Monday, July 30, 2012

Examples of characters' emotions as part of game mechanics

I was on an email thread where one game designer was asking about characters' emotions as part of game mechanics, so I shared some of my experience from being the lead designer on Wing Commander Prophecy. Wing Commander Prophecy (and many Wings) had a few systems built into it that would simulate emotions. These comments are specifically directed at WCP. We tried to do everything we could think of, from gameplay itself to the interaction of cutscenes and gameplay. My motto was gameplay first, so the movies had to support gameplay; not the other way around. In fact you could even disable movies in the options and it wouldn't affect anything. All the comms in the game told you what you needed, so the movies were not absolutely necessary to "feel" the emotion of combat or learn that there was in fact a war going on.

Shooting a friendly a couple of times would elicit a comm telling the player that "hey - I'm a good guy" written in the character's style. We had to allow for a few stray shots. Hitting an enemy would knock this back down, but if you hit them too many times in a row, you were considered a traitor and you'd be marked as an enemy and killed by Confed. It was pretty fun watching the "good guys" change into red targets.

Each pilot had a stat that told the pilots whether they would take orders or not. I believe we adjusted that based upon the number of kills you had made during the mission to simulate "leadership." Noobs would automatically follow them no matter what (ahh the redshirts) and Maniac was extremely unlikely to EVER follow orders. :)

Every pilot had comms that played when they did something and those were tuned and written to match their character. Some were verbose and others were not. Guess what Maniac's verbosity was set to? We wanted to have stoic characters as well, like Hawk, so if they said anything, it was rare. Some pilots would also eject early because they were chickens, and others would go down with the ship, ejecting at the last moment. Plot characters would always live, unless it was "their time," but we lost a lot of red shirts so we could simulate real deaths. We added new ones to the roster (you'd see them on the kill board) so you'd watch some noobs get added throughout the game.

When you returned to the Midway, we rated the damage on your ship so Rachel, the head mechanic on the ships, would give you different types of feedback.

Depending on your performance, you may have won a specific medal.

For the player that wanted to really dig into the game and add their own emotions, when pilots died, their names were listed on the Killboard as KIA. This worked for redshirts as well as main characters.

Plot that happened on the ship would directly affect comms and such, but one of the things I liked was that we made some plot deaths happen in flight where YOU caused them and if you managed to save them (I mean, really, who wants a mission where you can't possibly win), they died somewhere else and you just heard about it later. Man that was so long ago, maybe that was something in the original script that we had to cut after our budget was gutted. Anyway, you see the idea.

And never forget the interactive music! It changed based upon gameplay and the emotion we wanted to elicit. Some of the concepts that had associated tracks that would be swapped between at any time (really on the correct measure) was: no threats, threats, you're in deep shit, congrats you killed something, congrats you killed something HUGE, threats on the way, and more).

I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot more. Suffice to say, we did all we could to make the game as "personal" as we could. I'm sure most people didn't notice much if any of this, but it was there.

Hope this is somewhat interesting. Let me know what you think! bjc

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