Thursday, July 2, 2009

I Want To Play Awesome, Fun People Full Of Awesomeness

I had one of those gaming epiphanies the other day. I get them every so often, but I can usually lie down in a dark room with a wet washcloth on my head and make them go away. But not this time.

Here's what I decided. I don't mind if a game like Final Fantasy or Grand Theft Auto gives me a fixed character and tells me my story without letting me choose anything important about it. I'm cool with that. I can still have a lot of fun. But ...

I will no longer play any game that makes my character an insufferable, fun-hating prig.

This first started getting on my nerves with Grand Theft Auto 4. In this series, you're supposed to be this crazy criminal dude running around and doing wild, crazy things, right? Total adolescent power fantasy stuff, right? Well, instead, you play Niko Bellic, a tormented Serb with a dark past whose issues have issues. He's a grim guy. He hangs out with his cousin Roman, who is obsessed with drinking, gambling and strip clubs. And trying to not get too bogged down in his cousin's freaky drama.

After about 20 hours, I realized that I wished I was playing Roman. He had more fun.

Then the first downloadable content for GTA 4 came out. The Lost and the Damned. It's about biker gangs, so that's gonna get crazy, right? Well, your character is the responsible, business-oriented, goal-focused member of the gang, constantly berating your wild, devil-may-care superior. I instantly loathed myself.

Last week, I tried out Lost Odyssey, a huge RPG for the XBox. It's a gorgeous game, really pretty and high budget. But you play this (wait for it) grim, tormented immortal who never smiles or has fun or does anything to lighten up his joyless trudge through eternity. And, early on, you meet this immortal girl, and she's really hot and she wears shirts with no backs and flirts with you. And what's just about the first thing you try to do?

Punch her.

Seriously. She pokes fun at you and you take a swing at her and she jumps away. And what the hell? I want to spend 40 hours maneuvering this douchebag? It seemed like a neat game, but I'm sick of playing games where I hate the dude who's always in the middle of the screen.

Know what game I loved? Final Fantasy X. (Warning. Spoilers for a 75 year old game ahead.) In it, you play Tidus, who is a SPORTS STAR who gets to make time with HOT, MYSTICAL BABES, and who loves to laugh. And sure, you eventually turn out to not exist and dissolve, but sometimes that's the price you gotta' pay to have a good time, amirite?

(If you watch the video I linked to above, the awesomeness starts at 2:00.)

So there. That's my pet peeve. I have enough self-loathing in my regular life, without loathing my imaginary self too. I have two small kids. Jesus, let me have fun SOMEWHERE.


  1. Maybe the guys that make GTA4 and Lost Odyssey have way too mutch fun in their lives and so they make games that are a different experience for them :P

    Or maybe teens are the main target market for those games and they like to be depressed (do they? I'm just 25 and I no longer understand teens anymore... sad but true...)

    Or maybe... those games are going for a more realistic movie like thing, and for some reason they think those 'heroes' are what players are looking for in those genre of games.

    Or... I don't know... something else, maybe!?

    Nice blog you have here :)

  2. Games should feature better characters in general. There are so many interesting characters in interactive fiction games, yet in most modern commercial games characters are a few basic stereotypes:
    - Tough guy
    - Best friend
    - Rival
    - Hot girl
    - Mysterious but powerful guy
    - etc.
    So much modern interactive fiction has amazing characters, why not commercial titles?

  3. The same can be said about movies, music, etc. It's just a personal preference - some people like dark, grim games, while others prefer shiny and jolly ones. For example, I had a wish to puke after watching that Final Fantasy video :).

  4. The "Luca Laughing Scene" is a perfect example of why you should always be allowed to disable voice acting at any time, in any game. Of course, your TV's mute function works nearly as well.

    Personally, I didn't like Tidus, either. His multifaceted personality consists of 'crybaby', 'ditz', 'moron', and 'insufferable jock', no part of which appeals to me.

    I prefer a silent protagonist or, if possible, a wide selection of possible protagonists to choose from (e.g. Seiken Densetsu 3).

  5. One more reason why your RPG's kick ass.

    Yes, being able to manipulate people with your giant magical DRAGONS is pretty awesome.

    Remember this for your next game.

  6. It's a good point. Remember one of the fun parts of Ultima III? It was "breaking the rules" and stealing stuff from those little dark alcove areas, freaking out that the guards would descend upon you at any moment, knowing you MIGHT be able to escape the town without everyone dying (and no dropped inventory!). And it wasn't just stealing a wooden spoon or a rusty short sword, it was stealing gobs of gold. I haven't played all the Avernums but I'd like more of that great reward at great risk type of thing that can be so much fun. On the other hand, killing everyone in a town might be overkill, but what if the whole town was populated by evil criminals? Evil criminal town with burly guards protecting a hard to find stash of mega gold....

  7. Interesting. It makes me wonder where I fall in; I wasn't a huge fan of Tidus, as I caught more of an "innocent kid stumbling into the Big Epic Event" vibe from him, which felt pretty tired to me. The rest of the game I adore; it's my second favorite FF behind 6, and certainly one of my favorite games.

  8. I like characters that stab stuff . . . a lot of stuff.

  9. I love some funny characters. Sometimes "tough guy" is needed (such as Max Payne, you'd not get much except black humour from him ;) ).

    However, I love things like Psychonauts, and games which allow you to just play your own character doing fun things too.

  10. Actually, in Lost Odyssey you play the whole party of quirky characters (evetually like 10 of them) including the "insufferable grim dude" and the "hot chick" and not just one person. I wonder how Jeff missed that?

  11. Some games go a bit far with funny characters too, such as Sam & Max (although I enjoyed it, others may find it simply stupid).

    As for silent protagonists: Gordon Freeman FTW.

  12. Nice post. I like characters that sit in karts too small for their oversized spike-shellback bodies and knock other karts out of the way. That's different from my life, even during rush hour.

  13. Go to the options screen, and reduce the 'angst' slider from its default value of 7.

  14. In third person perspective games I prefer to pick the female caracter with the best ass. I figure if I am going to be following a character around for hours and hours of time it might as well be a pleasant sight.

  15. Play Saints Row 2 or Red Faction Guerilla. No self-loathing, just pure fun!. :)

    Granted, I'm biased. :)

    Thank you for your wonderful articles. Your work on indie games has long been an inspiration.

  16. So I guess you didn't like Planescape: Torment? That was an awesome game. They offset the grimness of the protagonist with some very funny supporting characters...

  17. Eh, I dunno. I like Niko just fine. They're trying to tell a (semi) serious crime drama and he's the straight man for most of it. That's fine by me. But Saints Row 2 definitely presents a much more gleefully psychotic main character. I heart the cutscenes in that game.

  18. I don't agree at all. I think too many games are scared of putting the player in the shoes of someone with unpleasant personality traits. Starring the lovable hero all the time is not only boring, it's lazy on the part of the writers.

    This does explain a bit, though - I've always been a bit disappointed with the roleplaying in Spidweb games, mostly because there seems to be an aversion to allowing the player to create a personality other than 'pleasant'.

  19. I think it would be better if you don't play Final Fantasy VIII at all. A guy like Squall would make your head explode.

  20. I agree, I like the legend of zelda games where Link does not talk at all and gives only a rudimentary sketch of his personality. This way it makes it so you can kind of fill in what you want him to be. To a degree at least.

  21. That's what I like about the Sims franchise - you can make your "character"(s) into anything you want, and decide what their aspirations (Sims 2) or personality traits (Sims 3) are. Many of my "virtual pets", and even online avatars have a similar personality to mine, as much as I had a choice anyway.

  22. I agree in general, but there are some very good games with protagonists that are dour and/or have a dark past. I consider Planescape: Torment one of the best RPGs ever made.

    A blanket boycott is a drastic step. Playing a character you actually like is crucial but many games rely on internal conflict to create drama. You may consider them cheap ploys (as your games create divided loyalties with ethical dilemmas) but revenge or redemption are common ways to give emotional weight to a story about hacking apart thousands of generic monsters. If the gameplay warrants it or there are other good aspects I wouldn't make a decision based solely on the protagonist's attitude.

  23. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is great blog. A great read.

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