Jessica isn’t a nice person. At all:
Jessica is also unemployed. She reached this status by posting some game development ideas, a youtuber responded extremely politely and she took it as a personal attack on her gender and went on ranting on “man feels”, calling the person “rando asshat” and feeling sorry for herself because men have opinions. Her online presence is full of SJW nonsense and generally she isn’t a person you’d want to be around.
Which is unfortunate, because I find her talented and good in what she was doing. I wish she had some supervisor who could teach her some basic social skills and keep her away from the social justice nonsense by make her focus on her job. This is what she wrote that started the soon derailed discussion:
The dirty secret is I’m not sure if it’s possible to make an MMORPG (or CRPG) character compelling, because people have different expectations about what that character will be, as opposed to a pre-designed character in a single-player game. People booting up Bioshock know they’re playing Jack. People starting Dishonored know they’re playing Corvo. People beginning Tomb Raider know they’re playing Lara Croft. So in those games, you have more wiggle room to make the protagonist an actual character. Whereas in an RPG, where the player chooses all kinds of character options and names their character and designs their face and so on, they feel more ownership over that character. They’re not playing a character YOU designed–they’re playing a character THEY designed. So if Jack or Lara or Corvo says or does something the player doesn’t feel that THEY would say or do, the player’s more forgiving, because they have the expectation that they’re piloting a character someone else created.
N.B. that I’m not talking about overall plot objectives/quests. Players know going in that the game is going to be telling them what to do, and their character is going to do it, and that holds true even when they’ve “created” the character. But the *interpersonal* stuff, the PC’s REACTIONS, players respond strongly to. Some people don’t like it if they think their character’s responding in ways that make them too much of an asshole. Some don’t like it if their character’s responses seem weak. So, basically, most things that you’d do writing-wise to give a character, well, CHARACTER, are going to upset a large contingent, maybe even a majority, of your players.
So – I know I’ve said this before on Twitter, but it’s still going to weird people out, but please bear with me – you have to construct your MMO/RPG’s PC character’s dialogue as if they were Bella Swan from Twilight. To be clear, I don’t think Twilight is good writing. I don’t think Bella Swan’s a well-constructed book character. And I think people who criticize Twilight for the latter are correct but also missing the reason for Twilight’s popularity. Because Twilight isn’t the love story of Bella and Edward. It’s the experience of being loved by Edward. Which is why Bella’s constructed the way she is. Bella Swan is a carefully constructed blank space, with JUST enough personality to function. All of her personality traits are chosen to avoid preventing the reader from inserting themselves into the space she holds in the story. She’s a bit of a klutz, but JUST enough to make her endearing, not enough to prevent her from actually doing anything the story needs her to do. She’s a little bit awkward. JUST enough to be relatable but not enough to actually hinder her. And so on.
And essentially, we have to write the player character in an MMO/RPG the same way. Specifically in GW2, in the Living World, we can write the Commander with a bit of wry exasperation, a hint of impatience, a touch of “okay, I’m done fooling around with this crap and I’m going to take charge,” but most of their lines have to be pretty devoid of personality. Because if we give them too much personality, it might clash with how the player is imagining Their Commander.
So, how do we tell a TV-like season of story with a protagonist who can’t really have a personality? The answer to that, and I dunno, maybe this is too much of how the sausage gets made but whaddaya want from me, any sense of shame I had burned out a long time ago: SLEIGHT OF HAND. We SUGGEST that the Commander has a personality in how the other characters interact with and react to them. Even there, we have to be super-careful. We can’t even have THEM directly characterize the Commander. You’ll rarely hear a character say anything about what the Commander always does or doesn’t do, except when it’s PURELY factual because it’s something the game design FORCED the PC to do. E.g. “the Commander always finds a way!” because literally if you don’t we’ll resurrect you until you do.
We have NPCs react to you with affection, or irritation, or leeriness, or whatever, to suggest that your character has regular habits and ways of interacting that build these relationships. But for the most part, they don’t. The PC is who you imagine them to be, and the NPCs react in ways that have to FEEL personal, and build a story, while not conflicting with whatever you’re imagining your character’s personality to be. We WANT you to project. Which makes writing the NPCs’ relationships with the PC basically like writing horoscopes. It has to feel specific and personal while actually being universal. So:
A) VERY delicate sketches of non-objectionable personality traits (like a hint of wryness or world-weariness)
B) NPCs that behave as if your character has a distinct personality while not doing so in ways that actually identify what it is
C) one-sided relationship-building
Voila. An MMO/RPG character. Needless to say, a lot of the color comes from NPCs’ relationships with EACH OTHER, even though we try to keep it centered on the PC as much as possible. It is a constant, very fragile calibration. We don’t always get it right. Incidentally, if you’ve played Ep 3 of this season of GW2’s Living World, you’ve seen this sort of writing taken to an extreme in Joko’s final monologue. Almost everything he says is about actions the game has forced you to take, not your own character traits, and he’s clearly projecting when he talks about what you were thinking, but it’s – hopefully! – constructed in a way that feels personal, like he’s twisting the knife.
Then comes the polite person and offers the obvious idea of giving branching discussion options (like the ones we seen in Baldurs Gate or Fallout). She got irritated and things got bad from there.
I think she is right that creating “blank” characters is the only way with current MMO design. Branching dialogs don’t work for the same reason as roleplaying doesn’t really get off in MMOs: because the talk contradicts the act. In MMOs you perform pre-defined quests. In old MMOs they did nothing, the mob just respawned. Recently it gets phased out. But everyone eventually does the same things. You don’t have options to change the World in any other way than it was pre-written. You can’t choose to align other faction. You can’t choose to leave the wolves alone when you are told to kill them (you can skip the questline at best, losing all rewards on the way). You can’t do diplomacy (other than pre-written in the questline) and you can’t do … anything that isn’t pre-defined.
I don’t think it’s the lack of technology, it’s rather the fear that the World created by the actions of players would not appeal to the other players. There would be griefers who modify the World for the single purpose of annoying other players. There would be overcompetitive players who would optimize everything, removing magic from the World. Finally there would be artists who just wish to use the game world as canvas for their message about the depth of their souls:
Compared to that, forcing players to take part in a pre-written story is safer and appeal to more people, even if it annoys them sometimes. I still remember how genuinely upset my girlfriend was when the Klaxis were turned into evil raidbosses while they were her favorite outdoors faction. She was also upset when Zandalaris were turned evil, though far less than with Klaxis.
Because of that, you can’t give players chat options outside of irrelevant idle chat. Because if they say something meaningful, they cannot act upon it, creating cognitive dissonance. Pre-determined stories demand pre-determined speech.
PS: whatever you think of Jessica, she has the ability to see the future: