Characters and stories

I’m reading quite a bit about the respective merits of character vs. plot-based storytelling. In a previous post I asked where the new games were and I think this might be, at least heading towards, the answer.

The good old days!

Historically in gaming you take on the role of controlling the protagonist – driving the car, piloting the ship or pressing the ‘Thrust’ button at the right time so the Jetpac dude shoots the Aliens and doesn’t fall to his doom. Though now we’re creating an in-game persona through whom we interact much more immersively with the game itself. And not only interact but change and define the game to suit our, real or assumed, personalities as we go through it.

There is much to be said for this kind of immersive gameplay. What you achieve in terms of missions/quests and how you interact with the world and the characters in it has a long term effect on the way the game feels and the behaviours of the characters within it.

In Mass Effect I found it gratifying that, simply by choosing a specific set of verbal interactions with a character, I could alter the way they interacted with me – and I don’t mean the one YOU’RE thinking about either! In Fallout 3 I’m acting as naively as possible and the world is responding as such, but on the occasions where I’ve ‘got it’ the world responds with deeper immersion and more plot unfolds. This is what draws one in.

Who is Player?

Even in my favourite genre, the driving game, we are seeing more of this immersion. This has reached the point where I’m actually annoyed when I can’t define myself within the game. Need for Speed: Undercover is one game guilty of this. I’m happy with the plot line – however tenuous – but I’m not happy that I simply exist within the game as “Player”, this serves only to mentally distance me from the game and therefore become less interested in looking after ‘me’ in it. Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights (HIN) on the other hand allows me to give myself a name, a look and develop my ‘Driver DNA’ in different directions – fast, smooth cornering and overtakes vs. aggressive argy-bargy for example. The question here is, why would a simple arcade-type race game allow me to develop more of an in-game personality than a plot-driven race game? The answer can only be, in my opinion, that someone on the design team for HIN found themselves a clue.

So just how immersive, how character-driven, how ‘open’ can games become? Well, let’s take my genre and use that as an example. There are folks who are good at driving, there are folks who are good at tuning, there are folks who are good at graphics work and there are folks who are good at balancing the books. If you put all of these together, you’ve got the makings of a reasonable team. With the right components in place (and the majority are already there spread across the games) I can see a pretty decent character driven racing game where you have drivers dealing with the dirty job of racing and feeding back performance and ‘feel’ information alongside telemetry to the pit-crew who use this info to tune the car. On the business side you have the sponsorship offers being managed and placed for best financial return – coming in because of the performance of the driver in their tuned machine(s). You also have the creative guys looking after the overall look of the machine ensuring that the sponsors have their spots but also that the cars themselves look the best – this should get them noticed more by the viewers and channel hosts which also leads to greater sponsor interest.

Everything mentioned above is already in place in racing games – I think that they’re simply in the early stages of development. Will people take on these differing roles? Yes, I believe that they will. In the same way that roles are adopted in raiding teams in WoW with individuals playing to their strengths to benefit the party as a whole, roles could be adopted in other gaming spaces too.







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