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Zummy

Introducing our protagonist, the mute.

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This has always intrigued me a bit. Take a classic video game, like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Notice how the story progresses without Link needing a word of dialogue? Thankfully the helper fairy definitely speaks for more than herself.

How do you guys feel about it? Does it break or add to the immersion? Do you think it's effective? Could the game easily get around without the fairy and just import the dialogue to Link?
I've noticed it in a couple games and I'm trying to place the pros and cons of this particular style of writing. Could you guys pitch in how you feel about this certain type of writing style?

Many thanks!

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From Erik Walpow writer for Portal 2

[quote]
[b]“We always assumed she could talk and simply just chooses not to, what with these robots all being dicks,” [/b]he said. [b]“She's not giving them the satisfaction of saying anything.”[/b]

[b]“There's also this thing, with comedy -- this is sort of reductive -- there are sort of two different patterns,”[/b] Wolpaw added. [b]“There's the straight man in a world gone mad. And the other one is: You're a crazy person in a sort of straight world. Portal is definitely the world gone mad with a straight man. And the straight man is you... Because you have to write in the margins in the game, time is kind of at a premium. The fact that there's already this established thing where you can have a silent protagonist, that saves us a lot of time.”[/b]

Wolpaw noted that most players weren’t bothered by Chell’s silence and that he [b]“guarantee[s] if she had to say her straight man lines, at the expense of half of the other dialogue, it would suck.”[/b]

[b][/quote][/b]

I think the silent main character actually adds immersion to a game. It allows you as the player to fill in the blanks, make the responses yours. Sure there is an implied response, but it isn't completely set in stone. Just because you assume the player says yes, doesn't mean another thinks they say hell yeah.


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I think it can be brilliant, if executed right. I remember being struck by Final Fantasy 7, how Cloud never spoke a word of dialogue but his lines were always implied in his body language, or the responses of other people in the scene. I sort of think that adding voice actors to the mix somewhat hurt the RPG... part of engaging in a fantasy game is having the freedom to inject the character with a bit of your own nuance. It's similar to the way reading creates an intensely intimate experience for the reader because everything is interpreted through your internal filters. That can be a powerful tool, imo.

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Those are both very interesting takes on the subject. Thanks for that quote on Portal 2. I got it on release night for my PS3 and my PC, beat it the first day and absolutely loved every second of it.

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I think it's a narrative tool with its own affordances and constraints.

The classic advantage of it is that it allows the player to project themselves onto the character. They get to use their imagination to fill in all the gaps about how the character reacts to situations, what their decision making process is, etc. If done properly, this can be a cool element that immerses the player in the game by making them a part of it. However, it can also be off-putting by making the main character seem pretty much inconsequential, like he's basically invisible.

Gordon Freemen I think works well (and all of Valve's silent protagonists) because NPC's in the game directly address and talk to the protagonist. When G.L.A.D.O.S. is talking to Chell, she almost always speaks in the second person. She'll say "you", which makes it seem like she's addressing not Chell but the player personally. This is really just a language trick, but it's simple and works marvelously well. It also helps that when Valve makes a silent protagonist they are a totally blank slate. They are SILENT. You basically never see them, you never have any insight as to what they're thinking or feeling, all you have is your projection onto that blank slate; what you choose to fill it in with.

However, the silent protagonist doesn't have to be so perfectly silent. Think about Amnesia for a minute. The main character doesn't really speak directly (I haven't beaten it yet, maybe he does later on.), and your only sense of who he is is a couple of scatterered notes. For most of the game, he seems to be your typical silent protagonist. However, he does make emotive, human sounds that give hints on how he is feeling. When those crazy zombie things are lurking about or he's locked inside a dark room, he audibly freaks out. No, he's not taking, but you can tell this man is being scared shitless. To me, that's a very cool touch because it really helps build that specific atmosphere that Amnesia's going for. That helpless fear. In this case, even though you're intentionally coloring the player's perception, it makes for a more immersive experience since it supports the entire experience you've been building.

Lastly, there's the fully directed character. They speak, they have a name, they're just like everyone else but maybe the story focuses on them the most. I certainly think immersion is totally possible even if the game's not first person, or you're not playing a silent protagonist. In these cases, I think a lot of the immersion comes from really drawing the player in by providing good art direction and building believable characters/plot.

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[quote name='PropheticEdge' timestamp='1306150993' post='4814547']
I think it's a narrative tool with its own affordances and constraints.

However, it can also be off-putting by making the main character seem pretty much inconsequential, like he's basically invisible.

In these cases, I think a lot of the immersion comes from really drawing the player in by providing good art direction and building believable characters/plot.
[/quote]

These are good points. I would add though that sometimes the feeling of being inconsequential can in fact be a compelling character trait (if your protagonist is, as in the FF7 example, the 'reluctant hero'). Just as PropheticEdge said, it's a narrative tool - and like any other, it can be effective or detrimental, depending on how it's executed.

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Sometimes silent protagonists don't feel right.

My example would be Dead Space - from my point of view, I was steering a brick with a gun. It seems to be a missed attempt at making another Gordon Freeman - he was blank and never spoke a word, but somehow the third person perspective made me feel more like a pupeteer than an immersed player. That's one of the reasons DS didn't make a horror impression on me.

Also, the story is what makes us feel right about a mute hero. A compelling chain of events we can participate in emotionally, NPCs we develop relations with - it is all very important. Fable was one of those games that made me feel like a real hero. Fable 3 on the contrary did not - the character was all written out and I only felt like a pupeteer again, the decisions I made, whether good or evil, didn't feel like my own.

I remember totally disconnecting from a game on several occasions with a mute hero - I can't remember the title tho. Generally it was about absurd situations where an NPC would ask the silent hero "will you go on a suicide mission for me? Only I will profit from it, but I'll make sure to make you a lovelly nameless grave". I felt like saying HELL NO B**CH, but the hero had to comply and his expression was rather meh about it.

As the others before me stated, a good hero is not only the character, it is the enviroment around him and the people and events that interact with him.

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[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][size="2"][quote][color="#1C2837"][size="2"][size="2"]I remember being struck by Final Fantasy 7, how Cloud never spoke a word of dialogue ...[/quote][/size][/size][/color]

[color="#1C2837"][size="2"][size="2"][url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qnyxd7Vq0Q&t=1m55s"]Cloud says lots of things[/url]. So does Terra, Solid Snake, Leon, Claire, ... even Turok says "I am Turok!" ... One could go on all day. I think the idea that a silent protagonist helps immersion may be a mental blockage; I (and just about everyone) has been perfectly engaged by a long line of games that didn't have silent protagonists.[/size][/size][/color]

[color="#1C2837"][size="2"][size="2"]Meanwhile, Wolpaw's comments about Portal were [i]not[/i] about this. They were about parsimony and focus. In short, Chell would have nothing to say except judging the ridiculous bullshit around her. They'd be like[/size][/size][/color]

[color="#1C2837"][size="2"][size="2"]"It's just a cube, what are you talking about?"[/size][/size][/color]
[color="#1C2837"][size="2"][size="2"]"You are a dumb robot."[/size][/size][/color]
[color="#1C2837"][size="2"][size="2"]"Shut goddamnit"[/size][/size][/color]

[color="#1C2837"][size="2"][size="2"]This is what he means by "straight man lines".[/size][/size][/color]

[size="3"][size="2"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"][size="2"]And as a writer you can happily just skip it. I[/size][/size][/color][/size][/size][color="#1C2837"][size="2"][size="2"]t's less that the silence adds something, than it is that adding lines for her would add nothing, and superfluous material can itself detract.[/size][/size][/color][size="3"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"][size="2"][size="3"] [/size][/size][/size][/color][/size][/size][/font]
[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][size="2"][color="#1C2837"] [/color] [size="4"][size=2]
[/size][/size][color="#1C2837"][size="2"][size="2"]If one were making it a cartoon show, it would actually work equally well having Chell silent there.[/size][/size][/color]

[color="#1C2837"][size="2"][size="2"][url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAIdrSN1L6s"]Pepe le Pew[/url] did this in the 1950s; notice the identical "straight man" v. "ridiculous" dynamic. The cat - the "straight man" - never speaks (except the "le pant" bit which doesn't count).[/size][/size][/color]
[size="3"] [/size][/size][/font]
[color="#1C2837"][size="2"][size="2"][color="#000000"][size="3"][size="3"][size="2"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"][size="2"]A lot of game writers fail to exercise this kind of parsimony and have characters saying stupid things because someone thinks "well they gotta say [i]something"[/i] and then they add junk. This is especially disasterous in humor writing. [url="http://www.foxtrot.com/2011/06/06052011/"]Foxtrot[/url] is loaded with negative examples; Bill Amend tends to put a superfluous final line onto the comic after the punchline is already delivered. It is vestigial.[/size][/size][/color][/size][/size][/size][/color][/size][/size][/color]
[size="3"] [/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"][size="2"]So really I have two positions; One is that a silent protagonist is a fad. The second is that a lot of bad writing is bad because it's vestigial, and as it happens a silent protagonist doesn't have vestigial lines. (I will not go into what makes a line vestigial.)[/size][/size][/color][/size]

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It has to be pulled off right. The original Golden Sun games had the main characters as mutes, and they could only say "yes" or "no" to agree or disagree with the conversation, and everything was driven by the other characters so you were in a sense a spectator, but still not left out. The latest Golden Sun: Dark Dawn feels less 'right' in the sense where the dialogue is so lame, and the characters want your confirmation on EVERYthing they say. Kind of annoying and slows down the dialogue.

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