Disdain for Set Main Characters

If the emperor wills it, I shall obey!

1 Like

Oh yeah, how could I skip my all-times favourite. Vampire: The Masquerade story is not that great but the characters and the intrigue (and voiceacting) are all unforgettable. The protagonist is a blank slate but the game still feels personal (you really are tired at the end, at least I was done with these bloodsuckers).

Another good example of a game with good story and a blank slate is Morrowind - though their approach to storytelling is kinda Dark Soul-ish? You have to read the books, get immersed in the lore for it to be good.

2 Likes

I think one needs to strike a right balance between the big picture and the details. This unfortunately is not easy to do.

There are various goals one wants to achieve: the first one is to let others see the world from the PC’s perspective, to put themselves in their shoes, and ask, “What would I have done if I was ___?”

In short, it all depends on what story you are telling. The above will give you a rough idea of how much background one needs to give and how preset the PC needs to be.

The thing I really have disdain for is crossing the line from interactive fiction to kinetic novel. I would say having a set MC is a red flag for me as far as the author’s intent to tell me their story vs exploring and collaborating on a story together with the player.

Interactive fiction isn’t easy to do, especially if you really want to lean into player agency (or even just the feeling of agency), but one of the easiest things to do is give the player the ability to tailor their character to their desires. “This is how I prefer people to address me, this is how I look and present myself, these are my thoughts, these are the decisions I make.” Are the things I like to have control over. “This is how the people and the world react to how you look, think, and act.” are the things I like the author to have control over. “This is who you are, this is what you do, this is what you think.” isn’t interesting to me, it’d work better as a novel but we know the novel market is so saturated nobody will likely read it while the IF market is constantly starving for new content so a number of people will probably pick up your novel disguised as a game simply because it becomes available while they’re waiting for other content to materialize.

Most of the CoG games I’ve played let you go into detail on your race/hair/eyes and then never mention them again except for keeping note of your appearance in the menu, and yet just doing that much is a sort of olive branch that tells me the author cares about my feeling of agency in the game.

I am a player who always prefers that layer of customization and agency. Divinity Original Sin wins points with me over Final Fantasy because it allows me the agency of identity that Final Fantasy doesn’t. Somehow Larian is able to make a long-form fantasy romp with a colorful cast of characters and a sprawling story while also accommodating my character identity choices. Mass Effect wins points with me over TLoU because it allows me the agency that TLoU doesn’t. Somehow Bioware was able to make a solid main character with a personal story and still provide the player with the agency of that character’s gender and appearance. Is Final Fantasy bad? Is The Last of Us bad? No, they’re amazing, but they gambled on intentionally dropping that agency of identity because they decided they had a story and characters that were engaging enough and gameplay that was good enough that relinquishing control over the MC’s identity was made up for. And they were right.

Most interactive fiction that insists on giving you a canned character to follow through their story is not able to make up for that loss of agency with other factors, because agency of identity is a pillar of the experience, and if the author doesn’t have the writing chops to incorporate simple variance in the presentation of a character to their story, they probably don’t have the writing chops to get me invested in a main character that is thrust upon me. I will play a game that has a set MC that I am interested in playing, but if I’m not interested in the MC provided, I’m not going to take a chance on the game at all, sorry.

12 Likes

Larian also gave you a choice to play either as one of the companion or create your own protagonist in BG3, AFAIK.

They could just stick with one path instead of doing that, to lessen the work, but they didn’t which I deeply love and respect Larian for that.

As much as I love SMT, i’d still prefer playing Divinity/Pathfinder/Baldur’s gate.

Part of the reason i wasn’t so hyped when Soul Hackers 2 was released, and I played BG3 early acces for the hundred times instead hahaha.

2 Likes

Actually I’ve been annoyed about not being able to name my FF characters since FFX. :smiley:

The answer lies in character creation. Whether in tabletop or video games, it’s a favorite part for RPG players and the less of it they have, the more it is likely to chafe their sensibilities.

Leaving a bad review is poor form, though. However, that’s unfortunately par the course. That speaks to a kind of community monoculture (or vocal subculture) that uses reviews and feedback to enforce their thoughts on what should be, which others above have alluded to.

All of it adds up to a simple truth: the developer should make the game they want to make and concentrate on making the best version of that they can, not accommodating the crowd. The CS community may be small relatively, but it’s diverse enough to support different points of focus and interest.

A good example of this is Samurai of Hyuga. If you went by here or Reddit, you’d think it was the worst game of all-time. Whatever your opinion of it, the series sells and reviews well, and I’ve argued before it’s because the developer hews to his vision and the games don’t slot in as easily to the average CS game. It does things most other ChoiceScript games don’t, and people have responded to that (negatively, too, per above). That doesn’t mean we need SoH clones. It does mean that people should make the game they want, and be ok with either finding their audience or not.

8 Likes