PACING VS CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

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I usually avoid making these serious discussion topics because I'm not the greatest writer you'll meet, I'll keep it short and sweet.

As the title might suggest, I'm curious to know how you guys are able to pace your story while still hopefully offering adequate character development. I'm often in the classical “crossed armed swinging forward and back in my chair” pose, wondering how I can make this scene shorter and what characters dialogue is going to get cut in order to do so. I think as RPG players we can happily at times expect that long cut scene and want to see more of so and so but as players and creators of RM RPG games I always get the impression we mustn't stay in one scene for too long that doesn't offer plot, more so in the first chapters in the game. I know some games are character based that has no heavy story arc, but they seem to be far and few in between.

You don't need to answer these in this format, but some guidelines:

-Do you know of any games on this site that has a good general pacing and character development?

-Are you giving your villains enough development and how/ where are you slotting time for them into your game?

-You must grab the player at the beginning so is it better to set the scene than to introduce characters?
When trying to think of a good RM Game with good character development, Kinetic Cipher comes to mind. The game uses a lot of dialogue, but it doesn't really tend to feel like too much at any point.

And I'm not sure what you mean by setting the scene over introducing characters.
Welll... I don´t mind character "development" too much, but I do like character exposure and interaction.

The diference? Development means that your character is growing and learning, wjch is good, but without enough exposuire it is hard to know who the character is before and after the plot events.

By exposure I mean situations relating to a character overall personality. By interaction I mean characters interacting between themselves or with NPCs.

My issue with development is that most of the time in JRPGs or RM games it follows anime concept: youth, learning and changing are the key values, so lets stiock those underage young heroes who have a lot to grow, learn and changes and make it so in six months of adventure they become invicible heroes....

Seriously, I can´t relate to that, I want more older characters, more serious and experiencied ppl. Think Solid Snake here or Opera Vectra from Star Ocean 2 or Arngrin from Valkyrie profile. All of them still learn things, still get minor changes, but they don´t need tons of development to become "adults" ahead of time.

As for pacing and dialogs: you can have all dialogue you want as long as it is interactive and interesting, so you can have the player move the hero and talk to other characters or just move ahead if they don´t chare for extra chat (thats what I do).

Character development is not important for a fun game experience. It's important for good story-telling, which, if you consider, is not exactly common in most games. JRPGs tend to go for it, and you get mixed results. It's difficult to balance having too much or too little, even for mainstream development teams. Unless you plan on writing a story, I don't think your game has to make too much sense to be fun at the same time.

As for your questions -

-No.

-Define "enough development".

-Yes. It is better to set the scene at the very beginning than to introduce the characters.
Regarding villains, a key thing is to not develope them more than the heroes, and specially, don´t make them look good or their actions being justified to the player. Why? Simple: It is a game and unless you make players turn coat, they are stuck with the heroes fighting AGAINST the villain, and it is quite frustrating fighting a villain when you actually think he is right and you are wrong.

This really got me down with Tales of Phantasia. Dhaos is a great character and would make a great anti hero, but is a really lame villain.
I have a theory on this. It's only a theory because I haven't actually put any of my advice into practice to see how it works out. So it's really just speculation.

1) There's a three-tile rule of dialogue.
What I mean by this is that there's a limit of how many textboxes you can have in a row before you need to give control back to the player. I've said that this number is five. But I haven't really tested it. But there's always a certain amount of textboxes in a row that make me phase out and think about other things. It is especially true in (most) rpgmaker games because the textboxes are HUGE. So it doesn't matter how much text there is in them. It'll still feel like a bore after five boxes even if two of those boxes were "hi" "hi". If you have some kind of FFVII/VIII popup textbox thing where you can have simultanous textboxes or similar things then I can see how the number of allowed text boxes would increase (and maybe instead turn into a limit of how much text one can handle)

This is something to consider with character development (and obviously pacing). Having fillers like "hi" is a bad idea, but sometimes they're good for character development. Which sort of leads me to 2.

2) Fill in the character later.
In a dialogue you could write it "neutral" first and then once it's done and all the information is there flourish it a bit and add the character. What this means is basically to change what the character says without changing the actual information. What this does NOT mean is (see above) to add new lines/boxes for the characters because an infodumb followed by characterization (or the other way around) is not how to do it. Just do both at the same time. (It should be possible)

3) Make extra character development optional
Dialog trees man. If you want to know what a character is like it's likely that the player will talk to this character. Have them sit around the campfire and have the main talk to the different characters. As long as you keep to five textboxes (see above) between each dialog choice you should be fine. Give the player the option to say "Fuck it, I can't stand more of your drivel" every now and again.

It's really a simple trick but if the player does something every five text boxes. Even if it is something as simple as picking an option of three or four. (or sometimes even the dreaded Yes/No) The player is immediately back into the game rather than tiredly pressing enter in hopes that the monologue will end. (much like you would like my monologue to end right now)


Basically make it brief, interactive and optional. That way the player decides the pace he wants to go on.


And a sidenote: Remember if you really want to fuck around you can even change your character's personality depending on what the player does! (see also)
kentona
I am tired of Earth. These people. I am tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives.
21220
TANGENT:
I also can't stand it when a sentence (or whatever) runs from one textbox to the next.
"O Brave Sir Knight, help! The dreaded rock trolls have invaded"

"the Cave of Serenity! We were unable to stop them!"
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
5236
author=Clest
Regarding villains, a key thing is to not develope them more than the heroes, and specially, don´t make them look good or their actions being justified to the player. Why? Simple: It is a game and unless you make players turn coat, they are stuck with the heroes fighting AGAINST the villain, and it is quite frustrating fighting a villain when you actually think he is right and you are wrong.

You're really bad at this. Don't give any more writing advice, please. You have taken no actual fiction writing classes and have no idea what you're talking about.

A lot of really good writers will tell you that in order for the struggle to capture the audience's interest, the villain needs to be the most interesting character in the story. Especially in a game, where the villain is guaranteed far, far less screen time than the heroes.

author=Little Wing Guy
As the title might suggest, I'm curious to know how you guys are able to pace your story while still hopefully offering adequate character development. I'm often in the classical “crossed armed swinging forward and back in my chair” pose, wondering how I can make this scene shorter and what characters dialogue is going to get cut in order to do so. I think as RPG players we can happily at times expect that long cut scene and want to see more of so and so but as players and creators of RM RPG games I always get the impression we mustn't stay in one scene for too long that doesn't offer plot, more so in the first chapters in the game. I know some games are character based that has no heavy story arc, but they seem to be far and few in between.


Ugh. You're likely to get responses along strict party lines here. Which is to say, half of us think story is key and don't really care about creating original engaging gameplay, and half of us think gameplay is all that matters and story is almost worthless. The Plotocrats and the Gameplayblicans will argue about this until the sun stands still.

Since you made your own stance about how much story emphasis you're willing to tolerate clear in the original post, though, I'll try to respond based on the same mindset. (I'm sure we'd all appreciate it if other responders did the same, hint hint.)

As for writing cut scenes, I don't make any conscious effort to shorten them. When they're shorter, it's just because I couldn't think of anything else to write. Most of my dungeons end with a cut scene just before or just after the boss that takes 2-3 minutes. This isn't terribly long, and I don't think anyone would get annoyed. Sometimes I also have short 20-30 second cut scenes every few minutes as you progress through a dungeon, but this is unusual for me. But if you are concerned about breaks in the action, this can be a great way to do things.

I also usually have some sections that aren't really dungeon-based, such as arriving at a new kingdom and meeting the king, or participating in some sort of war or espionage event. These are usually fairly cut scene heavy, but I usually make them be a series of many short scenes, and in between each scene is usually some sort of battle or at least a chance to get control of your characters and open the menu. This is another good way to keep the story and the action moving at the same time, which sounds like it's a concern for you.

My game, Vindication, has a lot of humor, and the cut scene frequency and duration is about the same as Final Fantasy 6 or Chrono Trigger. If that sounds like it would be a good example of what you're looking for, I'd enjoy if you tried it out. If it sounds like more story emphasis than you're willing to accept, then my recommendation would be to still follow roughly the same guidelines as I mentioned, but make more of your dungeons be places that you just have to pass through to progress forward and that have no cut scenes. Personally I'd rather have a handful of good cut interesting scenes than a lot of really short and flimsy ones.
author=LockeZ
You're really bad at this. Don't give any more writing advice, please. You have taken no actual fiction writing classes and have no idea what you're talking about.
He does have a point though. Besides, except for maybe a few people around here, how many of us really -know- what we'are talking about all the time? I thought we were amateur game designers for a reason...

author=kentona
I also can't stand it when a sentence (or whatever) runs from one textbox to the next.
Or when people
write their sentences like
this, and left tons of wasted
space to the right.
___
As for the topic, I used to make long cut scenes, like 6 minutes long or more and with all kinds of information and stuff on them, but many people complained, so now I try to make them like 3 minutes long or so, and I try to focus on what's really important to say plot wise at that moment, I also try to avoid the kind of things kentona and I were referring to earlier, a difficult task already and even more so with rm2k3's 50 character per line limit.

Yeah, I kind of feel like I'm sacrificing character development in this way but I think is best for the player to keep it like that... what I plan to do in order to alleviate it is making character related scenes optional or hidden and offer little rewards attached to them, for example, right know I have a tactical minigame where if you choose to watch certain scenes you get extra offensive points and a fresh turn after you're done.
author=LockeZ
author=Clest
Regarding villains, a key thing is to not develope them more than the heroes, and specially, don´t make them look good or their actions being justified to the player. Why? Simple: It is a game and unless you make players turn coat, they are stuck with the heroes fighting AGAINST the villain, and it is quite frustrating fighting a villain when you actually think he is right and you are wrong.
You're really bad at this. Don't give any more writing advice, please. You have taken no actual fiction writing classes and have no idea what you're talking about.

A lot of really good writers will tell you that in order for the struggle to capture the audience's interest, the villain needs to be the most interesting character in the story. Especially in a game, where the villain is guaranteed far, far less screen time than the heroes.


Actually, as you mentioned somehow, fictional writing for games differs, and in that regard, villains do have less screen time, for a reason: They are there to be defeated and hated. While in a passive form of enternment you can feel closer to the villain than the hero even when you know most times villains get the bad ending, you are not making an effort in the fight.

In a game, where you participate, you won´t want to fight for something contrary to your belief, furthermore, you won´t want to go against the character that you feel closest to.

I´s say the mistake on my part was not reinforce that it works like this for games, but not for other writing concepts.

I do believe villains need development in games but it depends greatly on how much story weights on said game and how this development goes, my key point on "how" is that whatever reason villain has to justify their actions has to always be inferior to his/her evil actions in terms of impact on the player to keep the desire to fight against said villain up on the player mind.

Of course, as I said previously, unless this said villain turns to be just an anti hero in disguise and player may align with him or even play as later on, but even so it is better to reveal the good intentions when the turn coat event happens and not before.

no one's going to care about the conflict in the first place if the villain's entire personality is "i am evil please stab me"
Actually, don´t know about you, but if someone broke into my house, murdered my family and I only escaped by some miracle or curse, I wouldn´t give a damn about the guy´s motivation or whatever, I would just care for a conflict, in fact I´d only care for a conflict :P

And many sucessful games, including RPGs, were really good with just evil and plain villains: Secret of Mana, Phantasy Star IV, Zelda not to mention other genres where we have Megaman which in fact brings an interesting point:

In the original series we had dr.Willy, now how many lines does he have compared to Sigma on megaman X series? Not to mention Sigma was supposedly a good guy who was infected by a virus and bla bla bla. Willy is just evil. Now I find Sigma damn boring and wish he´d vanish from Megaman universe. Willy on the other hand is just an evil old man bent on domination and I love fighting him.
I don't know man, I find it much better to somewhat not want to fight the villain. Tales Of games do this really well. I can't recall one of them where I actually flat out wanted to kill the main villain. I can see that working for minor villains but it's just lame when the main conflict is "I WILL KILL YOU".
author=Lennon
I don't know man, I find it much better to somewhat not want to fight the villain. Tales Of games do this really well. I can't recall one of them where I actually flat out wanted to kill the main villain. I can see that working for minor villains but it's just lame when the main conflict is "I WILL KILL YOU".


Interesting. Perhaps I'll not include a main villain in my game. I think it's possible to create a game without an antagonist (that's a person), but still have it "feel" like there is an ultimate evil, or ultimate good.
^^^ That's very possible. There are tons of stories about conflicts with nature, feelings, SpaceDracula, etc.

Actually, don´t know about you, but if someone broke into my house, murdered my family and I only escaped by some miracle or curse, I wouldn´t give a damn about the guy´s motivation or whatever, I would just care for a conflict, in fact I´d only care for a conflict :P

That's fine if it's the only motivation of the protagonist, but the outside observer needs to know more about the antagonist if he's going to care about him as a character. We may be motivated to wreck him if we identify strongly enough with the main character, but even something like murder can be written in a lot of different ways that flesh out the antagonist more.

Example: Darth Maul. Who is he. Why should I care. I know he's probably killed people. He tried to kill whoever else was in that movie and he has weird mind powers. Does he have any kind of character outside of being an asshole? Oh well. Bored.

Also, all of the games you mentioned, with perhaps the exception of Phantasy Star IV, are lauded for their gameplay, not story. And in Phantasy Star IV, the villian is a physical manifestation of hatred, which actually makes his design more interesting than Town Burner #29.

The reason you hate fighting Sigma now is because every X game after 3 and maybe four was awful. Maybe. That's certainly why I hate him. But beyond that, those games are badly written, but this does not mean anything other than they are badly written. Wily's character is simpler (jealous incompetent mad scientist) and therefore more easy to execute. This does not mean that characters cannot be more complex than caricatures, just that whoever writes the dialogue of the X series needs another job.
Radnen: I always thought of that and it seems like a good idea to me.

Jericho: I agree with you and you basically reinforced my point: simple villains are easier to deal with.

The point is that the more you develope a villain, the harder it is to keep him as an enemy to the player. Still it can be done with good execution.

Now my real problem is not when villain has for example, a motivation to be evil, but when this motivation actualy justifies his acts to the player, specially when it makes him closer to the player than the heroes.

Another good example: I love Magneto as a character, but to me he is an anti hero more than villain, always has been. He was just good but then ppl messed with him and his kind so he declared war on then, just fair in my view of justice. Then in a lot of videogames you play as the x men lead by the sissy pacifist Xavier, and not just Magnet is not a playable character, but I also spend the whole game in a crusade against him... this frustrates me, I feel like I am playing tottally against myself and I feel absolutely no point in the characters journey.

Sure that if the game is really great in other areas I can force myself to go ahead, but it is a big drawback in motivation for me.

Other than that, yeah, my example reflected that the player need reasons to hate the villain, but it lies in more than just the villain, it is in his acts, in what he destroys or what he can destroy.

I usually go with real life villain motivations for my villains: greed, fear, discrimination, fanatism, madness. But I avoid going for things like "guy hates the world cause he was abused as a kid".
Now my real problem is not when villain has for example, a motivation to be evil, but when this motivation actualy justifies his acts to the player, specially when it makes him closer to the player than the heroes.

I believe you're in the minority here. The Boss from MGS3 is one of the most beloved characters in the franchise, despite only appearing in one game.

e: on the other hand, people go crazy for kefka. But I think that's more attributable to what he accomplishes rather than this character.
author=Clest
in a lot of videogames you play as the x men lead by the sissy pacifist Xavier
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
5236
author=Clest
In a game, where you participate, you won´t want to fight for something contrary to your belief, furthermore, you won´t want to go against the character that you feel closest to.

I´s say the mistake on my part was not reinforce that it works like this for games, but not for other writing concepts.


Hmm, yeah, I can see that. I've seen that reaction in friends when playing games. "Wait, I have to obtain a dark power to defeat the enemy? When did I agree to do that? I don't want to do that. There's got to be another way." However, rather than just making the game unenjoyable, I think that if done right it can make the moral dilemma of the struggle far more meaningful and personal than it would be in a movie.

In my RM2K3 game there are actually three main villains, at different points of the game. (spoilers ahead, obviously) As the game starts, the first main villain is clearly presented as a Dr. Evil type character. However, over the course of the game his character develops until he becomes sympathetic. The second main villain is a quartet of ancient demons out to defeat the evil empire and take over the world. One of them disagrees with the others, believing that she can live alongside humans without bloodshed, and she joins your team. The other three admittedly have no sympathetic traits and have fairly shallow motives.

The third main villain is also the main hero. He starts the game fighting against the evil empire to get revenge for his wife's death. However, as the emperor becomes more sympathetic, the main character does not question his resolve. He continues to fight for the sake of revenge, refusing to consider the possibility that the emperor is willing to change the empire's direction. As the game progresses, you play as the main character less and less, until ultimately he leaves your team for good and joins the demons. I was tempted to make him be the game's final boss, but instead I allowed him to redeem himself in the end. If I remake the game as I'm planning to, he'll be the final boss this time around.
author=LockeZ
author=Clest
Regarding villains, a key thing is to not develope them more than the heroes, and specially, don´t make them look good or their actions being justified to the player. Why? Simple: It is a game and unless you make players turn coat, they are stuck with the heroes fighting AGAINST the villain, and it is quite frustrating fighting a villain when you actually think he is right and you are wrong.
You're really bad at this. Don't give any more writing advice, please. You have taken no actual fiction writing classes and have no idea what you're talking about.

You know on the other hand a villain is the most interesting BECAUSE he isn't well-developed. A badass is a badass because he isn't a whiny emo bitch with mommy issues. For a perfect example see: Darth Vader. Now Darth Vader is the most badass of badasses in the world. Anakin Skywalker... Not so much. Darth Vader goes around choking people at will and murdering people left and right (he works for the evil empire, what other motivation does he need?). Anakin Skywalker mostly cries and whines. And they're the same guy!


One thing I'd suggest on writing villains. Though this is mostly a personal preference. Is not to have non-player cutscenes (except maybe at the start or something). Don't give the player information the player character doesn't have. That is don't switch scenes to two mysterious people talking cryptically on the other side of the world. Sure that discussion might have taken place but don't show it to the player unless the player is there to see it.

This is of course not a hard and fast rule because I can see countless of exceptions. But even in the exceptions remember to do it consistently. One random scene of mysterious people talking will really take me out of the game. But random scenes of mysterious people talking spread out throughout the narrative will not do it as much.
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