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October 19, 2014, 08:23:52 PM
TIGSource ForumsDeveloperCreativeWritingThe Player / Character relationship
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C.A. Silbereisen
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« Reply #20 on: March 12, 2013, 06:49:30 AM »

You can always combine the "Blank Slate" and the "Actor" by giving them a personality and changing their appearance, see also Commander Shepard.
i think player-created characters in RPGs are very different from "blank slates"
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« Reply #21 on: March 12, 2013, 07:11:00 AM »

Yeah I feel like that blank slate is a cop-out, like the story that is entirely up to you to explore. Make some decisions devs. What should I think about and what shouldn't I? I have blank sheets of paper at home. I don't need more.
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« Reply #22 on: March 12, 2013, 04:54:29 PM »

Yeah I feel like that blank slate is a cop-out, like the story that is entirely up to you to explore.
im not talking about that either, and i would argue that an "explorable" story that has enough hooks to actually make me WANT to explore it is actually good storytelling and plays to the so-called "strengths of the medium".

but i digress. what i mean is its awkward when the story is told in a conventional way but the protagonist is somehow mysteriously mute and needs other ppl to speak for him. it just creates a lot of odd situations dialog-wise and like i said its strange to play someone who's supposedly a "hero" but has no real agency in the plot.

o btw, another pet peeve is games with voice acting where you can name your character and the dialog has to be constructed in such a way that the protagonist's name is never mentioned (ex: final fantasy 10).
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« Reply #23 on: March 12, 2013, 05:37:32 PM »

Haha, yeah.  There's an interesting connection there, between giving a character a personality and giving them a fixed name.
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« Reply #24 on: March 12, 2013, 07:47:53 PM »

err... I know it's not what you meant. I was making the connection.

I figured this would come up. "Explorable" is a loose term.

A blank slate is purely explorable. The free-range story you're talking about isn't actually blank, it's suggestive. The environment hints at you and leads you around. It is a well designed playground. A blank slate is something different.

Explore is probably the wrong term for me to use. "Make up" is better. I hate having to make up reasons for why characters are doing things.
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mysteriosum
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« Reply #25 on: March 21, 2013, 09:16:24 AM »

This is a very complex subject, and I'm sure many a scholar in the future will write theses about it...

As an actor, I've learned over and over that actions is what defines a character, not words. Crono has SO much character. He acts on his own once in a while. When his team-mates despair in the year 2300, when they find out the world has already ended and this is our future, Crono says, 'No. This will not come to pass. We can change it.'  Except he says it with his movement and body language instead of words. This makes you respect him on a deeper level than if he had actually said it.

Also, the idea of Link as a silent protagonist has always bothered me. He's not a silent protagonist. He talks to everybody - we just don't see his text. Everybody responds to him. Example:

Zelda: What's your name?
...
...Link?
What a great name!

, or whatever. He just said his name!  It just wasn't displayed as a string of text. It could be considered a cop out, I suppose, but the impact it has for me is that I'm able to fill in the dialog for myself. I can decide what kind of a person Link is. That's my power as consumer. And at any rate, there's no such thing as a 'defined character' whose personality we can't interpret. Hamlet has loads of spoken lines, and yet he's been considered through the years as being depressed, suicidal, insane, brilliant, lazy, or whatever you like. There's no correct response here. Whatever Shakespeare wanted the character to be is irrelevant. It doesn't belong to him, it belongs to us.

I won't use Freeman as an example, because all the supporting characters basically tack on some personality traits for him, and like it's been mentioned, he's just some goon, effectively. You don't use any of your brilliant-scientistness to fight the bad guys...

Bioshock, on the other hand... ripe with player self-expression and interpretation. You have so many choices in that game, that each player playing the game has a different opinion of who the protagonist is. Maybe the guy is a sneaky bastard who likes to kill people from behind with a wrench. Maybe he's a ballsy mofo who's all in your face with a shotgun. Maybe he's a passionate learner, who goes out of his way to re-learn this world he can't remember. Maybe he's heartless (or at least pessimistic) and kills all the little girls that he finds. At any rate, all of the options are there, and it's the player that defines the character as the game goes on - in much the same way as the actor defines who Hamlet is.

Something that's really interesting for me is the player as its own character. Like in Starcraft, where you play 'the Commander' or 'a Cerebrate'. My favourite use of this so far was in Jonas Kyratzes' The Sea Will Claim Everything, in which the characters in the game have actually summoned you from your own room, and built a 'window' through which you see the action. And everyone sees you for what you are, an outsider, but no one judges you for it. And you're the one that rallies the people to fight against the evil Lord. You. The player.

It's so wonderful...
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« Reply #26 on: March 21, 2013, 12:27:32 PM »

Jonas Kyratzes is one of my favorite interactive storytellers.  Don't know why I don't bring him up more here.  <3
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« Reply #27 on: March 21, 2013, 02:04:32 PM »

I think the argument that Bioshock provides a lot more character that Half-Life 2 is pretty weak. Bioshock is just in vogue.

I agree it provides a little more character. You are humanized by the terror, other people reacting to you. Your hand animations are also more personal.
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« Reply #28 on: March 21, 2013, 03:19:12 PM »

The argument is not that Bioshock provides more character, but rather that it provides more opportunity for character. In either case, I'm the one that provides the character. More choice = more self-expression = more of me providing character. Call it a blank slate or a silent protagonist if you like, but in the end, it's me, the player, who provides the character. You can compare it to something like Terra in Final Fantasy, but it's really not a fair comparison. Terra's got a whole lot pre-established, which is hard to tack on your own opinions.

It's like a character in a book versus a character in a play. In these cases, I'm a reader of a book (FF), but an actor in the play (Bioshock). Bioshock is in vogue because it's a great game; I could analyze that shit for years Gentleman
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« Reply #29 on: March 21, 2013, 06:46:19 PM »

I understood what you meant. I am saying that it doesn't provide more opportunity to create character. HL2 is a better selling game than Bioshock, by 3 times.

I think Bioshock provides a strong atmosphere. It doesn't actually give you more choice. It just gives you a richer world. Then you invent your own choices in that world.

The choices you make in HL2 are more tactical. They are less humanized. I don't see Freeman as a goon, but I agree he is less of a person than the Bioshock protagonist. On the other hand the control of Freeman is a lot smoother. As a mechanics-based shooter, HL2 takes the cake, by far IMO. Bioshock is the story game.

You might find this distinction pedantic, but I don't. Bioshock gives character through context, not through choice. Context makes the player invent choice. There is a big difference between these two things. Often designers will struggle to give players more choice when really they want more meaningful choices, as Bioshock provided. So my mental flare went off when I read what you wrote. But mostly I think we're on the same page.

Another distinction: HL2 puts you into the world. Bioshock puts you inside the head of someone else.
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« Reply #30 on: March 22, 2013, 11:20:14 PM »

I'm a little bit surprised that some people seem to dislike silent protagonists in general (unless I am misunderstanding). This strategy has been employed in a lot of otherwise brilliant games, such as the first half-dozen Zelda games and Pokemon R/B/Y, and I'm not saying that this makes it a good idea, but there's no denying that tons of players have found those games to be highly effective pieces of entertainment in general, so I think the strategy shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. I think Rinku probably has it right in saying that if the protagonist is silent, they have to spend a lot of time interacting with an interesting cast of secondary characters. When this is done, though, I think the result is quite satisfying, because it doesn't try to force the player into relating to a character whose personality may displease them (see: CD-i Zelda).

I find the issue with blank slates to be that the self-definition offered in such games is something of an illusion, because no matter how many decisions you make, the character still feels blank. They display no emotion, and I'm generally a little too aware that there's nothing to keep my character who was a goody-two-shoes one moment from murdering some hapless guy the next.

I'm thinking of the Elder Scrolls when I say that, but now that I think of it this is probably a problem with Western RPGs in general. The player character's role in the game is always fixed in some way, and yet the game proposes to let the player's self-definition have some meaningful impact on the game, which it rarely can because this sort of thing is immensely difficult to design. On the one hand, the player can be proposed a series of predetermined paths, in which case all their "choices" were foreseen and thus not really free; or on the other hand, the game world can let them interact with it roughly how they like, but then the world has the same issue as a blank slate character does - it tends not to respond to player choice in any expressive way. Which is fine for an MMORPG or something like Minecraft, since those are blank slate games, but it works out rather poorly with story-oriented games. Some games succeed in this paradigm, but I think that almost none of them actually gain strength from their non-determinism - either they succeed in story-telling because they are poor at really allowing player choice (e.g. Baldur's Gate), or they succeed at being a blank slate game because the story has the sense not to get in the way (e.g. Morrowind).

I would argue that even someone like Commander Shepherd is basically a blank slate in this way, and therefore an unsatisfying design choice to me. I can make good choices as Shepherd, but I never really get to feeling like Shepherd is a good person, and same with evil choices, since in the next conversation I know I can turn the whole thing around. Basically, I'm inclined to think that such "characters" are incapable of really being characters at all, as opposed to a silent protagonist, who at least has consistency, even though the player might fill in details in his or her head.

Aside: back to the topic of names - I've always found it strange that Zelda games let you name the protagonist, even though not only is his role in the game fixed, but he has an agreed-upon canonical name. Any thoughts about why this was done and what impact it has?
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« Reply #31 on: March 22, 2013, 11:52:46 PM »

This idea about delusional control and self-definition (in-game) is interesting. I can swap personalities on a whim in Skyrim. Anyone who talks about the "freedom" in that game often dances around the subject of what gives him/her that freedom.

You need to create a map for the player to exist in - well the player's character. Say this map has 2 dimensions: evilness and courage. The player exists somewhere within that (2d) space. He may be courageously evil (self-serving), or cowardly good, etc. Every mechanic - every action the player can take - has a repercussion on that player's character's position in that map. Evil actions cause a shift and so on.

Then - here's the kicker - the player can only take actions that fall within a certain radius of his position in the map. So a good character can't do something too evil. He can do something a little evil, and work his way over if he wants. Simple system. Strong results.

The canonical "Link" name was an accident. Miyamoto said he called Link Link because he was a "link to the player" (paraphrase). That's my understanding. People then ran with it. The "G-Man" in Half-Life was named in a similar way. The game didn't give him a name, but the devs did, and it got out and stuck.

The impact is positive. You can play Link - the Link - if you want. Or you can play as yourself, like "Graham." Zelda catches the best of both worlds. Like if you want something for Christmas from your parents, get them to suggest it. Then they will feel better giving it to you, and if they choose something else they won't feel guilty. ... I'm kind of proud of myself for that analogy.
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« Reply #32 on: March 24, 2013, 08:46:09 PM »

I actually think the Paragon/Renegade system is a step in the right direction; if you're never 'Renegade' to begin with, the later [read: awesome] renegade options are never open to you.

That said, I see it as more of a mini-game in and of itself, rather than an attempt at characterisation. Often, there's a trick to getting the optimal amount of renegade points out of a situation. Like the Conrad Verner side quest. If you just intimidate him straight up, he'll get offended and never want to associate with you again. You'll net a few renegade points. But if you encourage him towards his goal of potential Spectordom, then shut him down at the end, you get waaay more renegade points than before.

And Graham: I still think there are more tactical options in Bioshock than in Half-Life. Moreover, these tactical options (weapon choice; the Research Camera; hacking; active & passive plasmids) are more integrated into the world, into the narrative. They each have a history. And, as such, they feel more important to the player. They're designed specifically to give the players the opportunity to characterise their avatar in the world. The majority of tactical choices in Half-Life are not as deep or meaningful. I agree that, technically, the mechanics are more refined in Half-Life, but your choice of favourite weapon is going to make you feel like "pistol guy" or "SMG guy". Compare to "Sadistic fucker who likes to watch his opponents burn before cracking open their skulls with the wrench," or "Technological genius who hacks everything he sees and sends his army of fighter drones to do his dirty work."

There's no such thing as the player inventing choice - the choices are all there in the game - it's how he or she interprets those choices that matters.
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« Reply #33 on: March 24, 2013, 09:07:04 PM »

I'm a little bit surprised that some people seem to dislike silent protagonists in general (unless I am misunderstanding).

That's probably because we're in a writing forum  Tongue  Ask a bunch of architects where they'd rather spend the afternoon, in a gothic cathedral or in a field of wildflowers, and see what they say.

Silent protagonists and blank slate protagonists are a time-tested approach when designing games. Plenty of players prefer them. I prefer them myself, if I had to say which.  Every time a character I'm supposed to be controlling does or says something I wouldn't have done or said myself, I withdraw from the immersion of the fantasy a little bit.

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« Reply #34 on: March 25, 2013, 01:34:59 AM »

mysteriosum.

The tactical choices in Bioshock are just more obvious. I get the vibe you don't play a ton of shooters. Bioshock made the choices accessible. There aren't more of them. Most choices in that game are mechanically meaningless. They are choices more in a narrative sense....

There is such a thing as player inventing choice. That is all there is. Choice is about perception. A game can't make you see a choice. It can't make you not see one. All it can do is suggest.

In Bioshock, whether you kill an enemy with a wrench or a gun, the game doesn't care either way. In HL2 the situation is the same. But if you choose one tactical option over the other you get different results, as-in you kill faster, sustain less damage etc. ...

The choice in Bioshock is a fabrication. You could say the wrench attack has more risk but comes with more pleasure, in which case you are weighing mechanical value vs aesthetic. You are also wasting fewer bullets. So you're kind of making a mechanical choice, but not nearly as mechanical as those you make in HL2.

Think of Counter Strike vs Bioshock 2. Both of these games went multiplayer action-combat. Which fared better? The depth of play in HL2 is far greater. Bioshock offers narrative choice, but through the player's imagination. That doesn't make those choices any less meaningful. All choices are a fabrication. I'm the one that assigns a distinction between consequences of any set of choices.

What you need to do as a player in HL2 is assign meaning to tactical choices because you see how different each one is... because you understand the consequences of each. HL2 doesn't tell you what each choice means, like Bioshock does. It expects you to assign meaning on your own. But in exchange the choices actually make a mechanically measured difference. So in essence there is rich character in both games. Bioshock has it richer, but not by a lot. It depends how you perceive each game.

Be careful about saying which type of protagonist gives the most opportunity for character. There are more things to consider. ... This is a general statement. I know your opinion doesn't contradict it.
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« Reply #35 on: April 06, 2013, 09:17:57 AM »

I see what you mean. I believe we are on the same page, and we seem to have different views of what certain words mean. Both games are different in how they treat their protagonist.

My friend just finished his first playthrough of Chrono Trigger recently. There's a theme in that game which they never fully explain, and has a lot of potential for interpretation.

I'm talking about the "Entity" they mention a couple of times. In Robo's end-game side quest, he spends 400 years tending a forest on his own. He starts to think about the events that have transpired already in the game, and comes up with an idea that some "Entity" is guiding the characters against Lavos. At the end of the game (in the "main ending" I suppose), Marle suggests perhaps the "Entity" is now at rest.

If you think of yourself as the "Entity" guiding the players - which you do, you control the majority of their movement - it becomes a very cosmic idea. The characters are almost aware of this sort of hyper-presence, some consciousness, which allows them to conquer the mightiest foe.

I also like to think about the console as part of this equation, or possibly the whole machine behind "Chrono Trigger". It's the developers who set the timeline to meet their ancestors, and their descendants, the machine that allows the experience to happen, and the player who leads the way.

I like things that are Meta, even just a little bit Smiley

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« Reply #36 on: April 08, 2013, 02:40:01 PM »

Well, that might be true, that we only use terms differently. My thing is the short-changing of good mechanics design for environmental. A good tactical choice by the player and a good narrative choice for the player are very different things. You can leverage one into the other and vice versa, but that doesn't make them the same. They give different experiences, and have to be used differently.

Meta is interesting. Dealing with the "role" of the player is tricky. Lots of games try different things with that. I like Earthbound's. Occasionally characters talk directly to the player, or allude to him. The photo shoots are tongue-in-cheek with reference to the player, and the pictures taken from them reappear in the credits - which is player focused.
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« Reply #37 on: May 12, 2013, 05:56:00 PM »

This will sound superficial, and it is, but the danger games run into when they lock the player into an actor character, as you've defined it, is that often the character is in some way difficult to relate to. I have a hard time playing a game in which I'm asked to run around as someone who looks ridiculous or says and does things that are, for lack of a better word, stupid. The more room given to a player to insert themselves into the character, or at least to not mind them, the better. You might get lucky, but there is a good chance your idea of cool or interesting is... well, niche seems a nice word to use here. I can't tell you how many games I quit on quick because I was being forced to play someone who looked lame or acted a fool or to play some strange character class I wasn't interested in.
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Brother Android
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« Reply #38 on: June 27, 2013, 10:22:26 PM »

often the character is in some way difficult to relate to.
Aren't we all?

I mean, think about your statement taken to its conclusion; the "best game" would be the one which challenges as few of its players' preconceptions as possible. It can be weird for the character you're controlling to have his/her own personality, but there are many legitimate reasons to give a game a strong, developed protagonist.
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« Reply #39 on: June 28, 2013, 02:38:37 AM »

Right but there's a danger there too.

Take Japan for instance. That culture is more focused on "group harmony." So people are taught their whole lives to respect the needs of others and bend to their will, as a priority, before engaging in self-expression.

Ok, in the west we express more, as a priority. Extra Credits did an ep. on this.

So, games. Any character we can't associate with is bad. This is true in movies, books etc. The solution isn't always to give power though. If you give freedom then the player has the same power to make _bad_ decisions. If you let a kid do whatever he wants he fucks up his life. Same thing with players.

You have to find the happy medium. And where the fuck is that? The player has to do things that _make sense_. So if you write a character, you have get the player to empathize. You give the player freedom, the players' decisions have to "make sense" in some way.

If you do a little of both everything needs to line up.
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