This is a port of a couple of posts posted on my old narrative design blog, focusing on what makes the player connect with a character when they first meet them. I use two characters from the sci-fi drama/romance visual novel Andromeda Six.
Before we meet this character we hear a lot about him – that he’s an assassin who plays with knives and calls himself a spy, but also that he talks bigger than he is, and Bash can hear him coming from a mile away. This gives the player an image of the character before meeting him – a dark, dangerous assassin, but perhaps someone with a bit of an ego who isn’t taken as seriously as they’d like. For those that play these types of games often, the writing invokes the ‘Bad Boy’ trope. Whether this is played straight or subverted is yet to be seen, however players who like this sort of character will already be warming up to him.
Damon’s first line is interrupting Bash as he gossips about him. This shows us from the offset that Damon is no stranger to confrontation and that he relays a certain outward self-confidence.
Saw me what?
He follows this up with clear sarcasm. This is probably why I like the guy so much – one after my own heart!
Delightful. Please, don’t let me stop you.
Before he is given a chance to say more, his body language and the way he looks at the player character is described. Getting some physicality in there is really nice and helps transport the player into the story – we can imagine the movement as if blocking out a play.
The use of the word ‘prey’ is clearly pandering to a certain audience, but from what I’ve seen of the fan community, Damon is the most popular character, so the devs really knew who they were making this for! I’m in this audience myself so…can’t argue!
Damon is leaning nonchalantly against the wall
cold stare…makes me feel I’m not so much a guest on this ship but his prey
The player character then wonders if he really is an assassin, calling back to what Bash said earlier and introducing a mystery around the character. Getting drawn into the story of a mysterious character and trying to find out more about them is an excellent hook.
I wonder if he really is an assassin.
I feel a slinking presence behind me, dark and ominous and entirely dangerous.
After this, Damon warns the player not to interrupt a conversation happening on the bridge. He calls them little and stupid, shifting him towards antagonistic and shifting the power dynamic between him and the player. Despite this – he was giving them a helpful warning, which might suggest that he has their best interests at heart. This small glimpse of kindness in an otherwise mean character is a complete gift to the players who want to romance a ‘scoundrel with a heart of gold’. We also get another little physical detail in that his voice is described as raspy.
Looks like our little stowaway has lost more than just her memory, You’d be pretty stupid to interrupt that conversation.
The player does not reply to his comment about the conversation, and he responds with:
What’s the matter, cat got your tounge?
It then describes his grin as ‘wide and wolfish’, coming back to the animal metaphor we got when the player was described as his prey.
We then get a little plot from him – we find out about another character and his opinions on them. He goes off on a story about a tiger which is not entirely relevant but does show character. Mostly, it leads into this line:
Had big fluffy doe eyes, kind of like you.
Considering we have this context of ‘prey’ – this is excellent. He’s flirting.
An interesting follow up to the reams of description is this line:
I’m sure you like what you see, but its rude to stare.
It brings the necessary descriptive elements and moment to moment gameplay together, making the present tense writing feel more real and develops player presence a bit. This would probably be obvious and annoying if it happened everytime a character was described, but for a character like Damon who would call you out, its excellent.
We are then given a choice that sets up whether the main character has any initial interest.
One option lets us ask why he thinks he can intimidate us, shooting him down, and the other sets up a flirtatious argument that will become the norm for interaction with Damon. I like the idea of letting the player make an initial assessment of the character, whether just for the player’s headcanon or to use mechanically to drive the narrative later on.
Regardless of what you say, Damon gets into your space, with some more nice character description and flirty, yet antagonistic, dialog. When the player calls him out on messing with them, he shows his true colours and confesses that he really only wanted to save them from the captain’s wrath, elaborating on the ‘scoundrel with a heart of gold’ trope I mentioned earlier.
Overall, we see that Damon is a sarcastic, antagonistic, domineering flirt who – despite it all -has the player’s best interests at heart. His motivation in this scene was to prevent the player from interrupting the captain. I like that he has his own motivation here and its not a clear ‘introduce the character’ segment – it makes for a much more interesting glimpse into who Damon is.
June is a very different character archetype from Damon. The first time the player meets him is also in the opening of the game, so the scene has to pull more weight in terms of establishing the world and player character.
We get a very small amount of narration before we meet June. All we know about our character is that we are unaware of where we are and that we feel unwell.
June appears, and we see his sprite alongside his theme music. The music and art do a lot here. As his theme’s baseline is reminicent of a banjo and he has a gun strapped to his chest, we get a cowboy/gunslinger vibe before he has any dialog. Despite this, we see a surpised, soft expression, which undermines some of the steryotypes about this type of character.
The first thing we have described about June is his height – both an important character detail as is revealed later – and something a lot of people are into romantically.
His first lines are apologetic and kind, showing that politeness is one of the defining characteristics of the character.
Oh, I didn’t know you were awake…Apologies, I should’ve knocked.”
We get some description of his mannerisms, describing the way he sits in the chair. We are in bed at this point, so him sitting down brings us to an even level. Had he remained standing, he would have come across as powerful or intimidating and that isn’t the vibe the designers intended for June. Even though it isn’t seen in a visual novel style game, blocking is still important.
He asks the main character how they are, again affirming his polite and kind nature.
“How are you feeling?”
After this we seen an early appraisal of him from the main character. The kindness and safe feeling that June gives off is more explicitly told to the player.
“gentle half-smile…casual posture”
“pistols…nothing in his demeanour that suggests he intends to use them.”
“He certainly doesn’t look like he’s here to harm me.”
We get some early hints of romance after this, describing him as warm.
“something I like about them. Something…warm.”
He then worries about the main character, yet again showing his demeanor and alluding to plot things.
“I was worried about you after…”
This leads into the player learning they have amnesia, and a section about them trying to get their memory back.
I used a similar device in my Sarriah opening, but what works here is that it is done fairly slowly. In my opening the player asks what happened and Sarriah immedatly assumes they have amnesia – that doesn’t make a lot of sense. In Andromeda Six it is gradual. The player asks where they are, June introduces himself and the ship and then asks the player to introduce themselves. When they fail to do so, we realise they have amnesia.
He then takes the player through some breathing exercises (again, because he cares – we really know this by now) and reveals how the player was found and where. There are no assumtions made about who the player is, which leads well into the main plot. Again, this is where my introduction fell flat, as I had Sarriah just assume the player was part of a worker’s rebellion. Her assumtion is fitting of her character, but it needs to be drawn out significantly rather than magic leaps of logic.
Back to June, we get some more hints of romance as he helps the player to stand. We get a lot of descrription about how the main character feels in his grip, and some typical romance physical contact.
“…concern dripping from him.”
“June offers his hand to help me stand, and when I take it his skin is surpisingly warm, a stark contrast to the cold metal walls.”
“Despire the rougness of his skin, tha callouses on his fingers, his touch is gentle.”
“…a strong arm wraps around my waist, holding me up.”
“…golden tan. About the strength I can feel under the fabric of his clothes.”
The player is given the option to flirt as part of this segment, which leads to June being very embarassed. This reaction is very fitting to the character, helps establish your character (would you flirt with someone you just met when severley injured?), and gets the notion that this character is a love interest across early.
Overall, we see that June is a sweetheart who cares about the player’s wellbeing – not because he’s attracted to them, as is implied with Damon, – but because he’s a good person. His motivation in the scene is simply to check on the player, but it doesn’t come across as a simple meet the character because its very much in his nature to do so.
It feels decidedly less forumlic than Damon’s introduction, though that may be because I pay attention to Damon-like characers because I have a type…
If we were to boil meeting June down to a forumla it would be:
- Introduce the character with some dialog typical of their main personality.
- Show the character’s body language.
- Have some plot.
- Have some flirting and physical description.
- Give the player a chance to comment on how much they like the character.
This is similar to Damon, but with more plot and none of the ‘what do others think vs what do you think’ parts. This shows that hearing other character’s opinions of the character before you meet them, while interesting, isn’t necessary, and might be something that is only needed for characters who’s internal natures differ from the front they put up.