*Player presses X*
(Sigh) It’s people like you why we can’t have nice things…
Your game’s first meaningful action.
POP QUIZ! When you start a game, what’s the first thing you do?
Uhm… okay, I mean AFTER the Main Menu of the game.
Well… yes, usually walking is the first action you learn, but what I meant is the first MEANINGFUL thing you do in the game.
See, I’ve recently been part of a little playthrough with my friend Carlo, where each of us presented our favourite games.
I presented Ninja Gaiden Black (shocking, I know) and he presented Kingdom Hearts II.
Yeah… two TOTALLY different games, one is a game where you play a cold-blooded murderer of thousands of lives, justified by the dark story about how the victims are unholy beings that don’t deserve to live… and the other is Ninja Gaiden Black.
Huh… I guess they actually DO have a lot in common…
But this is actually not the first time I’ve ever played Kingdom Hearts II, nor is it the very first time Carlo recommended it to me. I never got around to finishing it (J-RPGs were never really my thing. I mean I can appreciate them, but you won’t see me play them often), but one thing that really stuck out to me the first time I played it was when the game gave me the choice of three weapons at the game’s introduction of combat.
Choose your Phallic Symbol wisely!
You see, after this first choice, your experience will differ, because depending on which of these weapons you choose, the game will adapt to the playstyle that you prefer, due to which skills you unlock. Choosing the most left one will make the game more offense-based, choosing the middle one will make the game more defense-based and choosing the most right one will make the game more magic-based.
Now, in the end it won’t exactly make THAT much of a difference, but the first 10 minutes of the game really matters (or if you’re playing a J-RPG, the first 2 friggin hours, what with the amount of cutscenes). It will forever colour your perspective on the game, even when you plan to play through it again on a new game.
Now, some of you may find this comparable to another game’s first choice.
That’s right, the first real choice in Pokemon will always be to choose a Starter Pokemon. And hopefully you will grow a strong bond with the creature, doing many things together and… oh who am I kidding, you’ll replace them the moment you get a Shiny.
So… what, am I suggesting that EVERY game should have this first action that will make your game differ depending on said choice?
Well, no, I just want to put attention to how important a game’s first meaningful action is to establishing what kind of game the player is going to play.
It doesn’t HAVE to be a choice, it could just be an ability that you will use for the rest of the game, being introduced in the tutorial, or first level.
Sure, the first thing you will learn will probably be walking, then maybe jumping, then maybe some other optional action like hanging from a ledge or something.
But it’s important to THEN make the player do something that will open the player’s mind about what kind of gameplay system you really have.
Just to give some examples here:
Your VERY first obstacle is a Goomba and a Pipe. The Goomba you’ll have to jump on to defeat, and the Pipe you can either jump on or jump over it.
Ladies and gentlemen, a Platform game! Looks pretty self-explanatory NOW, but just imagine, back in the day, you’ve generally NEVER played a platform game before. This first action introduces you to the idea of the video game character’s eternal struggle against the laws of physics!
Now, this game may be known for it’s combat, but even BEFORE you even get your VERY first fight (unless you play it’s remake, Ninja Gaiden Sigma) the first action you learn is the wall run, which you use to climb up a wall and then hang on a ledge.
This first action alone is what deviates this game from a Samurai game to a Ninja game. Had it not been for all these Ninja acrobatics, Ryu could just as easily have been a sword-wielding Samurai and the whole game wouldn’t be any different. But thanks to the first meaningful action being acrobatics to get to the first fight, you are immediately introduced to the game’s theme. From now on you’ll look at the environment and say “can I use my Ninja acrobatics to traverse it?” rather than “Oh hey, that’s a wall, I guess I should go a different way.”
And thanks to that, the level design can be designed around it. Rather than giving you a town in which you simply traverse horizontally on the ground, you now traverse vertically by Ninja jumping to the roof, or wall running across buildings, or monkey-barring across washing lines.
Now, whether you love or hate this game, you’ll have to admit that it has a MUCH better beginning than it’s spiritual successor, Heavy Rain. Whereas Heavy Rain starts out with a drawn out “Oh, look how precious my life is before it gets utterly destroyed after half an hour of cutscenes!”, Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy in some areas) starts out with you in the bathroom, apparently having killed someone, COMPLETELY confused and being forced to hide the body before the police see what you’ve done.
As mentioned, since your first action is to HIDE A BODY, you’re immediately introduced to the theme of the game, which is a clear-your-name cat and mouse kind of adventure where you will have to sneak about, avoiding the cops and try to figure out the mystery of why you suddenly murdered a random person in the bathroom.
You may think these all seem self-explanatory, but there are many games that fail to set up a proper tone or mindset with the player because the Game Designer is way too focused with whatever story they want to tell.
Yes, it’s natural for a story to start out with the protagonist in a peaceful state before the conflict finally gets introduced, but what some people forget is that a Game is BOTH a Narrative AND a System.
Buy a Microwave. Is the first thing in the instruction booklet a story about the inventor of Microwaves and how this one is unique over all the others? No, the first thing you learn to do is to turn the thing on (or at the very least plugging it in).
Not to say that I wouldn’t find it hilarious if that’s the case though, I mean can you imagine a “Chosen One” Microwave?
So yeah, think hard about how you’re gonna introduce your game system or tone or mindset with the help of your player’s first meaningful action.
It doesn’t have to be a choice, it doesn’t have to be revolutionary, it doesn’t even have to be the game’s main mechanic. It just has to be something that will more easily make your player accept the design and ideas of the game.
“Gee, Brain, whaddya wanna do today?”
“The same thing we always do, Pinky… write a new…”
Working in a Team
Now this may be horrifying for some people to hear, but I’ll just be direct so the shock can die down as you read this post.
When making a game… you have to SOCIALIZE!
I know, right? The horror!
Of course, it IS possible to work on a game on your own, you just have to either have the patience of a saint or the obsession of a perfectionist crazy person.
Yeah, that’s the kind of people I hang around with, god I need more friends…
But yeah, working alone on a video game is a whole other topic, so for now we’ll just focus on working in a team.
The thing with working in a team is that there is no such thing as THE correct way to work together, it’s different for everyone and (considering how teams by nature are filled with different people) can even vary per project.
Not only that, but most of the time there WILL be people who’ll be incompatible with each other. It’s inevitable, because to make a game you kinda need people with opposing viewpoints.
A designer is all about setting up rules, they come up with ideas, but they have to think of their target audience as well as whether everything fits together correctly. They’re creative and are probably the most social of them all due to being present at game testing and all that.
An artist, by comparison, is all about taking the rules and doing creative stuff with them. The designer said there’s a door in the room? The artist would like to experiment with 20 types of doors, everything as long as it isn’t just another standard door. They WANT to inspire some sort of emotion into whatever they make, or at least make people think about what they created.
Lastly, a programmer is all about logic. They don’t want to get emotional, they just want to get things done. You want a gun to fire a specific way? Well, to do that the translational kinetic energy would have to be half of the weight of the projectile times it’s velocity, etc. etc. etc. They don’t think in psychology or emotions. They think in calculations and codes.
Of course, these are all VERY generalized personalities to the roles those people have, but the point is; differences in philosophies will be inevitable.
Naturally with those three types of people talking over each other, it may be difficult to get a unified opinion on what to create.
This is why it’s important to have a Director, someone who can create order out of the chaos that is this team.
As I have once mentioned before, being a Director can be a thankless job, because barely anyone says anything about the good you’ve done, but you would NEVER live down anything bad you’ve done (or at least, bad in their opinion).
This is why I think it’s actually important to socialize with the people you work with, if they’re not gonna acknowledge the good you’ve done as a Director, at least let them acknowledge what a cool person you are.
Of course, should they be jackasses to you in return, you could always just answer with this:
Now, I’ll let you figure out yourself on where to find nunchucks to make that comeback in the first place (though, I’m sure the chicken suit won’t be that much of a problem), but what I’m trying to say is that there will always be SOME people out there who aren’t interested in getting to know you.
And that’s okay, different strokes for different folks. If they prefer to work 40 hours a week on auto-pilot rather than actively breaking it up every now and then with small-talk about what they want to do this weekend, that’s fine.
But doing so WILL mean they miss out on some opportunities, both for the team and for themselves.
If you don’t open up to your team members, that means they will never truly understand you, which means they’ll have a harder time getting your ideas.
People sometimes forget the importance of referencing other creative works to make your point clearer. It’s like they’re afraid to admit their idea came from something other than themselves.
By referencing stuff you BOTH know, you immediately share a common knowledge, which can immediately benefit your point.
If you and a team member are fans of Ninja Gaiden, but the others aren’t, you’d still at least have two different points of views that can describe it to the others. And in return the others gain some knowledge on Ninja Gaiden and next time they’ll be able to reference it to make their own points, a point that YOU would be more sympathetic to than if it were a dry explanation of how a computer decides whether a cut counts as a hit or not.
If you said “hey, let’s make a game where you’re a ninja and you attack enemies with a quick attack and a strong attack, but the strong attack can be charged to become an ultimate attack…” you would have lost them the moment you explained the thing about the strong attack.
But instead just say “Let’s take the combat system of Ninja Gaiden… but we’ll add/redo this… etc.” and they’ll immediately get what you said.
Of course it also helps the team if people would just let go of their pride every once in a while and actually make compromises, sacrifice their ideas for the sake of the objectively better ideas of others.
See, the problem with working alone is that the only opinion around is your own. All your biases and personality flaws are idealized in your ideas. Having other people around to take you down a couple notches is needed to make sure the game doesn’t end up becoming one huge author tract.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that there’s a lot of benefits to getting to know the people you’re working with. You may think they’re just there to do their jobs and be done with it, but that’s entirely up to you.
Ask questions, tell them what you’re interested in and compare yourself to them. Are there only differences, or is there one big thing you have in common? Can you work that into your project somehow?
Having opposite personalities can get you a rough start, but seriously, once two opposites find common ground, the result can end up becoming a LOT more interesting than what either of them would have made individually.
Why yes, it IS a bit late for Valentine’s Day. Shut up.
What games can learn from Rurouni Kenshin!
Rurouni Kenshin (also known as Samurai X in some countries) is a romantic story full of bloodshed, decapitations, emotional torments and a main character who’s probably the definition of a depressed soul who stopped putting value in his own life ever since the war.
Naturally, it’s one of my most favourite Manga of all time.
Does that say something about me?
Okay, in fairness, the Manga (as well as all it’s adaptations, be it Anime, OVAs and Live-Action Movies) is a lot more optimistic than that.
It’s a Shonen Manga after all (which means a Manga for teenage boys, in case you’re not a Weaboo like me), but the depth the story goes to show themes like war and depression really is something to be admired, in my opinion.
But that’s not what games should learn about from this Manga. (Because let’s be honest, war and depression is something we’ve seen enough in games lately…)
The thing I want to talk about is how the Manga deals with Love Triangles.
As an extra warning here, this is gonna be a HUUUUUUGE summary as I want to do the story justice, but Rurouni Kenshin has a rather unique way of writing a Love Triangle, one that I truly think could help in how it’s done in games.
The story opens up by explaining how there’s been a war in Japan. (I’ll refrain from going too deep in the politics, since it’ll be very friggin confusing to the uninitiated if I do). During the war there fought a highly skilled assassin (or as the Manga likes to call it; “Man Slayer”) called Battousai.
Known for his cross-shaped scar and god-like speed, he murdered people left and right during the war, all in the name of creating a new and more peaceful age in Japan.
As you can imagine, seeing how that’s the START of the story… that didn’t work.
No matter how you put it, a murderer is just that, a murderer.
All the new age really did was turn the place more militant and it added a ban against swords on the streets unless they’re either wielded by an official or the sword isn’t sharp.
So, to repent for his sins of countless murders, he’s been wandering the country, calling himself Himura Kenshin and helping random people he comes across however he can, with the vow that he will never kill again.
To help keep that promise, he now wields a sword that can’t cut, the Reverse Blade Sword, a sword that has the sharp edge face the wielder and the blunt side face the opponent.
Many years past and one day he meets a girl named Kaoru Kamiya, the heir to the Kamiya Kasshin Dojo. It’s a Dojo that believes in “The Sword That Revitalizes Life”, meaning that the sword style they teach is meant to defend, not to kill and maim. This is represented by the fact that they fight with Wooden Swords.
These two met when Kaoru accused Kenshin of being the murderer that’s been going around town killing people in her Dojo’s name. You can imagine that kind of puts a stain on the whole “Sword That Revitalizes Life” message. However, the moment she actually talks with him, she realizes he can’t be the murderer because of his Reverse-Blade Sword.
That and he’s seems a bit too ditzy to be a murderer at all.
Together they face the actual murderer, which depends on the adaptation who it really is, but the point is that said murderer claims to be Battousai, Kenshin’s previous alias. Something Kenshin could easily disprove by revealing that he’s… well… Battousai.
Having revealed his true identity before beating the copy-cat, Kenshin decided afterward to leave, as he thinks Kaoru wouldn’t want a Man Slayer to be staying at her Dojo.
She begs to differ.
She argues that the man she met was not the murderer Battousai, she met a wanderer called Himura Kenshin. While she DOES disapprove of Battousai’s actions, she welcomes the helpful ways of Himura Kenshin, which in itself is very comparable to her Dojo’s message.
And so Kenshin started living at her dojo. This man who was once a murderer, who took to wandering around the country with no place to stay, finally had a place he could call home.
So you may have noticed that they stated there’s a difference between Kenshin and Battousai, like they’re two different people sharing a body.
Well… that’s not that far off…
The thing is that every time Kenshin wields his sword, he slowly gives into his bloodlust and turns into Battousai.
When that happens, gone are Kenshin’s vow to never kill, gone are his funny little ditzy expressions, gone are him saying stuff like “Oro?”.
This little mental problem has threatened Kenshin’s vow to never kill many times throughout the duration of the story.
And when you think about it, it makes sense, Kenshin ends up having to fight a LOT of villains throughout the story. Many of them have lost the chance of redemption LOOOOONG ago.
Just to give you an idea:
With an opponent like this, it’s easier to just flip that Reverse-Blade Sword and kill the bastard rather than do the moral thing of keeping him alive.
And that’s the core of the story; killing is the easy way out. Dying is easy, living is what takes true courage. It’ll be difficult, sometimes outright impossible to stay on the moral path, but one doesn’t learn when one dies. Only when someone is living can they truly learn to repent for their sins, which in itself is it’s own challenge that may or may not be impossible.
This is why Kaoru ends up becoming so important to Kenshin, she’s the representation of his vow to not kill. No matter how difficult things get, she will always be there to regress the Battousai and bring Himura Kenshin back.
Now, part of Kenshin’s big character flaws revolve around how the guilt of all his killings made him a bit of a martyr.
He has a tendency to put all the troubles in the world on his back, not caring about his own life as much as others. His dedication to save every life he sees comes at the detriment of his own, it’s even represented by his Reverse-Blade Sword. The sharp edge is facing him instead of the opponent, get it?
This ends up being a big lesson that he learns in the story, that his own life is a life too. His life is worth just as much as any other life, he’s got a home, friends and even families now. All of them who would be affected as well if he dies.
Yet again Kaoru is more than just a motivator for Kenshin not to give into his Battousai persona, she’s also his reminder to stay alive.
By now you must’ve asked yourself “okay, that’s sweet and all, but what the heck is the point of that cross-shaped scar?”.
I’m glad you asked, hypothetical curious person.
To answer that, we’ll have to go back in time, during the aforementioned war of Japan, and see how Battousai turned into Kenshin for the first time.
Now, imagine you’re a young Samurai.
You promised a beautiful young lady, who used to be your childhood friend, to ask for her hand in marriage once you’ve proven yourself to be a respectful man in this harsh world of warring Japan.
To do this you’ve taken a job to be a bodyguard for this important looking fellow.
One day, after a night of drinking, you and the aforementioned important looking fellow walk through an alley and meet a strange looking guy charging RIGHT towards you.
Your name is Kiyosato Akira:
Congratulations, you’re Battousai’s first murder victim.
Don’t feel too bad, though, at least you left a mark on him.
No seriously, you caused the first half of his cross-shaped scar.
Battousai has quite a life ahead of him.
As a Man Slayer it’s his job to kill people by order of the higher-ups. He’s encouraged not to have any emotions at all, lest he starts becoming empathetic to his victims. And we can’t have that, can we? (Like I said, he’s got quite a life ahead of him…)
One day, ANOTHER Man Slayer decided to try his hand at killing Battousai.
You can guess how well that ended…
As he literally made blood rain that day, what more of a fitting way it is to meet our next important little character.
Introducing the emotionless girl in white; Tomoe Yukishiro.
After witnessing Battousai murdering someone by slashing their body in half mid-somersault (ah, the most common way to murder someone in Japan) she promptly faints. (It’s kept vague whether it’s because of the shock, the alcohol she’s been drinking or if it was an act)
This forces Battousai to take the unconcious woman with him to a hotel he’s staying at, because as much of a killer he is, he IS fighting for a more peaceful Japan, as misguided as it is.
The next day he wakes up and finds out Tomoe has been making herself at home at the hotel, doing her job as a worker.
This means that she and Battousai are going to be seeing each other a lot during his missions of killing people.
To make the long story short, a romance blossoms out of this. They even end up getting married and moving to a house outside the city.
Sadly it’s not as romantic as I just made it out to be. See… Japan is still at war after all, and the fact that someone was after Battousai’s life means that his cover as a Man Slayer has been comprimised. Thus the higher-ups arranged for them a cover as a married druggist couple (ah, the most common way of getting married in Japan).
But what’s important is that they decided it doesn’t have to be ALL fake.
In paper it’s a fake marriage, but emotionally it was as real as it can get.
Which makes it pretty difficult for Tomoe as she was originally, in fact, secretly working as a mole to find Battousai’s weakness.
You see, that first murder victim I made you empathize with, Kiyosato Akira? Remember when I said he promised to ask for a beautiful young lady’s hand in marriage?
Well, that hand is now holding a knife for a reason…
She’s actually working for a group that tries to kill Battousai. She joined out of vengeance for the killer of her Fiancé.
See, the reason Kiyosato wanted to prove himself as a respectful person was because he thought Tomoe was unimpressed with his status as a lowly ranked Samurai, which (in case you haven’t been paying attention here) caused his death by the hands of Battousai.
In reality Tomoe was happy to be with Kiyosato, but as an emotionless girl, she has trouble expressing herself.
It’s a tragedy of miscommunication as Tomoe and Kiyosato’s different interpretation of their life situation proved fatal for one of them. It’s not anyone’s fault exactly, but Tomoe does curse her inability to express herself as the reason she lost the love of her life.
This is how she mirrors Battousai as a character, he has no trouble showing emotion, but in reality is dead inside, while she has lots of emotions boiling up inside her, but has no way of expressing it.
What’s important is that her love for Kiyosato Akira isn’t any less valid as her newfound love for Battousai, her new husband.
So yes, this is indeed a Love Triangle WITHIN a Love Triangle!
Despite her justified reasons to wanting Battousai dead, she ended up deciding not to go along with the mission she’s taken anymore and decides to meet with the group leader on a very snowy day to spare Battousai’s life. (Ah, the most common way of realizing you’ve fallen in love with your target in Japan… what?)
Sadly, this is all going according to the group’s plan.
That’s right, her mission to find a weakness was just a ploy to CREATE a weakness for them to exploit, namely Battousai’s love for Tomoe.
And thus Battousai comes to Tomoe’s rescue, fighting through the group of Man Slayers to get to the big boss. Even as they blow up several bombs that make Battousai deaf and blind as well as the cold snow numbing all his other senses, he presses on to save his beloved Tomoe.
But the sad reality is that, in his deafened and blinded state, he is no match for the muscular leader who’s in top shape.
That is… unless someone were to distract the leader by getting in the way, sacrificing themselves by blocking their attacks and giving Battousai the chance to get a killing blow on them both…
As you can imagine… not the happiest of victories…
Tomoe’s knife ended up flying in the air and slashes Battousai’s cheek, completing his cross-shaped scar.
But some good came out of this…
Tomoe’s last action before she dies is a loving gesture towards her husband, telling him it’s all right. She says it with a smile, something she had trouble showing to her previous love.
In one fell swoop, Tomoe learned to express emotions as well as pass on her knowledge to Battousai, teaching him to HAVE emotions in her last moments.
Suddenly, all the people he’s killed got a face.
Whenever he’s in a position to kill someone, he sees her, and he sheathes his weapon.
She officially became the sheath for his sword.
And thus, no longer was he the Man Slayer Battousai, he’s taken his first steps to becoming the pacifist wanderer, Himura Kenshin.
Phew, that was a loooooooooooooooooong summary, wasn’t it?
But I swear, that truly was the bare essentials I needed to cover to talk about this.
Rurouni Kenshin is a very complicated story with lots of twists and turns and this is just a very small part of the actual story.
But let’s get to the point, what can games learn from Rurouni Kenshin?
Obviously, how it deals with Love Triangles. Something very few games have ever done right.
Most of the time the love triangle is just a plot thing, something that just happens and doesn’t have any effect on the gameplay.
And when it IS in the gameplay… yeah… most of the time that just means you’re playing a Dating Sim-Lite within a bigger game.
But, as you can see from my previous post about Mentor Characters I like to think deeper about how to incorporate something in a game.
And to do that, we’ll have to look at what made Love Triangles such a popular choice in stories to begin with.
Say what you want about how Love Triangles are cliché and how they’re just there to please the people who want to live this escapist fantasy of being wanted by multiple love interests.
In the end, what made Love Triangles work, is that it shows two love interests as a metaphor for the two sides of the protagonist’s personality.
This is why such stories like the Phantom of the Opera work so well. There’s more to the story than just two men having a sing-off for the affection of an Opera Singer (ah, the most common way of wooing someone in France).
The main character of the story, Christine Dae, HAS two sides to her personality to compare herself to the two men in her life, the Phantom of the Opera and the Vicou de-… Vicome ze Za-… Vicomte De Champai-… Raoul. The two men fighting against each other pretty much represent the inner struggle of Christine Dae being torn between two identities.
Because of that, writers love to have the two love interests fight and bicker against each other in order to win the affection of the protagonist.
That in turn is usually what makes people hate Love Triangles, the amount of bickering.
What’s interesting with Rurouni Kenshin is that for all the differences the two love interests have, they never met each other face to face, never giving them a chance to have those childish bouts.
Instead, they play out Kenshin’s past relationship with Tomoe as a part of life, as it should be. She’s an important phase of his life that’s passed but never truly forgotten, while Kaoru is the person he finally decided to live in peace with for the rest of his life.
In fact, I’d argue that Tomoe is the real person who survived on that snowy night. Battousai/Kenshin’s body may have survived, but the soul that survived was Tomoe, who lives forth in Kenshin.
During the time when Tomoe was alive, she was the ditz while he was the annoyed one having to deal with her personality.
But after she died and Kenshin eventually settled in with Kaoru many years later, HE’s the ditz while SHE is the annoyed one having to deal with his personality.
Which means that for every time Kaoru talks to Kenshin, it’s actually Kaoru talking to Tomoe, in a spiritual sense.
This makes sure that Kaoru isn’t just a replacement for Tomoe, if anything Tomoe’s lasting impression on Kenshin pretty much turned him into a fully developed version of herself, one who was able to express herself, something she finally learned in her final moments before death. In short, Tomoe gave life to Himura Kenshin by suppressing the murderous Battousai.
Meanwhile, Kaoru is the woman that keeps Himura Kenshin alive. She’s Himura Kenshin’s next phase in life and the representation of his true redemption. It’s thanks to Tomoe that Himura Kenshin exists, and it is thanks to Kaoru that Himura Kenshin keeps existing.
And that’s something games should think about, a character’s phase in life.
When it comes to romance in games, usually they only revolve around one part of romance, namely “getting the girl”.
In games you don’t usually go through the other phases of love, like being IN a relationship or having a relationship fall apart.
Because of that, the only Love Triangles that usually occur in games are when the player has to choose between two love interests as the player character is still single.
The thing is that. as shown in Rurouni Kenshin, there are many ways one can deal with a Love Triangle, and it all has to do with which phase of life/love this is about.
How many games are actively involved in showing a relationship in progress?
How about games about a character dealing with a serious break up?
How about games where a character is cheating and has to deal with the consequences?
Not many, is there?
And yet all of those are subjects that have had their place in books and movies for as long as games even existed.
We should do better than that, because games as an interactive medium should actually be able to turn the character’s emotions into mechanics of the games, something that may even surpass the same feelings you get in films or books.
Have a game that starts out with the main character ALREADY in a relationship. Give that main character a skill or ability or game mechanic that is very obviously based on that love interest.
Then introduce the second love interest who has their own sets of skills. One that can be represented by having those skills/abilities/game mechanics be ones that the player character learns throughout the story of the game.
This would represent how the main character realizes they’re being influenced by their second love interest, who at times can be the more fitting choice than the main character’s true significant other.
It would then be up to the player whether the main character chooses the first or second love interest, and in turn, one set of skills or the other, which are represented by said love interests.
Or be completely like Rurouni Kenshin and have it be something outside the player’s control. Have a moment when the first love interest dies mid-way in the story, ala Final Fantasy VII.
Let this be a very important plot event that actually changes the main character.
Have them lose all the skills they unlocked in the meantime that relates to that love interest. Show how the main character is truly broken by this loss by showing them becoming as weak as how they started in the game.
Then, after a time skip, have the second love interest help the main character snap out of it. That love interest will teach the main character new skills throughout the next half of the game.
But the main character realizes that they can never truly let go of their previous love interest, and loses motivation to learn those new skills.
Then, something really bad happens, maybe the second love interest ended up in a very similar situation to the first love interest’s death (like how in the Spider-Man comics another woman in his life ends up being thrown off the bridge for the gajillionth time), or a very important memento of the first love interest is being threatened, I don’t know, come up with something.
But that’s when the Main Character finally realizes how important that second love interest is in trying to help them. They’re not a replacement for their first love interest after all! They’re only there to ADD to the main character’s life experiences!
And with that, BOOM, all the first love interest’s skills come back, now with the added bonus of being able to mix and match with the skills of the second love interest.
And thus the main character finally became a fully developed character, both in writing as well as in gameplay. All helped by the influences of their two love interests, one from the past, and one in the present.
I’d like to point out that this way of writing love triangles is nothing new.
Heck in the comics, that’s pretty much how the romance of Spider-Man played out.
Peter Parker is in a Love Triangle with the Irresponsible Party Girl Mary Jane Watson and the Science Major Gwen Stacy.
It’s made clear that out of the two, Peter loves Gwen Stacy more than he loves Mary Jane Watson, considering her to be shallow and self-absorbed. But what’s interesting is that Mary Jane became just as much friends with Gwen Stacy as well as friends with Peter Parker.
Then the infamous chapter happens where Gwen Stacy died.
But her death didn’t just affect Peter Parker, it also affected Mary Jane Watson. Gwen’s death changed Mary Jane’s outlook on life and in turn changed her from a self-absorbed Party Girl into a responsible young lady, but not without losing her strong personality that made people love her in the first place.
When you think about it, that new Mary Jane became a fusion of the previous Mary Jane and the Gwen Stacy who passed away, turning her into a fully developed character.
These two deserve one another, having both of them be affected by Gwen Stacy’s death means that fate brought them together. Both of them experienced that with great power, there must also come great responsibility.
Their eventual marriage is not out of some victory for Mary Jane who “got the guy”, but out of true love that organically grew the further their shared grief goes.
Gwen Stacy’s death was just as much a loss for Mary Jane as it was for Peter Parker.
And then some idiot editor called Joe Quesada ruined it by having them make a deal with the devil, oh I’m sorry, Mephisto, to undo their marriage because he can’t handle having Peter Parker being in a relationship unless it’s with some kind of self-insert fanfiction character of his own daughter for some reason, and it’s just so stupid stupidstupidstupid Stupidstupid STUPIDSTUPID RAHSAHEASHFFAHSDFAHSDAFGHWRH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Sorry, just had a psychotic episode there.
Anyway, I’d like to stress the fact that it is not mandatory, but definitely recommended that the two love interests differ enough both in ideology as well as personality and motives.
Like I said, the reason why Love Triangles work is because the two love interests represent the two sides of the Protagonist’s personality, and that won’t work if both of those sides are practically the same. It only shows how one-dimensional the character really is otherwise.
With Rurouni Kenshin, it’s not just the personalities of Kaoru and Tomoe that made them different, their ideologies and motives are perfectly represented by the weapons they wield.
Tomoe has a knife:
Which represents her desire for vengeance, yet it also has a sheath to contain her madness, something that she ends up becoming for Battousai.
Kaoru has a wooden sword:
Which represents her innocence, unlike Tomoe she is a girl who lived her life free of bloodshed and she’s dedicated in her Dojo’s “Sword That Revitalizes Life” concept, something that constantly reminds Kenshin of why he needs to continue living.
– Look for more ways one can do in a game with a Love Triangle than the typical “choose your romantic partner” option.
-Have the two love interest mean something rather than just be two hot potential partners for the main character to be with.
– Remember what made Love Triangles work to begin with, don’t just do it because it’s the popular choice.
– Games are an interactive medium, based around mechanics. Make use of those mechanics to tell the story.
Now, mind you, I am not saying that this means ALL games should have Love Triangles, that would be silly.
What I AM saying is that when a story features a Love Triangle, there better be a good reason for it in the game, because when such a thing is annoying in a TV Series or Movie, it’s ten times as annoying when it’s in a game without any purpose.
While games are entertainment, they entertain via interactions. What one can forgive in a movie can be a lot less forgiving to the same thing in a game.
Uncle Ben: “Peter! Remember! With great power there must also come great responsibility!”
Peter: “Yeah, whatever, Uncle Ben. Now if you excuse me, I’m going to do something irresponsible which would lead to your death, thus making my backstory complete by having a source of sorrow. THEN I’ll listen to you.”
Uncle Ben: “My job here is done. Oh by the way, say hello to Gwen Stacy for me.”
Mentors and Safety Nets
Now, you must’ve heard this story before, a protagonist has a mentor character and is very dependent on said mentor. But then close to the climax, the mentor character dies, forcing the protagonist into growing up and fulfilling their character development.
It’s nothing new, and many people know why it keeps getting used. It takes away a safety net for the protagonist so they become independent and makes their victory that much more satisfying for making it in the end by themselves rather than riding on their mentor’s coat tails.
Shame it doesn’t happen in games often.
Oh let me rephrase that, shame it doesn’t happen in GAMEPLAY often.
Yeah, there are enough mentor characters who die in game stories, but usually they only die for the sake of the plot rather than having their deaths affect the gameplay in any way.
Let me say it again, a mentor character is supposed to be a safety net. They’re the characters the main characters have to rely on to grow up before having to take their final steps on their own.
The beautiful thing about games is that they’re an interactive experience. They can make you LIVE the experience of having your safety net taken away and having to get to the end by yourself rather than relying on the mentor as a gameplay feature.
But I’ve yet to see that feeling being pulled off in games.
By comparison, games have already done such great interactive experiences with other story characters, like rivals.
Devil May Cry 3 added a feature that was new in the series where every boss character you defeat immediately gives you a new weapon based on them.
Except for one boss: Beowulf.
After Dante defeats him, Beowulf escapes and later meets Vergil, Dante’s rival.
HE kills Beowulf and gets the weapon instead of Dante.
This not only made Vergil a great rival in story, but in gameplay as well, since just like Dante, Vergil gets stronger and stronger as the story goes on, motivating the players to become better and better to keep up with him.
In story Vergil is Dante’s equal in power, in gameplay he’s a boss you have to fight 3 times and each next boss battle he’s stronger and has new techniques.
This is the kind of interactive story telling that games should do with mentor characters.
It is one thing to have the mentor character constantly give cryptic morals until their inevitable death, it’s another thing to actually have it affect the players.
There are two games that I know of where they came the closest to the feeling of “taking away the safety net”, though like I said, still not perfect.
That would be Megaman X3 and Prince of Persia The Sands of Time.
Now I’d first like to point out that, in STORY, the first Megaman X did the Mentor Character better. But in GAMEPLAY Megaman X3 did it better because it actually affected something.
The Mentor Character in question is Zero, in his first ever playable appearance.
In the game, you can go to the Pause Menu and choose to contact Zero. In story, X simply asks him to take over, in gameplay you will now play a character that is stronger than X in almost every way. He has a stronger weapon, he has more health, he even has an attack that X doesn’t have.
Here’s the catch, he will automatically switch back whenever he’s about to face a boss, forcing you to use X in the Boss Fights.
Not only that but if you die while controlling him, you won’t be able to use him ever again.
Naturally, players all around the world would always switch to Zero if there’s a difficult piece of the level coming up. They end up relying on Zero.
But there’s a special boss in the game who you CAN fight with Zero.
And if you beat him with Zero, he will grab Zero in a deathgrip and explode.
Zero ends up severely damaged, but not before giving his weapon to X.
Now the players are unable to use Zero again, but X is now in gameplay just as powerful as Zero, now that he has his weapon, meaning the game took away the safety net that is Zero and gives X (and by extension the player) the chance to become independent from him.
Sadly, the problem is that, when you think about it, X DOESN’T become independent. It only reinforced that he IS dependent on Zero. The only way X was able to become as powerful as Zero was if he had Zero’s weapon.
Look, out of the Original Trilogy of Star Wars, A New Hope is actually my least favourite of them (Yes, I prefer Return of the Jedi with the Ewoks, so what?), but eventually Luke didn’t copy Obi-Wan to become a hero, he became a hero because he became his own being. He didn’t win the first Death Star battle because he beat Darth Vader with a Lightsaber battle like Obi-Wan tried to do (no, that’s reserved for Return of the Jedi) but because he was a great pilot and did the impossible shot into the Thermal Exhaust Port.
Luke became an independent character because of his own skills, not by taking Obi-Wan’s skills. Obi-Wan was just the safety net that, when taken away, awakened Luke to grow up and become a hero in his own right.
So the set up is there for Megaman X3, but the final detail just forced a bit of a bad implication.
The game that did that detail better was Prince of Persia The Sands of Time, and ironically it is NOT with a Mentor Character.
It’s with a Magical Dagger.
For those who don’t know, Prince of Persia The Sands of Time is a game where you play a Prince who found a Dagger of Time. With it, he can reverse time to escape harm, which comes in handy in a game full of death traps and parkour.
Because the game is filled with death traps, some of them you can’t POSSIBLY see coming, it makes players rely on the Dagger of Time to reverse time and be ahead of those traps.
Naturally, in the climax (heh heh, that means a bit more if you played the game) the dagger gets stolen.
Suddenly you can’t rely on the dagger anymore, and thus the Prince (and again, by extension the player) is forced to go further without a safety net and having to rely on their own skills.
In theory, this would be one of the greatest moments in interactive story telling as the player would experience the loss of something they relied on and having to rely on their other skills to become independent.
Shame said section is probably one of the most frustrating sections in the whole damn game.
I mean, my god, I get what they were going for, but if there’s any flaw in this game, it’s the combat system. It’s repetitive. You use an attack your enemy can’t block, and then you use the finishing move with the dagger. Rinse and repeat ad nauseam. There’s no tactics to it, it’s a chore.
Sadly, THAT’s the skill they focus on during the Dagger-less section, the terribly designed combat.
Thankfully there ARE enough parkour moments during the dagger-less section, but that’s what they should’ve focused on, rather than sprinkle around the terrible combat moments in it which ruined the whole flow.
So in conclusion, I’ve yet to find a game display the safety net idea as well as other games have done with rival characters, and I’d like to see that done well.
If there’s a game you know that you think DID do it right, you’re welcome to tell me. Games are still a relatively new medium and while people like to say that there’s nothing original to do in games anymore, I feel there are actually a lot of basic story stuff that games still need to learn to incorporate it succesfully.