power may have been out in many of the conference rooms on the first
day of the E3 Expo in Los Angeles, but just shy of 9:30 in the morning
in room 404, the projector glowed strong and the faint sounds of a Red
Hot Chili Peppers "Greatest Hits" disc eased its way across the floor,
the opening act for an assembly of industry rock stars. The panel was
called "Developing better characters, better stories: How a game
character's emotion, passion, and intelligence makes the game
experience real." Moderator Ian Davis, CEO of Mad Doc Software,
responsible for Empire Earth II and Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna, chatted casually with his fellow panel members before starting the show.
the cast were Toby Gard, Game Designer for Crystal Dynamics and creator
of Lara Croft; John Milius, the Hollywood screenwriter responsible for Apocalypse Now and Conan the Barbarian, who just had his first experience in games with the script for EA's Medal of Honor: European Assault; Joe Staten, Bungie Studios' Cinematics Director for both Halo and Halo 2, and Tim Schafer, founder of Double Fine, creator of Psychonauts and former LucasArts designer, who graced us with Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Day of the Tentacle, and a good portion of the script for the original two Monkey Island games.
subject of the panel was character design, and with Lara Croft, one of
the most famous video game characters around, Gard started by
explaining his reasoning. "I had the idea of trying to make a cinematic
game," said Gard early on, referring to his Tomb Raider
creation. "Lara didn't have much of a personality," Gard continued,
stating that she was left empty in order to allow the player to project
his or her image into the character.
think Lara does have a personality," argued Schafer, "in that she
solves challenges differently than, say, James Bond." "In some ways,"
he continued, "all games are like Mechwarrior in that you're strapping on a suit that lets you do things you normally can't."
creating the most appealing character for a player, Schafer says he
likes to create a game's world, and then "find the coolest character in
it." Full Throttle, he said, as an example, was a world full of
bikers, so it seemed obvious that the player should be at the helm of
the leader of a biker game.
Staten agreed with this concept, while explaining the creation of Halo.
Early on, he says, the team weren't necessarily considering how to make
people want to play in the world they were creating. "Master Chief is
really what kicked off the creativity," he said, "in terms of how
people react to him. He's a space marine in really cool green armor."
turn, while discussing how he came to work with Electronic Arts,
Milius, coming from an outside-the-industry perspective, praised the
storytelling potentials of even the first-person shooter genre.
interesting," he said, "is that there's only so much you can do with a
first-person shooter, but we're just peeking around the corner," he
said. "Eventually you'll have this epic month-long experience where
maybe you're not always shooting, and that's coming."
lot of players think that the story is unimportant," said Schafer. "If
more care went into the stories, I think people will come to accept
them more. So rather than beating the level to get all 100 coconuts,
you're actually immersed in the story and want to see it progress. You
actually have a burning passion for the coconut that turns out to be
"Our main regret with Halo 2 is that we didn't let our players breathe," said Staten, explaining that the original Halo
had moments where the player might calmly look at the serene
atmosphere, with no action, whereas in the sequel, such moments didn't
audience member brought up the issue of so-called cutscenes,
non-interactive portions of a game used to advance the story, stating
that if a game's cutscenes were cinematically on par with movies,
players would be drawn to them more."I think that's inevitable," said
Milius, "that's where it should go."
seemed to disagree. "I have a secret goal of someday making a game
without cutscenes," he said. "It's not that I don't want that cinematic
experience, I'd just rather the interactive parts be on par with movies."
seen [movie-licensed] games with cutscenes from the actual movie," said
Gard, "and they really don't have the same impact without the movie's
are situations in an MMO where you come away and feel like you have a
story to tell, from the actions and dialects," Gard continued, in
discussion about experimenting with living interactive characters. He
hopes to one day see a comparable AI experience.
the panel looped its way round to discussing the development of
characters, Milius stressed the importance of giving them quirky,
idiosyncratic behavior. "I always like to write to the point where I
don't know what my characters are going to say," he says. "Drama is no
different, in games or movies or whatever. You have to make your
characters compelling and unpredictable."
your own characters is a different sort of research, that happens in
your own mind," said Schafer, who prefers figuring out the backstories
for each of his characters, so that when he sits down to write the
actual dialogue, the characters are well-known to him.
"It's like acting," he says, "you have to know your characters."
then asked the panel how to make game NPCs seem more real. Staten again
relates this to the first-person shooter, stating that games in this
genre "often turn into a shooting gallery."
is the most powerful tool you have as a dramatist," he said, "and I
don't think games are focusing on that. Publishers are going to
continue pushing games with nothing but action, but someday someone's
going to do it differently, and people will notice."
Finally, in response to Ernest Adams' ideal theory of an "AI dungeon master,"
which he says would strike the perfect balance between giving the
player a sense of free will while maintaining a sense of drama, Schafer
related his philosophy of making a game like a specialized amusement
park made just for the player.
if you were on the Pirates of the Caribbean," he said, referring to the
Disneyland ride, "and you walked off the rail?" Schafer says, as an
example, that rather than forcing the player to walk upstairs and see a
murder, perhaps the game itself should just kind of encourage the
player to see what's up there, in a roundabout way.
"Someday we will have that holodeck," said Davis , obviously familiar with Adams' work.