Game Development Reference
Implied Personality: Personality through NPCs
As mentioned previously, an FPS may put you in the head of the character, but it
doesn't invite you into the character's mindset. That's where NPCs come in and why
they're so crucial to building personality.
NPCs are more than just information brokers; they actually help establish the
character by defining the boundaries of the protagonist's personality. Using a trick
from such shows as 24 and Heroes , the main character is sometimes defined by the
personalities of those around him. They might exist to profile a character's conviction
(we know the protagonist is against torture because NPC X advocates it). They might
exist to warn the hero of pursuing a certain path (the protagonist is in danger of going
down the wrong path because NPC Y already took that road). They might even exist
to act as the embodiment of an emotion or ideal (NPC Z is the hero's conscience or
his faltering conviction).
In games where the hero is often faceless or voiceless, NPCs provide crucial in-
formation, but they can also help define the protagonist's personality by displaying
those traits that the hero possesses but cannot exhibit himself. Think of the NPCs as
mirrors or autonomous personality aspects of the main character. In-game, they are
a type of mirror neuron meant to connect the player to his character.
6.12 Technical Considerations
After all is said and done, the limitations of the game itself may be the limitations
of the story, hence, “The medium is the message.” The obvious biggie is that the
story has to adhere to the confines of the game engine. For in-game cutscenes, it
means the models and characters can't do everything you want them to do in the
script. What if animation didn't account for the characters sitting down? What
if the art department didn't build a vehicle whose doors could open? What if the
face mesh shows no emotion when the NPC is supposed to be terrified? All these
are important limitations to telling the story, and sometimes the principal hurdle in
crafting a narrative.
Using CGI for cinematic cutscenes is one storytelling tool to circumvent the
limitations of the game engine. CGI, however, has limitations of its own, the most
significant of which is cost. On projects where the purse strings are drawn tight, the
game may not be able to afford CGI. Or the creative director refuses to have any
third-person scenes, just to maintain immersion. Or the CGI is only slated for the
opening and climax of the game. In other words, writers shouldn't rely on CGI for
whatever reason, unless the game has already budgeted for it.
In short, part of writing for games is understanding the technical limitations
facing the game itself. It means talking to the different departments concerning their
restrictions. This means animation and AI for the breadth of character movement
and NPC reactions; this means level design to understand which level assets are
available on any given map; this means modeling and art to know how objects react.