在《Fire Emblem 6》中，尽管故事的主角是Lyn，Eliwood和Hector，但是玩家却是扮演着策略师Marc，即在战场上指挥着这些主角前进。Marc可以说是一个非常纯粹的游戏角色，对于推动故事的发展并没有多大作用。
所以这类型角色到底具有何种特性？通常情况下他们都不是最高级的角色，甚至很多时候他们都只是沉默不语。当我们回想起电子游戏历史上那些最具影响力的角色，我们会发现他们大多数都属于“沉默的主角”，要么就不说话，要么就是不会泄漏任何重要机密。如马里奥，Link，Samus，Crono，Chell，Gordon Freeman，Doomguy，Oldschool Sonic以及《生化奇兵》中的英雄等等。所以说大多数电子游戏中的标志性角色都属于沉默的角色。
我喜欢的另外一款游戏便是《Avernum》系列。这款游戏为玩家呈现出一个探险世界，但是却未出现任何真实的角色能够让他们进行对话。玩家可以在此决定是要成为一位孤独的英雄，还是加入一群孩童时期的好友的队列中，或者变成下层社会的一员而与同类人聚集在一块。玩家所需要做的只是创造他们的属性。有些游戏允许玩家利用一些具有基本背景故事的NPC，但是当你加入自己的团队时，这些角色将不再与你对话。甚至在《Avernum 5》中，游戏只说明你是地下一名新进的帝国士兵，即你具有这一角色所具有的特性：但是它却未明确你对帝国的忠诚度（这一点在执行主要任务时非常重要），为什么你会在一开始加入这个军队等问题。这与游戏中的非玩家控制角色（NPC）形成了鲜明的对比，NPC拥有自己的台词，工作，历史以及个性等等。在这里，每一个对话都是独特的，甚至当你面对的是商人或门卫。他们同样也会对你的团队的任何发展与变化做出回应，不管是基于名声（就像盗贼在游戏初期会想办法割破你的喉咙，但是却会在你名望大增时疯狂地逃开）还是构成。你可以在人类，蜥蜴人或猫人中做出选择。猫人属于极端自闭的群体，因为帝国一直在想办法追杀他们，所以猫人们只能尽力回避与外界的接触。我记得在《Avernum 3》中，当我不小心进入猫人的巢穴时他们并未加以阻扰，因为我身边跟着一位猫人。但是在2个小时后，当我碰到一群在外漂泊的猫人时，他们却对我们发动了攻击，因为他们讨厌那些忘记了人类对自己犯下的罪行并与人类友好相处的猫人。面对这这两种不同的反应，我不禁开始思考这位与我同行的猫人的想法，以及他对于人类的态度。也许他只是一名奴隶，或者他会是一个群体的领袖——因为他总是走在其他人前方（游戏邦注：猫人会因为找到陷阱而获得奖励）。
这也就意味着他们是故事中的重要组成部分，并且同样也包含于游戏玩法中。他们的存在将改变玩家的游戏方式。引导者将给予玩家重要提示；而同盟将积极参与游戏活动，如《超越善恶》中的Double H。在游戏故事中，Double H与Jade的关系之所以如此重要便是因为他们在大多数游戏过程中都会相互合作。
The three kinds of video games characters
by Adam Rebika
Hello everyone. After a long while without posting (been pretty busy lately, with the uni and my -still unsuccessful- research for an internship… and the release of Xcom and Dishonored too, I’ll admit.), I’m coming back with a new article, pretty much a sequel of my precedent one about the general creation of characters for stories. This time, I will focus on the specificities of characters in video games.
For this analysis, I will divide the characters in three categories, and give details about which ropes to pull to have successful characters in each of these categories.
First category: the playable character
Before going further in this part, I would like to clarify one thing. By the playable character, I am talking about the one character the player is in control of. Of course, this is, much more often than not, the “main character”, or the “hero” of the story, but this is not always the case. Here are some examples where the playable character is not the main character:
In Fire Emblem 6 (the first fire Emblem released outside of Japan, uder the title of “Fire Emblem”), while the main characters of the story are Lyn, Eliwood and Hector, the player actually incarnates “Marc”, the stategist ordering them around the battlefied. This Marc has a purely gameplay role, and is almost useless to the story.
In Baten Kaitos, a RPG released pretty late in the Gamecube’s life cycle, the player incarnates the “guardian angel” of Kalas, the main character of the story. Other characters will often refer to him in dialogs, asking him his opinion on various situations etc.
In most RPG games, where you have a team, the “playable character” is the first one you start playing with. You know, that guy who fights with a sword, has better stats than anyone else, and is always, always in your team? Especially if your game has real time fighting, it’s the one you’ll always end up controlling, because the other ones are not as fun to play as…
So, now, what are the characteristics of these characters? Usually, they’re not the most developed character around… Well, most of the time, they don’t speak at all. Just think about the most influencial characters in video games history. Most of them fall into the “silent protagonist” category, in which they either don’t speak, or don’t say anything really relevent. Mario, Link, Samus, Crono, Chell, Gordon Freeman, Doomguy, Oldschool Sonic, the hero in Bioshock… Most video games iconic characters are silent protagonists.
Silent does not always mean mute. In these games, dialogs are often implied, but not written. Add to this the fact that they usually don’t have a very developed personality.
In any other media, this paperthin main character would have been a major drawback. But in video games, I believe it is almost an obligation. This character is not really a character so as to speak, but more a window for the player to gaze through the story of the game. He is the character you’re in control of, he does what you want him to do, he acts as you want him to act, he thinks what you want him to think.
The reason I do a replay of Morrowind almost every year is mostly because the game allows me to craft the main character I want, and roleplay as I want… I once made Kahjiit thief who killed any slaver he ran into, then a proud Dunmer named Indoril who was sure of being the Nerevarine on the second he set foot on Vvardenfel, an honorable altmer mage who descended into a crime driven madness when he caught the corprus, a breton bard who had a sixth house phobia… And every single one of these experiences felt really unique, as if I played a different game each time, while still often doing the same quests over and over.
Another series I loved for this was the Avernum series. The game gave you a world to explore, but no real character so as to speak. It was up to you to decide weither you wanted to have a lone hero, a group of childhood friends, a rag-tag team of guys who ended up together for no specific reason… All you had to do was to create their stats. Some of the games actually allowed you to hire NPCs with some basic backstory, but who also stopped talking once they joined your team. Even Avernum 5, who tells you that you are a group of freshly recruited imperial soldiers sent underground, allows you this level of personnalisation: it did not tell you how loyal you were to the empire (and it matters A LOT during the main quest), why you joined the army in the first place, or anything. This contrasts highly with the the game NPCs, which all have their own lines, own business, own history, own personnality… Every dialog was unique, even with the merchants or the inkeepers. They also had reactions to your group, both his reputation (bandits would try to cut your throats early in the game, but easily run away screaming once you started to get renowned), but also his composition. You had the choice between humans, slitherins (lizardmen) or nephils (feline men). The nephils are a pretty closed people, who barely kept any contact with outsiders since the Empire tried to kill them all. I remember one point, in Avernum 3, I had run into a nephil settlement, and they allowed me in because they saw I had a nephil with me… 2 hours later, I ran into a group of travelling nephils, who actually attacked me because they hated nephils who forgot what humans did to them and befriended humans. These kinds of separate reactions for a same choice actually quickly led me to think about why exactly this Nephil was in my group, and what was his attitude towards humans. Maybe he was a slave, or maybe he was the leader of the group, since he was always the one walking in front of the others (it was actually because Nephils get a bonus for finding traps…)…
And what impessed me the most, is that the team behind these games, the guys at Spiderweb Software… Was only composed of four people at the time. Four people who managed to create, on their own, a huge, and reall well crafted world. Congrats, guys.
Anyway, time to get back on subject. Some people might complain that a silent protagonist is a huge handicap if you want a really well developped story, especially if you want a branching story. Of course, as technology develops, we can now afford to completely include the choices of the player in the game, both in terms of gameplay AND story. But you’ll have to be VERY careful with that, as it is pretty easy to get this wrong. One example is Deus Ex: Human Revolution. For 90% of the game, you are in control of every act and word did by Jensen… Until that scene where he finds Megan again. I, for one, was pretty happy rescuing her (especially since finding her back and rescuing her is a pretty long quest)… And Adam’s angry reaction completely broke the immersion for me. It was not the Adam I had imagined, it was not me.
Another game that had trouble with that was Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines. This game also left a lot of room for personnalisation… At least for the first two thirds of the game. It would appear that Troika ran out of both time and money during the last stages of development, and rushed the end of the game. Which means that, while social characters were entierly viable in the early steps of the game, during the last scenes (more precisely, starting at the Giovanni mansion), everything else is fight, fight, fight, which are the easiest and fastest levels to implement in a game.
It can be also pretty hard to include enough reactions to cover every potential reaction by the player, and have them actually matter in the game. By definition, branching storylines lead to a very big number of potential solutions, and the worst part is that most players will only experience 1 to 3 of the options you devised for them. Nah, forget what I said… The worst part is when you are doing a sequel for your game, and have to implement both new choices and previous choices (meaning creating a lot of assets that won’t be used in the game), or only make one set of choices canon and the others irrelevant (thus aliening yourself from a large part of the previous players) or make all choices irrelevant (then alienating yourself from every player).
So, to conclude this first part, I’d say that, when designing the playable character in a story-driven game, you have to remember that his role is to act as the interface between the player and the world the game is set in. Do not make him too deep, or give him any secrets, it will only break the immersion of the player. Now you might want to give him some personnality, or some specificities, but then you must be careful about what you want your player to feel and what you show your character to feel.
Second category: The staying characters
In this category I chose to put the characters that actually stay along the playable character during the whole course of the game, or a least a a long part. In most RPGs, they are the guys who join your team and fight alongside the main hero. They also usually take up the role of guides, giving the player hints and information about the world he navigates in.
Think about it. There are many games where you have a NPC that serves as a guide, either always with you or appearing out of thin air whenever you need him. Almost every Zelda game has one: Navi, Tatl, Ezlo, Midna, Fai… Other games use them: Jack in Vampire the Masquerade, Atlas in Bioshock, Vald in Magicka, Ford Cruller in Psychonauts, Bottles the Mole from Banjo-Kazooie, The Watcher in Darksiders, etc.
As I said earlier, the playable character will represent the player in the game’s world. This means that he will often know very little about said world… So it is necessary to have someone who will explain everything to him.
Actually, these characters will often be the most defining ones in the game. Their attitude towards the playable character will actually be your best tool to define him, more than anything you might want him to say or do or think. Just look, for example, at profound respect the NPCs show Gordon Freeman at the beginning of Half Life 2. How impressed they look when they talk to him. I had actually played HL2 before the first one, but this still taught me much more about my role in this universe than any introduction or cutscene or anything.
Of course, these characters are not always mentors. But the fact that they remain next to the player for long times means that they will usually be allies. Their role is primordial, they will be the ones litteraly making the story of your game. It’s these characters you need to work on, to implement in the game for real.
And it means that they should be a part of the story, right, but also included in the gameplay itself. Their presence must change the way the player plays the game. The mentors give tips to the player. Allies should actively participate in the game, such as Double H, from Beyond Good and Evil. The reason his relationship with Jade is so important in the story is mostly because they also collaborate in most gameplay parts.
Now you don’t absolutely need them to actively collaborate in the game. But you need them to have an actual influence onthe gameplay itself. Is the NPC a fighter? Have him participate in the fights. Is he a logistics specialist? Have him bring you some goods in a hard and long mission. Is he a spy? Have him give you some clues about the next level you’ll play in. Gameplay is still the most important part of video games (despite some people claiming to bring “cinematic” experiences), and what constitues 90% of the player’s experience, so you want to use this time ot help your storytelling.
Third category: The passers-by
In this third category, I will talk about the characters that the player only sees for a little while during the game.
One of the specificities of video games is that advancing in narration also implies moving to new locations. Moving through a game’s narrative is a journey, and it’s only worth being taken if, every time you move to a new chapter, you also move to a new location.
But this also means that you can’t possibly take all the characters the player met to said new location. So the vast majority of characters your player meets will only fill a small part of the narrative, and be left behind forever once the player moves to a new city / location / level / environment…
In this third category, I will throw in all kinds of characters: basic NPCs (even the mute ones), ennemies, local bosses… These characters actually are not really characters so as to say. They’re actually closer to anthropomorphic personification of the environment you’re in than actual people. Friendly NPCs are here to provide you data about the place you’re in, while hostiles ones will provide you challenges specific to said area. Indeed, I believe it’s important, here again, to actually fully integrate the environment, including the NPCs, to the gameplay. The vast majority actually do this, but some gmes still rely on recycling the same ennemies over and over, with only a handful of more specific ones.
One game that makes a good use of this idea is Bioshock. Every time you move in to a new part of Rapture, you meet new characters that clearly reflect their environments. In the medical, it’s Steinman, the mad doctor. It’s easily one of the most disgusting characters you meet in the game, and its level is the most unsettling one. Your travel also makes you meet Julie Langford, the scientist who created Arcadia. Interestingly enough, while this character is the only one not completely mad or trying to kill you, she’s also iconic of the less disturbing and threatening area of the Game, Arcadia, notable for being the only one with vegetation, natural looking flowing water (rivers, lakes etc) and light.
Obviously, these iconic characters can also be used to advance in the game’s storyline. But as the storylines of video games are very fragmented, each punctual character should first aim to make the present experience more noteworthy.
One thing you must remember that players usually look at the experience as a whole, gameplay, environment and characters.Therefore, you should make sure that every elements, including the characters, fit in the whole experience and brings something to new to the other elements, while the playable character acts as a window to this world.(source:GAMASUTRA)