Do you ever find yourself wishing that the game allowed you turn the safety off when pointing your gun at friendly NPC's? Do you find yourself smacking the 'skip' button over and over again every time they open their mouths to excrete a never ending stream of expositional dialogue? Many game developers have suffered from the uphill struggle of getting allied AI to be likable in games.
Players don't want to be sub-servant to bland characters that constantly interrupt the flow of natural progression. Even if the character is the most colorful and vivid of personalities it can be REALLY difficult to get players to admire the NPC if they are slowing down progress in any way. Even if the story requires it. And now we're dealing with this issue in Emma.
Without really giving away any plot, Emma is an NPC that will follow Kiba through a large portion of our saga. She will be talking and interacting with you A LOT. If she is even slightly irritating in any way, we are screwed and we will be getting scathing reviews that could hurt us greatly in the long run. Even Valve and Irrational had a difficult time getting people to like Alyx and Elizabeth respectively. "Naggy" was the word I believe a lot of early playtesters used. So if those guys had a tough time with all the talent and resources they had at their fingertips how do we stand a chance? I think the answer is in personality and how it relates to the core gameplay and story. It must be all relevant. So here's the basic rundown on Emma's personality:
- She's inventive.
- She's brutally honest and blunt.
- She's the miscreant adventurer with a heart o' gold.
Now conveying those traits accurately story-wise is up to our excellent writer Jenni, but I'm here to talk about visual design. Below was her old design/model. Dear god it's hideous.
Well not TOTALLY hideous but it was done in a rush without much thought. It didn't really give the her the sense of creativity that we were going for. She just looked... meh. We want her to be this tough, doesn't-take-crap-from-no-one kind of chick and here she just looks whiny and boring. I brought this up with Eric and he immediately saw it. I also think he kind of hated the model before and just didn't have the heart to tell me. So he did a redesign with the intent of making her more memorable and just more entertaining to look at. (Also we ditched the bag because screw rigging that up.)
We gave her a crazy hat and made her look more fit for exploration. Got rid of the baggy clothes and strapped on some actual boots and gloves so she wouldn't have issues treading the forest floor. We also decided to brighten up her color scheme a bit because before we redesigned her she was no match for Kiba's crazy red scarf and bright blue hair. This was ze result -
I think it's better and but we won't really know what people think until playtesting. This could be a step backwards for all we know. In terms of conveying who she is I think the new look is more representative. She's definitely a lot more vibrant but because she will be teaching Kiba a lot about himself through this journey we want to shy away from the 'manic-pixie-dream-girl' syndrome. To combat that trope we made her look a little grumpy and ready to kick some ass. If anything looks off-kilter to you, post a comment. The more feedback the better!
So I suppose the moral of this post is to not design things haphazardly. ESPECIALLY friendly NPCs. Because we didn't put a lot of thought into how she came across we ended up having to redo a lot of work. The upside was that seeing the deformed mess she was before really taught us to take a step back and consider what we were doing. And such is the life of a game designer. Iteration upon iteration upon iteration.