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Article - 'Characters in General' by Guest

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

Blurb

A follow-up to Mr. Ys first article on story-writing.

Body

This is a sort of follow-up to my previous article on writing a good story, which I recommend you read before this article; to do so, go to this link: http://www.gamingw.net/content.php?id=50&cat=article . This article will go through several issues with characters and parties, as well as character development and side stories. This is the first in what is hopefully a series of articles by me, and I hope you enjoy reading it.



Characters, Character Development, and Side Stories

Naturally every RPG has the party, the main cast of characters that is thrust into each situation leading down that yellow-bricked road to the Grand Finale of the game. But how many characters do you want in the players party? Some people prefer 4 characters to make it easier for themselves- each character joins, stays with you to the end. The positive notes about this method is that there are no tricky party switchers (they can be tricky to new RM2K users), and you can control who is in the party at all times with ease so that, in cinemas and other special scenes, every character can contribute to the conversations. However, the negative parts of this method is that the player is forced to use characters he/she may not like, the strategy of battle is cut down considerably (as the player does not have to decide which characters are best for battles), and there is a smaller cast of characters that interact between themselves less and have less backstory to give. So then, why not have a party of 5-7 some characters? That is good, I suppose; you are giving the player choices and you have a larger variety of characters and histories to dish out. I prefer parties with the size of a multiple of 4, such as 8 or 12, because then you receive a great new idea to implement- (example) while Party A is off in the Dark Castle, Party B could be protecting the local township from demons and Party C could be searching for Moon Herbs; the game would switch between the three at intervals, to keep the pace exciting. In example, is it more exciting to hear that Party B was successful in defending the township, or to actually play as them during the attack? I would consider the latter better, but that is just my ol opinion.



Onto characters themselves... Try to vary them in their personalities and beliefs, for starters. Bob could be a greedy merchant that joins the party to make a map of the world, while Charlie could be a valiant Paladin that joins the party to protect his homeland. As you can see, Bob and Charlies personalities and beliefs will probably result in conflict between them- Charlie wants to help others, Bob wants to help himself; Charlie fights with honor and holy magic, Bob fights with cheap techniques and technology. As the game progresses, Charlie could try to convince Bob that there is a higher purpose in life, and that Bob should fight for their cause and not his own, but Bob objects and says he does not give a damn about anyone but himself. Whether Bob converts over to fighting for the weak is a question that will nag the player, hopefully, and nagging questions about the story that will seem to swarm and confuse the player will be very important in delivering a story; an example is FF7, a game with so complex and diverse a story that there still are arguments about its story and ending today.



This brings me to the next point, the characters side stories. Side stories are one of the things that separate professional and amateur plots; they add a sort of extra nag in the player, luring him/her into playing the game more. Side stories typically are conflicts that involve the main cast of characters, including the villain/s and anybody on the players side that does not fight and is not in the party. Side stories usually do not go into the main story of the game, but they are simply there to interest the player further and perhaps use in non-integral dialogue. An example of a side story is the conflict between Charlie and Bob mentioned in the paragraph above; it helps keep the player enthralled in the storyline. Side stories should usually start near, but not at, the beginning of the game; we do not want to rush the player into the storyline, but instead let him/her _slide_ into it. Here is an example of a rushed storyline I actually picked up from a finished game; to keep its confidentiality and spare me the wrath of its creator, the names of the characters have been changed (Note the bad grammar and spelling he used!).



[Outside a house]

Bill| Well now it seems like I am captain of the battalion, huh.

Greg| Yeah you are, get out of my way.

[Greg walks into house]

[Screen blacks out and then in, and the player is told that it is nighttime; scene is inside the house where 4 party members are sleeping]

Greg| you know why I dont like you right?

Bill| Greg why dont you like me?

Greg| I trained myw hole life to become a battleion commander and now you just got it and i have got no chance of getting it now. That is why I do not like you.

Bill| Oh so that is why you do not like me. Okay then, lets go back to sleep now.



After I read that cinema I laughed and closed the game. Not only did the game designer use bad grammar and spelling, he also rushed the side storyline far too much. Why could not we learn why Greg dislikes Bill later in the game, perhaps in the middle of it? Then near the end, the conflict is resolved as Greg decides Bill is simply a better commander. Does not that sound a little nicer?



Moving on, I want to wrap up on character development and explain side characters before I am finished. As said with side stories, develop your characters over the coarse of the entire game- to do another example with FF7, I was a little disappointed with how Cloud became such a nicer guy to AVALANCHE after meeting Aeris, as it seemed quite sudden to me. Write down what your characters start as and what they finish as, then what they are between start and finish (This will obviously be much easier if you write your story before you start building game maps). Character development is improved much more when it occurs between 2 or more characters; party members may become close friends and rely on each other for support for their problems, or party members could even have development based upon each other- an example of this is love relationships between two members of the party, when they are reacting towards each others development in the relationship as best they can.



My second-to-last paragraph will explain side characters, people with an important part in the story that are not in the party and are not the Major Villain. Firstly, it seems a bit foolish if your game has no side characters that help the party; just a happy young gang of kids off on a grand adventure, that does not sound professional and realistic. No, you should try to include side characters, people that do not ever attack anyone yet truly have great effect on the story; these may include clichéd characters like the Wise Old Man and the Cute Lovable Character That Does Not Do Anything Unless It Is Cute. As always, try to keep all your work as original as possible, avoiding clichés whenever possible.