Player Character Personality

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Jacob Solomon Weinstein

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Mar 29, 1993, 11:41:30 AM3/29/93
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In the course of the discussion on conversation with NPCs, I've
noticed a few people bring up the topic of creating a personality for
the player character. Most of the suggestions seem to be along the
following line:

There a young man here, holding a photo of an old woman. The man is
sobbing bitterly as he looks longingly at the photo.

>ASK MAN ABOUT PHOTO

Taking pity on the young man, you gently ask him if the old woman is the
source of his sadness.


Frankly, I really don't like this system. I don't like to be
told how I'm feeling. Who knows? Maybe I was asking him about the photo
because I'm a jerk, and I wanted to remind him of what he was so sad
about. Or maybe I'm greedy, and I think the old woman is the Rich Old
Gal I've heard about earlier in the game. In an attempt to characterize
the player character, the author has made the actual player feel
alienated from the character. I don't think this is a good thing.
If you're interested in giving the player a personality, I think
the old writer's truism applies: show, don't tell. Subtlety is always
best. I can only think of two subtle ways of creating a characterization
for the player, although I invite suggestions of more:
First, in a way, the characterization of the NPCs affects the
characterization of the PC. Steve Meretsky is the master of this.
In Planetfall, for instance, the player's
friendship with Floyd, and Floyd's devotion to the player, tells one a
great deal about the player's character. Similarly, befriending Trent/Tiffany
in LGOP affects how the player sees his/her own character.
First, you can generally tell somebody's character by the
sequence of actions they perform. In IF, this is precisely what the
author can control. At least, the author has this power in traditional
puzzle-oriented games, in which the player must complete a certain
series of actions to complete the game. If you think about it, the
player character of just about every IF game has one personality trait:
creative problem solving. We see this in so many games that we take it
for granted, but it is a distinct personality, and, in real life, rather
an uncommon one. How many people do you know who would figure out what
to do if they were confronted in real life with, say, a lawn full of
grass that attacks them when they try to cross?
Within the IF games I've played, there's some variation among
player characters, based on the puzzles. In Trinity, Wishbringer,
and Beyond Zork, for example, the player character must be
gentle-hearted and kind to animals in order to solve the game. If, on
the other hand, one were to write a game that required the player to
slaughter a kitten in order to obtain a treasure, the player character's
personality would be very different.
example, the

Neil K. Guy

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Mar 30, 1993, 2:30:22 AM3/30/93
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jac...@phoenix.Princeton.EDU (Jacob Solomon Weinstein) writes:

> [...] I don't like to be


>told how I'm feeling. Who knows? Maybe I was asking him about the photo
>because I'm a jerk, and I wanted to remind him of what he was so sad
>about. Or maybe I'm greedy, and I think the old woman is the Rich Old
>Gal I've heard about earlier in the game. In an attempt to characterize
>the player character, the author has made the actual player feel
>alienated from the character. I don't think this is a good thing.

I agree with you here. To me it's part of the "making assumptions
about the character's actions" problem in most text adventures. For
the sake of simplicity (or, indeed, sometimes for practicality) the
game appears to make a number of assumptions on the player's behalf. I
tend to bridle at that, for various undoubtedly complicated
psychological reasons. :) Besides, I think it's deeply unsubtle and
clumsy. But there is, of course, a reason for it. And part of this
reason is tied up with the fact that we can't create an infinite
universe in a computer game. Or even a reasonable approximation
thereof.

> First, you can generally tell somebody's character by the

>sequence of actions they perform. [....]

[stuff deleted ]

Hey, whatever happpend to the second reason? :) Anyway, I think that
subtle clues in NPC behaviour is a good way to reveal inner feelings,
desires, etc. Sure beats "The bus driver thinks about throwing you off
the bus for not having enough fare, but then..." etc. This brings
about a weird tension between the narrator being omniscient about some
things, and completely ignorant about others.

I've decided to implement my dog in my game, and am in the process of
working out different ways of expressing doggish emotions in a text
adventure format. Kind of interesting, and since I'm not stuck with
having to process complicated verbal commands it means (hopefully)
that I can make the dog marginally more interesting than the average
cardboard cutout character that populates most adventure games. In
large part, as I think I mentioned earlier, because expectations are a
bit lower. And it makes character interaction a lot easier. I'm not
particularly satisfied with any of the approaches I've seen (or heard
suggested) to date. They all seem a bit awkward, but I guess they're
the best we can do given the technical limitations within which we
must work.

> [...] In Trinity, Wishbringer,


> and Beyond Zork, for example, the player character must be
>gentle-hearted and kind to animals in order to solve the game.

Um, not to fling spoilers around, but I recall an instance in Trinity
which doesn't involve being particularly kind to an animal. I think...

- Neil K. (n_k...@sfu.ca)

Mike Roberts

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Mar 30, 1993, 1:51:52 AM3/30/93
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jac...@phoenix.Princeton.EDU (Jacob Solomon Weinstein) writes:

> Most of the suggestions seem to be along the following line:

> [the game describes how the player feels]
> Frankly, I really don't like this system. I don't like to be


> told how I'm feeling.

I think one of the reasons this does seem intrusive in some games
is that it's applied so unevenly. Adventure games are almost always
inconsistent in how they address the player -- half the time they say
"I don't see any way to do that" and the other half they say "You
can't do that."

In either case, that's the problem. "*You* can't do that." Who's
the player character? "You" -- the player -- one and the same.
So, it naturally seems intrusive when the game is saying "you do
this" and "you can't do that" and then suddenly says "you feel
just so".

The games I've seen where it does work to characterize the player
character are games where the player character is identified, named,
and characterized from the beginning. You go into the game knowing
that you're playing some role. The key is that you're not led--even
allowed--to believe at any time that the player character is you, the
real live person playing the game, which keeps it from being jarring when
the game says something specific about the player character. When you
think it's you, of course it's weird to be told how you feel; when you
never thought of it as you, though, it doesn't seem to be a problem.

In writing games, I've been consciously aware of the limits that
"you" implies. You have to keep the writing hopelessly bland when
it refers to the player character to avoid saying something false
about the player -- you can't make any reference to gender, age,
race, hair style/color/amount, clothing style, facial characteristics,
or personality, without running the risk of saying something that
confuses the player. Sure, you could have a questionnaire at the
beginning and substitute the answers into printf-style template
strings, but this would be basically pointless, as it wouldn't
allow you to integrate some interesting characteristic of the player
character into the game in any meaningful way. In actual literature,
important defining characteristics of the main character are often
central to the story.

> If you think about it, the player character of just about every
> IF game has one personality trait: creative problem solving.

True, but this is a bit limiting, and also a bit narrow; it doesn't
say all that much about the rest of your personality. Most of the
programmers I know are creative problem solvers, but that doesn't
make them otherwise very similar.

> First, you can generally tell somebody's character by the
> sequence of actions they perform.

Only if you have more intelligence than the average computer, though :)
I know - you're not talking about having the computer deduce the
characteristics from the actions, but rather the opposite: setting
up a series of events that defines (in the mind of the player) the
player character.

> If one were to write a game that required the player to


> slaughter a kitten in order to obtain a treasure, the player character's
> personality would be very different.

However, it seems to me that making your puzzles loaded with characterizing
significance would be almost as irritating as just telling the player how
he feels. I don't want to slaughter the kitten slowly using the blender;
sorry, you have no choice if you want to fool the lab attendant into thinking
you work here. The only coherent character trait that could emerge would
be: this is a person obsessed with a goal -- and nothing will stand in
his/her way!
--
Mike Roberts mrob...@hinrg.starconn.com
High Energy Software 415 493 2430 (Voice)
PO Box 50422, Palo Alto, CA 94303 415 493 2420 (BBS)

Paradise is a place exactly like where you are right now, only
much, much better.
--- Laurie Anderson

Jacob Solomon Weinstein

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Mar 31, 1993, 5:18:53 PM3/31/93
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The comments preceded by ">>" are mine. Those preceded by ">" belong to
Mike Roberts.

>> If you think about it, the player character of just about every
>> IF game has one personality trait: creative problem solving.
>
>True, but this is a bit limiting, and also a bit narrow; it doesn't
>say all that much about the rest of your personality. Most of the
>programmers I know are creative problem solvers, but that doesn't
>make them otherwise very similar.

Yes, I agree. I'm not saying that this is full and ripe
characterization. My point is simply that it _is_ characterization of a
sort, but it's just become such a cliche that we cease to notice it.

>> First, you can generally tell somebody's character by the
>> sequence of actions they perform.
>
>Only if you have more intelligence than the average computer, though :)
>I know - you're not talking about having the computer deduce the
>characteristics from the actions, but rather the opposite: setting
>up a series of events that defines (in the mind of the player) the
>player character.

You're right that I meant it the other way around, but your joke has some
validity. There are some games where, depending on your sequence of
actions, you end up joining either the good guys or the bad guys. One
could create a game in which every initial puzzle had a "moral" solution
(befriend the dragon by feeding him, say) and an "immoral" solution
(torture the dragon until he gives you what you want). Once the player
established a pattern of behavior, he would be pressured by the game
into maintaining it. That is, if you start of by acting evil, you will
later find that behaving well simply meets with suspicion, and the only
option that works is immorality. I realize that this is a simple
binarism, and only marginally more complex as characterization, but it
is a start.

>> If one were to write a game that required the player to
>> slaughter a kitten in order to obtain a treasure, the player character's
>> personality would be very different.
>
>However, it seems to me that making your puzzles loaded with characterizing
>significance would be almost as irritating as just telling the player how
>he feels. I don't want to slaughter the kitten slowly using the blender;
>sorry, you have no choice if you want to fool the lab attendant into thinking
>you work here. The only coherent character trait that could emerge would
>be: this is a person obsessed with a goal -- and nothing will stand in
>his/her way!

Yes, you're absolutely right. Under the circumstance you described, that
is precisely the character that would emerge. It may be developing an
unpleasant character, but it is characterization nonetheless. If you
wish to make the player character more likeable, make the solutions to
a few puzzles simply to be random acts of kindness, or reward the player
some other way for performing them. Or set things up so that any action
by the player results in disaster, but solutions drop into his lap-- and
you have a sketch of a character who is incompetent but succeeds through
luck.


It seems to me that there are two general ways to characterize the
player character. The first is by fiat: just tell the player things like
"You (or King Arthur, or whoever) cannot describe the wonderful feeling
that washes over you when you give the bread to the poor boy." What I'm
arguing for is something that I think is more subtle, and more
effective: get the player to characterize himself.

You can do this by giving him a wide range of options, and keeping
track of which ones he picks, as in my moral solution/immoral solution
example. Or you can trick him into characterizing himself as you wish
him to, by rewarding him for certain sorts of actions and punishing him
for others. This reward can be as traditional as letting him solve a
puzzle, or it can be something entirely different. Perhaps your reward
for being kind (or cruel, or whatever the author wishes to make the PC)
is just that you get a fuller story.

Mike Roberts

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Apr 1, 1993, 3:47:16 PM4/1/93
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jac...@ernie.Princeton.EDU (Jacob Solomon Weinstein) writes:

>You can do this by giving him a wide range of options, and keeping
>track of which ones he picks, as in my moral solution/immoral solution

>example. [...] Perhaps your reward for being kind (or cruel, or whatever


>the author wishes to make the PC) is just that you get a fuller story.

This would be very interesting. People have mentioned that some of
the Ultima games incorporate something like this - is anyone familiar
with the implications of moral vs. immoral behavior in those games?

One possibility is that, at many points throughout the game, the player
is presented with various possibilities for solving puzzles - an easy
way that is somehow harmful, and a more difficult solution that doesn't
do any harm (or maybe even has indirect benefits). If the same characters
were to show up throughout the story, they'd be able to react to the PC
based on past actions, and could even start to help or hinder the player's
cause as time goes on. In the end, the PC could emerge as either a hero
or a villain, or something in between (for example, a distasteful mercenary
who got the job done but isn't welcome at the victory celebration).

It strikes me that this sort of plot variability could even be introduced
without a really huge amount of extra design. The immoral solution to
puzzles could be truly easy - just kill whomever it is you're trying to
get past - so it wouldn't have to be a big deal to design and code.
Likewise, the implications of your behavior need not be exponential in
the number of moral choices: you're getting to the same ends, and it's
only the means that vary. The implications could be largely additive.
In the simplest implementation, they could be reflected in the score, or
in the attitudes towards the player of the NPC's at the end of the story.

Matthew Crosby

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Apr 2, 1993, 12:49:46 PM4/2/93
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In article <733697...@hinrg.starconn.com> mrob...@hinrg.starconn.com (Mike Roberts) writes:
>jac...@ernie.Princeton.EDU (Jacob Solomon Weinstein) writes:
>
> >You can do this by giving him a wide range of options, and keeping
> >track of which ones he picks, as in my moral solution/immoral solution
> >example. [...] Perhaps your reward for being kind (or cruel, or whatever
> >the author wishes to make the PC) is just that you get a fuller story.
>
>This would be very interesting. People have mentioned that some of
>the Ultima games incorporate something like this - is anyone familiar
>with the implications of moral vs. immoral behavior in those games?
>
Well, it depends on which Ultima. They are most pronounced in Ultima VI, where
you have to achieve avatarhood to finish, and becoming an Avatar means keeping
to the 8 virtues. Basically the rules are along the lines of:
Don't steal
Don't kill innocent people
Give money to beggars
Don't boast, etc.

The game actually keeps a score for each virtue, and whenever you do something
bad it lowers that score, and you can raise the scores by doing various nice
things. Once you achieve a certain score, you achieve avatarhood in that
virtue, and of course you have to keep high standards!

The later Ultimas just simplified it down to a single, "mana" score, which
is lowered and raised according to your actions, much the same as above.
Peoples responses depended on your mana.

BTW, 8 virtues of the Avatar are honor, valour, compassion, sacrifice, justice
spirituality and humility

--
-Matt cro...@cs.colorado.edu
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the net!

O.J.W. Betts

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Apr 6, 1993, 12:54:47 PM4/6/93
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In article <1993Apr2.1...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU>, cro...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU (Matthew Crosby) writes:
|> [..]

|>
|> BTW, 8 virtues of the Avatar are honor, valour, compassion, sacrifice, justice
|> spirituality and humility

Err... That's seven. What's the other?

Brendon Wyber

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Apr 6, 1993, 5:04:48 PM4/6/93
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O.J.W. Betts (oj...@cl.cam.ac.uk) wrote:
> In article <1993Apr2.1...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU>, cro...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU (Matthew Crosby) writes:
> |> [..]
> |>
> |> BTW, 8 virtues of the Avatar are honor, valour, compassion, sacrifice, justice
> |> spirituality and humility
>
> Err... That's seven. What's the other?

Gullibility, The virtue of being able to shell out large amounts of money
for such monotonous games.

How can a game go through so many sequels and revisions without being able to
have more that one saved game at a time?

Be seeing you,

Brendon Wyber Computer Services Centre,
b.w...@csc.canterbury.ac.nz University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

"Ph-nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn."

Damien Neil

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Apr 6, 1993, 9:44:27 PM4/6/93
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Brendon Wyber (cct...@cantua.canterbury.ac.nz) wrote:
: How can a game go through so many sequels and revisions without being able to

: have more that one saved game at a time?

Ever play Nethack? :-) One save file, deleted when you restore, and most
players consider it cheating to backup save files...
--
Damien Neil dp...@po.cwru.edu "Until somebody debugs reality, the best
Case Western Reserve University I can do is a quick patch here and there."
CMPS/EEAP Linux -- the choice of a GNU generation. - Erik Green

Blue Adept

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Apr 7, 1993, 3:36:00 AM4/7/93
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In article <C52yK...@cantua.canterbury.ac.nz>, cct...@cantua.canterbury.ac.nz (Brendon Wyber) writes...

>
>How can a game go through so many sequels and revisions without being able to
>have more that one saved game at a time?

Well, duuh!! Just use two player disks and alternate which one you save yourur
game to. Or for that matter you could have an infinite number of player disks.
(he made the player disks non-copy protected just for that reason)


- The Blue Adept (sig applied for)


Blue Adept

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Apr 7, 1993, 3:40:00 AM4/7/93
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In article <1993Apr6.1...@infodev.cam.ac.uk>, oj...@phx.cam.ac.uk writes...

>In article <1993Apr2.1...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU>, cro...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU (Matthew Crosby) writes:
>|> [..]
>|>
>|> BTW, 8 virtues of the Avatar are honor, valour, compassion, sacrifice, justice
>|> spirituality and humility
>
>Err... That's seven. What's the other?
>

Honesty.

Matthew Crosby

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Apr 7, 1993, 10:18:49 PM4/7/93
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In article <1993Apr6.1...@infodev.cam.ac.uk> oj...@phx.cam.ac.uk writes:
>In article <1993Apr2.1...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU>, cro...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU (Matthew Crosby) writes:
>|> [..]
>|>
>|> BTW, 8 virtues of the Avatar are honor, valour, compassion, sacrifice, justice
>|> spirituality and humility
>
>Err... That's seven. What's the other?
>
Ooops. Forgot honesty.

Erik Max Francis

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Apr 9, 1993, 4:16:48 PM4/9/93
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damien@b63519 (Damien Neil) writes:

> Ever play Nethack? :-) One save file, deleted when you restore, and most
> players consider it cheating to backup save files...

Yeah, but most of them do it anyway.

I personally always found OMEGA the most entertaining ROGUE-style game.


Erik Max Francis, &tSftDotIotE ...!apple!uuwest!max m...@west.darkside.com __
USMail: 1070 Oakmont Dr. #1 San Jose, CA 95117 ICBM: 37 20 N 121 53 W / \
If you like strategic games of interstellar conquest, ask about UNIVERSE! \__/
-)(- Omnia quia sunt, lumina sunt. All things that are, are lights. -)(-

Erik Max Francis

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Apr 9, 1993, 4:17:45 PM4/9/93
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cpart...@vx9000.weber.edu (Blue Adept) writes:

> >|> BTW, 8 virtues of the Avatar are honor, valour, compassion, sacrifice, ju

> >|> spirituality and humility
> >
> >Err... That's seven. What's the other?
>
> Honesty.

And there's also those two pseudo-virtues, singularity and infinity.

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