Rated M for Mature

Rated M for Mature
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me

Chris Dahlen | 2 May 2006 12:03
Rated M for Mature - RSS 2.0

"We went forward with the concept because, during Baldur's Gate I, many players assumed such romances were already in place. After adventuring with characters like Imoen for hours on end, the perception that relationships were forming between members of the party just seemed to be natural. We wanted to explore that without obstructing the importance of the main plot."

It also wasn't cheap. "A follower who has a romance is typically about twice as expensive as a basic follower," explains Martens. "There is a significant amount of testing, [voice-over], scripting and, of course, writing in order to do a romance properly. Despite this cost, I wouldn't call the romantic storylines extremely expensive, because we often get more player experience out of them than what we actually write in. The goal of a romance is to add a layer of immersion beyond the moment-to-moment gameplay, and this tends to lead to emergent storytelling that the player writes him or herself. In the feedback that we get from players, they fill in a larger experience or personal story with the romantic character beyond what we've written."

Martens and Kristjanson say it enhances the experience of roleplaying in the game. "Romantic plots, whether a player goes all the way through them or not, tend to add to the world or game experience by offering a deeper level of interaction," says Martens. "If you can get a player to be more invested in the fate of his followers, then you can underline the seriousness of the decisions that the player makes, because they will be more personal."

"From a structure standpoint, we view the romances differently than other side-plots," adds Kristjanson. "They are not so much riddles to be completed, as stories to explore. The rewards are often not as tangible as a typical quest, so to make them compelling and rewarding, we try to tie them into the world as much as possible. While a romance can't interfere with the main plot, it needs to reinforce why that character is on the journey, and perhaps alter the player's perception of the world as a whole."

Baldur's Gate II offered four very different love interests - and yet, many players weren't satisfied. Female characters could only woo the Paladin, who was widely considered a schmuck; and while the guys had three choices with very different personalities, all three were high-maintenance elves. To fill the gap, modders started adding their own romantic storylines to the game; some of them even created completely new characters.

Before he became a Baldur's Gate II modder, Jason Compton of the Pocket Plane Group was just a huge fan of the game. But after reading criticisms about the lack of male love interests, he decided, "I'd heard people complain about it long enough, and I wasn't a fiction writer, but I thought, 'I could probably do this, and I enjoyed the romances in the game, so sure, I'll give it a shot.'"

That led to Kelsey, a red-haired human Sorcerer with killer cheekbones. "Kelsey was more of a regular guy than the player. The player in the game is this spawn of a god that came down to Earth ... and Kelsey was like, 'Yeah, that makes you really cool, but I'm just a guy.' People liked this idea - 'This character loves my character even though he's afraid of her in a way, and doesn't really understand her. But that's OK, he'll hold her and understand her anyway. She's cooler, and he's not competing with it.'"

The project was a huge success for Compton and the Pocket Plane Group, a modding label with under a dozen members. With help from a couple of other modders, Compton finished Kelsey - a fully-functional NPC with a portrait, voice-overs, and 3-4,000 lines of dialogue - in about a year, and in the first year Kelsey was available, he scored over 20,000 downloads.

While Pocket Plane offers a range of mods, Compton says the romantic enhancements get the most traffic. "Most players of these CRPGs ... want this character to be special in some way. So whether that means they've got the best weapons in the world, or everybody wants to get in bed with them or whatever, it's all coming from the same," says Compton. "You can win the game without the +12 hackmaster, you can win without sleeping with Jaheira - but if you can have both? Or all three? Then great. That's part of the appeal."

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