Character ecology: a daunting task

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Creating a vibrant, diverse character ecology sounds fantastic, but what does that truly mean?

This was a question that drove our first development meeting for theystory, and resulted in a stack of A4 paper covered in scribbles, as any good brainstorm should.

People are complex and difficult to figure out, but to create a system that allows characters to interact with each other in a way that is representative of reality, they need to be simplified and solved. This means breaking people and their interactions down into categories and lists, a series of abstractions that can then be populated with information and narrative that are specific to the characters we want to create.

To function, our system has two key components that influence interactions (and that interactions influence): personality and relationships. Beyond this, people and their relationships are affected by their long-term identities, mid-term emotional states, and short-term moods, as well as various interests and desires.

At this development meeting, we primarily spoke about personality and relationships, and how these could be implemented in our game system for theystory.

In defining personality, we sought influence and inspiration from well-known personality models, such as the Myer Briggs personality types and the Big Five personality traits. Although both offer interesting insights, we struggled to map our characters’ traits using these systems, particularly in terms of characteristics such as jealousy and competitiveness.

Eventually, we settled on the Four Temperaments as a worthwhile starting point, with its low-to-high scales within each of the four categories solving our issues with Myer Briggs, and its broadness reducing the difficulties we faced while trying to map to the Big Five. For now, we are using this system to inspire us.

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In some ways, we found relationships to be even more difficult to categorise and conceptualise than personalities. Starting with a 1-factor scale of Hatred → Neutral → Love, we gradually progressed through several iterations until we reached a 4-factor system that we are excited to experiment with. In this model, we look at the connections between emotional intimacy, physical intimacy, experiential intimacy, and temporal intimacy.

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Where there are relationships between people, groups begin to form, be it families, religious groups, workplaces, or even sporting teams. Considering how people interact with one another becomes more complicated when the group or groups that they are a part of begin to influence those interactions. For this to be expressed, groups within the system of theystory also have their own personalities, as well as relationship statuses with other groups, and these can influence and be influenced by members of said groups.

For instance, one particular religious group may have a personality trait that is in conflict with a second religious group, leading to a negative relationship forming between these two groups; if a member of the first group has a positive relationship with a member of the second group, but the relationship between their groups is negative, interesting conflicts begin to form. This is where the beauty of our character ecology will truly shine.

The idea of groups having personalities and relationships will also assist with a concept we discussed during our development meeting: contagious or secondhand relationships. For instance, imagine your partner has a friend who you have no shared interests with and would not spend time with alone, but are happy being around if your partner chooses to socialise with that friend. This, in our system, is a secondhand relationship, influenced by your membership of a group with your partner. If your individual relationship with this friend becomes strong enough, the relationship may progress so that they are your friend too, not just your partner’s friend, but this is dependent on a number of factors and may not always play out the same way.

Overall, our first development meeting regarding theystory was productive and successful. Many ideas were discussed, some were solidified, and a clear plan has been created for the next steps in the development process.

I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

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