Idle Chatter Builds Character

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Idle Chatter Builds Character

You can build an impressive world with a rich back story, but if you populate it with dull characters it's going to fall flat.

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I couldn't agree more on the LucasArts graphic adventures bit. Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer know how to bring characters to life.

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for bringing up the concept of the 'Silent Protagonist'; a concept I've personally found very tiring for quite some time. I can technically understand the appeal of it, from an 'player-avatar' standpoint, and for some characters it kind of works (Link from Legend of Zelda, and possibly Gordon Freeman)... but that may be due to the fact we're used to it by now.

And now, I feel I need to repost a comment from another Escapist article way back when that someone else said, but that I agree with wholeheartedly:

'I have a huge fucking problem with the concept of a silent protagonist. How on Earth can you relate to a mute character? Gordon Freeman for example. He never says ANYTHING, so if his character is supposed to be based solely on his actions, then he's the fucking Terminator. He never eats, he never sleeps, he never bats an eyelash at murder or his own injuries... FUCK, he can't even say excuse me when NPCs block a hallway. No one else thinks this is really stupid? A work of fiction needs a protagonist with understandable goals and motivation.

In terms of player projection, he's something of a success, but that is not a good thing. If his character is nothing but the player, than Gordon Freeman is only casually invested in the creatures who call him their savior, a pervert who crouches next to Alyx for embarrassing lengths of time to get a juicy view of her ass, a man who is willing to hunt down every single last gooey grub, for hours and hours in an underground insect hive, rather than save his dying friend in a speedy manner.

You want to know a protagonist I felt a genuine kinship with? You want a character I felt immersed by?

Tommy, from 3D Realm's Prey. Why? Because he had a face, a name, and most importantly a voice. He reacted, and realistically, to the seriously messed up crap he was faced with. He vomits when the gravity shifts. He screams rage and pain when harmed. He cries out in panic and confusion when faced with surrealities that the player too cannot at first comprehend. He's grimly satisfied when things go his way, and often says what we're thinking. When he loses his loved ones, his pain IS our pain. The game uses the Half-Life 2 trick of never ever ever taking us out of the 1st person perspective, but without the character's voice, Gordon Freeman just seems like an oblivious oaf with no control or input on what happens unless he is directed by an NPC.'

With you on Gordon Freeman. It wasn't too bad in the first one. But in the second, it got a bit ridiculous. Especially since, unlike with Link, there's no suggestion Gordon is talking and we just don't hear it. Alyx makes a joke in the elevator on how Gordon is a man of few works. Which means in-universe, he's just listening to Alyx and refuses to utter a word to her. How that permanent silence treatment makes her fall in love with the guy is beyond me.

GF works because of the games jabs at the hero, he is a legend that never says anything a guy praised for his intelligence and prowess for saving the world, but his gf and his collegues all tease him at times with the whole hey you do not say much do you thing? or the rather goofy things you can do as a character, like blowing up the microwave.

half life 2 was a great game with good characters that had enough personality to carry the games themselves, dishonored does not have anything that carries the story no great character, no great personalities, no joking at the heros situation or his stoicism or his stupidity.

if gordon freeman talked also we would not have series like gordon freeman's mind, which is just great fun especially if you play the game that same way thinking silly things as you slaughter your way to victory.

Silent protagonists can be done well you can give them your own personality to a degree, but you need other characters to give them context, to flesh out your world and how the other characters view you. Since your own character is not providing anything in that way, you must have that cast the best friend, the girlfriend, the father figure etc that add that element.

For all those who haven't seen "Benny" I'll just leave this here:

In fact, come to think of it, thief 1+ 2 were veritable treasure troves of witty dialogue. There were a lot of great lines used by NPC's desperately trying to convince themselves that that sounds of a drawn sword was just rats, but my all-time favourite has to be...

Heh. "Unnecessary ventilation"

The way Corvo is handled is kinda weird. On one hand he's pretty much silent, responding only when he has to make some kind of decision (unless it's a major one like claiming his innocence in regard to the queen's murder or refusing to become an assassin wearing a creepy mask), but on the other he very rarely makes random remarks to others, like when he (potentially) hits on the bathing servant, for instance. It's like the devs couldn't quite decide whether to give Corvo a personality or not.

bificommander:
With you on Gordon Freeman. It wasn't too bad in the first one. But in the second, it got a bit ridiculous. Especially since, unlike with Link, there's no suggestion Gordon is talking and we just don't hear it. Alyx makes a joke in the elevator on how Gordon is a man of few works. Which means in-universe, he's just listening to Alyx and refuses to utter a word to her. How that permanent silence treatment makes her fall in love with the guy is beyond me.

I think the problem with HL2, as opposed to HL, is the degree of NPC characterisation - everyone has a unique face, talks to Freeman about all kinds of stuff, shows emotions and everything and, more importantly, recognises him as a fleshed out character with a personality, which makes the lack thereof all the more jarring.
Whereas in HL you play more or less as a random scientist amongst other identically looking personnel and your sole task is simply shooting tons of dudes.

The concept of Corvo being turned on by betrayal is immensely entertaining. Thank you for that.

bificommander:
With you on Gordon Freeman. It wasn't too bad in the first one. But in the second, it got a bit ridiculous. Especially since, unlike with Link, there's no suggestion Gordon is talking and we just don't hear it. Alyx makes a joke in the elevator on how Gordon is a man of few works. Which means in-universe, he's just listening to Alyx and refuses to utter a word to her. How that permanent silence treatment makes her fall in love with the guy is beyond me.

I'd argue that bringing her back from the dead, being the hero of the Black Mesa incident and good old physical attraction lead to that. Or bad writing, it's up to interpretation. Also, Gordon Freeman has plenty of personality, just watch Freeman's mind :P

OT: I agree with every single point, player surrogate characters are generally a bad idea. Sure, there are a select few times they pay off, but for the most part if robs a game of so much. Imagine Spec Ops: The Line, with a silent protagonists, we'd loose so much.

Hey, wasn't Yahtzee saying positive shit about Gordon Freeman (at least in HL 1) being a silent protagonist a few months ago?

I smell mixed messages! NURSE!

Shannon Spencer Fox:
Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for bringing up the concept of the 'Silent Protagonist'; a concept I've personally found very tiring for quite some time. I can technically understand the appeal of it, from an 'player-avatar' standpoint, and for some characters it kind of works (Link from Legend of Zelda, and possibly Gordon Freeman)... but that may be due to the fact we're used to it by now.

And now, I feel I need to repost a comment from another Escapist article way back when that someone else said, but that I agree with wholeheartedly:

'I have a huge fucking problem with the concept of a silent protagonist. How on Earth can you relate to a mute character? Gordon Freeman for example. He never says ANYTHING, so if his character is supposed to be based solely on his actions, then he's the fucking Terminator. He never eats, he never sleeps, he never bats an eyelash at murder or his own injuries... FUCK, he can't even say excuse me when NPCs block a hallway. No one else thinks this is really stupid? A work of fiction needs a protagonist with understandable goals and motivation.

In terms of player projection, he's something of a success, but that is not a good thing. If his character is nothing but the player, than Gordon Freeman is only casually invested in the creatures who call him their savior, a pervert who crouches next to Alyx for embarrassing lengths of time to get a juicy view of her ass, a man who is willing to hunt down every single last gooey grub, for hours and hours in an underground insect hive, rather than save his dying friend in a speedy manner.

You want to know a protagonist I felt a genuine kinship with? You want a character I felt immersed by?

Tommy, from 3D Realm's Prey. Why? Because he had a face, a name, and most importantly a voice. He reacted, and realistically, to the seriously messed up crap he was faced with. He vomits when the gravity shifts. He screams rage and pain when harmed. He cries out in panic and confusion when faced with surrealities that the player too cannot at first comprehend. He's grimly satisfied when things go his way, and often says what we're thinking. When he loses his loved ones, his pain IS our pain. The game uses the Half-Life 2 trick of never ever ever taking us out of the 1st person perspective, but without the character's voice, Gordon Freeman just seems like an oblivious oaf with no control or input on what happens unless he is directed by an NPC.'

I think Link in particular works for 3 reasons: First, it is clear that Link is actually saying something, we just don't get to see his dialog. Second, the Zelda games are not heavy with character interaction so his lack of speech almost never comes up. Third, and most importantly, Link emotes all the time. When something surprises link, he reacts. If it would get an eyebrow raise from most of us, it gets a full body reaction, sometimes even a step backwards. If we would jump back, he literally falls over. If a Goron tries to hug him, he flips out screaming and runs away. When he is damaged, he grunts or yelps or something to indicate he is a person.

Basically, Link shows emotion, even when he doesn't speak. Your typical silent protagonist doesn't just not talk, they never make a sound and we never see them emote. That is the main problem. They never show a hint of emotion.

I think Fallout 3 has this very problem. The world and set up is amazing but everyone seems so stale because the first conversation you have with some tends to be the only one you can have FOREVAR. I mean I would be asking Ghouls what the old world was like at a mile a minute (yay Carol) or asking Jericho what the deal is with his skewered teddy bear.

It was done so much better in Fallout New Vegas, especially the companions who you could question about things until they got grumpy and then they would open up when something else relevant happened.

As a woman I kind of like silent protagonists in that they kind of allow me to forget I'm sometimes playing a hulking man beast but they shouldn't be the go to response for devs every time.

I agree about the deficiency of the characters and the dialogue, but I thought the biggest issue was lack of creativity in the story itself. For all of its successful world building, the narrative of Dishonored relies on and uses almost none of it. The reliance of the city's wealth and innovation on oil brutally extracted from live whales, for instance, is not dealt with in the slightest by the narrative itself.

Instead, we are given an entirely dull and predictable tale of rescue princess, kill evil-doers with nothing of the subtlety or complexity found in the world itself. The developers took such great care to create a spectacular fictional world, but seem to have forgotten that a fictional world is merely a backdrop (albeit an important one) for the stories and characters found within.

This is the problem with most Bethesda games nice world interesting back-story terrible npc dialogue.

But still yahtzee didn't you praise half life for it silent protagonist I would like to know what's the different between Gordon and the main character of dishonored.

Smertnik:

I think the problem with HL2, as opposed to HL, is the degree of NPC characterisation - everyone has a unique face, talks to Freeman about all kinds of stuff, shows emotions and everything and, more importantly, recognises him as a fleshed out character with a personality, which makes the lack thereof all the more jarring.
Whereas in HL you play more or less as a random scientist amongst other identically looking personnel and your sole task is simply shooting tons of dudes.

Exactly. Freeman doesn't work as a silent protagonist because it's so blatantly put out there that he does have a character and personailty. Right from the front of the box, we know exactly what he looks like. From the way every character in the game world interacts at him, we know he does have an actual defined character and a defined personality. Counter to how a silent protagonist actual;y works, with Freeman there is no empty vessel to inhabit, he's just a fully fleshed out character that, for no reason, does not talk.

I still thing Mass effect nailed the line between dialogue for exposition and dialogue for characters sake.

One of my favourite things to do after a mission in those games was "do my rounds" and talk to everyone to see what they had to say.

I've been keeping 3 fucks written down on 3 pieces of paper in my wallet to give out per week... If I could, I'd give one to Yahtzee right now. Hell, I'd probably give him 2.

At least Samuel had some kind of personality in Dishonored.

Meanwhile all the guards have died of lung cancer from all the cigar's they've been having....

What we say can reveal facts about the world around us. How we say it reveals who we are in that world. Too much dialogue is written from a "what" standpoint rather than "how."

As to the voice acting... I think the cardinal sin is recording lines in a vacuum, devoid of context. I can't tell you how disheartening it is to be playing an otherwise great game, but hear a botched exchange like:

"That guy is never on time."
"I know, it's like he wants to get fired."

And all you're left thinking is, given the context, it's obviously meant to go, "I know, it's like he wants to get fired." And it becomes obvious that the voice actor was working with half the script.

There's all this ragging on Gordon Freeman being a silent protagonist, but what about Link (or as Yahtzee calls him, Fagballs)? He's the ur-example of the silent protagonist with a blank-slate personality. Even in a world where people talk only in text boxes (which sounds kind of existentially horrifying), not even Link can speak; he just wordlessly takes orders from anyone who makes the Action button say talk.

I don't really have anything against Gordon Freeman's silence. Mostly because the games makes several knowing winks and nods to player in that regard, and it is sort of implied that Gordon, even if he doesn't speak, emotes at some points, although the player can't see it. It makes his silence a sort of bend between a tradition and a low-key joke the player is in on.

But, yeah, other games doesn't really have this kind of excuse.

Dastardly:
What we say can reveal facts about the world around us. How we say it reveals who we are in that world. Too much dialogue is written from a "what" standpoint rather than "how."

As to the voice acting... I think the cardinal sin is recording lines in a vacuum, devoid of context. I can't tell you how disheartening it is to be playing an otherwise great game, but hear a botched exchange like:

"That guy is never on time."
"I know, it's like he wants to get fired."

And all you're left thinking is, given the context, it's obviously meant to go, "I know, it's like he wants to get fired." And it becomes obvious that the voice actor was working with half the script.

So much truth to this. It really shows sometimes, too, even with a single voice actor. Case in point: Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. There were times where the main character would be in some mind-twistingly bizarre situation and would comment on something like he was making a snack recommendation to someone he didn't really like... but other times, there was a real sense of confusion and fear being conveyed. It was clear that the voice actor was actually making an effort but hadn't been given clear context on all of the lines.

Giving voice actors context and letting them play off of each other always helps, especially when the actors are good at what they do. Disney tends to grasp this.

Yahtzee, you hit that nail right on the head. The dialogue in Thief 1&2 is the reason I insist on keeping an old desktop that has been out of date for almost 10 years just to play them.

I agree with the fact that they REALLY needed to give Corvo a voice. The interactions between the guards was also really robotic.

"Are we meeting for whiskey tonight?"
"Chances are really good."

The Thief series wasn't much better than that.

"Even'n."
"How goes it?"

There were far scripted extended conversations in the Thief series. That argument on the rooftop between the four guards was EPIC and hilarious.

Dishonored is a great game, but it cut one too many corners.

I think the problem with Silent Protagonists is that in the vast majority of cases the developers miss the entire point in having a Silent Protagonist to begin with. SPs are intended to be someone the player themselves can be in that world, but then they just railroad the character and thus the player into situations that are ridiculous and often completely avoidable if the player had actual input with little to no control over what they're doing, how they do it, or what they say in the meantime. In short, the player is never really given a chance to project their own personality into the game world. For instance, how many times in the story of a game with an SP do you find some NPC that wants you to do something, then you're given a "choice" between agreeing or refusing, and if you refuse they either ignore you and ask the question again until you agree or just say something like "you said no, but you really mean yes, so let's go?" In other words, with an SP the player is supposed to step into the shoes of a character but they're never actually given the chance to step into the shoes of that character.

This is why I like games like Knights of the Old Republic and Dragon Age Origins so much, since thanks to their dialog choice system they give me the chance to give my own personality to my SP to a certain extent. There are limits of course, but in most cases I can find something to say and do that I probably would have if I were in that situation.

Darth_Payn:
There's all this ragging on Gordon Freeman being a silent protagonist, but what about Link (or as Yahtzee calls him, Fagballs)? He's the ur-example of the silent protagonist with a blank-slate personality. Even in a world where people talk only in text boxes (which sounds kind of existentially horrifying), not even Link can speak; he just wordlessly takes orders from anyone who makes the Action button say talk.

But as Yahtzee mentions on the article you are commenting on and therefore I would like to assume you have read, Link does speak in most LoZ games; it's just that his specific dialogue isn't shown. HL and I deduce Dishonoured don't imply their main character are speaking and let you imagine what they are saying, rather they imply they never speak at all.

i love the withnail and i comment and on reflection withnail may act like a drunken bastard yet is on of the most likeable, tragic and sympathetic characters i have ever seen in film

Good point Yahtzee; I have always felt the same way in that area, but none the less what you say cannot be achieved can still work out, just need a good writer.

Darth_Payn:
There's all this ragging on Gordon Freeman being a silent protagonist, but what about Link (or as Yahtzee calls him, Fagballs)? He's the ur-example of the silent protagonist with a blank-slate personality. Even in a world where people talk only in text boxes (which sounds kind of existentially horrifying), not even Link can speak; he just wordlessly takes orders from anyone who makes the Action button say talk.

Link is so firmly entrenched as a silent protagonist, the purpose of which is to allow the player to create a personality for Link and, in such a long running series, to make Link in any way a speaking character would create MASSIVE fan outrage. They don't want link to all of a sudden act completely contradictory to how they've always imagined him [one of the many flaws of the CD-I games and the TV series, which made him goofy and generic(not that making him dark and serious would really be any better)]. I don't see Nintendo of all developers, well known as they are for "sticking to tradition", to make such a dangerous move against the core fanbase for one of their biggest franchises.

Also see, the only thing wrong with Chrono Trigger. It would have been a bit more interesting if Crono actually participated in the plot in more ways than just nodding his head, a few one to two word dialogue choices, and lots of killing things.

This is what turned me off Chrono Cross as well. You expect me to play through a 100+ hour RPG where my main character is nothing but a cardboard cutout to be dragged along by the side characters? Maybe some other time, thanks.

ah..dammit! I havnt played dishonoured yet and going into a game without any pre conceived Ideas is important to me...*sigh*

I agree about the dialouge/exposition thing, then again ita hard to do because lets face it....players are prettymuch sociopathic cats in terms of attention span and behaviour

I never understand the fear of giving a character a voice/character. I understand that some games are better with an blank check character (skyrim) but if there is a story and any major relationships at least let me understand by having my character talk about them.

Without my character talking it is up to me to make up every emotion and at that point I am playing a robot who is trying to figure out what emotions are correct for this event.

WaitWHAT:
For all those who haven't seen "Benny" I'll just leave this here:

Thanks that kept me from having to think too hard about who benny was. As soon as I saw where they were standing and the basic conversation I remembered Benny.

Best part about the arrow guards is helping the winner along by putting an arrow in him. I know not very thief like, but hey he was using same very naughty language.

Dastardly:
What we say can reveal facts about the world around us. How we say it reveals who we are in that world. Too much dialogue is written from a "what" standpoint rather than "how."

As to the voice acting... I think the cardinal sin is recording lines in a vacuum, devoid of context. I can't tell you how disheartening it is to be playing an otherwise great game, but hear a botched exchange like:

"That guy is never on time."
"I know, it's like he wants to get fired."

And all you're left thinking is, given the context, it's obviously meant to go, "I know, it's like he wants to get fired." And it becomes obvious that the voice actor was working with half the script.

Argh! That irritates me so much! I love Bard's Tale to bits but I sigh in frustration at one particular scene of bad voice direction.

A part in the game has the Bard irritated at an ongoing joke of alliteration to which he becomes a part of at the end. After he realizes this he says the line, "Now I'm doing it.". This line is said as a plain fact with no inflection(I might be misusing this word) of his voice. Clearly the line is supposed to go, "Now I'm doing it!" stressing the word 'I'm', the lack of a proper delivery ruins an otherwise amusing scene.

immortalfrieza:
I think the problem with Silent Protagonists is that in the vast majority of cases the developers miss the entire point in having a Silent Protagonist to begin with. SPs are intended to be someone the player themselves can be in that world, but then they just railroad the character and thus the player into situations that are ridiculous and often completely avoidable if the player had actual input with little to no control over what they're doing, how they do it, or what they say in the meantime.

I agree with this. Throughout Dishonored, I couldn't help but think "Why a silent protagonist when I'm not given any choice at all?"
And no, killing or not killing people is not a real choice. If you want the good ending- you don't kill anyone (enjoy having TWO ways of doing this instead of the 12+ for a violent playthrough) and vice-versa. Collecting supplies is not a choice either- you ALWAYS want the health/ammo/gold.

Ironically, I think RPGs in the past had a lot more choice.
Shouldn't characterization and choice be improving along with graphics etc.?

Darth_Payn:
There's all this ragging on Gordon Freeman being a silent protagonist, but what about Link (or as Yahtzee calls him, Fagballs)? He's the ur-example of the silent protagonist with a blank-slate personality. Even in a world where people talk only in text boxes (which sounds kind of existentially horrifying), not even Link can speak; he just wordlessly takes orders from anyone who makes the Action button say talk.

Yes but you can see him responding with emotion and such even during the text only cutscenes.

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