Character Motivation.

CHARACTER MOTIVATION.

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.

THE PROBLEM.


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).

THE SOLUTION.


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.

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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.

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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.

-Chris

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On stories.

There is this tendency with computer games to force the player along a story path. I think that game story writers want to tell their stories in the same way that movies or novels do. The thing with a movie or novel, is that you have complete control over what the viewer or reader is experiencing. You decide how much information is given to them, when it’s given, and deep you want to take them.
Now while that is not a bad way of going about computer game story, it doesn’t really embrace the medium, or use what some may see as a disadvantage (not having control) as an advantage.

For Stasis, when I was first developing the story, I had quite a difficult time in trying to determine how much ‘world building detail’ to include. The thing with adventure games is that, by their nature you assume that everything provided in the game world is relevant to your quest. If a butcher mentions that he takes a smoke break at 12, you store that bit of info away and try to work it into a puzzle about stealing a piece of meat. But really, that could just be some sort of character building info for the butcher, and the player will spend hours waiting for 12 to come for that smoke break.

The problem for me is that I really enjoy adding in all of those extra details. For example, in the 5 minute demo you may have noticed that each of the dead inhabitant’s had a name….later on you can find the names of those inhabitants on a computer terminal and read reports about them. Now this info has nothing to do with progressing the story-it is there for ‘flavor’.

So the big challenge comes in differentiating that info. How do you stop the player from being distracted by ‘useless’ information? My solution is, you don’t. The trick is to look at those world building pieces as part of a jigsaw puzzle that the player is putting together. The thing with a jigsaw puzzle is that you could probably put together a few pieces, and make out what the final image will be-but honestly only after putting everything together will you get a complete image….a complete experience. 

Now there are some people who are happy with just knowing what the picture is…and the trick is to cater for them as well.

In Stasis, I have 3 stories in the game. 

1-The Major Arc. This story is the driving force behind the game. It’s what propels the player forward. Most of the puzzle solving will be done to further this story. The main story follows Marachecks search for his family.

2-The Minor Arc. This story runs parallel to the major arc, but is not essential to finishing the game. This story involves explanations of the environment….just what is happening inside The Groomlake…what caused it to be abandoned..

3-The Connecting Thread. This story is the thread that connects the other 2 stories together. Again, it is not essential to finishing the game.

The idea is that, very much like an RPG, you could finish the game by just following the critical path-but you are going to have a much more fulfilling experience by taking the time to smell the roses (or in the case of Stasis, the corpses). 

I can understand why most commercial developers don’t do this. Assets are expensive. You don’t want to spend thousands on a new area, animation, or cutscene if there is a chance that the player will just bypass it. They have a ‘responsibility’ to deliver a 10 hour game experience to the people that pay for their games. As an indie, I’m not going to be charging $60 for a game, and i don’t have to make back my $30 000 000 development budget. I can afford to take risks in the story, and to have faith in the player.

-Chris

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Corridors and Cursors.

CORRIDORS.


Why is it that corridors and Sci Fi go hand in hand? Im going to blame Ridley Scott, but I know that the Sci Fi corridor fetish goes WAY back!

I think that the definitive Sci Fi corridor belongs to ALIENS!

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I dont think there is FPS around today that doesnt have an ‘ALIENS’ corridor buried in its DNA. So how can I NOT have awesome corridors in STASIS?


There is still an additional detail pass that has to happen here (extra dirt, some signage, streaks, etc), but everything here is In Game. The best part (hard to appreciate in a still) is the steam being partially sucked into the vents on the right. The fans are also each separate objects, with slightly offset animations-so they have a ‘randomness’ to them.

CURSORS.

Ive been getting quite a bit of ‘schtick’ about the ‘pie’ cursor being to big, or unnecessary. But I really like it… I like how all 3 options are on screen at all times. Now with the cursor being context sensitive, the ‘pie’ is no longer needed as you cant manually switch between the 3 options. But again, I have to wonder if the rule of cool trumps this?

Would you guys prefer a more ‘traditional’ cursor? Something that either changes to the ‘magnifying glass/eye’, ‘gripping hand’, and ‘legs’ of Sierra days? Or even something simple like an arrow, with the word ‘SCAN’ ‘INTERACT’ ‘MOVE’ underneath it?

The Original Art Test had a more traditional cursor, with the ‘Instruction’ being read by a separate part of the HUD. Thats essentially where the pie came from. Perhaps going back so something like that, without the extra HUD clutter, would be better?

I like the pie-but Im open to suggestions!

-Chris

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Portraits!

I spent a few hours this weekend on STASIS, adding in something that I’ve been meaning to put into the game for a while. Now, when dialog is spoken a little animated portrait pops up. The idea is that its linked into the Stasis Plug Suits systems, so when a computer communicates, or a radio transmission comes through its piped directly to you.

Something that I’ve added as well is, when there is dialogue going on you can still move around, interact, and play the game. Ive never quite understood why in other Adventure Games the world stops when there is Dialogue. Hell, in Beneath A Steel Sky you actually walk to a different area to have a conversation.

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Here is also a gift for you guys…a cool background. 😉

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I have gotten wonderful feedback from the 5 minute game play video I posted, so will be writing up a detailed reply to everyone who emailed/commented on the videos. I promise you that I’m taking all of your suggestions seriously, and have changed quite a few things based on the feedback. As I’ve said before, I really want STASIS to be a the absolute best game possible-and that will only happen with your guys help!

-Chris

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Inspiration, Surgery, and Links.

SURGERY AND INSPIRATION.

Hey guys,

I know Ive been out of action for a while-but fear not, development has not stopped. 😉

The reason for my lack of updates is that I went in for surgery on one of my eyes. I still cant see properly, so I dont think Ill be able to work on anything on STASIS for a few more days.

I think that all artists should use every aspect of their life as a source of inspiration. I had to be awake during the surgery, and as completely uncomfortable as that was, I really tried to take everything in/ The sounds, the way the doctors speak to each other, even the smells of the theatre. I immediately started to come up with ideas for STASIS-specifically a sequence that I think will curl some toes! See guys… I’m suffering to make the best damned game I can! 😀

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COOL LINKS…

A friend of mine asked for some web pages and stuff about Adventure Games, that I think you guys may find interesting.

There are quite a few articles on Adventure Game design if you do a search.for ‘puzzle design in adventure games’.

Here are some of my favourites:

http://www.adventureclassicgaming.com/index.php/site/features/423/

http://www.scottkim.com/thinkinggames/GDC00/bates.html

http://grumpygamer.com/2152210

For forums, BIG BLUE CUP’s forums are probably the most active from a developers point of view ( http://www.bigbluecup.com/yabb/index.php ). Its skewed to Adventure Game Studio users, but the theory and the discussions are all interesting and apply to game design in general.

From a ‘players’ point of view, there is Adventure Gamers (http://www.adventuregamers.com/forums/index.php) , which is an awesome resource. They also have a very extensive REVIEW section, which is an amazing resource to see what people like and dont like in their AG’s.

I try to read as many game POST MORTEMS as possible. Just do a google search for them and youll find a ton.

No Mutants Allowed ( http://www.nma-fallout.com/forum/index.php?sid=b73e11c3181372dfd3323530b6100601 ) has some really nice forum posts on story ideas and game mechanics. Quite a bit of it is just people hating on Fallout 3 (no idea why…I loved it!), but its always nice to read some pretty harsh critiques on games.

RPGCodex is a really cool forum for getting feedback on everything from games stories, interfaces, even just general rants about what people like and dont like in games.

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Do you guys have any cool resources/websites? Post em here, or send me a mail. 😉

-Chris

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