August 12, 2008

Week 3 reading: NPC Interesting Techniques

Filed under: ECU MInT,GDT3102 Writing for Games — steve @ 2:43 pm

A reading of Freeman (2003) on NPC Interesting Techniques

Freeman (2003), in this reading, provides some interesting approaches and proposes a model for the development of interesting NPCs (Non Playing Character[s]). In order to come up with a character that is not cliché drawn from “the over-fished waters of Tolkien or Lucas” (Freeman, 2003, p. 46), a “diamond” model is proposed for the game designer to employ to identify four different traits that the NPC can demonstrate within the game narrative. However, it is pointed out that these traits should not indicate a boring character and again warns against developing traits which “we’ve frequently seen before in film, TV, or game characters” (Freeman, p. 47).

Now, this poses the question: When does a stereotype not become a cliché? How is it that Rollings and Adams (2003), while arguing against hero characters that they state are essentially unoriginal (p. 131) yet applauded the use of stereotypical American accents in Starcraft (pp. 131-132)?

No doubt Rollings and Adams, like Freeman, are trying to say “be original” and “stop knocking-off other people’s ideas”, but when is it “unoriginal” to employ an archetypical hero character that displays what one identifies with as following those archetypical traits as a major character in a game? Shouldn’t our characters be easily recognisable for our player(s) to readily identify with them – is that not part of creating an immersive and believable experience? Isn’t this why archetypes themselves have such an universal application – because they are readily identifiable? This is what Jung has to say about archetypes:

What we properly call instincts are physiological urges, and are perceived by the senses. But at the same time, they also manifest themselves in fantasies and often reveal their presence only by symbolic images. These manifestations are what I call the archetypes. (Jung, von Franz, Henderson, Jacobi and Jaffe, 1964, p. 69)

Back to Freeman: the reader is advised that many NPCs may not require four traits, that three will be sufficient and depending on the importance the NPC has in the game, it may only require one trait (2003, pp. 48, 57). Freeman does point out the difference between traits and “quirks” (p. 57) and that by giving the NPC several traits, but then going through long periods without exhibiting those traits is as good as not giving the character traits at all (p. 56). In fact, Freeman provides a list “Clearing Up Some Possible Misunderstandings” that provides some guidelines for developing major NPCs (p. 56) which will not be covered here but are virtuous none the same…

That is, with the exception of the following statement: “Nor is the idea to balance out likable (or virtuous) and unlikable (or evil) traits” (p. 56). Now, there are several archetypes, that if one were to explore in the development of their NPCs, they would find that there are certain archetypes that do exhibit extremeness in traits that do tend to balance themselves out. For example, the ‘Animal’ archetype can seem extremely cruel in how it hunts and captures its prey, however it can also appear extremely loving with how it deals with its offspring. Naturally, the ‘Animal’ archetype is not governed by the same human socially conscious values that conditions the ego of the human psychical, yet all the same if one was to employ that particular ‘Animal’ archetype in NPC then one would perhaps need to demonstrate these extremes to indicate the depth of that character’s persona.

As has been stated in the post concerning the reading of Rollings and Adams, the ‘Mother’ archetype also can very easily express extreme, often what would appear to be opposing traits. The ‘Mother’ can be both immensely caring and loving, but can also be smothering and tormenting – these are attributes of that archetype and to lessen or not take note of those extremes would perhaps instil a shallowness into the NPCs traits. The ‘Trickster’ is another archetype that, as underlying the purpose of the Trickster, would also exhibit extremely divergent traits – how else could the Trickster trick if we were not deceived by it?

Perhaps it is these divergent traits that Freeman refers to as “false fronts” and “masks” (2003, p. 59)? If so, then maybe he warns the student against “balancing out traits” (p. 56) as he indicates that in order to do this successfully it “takes fairly sophisticated writing to communicate artfully” (p. 59).

In conclusion, some interesting perspectives are offered by Freeman and his character “diamond” model is one to consider – though why a diamond and not a square, and why one would refer to a triangle or pentagram as a diamond (2003, p.48) is beyond comprehension.


Reference list

Freeman, D. (2003). NPC Interesting Techniques. Creating Emotion in Games: The Craft and Art of Emotioneering (pp. 46-59). Indianapolis, Indiana: New Riders.

Jung, C.G., von Franz, M. -L., Henderson, J. L., Jacobi, J. & Jaffe, A. (1964). Man and his Symbols. London, England: Penguin Group

Rollings, A. Adams, E. (2003). Character Development. On Game Design (pp. 122-146). Berkeley, California: New Riders.

1 Comment

  1. Is a rhomboid a diamond?

    Comment by objectman — August 15, 2008 @ 11:20 am

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