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Kest

Switching between party members

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If a game (and its story) is heavily focused on the player character, do you think it's a bad idea to allow the player to take direct control over other characters in the party? The game is real-time, so the player character would be taken over by AI when the player is controlling someone else. The player, whoever they control at the moment, would still lead the group. So the real player character would just temporarily become a "secondary" party member. The question is mainly directed at immersion/perspective/identity versus fun. Some characters will have different abilities than the player character, so controlling them would be interesting and useful. But the game world and story are extremely focused from the player character's point of view. Deus Ex makes a decent example. If the player could add two or three other characters to have a party, would it cause anything negative to let them switch to the other characters? Would it cause some type of "identity detachment"?

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Depends on what style your going for. I have been thinking of a real time battle system that would use a RTS like interface to try and maximize the strategy involved by minimizing the player reliance on common sense lacking AI's.

Though few questions you should ask:
1 What are the sizes of the party, as the size increase if the player is limited to one character their contribution to a success or failure will decrease.
2 How diverse is the party. Are all the character about the same or will you have separate tank, artillery and heal roles.
3 How valuable are your allies to the game. If their hellbent on getting themselves killed can I just let them or do I need to make sure they survive either for battle or story purposes.

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Final Fantasy XII has a similar mechanic (by default your other party members act automatically, (although you can customize their tendencies)), but you could argue the story doesn't necessarily center around the one character (although you could also argue that it DOES center around him).

Either way, it worked well in that game, and as long as there is a valid reason to switch (or to control one over the other) then it is a valid feature.

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If it's a first person shooter, then I would be disoriented by swapping eyes with a different character (without significant context change). However I think it's far more natural to swap control of characters in 3rd person games. RPGs have been doing this for some time, and even though a game like Baldur's Gate has one main character which is the focus of the plot, it doesn't feel odd to let the AI take over while you mind someone else. As long as the main character is more customisable and has some additional abilities over the minor characters, I think the player will still 'identify' with them over the others.

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Despite the strong focus on my character in Jade Empire, I enjoyed being able to occasionally play the other characters. But they took pains to make the switch clear, as part of rare story events, and they removed my character from play.

Beyond tic-tac-toe, I don't have much faith in game AI. I'd be pretty ticked if I took over another party member and my AI controlled self died, got stuck, got seriously damaged or used up some special resource I'd been reserving. I'd much prefer to go into some sort of stealth crouch and take over while under cover / NPC guard.

btw, what's to stop me from taking over a character and turning them into a meat shield or human sacrifice? That would probably hurt my immersion somewhat.

As far as identity detachment, I think it depends entirely on how strongly rooted the identity is from the beginning. If I can name and customize my character, configure and advance his/her skills or abilities, and do this through the large majority of the game, I am them (so to speak). If I'm jumping around through different perspectives, then I'm the team (sort of like Brute Force I'd imagine).

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Original post by Wavinator
btw, what's to stop me from taking over a character and turning them into a meat shield or human sacrifice? That would probably hurt my immersion somewhat.

They're your allies, and getting them ganked will hurt their respect for you, which increases the amount of cash you need to pay them to run with you. Other than that, nothing will stop you from doing it. However, you could probably use them as shields and sacrifices without ever directly controlling them.

Quote:
As far as identity detachment, I think it depends entirely on how strongly rooted the identity is from the beginning. If I can name and customize my character, configure and advance his/her skills or abilities, and do this through the large majority of the game, I am them (so to speak). If I'm jumping around through different perspectives, then I'm the team (sort of like Brute Force I'd imagine).

That's what I was afraid of. I'm shooting for the "I am them" feeling.

The player will be able to control some characters without detachment. For example, many mechanical characters can be hacked and remote controlled while your real character hides in a closet somewhere. But these robots won't be in your party, so using them as shields and sacrifices is desirable. I doubt there will be any sort of organic mind control.

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I think the answer depends upon the story and how those additional characters fit in. If the story is totally focused on the one main character, it’s probably not the best idea. However, if the story is more about the group of people, one of which just happens to be the “main” character, and those characters are just as deep and well developed, switching is less of a problem since the player can easily identify with any of them.

Of course, at its simplest level, switching bodies is an element of games that can break immersion and remind the player that they are simply playing a game. At the same time, it can also give the player a new perspective on the events going on around them while introducing new game play possibilities.

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Original post by Kest
If a game (and its story) is heavily focused on the player character, do you think it's a bad idea to allow the player to take direct control over other characters in the party?

The game is real-time, so the player character would be taken over by AI when the player is controlling someone else. The player, whoever they control at the moment, would still lead the group. So the real player character would just temporarily become a "secondary" party member.

The question is mainly directed at immersion/perspective/identity versus fun. Some characters will have different abilities than the player character, so controlling them would be interesting and useful. But the game world and story are extremely focused from the player character's point of view.

Deus Ex makes a decent example. If the player could add two or three other characters to have a party, would it cause anything negative to let them switch to the other characters? Would it cause some type of "identity detachment"?



I thought about this kind of mechanism several years ago.

Issues which may matter :

Constant switching viewpoint of player in different chars may be very disorienting (ex - 3D views with blocking scenery ).

Each char can only be so complicated, if too many control modes/special abilities, , inventory options, etc..., the player wont be able to keep track of what the char can do/should be doing (a different kind of disorientation).

Another problam may be unless the player micromanages alot of the time, can the AI do a decent job of controlling the other chars ?




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It's a third person perspective.

Typically, the player's team will be composed of role types. Warriors, hackers, medics, diplomats, etc. Taking control of them would allow them to play those roles without having to build their own character's skills in that area. Otherwise, the player will give them commands to do things while the rest of the team follows the player. At most, there will be three other characters in the party. Probably only two, with a single slot reserved for plot related scenarios.

The player character is immortal and regenerative. They can "die", but the penalty for death is minimal. Having the AI get you wasted won't be a big deal.

Actually, having the ability to switch to other members might complicate the way player death is handled in my game. If the player character eats it, can the player use someone else to resuscitate himself? Actually, thinking about it, that would be a great way to handle it. The player's resuscitation would be in his own hands. He wouldn't need to rely on the AI to reach him in time.

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Original post by Kest
Taking control of them would allow them to play those roles without having to build their own character's skills in that area. Otherwise, the player will give them commands to do things


In every game like this I have played trying to directly control your charter and order AI characters at the same time has been incredibly cumbersome.

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Original post by Kaze
In every game like this I have played trying to directly control your charter and order AI characters at the same time has been incredibly cumbersome.

I don't see why it would be cumbersome. If you only have two other characters in the party, it would be as easy as pressing a single key before executing the command that would cause yourself to do the task. So it would only ever be as cumbersome as pressing an extra key.

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Just a comment on the resucitation thing:

When the character being controlled dies, you should simply automatically switch to the next available party member until you're out of characters.


As I said in my original post, you should really try out final fantasy 12 since it does a lot of what you're asking about and even has some pretty cool other features (like programming your AI teammates' behaviours, and menu overrides so you can force a teammate to perform a certain action at any time).

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Being way behind the gaming curve, I've just recently been playing Half-Life 2. In that game your identity as Freeman is pretty strong, partly because you spend so much time locked to his viewpoint and also partly because the world refers to you constantly as "Gordon" or "Dr. Freeman" or "the Freeman." The warm, friendly conversational style and technology that allows characters to make and keep eye contact (even while walking and talking) really brings this home.

As a practical matter, I doubt I would have felt so connected to Freeman or being Freeman if I missed those moments because I was viewing through the eyes of another character.

You also run the risk of the player preferring to play through another character that's not the main when you have a party. In Project Eden, I loved the fact that the cyborg Amber could walk through fire, arcing electricity and poison gas. So I played most of the game as her, as if she were the main character. But in that game each character had a specialty (one to open special doors, another for hacking, another for repair), and it was often a pain to have to run all the way through a level as one character, keeping the others back because you couldn't trust the AI, then having to go all the way back to get them.


Oh, and slightly off topic, but important:

There are two places in Half-Life 2 so far where I see you get allies, one where the (nonhuman) allies are expendable and continuously respawn, and another where they're a squad.

One thing that would have helped me to identify with them more would have been if they got out of the way. There's nothing more morale draining than to be blocked down a hallway with a grenade at your feet unable to move because your own damn allies won't get out of the way. Even pushing into them and having them move isn't enough-- it's tedious and as frustrating as getting stuck on a wall.



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I distinctly remember back in Might and Magic six, being able to tell ally characters that block your path to 'move it or lose it'.

I've never seen that in any other RPG and yet, it is the most useful function ever.

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