Interactive Fiction and Character Development


#1

I was thinking today about how Interactice Fiction handles character development, specifically in the protagonist, and how character stats or relationship bars often lead to the game inadvertently discouraging or occasionally even outright punishing the player for trying to move the character in a different direction from how they were originally created in the beginning of the game.

For example, in a lot of games on this site you’ll have a stat showing how much the player character displays a certain trait. So you’ll have this bar on the stats screen that goes in one direction if you make say, cruel choices, and in the other if you make kind ones. Now, in some games, this bar is completely useless and doesn’t effect anything, it’s just flavor. While I have thoughts on that, it isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the games in which certain content, be it a scene, a romance option, equipment, etc. can only be accessed if the player character is on one side or the other of the bar by a certain amount. Anything less than that, and the content is inaccessible for that character.

In effect, this leads to players a) not seeing certain content due to their choices or b) actively avoiding choices they would otherwise make (and might fit into the story they want to experience within the game) because they’re afraid of locking themselves out of content. As a result, the player character ends up kind of flat, when they could be much more complex.

I could provide more examples of what I mean, but I’m already going on long enough, so I’ll close out by asking if anyone else agrees that this is a problem (or disagrees, I’m happy to be wrong) or if anyone has come to a solution, or really if anyone else has something to say on the topic.


#2

I have a theory, that this was an accidental post. :3
(Fixed now lol.)


#4

#5

It was indeed, should be fixed now! ^^;

(I had trouble thinking of a suitably embarrassed emoticon)


#6

Just use this:

bear


#7

I’m honestly in the camp that far prefers flag-based progression in terms of things like relationships an personality choices to the opposed pairs, or other arbitrary simplifications of personality. That said, while having variables set based off important choices would make for a more complex and interesting character development, I understand the cost to the developer in terms of greatly increased workload, and thus, I’m willing to tolerate it. The game often stands on its own in spite of my nitpicking.

My biggest pet peeve is what you mentioned, actually: in a game where personality stats don’t actually influence anything, why even bother tracking it with opposed pairs or percentile bars? There are games where it actually comes up, such as your personality stats affecting the ending song in Hero of Kendrickstone or contributing to how characters percieve you in Choice of Rebels, but often it just seems unnecessary.


#8

Just a thought on something you mentioned real quick…

Isn’t this pretty standard? You can’t see all content in a single playthrough, largely due to your choices. Some choices you make might lock you out of/unlock scenes further in the game.

Much like how having too low of a certain skill, like Charisma or whatever, might lock you out of being able to persuade your way into a place, having too low/high of a personality stat can lock you out of certain paths too. That doesn’t seem very weird to me.

This is just me, but I’m fine with this, too. As far as how I play IF, I usually just play through it, make whatever choices I want to make, and get the result I end up with. I’m sure not everyone plays the same way, but for me, personally, I don’t mind it.

This is kind of what I have a problem with. Stats that are there just for the flavor really shouldn’t be there. He says, despite having personality stats in his WIP that are mostly flavor.


#9

I am less than happy with the opposed-personality stat bars when they limit choice in a way that doesn’t make sense to the story. For example, a kind character who cannot perform mean interactions. But I think if these stats are used for flavor text, as NPC reactions, they can be used to far greater effect. For example, the aforementioned kind character causes a different response when they perform a callous interaction than a character who was callous from the start.

I think limiting players due to how the NPC perceives them is okay though. If an NPC does not like the character due to a particular trait, it helps them feel more “real.”


#10

I should clarify my first point there, the way I phrased it is much too broad. What I meant was certain players being barred from content due to their character’s personality, usually in a sort of arbitrary way. I remember in Lost Heir you couldn’t romance certain characters unless your Good/Evil stat was at the correct place (although I’m pretty sure you could bypass that with enough charisma, so it isn’t a perfect example), and that felt strange to me. It was weird that you could have a pretty high relationship score with the person, indicating they really like you, but unless you gave enough money to the homeless or yelled at enough orphans they wouldn’t considering dating you. It can make the moral choices of the character dependent on the reward of content, rather than the narrative, if you understand what I mean, and that kind of annoys me.

Still, being barred from certain things, especially romance, due to choices about a character’s personality can make some sense, so I see your point and it is a good one, so I’ll probably have to do more thinking on it.


#11

I actually would use Lost Heir as one of the better examples of the personality system. Unlike some games, it does let you swap from being good to evil, or vice versa, on a dime whenever you choose, which does add to the roleplaying potential. And even locking the ROs makes sense to me- one of the locked romances is a paladin that is a devout follower of the good gods of the world. It makes sense that he/she wouldn’t want to be with someone that kicks puppies for fun, no matter how much he/she might be able to see past it friendship-wise.

I think a better example (and one I would even agree with) would be the Hero’s Rise system, which actively penalizes you for not going one way 100% of the time from the very beginning. Having the fringes in the end of the first book get killed because I wanted to have a story arc moment and have my character go lawless in the third act, despite being lawful before, thus losing out on a few legend points, is a little annoying… And it also literally locks important decisions to only one choice if your stat is too high in one direction…

Yeah, that’s a tad annoying.

Addendum: My general rule of thumb in instances like this is, if the game can make a better argument than I can about why the decision is locked, I’m ok with that.

Pulling an example from Lost Heir: You have to be evil if you want to be a Necromancer. You cannot be a good Necromancer. Why? Because the rituals involved in becoming a Necromancer are so dark and stomach-churning that good characters just can’t handle it and won’t even consider the notion.

That’s fair. I have no argument for that.

Pulling an example from Heroes Rise: Saving your sidekick or saving the reporter. Because you are thoroughly committed to justice, you must save your sidekick first and foremost.

Counterargument: What if I want to save the innocent civilian that did nothing wrong? As harsh as it sounds, my sidekick knew what they signed up for when they chose to be a hero; this reporter was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Is it truly just to let an innocent person die simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time? I think not. So I should still be able to choose the reporter. But because I’m too committed to justice in the game’s eyes, I can’t.

Sorry for the long, rambling addition, I just thought I’d help explain myself a little bit.


#12

Whatever the case is, I think it must be noted for writer (or designer, or anyone) that even a villainous evil-overlord may love kittens and puppies while devoted and righteous cleric may stab a criminal mercilessly.

Personality and relationship is not something that you can track it with a simple percent bar, and rely solely on it.


#13

Just a tiny note: I would honestly say that if an author holds no interest in accounting for people showing common sense and human decency, for having a Ok fxck what have I done moment … an author should think twice if they are actually wanting to write an interactive novel.

The stats should not bar you from choices they shouldn’t bar you from.
Sure, a cloudcuckoolandish character might have approaches a more down-to-earth character might not have, but neither should be forbidden from reactions in choices. Heck, just acknowledge it as author by adding a line saying that was uncommon of them. In the flowing text, sure, there it is something different. But at a choice?
Stats like that should mainly influence other characters’ interactions with the MC. How they react to them. Aka the MCs reputation in the world.


#14

There is a realism issue with this approach. A Mafioso character in the world-at-large can be seen as an evil bird without any redeemable qualities what-so-ever. So, according to your stat-structure, all the NPC’s should react to this character in the same predictable way.

Yet, by allowing the MC Mafioso character the ability to react in an un-characteristic manner (because stats shouldn’t bar you from choices) they may treat their hometown like a Godly character would. So, now there is a contridiction that your stat structure isn’t able to handle and your systems break the reader/gamer’s immersion or sense of belief.

I’m still thinking on the OP, so I’m going to withdraw to the shadows until I gain clarity in regards to the original post.


#15

I must admit I kind of fail to see how you got that conclusion out of my statement, if I may say so.
A stat influeincing how NPCs react means that they will react differently based on their own personality, not that ALL NPCs would react the exact same.


#16

Then I fail to understand your stat mechanics.

A stat which dictates how any one particular npc will react should affect all npc characters in the same manner. I have been working on my stat mechanics for the past two hours or so, so perhaps I am muddled with confusion.

Consistency is what I thought you were advocating above not inconsistent behavior between npc characters.


#17

I think we are talking past each other while actually, essentially agreeing.

To me, a stat ‘reputation’ means the interactions differ in the sense

*if (nasty >=60) Different reaction than otherwise

To go with you Mafioso character, to me that’d be simply two (or more) different stats (nothing would be greyed out btw)
One for their reputation in the grand total, one that only affects a few people.

Take, for example Firebrand from Hero Unmasked! : To the general public he’s a dangerous, violent pyromaniac, while to many of the people in his district he’s a hero.
Were he an MC the stats and commands would be accordingly.
It comes down to how well a game is written and coded in the end, and what the author accounted for with their NPCs

Edit: Heck, Hero Unmasked! actually already holds examples of what I meant:

The two villains you can ask to help you snooping out a casino (Firebrand and Bloodmist) will reject you based on your relationship with them AND how high your idealist/cynical score is. FB will say no if you’re too cynical, BM will say no if you are too idealistic. This is perfectly in line with their characters.
Likewise, if you have a high ‘underestimated’ stat, FB will let you go after beating you in the fight after the apartment fire instead of putting you in a deathtrap because ‘you’re not worth it’.


#18

Ah, it appears clarification is necessary. In my original post I’m using a lot of words to say very little, and my points are kind of vague. Sorry about that, I’ll try to avoid it here.

In short: I think it’s weird when what I’ll call “personality stats” have the same gameplay/story affects as “core stats.”

So, what does that mean? Well, say that in the game Slammed! (which is very very good, incidentally) you have three stats that affect how you perform while wrestling: Stength, Technique, and Promo Ability, and based on how high those stats are, certain choices will go really well, and others… significantly less so. This is a standard concept, and is the basis for a lot of great games. I don’t mind it, it’s one of the mainstays of Interactive Fiction.

However, in the same game, there is a Kayfabe stat, which is essentially tracks how much of your private life you bring into the your wrestling, and this stat much like others, is best used by building it up in one direction, and not deviating from that direction. If you do, you’re caught in this middle ground where you can’t make the choices that allow you to really drastically involve reality in the wrestling, and you also can’t create more exaggerated and outrageous in-ring narratives, as these choices are blocked
off unless a character is at one extreme or the other of the stat. In essence, you are encouraged to only make the choices that correlate to your stay, except this stat doen’t
reflect ability, it reflects your character’s personality and willingness to perform certain actions. Since you are playing your character, and controlling their choices, it seems odd that you can’t choose to turn a new leaf, or start to act differently, without the game implicitly telling you this is sub-optimal.

I can tell that I’m verging into writing way too much, so I’ll try to summarize here: I’m not sure it’s fair for the game to block off choices because the stats it has tracked seems those choices out of character. I’m fine with a game saying, “You can’t steal that guy’s money, you’re thievery skill is too low,” but I don’t know if I like it when a game says “You can’t even consider stealing that guy’s money, because based on prior choices, you aren’t the sort of person that steals,” despite the player, arguably a creator of the charcter, indicating that in that situation, the character would consider stealing.

I hope I don’t come across as upset at anyone though, I only want to talk about this as a concept. Barring off choices due to a character’s morality doesn’t make the game bad, but I wonder if the game would allow for the player to have a better experience if it didn’t.