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Article - 'Making An Impact, Part 1' by KaosTenshi

An item about Plots/Characters posted on Aug 8, 2003

Blurb

Did you or someone you know cry when Aerith died? Why? A look at how to emotionally draw a player into a game, and give scenes a real impact. The first part in a multi-part article.

Body

If someone doesn’t care about a character, then they easily shrug it off when something happens to that character. When a character is nothing more than a 24x38 pixilated sprite, then no one is going to care if their pixilated guts get splattered across the floor. But when characters take on life and depth, then loosing a character can really mean something. Let’s say our main bad guy kills the best friend of our main hero. He saw it coming, but all he could do was watch as she was killed, frozen like a deer in the headlights. He feels helpless, unable to push her out of the way to save her life. When the player just can’t get to her in time, then they themselves feel as if they were unable to save a member of their party that’s been with them for a good portion of the game. Even if they know there was no way of pushing her aside, and that her death was an integral part of the story, then they’ll know what it means when the hero is in the darkest depths of depression after what he’s witnessed. The player will also be given a strong will to want to track down this bad guy, and see what happens next. Will the bad guy keep killing more people that the hero cares about? Will he be brought to justice? Will the hero feel sympathy, or nothing but burning hatred? If the bad guy dies, then will the hero feel justice was served, or will he still feel empty? That’s what suspense is all about! Far too many games get set aside and never played again because the player hit a lull, lost interest, and decided to take a never-ending break from it. What are a few of the ways of communicating strong emotions or scenes? Well, here’s a look at a few.


Atmosphere
The character could be crying his eyes out, and it wouldn’t seem to have much effect if he were standing in the middle of a bright, cheerful RTP room with a happy, upbeat hotel room tune playing in the background. It may seem like a cliché, but taking down the screen color tone a bit to give it a darker, gloomier feel can really help communicate the character’s feelings. Another often times effective technique is to bring the chroma down to, say, 10%; it gives it a gloomier feeling but not entirely monochrome, and as a nice side effect, also dulls the background enough to be able to display messages with transparent windows, making it seem more as if you’re listening to his innermost thoughts, not as if he were talking to himself. A more melancholy midi can be played here, or take a song often played when the lost party member was around and play it at a lower volume, and a slightly slower tempo so you can almost feel that he’s thinking of her without even reading the dialogue.


Ripples In The Water
If your hero wasn’t her only friend, then he won’t be the only one affected by her passing. Like a tiny pebble in a pond, the ripples will grow and expand in all directions, affecting all those who surrounded her. Characters don’t have to say they’re sad, but when they seem to talk in melancholy tones and simply not act like themselves, it seems more realistic.


Regret
Were there promises made to her that were never fulfilled? Did she never get to see the place she always dreamed of visiting, or was she never told the truth about something? If the choice is left to the player whether or not to keep promises, take her to that place, or tell her the truth, then if this isn’t done, the player will realize they made a mistake just as much as our heroes. This also counts for SERIOUS replay value!


Moving On
Let’s go get that murderer! Smite him real good… for her sake! Get those spirits back up, strap on your armor, grab your weapons, and get moving! You can’t cry forever; that makes for really anticlimactic games. Moving on doesn’t always mean forgetting; after all, vengeance is a factor now. It’s time to get that player humming that battle tune, and ready to go bludgeon a few legions of monsters and henchmen.


All of these may seem like very over-done, common scenes. But then, why are they used so often? Because they work. But remember to make your own changes; your characters won’t necessarily react the same way those in other games reacted, and not all of your characters will deal with things in the same way. If you aren’t careful to change things and put in your own twists, it will seem just like Cloud loosing Aerith all over again; it might be a nice scene, but not original.

If you have any additions of your own, such as suggestions on other ways to make an impact with the loss of characters, comments on this article, or suggestions on topics in the next part of Making An Impact, then please leave a comment.

Kaos Tenshi