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Writing a RPG Protagonist: Pre-Defined or Blank Slate?

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Hi, I am currently developing a small RPG title for the PC. Here is a snapshot: The player has to solve a mystery to free a village from a curse. In place of action is character interaction (between the PC and NPCs). So you can liken it to a visual novel without the static graphics (meaning there are branching paths and multiple endings).

 

The dilemma I have is deciding whether I should write a pre-defined protagonist or a blank slate protagonist into the story.

 

I know that some players don't like to feel limited to a small group of characters whom they may not like or relate to (effectively breaking immersion through the player-character disconnect). On that note, there is diversity to consider. A common issue that is still prevalent in modern video games is the male-female ratio of characters and, more importantly, how many of them are playable protagonists with equally engaging backgrounds and storylines. Quite a few games circumvent this problem by leaving "blank-slate" protagonists to be defined by the player.

 

What I am trying to figure out is how I should factor this into my game design. Which do you prefer? Should a role-playing game be one way or the other? Which is more immersive? Finally, do you feel this decision is relevant to the type of game I am developing?

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My opinion on the matter of customization is that if you have customization you should have as much as possible or you should have none/very little(as in at most you're able to select their clothes from pre-selected fashion sense for the character or something like that)

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Personally I'm not in favor of having a set of characters to choose from.  There is one kind of story that works well with an avatar (aka a blank slate) and there is a different kind of story that works well with a strongly pre-defined character.  There is _no_ kind of story that works well with a character chosen from a set by the player.

 

So basically you should choose the appropriate protagonist type for your story, unless you don't have a story yet.

Edited by sunandshadow

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There is _no_ kind of story that works well with a character chosen from a set by the player

 

That's not necessarily true... in theory, you could create a game in which the goals, progression change based on which character was selected as if the plot gets played out differently depending on the perspective of the chosen character. It could be a game where the story line works similiar to the many movies that have used multiple characters to tell the story from multiple perspectives... Go, pulp fiction, etc.

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Paragon, that's true, but a lot of games that attempt that ends up forcing a round peg into a square whole and instead of telling a story from a given perspective they tell the same story with a few changed minor variables... I personally don't like that much.

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There is _no_ kind of story that works well with a character chosen from a set by the player

 

That's not necessarily true... in theory, you could create a game in which the goals, progression change based on which character was selected as if the plot gets played out differently depending on the perspective of the chosen character. It could be a game where the story line works similiar to the many movies that have used multiple characters to tell the story from multiple perspectives... Go, pulp fiction, etc.

 

Except if you want the player to play multiple characters from the set, that actually removes the player's choice of which one to be.  Ensemble stories and also interactive stories where you move sideways to see a second character's perspective on the same event are certainly interesting.  Difficult to combine well with play, but theoretically possible.  I don't think they are actually examples of a story where the player chooses one character from a set.  An example of that would have to be a multiplayer game.  Like, online version of one of those murder dinner party games.  If there were an online RPG version of Mario Kart or Mario Party that might count too.   I was assuming the OP didn't have inventing a new genre of non-massive MORPG in mind, though.

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There is _no_ kind of story that works well with a character chosen from a set by the player

 

That's not necessarily true... in theory, you could create a game in which the goals, progression change based on which character was selected as if the plot gets played out differently depending on the perspective of the chosen character. It could be a game where the story line works similiar to the many movies that have used multiple characters to tell the story from multiple perspectives... Go, pulp fiction, etc.

 

Except if you want the player to play multiple characters from the set, that actually removes the player's choice of which one to be.  Ensemble stories and also interactive stories where you move sideways to see a second character's perspective on the same event are certainly interesting.  Difficult to combine well with play, but theoretically possible.  I don't think they are actually examples of a story where the player chooses one character from a set.  An example of that would have to be a multiplayer game.  Like, online version of one of those murder dinner party games.  If there were an online RPG version of Mario Kart or Mario Party that might count too.   I was assuming the OP didn't have inventing a new genre of non-massive MORPG in mind, though.

 

 

White Knight Chronicles... You can customize a character... and then it is pretty much just there as the real main character and their crew go do everything and "you" are just a hanger on that doesn't get any of the cool stuff...It's terrible.

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I voted that you can create your own character, and I voted that way because the title of this thread identifies your game as a Role-Playing Game (RPG). A major part of role-playing is developing and shaping your own character. In fact, I would argue that this aspect is what makes something a role-playing game rather than another type of game.

 

However, you also state that "you can liken it to a visual novel." This statement seems to put your game in the genre of Adventure Game (like King's Quest, Monkey Island, The Walking Dead Game, etc). In this case, you definitely want a pre-defined character as the protagonist as that character's story and personality is a big part of the game.

 

Ultimately it comes down to what genre of game you are really making, Role Playing or Adventure. There have also been a few games that try to blur the lines a bit. Quest for Glory comes to mind. I think ultimately sticking with the standard for the genre unless there is a compelling reason not to is a good idea.

Edited by HighTreason

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I voted that you can create your own character, and I voted that way because the title of this thread identifies your game as a Role-Playing Game (RPG). A major part of role-playing is developing and shaping your own character. In fact, I would argue that this aspect is what makes something a role-playing game rather than another type of game.

 

However, you also state that "you can liken it to a visual novel." This statement seems to put your game in the genre of Adventure Game (like King's Quest, Monkey Island, The Walking Dead Game, etc). In this case, you definitely want a pre-defined character as the protagonist as that character's story and personality is a big part of the game.

 

Ultimately it comes down to what genre of game you are really making, Role Playing or Adventure. There have also been a few games that try to blur the lines a bit. Quest for Glory comes to mind. I think ultimately sticking with the standard for the genre unless there is a compelling reason not to is a good idea.

Not a jRPG fan, are you? wink.png

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Is the development of the personality of the player's character necessary? The other option is to make the player's character a bystander who is witnessing the events of the story unfold - in other words, the player's character isn't a key character in the plot. In this case it's best to let the player customize their character. There are quite a few RPGs that do this, and often the player's character is "silent" - there is no dialogue from them although you can still interact with NPCs. This can often make the player feel more connected to their character since it allows them to superimpose their own personality onto this "blank slate", rather than forcing a bunch of predefined personality traits onto the player's character.

 

There is a similar device used in literature. Sometimes the story will be told in first person from a bystander who is not the main character and does not play a large role in the plot development. He is just there for narration. A great example of this is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.

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