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On Characterisation... my Downfall (also xposted from jahowe.wordpress.com
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Monday, July 15, 2013

Yes, you get two posts this week, because I didn’t do any last week. This one’s more writing-entailed:

I LOVE worldbuilding. Ohhh yeah. But oddly, characterization is where I have a downfall. I mean, a serious one. Back when my husband and I were playing World of Warcraft, I had something like 40+ characters, and they were all pretty distinct from one another. But at the same time, he noticed the other day when we were talking about it, that I didn’t really let them evolve much. So when I got to other games I ended up with archetypes, that I created over and over: there was the ditsy fighter, the overly-arrogant fighter who’s obtuse, the hunter who really doesn’t like people much and would rather just hunt, the cute little thing who likes people a lot but wants to kick ass, and the person who just wants to be evil as possible. Over and over, I end up with this bunch, or versions of them. My husband called them “templates”, and I do have to agree.

Problem: Wow does and doesn’t have a storyline to go by, so I’m not stuck in one. I had characters who were basically doing their own thing, finding their way in the world. So I ended up with widely diverse stories for each of them. There was for instance the Quest for Gadgetzan with Tinyforce and Jangle, wherein those two spent maybe three months finding the famous place. There was Fethenne’s encounter in the dark, where she was in this town in the evening, went out to get the mail, and ran into an enemy boomkin who was massacreing everyone but then bowed to her, left her alone, and disappeared. There was the point in the Thousand Needles (pre-Cataclysm), when Linlek got all black garb, and became Linlek the Amazing, (mon), after which every time she killed someone she’d yell “Yah, mon, you been Linlekked!” … the list goes on.

I will say, Guild Wars 2 didn’t start out too great for this, but over the past few months it’s grown on me a bit more. The Living World stuff they keep doing there is very good for this character development. I’ve been picking and choosing which characters would do stuff regarding this event or that one, and finding out things about them along the way, at last. Emini, for instance, my “hunter who just wants to hunt”, found out about this Karka Invasion back when, from the other hunters, heard there’d be giant creatures to take down, and so she went, and ended up tracking them to the islands, where she took out a mess of them, much to her satisfaction. Yorggi Yordsen, my “obliviously arrogant fighter” (mesmer), went to the same event but he just went to the isles for exploration (because he’s the “greatest explorer ever”). After he’d done some taking down of the Karka himself, he got a bit of a swelled head, so since then he’d been insisting he was “killing things/taking them out of the ground with his bare hands”. He ran across my husband’s Guardian who thought he was being rather sneaky about stuff, so he concluded he must be a “thief-mesmer”. And now he’s gone to the fabulous Bazaar of the Four Winds, where he’s been doing great leaps, turning into amazing elemental beings, and destroying giant monsters (with his bare hands)… and so on

LOTRO is much less forgiving – I have the (at times like these unfortunate) advantage of knowing the story it came from backwards and forwards. I can’t speak Quenya, but I know where to look this or that word up, and I know that there’s a lot of stuff in the Appendices that was fleshed-out by Turbine (pretty well, I think). So I know where I could look this or that up if I wanted the original source. But… a hobbit is a hobbit. I know damn well what those are. And so I have kind of a mental wall that I won’t pass over when working at a hobbit character. Karlto the Great can be obtuse enough to think he’s the King of Angmar, just because they called him “Sovereign” there once, but he won’t start casting evil spells. Nor will Sprice or Kumquat start admiring the engineering tactics of goblins in the Misty Mountains. It just isn’t HOBBIT. And, well, I can make a slightly-darker-gypsyish elf from the Bay of Belfalas, who will be a bit nastier than the more northern ones, and whose Lore-Mastery will be darker, because she’s the closest (in region) of all of them to Mordor. It makes sense in my mind. But there’s no way any other elf of mine, all of whom are from the more northern ends of the world, like Ered Luin, Rivendell, northern Mirkwood, or Lothlorien, would be like that! Mirkwood’s dark, yeah, but in a completely different way. And… well, you see that’s where my wall is for the elves…

So, in LOTRO I end up with an issue that’s really big; the people there all “have” to follow the story. No, not all of them do the game’s storyline, I don’t mean that – it just ties in to knowing all of that tale because I read it just about once a year for twenty-eight years or so. Yeah, I KNOW that thing. Makes it really hard to NOT have hobbits be what I think of as hobbits due to the storyline.

In the end, it’s to my mind the reason WoW is even now so successful; you can do your thing in there. Yes, if you want to follow the reams of lore there to the letter, you can. If you only sort of want a troll who acts like a troll (according to their version), you can – I eventually had a Creole/French-speaking Death Knight Troll who was really confused when she stopped being a dk, so she thought for a while that she was going to pick up where Arthas obviously left off… till she became zen after meeting the friendly ogres of Northrend. If you want a standard kickass Paladin, you can do THAT, and have her follow her own story: I had Ysabeta Del Norte, who wasn’t so concerned about the Lich King, or anything specific, just following La Luz and fighting off EVERYTHING that was evil… yeah, there’s great opportunity for variety in gameplay. In characterization. In – a ton of stuff.

I haven’t yet run across another game that allows me to go there with characters as much, that combines writing with amazing landscapes with opportunity for vastly different characterizations, with crafting… yeah, I admit sometimes the writing in Wow is – ouch. Sometimes the crafting drove me bananas. Gods only know, their bugs were numerous. (lol I shudder to think of someday having bug reports/patch notes that big, now that I’m learning what that actually entails). At the same time – there’s still nothing like it out there. I’m actually curious to see what others think about this – characterization-wise, story-wise, what other writers might think of it… Wow started to show its age (to my mind at least) a couple years ago, and they tried hard to reboot it a little, but not enough. But what do you think? Is it too old to really change effectively? My husband left because it just wasn’t doing it for him anymore, and I left because by their “endgame”, I found that my characterization ideas got hampered. Not good. You?

We did briefly try out AION, in the midst of searching for The Game to Replace Wow. (It’s still going, that search). Now, what AION does is pretty neat; I’ll agree. I like the idea of the Ascended ones, and I was thrilled that they had both a “light” and a “dark” side you could play on, so it definitely allowed for variety of characters. I honestly stopped because I couldn’t get the flying concept in there, which seems to be a major thing after level 10. If I’m hampered by game mechanics, it just doesn’t work out. (the same thing happened in Star Wars: The Old Republic).

Guild Wars 2, though, is amazingly enough starting in my mind to finally make its mark in the world of gaming. The Living Story stuff is still pretty incredible. Sure, we’ve now seen the “thingies coming out of portal X scattered around the world” several times over. And gods only know I spent a whole day with a mess of other people, commisserating over how we were having trouble figuring out the jumping puzzle that encompasses the Bazaar (and which you must complete to get all the way to the other side of it, and the other waypoint there), how we kept dying by falling off it over and over, how we figured it out bit by bit, congratulating those of us who actually GOT to the end… but that was pretty neat all the same. (lol I remember clearly one person cheering Yorggi on…). Yeah, it’s getting good for characterization. What are you guys thinking of GW2, now that it’s been around several months, and is obviously evolving?

In the end, because I play computer games for a couple of reasons – and characterization ideas is one big one – I feel this can only help my writing. I’m not writing much at the moment but basing characters of mine on ideas I’ve gotten from gameplay somewhere is something I’ve often done, so it makes sense if I get something out of it when I work more on the depth of them. I want stronger male characters, for one thing; I always have a problem writing that. And I need practice at it, so that I can have them in, for instance, Rubikia, or Zagga, or Kritter. I need female fighters who aren’t all the same cardboard cutouts of one another. My current gaming female fighters are designated pretty well in my mind, I just need to give each of them depth so they’re different from one another. So that then, I can write my own female fighters to be special. I need, in effect, to have not just generic archetypes, but variety among that bunch. Thellraen and Sprice are different races, but they need to be REALLY different fighters, not just “we’re going to get rid of this bad guy because we can.” Same with Alenidan and Finnsech..

What are your thoughts on characterization of characters in games? What are your favorite games regarding that, the ones you feel give you the most latitude?

Lots to think about, and to work on, and to write out.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post:
JHOWE16 9/6/2013 2:28PM

    I agree about "Project Titan". That one and "Elder Scrolls Online" are just making me nervous; way too much secrecy isn't doing either one a favor, methinks. I've seen a ton of complaints regarding that with ESO actually.

Can understand the issue with an MMO screwing up schedules.

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RIGEIN24 7/16/2013 7:34PM

    This made me miss WoW. I think I had the same downfalls, but mostly because I'm an inexperienced writer. Though I quit playing long ago, because I feel it was also getting old, I'm still attached to my characters and agree it's hard to find a game that can replace it. I haven't tried GW2, though. I would if I didn't know that getting into an MMO again would seriously wreck my schedule! I get addicted to that environment too easily.

I had a Forsaken of every class and each one had a different outlook on the Plague. I think that's as far as my depth went, lol. Other than that, they suffered from a lot of personality tropes (i.e. templates).

What do you think about Blizzard's yet-to-be Titan title? I was cautiously optimistic, but after Diablo 3, my faith is lower than before.

BTW your characters sound interesting to me!

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