Thursday, July 31, 2014

Game Writing Element: Faction of Characters

"You know what they say! There's strength in numbers!"

Coming off a busy month in terms of making a path for myself on the video game scene, I figure that I'd wrap July up with a part of game writing that is used fairly often to bulk up the foundation of stories in games. It's certainly the norm to have just one main character plunge into the levels of the game all by himself or herself and overcome the challenges that await that character, but there are some occasions when more than one main character needs to be given the focus depending on what kind of story we are writing.

This isn't specifically pointed towards the topic of playable characters and how many of them should be in a game. If you ask me about that topic, I would most likely answer the question like this. Unless it is absolutely necessary to limit the playable character roster to just 1 because of certain circumstances, then there normally shouldn't be any issues in allowing 2 to 4 different characters be established as playable. That is a basic rule that I would follow when it comes to game development, whether it's for Story Mode or for other modes.

As far as this topic goes concerning the title of this article, I am talking about just a band of video game characters, whether playable or non-playable, that stick together through thick and thin, no matter what they end up doing to affect the scope of the story. I believe that variety is needed in not only telling the story of the game but to also flesh out the world that you are presenting to the player. It's impossible even by video game standards to showcase a world that doesn't feature even one faction of characters sticking together and being friendly to one another. "This is my buddy! This is my pal! I can trust him/her with anything!"

I contend that factions of characters, as in a group of 3 or more characters, bring life to a game story and help influence it, even in the most minimal of ways. Presenting factions of characters that act on not only individual needs but also acting on the needs of them together as a team develops a new dynamic that the player will sometimes have to account for when adjusting to the game's story. Why? There may be a time down the road at a critical point of gameplay where that said faction of characters come into play, playable or non-playable, and you will need their help in order to advance in the game, so knowing the habits of character factions can certainly be made to be useful.

To give you a sample of the writing form I'd love to be doing officially, here's a representation of a character faction and how their interaction comes across in a game story, in my view.

Character A: Hey! Hey! Lookin' for 50 coins to gain access to that training facility?

Main Character: Yeah! I don't know where to go to get 50 coins! Could ya help me out?

Character B: Hold on, bub! I can help ya too! Jump on them platforms out east to reach an arcade venue! You can get your 50 coins if you just win enough arcade games, fella!

Character A: (looks at Character B) Hey! I could've told him that! Why do you always do that?

Character B: Do what? I'm just helpin' out this guy! 

Character C: And neither of you two warned him about the rude security guards in the arcade? Tsk, tsk, tsk! 

Main Character: Uh... Guys... It's no big deal, really. I'll be careful! 

Character C: You can't just be careful, dude! You may have to take down those security guards if they start chasin' ya! I know because that happened to poor me once! 

Main Character: Thanks for the tip. Are you guys best friends or what?

Character A: We sure are best buds, but really, without this SQUARE BUTTON ACTION... (bops Character B on the head) we couldn't have done much together!

Character B: OW! That hurt! 

Main Character: Square Button Action? I see... I'm on my way to the platforms! (leaves)

This was a basic and comedic way of presenting how a faction of characters work together. In this case, you get to see how these characters interact with each other in a way that comes across as cartoony, kooky and perhaps even downright silly. Some bands of friends in real life are just like this, meaning no real harm but just trying to make their own points. Characters A, B and C are clearly described as a faction of friends and in their own colorful way, they provide the Main Character some advice in how to advance in his quest.

There are examples of character factions, no matter what roles they played in games, that work so exceptionally well together that it's hard for the player to not notice their team chemistry. The impressions that a team of friends give off in their performances in scenes can stretch very far when it comes to the players remembering what their favorite scenes were in a game. Here are a few examples of what I see.

Team Sonic (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles)

Cooper Gang (Sly Cooper, Bentley, Murray)

Koopalings (Larry Koopa, Morton Koopa Jr., Wendy O. Koopa, Iggy Koopa, Roy Koopa, Lemmy Koopa, Ludwig von Koopa)

Various RPG Parties

No matter what combination of characters you use to push forward your game story, you would have to know what exactly you want the members of your character factions to do. You have to assign your characters specific roles, strengths and weaknesses, and unique features that make them stand out compared to the rest of the cast, including the other faction members. Are these characters pretty much the same? Are these characters radically different from each other? Why are they together as a team? How did they get together? What can they accomplish together as a team? These are just some questions to ask yourself from a creative standpoint.

Sometimes a character needs to play off the reactions of another character in order to have his or her positive features get noticed by the player. Whether a band of characters are aligned as heroes, anti-heroes or villains, a writer will join them together for the main purpose of expanding the possibilities of what these characters can do in dialogue, in actions and even in gameplay. Team chemistry matters in the functioning of a character faction, just as it would in sports or even in the world of professional wrestling, and the familiarity that is established between characters and players is the core interaction. Players can pick up on certain aspects and traits of characters when they see a group of 3 or more characters hanging out together. It's easier to identify who is who.

I have always found it interesting to see which kinds of characters go well together and compliment each other in ways that would be suitable for a game story, and sometimes these experiments won't pan out the way you want as a game writer. However, some experiments are bound to work and once you have found that right combination of game characters that can work well together, you allow yourself to imagine the deeper possibilities of what your game's world can be. Now doesn't that sound intriguing enough?

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