"Get to know you" scene for side characters


#1

I want to know players’ opinions on this:

There are four side characters you’re going to be interacting with in my story. I’m barely halfway through the first chapter and playtesters already say it feels like it’s dragging on. I propose moving a lot of my exposition about these characters into an optional scene, where the player can ask them a bunch of preset questions. This is a lot like the optional backstory dumps some other games do (Tin Star lets you have the long version, or just skip it, in the intro, for example)

Instead of this:
Meet new character
Backstory
Backstory
Backstory
More backstory.

I propose this:
Meet new character
U want backstory?
#sure
#nah

What is everyone’s opinion on this?


#2

I think it’s good as long as nothing essential to the story is in it.


#3

Definitely make the backstory skippable, so second-time readers can avoid it.


#4

Have you played Zombies Exodus? I’d suggest analysing how the characters are introduced there. I don’t recall any large background dumps regarding any of the characters but instead bits and pieces woven through the game as relevant.

You learn about Mindy, for instance, while you’re off on a mission with her and the two of you are just talking naturally. But you also learn as much about her not from asking direct questions but from that working alongside her. The two of you being thrust into a dangerous situation does far more to solidify the relationship than any just standing about and talking would.

A mission to go to the pharmacy to get some vital medication reveals aspects of other characters you wouldn’t have otherwise known.

Devlin’s a closed book for most of the game, where he doesn’t really talk to you about his past and you’ve just to guess. There’s a lot of reading between the lines that can be done but it’s to the latter half of the game, when you’ve had a chance to build up a relationship with him, that he’ll eventually talk to you about things. And by that point players are actually wanting to know what he has to say and it comes across naturally. It’s not an annoying infodump that needs to be skipped, or non-interactive backstory. You’re invested in the character.

So I’d say

Meet new character!
Do exciting thing with new character!


#5

Bluntly, I have zero interest in lengthy backstory passages at the start of the game. It’s boring, it’s information overload (you’re never going to remember half of it) and it kills the narrative, for the reasons the others have said. I mean, it’s not like that’s how you meet people in real life, is it? Good stories introduce their characters slowly, letting the details of their lives come out through your interactions with them.

That’s it in a nutshelll.


#6

The only time a ‘conversation about you’ should happen is if the plot is legitimately in downtime. Off the top of my head, Mecha Ace kind of did this. After some of the major missions, you could go walk around and choose who to talk to. In that situation, it makes sense to give the player that option, and is a good place to detail things that can’t really come up during action (family history, religion, fave color, stuff like that). But like everyone else has said, anything that you CAN work into active scenes, you SHOULD.

And as an aside, I think it can be valuable to NOT explain everything about a character, at least not ASAP. Half the fun of talking to people in games is trying to figure out who a character really is or how to make them happy/piss them off, and if you’re given a list of their likes and dislikes right at the start of the game, all of that fun is gone. For example: Devlin from Zombie Exodus is well creepy when you meet him first, especially if you are a woman, but if you put in the effort to, you can easily learn that that is not the case. That’s fun! Same with Heather or Mindy or Emma or whoever else. Having some mystery about a character makes them more real. After all, do you really know everything there is to know about YOUR friends?