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Durakken

Character options

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I have this idea for a Star Trek like game with a focus on story...

What I want to do is present the player with 33 characters and from that 33 let the character choose about 7 (these numbers would actually increase over the course of the game) and assign them to the individual stations as they like and send in to try to promote rankwise them as they like.

 

The characters have different skill strengths and weaknesses would find and report different things. That seems easy enough.

But I also want the characters to interact with each other and develop with each chapter.

 

The simple programming side of me says that the easiest way to do this is to just have a database with some sort of emotion calculator for every character they could possibly meet, but that limits what you could possibly do with those characters from a story telling position.

 

The story telling side of me would want to get in there and tell the story of every character possible, but even with 33 characters that's 1089 possible combinations. with just selecting who to come with. And even doing it this way there are still problems with rank promotion, because let's say you have a character that is with you since chapter 1 and all the other characters that are like that have been promoted several times over, but that 1 has not. You'd think they'd put in for transfer and be ever more hostile, but as the writer there is no way you could know that so you would have to account for it and every other possible interaction they could have or dismiss while writing the chapter which would lead to a lose of immersion.

 

Perhaps a solution I just thought of, might be "emotional events" seperate from the main story where there is an emotional level for each character and then that would trigger an event if it reached a certain point that you might be able to account for, but even doing that, even with the small band we'd be talking still a lot of things that need to be taken into account such as if 2 characters got married and there is a debate about what to do. Professionally they might want to speak their mind but because they're married to a character who just proposed something, might not... or if they did that would cause friction. 

 

 

So... you think this idea is too complicated to be done well, or have any suggestions on how to solve these problems, other than just removing it all together?

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Why 33? Seriously, I love games that drown me in INTERESTING characters to play as, but lets be honest. Character diversity is the last thing you should look into, AFTER you have a very good, varied games as a "playground" for your characters to play their role in...

 

The characters alone will NOT glue the players to their seat. They can prolong the longtime fun of players when the game is good, but without the good game they will not do much.

 

 

With that out of the way, what are these 33 characters? Randomly generated characters ('The Sims' style, emergent gameplay style)? 33 unique characters, each with his own story and all (JRPG Style, game development nightmare but worth it IF you can come up with so many different unique characters)?

 

In the first case, you need a clever system to generate the characters, but that might be totally doable. If your system can also randomly generate a short story blurp, making sure the stories sound unique, the player might not even notice the difference to true dev created unique characters.

 

In the second case, you are taking on a very hard, almost impossible task. Coming up with 33 UNIQUE characters alone is hard work, not to mention balance this 33 characters against each other. I would urge you to start with the 7 needed for the beginning of the game and leave the rest for the end of the game polish phase. They are most probably not the central part of your game, and having to reduce from 26 additional character to only 7 additional ones should not hurt the shorttime fun your game offers to the player at all.

 

I would concentrate on the rest of the game before expanding the character cast beyond the needed characters. Much better use of your limited time and energy.

 

 

Now, the leveling system on the other hand sounds like a simple thing in comparison. If leveling slows down because of exp needed, your longtime characters would be better than the newer ones, but the newer ones would close the gap quickly.

 

If only the active characters level up (and only 7 of 33 are active at the same time), the ones the player prefers would level, so it doesn't matter if they started at a lower point because they joined the crew later.

 

 

Branching stories might again be a good longtime hook, but are extremly wasteful of game development resources. You certainly want to cut down on the amount of combinations. Like ony having 33 unique stories, and the player only seeing the 7 of the crew they take with them.

If you NEED to have combination stories, better let a system generate these. This is harder to do most probably than randomly generated characters, but still better than writing over 1000 stories by hand.

 

 

My personal gut feeling tells me this:

 

Go with generated characters, or cut the amount of characters down to 7 for now. Don't go crazy on branching stories, just make unique stories for your characters without combinations, or make the story work with different characters.

And really, whike it can be a bitch to balance, the leveling system should be your last problem when going crazy on multiple characters.

 

Make sure you build a fun game before investing all this time into creating characters for it.

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I'm working on a similar system, and have gone with abstracting characters into personality traits and writing narratives in terms of those traits.

 

You use the example of deference to a spouse officer. I'd create a global deference variable for each character, and an additional deference matrix expressing the specific relationships. Low deference gives you a headstrong character who always does what's right. High deference gives you a passive, perhaps anxious character. When the captain makes a bold decision and it works out, everybody might become more deferential to him. When a character knew the right action but acquiesced anyways and someone died, they might decrease their deference, having learned a valuable life lesson.

 

Then you can write generic "caught in the middle" scenarios when a character can't choose a side. One scenario is when they respect the opposition a lot but have a very different view. Another is when two people they respect are in conflict: do I support my wife or my captain? You can write multiple scenes that trigger on other personality traits: The gloomy officer mopes around the bar trying to decide what to do. The impulsive officer keeps switching loyalties. The conflict oriented character starts a fight with one and then the other.

 

Additionally, you can tag variables with historic information: why is this value what it is? Then you can write dialogue like "I don't know what to do. I sort of agree with [A], and he's , but when [C] [D] [E]. Shouldn't I trust him here?" and fill it in with "I don't know what to do. I sort of agree with Xzarnax, and he's my best friend, but when Captain Jean ordered us to fly into the Firba Cluster Wormwhole Zuzubu was brought back to life. Shouldn't I trust him here?"

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@Tom,

Wasn't sure. It's both ^.^ I figured since it was a systematic question it would be more a design question than writing.

 

@Gian-Reto

I understand you have mechanics focus. This has a story focus, so I get your suggestion, it's just that they're aimed at mechanics for mechanics sake rather than mechanics to do what is wanted with the characters.

 

Why 33 characters... That's the initial amount as I said... The idea is to be able to expand that number to quite a lot so that you can have a cast of around at least 1000, but the reason for 33 at the beginning is because you are the captain and you are choosing the crew from your class. This is your first mission and 3 of the recruits in training specifically to be captains are given ships of a class of 30. 3 overseers are a must so that adds 3. 3 Doctors are also assigned to these ships so again 3 are added. So ther are 36 over all but the captains aren't needed to be dealt with so we reduce by 3. I could say that the 3 overseers and doctors aren't choosable but that only reduces by 4 to 29 and isn't siginificant. The rest are the 27 classmates.

 

Hypothetically I could come up with a different background here and say that you're only given 2 options per seat... for that you still have 18, but having the option of either this CharA or CharB is a lot easier than any of 33 characters but meh. I like the idea for right of the academy and you select your crew, and this doesn't resolve the problem for later when the crew gets much larger.

 

@Polama Interesting idea. I guess the answer is figuring out what variables are needed to allow the character options to be large, but characters to be roughly interchangeable. I know one variable that I need is professionality, which I guess I could use as a bludgeon as well to make it so when you go to interact with that character the refuse as that wouldn't be professional. I know I do plan on splitting "professional" and "personal" things dialog options. I'm just not sure how exactly at this point. 

 

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Another thing that comes up is, again, to be somewhat in line with star trek which means the Captain isn't an expert on everything and isn't the one figuring it all out all the times... so my options are essentially giving the captain the solution or being able to shift between characters.... or some third option haven't thought of. What is the preferred? Any thoughts on this?

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I think if you write content the variables will pop up on their own. The captain is acting weird. The crew might mutiny, trust him, spy on him or call the admiral. Ok, what traits would lead them to choose mutiny? To choose spying on him? Write enough little scenarios, and certain traits will keep showing up and others will suggest places to merge them.

 

A lot of the interpersonal issues in Stark Trek are orthogonal to the problem at hand. Two characters hash out one's reliance on emotion and the other's reliance on logic. But they can do that during an away team expedition to a gangster planet or while trying to save a civilization from an imminent super nova.  So rather than preplan "in this section, two characters should debate how much respect should be shown authority" you can have little dialogues that just get shoved in whenever the opportunity arises."

 

Another approach would be to have the player fill the positions sequentially, and make sure the required archetypes are all filled in. Somebody has to be the super logical one: if you haven't selected that role by the time you're making your last choice, all your choices are super logical types. Then the player has choices, but you can write a script like "[logical one]: Captain, what is this love you speak of?" and fill in the speaker at runtime.

 

---

 

Star Trek shifts the camera around to follow different plotlines, so that intuitively makes sense to me for dealing with the variety of contributions. Alternatively, the Captain does a lot of delegating so that seems like a reasonable gameplay option if you want to place the player inside a single head. You could order chief of engineering to repair the warp drive, or to investigate the alien artifact. You could acquiesce to chief of security's desire to imprison the alien or to your first officers suggestion he be returned to his home world. So the individual crew members make their own contributions, suggest correct solutions, etc., but you kind of guide them towards success or failure.

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Hrmm, maybe not "logical one", but something similar considering that starfleet is divided into divisions I could have it written toward archtypes of a division to some degree.

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It makes sense to shift to different people as you go from a story telling perspective and in game problem solving issue, but from the perspective of playing as a specific character it doesn't make much sense to do. I guess I could just ignore that element more or less all together and shift characters regardless, but I dunno.

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@Gian-Reto

I understand you have mechanics focus. This has a story focus, so I get your suggestion, it's just that they're aimed at mechanics for mechanics sake rather than mechanics to do what is wanted with the characters.

 

Why 33 characters... That's the initial amount as I said... The idea is to be able to expand that number to quite a lot so that you can have a cast of around at least 1000, but the reason for 33 at the beginning is because you are the captain and you are choosing the crew from your class. This is your first mission and 3 of the recruits in training specifically to be captains are given ships of a class of 30. 3 overseers are a must so that adds 3. 3 Doctors are also assigned to these ships so again 3 are added. So ther are 36 over all but the captains aren't needed to be dealt with so we reduce by 3. I could say that the 3 overseers and doctors aren't choosable but that only reduces by 4 to 29 and isn't siginificant. The rest are the 27 classmates.

 

Hypothetically I could come up with a different background here and say that you're only given 2 options per seat... for that you still have 18, but having the option of either this CharA or CharB is a lot easier than any of 33 characters but meh. I like the idea for right of the academy and you select your crew, and this doesn't resolve the problem for later when the crew gets much larger.

 

 

----------------------------

 

Another thing that comes up is, again, to be somewhat in line with star trek which means the Captain isn't an expert on everything and isn't the one figuring it all out all the times... so my options are essentially giving the captain the solution or being able to shift between characters.... or some third option haven't thought of. What is the preferred? Any thoughts on this?

 

I wouldn't call it a mechanics focus, I would call it being realistic.

 

It is easy to write about creating 1000 characters, but sitting down and actually creating 1000 unique characters is A LOT of work, and when you get over a dozen or maybe two dozen characters, the value of additional characters will start to fade as characters will start to look and feel more and more similar.

 

THAT is why I would go with a more "mechanic" approach to create an endless amount of characters, because else you will never finish writing stories and coming up and balancing the game values of your characters.

 

 

That being said, maybe you should make it more clear what we are talking about.

 

Story... how much per character? Just a 3 line blurp? Pages of background story? Interactive cutscenes (good luck with individual cutscenes for 1000 characters, let alone combinations of 1000 characters)?

 

Game mechanics... how different are the characters? Do they even differ in things besides story? How do go about balancing so there is no obvious choice? When 1000 characters are involved (even 33 might be too much), have you thought about using tools to balance them (some kind of automatic testing might work, comparing your characters with predefined formulas or something like that)?

 

Value of the whole thing... how important are characters in your game? Is your game about the social interaction on the characters or about space exploration (or spaceship warfare)? How much will the average player see of all those characters you created?

 

 

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About your captain:

 

World of Tanks has multi-character crews, and the tank commander just gives every character a bonus to his main specialization while alive (you know, driving, loading, aiming and so on).

 

You could do something similar. The captain gives the rest of the crew a small bonus, a better captain might give a slightly higher bonus. Not much, but when you add up all the small boni you will see quickly how valuable the captain is.

Edited by Gian-Reto

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I don't mean to be rude, but it sounds to me like you don't really get the concept.

 

It is easy to write about creating 1000 characters, but sitting down and actually creating 1000 unique characters is A LOT of work, and when you get over a dozen or maybe two dozen characters, the value of additional characters will start to fade as characters will start to look and feel more and more similar.

 

THAT is why I would go with a more "mechanic" approach to create an endless amount of characters, because else you will never finish writing stories and coming up and balancing the game values of your characters.

 

 

 

Yes and no, but simply put, If I want to make it like that I wouldn't even bother and I'd go down a different route.

 


Story... how much per character? Just a 3 line blurp? Pages of background story? Interactive cutscenes (good luck with individual cutscenes for 1000 characters, let alone combinations of 1000 characters)?

 

 

 

 

 

Yes ^.^ Think more along the lines of Service Records for backgrounds. Some characters will have more to them, but the vast majority will have very little initially and the grow as the chapters progress... but idea is that...

 


Game mechanics... how different are the characters? Do they even differ in things besides story? How do go about balancing so there is no obvious choice? When 1000 characters are involved (even 33 might be too much), have you thought about using tools to balance them (some kind of automatic testing might work, comparing your characters with predefined formulas or something like that)?

 

 

 

The player gets to choose the characters. As the story goes on the characters may die or wish to transfer or some other event and other characters will need to be promoted and stationed however the player likes...

 

Each character as far as skills and such could, in theory, be replaced by any other as all characters have access to all skills, but at different levels which can be altered through time and effort. A character stationed at the helm, even with 0 ability to fly the ship, will slowly learn over time. Some is harder and takes more time. Other skills are simple and takes no time. Some might have individual difficulties with learning things while other might be protegies...

 


Value of the whole thing... how important are characters in your game? Is your game about the social interaction on the characters or about space exploration (or spaceship warfare)? How much will the average player see of all those characters you created?

 

 

 

Yes ^.^

Depends on the player really and how much they want to walk around the ship and talk to everyone.

 

This is a hard one to pin down because the nature of what I'm thinking... If you've seen Star Trek... not JJ Trek v.v... then those questions are more or less answered and it's not any one of them.

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I think your characters behaviour should be represented purely internally as a points system.

If you look at trek, there is always a rule follower (picard, spock, janeway or tovok, odo) a rule breaker (b'ellana, Paris, sometimes Wesley crusher. Quark) and a rookie (again, Tom Paris, Wesley, rom in ds9).

These can be represented as scores e.g. authority driven, personally driven, rebellious, curiosity, aggression,leadership, shyness, etc).

You could then choose to represent these with canned text, giving you thousands of randomly generated characters for very little work that are very easy to work with programmatically.

Over time these points can adjust based on experiences. E g. Season 1 janeway was 100% rule follower. By season 7 she had decreased this score and gained in others perhaps added aggression, lower curiosity (more drive to just get everyone home).

What do you think to this as a starting point?

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