Jump to content
  • Advertisement
Sign in to follow this  
Torfas

Dunbars number for game characters

This topic is 929 days old which is more than the 365 day threshold we allow for new replies. Please post a new topic.

If you intended to correct an error in the post then please contact us.

Recommended Posts

I'm a fan of the recent XCOM games, in particular the way you get attached to the characters. Some are easier to get attached to because they are just memorable, others you get attached to because you spend a lot of time with them or go through dramatic and memorable experiences. And I shouldn't forget that you get attached to the ones that are particularly useful. But I've noticed that I have a limit for how many characters I can remember and care about.

I'm curious if there is an optimal number of characters for maximum attachment to as many characters as possible without the player ceasing to care since there are too many of them or they are too easy to replace.

I'd like to narrow it down to the kind of game where most of these characters could die and the player might be forced to make tough decisions. The goal for the designer is to make sure every death and decision has an impact on the player.

I realise that this is very situational and it depends a lot on how much time the player will spend with characters, how valuable they are, how interesting and varied they are, etc. Computer generated characters are going to be a lot different to tailor made ones.

And some players, like me, enjoy the emotional attachment while other players are purely interested in the gameplay and only use characters as pawns.

For how many characters do you think it's reasonable to expect a player to remember at least one of the three: name, nickname, last name?

How many characters do you think most players will "care" about? Where "caring" means not just being disappointed by the failure and mechanical consequences, but actually feel sad about losing the character?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Advertisement

Well, there is such number, for apes it's 150 characters max (feeling capacity), Roman legions had a reform to reduce maniple (or was it kohort?) from 80 to 60 soldiers to strengthen the bonds between soldiers. I don't remember more but try to google it, there should be more numbers.

 

But that's real life, in games we have shorter span so I strongly suspect the numbers are significantly lower than in life. Anyway, I find the "could die" problematic. I mean, if you really care about a character, and you have an emotional attachment, you should just reload the game if it dies. I mean, if you had the power to do so in real life and you cat died, wouldn't you reload the last save to prevent your beloved cat's death? :D If you include perma death the player most likely won't care about these characters since it would hurt too much if they die (and they will), so the player will just treat them as replaceable assets OR engange in save scumming.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Anyway, I find the "could die" problematic. I mean, if you really care about a character, and you have an emotional attachment, you should just reload the game if it dies. I mean, if you had the power to do so in real life and you cat died, wouldn't you reload the last save to prevent your beloved cat's death? If you include perma death the player most likely won't care about these characters since it would hurt too much if they die (and they will), so the player will just treat them as replaceable assets OR engange in save scumming.

I find the opposite. In any game with save scumming, I don't get attached to characters as I know they're never in danger. In games with permadeath, every emotion is amplified as danger is actually real and actions have non-reversible consequences. I usually avoid save scumming even when it's possible as it makes for a more interesting narrative and allows for more emotion in the game.
Even in adversarial perma-death this applies -- e.g. in the DayZ mod (before it devolved to deathmatch sniping survivors from hills for no reason), I felt real guilt for the first time ever when killing another player in an FPS, because I knew they might have spent a dozen hours on that now-dead character...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It looks like League of Legends has 129 characters. I don't play, but I'm guessing the elite players can identify all of them and understand their abilities. It's not directly applicable to your question because they aren't characters in a narrative that you're supposed to emotionally invest in, but it does suggest that with distinct abilities and graphics we can remember quite a few characters.

 

Game of Thrones is a book series, but there's probably about 60 characters I could recall fairly distinctly, of which maybe 5 I have a particularly close attachment to and maybe 20 I'd say I am (or was) invested in. Thinking back to rpg's I've played, they usually topped out around 20 or so important characters. In these cases there's a lot of narrative and dialogue. It's lower then the league of legends number, but it's deeper connections instead of just "what abilities does that sprite have?"

 

I've played a fair amount of "Out of the Park Baseball" over the years, managing fictional baseball teams in fictional universes. That's the closest to what you're talking about, I really do find myself strangely invested in the careers of these random number generators: was that rookie of the year campaign by Nguygen the fluke his scouting report says it was or is he transforming into a star? Does Kramer have another year left in him to get up to 500 HR? Can Baldwin stay healthy for just one freaking year please? In that, I probably have a distinct idea about 15-25 active players, and maybe 5-15 recently retired or traded away players. The cast slowly changes, I trade away a weak center fielder I remember from all the games he blew and quickly forget him and connect with the new one.

 

On the other hand, Massive Chalice I couldn't remember anyone, because they weren't mechanically or graphically distinct. They had names and leveled and perma-died, but one member of a class looked and played the same as the rest.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There was an interview floating about with Jake Solomon, where his team tried to find the optimal number of characters for the player to control at once.  It's not quite the same argument, as it was how much can the player control at once, but it has some overlap, in that trying to control too many characters at once is not only more taxing, it prevents you from getting attached to them.  They settled on the really small number of 4-7 for the active squad size (or whatever the max cap is, I believe it's 7, forgive me if I'm off by a little).  So I think as long as the player is limited to a small number of characters during the action portion of the game, they can get attached to decent stable of characters.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

attack attack attack defend defend defend

I'll say 6. But I may have somehow been conditioned to think that's the optimum number back in the 80's.

I suspect you could go further though with some number of teams of that size but I think there has to be some notable differences in the characters or the teams. When everybody starts to look the same, potential for attachment diminishes.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


I find the opposite. In any game with save scumming, I don't get attached to characters as I know they're never in danger.
You mean in games where you control exactly one character or multiple characters?

 

As for me, I had this feeling but only if it's a single character (you die you lose the game). But if there are multiple ones I see them as assets that will die eventually (when one dies I'm not losing the game and I'm not "allowed" to reload).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You could use the number writers use for TV shows and novels. Nine characters is easy enough for viewers and readers to feel engaged with.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
@Acharis I've been an active player of Heroes of Newerth and I learned the basics of most of the heroes, but that's more like learning the mechanics of the game through repetition and sometimes study.

I should probably have narrowed it down to attachment in one campaign/playthrough since you can get to know every single character in a game by playing lots of times, but that's not even an option in games with randomized characters.

The permadeath aspect is not necessary. the baseball game story is cool and people love the Sims. But I enjoy consequences with teeth and when I play XCOM, I play on ironman without saves (other than an option to kill the program before ending the turn if I make missclicks and I can start over on that turn. So naughty, but I hate being unfairly treated and tabletop rpgs have spoiled me.)


@Ferrous I think I've seen the link to the Solomon interview many times, but never clicked. Now I have incentives.

I believe you need to use the "Solomon number" to decide how many the player interacts with at a given time and then rotate characters, forcefully through wounds or is voluntary through niche specialties or strategic sharing of xp.

15 - 25 active characters where a handful are favorites sounds reasonable. Ever watched lost and how they suddenly introduced characters that were "always there"? Could do something like that where you have that core 20, but there are 20 other characters you don't engage with as much, but you see them every now and then and over time they might be introduced to the VIP pool mechanically by necessary or leveling up or whatever. Kind of like the rookies at the bottom of the list in xcom.

@Acharis I was thinking about games where you control multiple characters, but solo games where you engage with and have impact on the lives of a lot of npcs could work too, but you would generally not get the same amount of exposure so the number of potential VIPs will probably be lowered. Games where you control a party of people in addition to yourself are also able to build many attachments.

(It's hard to write a coherent response to everything on mobile.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You could use the number writers use for TV shows and novels. Nine characters is easy enough for viewers and readers to feel engaged with.


That's a great idea Tom. They might also have numbers for how many recurring side characters people remember.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Advertisement
×

Important Information

By using GameDev.net, you agree to our community Guidelines, Terms of Use, and Privacy Policy.

We are the game development community.

Whether you are an indie, hobbyist, AAA developer, or just trying to learn, GameDev.net is the place for you to learn, share, and connect with the games industry. Learn more About Us or sign up!

Sign me up!