Innovations In Character: Personalizing RPGs, Retaining Players
June 26, 2008 Page 6 of 6
3) No direct implementation. There could be no game effect at all, with these systems functioning merely as a tool for the player to flesh out the personality of his or her character, and to use when communicating and playing (role playing) with other players. This might be a good tool for the Neverwinter player community to introduce new players to role playing and to assist experienced role players - just like in tabletop RPGs.
The three examples above suggest that there a at least a handful of different options for integrating more complex character constructs in digital RPGs, even when the choice of which character elements to choose are determined by the players.
In practice, there are two sections of the game structure that would be affected: character creation and content creation, delivery and management.
New Reward Options
In the above some arguments for why we should consider the use of more developed player characters in RPGs. There is one important argument that is not made however: It opens up an entirely new venue for in-game reward structures which directly support the game story. This goes all the way from single-player RPGs to MMORPGs.
Imagine the arachnophobia-plagued warrior. After putting himself in situations facing spiders countless times, facing his fears, he finally learns to control that fear.
This is a powerful reward format because it affects the player characters on a personal level, and we can structure these rewards into contingencies and responses just like regular award structures (story rewards, stats rewards, item rewards) and without interfering with them.
If we can then add choice to the mix, the cocktail would appear pretty retentive - e.g. how should your character evolve? Will he lose his phobia, or gain a new advantage? Sure, not all players will want this level of character depth - this means we have a challenge in designing systems flexible enough to allow different levels of depth.
Resource Cost Vs. Benefit
The benefit of a personality system has to be weighed against the resource cost of designing and implementing it. Briefly put, it may not cost a lot of development resources to integrate this kind of system.
In a simple implementation, the system response to the player choices of personality and integration components could be as minimal as having NPCs alerting players to quests related to their character's personality/integration component, in order to provide the players with a game response to their characters.
In designing complex characters and the systems to support them, the characters must be created in a manner that allows players to adapt/adopt parts they like, and ignore/overpower parts they do not care about.
We can alleviate this problem from a design perspective, by giving at least a portion of the creative control to the player, and pre-design a system to respond to the choices of the players. As discussed above, this need not negatively affect the remaining game design (e.g. the game storyline).
Tabletop RPGs do not always tell fantastic stories - but they usually tell the stories their players like.
Tabletop RPGs have for the past 30 years created personalized story-based gaming experiences for players worldwide. Given their likeness with digital RPGs, it would seem there are some opportunities for leveraging these experiences.
Character generation systems can provide sets of cues for the game engine to react to and direct content after, provides a reasonably simple method for integrating soft personality components in a programming environment, is theoretically simple to design and integrate, and can be scaled to accommodate different levels of intricacy and integration.
A personality system such as that observed in many tabletop RPGs has the further advantage that it is modular, it can be designed to change appearance and stats of characters or it can be strictly parametric.
Ideally, the various approaches should be combined. Some rules-based impact of personality/integration choices could be mixed with the use of directing content based on the player personality.
With the further options for integrating rewards based on personality and integration of the character, in addition to traditional story-, stats- and object-rewards, it would appear that this is a fruitful area to investigate in more detail.
More Readings & Further Info
Gard, Toby. Building Character. Gamasutra, June 2000.
Isbister, Katherine. Better Game Characters by Design: A Psychological Approach. Morgan Kaufman, 2006.
Jackson, Steve. GURPS Basic Set: Characters. Steve Jackson Games, 2004.
Krawczyk, Marianne. Game Development Essentials: Game Story & Character Development. CENGAGE Delmar Learning, 2006.
Meretzky, Steve. Building Character: An Analysis of Character Creation. Gamasutra, November 2001.
Sheldon, Lee. Character Development and Storytelling for Games. Course Technology PTR, 2004.
Thomas, Frank and Ollie Johnson. The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation. New York: Hyperion Press, 1995.
Tychsen, Anders; Hitchens, Michael and Brolund, Thea. Character Play - The use of game characters in multi-player Role-Playing Games. ACM Computers in Entertainment, 2008.
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