I was watching Alien Resurrection on Saturday, and about halfway through, I realized that I really didn’t give a shit about anyone in that movie. The problem is that by the time you get to know them, they have already murdered 5 security guards, threatened rape, hit a woman in the face with a bar bell and kidnapped and essentially murdered 8 innocent people by stealing their cryogenic pods.
The only 2 characters you kinda feel for are Vriess (the dude in the wheelchair) and Call (spoiler…the android). But as most of the movie is based around these characters being picked off one by one, unless you actually like them it really doesn’t make a difference.
The truth is that there ARE relationships there, that SHOULD make you feel something. But these relationships are developed AfTER you have made up your mind about the characters-it’s to little to late.
Which brought up an interesting point…It’s much easier to make you dislike a character you liked, than like a character you disliked.
With the very first draft of the story, I had a similar big problem. For the first half of the game, Captain Maracheck was essentially a grave robber. As a salvager his motivation was to strip down what he could, and resell it. He spent a large portion of the game pilfering dead bodies for spare items, and going through drawers and personal items for the soul purpose of seeing what he could get out of it. Now the idea for the story arc was that he would find eventually find redemption for not only himself, but for humanity. But that was before I realised my limitations as a writer. It takes a massive amount of skill for a writer to create that sort of sympathy for a character, let alone within the ‘limitations’ that an adventure game has (not having direct control over the information you feed to the player).
I did the most painfull thing an artist can do…I scrapped everything and started over. I needed to create an instant bond between the player, and his in-game-avatar. Its a running joke in Adventure Games that the hero is always a kleptomaniac. In comedy games it works well, because you can draw attention to it, without having the player feel ‘guilty’ about what you are doing. But in more serious games (not just adventures), I feel that the games character should have a damned good reason for straying outside of the moral boundaries of the player.
There was a game called MANHUNT, which essentially followed a character who was part of a snuff film. You spent the game figuring out ways to kill people using items like pieces of metal, plastic bags, and stray wire. I just couldn’t get into it. I’m sure there are a few people out there who really got a kick out of pulling a plastic bag over someone’s head and suffocating them, or garrotting them with barb wire-but honestly I lasted 15 minutes into the game and quit.
For similar reasons I never got into the GTA series of games. Its not that I have anything against violent games…its just that I find it hard to relate to the characters in them, and loose interest quickly.
What I did in STASIS is created a situation where I felt the character would have the motivation to push through some rather horrific situations-and would do some morally ‘questionable’ things. The central question that motivates the story is ‘What would you do to save your family?’ I think that, when confronted with this question the answer for most people is ‘anything’. That really lets me push things in the game, not only by putting John Maracheck through hell, but also it provides motivation for what his REACTIONS are. It provides motivation for him going through corpses clothes, and is a constant push forwards.
I think that there is also a fine line to balance between what the CHARACTER would do, and what the PLAYER would do. When creating a CHARACTER, I think its important to leave certain parts of his personality open, and let the PLAYER fill in the blanks with his/her own personality. This pretty much ensures that the PLAYER will have some sort of connection with the game CHARACTER-and makes certain situations that much more memorable.