Sign in to follow this  
Wai

Character Design by Relations

Recommended Posts

[b]Focus [/b][b]on Relation
[/b]
I want to discuss the mindset of designing character by designing their relations. This mindset is not new by any mean. I am just bringing it to the spotlight.
In the following I try to show the difference between focusing on character and focusing on relation. I am not trying to make a case to say which is better.
I am just trying to show the difference in order to focus the discussion.

Focus on Character:

"This story is about a hero who skills up to defeat a villain."

Focus on Relation:

"This story is about an escalating antagony that is unresolved due to a series of unfortunate events that are never put into perspective."

When you focus on a [b]character[/b], you think in terms of the [b]abilities[/b] and [b]actions[/b] the character could use to overcome those challenges.
When you focus on a [b]relation[/b], you think in terms of the [b]events[/b] and [b]interactions[/b] that could happen to overcome those challenges.


[b]Six Types of Relation to Design
[/b]
In a game, there are three basic types of entities. They are the Player, the PC, and the NPC. Therefore, among these entities are [b]six[/b]
types of relations. They are:

1) Player x Player - The relation between a player and another player (Think of a multiplayer game.)
2) Player x PC - i.e. is the PC just a vessel for the player? Does the PC break the fourth wall? Does the PC has its own thoughts?
3) Player x NPC - i.e. Is there an NPC that knows that addresses the player as the player?
4) PC x PC - (In the situation with multiple PC that are controlled at the same time.)
5) PC x NPC - The relation between a PC and an NPC. (e.g. The hero and the villain.)
6) NPC x NPC - The relation between NPCs (e.g. The hero's master and the villain.)

If you are conscious of these relation, you could design each of them to fulfill a role in the game. If you are not conscious of these relation,
they will still exist, and they may take the form of the "default", which is your familiar assumption.

* A note about "PC". A character is a PC when it is controlled by the player. When that same character is uncontrollable but is still active, the character is
serving as an NPC. For the same character, sometimes, the Player could control the action but not its intention. In that case, you could think of the body
of the character is serving as PC, but the mind of the character is serving as NPC. As you see, very soon the terms "PC" and "NPC" would become
insufficient to describe the varieties.


[b]What to do from here:
[/b]
a) Do nothing
b) Discuss what modes each relation type can have
c) Pick a game and identify the modes of each relation type
d) Identify an under-used relation mode
e) Discuss where this type of consideration would sit in the overall design process
f) Design a story/game based on this and see what happens
g) Discuss how to enforce a relation without irritating the player
h) Discuss how to let the player affect a relation without exploding the complexity of the design

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Well not really a poll, more like first come first serve. If anyone picks a choice then we continue in that direction.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Okay, I have been thinking about a particular relationship recently. I've been thinking about ways to give the player conversational opportunities even when they are marooned in the middle of nowhere. My thought is, create an NPC which is the player's 'mirror self' or anima/animus. The role of these character would be to:

1. Speak 'interior monologue' including backstory/exposition.
2. Provide a well-rounded position by taking a rhetorical standpoint opposite to the player, including self-criticism and playing devil's advocate.
3. Express what in-game goals are available, allowing the player to respond by choosing one.
4. Invite the character to express an opinion about an event or another NPC, thus allowing the game to find out the player's opinion so the game can react appropriately.

So... thoughts? I'm not sure what to ask, because I don't have a specific question, I'm just thinking about the general benefits and challenges of creating a character like this.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Re: sunandshadow

I am just guessing that at this point, your concern is not whether you want an NPC, but [i]who[/i] that NPC is so that it fits the story.
The benefits are numerous, but the challenge is to introduce the NPCs without looking artificial, and to introduce the PC without making it look like the center of the universe.

[b]Creating immersion by using the story to answer questions
[/b]
My first thought is that it is important to distinguish between:

Writer A: "I want to create an NPC so that the PC can do some conversations."
Writer B: "The PC is marooned and will meet other characters who are also marooned."

The main difference is in the mindset you approach the NPCs. The more natural it is, the less likely that the player would see the NPCs as characters [i]put there to serve a purpose.[/i] To tell whether a character is at risk of being seen as contrived, ask the question: why does this character exist?

Writer A: "If that NPC is not there, the PC would be doing monolog all the time. That would get boring."
Writer B: "They are there because the PC isn't the only one nor the first one that got marooned."

Writer A's answer is beyond the story, while Writer B's answer stays in the story. If you keep asking why, you can count the number of questions it takes for the writer to give a meta-story answer. The goal is to trap all the questions so that their answers are all within the story. The reason of something that exists in the story should have an answer within the story.

In this mindset, the Writer doesn't see himself as a creator, but an investigator. He sees his ideas as clues and factoids corresponding to a story that[b] happened[/b].


* * *

For my own design, I don't mind using flashbacks and monologue. I think those are rather natural, so I am not creating a character to access the PC's thoughts.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
[quote name='sunandshadow' timestamp='1308105922' post='4823441']
1. Speak 'interior monologue' including backstory/exposition.
2. Provide a well-rounded position by taking a rhetorical standpoint opposite to the player, including self-criticism and playing devil's advocate.
3. Express what in-game goals are available, allowing the player to respond by choosing one.
4. Invite the character to express an opinion about an event or another NPC, thus allowing the game to find out the player's opinion so the game can react appropriately.
[/quote]

[size="7"]"HEY, LISTEN!"[/size]
[url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navi_(The_Legend_of_Zelda)#Navi"]sorry, cnr...[/url]


Do you remember that awesome talking sword in Baldur's Gate? "Na na, missed again. Try hitting a door if you want a challenging opponent!"

I like that idea as well as an "inner monologue" or soul whatever. When I played [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadow_Hearts:_Covenant"]Shadow Hearts: Covenant[/url], I liked the idea of inner turmoil in the main character and it was solved pretty nice in this game. What I like even more would be a mirror self that sarcastically comments your actions, teases you for every mistake you do and uses every possible situation to get on your nerves while still being useful and lovable.

And I even got to like/love navi over the time, though she never stopped to annoy the shit out of me from time to time...
"Hey look, a rock. Try banging your head against it, stupid!"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
[quote name='Wai' timestamp='1308113262' post='4823461']
Re: sunandshadow

I am just guessing that at this point, your concern is not whether you want an NPC, but [i]who[/i] that NPC is so that it fits the story.[/quote]
Yes. My method here is to postulate the best possible NPC, then evaluate whether it is good enough to include as a major design element.
[quote]The benefits are numerous, but the challenge is to introduce the NPCs without looking artificial, and to introduce the PC without making it look like the center of the universe.[/quote]
Why can't the PC seem like the center of the universe? I didn't understand this point.

[b][quote]Creating immersion by using the story to answer questions
[/b]
My first thought is that it is important to distinguish between:

Writer A: "I want to create an NPC so that the PC can do some conversations."
Writer B: "The PC is marooned and will meet other characters who are also marooned."

The main difference is in the mindset you approach the NPCs. The more natural it is, the less likely that the player would see the NPCs as characters [i]put there to serve a purpose.[/i][/quote]
Hmm. I guess I am used to looking at things like an editor, where every sentence, every paragraph, every character, needs to serve a clear purpose (preferably more than one purpose for major characters) and those that don't serve a purpose are flab that gets cut to make the work tighter and stronger. But I agree that it's important to avoid things that will feel artificial, out of place, and immersion-breaking.

[quote]To tell whether a character is at risk of being seen as contrived, ask the question: why does this character exist?

Writer A: "If that NPC is not there, the PC would be doing monolog all the time. That would get boring."
Writer B: "They are there because the PC isn't the only one nor the first one that got marooned."

Writer A's answer is beyond the story, while Writer B's answer stays in the story. If you keep asking why, you can count the number of questions it takes for the writer to give a meta-story answer. The goal is to trap all the questions so that their answers are all within the story. The reason of something that exists in the story should have an answer within the story.[/quote]
I don't think I agree with this. I see all art forms as acts of communication. They are appreciated by individual audience members, and exist within the ongoing conversation of all human-created entertainment. I think that, for example if one observed "there are no entertainments of type X", this 'awkward silence in the conversation' would be a valid reason to create an entertainment of type X. But I do agree at the more prosaic level that there shouldn't be random unexplained junk in a story, it needs to be cohesive like a living organism.

[quote]In this mindset, the Writer doesn't see himself as a creator, but an investigator. He sees his ideas as clues and factoids corresponding to a story that[b] happened[/b].[/quote]
This is part of a long ongoing discussion among writers in general: "Is the story inside or outside the writer? Is the writer inside or outside the story? Is the story discovered (a gift from a muse?) or designed?" Personally, story ideas never come to me in a complete form that looks like a discovery. They always come to me in webs of possibilities that look like building blocks I could build many different possible stories out of. When presented with someone else's complete story I usually think about how it could have been designed differently. It might be beneficial for me to experimentally think about a story as if I were a detective or archeologist discovering it. That seems like a fun experiment, so I may try it. I just wanted to explain here that that's not the way I usually think.

[quote]For my own design, I don't mind using flashbacks and monologue. I think those are rather natural, so I am not creating a character to access the PC's thoughts.
[/quote]
I don't see flashbacks and monologue as bad or unnatural. The point of creating the character is not to access the _PC_'s thoughts. The point of creating this character is to elicit the _player_'s thoughts, then display these thoughts back to the player in the form of the PC, to create the feeling that the game recognized, understood, and responded appropriately to the player's thoughts. I see this as the heart of an interactive story.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
[quote name='Elovoid' timestamp='1308122817' post='4823504']
[size="7"]"HEY, LISTEN!"[/size]
[url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navi_%28The_Legend_of_Zelda%29#Navi"]sorry, cnr...[/url]
[/quote]
Lol, yeah I was thinking of Navi, and also Clippy, as examples of how not to create a helpy character. Thanks for the examples of good ones, I'll check that out. One that I particularly liked was the PC in Sanitarium - in this game you reinvision yourself each level, in one case as a comic book super hero with 4 arms, in another case as a walking stature of a south american god, in another case as a little girl, and yet another as an adult man escaped from a lunatic assylum and with a completely bandaged head. Each form has it's own set of witty responses to impossible actions and objects which you don't yet have the prerequisite to interact with. The south american god statue, for example, has an utterly pompous voice and a formal way of speaking. If you tell him to walk on terrain which is out of bounds, he says, "That would harm even me!" The little girl finds a discarded bottle of vodka and says, "Hmm, vodka." In a tone of mild interest. The escaped inmate drily informs you, "There's a wall here." if you try to pass through a barrier without solving the puzzle to remove it.

I was also thinking a little about imaginary friends. I vaguely recall making some kind of post in this forum several years ago about an imaginary friend character having a lot of potential for interactive fiction. My ideas about it have had time to change and mature a bit since then thought.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Life-like Characters by Design Palette


[b]Concept 1: Start the design knowing the weakest link
[/b]I think the challenge of design is keeping it life-like. The challenge of discovery is keeping it short and purposeful. In either case, the you could start with the hardest part.
For design, you start with a message that is life-like. For discovery you start with something that has a meaning. For discussion it is probably better to stick with design
because that is where knowledge is transferable, and that knowledge is universal and independent to the story you are trying to create.

[b]Concept 2: Design Palette
[/b]By universal, I mean if I ask you to pick the color for a shirt and a blouse so that together they look nice, you as the designer (the person who chooses) needs to have the
knowledge of what colors there are, and how they would look when they are put together. The first part of this knowledge, the color palette, is universal. The color green
exists is a universal fact, regardless what you think of it or whether you would ever wear it.

Going back to the question about the NPC design of the Marooned story, we could then ask these questions:

In real life:
1. When would you tell your "backstory"?
2. Who is the devil's advocate?
3. Who lets you know the options and goals?
4. Who asks you for your opinions?

The point of these questions is not to make the story a copy of your life. They are asked for you to discover what it is that makes a character or a situation life-like to you.
Once you know makes a situation life-like, you are equipped to [i]design[/i] it. Without this knowledge, the process is not design, but [i]create [/i](aka trial-and-error). The differences
are your awareness of the choices, awareness of the objectives, and a conscious decision.

Some real life situations:

1. When would you tell your "backstory"?

A: When I am introducing myself. When I do that, my mind would have many memories and facts about myself that I consciously or subconsciously choose to disclose
or to conceal. In a game, where the PC is the player's avatar, the player could choose a past and choose what to disclose about that past. In a game where the PC is
not the player's avatar, the player could view the PC's past and choose what to disclose. For this answer, I need an event where the PC is introducing himself to an NPC.
The listener NPC can be explored in these categories:

Dimensions: 1: Needs to know; 2: Wants to know

Type 1-1 - An NPC who needs to know the PC's past and wants to know it
Example: An NPC who is searching for people from a specific background, and finds the PC interesting.

Type 1-0 - An NPC who needs to know but does not want to know it
Example: An NPC who's job is to record people's background, but does not personally care what is recorded as long as it is done.

Type 0-1 - An NPC who does not need to know but wants to know it.
Example: An NPC who is attracted to the PC and just wants to know everything about the PC.

Type 0-0 - An NPC who does not need to know and does not want to know it.
Example: An NPC who is stuck with the PC and the PC or some other NPC happens to tell about the PC.

Similarly you could explore what exists on the palette and choose the ones you want to use. The decision method could be as simple as "I'll choose the type that I've seen the least."

For me, when I do this type of exercise, I understand that I am designing, but at the same time I also feel that I am discovering [i]the interesting truth[/i] as I explore the possibilities. I feel this way because my brain could detect what is interesting before I could explain it. As I explore the possibilities, I am trying to [i]discover[/i] and keep the features the excite me. The decision to keep what excites is the same as the decision in design. So for me it is not very purposeful to distinguish design from discovery in the process. Unless you know everything you will need to discover (the interesting story and, equivalently, the circuit that makes you find that story interesting) as you try to design.


* * *

[quote]Why can't the PC seem like the center of the universe? I didn't understand this point.[/quote]
I've seen that too often in stories and I don't find it life-like. I understand that this is not a universal judgement, but when i see this feature I tend to dislike the story.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
[quote name='Wai' timestamp='1308198168' post='4823924']
In real life:
1. When would you tell your "backstory"?
2. Who is the devil's advocate?
3. Who lets you know the options and goals?
4. Who asks you for your opinions?
[/quote]
Ok, this I can answer. In real life, or a novel-format, I would place all of these in the interior monologue/narration. Things I am saying to myself. But for a game, I want to give the player the opportunity to say these things to the game. A game world has the potential to be more satisfying than the real universe because the universe doesn't have the ability to understand or care about an individual person, but the game does. I want to create this NPC to be the personification of the game, and emphasize the close relationship between player and game by the fact that the NPC is a reflection of the player. I want this special NPC to feel like "self", not "other" like a normal NPC.

[quote]For me, when I do this type of exercise, I understand that I am designing, but at the same time I also feel that I am discovering [i]the interesting truth[/i] as I explore the possibilities. I feel this way because my brain could detect what is interesting before I could explain it. As I explore the possibilities, I am trying to [i]discover[/i] and keep the features the excite me. The decision to keep what excites is the same as the decision in design.[/quote]
Ah, that's a nice and easy to understand way to think about it, I like that. :)


[quote][quote]Why can't the PC seem like the center of the universe? I didn't understand this point.[/quote]
I've seen that too often in stories and I don't find it life-like. I understand that this is not a universal judgement, but when i see this feature I tend to dislike the story.
[/quote]
Oh ok, that's reasonable. I like the Dramatica approach myself: spend 1/4 of the time considering the main character as if they were the center of the universe, spend 1/4 of the time considering a different character as if they were the center of the universe, spend 1/4 of the time looking at the relationship between the main character and a different character (treating them as equally important) and spend 1/4 of the time looking at all characters including the main character like pieces on a chessboard.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Re:

Those four questions were directed toward creating an NPC. I guess I didn't quite understand what you were trying to do.
Now with the update, you could still ask the question:

In real life:
5. Who is like a reflection of yourself?

Some ideas:
o A buddy since childhood
o Your child
o Your student
o A sentient being you created based on your own thoughts
o A subordinate



* * *

The approach I started in this thread was about putting a relation as the root of the design, then design the characters accordingly to fulfill that relation. One relationship that I always have in my mind is one where two characters know each other very well, have worked together for a long time toward a shared goal, however, due to some event, they realized that they cannot both succeed so each of them tries to secretly outsmart the other one so the other one could succeed.

For me, if I read a description like this, I am already interested in the story. I don't even need to know what the characters are, or what world they are in, because the relation itself is interesting enough, for me.

When the above relation is turned into a game, the PC is neither of those character, but a third character knows both of them who is trying to figure out how to resolve the situation. While it looked easy at first, very soon the PC finds that she quickly faces a similar question but with a twist.

o Would you be willing to sacrifice so that they could both succeed?
o The twist: Did they trick you to sacrifice yourself?

The overall emotion I want to create in the player is one where you have reasons to believe you are on the good side, but you can't prove it, you can't be known, and you can't have true friends other than the closest ones you worked with your whole life who might be just setting you up to sacrifice for them. You want to believe that you are the hero, but where do you get the strength to keep going?

Depending on how the player plays the PC, the relationship between those two NPC would reflect that between them and the PC. So if the player can solve the struggle inside the PC, the player will be able to solve the struggle between the two NPC. Because the three characters are in a tight group (they are the only three who knew their true identities), the thoughts and emotions of each character bounces off and reflects among one another. To give the player a foreshadow what the problem is, I only need to let the PC listen to what the NPCs say.

Since I didn't start the design by thinking about a single character, I wasn't considering from the same direction as you are. I didn't try to figure out "what NPC can I use so that the thoughts of the player can be reflected," because I started with a relationship, how the PC / player would interact comes as by-product that doesn't need to be specifically designed. The rest of the design is to "discover" how this situation exist.


* * *

"I want to create this NPC to be the personification of the game, and emphasize the close relationship between player and game by the fact that the NPC is a reflection of the player. I want this special NPC to feel like "self", not "other" like a normal NPC."

When I read this again it sounds like you want to create an NPC that is the PC of the PC.

In my story above there is a similar situation, where NPC A can't move very well so she trained the PC to do what she couldn't. So in some sense the PC of the player is also the PC of A. While the Player decides what skills the PC should have, the player is temporarily playing NPC A, so NPC A reflects the Player's decision.

As mentioned before the concept of NPC vs PC is not flexible enough to describe what you can actually do with characters. So I suppose perhaps we could just stop using those terms and just refer to them as characters.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this