"You know how it is DarkCandle. In this kind of life, sometimes it's nice just to find someone really good to talk to who isn't a half-alien mutant, or the son of a god, or who becomes a programmed killer whenever he hears a train whistle. Just a nice guy."
Five years ago, when an NPC said these words to my character, I just stopped. And laughed. It was a great moment. So much so that I saved that quote to my documents folder, and have held on to it all this time. It was great, because it completely and totally humanized that NPC for me. Because at that moment, Indigo - former Knives of Artemis member, intelligence agent, and general mission giver - went from being a generic NPC to a character. A person that obviously deals with people just like you every day - day in and day out. And as you can see - she's a bit weary of it. She's seen your kind and dealt with your kind and it wouldn't kill her to able to just have one day - one conversation even - with someone that was normal.
In that single sentence, the developers created a memorable character for me -- an NPC that I cared about, and in doing so, connected me to their world. And that's what I want to discuss a bit - NPC's, and how they connect you to their world.
Over the years, I've played many MMO's. But there are a few that I've returned to time after time, even after I've been away for long periods of time. And I've noticed that one of the things those MMO's have in common is that, by one device or another, they've convinced me to care. Not necessarily about their world - that's the obvious thread: you the hero, saving the world - but about their people.
The best movies - the best stories - are those that contain a human element that allows you to relate to the story. It doesn't matter if it's science fiction, or superheroes, or deep fantasy. All of those fantastic settings, exotic machines, and incredible events provide for excitement and enjoyment - but it's those stories that create characters - human stories - that draw you in and have you wanting to stay. I believe the same to be true for games, and even more so for MMO's. The interesting thing I think though, is that, at least for me - it's not the big sweeping stories of the main characters and events that connect me to their world - it's the little stories. The small, off to the side - but nevertheless very human stories - that make me feel like I'm in a place that I can relate to. Like Indigo's comment up above.
|Gwen meets Captain Langmar & the Ebon Vanguard|
for the first time. The world trembles.
|Young, beautiful, naive Princess Talkora. You will|
grow much before your journey is done.
|Cynn is none too happy about the other girls vying for|
And of course Guild Wars is not by any means the only game that has small characters that the developers go out of their way to endear to you. Who could forget Hemet Nesingway, and his kin, whom you encounter again and again through your travels in Azeroth? And City of Heroes has some outstanding NPC's that have produced some of my most memorable MMO experiences.
|A more unlikely group of heroes you'll never meet!|
Everyone talks about how MMO stories are trite and contrived, where they exist at all. And sure - many of them are. Of course, Bioware set about making an entire MMO out of giving the player good stories. And don't get me wrong - some of those stories are absolutely fantastic. But you don't have to have top notch Hollywood voice-overs and million dollar cinematics to have a good story. Entire teams of writers in probably every MMO you're playing right now are writing entire volumes of small stories - about unremarkable people - that ultimately - end up being pretty remarkable. And for me - it's those small stories, those NPC's that you learn have relationships, and struggles, and troubles beyond dealing with you and your problems - that make their worlds so much more worthwhile.