Factions

   So up until now I haven’t even talked about this RPG game. I won’t talk about it much here, still – but I have written up a comprehensive report on the reputation system it uses. This is just a first draft, but enjoy.

Factions: An NPC Reputation System

Table of Contents:

1.0  Recognizing current flaws in reputation systems

2.0  The Faction System of Reputation

a. Society

b. A world that does not revolve around the player

c.  What are Factions?

d. A word on how reputation will be handled from a programming standpoint

3.0  Guilt, Risk and Reward

a. No Maps, No Reservations

b. Weighing the rewards of good deeds with evil ones

c.  Hatred – the price of absolute evil

d. The Epic Quest

1.      How to get there

2.      What to achieve

3.      An example and a reward

e. Skill Development and Training

f.  Coming back from the Grave of Evil: How to redeem yourself

4.0  Conversing with an NPC Faction

a. Emotional Conversation

1.      Levels of Engagement

2.      Default Responses

3.      KeyWords

5.0 Conclusion

 

 

 

1. Current Flaws in Reputation Systems

 

            In 2004, Lionhead Studios released Fable, a game that prided itself on revolution. In numerous previews and game “insights” back in ’04, game reviewers told high tales of a game that let the player control his own destiny, a game epic in scope, one that “lets you build and shape your own hero, perform epic (or epically evil) deeds, and rock this videogame world like a killer hurricane,” a quote that makes Fable look like the best RPG ever made. Or rather, a quote that did make it look like a great RPG, until it was released in ’04.

            When Peter Molyneux came up with the original Fable, he lacked the programming background to design a game with such an immense scope. His ideas were an accumulation of everything RPG gamers wanted to see in an RPG game. So it’s understandable that he said Fable would be “the greatest role-playing game of all time.” But without a connection to the technology required to make those design decisions actually happen in real-time, he lacked a sense of current technological limits on game design and held Fable up on a pedestal that no one could reach.

            So what does this all have to do with reputation, other than Peter Molyneux’s reputation getting hammered after an unsettling release of Fable 1? Well, the original Fable prided itself on what was a revolutionary concept: a reputation system. Before this time, a player was either “good” or “evil,” his decisions did not really impact the world around him. Most games lacked consequences to a player’s actions, because there is no way to control what a player did in real-time. However, Molyneux figured out that while a game could never control the player’s actions, it could provide consequences for said actions, making the player feel guilt or pride based on what they did in a fictional world.

            From a design standpoint, this was revolutionary. Who wouldn’t want to play a game that let the player control who he wanted to be? But from a programming standpoint, it was nightmare. How could one come up with enough algorithms to control multiple endings, branches of the storyline, side-events, dialog trees, and exclusive quests? Unfortunately, this idea was not well-thought out.  For example, “Suppose you harm a civilian. You are now eviler than before. Suppose you help an old-lady cross the street. You are now back to the reputation you had before harming that civilian.” This is a cycle that made gaining and losing reputation seem trivial, almost boring.

            To stray from focusing on just one game, the recently-released Mass Effect imposed a reputation system (Paragon and Renegade) that had many interesting ideas but didn’t tie those ideas into the storyline. In Mass Effect, the player is given many options based on a complex dialog tree. If the player has enough skill points for Diplomacy or Intimidate, he can activate special dialog only unlockable through those means. The player is given hard choices to make sometimes, and rarely (although very remembered) is given the option of saving or killing an NPC. As a personal note, when I played Mass Effect, I sometimes got a little annoyed of how long dialog trees were and skipped past certain parts. When I rescued an NPC in a certain part of the game, the NPC seemed suspicious enough to be an enemy and try to fight me. The dialog went on too long and I lost interest, so I skipped ahead by picking random selections of dialog. This did not fair well. My character got his pistol out (albeit I was in a conversation at the time) and shot the NPC five times execution-style in the head while the NPC turned around saying something along the lines of “I guess I deserve this.” He did this in-cold-blood and even managed to say something like “alien bastard” after he was done shooting. This had a profound effect on how I viewed games, and inspired the idea of Factions in reputational gameplay. To think that games could impact the player on a psychological level is astounding, and even more astounding is that a player could feel guilty for killing a non-existent being.

            Looking back on the game, I feel that the decisions I made were important to the game world. However, I did not think that those decisions impacted the ending, nor did they impact society. A game world is supposed to immerse the player into a growing, breathing society of NPCs that have lives apart from talking to the player in conversation. When I killed an NPC, I felt guilty, but I did not feel this had an effect on anyone in society, it just meant an NPC that I could have later met up with was now dead. It didn’t change the game.

 

2. The Faction System of Reputation

 

            Now that the basic groundwork for reputation has been laid, numerous improvements must be made. While I will not go so far as to say the faction reputation system will be “revolutionary,” I will say that it is an interesting concept of a virtual society. Before I explain exactly what factions are, I need you to understand that this idea stems from the real-world as well.

            In an RPG, as in any game that makes a fictional world for itself, there is a functioning society. Just how “functioning” the society is depends on the game’s design. More often than not, RPG designers follow the traditional route of placing random NPCs in given locations called “towns.” These NPCs say traditional things like “How’s it going?” or “Can you do a favor for me?” Rather, in real society, the player cannot just walk up to another person and startup a conversation. They might get a “Hi, what are you doing?” from them, but never a “If you want to find a quest, look for Maldrin the Elder in the house two doors on the right.”

            Some game designers make the mistake of having the NPC function for and only for the player. It is as if the world revolves around the player. In real society, the world does not revolve around one person, nor will it ever. Why, then, would game designers implement such an unrealistic system?

            Well, many game designers think that the game should be focused on making the player feel that he is the center of attention. This stems from a lack of attention in the real world. In the real world, kids feel that they have no impact on the world. To overcome their need for attention, they turn to games. Games, where they can be *whoever they want to be. Unfortunately, this comes with a disclaimer. You can only play as the character in the game, you can never play a real-life simulation where you play yourself and everyone looks up to you. And that will hopefully never change, because a game like that would result in a lack of interest in real society.

            What I want to accomplish with factions is to have the player feel that they are not the center of attention, and that they have to earn their attention through hard work. Sounds educational, right? Wrong. Education does not involve slaying civilians and ransacking homes in search of an artifact that the local crime boss needs, so in return giving the player enough gold to satisfy him for the duration of the game. Education does not involve nearly meaningless acts of violence. (Well, it’s not supposed to.)

            With factions, the world does not revolve around the player himself; it revolves around the player’s actions. What the player does defines his reputation, or “attention level,” good or bad. You will get attention for performing evil acts of violence (even though it may be the locals calling you a “scumbag” who they will kill as soon as they see, and forcing you to wear a disguise for the rest of the game), and you will get attention for doing good (such as helping a poor mother find her lost son, and rescuing him from a horde of bandits without monetary reward). But regardless of which path you take, you will not gain attention by just being you. People in other towns will not personally know you, and you will not know them, until you take time to get to know them, regardless of what acts of kindness you did at the last town. And if word gets around (eventually) that you did some horrible act of violence in another town, regardless of how civilians think of you in the current town, they can still learn that you have been evil in previous cases and lose monumental trust and faith in you. You cannot simply walk into another town expecting everyone to treat you like they don’t know you, when you slayed the mayor at the last town you were at. Society does not wipe itself with a clean slate every time you visit a new town – the world is interconnected, and you are a fish in the sea.

 

c. What are Factions?

            Short and sweet, factions are subdivisions of society. They react differently to the same event. Take the poor and the rich, as an easy example. The poor would react strongly against an increase in bread prices, while the rich wouldn’t care. Similarly, an increase in taxes would make the middle class unhappy while simultaneously making the political aristocracy very wealthy.

Factions are not just financial divides, though. Thieves, bandits, shop owners, miners, soldiers, transportation workers, civilians, inn owners, politicians, monarchal figures, engineers, and others are all factions. Factions can be determined by the NPC’s job and financial status. These help determine how the game handles the NPC when it talks to a player.

For example, if a player talks to thieves, the game associates bad deeds with the thieve class. So any quests the thieves give, upon completion, will raise reputation with the thieve faction, while simultaneously lowering reputation in other factions that dislike thieves. In certain “secret” quests, if the player does not get caught, they have a chance of avoiding the dislike reputation, but only in a small fraction of quests available.

This makes factions incredibly useful when determining how an NPC should talk to a player. They can answer all the following questions: Should the NPC like the player? Can the NPC feel comfortable talking about subjects they would talk to their friends about?  Has the NPC heard about the player through gossip, maybe even wrongly informed rumors? What previous experiences did the NPC have talking to the player, were they good or bad? What is the NPC’s job, should he even engage in conversation with the player? Should the NPC attack the player based on what they have seen him do?

 

 

 

d. Factions from a Programmer’s Perspective

            In the world of design, programming limits a lot of great concepts to their bare minimum. Unlike other reputation systems, factions are quite easy to implement. Each NPC is given his/her own class definition, and likewise, each NPC becomes an object. For each map in the game, there is a designated number of NPCs along with customized stats for each NPC. These are loaded along with the map in a file that shows their location relative to the map, as well as each NPC’s faction.

            At the start of the map’s load into the game engine, the NPC’s are loading into the game as an array of NPC objects. Each of these objects is set to their respective stats illustrated in the map file the NPCs were loaded from. Once loaded, the game opens the factions file. This file controls each faction’s reputation on a scale from 1 to 100. If the faction’s rep is less than 50, then the NPC’s will have a general dislike of the player. If the faction is 0, then an NPC in that faction has never encountered the player, or even heard about him.

            The factions file saves regardless of save point – meaning, if a player steals something from a poor family, and then decides he made the wrong decision, he can load his previous location, but not his previous reputation. This focuses the player on questioning himself before heading into situations where he might not like the outcome. In this way, the integrity of the game is kept, so the player cannot decide to quit in the middle of an evil deed, he must follow through on the consequences. The quest save functions separate from the general save function we have all come to know. Once the good/evil is done, there is no way to reverse it. The player can, however, embark on a quest for remorse, which will be discussed in Section 3.e.

            Factions will control how an NPC talks to the player, not the other way around. In the game editor, when each NPC is created, a section in the NPC file is reserved for that NPC. The NPC’s physical appearance, name, faction, and comments (which will be discussed thoroughly later) will be saved for later loading into the game engine’s NPC object. The programmer may wonder “but what if the player wants to give a response to the NPC?” Where’s the functionality for answering an NPC? Well, in the comments section, the NPC’s initial comment is given and can give the user an answer with tags:

            <answer>2<Yeah, sure, I’ll help.>0< Sorry, maybe later.>-1<Thanks a lot!><quest><You’re no help…>

The above illustrates the use of tags to pose the user with an answer. The first tag tells the code it is handling an answer. The number on the right shows the number of responses. The next tag shows the first response. The number on the right shows how this will affect the faction’s reputation. The next tag shows the 2nd response, and the number on the right shows the faction’s reputation. (Yes, you can actually lose rep points by talking to an NPC and letting them down.) The next two tags (separated by a quest tag) show the NPC’s respective responses. The “<quest>” tag in the middle tells the code to activate a quest if the user has selected the 1st response. The quest activated is the one linked to the NPC during physical appearance and trait creation.

The code will assist the editor’s user by giving tooltips after the initial <answer>. In addition, multiple branches can be created by nesting <answer>s in a response, but this would get pretty confusing. This prevents conversations from being exceedingly long and drawn-out, which is a good thing in many circumstances.

In some cases, especially with story-driven NPCs, what can be said is restricted by the editor. Therefore, there will be cases where the programmer has to go into the code and trigger events manually. This is inevitable.

 

 

 

 

 

3. Guilt, Risk and Reward

 

a.   No Maps, No Reservations

This is one of the hardest tokens of game design. For any story, there must be a beginning, middle, and end, right? There is a designated path for the player to follow, regardless of their stance in the game. The player’s destiny is predetermined; they are only along for the ride. But what if we go against these basic principles that RPG games have always faithfully followed? What if there was no middle, just a beginning and end, roughly outlined for the player? Well, the player would have to find the story. They would have to discover what they were meant to do from the beginning.

The philosophy of a “story-less RPG,” has never been explored. Games always want the player to follow a specific path. But why are they doing this? Why is the player character killing monsters? Have the designers ever stopped to think of what the player would like to be doing? With factions, the possibility of a player-controlled environment can be realized. By conversing and making friends with a single faction, the player will gain insight into the world they walk on. They will gain experience, so to speak.

In a world with factions, a “map” is not necessary. Built-in UIs distract from the wonder of a world to explore. There is no sense of discovery when you can see the enemies in your radar – you’ve got to fend for yourself. Making friends with factions will give the player insight into the terrain as well as the politics. For example, an NPC could say, “By the way, if you’re looking for a good place to buy equipment, I suggest Ark’s Sword Shop to the east of here. I bought one a couple years back for protection.” You wouldn’t have known there was a shop to the east unless you would have taken time to explore the terrain, which is time-consuming and can often get you trouble with the local law (not to mention thieves and bandits which might ambush you and steal all your stuff). Now you know there is a worth-while place to the east, which justifies stocking up on potions and ammo to go “exploring.”

In addition to simple shop locations, an NPC could warn the player about a crime operation in the area, as a rumor of course. The player then can travel to the criminal’s location by himself whenever he’s ready, not as part of a quest, but for the general good of society. Without previous knowledge, the player might accidentally travel to the criminal locale and get ambushed or attacked.

Similarly, a sort of “renegade” faction could exist, and while hard to find, could prove as a worthwhile asset in discovering the player’s destiny. The renegades are enemies-turned-good by some event that they have endured. They are effectively “deserters” that could teach the player specialized skills to counter their common enemy in battle. This idea could even be taken to the point where the player would adorn himself with enemy armor and infiltrate an enemy base, assassinating an enemy leader and escaping. Of course, the complexity of the game would greatly increase if ideas like this were to be incorporated into the game.

b.  Weighing the Rewards of Good vs. Evil

With factions, there are 3 possible reputation types gained from completing a quest: gaining reputation in a faction, losing reputation, and neutrality. (Of course, for every good and evil choice, there is a choice to not do anything at all!) “Good” quests (I put good in parenthesis because “good” is a term controlled by what the player’s main faction thinks is “good,” it might not necessarily mean “for the good of the world” but more “for the good of the faction.”) are quests that improve the player’s reputation by making him do something for the good of society. “Evil” quests go against a player’s main faction, most likely for a large sum of money, and decrease a player’s reputation in society.

Little discussed, there is another important quest type: neutrality. This does not necessarily mean “good” or “evil,” and are not quests given by NPCs to accomplish a specific goal. The player alone decides if he should take a neutral quest, regardless of his faction. Neutral quests often have no rewards, and no NPC knows that you are doing them until you complete one. Then why would you complete one? For the good of society. You can simultaneously improve many different factions’ respect for you if you complete a neutral quest. For example, a mother says her child has been taken by soldiers. Later on in the game, you overhear that there is a squad of soldiers living at the local inn for the next couple days, and there is a child up for adoption. You make the assumption that the soldiers are selling the child for adoption money, and that the child might be the one the mother has lost. You rush over and, without confronting the soldiers, buy the child for $10,000, losing almost all your savings. Then, you reunite child and mother. This was not outlined for you in the game – it was just a mere coincidence, but you chose to do the right thing. Reputation in the mother’s town will greatly increase, and when rumor spreads to outlying towns, it will increase there as well: not just for one faction, but for all. Even thieves can respect you for that. So, in addition to the normal two quests, there is a new group added to help the player feel immersed in society.

Furthermore, evil quests can deteriorate the number of good quests available, and vice-versa. For example, you partake in a ransack of a miner’s warehouse. You fight and kill five miners in order to steal some goods for bandits. These bandits give you immense amounts of money for your deeds, and you gain reputation in their faction. But you also lose reputation in the mining faction, and because you killed fellow miners, you are not forbidden from remorse – meaning, your reputation is 1 out of 100 in mining. If you try to approach a mine, miners will block the mine, tell you to go away, and may even gang up on you and kill you. This is the sad reality of specializing in one faction. From the other perspective, if you help the miners defend the warehouse instead of attacking it, you will gain reputation with miners and lose it with bandits.

 

 

 

 

c.   The Price of Absolute Evil

            Too often these days RPGs focus on leveling up more than any other aspect of gameplay. This is not only annoying, it’s boring. Come on people, how many times do you expect me to murder snails for 1 exp point? It’s sort of degrading as well, to commit genocide for a few experience points. And if the race we were killing was really that weak and hunted, wouldn’t it be extinct by now? Since when does logic and reasoning not apply to RPGs?

            There is a certain immorality here that we’re just missing for some reason. We’ve become so accustomed to the preconceived notion of what an RPG is, that we fail to improve upon the genre. Mass murder or genocide is not what makes a good game, it is what makes a lifeless, boring one. Plus, after about the 100th time of killing the same thing, I feel like the game is controlling me. Kill this race, level up! There is no reason anyone should ever feel attached to commit mass murder.

            Hey, I’m not against video game violence. I actually think it sensitizes kids to violence. But this is not only immoral, it’s boring. RPGs deserve better. The price of absolute evil should be paid; every time the player harms an innocent being there should be major consequences. Killed a civilian? Alright, that’s your choice. Now you have to outrun an angry mob of townspeople, move far enough away into a town where people haven’t heard of your wrongdoing, and watch your back for the local police. Think of it as a warrant in GTA: only worse.

            And now with factions, those clothes you stole from those jujitsu fighters in a town 20 miles away? Well, the local martial arts club heard of it, and they’re out to hunt you down. Factions are the key component to the player’s reputation “bank account.” When the player moves to another town with the same faction as the previous town, most of their reputation carries over, unless the locals think differently (which can happen, if the player helps out the local residence enough).

 

 

 

d. The Epic Quest

        All this talk about factions is interesting and all,” a friend once told me, “but what makes the player play along? What drives him?” This is a question that I did not think of. And while my idea was a good one, I saw it only from one perspective. Not once did I look back and think, “wait – why would the player want to make good friends with these people? What’s the reward?”

            In real society, you make friends so you can have a good time and share your experiences (or at least I hope you do). You do not make friends expecting a monetary reward. (And if you do, then I hope you grow old, shrivel and die cold and alone.) But in games, a player looks toward a way to progress through the game, and making friends with NPCs has never been incorporated as a gaming aspect. I can’t tell you if people would want to make friends with imaginary characters regardless of reward, it has never been implemented (not well, anyway). But with the current logic applied to games, players need something that drives the game, and in RPGs, it’s huge, shiny, powerful weapons with really cool names. There’s no better reward than knowing you earned it, as well.

            After some thought, I answered my friend with two words: “Epic” and “Quest”. These defined my reasoning behind factions, and I was able to give a clear answer as to why the player wants to make friends with NPCs. This idea spawned another: to incorporate factions into skill development and training. I’ll talk about that later – but first, the Epic Quest.

1. How to get there

          Before I cover reward, there needs to be an established way to achieve the “Epic” status. The following list shows a possible list of requirements needed before such achievement is attainable:

·        Complete all/a majority of quests given by that faction

·        Complete all skill training within the faction

·        Never injure or kill a faction member – this insures that players that have previously been evil know their actions won’t be forgotten

·        Protect the faction stronghold (this holds true for a few violent or powerful factions)

·        Reach reputation of 95 or higher within that faction

      Furthermore, many factions have ranks. The top man (in miners this would be a mining boss, in aristocracy a king or queen, in local politics a mayor, for example) gives the player the epic quest – when the above prerequisites are followed, an option becomes available in conversation.

2. What to achieve

            The player doesn’t start celebrating right when he gets an Epic Quest. It takes a lot of hard work to get to an Epic Quest, and it takes even more hard work to beat one. Epic Quests are not misnamed, they are as epic as they are challenging. A sample Epic Quest would require the player to travel to a new location, single-handedly take out scores of enemies, and face a boss character, taking back an important item to the faction leader.

            But it does not just follow the simple “this is a hard quest for a rare item” format. Each Epic Quest challenges the player’s skills he gained in his faction. There are tests of endurance, strength, and skill. When the player goes into an Epic Quest, he might not come back with all his items. Everything is fair game in an Epic Quest; the player might lose all his armor, weapons, or even potions. It all depends on the faction that gave him the quest.

3. An example and a reward

            If a pyromaniac faction were to give you an Epic Quest, they might send you to an island to retrieve a flame that never goes out. On your way, you are ambushed by a tribal society where you’re forced to fight your way out. Once things start turning in your favor, rain starts falling, and your fire skills’ attacks are greatly decreased. Now you have to fend for yourself against hordes of tribal people by hiding in a very large forest and eventually find your way to a temple that houses the flame. You take the flame, and it turns out the place is booby-trapped. You turn around and there’s the tribe’s chieftain, staring you down. After beating the chieftain and proving your worth to the tribe, you are free to escape. Back on the mainland, you return the flame to the pyromaniacs. The leader gives you a reward: $50,000 and a pair of open-headed Kirpans that automatically light on fire when unsheathed. The item can only be achieved through these means, and it will probably be the most powerful weapon in the player’s arsenal, unless they are good friends with other factions.

            The reward of an Epic Quest always includes a very powerful exclusive item that has some relation to the faction itself. In a religious faction, this could be a sacred sword or something to that effect.

e. Skill Development and Training

        Based on reputation and experience, once a player has been accepting into a faction, the faction can teach him special skills and training. One of the most common examples would be a martial arts faction, where the sensei would teach you special techniques. This could apply to non-violent factions as well. Take farmers – in a farming faction, one could learn how to use a scythe to defend themselves. It can even be stretched to non-violent skills, like farming itself. The player could buy land and farm their land as a source of reliable income.

            Such abstract jobs can be gained from making friends with abstract factions, like transportation workers that lead ferries across a ravine. A player could be an apprentice to a ship captain, and eventually drive the ferry. This would be sort of an in-game minigame, and would act as a reward for the player in of itself. The ability to drive a ferry for civilians would also gain the player local reputation and respect, as well as give the player a source of income. Remember, in a faction world, your only chance to survive is to make friends with at least one faction, so you can gain money. Gone are the days of senseless killing to gradually gain money: we aren’t savages.

 

f. Coming back from the grave: Redeeming Oneself

            I have no respect for people who hold grudges against people that made one mistake. People make mistakes; it doesn’t mean that they don’t like you. That’s why I’m incorporating a redemption option into factions. Now of course, this is only if your reputation is between 2 and 30. (When it drops below 30 you can’t talk to most members of the faction, and a reputation of 1 means you have done a ridiculous act of violence towards that faction that’s unredeemable).

            To bring the player “back from the grave,” as it were, the player must complete a challenging Redemption Quest. This is given by the kindest member of the faction, and one that still has hope in you. If you complete it, the faction will respect you for your newfound commitment to their faction, and your reputation rises to 50, where you start anew. However, this requires you to take a quest that most likely will result in another faction disliking you. This is because factions often are biased towards other factions that have attacked them or stole from them. If you happen to be friends with an opposing faction, either say goodbye to your friendship, or live with the fact that the other faction hates you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Conversing with an NPC Faction

            Up to now I have discussed how factions work within the game environment, but not discussed why they exist. Sure, they can impact the game world without even needing to speak, but speaking is used to communicate to the player what is going on in the game world. With factions, conversing with NPCs give the player a progress report on how well they’re doing, not just “can I ask you for a favor?”

            The old way of communicating with NPCs is long gone. Talking with an NPC to get a quest or information out of them is old-school RPGs at its worst; it brainwashes the player into thinking NPCs are mindless androids programmed to work for the player, rather than the player working for them. In real society, people do not automatically know who you are, where you stand, and how trustworthy you are. Time and dedication can make people familiar with you, not simply “being the hero.” Too often I see games setting up a lack-luster storyline, telling the player that they are “heroic” from the start, and they must exact revenge on a main evil. The NPCs in these games follow the player like teenage girls follow Mile Cyrus; they know who the player is automatically and try to help him in his tirade over “evil”.

            While I am using a lot of pronouns, I would like to stray from my main topic and discuss an oft-overlooked fact of RPGs: girls are never main characters. I, personally, have never played an RPG with a girl as a main character, nor have I ever seen one. Who ever heard of a “heroine”? Maybe it’s because the name sounds like a drug, but maybe also because females don’t fit into the “do this quest, kill this demon” aspect of gameplay. Lately there has been a stray from traditional RPGs, and I could be wrong about a girl never being a main character, but there sure is a lack of RPGs with one.

 

 

a. Emotional Conversation

            So NPCs are just bugs to be taken advantage of by the player, mere toys to be tinkered with? Not with factions. There is an overwhelming misunderstanding between good gameplay and good games themselves; a game does not need to be technologically innovative to be good; it only needs to create an emotional connection between the player and characters in the game. There is no higher achievement than making the player care for a fictional, programmed character.

            Let’s look at some games that are considered top-notch: Bioshock, Mass Effect, Half-Life 2, and Final Fantasy VII. Firstly, Bioshock gives the player a choice between saving and killing little girls. Not only is this morally disturbing, but it creates a connection between the player and characters in the game. Mass Effect, discussed in the first chapter, gives the player the option of killing or saving a suspected NPC. Next, Half-Life 2 has developed a relationship between the player and Alyx Vance, among many other characters. Giving Alyx a personality helped considerably in forming this bond; she is happy, sad, scared, and angry at times in the game, and communicates this with both body language and excellent voice-acting. Lastly, and probably the most important RPG, is Final Fantasy VII. What made this game so emotional? For one, one of the player’s main characters, one he worked on leveling up and buying items for, is killed off tragically. This game broke the boundaries between the accepted “this can’t happen” tone of RPG games. It would be unacceptable to kill off one of the player’s party members, right?

1. Levels of Engagement

            So what kinds of conversations occur between the 60-100 reputation marks? There are 4 degrees of engagement:

·        60s – Mildly Interested: When the player is first getting to know the faction; in this stage, faction members tell the player information about enemy factions and their daily lives. Basically, the player is accepted into their society.

·        70s – Understanding: Occurs after the player has done enough tasks to be considered a member of the faction, rather than just the “new guy.” This is when more personal NPC tasks are given to the player. Some storyline issues are also discussed, but not thoroughly; meaning, the player will not get the “why” part. 

·        80s – Intrigued: The player has become a well-recognized member of the faction. In this stage, the storyline’s basic “whys” can be discussed. NPCs will also give out information about nearby enemy hideouts and rumors spreading around town. The player will gain factual information about the surrounding terrain without needing to explore.

·        90s – Admiring: The player has reached a leading status in the faction, contributing their time and effort into its cause and learning all necessary skills in the faction. NPCs begin to admire the player’s fortitude and may offer free money to the player in times of need. The storyline and game world will be discussed in-depth, and many secrets can be revealed through NPC communication.

Each level corresponds to a specific conversation level. This is the top-tier separation for factional conversation, with current/special/story events being the second. As such, when the designer adds in an NPC, specific conversations can be made for each event in the game, split up 7 times (4 above, 2 below, 1 in the middle). So for every event in the game, it is possible to make 7 conversational trees that are picked based on the player’s factional reputation. Sounds like a heck of a lot of work? There’s ways to get around that.

2. Default Responses

      Every time a major event or quest is created in the game, it will have consequences. And there are conversation trees that need to be created for each event. But instead of the designer having to come up with 214,567 things to say for all the NPCs in a faction, why not create a default response? You know, for the NPCs that don’t matter as much?

      There is a problem in doing this, though. In the event of a lazy designer, if one were to rely on the default conversations too much, then the player would realize “Hey, these NPCs are saying the same stuff over and over again!” That’s the last thing the designer wants: for the player to realize he’s playing a game.

      The simple way to fix this is to create 3 responses for each 7 tiers, resulting in 21 total responses for each faction for each event. Not as bad as having to customize every NPC the designer makes, but good enough. Each response is not a conversation tree, however. It is merely a one-sentence response. With default responses, the player lacks the ability to actually converse with the NPC. This is for simplicity’s sake.

3. KeyWords

      When the player actually does talk to an NPC, how does the game know what conversation to run? Well, first off are KeyWords. When events or quests are created, a KeyWord is also created. The KeyWord is used to sort conversational dialog. In each KeyWord, there are 7 “default” responses, along with an 8th “banished” response (when the player’s Rep is below 30, basically saying “Go to hell”). The KeyWord doesn’t just function for default responses, however.

      Upon the creation of a new NPC, if the designer chooses to specialize the NPC’s dialog, he uses a complex script to write the conversations. In a rewrite of this paper I might add the script in question; along with its syntax, but for now I leave you with just the concept.  Before the conversation itself, however, the game must have a way to organize the conversation into the game. Obviously, this is where KeyWords show their colors.

      A specific KeyWord, associated with the event that the conversational dialog runs after the event is triggered, is placed before the conversational script. Directly after the KeyWord, a number is given. For example, 7 would stand for 70-80 and 9 would stand for 90-100. These are the ways that the code “reads” and therefore organizes the data loaded with an NPC. So you see it is simply an organizational technique.

5. Conclusion

I’ve never wrote a 20-page report on a subject before, so this was new to me. It was interesting to create a concept start-to-finish, and if you’ve stuck with me this long, you realize just how flushed out the idea is. Thanks for listening, and I hope you gained something from this. Even you don’t like all my ideas; there is a spark of obtainable imagination here. Keep thinking and keep working, and one day you’ll come up with great ideas as well. Just don’t screw them up like I did.

 

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~ by IG on June 17, 2008.

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