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Companions as Combat Mechanism (Mechanic Idea)

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This is just a kernel of an idea at the moment. My question is simply: Does this Sound fun? Yes/no? Why/why not?

 

Overview

The idea is based around the idea of your weapons being other characters, companions on your journey. The overall art style would be stylized in a way reminiscent of a Legend of Zelda or an Okami. Generally the game will progress through puzzles and combat situations and combinations thereof in very similar ways as the character travels though an overworld and enters themed dungeons that progress the story.

 

The major difference is that the main character, let's call her 'Diamond' will not have any significant combat abilities, they'll simply be the Chosen One, or a great tactician/strategist, or some combination thereof. Early in the game, after being introduced to the world, Diamond befriends Ruby, a tempestuous girl with fire powers. Together they begin their journey and Ruby, is able to light up dark places, cut through wooden obstacles, burn dangerous plants and of course spit that hot fire that makes enemies cower and die. She of course, has personality for days to balance your generaly silent protagonist, and when you lock onto something you can ask her to interact with it, attack it, defend it or defend you (with the face buttons), and she'll respond. You quickly discover that she has a weakness, that she will act in rage if you are hurt at all, giving a kind of swing to combat scenarios. Soon you discover that by completing optional or additional objectives you can find trinkets, epiphanies and weapons that will help Ruby boost her range or be able to cut through denser materials, and even learn to keep her cool.

 

Multiple Companion Control

 

And then you meet O.J. who is dressed in orange, to complement Ruby's red and your white. O.J. is that big dumb strong gentle giant type and he has the ability to move large objects, hold things open and when he can get close to an enemy, he can hold them or pack a mean punch, as well as is a pro at guarding you against projectiles and throwing you across chasms too big to leap across. This allows you to explore even more new areas and complete a second more challenging dungeon. Perhaps you rescue O.J. from that dungeon, and he has his own storyline where he is an outcast amongst his people for a crime he didn't commit, and in dealing with him you learn of his hesitancy to act because of this experience, so he can be really slow to 'activate' at times. In this process, you learn to switch "weapons" (using the shoulder buttons) and can either be commanding Ruby, O.J. or both together. In this sense, you are using these two characters, who each have their own personas, as your 'weapons' which you fire or command as needed. You upgrade these weapon-people as you find new things in your adventures to help you overcome new challenges in platforming and combat.

 

Over the course of your adventures you meet four additional characters, each with different platform/puzzling abilities, attacks, defensive capabilities, weaknesses and varied default activities when you're not controlling them depending on what's going on around them, and of course, varied dialogue bits with you and with each other. As your party grows, they all travel with you visibly through the world, following along and poking at things randomly as AI characters in an RPG generally do. You also may be able to 'train' them to have specific priorities in combat. Depending on how deep the system should be developed to keep the free adventure feel of the game, perhaps you can configure different sub-groups for commands, as well as different 'do this when this happens.' All of these training options would be unlocked or collected through the course of adventuring with these people. Alternately these switches could be triggered in a more invisible way, such as spending time with Ruby and her family makes her more likely to defend you from closer attackers than be aggressive and take out ranged targets. At various points you leave certain party members behind for either platforming or story reasons and are forced to concentrate on combinations of just a few of them, to ensure you get to spend a bit of time to fall in love with each weapon.

 

Other party members may include 'Amber' a shy catgirl who can find/sense invisible enemies and transforms into a huge tiger-thing your whole party can ride on to traverse the overworld; 'Jaden,' a know it all Link-wannabe who does a heap of the expositional narration usually reserved for companions like Navi and Otacon, 'Azure III,' a shapeshifting water creature who can turn into a variety of handy forms as you teach him to, and 'Amethyst,' a psionic entity who can possess other creatures to recruit them temporarily to your cause. Each comes with their own persona, available commands, attacks, defenses, weaknesses and utilities. The overall effect once you defeat Amethyst and she joins you is very similar to what you feel when you have everything full as Okami or Link except that means having six characters who, ideally, are now engaging to you in their own special ways, so you also have that feeling of a full party in an RPG compounded together. The idea is that seeing your six new friends, each of which you've fought together, bled together, seen them at their weakest moments and they've spent the whole time protecting you and allowing you to do incredible things, seeing them together in battle should be a thing of beauty, especially as you unlock 'teamwork combinations' that allow them to play off of each other, and you point them in the right direction at the right moment in the right sequences to defeat a difficult boss or room of baddies.

 

Setting Fluff and Obstacles

 

Speaking of, the game itself would take place in a mystical kingdom against an appropriately themed enemy such as "Onyx" and his army "The Quartz" or some such. They want to turn everyone into statues so that they can live in a perfect world without sin or something. Lots of monsters with crags growing out of their skin, lots of little villages to explore while your party also explores showing their independence when you are relatively safe. Perhaps draw from African folklore of some sort, or take inspiration from something even less likely to fuel a fantasy setting, like the American South or something. The climax would likely involve you losing your friends one after another as they are captured or turned into statues and you face Onyx alone with nothing but your knowledge and tactics gained from throughout the game in order to outmaneuver and out last him and eventually claim the throne and now have command over a whole kingdom, with the help of your friends that have proven their ability to lead in varied areas. Or maybe you absorb your friends magics instead for a final battle as a super character who can switch powersets on a whim. Maybe a combination of both could be fun, actually.

 

Conclusion

 

Designing it is supposed to be fundamentally similar to designing any other puzzle/platformer action/adventure game. Rooms you can't access, ledges you can't get to, chasms you can't cross, triggers you don't know how to trigger, baddies who aren't affected by your current attacks, collectibles you can't find, liquid levels that need to rise or fall, doors that need to open, visibility that needs to be gained, geometry that needs to be moved, baddies to survive or avoid and of course, bosses to kill. There are new considerations, of course, in terms of the placement of these characters and their AI being such that they are both helpful, not hurtful and not conflicting or falling over each other. A stripped down more indie-friendly version would just have two weapons, such as Ruby and O.J. perhaps turn Amber from a mount into a narrator/clue giver for a third, and keep it to one really big dungeon though with three separate acts/sub-sections. A proof of concept might just have Diamond and Ruby trying to get out of a room and then having to fight a mini-boss.

 

I'm not sure what I'd call this game exactly. But my question is: does it sound like it could be fun? Or is the idea of not directly attacking an opponent in a combat situation seem un-fun? Any other comments or questions would be more than appreciated.

Edited by hypester

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I only scanned your description quickly. It reminded me of The Lost Vikings and I remember enjoying that game. It sounds like your idea may have a different view perspective but requires similar teamwork between characters.

 

With the number of characters you're planning, it sounds as though you'd be quite busy doing level and puzzle design as well as trying to work out how to handle character exposition.

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It does sound like it would work as an Okami or Zelda type game.  It's a bit little-kiddish for me, but if you are aiming for an audience that's 12 or so, maybe that's what you want.  A young audience won't invest in a kickstarter, but will buy figurines and other spin-offs if you make them available.  You might consider going for a cartoon show first and then a game later when the IP and characters are already established.

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This game sounds immensely fun and interesting. We need more games like Zelda and Okami and this one could be a colorful addition to the roster. You've obviously thought through a lot of the mechanics and my only advice would be to stay wary of adding too many features. Seven characters (or six weapons) is right on the border between variety and clutter and giving them too many abilities without simplifying the gameplay could muck up an otherwise engaging and enjoyable experience. Separating the characters in different combinations is a good idea to get the player used to using different weapons and different combinations and can help them become accustomed to each character's abilities without being overwhelmed by the options. 

 

It's a great idea to eliminate the weapons at the climax because it challenges the player to realize how much they've relied on others and to utilize the skills they've gained in the game without their friends' abilities. Granting the player character all of the abilities of the weapons as a super-character in the climax is also a fun and gratifying mechanic for the player. I would suggest first stripping the player of the other abilities for part of the fight (either the first or second act depending on if the fight starts on familiar and comfortable territory) and having them kind of run endurance/survival until they enter superpower mode and are granted all of the abilities at once, resulting in a very climactic and empowering ending to the final boss.

 

I strongly encourage you to pursue this idea and make it a reality because it has the potential to be an amazing experience.

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It's a bit little-kiddish for me, but if you are aiming for an audience that's 12 or so, maybe that's what you want.

 

It may have something to do with the fact that I'm more interested in things targeting a younger audience, but it's my opinion that ideas and visuals don't define age range, but the writing. A lot of animated movies and TV shows are marked for younger audiences, but cover very serious and mature themes. A lot of movies targeting adults (particularly the Hallmark Channel) feel very immature and shallow to me.

 

Depending on your intended audience, you could design and write a game with these mechanics for very experienced gamers or for very inexperienced gamers. With games, age range is determined not only by the writing and content, but by the complexity of the gameplay as well. Simple gameplay may indicate a younger target audience or perhaps you didn't want to focus on the difficulty, but on the story. More complex gameplay tends to cut off younger audiences, however. Simple gameplay doesn't cut off older audiences, though it might turn off some gamers who are looking for more of a challenge.

 

Writing can be simple, complex, mature, or shallow. If you want to target younger audiences with a simpler story, you might stick closer to cliched characters that are easier to understand and categorize. If you want a mature story that older audiences will be attracted to, don't worry about the impression or complexity of the visuals or the mechanics. If they like your style, they'll like it. The main focus is how much depth the characters and their stories have. The more depth, the more attracted intelligent and mature audiences will be to your game.

So, to reiterate: the target audience is determined by the difficulty of the gameplay and the complexity of the characters. A majority of your target audience may be turned off by your visual style or some of your ideas, but if they are implemented properly and executed excellently, even picky players will try your game. Be sure to test it with people both in and out of your target audience to see what they think and remember to network. People often forget just how important it is to share with other developers and interested parties and to advertise. You never know who will be enthralled with your ideas and will want the world to see them as much as you do.

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Sounds fun. My only critique is that your characters seem like cliches.
I'm not saying your ability choices are bad - I'm saying you are pairing the abilities with over-used personalities.
 

The major difference is that the main character, let's call her 'Diamond' will not have any significant combat abilities, they'll simply be the Chosen One, or a great tactician/strategist, or some combination thereof.
 
Ruby, a tempestuous girl with fire powers. [...] Ruby, is able to light up dark places, cut through wooden obstacles, burn dangerous plants and of course spit that hot fire that makes enemies cower and die. She of course, has personality for days to balance your generaly silent protagonist [...] she has a weakness, that she will act in rage if you are hurt at all
 
O.J. is that big dumb strong gentle giant type and he has the ability to move large objects, hold things open and when he can get close to an enemy, he can hold them or pack a mean punch, as well as is a pro at guarding you against projectiles and throwing you across chasms too big to leap across.
[...] he is an outcast amongst his people for a crime he didn't commit, and in dealing with him you learn of his hesitancy to act because of this experience, so he can be really slow to 'activate' at times.
 
Other party members may include 'Amber' a shy catgirl who can find/sense invisible enemies and transforms into a huge tiger-thing your whole party can ride on to traverse the overworld;
 
'Jaden,' a know it all Link-wannabe who does a heap of the expositional narration usually reserved for companions like Navi and Otacon, 'Azure III,' a shapeshifting water creature who can turn into a variety of handy forms as you teach him to
 
'Amethyst,' a psionic entity who can possess other creatures to recruit them temporarily to your cause.

 
You seem to be partially aware and/or resigned to this, even from your descriptions:

once you defeat Amethyst and she joins you is very similar to what you feel when you have everything full as Okami or Link
they'll simply be the Chosen One, or a great tactician/strategist, or some combination thereof.
that big dumb strong gentle giant type
an appropriately themed enemy such as "Onyx" and his army "The Quartz" or some such. They want to turn everyone into statues so that they can live in a perfect world without sin or something[

 
 It feels like you are trying to be unique in gameplay, but then copy+paste your world and copy+paste your characters. Why not innovate in every area?
 

Designing it is supposed to be fundamentally similar to designing any other puzzle/platformer action/adventure game

 
Why is it "supposed to be" similar to "any other" game of the same genre?
 
Or, let me put it like this: Many of the games you love have unique worlds, unique characters, unique gameplay, but have a "lowest common denominator" that they share in common with the other games of the same genre.
 
If you average those games together, what you are doing is removing their uniqueness, and being left with the cliches. Then you're using that to make your game. i.e. you are starting from cliches and building inward, instead of starting from uniqueness and finding out that your game is similar.
 
You don't have to be different merely for the sake of being different, but you should try to avoid starting off bland.
 
Why is the spunky red-head girl the one with fire powers? Why isn't she, say, a water mage who actually hates her own abilities, because her abusive sorcerer father waterboarded her until she learned to master the element?
 
How come the big buff guy is an idiot? Why is he even big + buff? What if he is normal-proportioned but still muscular and incredibly strong? What if he is intelligent and had a quick wit to boot? What if he uses his humor and sarcasm to establish a faux persona to hide his pain and guilt from blaming himself for his wife's death?

(you don't have to go for such serious blackness as dead wives and abusive fathers, just the first examples that sprang to my mind. Original doesn't exclusively mean dark, nor does 'mature' have to mean violent, occultic, or sexual).
 
What if the "know it all Link-wannabe" really is a knowledgeable and courageous female, and doesn't act like a know-it-all, but is generally a useful adviser and strong ally, a friend you can rely on, who's not designed to be annoying, but rather designed to be useful and competent?
 
Why is the catgirl shy? Why's she even a girl? What about someone visually like Lynx? And what if he's malicious and cruel, like a cat playing with his food, but still on your side as a loyal ally who you can trust? No, you don't automatically have to make him do a heel-face-turn... what if he's generally loyal to his friends, but also generally malicious when it comes to his enemies?

 
Even your villain sounds like an after-thought, and his motives sounds like something from the 60's era batman. Turning everyone to stone?    *yawn*
 
That automatically lost its significance as a child once you realize that someone "turned to stone" automatically means they'll be un-turned to stone, so it's a lesser alternative to death for children's games and TV shows. Turning them to stone is actually a subconscious promise that those characters will be brought back to life, and thus cannot die (unless you turn them to ice and then shatter them immediately).
 
And if you intend to invert that trope and make them never come back to life, that means for the vast majority of the game, people will assume your game is cliched, making it less enjoyable, until right at the end they find out after their done playing that you aren't being cliched - but it still damaged all the hours of gameplay leading up to it.
 

Writing can be simple, complex, mature, or shallow. If you want to target younger audiences with a simpler story, you might stick closer to cliched characters that are easier to understand and categorize.

 
Even children appreciate new things and interesting characters. Simplifying characters doesn't mean you have to go for the cliches.
 
You can make things simple and deep. You can make things simple and original (or rather, less-cliched).
 
Kids may not get all the nuances, but they can still get excited and enjoy something new or someone cool and different.
 

If you want a mature story that older audiences will be attracted to, don't worry about the impression or complexity of the visuals or the mechanics. If they like your style, they'll like it. The main focus is how much depth the characters and their stories have.

 
Complexity isn't depth. You can have simple and deep, you can have complex and shallow. Things can be needlessly convoluted and complicated and still end up being shallow.
 
Adding complexity can be a way to fake depth, but it's the cheap way out.
 
And yes, you absolutely should worry about the complexity of the visuals even for adults - not necessarily because it'd confuse the adults (though it can!), but to overall make a better product.
 

The more depth, the more attracted intelligent and mature audiences will be to your game.

Now that, I agree with. Though I wouldn't tie intelligence and maturity too tightly to age - I know several people who as kids, were way more mature and intelligent than many adults.
 

So, to reiterate: the target audience is determined by the difficulty of the gameplay and the complexity of the characters.

 
Difficulty doesn't equal 'deep' either. Things can be simple, easy, and deep; complex, difficult, and shallow; simple and hard and deep, and so on. They are different variables.
 
We might just be using different definitions of the words, but just in case, here's a simple onramp to thinking about this deeper.

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Sounds like a game I'd play if it were free.
But not a game I'd pay for after playing a demo. Maybe it was just for the purposes of explanation, but as Servant said, your characters as you described them are boring, predictable, shallow. The silent protagonist is almost a given, especially in the action/puzzle genre. But why does the fire user have to have a vibrant personality? Or a woman for that matter? Why does the strong guy have to be stupid? One of the smartest guys I've ever met (smarter than me, for sure) was a body builder, could probably lift a trick. Some of the dumbest guys I know are weaklings.
Real people rarely fit so well into these naive archetypes. Why bother making other characters so important to gameplay, if you're not even going to bother making them seem genuine?

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I for one think you have a brilliant idea hypester and I wish you the best of luck. I would certainly pay for such a game, as it does seem interesting enough.

 

nfries88, archetypes are blueprints for character personalities based upon many factors: such as popularity, real world examples, or simply how interesting they are. If you've never been to tvtropes.org, I strongly suggest you give them a visit. You'll see how versatile "tropes" rather than "cliches" can truly be when a little creativity is applied to them. I believe the OP has that creativity as well as the capacity to make these characters truly entertaining. It's better not to write him/her off from the get go.

 

 

is the idea of not directly attacking an opponent in a combat situation seem un-fun? Any other comments or questions would be more than appreciated.

 

Looking at the widespread success of Undertale, I would say that players are welcoming this alternative style of gameplay.

 

Although I don't think you're going the 100% noncombat route, I think this discussion of ideas you can adapt for noncombat gameplay would be immensely helpful in determining some parts of your design. If you are interested in different ways of making your NPCs more interactive, this is another good post to read. It discusses various methods of giving them personalities and adding dynamic flavor to them.

 

One part of your design that I'm not too thrilled about is the climax. You say that it involves losing your friends (be it via capture or absorbing them) so that the protagonist can face the final boss alone. This seems counter-intuitive to the theme you've built (if friendship is indeed a theme here). I know that some people might not like "the power of friendship" stories out there, but not having them turn out that way is more troubling for me, especially if all of the build-up points to that conclusion. So I think the climax would be better if it involved everyone working together to overcome all odds. That would make for a more poignant ending that will be far more memorable for players [like myself] who become involved in the story.

 

I encourage you to keep us updated somehow with your progress. You seem to have a lot of mechanics already, so it's probably best to focus on one at a time until you've hit most of the points on your feature list.

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archetypes are blueprints for character personalities based upon many factors: such as popularity, real world examples, or simply how interesting they are. If you've never been to tvtropes.org, I strongly suggest you give them a visit. You'll see how versatile "tropes" rather than "cliches" can truly be when a little creativity is applied to them. I believe the OP has that creativity as well as the capacity to make these characters truly entertaining. It's better not to write him/her off from the get go.

 
Cliches are tropes. :wink:

Tropes aren't bad, but overuse of generic tropes can be bad, because they become trite. Overused tropes become cliches, until that trope falls out of favor enough to no longer be so commonplace.

 

Tropes are not automatically bad. But they aren't automatically good either. They are tools, not guidelines.

The mindset difference here is that tropes shouldn't be used as "Here's how to make your characters" - they aren't building blocks from which to build, unless carefully used to guide viewer expectations. Tropes aren't architecture blueprints, they are architecture design patterns.

Tropes (apart from consumer-communication) are best used to describe and identify and examine characters after we (or others) create them. They aren't design guidelines, they are analysis, classification, and communication tools - like the Thompson motif classification system, of which TV Tropes is a superset applied to a wider range of media.

 

We're not trying to write him off, we're trying to challenge him to stretch an inch or two farther.  :)

 

I don't know it's origin, but I like the quote that, "Polish is everything you do to improve your work after you think you've finished.

 

Obviously that elusive mountainpeak called 'perfection' isn't reasonably attainable - but the longer we strive to climb that peak, when we finally are too exhausted to continue, we're still closer to perfection than we would've been if we decided to camp at the foothills instead. Every additional foot higher is something worth fighting for, as long as we're actually making progress. We also need to be in tune with the law of diminishing returns - it's not always business-sound to invest a huge amount of effort for only a tiny bit more progress - so we have to figure out where the appropriate line is for our specific project.

 

Or to phrase it another way, if the final 10% of a project takes 90% of the work (Pareto principle - some say 80-20, others 90-10), it seems too many creators stop after being only 90% finished. Which also nicely lines up with the Sturgeon's Law - that 90% of everything is crap.  :lol:

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Servant of the Lord, I use the words "trope" and "archetype" to refer to ideas for characters. I think you put more emphasis on denotation than connotation.

 

When you take for instance yamato nadeshiko and shrinking violet, what these actually map to are reserved but strong-willed woman and shy person who lacks self-confidence. Even if you have not interacted with such people, is it possible to call real personalities unoriginal? (please focus on the first 2 paragraphs)

 

If you take a trope and call it a character without any character development, that is certainly not good. On the other hand, if you develop your characters by giving them lives that have influenced their personalities, then I do not see the harm.

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Servant of the Lord, I use the words "trope" and "archetype" to refer to ideas for characters. I think you put more emphasis on denotation than connotation.

 
I tried to put emphasis on the word "blueprint" which is a laid out plan from which a builder builds a building.
 
In my opinion, if tropes are treated as plans for characters, it creates the shallow characters lacking depth.
 

When you take for instance yamato nadeshiko and shrinking violet, what these actually map to are reserved but strong-willed woman and shy person who lacks self-confidence. Even if you have not interacted with such people, is it possible to call real personalities unoriginal? (please focus on the first 2 paragraphs)


Put two shrinking violets in a room. Are they identical in personality or is there variation and uniqueness within it?
 
Humans are excellent at noticing (and categorizing) similarities and patterns. Tropes are patterns we have recognized and categorized.
 
Tropes are the similarities intentionally stripped of their uniquenesses. Tropes are the least common denominator of many creative characters from many works with the uniqueness averaged out. Tropes are the shared portions of unique characters - that is, taking the non-unique parts of the otherwise unique characters, recognizing it as a pattern, and giving a name to it.
 
Take the two unique shrinking violets in a room. The "shrinking violet" is the part of their personalities that aren't unique - the part they share in common.
 
Tropes are extremely good and extremely helpful - but not as guidelines or outlines for how to make characters.
 
We fall into the exact same trap with game genres. If someone tries to make "an FPS" or "an RPG", it's very easy think too much about other FPSes, or other RPGs, and they (major studios and indies alike) end up accidentally not allowing themselves to be inspired by the entire spectrum of games, so much so that when any major developer takes even the tiniest steps to allow different genres to influence the genre they are working in, everyone freaks out in a positive way for them breaking 'new ground' and praising them for being innovative. Water in a desert.  :)

 

(The same applies to other areas, like music, art, and level design also, not just writing and mechanics)
 
If you take a trope and set out to make "a shrinking violet" (or merely to be "inspired by" that trope), by default we automatically think of other shrinking violets from other creativity works, and subconsciously limit ourselves to stay within the scope of the trope's lowest-common-denominator, or else stay within the scope of other examples of the trope we have seen. It takes extra effort to even remember to pull ourself out of that mindset, because once we start making "an X" we are already unintentionally narrowing the scope of inspirational material we are being inspired by.
 
But if we set out to create "a human", we have a range of inspiration a thousand times more diverse, and we can then later identify the character as falling into and crossing between one or more tropes.
 
I don't want to start with more than half the colors of the rainbow missing from my palette. Sure I still "have" the other tropes, but they are out of mind, put away, because I'm not thinking of, seeing, and feeling them.
 

If you take a trope and call it a character without any character development, that is certainly not good.

 
Character development is very important, but the temptation to just take a trope and leave it at that, often means (in many media, especially the majority of long-running American TV shows or Japanese Anime (and videogames)) that the character basically has a set personality chosen and they are basically the same person throughout the entire series, and that "person" that they are is shallow and virtually identical to half-dozen other shallow characters from other anime.
 
There are exceptions, thankfully, in both Anime and Western TV, where the characters actually do develop, and do have rich characters.
(Note: Development is great, and rich personalities are great, but you can have development with shallow personalities, and you can have rich personalities without in-show development. I'm not trying to tie in-show character development to rich personalities).
 
Look at Breaking Bad (American TV show) if you've seen it. The character development of almost all the characters in that show is incredible and natural and flowing.
 
Look at, say, Lost (American TV show). The character development of most of the characters is virtually non-existent, with tacked on backstory (via flashbacks) to try to shove in "explanations" of who they are after the fact (some of the characters were done better than others). There are a few characters who have a tiny bit of character growth, but usually in Lost it was done (poorly) in one of three ways:
A) They crammed in in flashbacks to 'explain' who they are, after the fact, and it feels too structured and 2 = 1+1.
B) The character was really designed for the development from the get-go, and that "development" happens a few episodes after introducing the character, and then the real status quo for that character begins, because now he "is" developed. What they had was a character they wanted to act a certain way, and used the development to justify it.
C) The character has the "development" right at the end of the show or right at the end of their life when they die, so you don't actually see them truly developed, they just have a (often clumsy) 15 minutes of their personality being suddenly different and they do one or two dramatic self-sacrificial actions to *show the audience* that they've really changed... rather than actually growing them.
 
I still enjoyed Lost. So one could say, "then it did it's job well!", but enjoyment isn't not a true-or-false equation. They could've done it much better - which is the rallying cry of of consumers - "Show/movie/game X was good, but they could've done it better". Hence, 90% of everything is crap. Of the remaining 10%, 9% of it was merely decent.
 
I was talking with an artist friend the other day, and we were discussing Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
An interesting observation she made was, (to heavily paraphrase from memory) "I like Brotherhood, but the problem with it is I like it because it doesn't do anything badly. Not because it does anything great. It's characters were very good - there wasn't any I disliked, but none were absolutely incredible. The animation was decent - it never was poor, but it was never amazing either. The writing was decent - it never was terrible. The concept and ideas that were explored were good, but not fantastic. It is a very well rounded 4-stars in every category, it's a really good show. But in not a single area is it truly 5-stars. In every way, it is merely 'not crap'. In every way, it was merely above average. I like Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood because it never disappointed me - but it never amazed me with it's quality either."
 
To be clear, we both greatly enjoyed FMA: Brotherhood (which we've watched more than once - dubbed and subbed, and we've seen the original FMA). We have tons of characters we like in there. Our criticism of it is not to say, "It should never have been made" - we, and anime, would've suffered a loss from its absence - but Our desire, as creators and consumers, is to critically examine and say, how can we improve? How can we do better? How can we not camp in the foothills, but climb still higher up the mountain? How can we challenge ourselves, and other creators, to reach farther? How can we be satisfied with merely "not crap"?
 
This is where tropes come in especially useful - and how trope classification was created, and what it was were created for. Analysis and examination (especially cross-examination) of works that already have been created, and communication of those concepts between creators and (occasionally) as a sub-language to consumers (some parts of 'genre-savvy' / all of language-of-film).
 
When you use the Dewey Decimal system, you use it primarily to find what you want. It leads you to your goal.
When you use the Thompson motif system, or the Trope system, you use it (primarily) to understand what you already have.
 
I'm not saying you can't make good characters by starting with a trope and working from there. I'm saying, you can make better characters by not thinking too heavily of the trope at the start of the character's creation. By not using the trope as a character frame you fill in or merely spill an inch or two out of.
 

if you develop your characters by giving them lives that have influenced their personalities, then I do not see the harm.

 
You're working in reverse. "Here's my trope for this character. What can I cram into his backstory to justify it?". The backstory of such characters don't influence their personality, instead their end-result personality is dictating their past history, and in rather forced ways, IMO.
 
Think of when a character in a movie or show is really cool, but then they try to make a prequel that explains his origin, and trying to come up with the backstory to explain his personality after the fact, the writers terribly botch it. It sounds like what your saying is, this is the default way you should write characters: Find a trope that looks good, and try to justify it backwards, and try to character-develop it forward.
That sounds like writing a book by starting with the middle and then trying to make the beginning and end justify the middle. It might work by chance or if you're an especially skilled writer, but as a default go-to way to write a book, it doesn't sound all that great; and even if you are an exceptionally skilled writer, how does doing it backwards make it better than doing it forward?
 
When I'm pouring concrete, I can build the frame and pour in the concrete. But when I'm making a living breathing character, I need to grow them, I need to know them. I need to understand their motivations, their desires, their flaws, their strengths, their histories. What choices they made in the past, and why, and how it changed them and the people around them. Not just their personality. I can't take a trope and pour history into it, or it'd just feel too forced into shape. And if I take the trope without backstory, it'd feel too empty.

 

Life is much richer than this. Two real-life shrinking violets can't just be swapped. But in many works of fiction, you practically can swap them - because they lack the depth and breadth of reality. They too neatly conform to the mould that the creators used in common.

 

[b][Edit:][/b] Bah, sorry for the wall of text - I'm not very good at being succinct. But I'm not intentionally trying to drown you out, I promise. :)

I enjoy intelligent back of forth design discussions, and your thoughts are good ones worth discussing and thinking about.

Edited by Servant of the Lord

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Put two shrinking violets in a room. Are they identical in personality or is there variation and uniqueness within it?
 ...

Take the two unique shrinking violets in a room. The "shrinking violet" is the part of their personalities that aren't unique - the part they share in common.

...

If you take a trope and set out to make "a shrinking violet" (or merely to be "inspired by" that trope), by default we automatically think of other shrinking violets from other creativity works, and subconsciously limit ourselves to stay within the scope of the trope's lowest-common-denominator, or else stay within the scope of other examples of the trope we have seen. It takes extra effort to even remember to pull ourself out of that mindset, because once we start making "an X" we are already unintentionally narrowing the scope of inspirational material we are being inspired by.

...

You're working in reverse. "Here's my trope for this character. What can I cram into his backstory to justify it?". The backstory of such characters don't influence their

personality, instead their end-result personality is dictating their past history, and in rather forced ways, IMO.

 

People change as they go through life. That is called character development. If you need to use a flashback to develop your characters, then you are doing something wrong. If you have to use backstory as an excuse for character development, then you should rewrite the narrative.

 

I say "give them lives that have influenced their personalities". That means, as an author, you need to include events in the story that affect their lives enough to change something about them by the time the last word has been spoken, read or otherwise. If not, what was the point of the story?

 

Shannon from Umineko was quiet and obedient in the beginning of the story. Not even halfway through, we see that she becomes more bold and assertive after certain events take place. That is character development. I do not need to see a flashback or hear backstory of her past in any way because I can perceive her development in the present (they do go out of their way to talk about backstory with everyone though).

 

To reiterate: If someone has not grown or changed over the course of the story, then they have not been developed (eg. Sword Art Online, No Game No Life). Time moves forward, not backward. You didn't become who you are today without having lived up to this point, but your character will only develop in my eyes starting from the time that I meet you.

 

A shrinking violet character was not a shrinking violet from birth. They become that way for a reason.

  • Physical isolation from others can lead to a hesitancy to interact with people, often because they are afraid of having panic attacks that make interaction physically uncomfortable and often impossible (this is known as the fight or flight response, if you want to look into it)
  • Criticism from others can make that person withdrawn to avoid being in that situation of scrutiny
  • Silence can be born from experiencing consequences of varying severity for speaking out

You can write it off as you please. It is only reality summed up by a term called a "trope". If it is not fairly obvious already, I can relate. And I tend to empathize with characters who share my personality. You can take a shrinking violet and ask yourself why he or she behaves that way. That's backstory. What he or she does about it in the actual story is the important part that we as viewers need to see. If they become more withdrawn, or more open, that is development. If nothing changes, then I have wasted my time.

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If you need to use a flashback to develop your characters, then you are doing something wrong.
[...]
I do not need to see a flashback or hear backstory of her past in any way because I can perceive her development in the present (they do go out of their way to talk about backstory with everyone though).


The only time I mentioned flashbacks was in relation to Lost, which I was using as an example of doing things wrongly.  :) 
 

I don't think flashbacks are inherently bad, just not the first tool you want to reach for.

I don't think tropes are inherently bad, just not the tool you want to begin with.

 

People change as they go through life. That is called character development. If you need to use a flashback to develop your characters, then you are doing something wrong. If you have to use backstory as an excuse for character development, then you should rewrite the narrative.


I just spent three paragraphs giving examples saying almost the same thing - I don't think we're in disagreement about the importance of character development.
 

I say "give them lives that have influenced their personalities".


And I say, give them personalities influenced by their lives. If you choose a personality first, and then try to come up with a 'life' that led to that personality, it can come across as too shallow.

 

The sentence itself is almost a contradiction - "give them (future-tense) lives that have influenced (past tense) their personalities."

 

It seems like what you are saying is, create their personalities, and then create their lives and pretend the lives influenced their personalities.

What I'm saying is, give them lives first, and use those lives to actually create their personalities.

I don't think picking a trope and working backwards is the best way to create characters. You can create characters that way, but I don't think it's the right choice for maximizing creativity.
 

That means, as an author, you need to include events in the story that affect their lives enough to change something about them by the time the last word has been spoken, read or otherwise. If not, what was the point of the story?

Agreed. That's what I was complaining about in Lost (which did it poorly, except for a few exceptions), and why I was praising Breaking Bad (which did it well on pretty much every character). 
 

You can write it off as you please.

What have I written off? Character development?  :) 

I said:

"Character development is very important, but the temptation to just take a trope and leave it at that, often means (in many media, especially the majority of long-running American TV shows or Japanese Anime (and videogames)) that the character basically has a set personality chosen and they are basically the same person throughout the entire series, and that "person" that they are is shallow and virtually identical to half-dozen other shallow characters from other anime.

There are exceptions, thankfully, in both Anime and Western TV, where the characters actually do develop, and do have rich characters.

 

It is only reality summed up by a term called a "trope".


Tropes are not the "summing up" of reality, they are a shared subset of reality - they are the non-unique portions of reality trimmed down to recognizable patterns.

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Tropes are very useful tools, I just think they are the wrong tool to use to start to create a character, except as general inspiration, or, as I said, the two risks are either just take the trope and leave it at that without developing the character, and/or making the character too similar to existing characters of the same trope, because you are aiming at a target that is the averaged center of the actual unique characters the trope is inspired by.

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