298: Who Needs Friends?

Shellsh0cker

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Oct 22, 2008
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GameMaNiAC said:
Straying Bullet said:
Yeah, amazing and finally another brilliant article there.

I always enjoyed being presented with clear friends along the and this is exactly why Mass Effect I & II completely done flawless when it came to Garrus. Sure, he might be calibrating a bit too much in Mass Effect II but hear me out.

The moment you meet this guy, you simply have some Turian wanting to chase this guy Saren and escape the red tape C-Sec kept throwing out to him. But the more you progress, the further you got to learn about him. In fact, sometimes you alter his way of thinking and form a bond with this guy, he clearly might be a leader but always a loyal follower/friend/brother-in-arms because you slowly but surely established something with this guy.

The moment I saw Garrus Vakarian back on Omega, I was thoroughly surprised but overjoyed to see an old friend, much like my Shepard expressed that same joy. Thus the routine started over, but this time you have a Garrus infused with your teachings and his own, sometimes he's conflicted but you are always there to offer an ear and a advice here and there along the road.

His personal mission was intense and you could see how he was conflicted or not depending on your actions in the prequel but nevertheless, you people have eachother's back no matter what happens. Those subtle or rather grand actions made those two games so great for me. Also, Wrex is a prime example but this becoming a big rant and I think I made my point.

A game with actual friends is worth it's weight in GOLD!
I agree with all of the above. Reunion with the characters from Mass Effect really felt like you saw old friends.
This. Another great example? Star Wars: Republic Commando. The members of Delta Squad--ironically, given that they're clones--feel more like real people than many video game characters because of their personal connection. There's no way to not love Sev and Scorch constantly jabbing at each other while Fixer tells them to shut up and focus on the mission. The end of the game hit me really hard because I'd grown really attached to the characters.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time handles this similarly to Assassin's Creed II, which you mentioned. Everyone that you met in the first half of the game remembers you seven years later. Heck, one of the Gorons is named after you. How cool is that?

Anyway, great article. There's a place for the lone adventurer, but I don't think that place is nearly as big as game developers think it is.
 

Mr Jack

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Introducing old friends is a problem in games where you determine the personality of the player character.

Unless you make the friend so generic that they could be friends with just about anyone, conflicts will be inevitable. This solution only really moves the problem around, as now you have a generic boring PC who is friends with a generic boring NPC.

I cannot really see a way to give a RPG main character pre-existing friends with personality that feel real and interesting. Perhaps if you tracked the PC's personality in the early game, and then introduced a "friend" from their past who made sense given the choices you had made?

If you say to the player: "This guy is your friend", and you cannot stand the guy, and feel it would be in character for your PC to hate him, this will undermine whatever personality you try to give your character, rather than reinforce it. Of course, the situation you describe, a character who by all rights should have friends who does not is equally jarring.

Imagine if you were trying to play through Fallout NV as a Ghoul-hating Bigot, and the game insisted introduced a Ghoul character from your past as a friend.

RPG's must allow the player to create the PC's personality from scratch. Giving the PC pre-existing friends will define some level of canonical personality. This is why the "Mysterious Drifter" archetype is popular. It provides reasonable justificatiuon for the PC not having any connections with the game world, and allows the player to define their character however they please.

Where the PC has canonical personality, friends should be used to define and explore their personality.
 

agouraki

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Also a example is Mafia 2 i was truly sad at the ending i still hope joe isnt dead :( he was the best sidekick ever for a "hero" it was better than watching a movie character ...
 

Dastardly

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Chuck Wendig said:
Read Full Article
A very good topic, and handled very well. It raises some great questions for discussion, too.

The classic excuse is that games make the main character a blank slate into which the player can pour himself (or, in those rare cases, herself). And in theory, this sounds good. But if I'm supposed to create a backstory, an appearance, a style, and a personality for my character... why aren't these games allowing me to insert it? There's no place for my tale to fit, and no tools to help me wedge it in there.

The game and its protagonist are missing flavor, and providing you no seasonings. It's the same trick restaurants pull with "rich people food." You throw down $50 for an appetizer, find it awful, and you're told it's "an acquired taste," implying there's something you were supposed to bring to the table. For $50, that shit better come with taste.

Then you've got the true Blank-Slate Protagonist. The game doesn't impose an appearance, personality, or history upon you, but it gives you the tools to do it yourself. The most recent Fallout games are great about this... with the exception of F:NV's failing to deal with the Courier's prior existence, as you've noted. Even so, you choose your responses, your strengths, your weaknesses. You choose your friends and enemies. You are given a blank slate, but you're also given the chalk to actually write on it.

There is one other great thing about Fallout 3: Rather than answering a questionaire about what your character is like, you actually play out the brief story. And while this could seem forced or unnecessarily padded if done poorly, this game handles it very well. It combines your backstory with the tutorial. Two birds with one elegant stone.

(And before anyone says, "Well, it's because that kind of prologue stuff works in the Fallout world and story," I'd have to wonder do we think that happened by accident? We'd essentially be saying that it worked because they planned ahead for it. Imagine that.)

Characters need loose ends and unanswered questions to feel bigger than just the current story. There should be a sense that they existed before, and that they will exist after. Otherwise, they're not a character. They're just a mask and a glove the player wears to interact with the cold math of the gameplay, and names and faces are just convenient labels for finding the next data point.

The NPCs need this, too. That's why I love games in which NPCs are only in certain places at certain times of day, giving you the impression that they've got shit to do, too. In fact, only NPCs with depth can serve the function of a "friend" that connects your character to this deeper world. Basically, this problem won't be fixed until characters are made more important than story.
 

Eatbrainz

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I think one game that brings friends and family close to the plot is undoubtibly Dragon Age 2. The character Hawke has family, and a group of close companions soon after reaching Kirkwall. Hell, your companions have abilities that are unlocked as your relationship deepens, friend or rival.
 

Tomo Stryker

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Veterinari said:
The obvious reason for this in rpgs is that the friendless bastard is more of a blank slate, and the only games that allow you to have friends without sacrificing the player's freedom of choice are the ones that allow for background customization - either by selecting a preset background or via Fallout 3's more roundabout method where you get to play through some events.

Something I would like to add to this is that it's easy to just hand the character a bunch of connections than it is to have the character actually build friendships in gameplay. One of my favourite examples of this is actually how New Vegas handles the follower questlines. You don't just walk up to them and go "Hey, wanna travel?"(Well, ok, not to all of them). You need to enamour yourself to them via a quest-line or something. And then, once you've travelled around a bit, some of them feel that they can ask you a favour, or suggest a joint venture. That gave me a much more "real" feeling of "They ask this of me because they like me. Yay!" than I've gotten in a lot of games.

The problem with just giving a character friends as a back-story is that more often than not it doesn't make a difference when you're an hour into game-play.
This.

Excuse me, but if I'm in a FPS and I'm attempting to keep the bead of my sniper rifle on the head of the (insert terrorist, russian, covenant, candy covered unicorn) I don't want some guy I got shackled with to be rattling in my ear about how much he wants to date my sister. RPGs are different, you can create personal feeling with any character you choose (as the player, not the character).

A good example was with Alyx of Half Life (Whoops let me get my Anti-Flame shield up). Sure she could shoot and she was only practical for opening doors, but I don't want her trailing me around a level warning me every five seconds about "Zombines" or making inane remarks about how "silent" of a man I am.

In RPGs I can understand not being able to make friends in an infinite universe, but RPGs are designed to form around your actions. If you want to carry some Super Mutant Sidekick (or whatever) around then go ahead, but saying that you can't make friends in Fallout 3 or Fallout New Vegas is bullshit.
 

LadyMint

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Depending on the game, forming friendships and other relationships are often a part of the gameplay. You're stumbling into a town that you've never been in before, nobody knows you, so it's time to put your social skills to work. But I definitely agree that it seems strange so many heroes are friendless nobodies. I like it better when (just as an example) my hero has a small village that they came from which was wronged by the greater evil of the world, inspiring them to go out and set things right. It at least gives them a toehold of why they even care that evil is taking over the world, instead of the usual, "I just happened to be in the neighborhood and the only one with the stones to pick up a weapon and do something" excuse.
 

JamesBr

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Very interesting read. I am reminded of the Mother series (Earthbound). Now there is a game series that integrates characters into the game. Go to the club house in Onett and talk to other kids who recognize you and who you apparently hung out with before the events of the game. All the playable characters are like that. Everyone in Twoson is afraid for Paula's safety and is relieved when she returns safely, Jeff's roommate actually calls YOU, the Player, and asks you to take care of his friend. Mother 3 takes this to a whole other level with EVERY character (even the minor ones). All the dialog changes every time you progress the story, every character reacts progressively to the plot and your pcs affect real change in the game world. I've never seen that kind of characterization before or since. The difference it makes in the empathy generated in the player is simply amazing. You actually feel something for these characters, even though they are low-res, brightly coloured sprites.

I'm not really trying to make a point here, this article simply reminded me of this great example of character integration. If you haven't played them, for shame, they're some of the best RPGs out there.
 

brick

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Apr 14, 2009
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Firstly, AMAZING READ!

kman123 said:
The Darkness has one amazing example that I always pull out of my ass. It concerns your girlfriend Jenny...and it's an incredibly simple yet emotional scene where you spend the night with her. You can choose to leave early, choose to tell her what you really do, or choose to sit down with her and watch an entire movie. It's epic, and it's what makes the game so powerful.
I agree strongly with this, The Darkness was fantastic for making you care for the characters and from the beginning I hated having anything happen to Jenny, and genuinely wanted to seek retribution for her/my sufferings (my as in the protagonists)

I think the best relationships in games are those that are formed from some sort of direct interaction from the NPCs. For example when your team genuinely helps you out on Mass Effect or GOW. I know GOW was mainly about your actions, but every now and then Baird/Dom/Cole would catch a locust trying to flank me, thus making me glad that they were actually there.

Halo was mentioned above, and i'm not sure if it's just my naive fan-boy love for the series talking but I genuinely think there are quite a few strong bonds in the game. The part of the article that talks about no interaction between the spartans is mainly due to them being the last of their kind etc, however the soldiers do look up to you and need you to suvive a lot of the time. A better example is probably when fighting alonside the Arbiter/Elites/Spartan IIIs, as they can look after themelves in a fight and will generally watch your back; couple this with the fact that a lot of scenarios set them up to be helping you in your mission (eg when the Elites drop down in Halo 3 to combat the flood) and add some witty/over-the-top dialogue and IMO you have a perfect reason to at the very least see them as an equal in the parametres of the current mission.

I think it's probably how 'into' games you get, if you get fully immersed into a AAA game's story, chances are you'll relate more to the playable character and the NPCs, but if you blast through it just for the gamerscore, then you won't take as much from it.

Or I may just be a sad young man that needs to get out more :)
 

BlueHighwind

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Having played a lot of RPGs, it seems like video game characters to me ALWAYS have friends. Why else do all these guys follow you around all the time?
 

Zydrate

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The New Vegas point is debateable. After all, some of the Companions you gain are very friendly towards you. Veronica comes to mind. You can even get her a dress!
 
Apr 6, 2009
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Agent Larkin said:
However I need to do what I always have to do when someone mentions the Courier. They are building up to something. Go visit the Caravan Waste in New Vegas and see the graffiti taunting him. The corpses with his name above him. Complete Dead Money right and you will see the scene about "Two couriers fighting under the old flag at the great divide." Don't get me wrong the fact that no-one remembers him is quite vexing but they are working on changing that by building up to something.
I believe there was a whole back story between the Courier and another courier named Ulysses who was supposed to be in Vegas, but got scrapped and planned as DLC.

http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/Ulysses
 

Shellsh0cker

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Oct 22, 2008
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Dastardly said:
The classic excuse is that games make the main character a blank slate into which the player can pour himself (or, in those rare cases, herself). And in theory, this sounds good. But if I'm supposed to create a backstory, an appearance, a style, and a personality for my character... why aren't these games allowing me to insert it? There's no place for my tale to fit, and no tools to help me wedge it in there.

The game and its protagonist are missing flavor, and providing you no seasonings. It's the same trick restaurants pull with "rich people food." You throw down $50 for an appetizer, find it awful, and you're told it's "an acquired taste," implying there's something you were supposed to bring to the table. For $50, that shit better come with taste.
Well said, nice analogy. Allow me to expand: it's like this, developers. I am not a blank slate. I don't go through life never speaking or reacting to anything. Having the character go through life never speaking or reacting to anything makes them less relatable, not more. If you want me to impose myself on the character, that's fine, even commendable, but I have to have some means of doing that. Again, I point to Mass Effect. Perhaps I'm noble and selfless. Perhaps I'm a racist bastard. The point is that I can decide. Remember what a slate is: a writing surface. For it to work, I have to have something to write with.

Bringing this back to the topic, my character feels more like a part of the world if he or she has character and personality, whether they are defined by the developer or by me. To know others, we must first know ourselves.
 

Neuromaster

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Parts of this article I like, parts I don't. My biggest issue is that it focuses mainly on storytelling & character, and not enough on the mechanics of a playable game.

In a FPS, I see some room, but the story usually isn't played out through dialogue and people tend to dislike AI teammates. There's some room there granted, but I'd venture to say that players are more interested in exercising agency by affecting the world than listening to pre-scripted dialogue.

In a RPG there's quite a bit of room, and I'd argue some games do it quite well. Bioware and Bethesda come to mind immediately because those are what I play. New Vegas's blank slate issue a inevitable consequence of choosing an "in media res" introduction - if you want to allow players to choose if they like someone, everything has to start after the player begins the game. I don't want an "old buddy" with an irritating accent popping up and my only two options are "Hey, buddy!" and "Great to see you again!".

Action games are maybe one of the trickiest but most potentially rewarding places to think about how to expand friendship within the narrative of a game. Players tend to expect less personal agency over their character's personality and relationships than in a RPG, and are more willing to listen to scripted dialogue than in a FPS. An example that I've played might be Prototype. With relatively few minutes of cutscene I actually became somewhat attached to my sister Dana, and I was enraged when
she was abducted by the Leader-Hunter

I think that kind of thing could certainly be done better and more frequently, especially in action games.
 

mattaui

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Another excellent read by Mr. Wendig. He spouts vast amounts of equally madness-inducing genius over at his site at terribleminds.com, though more about writing in general and less about games.

I see a lot of replies in this thread that seem to be confusing making friends with already having friends. Most characters in a novel or a movie, for instance, make mention of their past and with friends they had, and quite often the story itself draws on that past and those friends, even while they're making new friends (and enemies) and setting the stage for the story to come. Far too many video game characters seem to have been disgorged from solitary confinement or returned from a twenty year trip to Mars, so that they've got no support or allies and must start anew.

Certainly, some games are tailor made for such a setup, but when it's the default in so many of them, it begins to feel a little lazy on the part of the game's writers, unless the game demands it. I've already seen mention of people disliking their in-game friends, and that's always going to be a matter of taste. GTA IV, for instance, made you feel less like your cousin was a friend and more of a liability, while Alyx, whom I enjoyed, was annoyingly cloying or chatty for some people. Every so often someone does just want to play Mr. No Name Loner Killer, and that's all they're interested in. I had a friend who never wanted to play games where you had to rely on a party or a team, for instance, much less have people from your past come bugging you.

What Chuck is really focusing on is making the game's narrative more compelling, and that requires both an interesting story and interesting characters. A person's past and their previous relationships is a large part of who they are. A secret agent who comes from a wealthy mercantile family and has friends throughout the business world compared to a secret agent who grew up in the slums and spent time in prison are both secret agents that can shoot a gun and save the world, but their stories are going to be so very different for where they came from and who they know.
 

manaman

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I would love to see a larger emphasis on story telling in games. It makes the experience that much more amazing. Noticing things like this however shows just how much games can still develop as a storytelling medium. It's been a long road for sure, but we have longer still to go.

hansari said:
Good points, but it's worth noting you can have great games and a decent story without playing the most sociable character on the planet. Portal, Hitman series, Prince of DouchePersia...if it fits, it works.

So while their is a loner theme (though not the most prevalent in video games), I think it has to be looked at in a case by case basis...I always thought the argument could be made that Mass Effect's Shephard could be more loner while still interesting...

Still quite amazing though what can be accomplished with such minor changes as you mentioned earlier in the article. What a difference it made in Half-Life just to have a few people call out your name and another to say he wants to meet up with you after work!
In portal a relationship is established with the computer. The computer obviously knows you from before you awoke in the test chamber. It may have turned psychotic and bent on destruction, but it's obviously not the first time you have been a test subject.

Hitman as well has allies. You have a relationship with the women on the other end of the comm, and in the first game several characters know the protagonist, he even enlists help from one.

I don't have a lot of experience with the new PoP games, but the old ones had a fair amount of story laid out in the game manual. Which for all the limitations of the time was as good as it was going to get.

AvauntVanguard said:
The New Vegas point is debateable. After all, some of the Companions you gain are very friendly towards you. Veronica comes to mind. You can even get her a dress!
I got her so many dresses before I found out she wanted formal ware. I killed for a dress once. It made it that much better when she got excited about it.
 

Broken Orange

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One of the most memorable moments in Half-Life 2: Episode 2, for me at least, didn't include the creepy robots that shoot exploding needles at you or Dog ripping apart a Strider. It was when Dr. Dr. Magnusson said that he would forgive Gordon for the "Microwave Casserole" incident if he was successful in his job.

Also, the scene with Alyx's near death was heart wrenching.
 

ZeroMachine

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I have to say, I disagree about Desmond Miles being an example of a disconnected character being a bad thing... because he is. He was kidnapped. Considering that in the first game all he could do was walk from room to room, and in II and Brotherhood they were trying to stay hidden, it isn't that far fetched that he wouldn't come across any childhood friends.

Now, with that said, your article is dead right. I think that's why I've recently fallen in love with Dragon Age. No matter what origin story you start with, you have a friend, and when you come across them again in the world, depending on the type of character you're building, it'll be touching, hate-filled, or something else.

If more games put that into the story, instead of just blank-slating it (I fucking hate the complete blank slate) I think that stories in games would be a lot more immersive. Hell, look at Alan Wake. By all other standards, it's just a "good" game, but because of the fact that a couple of the characters know him, and he knows them, it feels real. Well, as real as a game about an author that fights possessed people can feel...
 

Dice Warwick

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this is true, and even if you don't have friends, you do have people that know you. Like people you work with, or the people that work at you favorite lunch spot, or a bartender at the bar you stop by every now and then.

I can't remember other peoples names for the life of me, but I know that a lot of people know my name, and I'm a nobody.