern you speak of comes from the world, the game, the environement. True, a mold gives you security and then everyone on the project knows exactly what to do. However, I believe such patterns restrict creation, and then you have to do twists and turns to always make everything fit the character's pattern, since you cast him in a mold from which he can no longer escape. And a story should always shape a character. Not the other way around. I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.


Well, I believe that real people fit patterns, such as Myers/Briggs/Keirsey personality type theory. The archetypes of the Xenallure characters I described (if you make the anthro characteristics metaphorical rather than literal) can be found as real people in ever culture on earth, now or in the past, and presumably in the future too. So I believe that to be realistic and internally consistent every character must think and act according to some sort of a pattern. It's not something characters should be escaping from, it's the shape of what a character is.

I don't see why the pattern would restrict creation - it's not set in stone. If everything in the story would work better if you changed one character's personality, sure, go for it, just make sure you change them all the way through the design so that they consistently fit a new pattern, don't let them act out of character just to make one plot point work.

I believe that the character and story should shape each other. I usually start by creating interesting characters first and then thinking of a story which would show off their personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, and let them grow as people, but that's just my preference, you could start with a vague plot outline and create characters to live it out. I do agree with you that the story and characters must be suited to each other, I just don't understand your insistence that it is the characters who must come second and change to fit the worldbuilding. What if you were hired to write a Star Trek novel? You would have existing characters you would have to keep consistent with what's previously been written about their psychology, but you might be able to create a new planet for them to have adventures on, and certainly you would have to create a new adventure for them to have.

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If your going to make interesting characters, model them in real people and real personalities. Don't try to use a limited made up personality that you don't understand. Research and use personality types to suit the mission of your game.

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