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HelloSkitty

Non-humanoid Protagonist

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You are a pixel and you have landed inside a Fractal to save the other pixels from certain death.

You are an ant (seen on the screen as a pixel) and you must lead your colony to conquer the other colonies.

You are a [insert pixel sized creature] and you must [something]


Without human qualities, how do you keep someone interested? Every story I've read, every game I've played, the protagonist is either a human, or an animal with human qualities. But is is possible to keep anyone interested in a story where the main character is a sentient piece of paper? Is the reason that it is not done because people can only relate to other humans?

Uncle Worm and Pacman are examples where the protagonist has no human qualities whatsoever, but those are also arcade games with no storyline or plot.

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Anything that's sentient has human qualities because sentience is a human quality. Eating or collecting, running away, rescuing, and conquering are all activities humans do for motives they share with animals. Anything can work as a protagonist if you give it a motive, activity, and goal that make sense to players. There are definitely existing published stories where the protagonist is something other than a human or animal. I believe Philip K. Dick did a short story where the main character is a shoe, although I'd have to make sure I'm remembering correctly. I'm quite fond of the Edward Gorey story The Epiplectic Bicycle, although it has human characters as well. Actually commercials are a great place to research this. There are many many commercials which tell a little story about a car or a shoe or a scrubbing bubble.

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Here's an example of a story revolving around an inanimate (sort of) object: [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubber_(2010_film"]http://en.wikipedia....bber_(2010_film[/url])

As far as what I think, I believe that it is possible to have a non-humanoid act as a protagonist -- or even antagonist. The writer simply has to present the object/character in such a way that the player will want to invest their time into the story and gameplay. Most games have an endgame. Player starts here --> ends here. Even if it was a pixel entering a fractal, to save other pixels, I get a sense of adventure and heroism. Who is this tiny pixel, and why does he think he can save the other pixels? Other things like art and gameplay can really help to sell the unusual protagonist as well.

Not quite a character, but the game "Flower" has you controlling a single flower petal (inside of a plant's dream) and you guide it around beautiful landscapes, rousing other plants to bloom and collecting other flora to accompany your single petal. Obviously the petal isn't a protagonist in any sense, but it's what the player controls and they have to invest themselves in the notion that they are going to experience something unique through controlling this object. I haven't played the game myself, however I don't think it follows a single plot -- it's more like an experience.

But by that same company is a game called "Journey." It has a subtle focus, but the character is completely anonymous -- who knows what lurks behind the shadow of its hood? I think anonymity could be put into the non-humanoid category because for all you know, you could be playing as a Dog/Broom wearing a cloak, manipulated by forces unseen; but it's the combination of these things that creates the character and protagonist, and this scenario could possibly work out incredibly well given a good enough explanation. I think once you identify the possibe motives of this 'object', it sort of inherently acquires traits we usually reserve for sentient things. Heck, you could probably turn the number "1" into a protagonist, sent on a journey to acquire the greatness of a triple digit and it must encounter other numbers to learn the ways of yadda, yadda, yadda.

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Rubber and Flower seem very much like what I am looking for, which very abnormal main characters. I do actually remember a commericial about a romance between brooms, so there are probably others similar to it. And:

[quote]
[color=#1C2837][size=2]Anything can work as a protagonist if you give it a motive, activity, and goal that make sense to players. [/size][/color]
[/quote]

I will, very much so, keep that in mind. Thanks for examples, I'll be sure to check them all out!

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I'm reminded of a game called Gish (at least I think that's the name, it was the main character's name at least) where you played as an amorphous blob of goo. The gameplay looked pretty novel, but I'll admit I don't know what the plot was (although it did have one). I think it's fair to say it's not that difficult to get players invested in non humanoids. SimAnt is another example I thought of almost immediately, although it's definitely less of the sort of game you seem to be aiming for.

It's difficult to not impart[i] some[/i] humanity into any sort of protagonist, so in the end, players will almost always be able to find some sort of connection. If you try too hard to subvert that, you're probably going to run into problems. Or a simple arcade game like you mention before.

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You mean this?
[quote]
[font=Arial, Arial, mono][size=2]With his gelatinous structure as his only means of defense, Gish must follow the echoing cries of his damsel in distress deep into the earth below. What freakish creatures dwell in this subterranean land? Who is Brea's captor? And just how far down does the rabbit hole go?

Life isn't easy when you're a 12 pound ball of tar... [/size][/font]
[/quote]

That is exactly what I was looking for! I'm going to try the demo really quick to get a better idea on the story elements. Perhaps also find ways to weave humor into the fact that the game centers on a little viscous ball...

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[quote name='HelloSkitty' timestamp='1313769475' post='4851251']is is possible to keep anyone interested in a story where the main character is a sentient piece of paper?
[/quote]
Yes. With "body" language (1). Or with sound (2).

1. Like the animated desk lamp we used to see on movie screens, or like the movie Wall-E, or the way R2D2 moved.

2. Like the blobs in the PSP game LocoRoco, or the movie Wall-E, or the way R2D2 sounded.

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I would say "yes"; simply "yes". You just need to have a clear role and actions you can take to fulfill that role and then you don't even need a "protagonist" at all, not even an implicit protagonist. It can just be you and some falling squares. Go nuts, just make sure the audience is entertained with whatever you do put in.

As for a story, again, just make sure the audience is entertained.

I once saw an animated short on - I think - Animaniacs which was literally about a piece of wrapping paper that was somewhat shiny and it was narrated. It wasn't even an anthropomorphic piece of paper. It was just some trash. It had to be like 15 years ago and I only saw it once but I definitely remember it. It worked because the narration of what was happening to it gave a certain angle on what was happening that let you project how you'd feel if you were the piece of paper.

Your goals are entertainment and engagement. Everything else is tactics.

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[quote name='HelloSkitty' timestamp='1313769475' post='4851251']
Without human qualities, how do you keep someone interested? Every story I've read, every game I've played, the protagonist is either a human, or an animal with human qualities. But is is possible to keep anyone interested in a story where the main character is a sentient piece of paper?[/quote]

The answer is yes, hands down. But the top developers are mostly into appealing to the masses, which means that a human protagonists becomes the standard. Essentially, the less antropomorphic you get, the less people will be able to relate to them. But antropomorphism isn't just the biology or anatomy, it's also the behaviours, dialogue and more.

Personally, I relate better to beasts like lizardmen, catmen, dog/wolfmen, orcs, undead and so on, because they're the "freakshows" of the world - the ultimate underdogs.

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