Games are doing far better these days in terms of characterization and dialogue. It used to be that even in games that let you talk to whomever you wanted, they would only have the one single thing they ever said. Today, developers often weave dialogue far better into the narrative, using it to create fuller, breathing storylines.
Still, moods in a character are usually entirely linked to the pre-written dialogue. This can work well for linear situations where the game writer has full knowledge of what has happened in the story before this point, and the character can act appropriately. However, Mesmer is not a linear game.
In Mesmer we allow players to be nice or unpleasant towards any given character- Some might fear you, some will hate you. Others see you as their savior in these difficult times.
I worked together with our main animator, Aslak Helgesen, to devise a system for tracking the mood of a character. From the animation side of things, moods are expressed in certain ways- the posture of the character, their facial expression, tics like a lip shaking with fear.
Our exaggerated art style lets us do this in a way that is easier for the player to read (and less uncanny valley-inducing) than a more realistic style would have been.
We set up a system that let these things blend together with other animations, creating a nuanced performance based on the emotional state of the characters.
For instance, a person can point you in a direction while shaking with fear or with a scornful smirk, depending on their current feeling towards you. Take a look here.
Since I mentioned Aslak, I think a super brief introduction is in order as well. He has been with Rain for 6 years. Aslak did the animation for a lot of Teslagrad, and in World to the West he modelled and animated every single character and monster in the game.
Animations like this.
For a giant menagerie like this:
Play World to the West and know that everything that moves is the work of one man!
But let’s get back on track: On the dialogue side of things, rather than hard setting a specific mood for a character for each twist and turn in the text, we nudge the character a certain number of degrees towards the mood in question. What moods can characters have, and how are they interconnected? Please reference our lovely mood sheet. All arrows are allowed moods. There is no central “neutral” mood. Everyone feels at least a little bit of something.
This is our version of what is known as Plutchik’s wheel of emotions. It is fun to handle something a little more complex in a videogame setting than happy-sad, Like-Dislike and Good-Evil. Still: These emotions are all distinct enough that players can get a sense of them through animation.
A character’s personality matters as well. Their personal neutral mental state that they gravitate towards over time is always situated somewhere in the inner circle of the diagram.
Some characters wear their emotions more on their sleeves than others. Some characters in Mesmer have one or more emotions that lets you really push their buttons, for better or worse. Perhaps it’s not the best idea to insult the underground crime boss with temper issues? Or perhaps that is just what the situation requires.
For these unique mental characteristics, we use various mental traits. These have an effect on the mood of the characters and how they react to your attempts to use different methods to sway them, as well as some other game-related mechanics.
The outer circle of emotions is handled differently from the rest. All of these are extreme and take the form of outbursts. If you manage to make a character express any of these emotions, then they will go beyond the normally added layer of emotional animation and use time expressing this emotion. This always changes the flow of the dialogue.
When whatever the outburst leads to has taken its course, the character returns to the more moderate mid band of that emotion. No one can maintain an extreme emotional state for long.
Ah- And since I showed a bit of character animation, I should probably show you all what the characters actually look like in-game with the lighting and all. Take a look.
Most times this system aids us in making the world seem more alive- Characters will be affected by what you say and do to them, and this carries over from one moment to the next. Of course, for the clever or curious player, it will be possible to play with the characters’ emotions in order to get the result they want, or just to try progressing the story in an interesting or unexpected direction.
That was all for today. Again: If you have any comments or questions then I would love to hear your feedback on the Rain Games Facebook page, or on Twitter to either Rain’s official Twitter, or to my personal handle (Rainypete).
Next week I will go a bit further into the characters unique traits, and how players will be able to convince others to assist them in the dangerous task of revolution.
-Peter W. Meldahl