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 [+] NPCs and You: A Guide to Creating Background Characters

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LadyLeilani
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PostSubject: [+] NPCs and You: A Guide to Creating Background Characters   Tue Apr 17, 2012 11:38 pm

*clears throat ever so delicately*
Ahem, thank you for joining us today in the ever-so-important NPC 101 class.
Today I'll be teaching you a few ways to make your NPCs interesting, and equally important, human...or whatever the NPC is...

Course Outline:
i. What is an NPC really?
ii. What is their personality?/What is their purpose?
iii. Is the NPC alone?
iv. What differentiates said NPC from others in the same area?
v. How has everyday life affected them/how do events affect them?
vi. How do I make them memorable/should I make them memorable?
vii. Putting it into Practice
viii. In Closing

What is an NPC really?
NPC stands for "Non-Player Character", specifically I will be teaching you about the everyday NPC, such as travelers and townspeople.
Technically an NPC would be any character that isn't playable, which is exactly why I'm specifying the type of NPC; the kind many people seem to have trouble with, and the reason you've decided to take my class of your own free will. I hope you're not here at gunpoint.

So basically, we'll be talking about the everyday man that many players won't pay particular attention to, but those that do will be happy you've went that extra mile to make the game's world come to life.


What is their personality?/What is their purpose?
Both of these go hand-in-hand when first coming up with the idea for your NPC. Why is he/she there? To take up space?

If you answered "yes" then you've been going about it all wrong! NPCs are the perfect tool to give the player insight on the town they're in, give more background on how the world affects the every-man, or just to make the world seem more alive. All of these things are important when making memorable NPC characters. The key to doing that is to give each character a personality of their own.

The next major reason once your character has been created, is why place this particular character in this part of the world? Are they there to make the town seem more alive? Are they placed there to give you the town's background/show how the events of the player affected said town? Or are they just there for comic relief, depending on the game's genre?

"Oh pokemanz, you so crazy!"

It's okay to have a few NPCs with a witty line or two, because little nuances like that give a character more personality than your average NPC. I swear...if I see "Welcome to Town!" again I'm going to choke someone with a raccoon's tail. That's what signs are for.

So to recap; take some time to figure out who this character is, and why this character has been plopped down here of all places. What makes them unique?


Is the NPC alone?
Specifically for townspeople, why would every single one of them be lonely bachelors? And if they are, why does their house have two beds? Logical reasoning in NPC placement based on how many people it looks like lives in the town/city isn't required, but important in my opinion.

Make sure to change things up, for example, a wife and husband live in a fishing town away from everyone else. The two of them begin arguing because their son wants to be a fashion designer, but the only viable career choice is to follow father's footsteps and become a fisherman. The mother argues that the son should follow his dreams, and the father gives a bit of the town's lore about the only thing these people seem to do is fish, and his son should follow suit.

It's a pretty cliche' example, but I hope it gets the point across. If the NPC is not alone, then their dialogue should reflect that. Give people a sense of family stuck living in the places you create.


What differentiates said NPC from others in the same area?
The first two lessons come into direct play here. Try to change things up when making a plethora of townies. Don't make everyone a loner or a family of two. Don't have every single NPC give you hints on where to go or why life in the town sucks. Try to keep the townspeople's quirks separate from one another.



How has everyday life affected them/how do events affect them?
Here's a big one that every game should consider. I've already touched upon how an NPC acts should partly be affected by the location they reside in, but to add to that:
How should I change their dialogue to affect major changes in the world?

Most likely if a neighboring town was eaten by zombies, the people who stuck around wouldn't be saying what they said before this event took place. Unless they were misinformed or just plain stupid, which could be played off by other NPCs, but the point is that anything that could affect the NPCs should affect them; showing in their dialogue.

These events don't have to be from the outside either. Try to change up the lives of people living in the towns. What if grandpa Jones died in a freak kite-flying accident? Your NPCs should have lives of their own, so they should grow with the rest of the story. Are these locations you make going to stay the exact same over the course of the game?


How do I make them memorable/should I make them memorable?
This lesson is along the lines of NPC personality, but I felt it should be given it's own lesson. If every NPC stuck to the player's hearts like glue, then more power to you, but not every NPC will be remembered like an old friend. To those that are big to the story, (village elders, the next human sacrifice, magical talking hamsters, etc...) should they be more memorable than the rest of them?

It's up to you, but I'll ask you this. Are you attached to any of the random NPCs you make? The more you answer "yes" to, the better your game's world will be. The reason behind making a character memorable would be for a few reasons: Immersion, Getting the player to care about the world they are in (especially if they are going to be stuck living there too), and finally getting people to talk to those damn NPCs for some examples.

But HOW do I make them memorable? The key to memorable NPCs is pretty simple to describe, but not always easy to put into practice. The easy answer is: The player should feel something when talking to these living, breathing background characters.

One way to do this, as I was getting at before, is to ask yourself whether or not you feel something for these characters. The more people the player will get attached to, the more memorable your characters will be, and in turn, the more memorable your game will be since a lot of emotions of the player will be tied to it. This sure makes NPCs sound more important than town fodder. don't they?


Putting it into Practice
So now that we have the theory of making a good NPC, we'll be putting it in practice with what these people will be saying to the player based on their backgrounds. First off, if you want to make the NPC become more alive and a part of the world, he/she can't be saying the same one-liners every time they are spoken to. Change things up a bit, give each one a few lines that cycle randomly through. I know, as a player, that I would enjoy talking to these people more than once if I knew I might get extra dialogue out of it.

The common commercial RPG approach is to give each NPC two or three things to say which cycle through the same order every time. But, I'd love to see it a step further, with more dialogue pertaining to the person and not so robotic as to cycle through them in the same order every time. We don't have RPG Monkeys who will type up new dialogue every single time an NPC is spoken to, but that doesn't mean we can't have a bit of fun with our creations anyway.

Imagine how fun it would be if you were making dialogue for a bunch of people you yourself found interesting.

Here's my example of making a townsperson. I'll be making her as basic as my game would allow, just to show my advice in the most basic sense. I'll be using a basic outline you're free to use if you desire:

NPC Name: Eliza Heaten
NPC Location: The border village of Giza
How the world background effects this NPC: Two countries are at war, one who cares nothing but about war and does not provide enough resources for the common peoples, and the other an agricultural country who is attacked for their resources. Eliza had fled from a poor town in the warring country and successfully passed the border into the town of Giza, which is part of the agricultural country. She was separated from her family, and thus knows no one.
How the location's background effects this NPC: Being part of the other country at war, the villagers don't take very kindly to Eliza, but understand her plight enough to allow her shelter. This causes large amounts of tension between Eliza and the rest of the people living inside the village, which makes her one lonely puppy.
NPC Description: Eliza was fed up with the tyranny of her government, and instead decided to chance death to cross over to the other side. Her family was too afraid to make the journey with her, making her feel betrayed, but also showed how strong she is as a person; willing to sacrifice her safety for the pursuit of liberty.


This basic outline gives me a pretty cool character to throw in an otherwise small village, changing up the lives of the other inhabitants. Make sure the characters you make are also reflected off of each other. Some villagers won't care, and instead be more afraid of the fact that the village is so close to the border, but some will directly speak about Eliza in some of their dialogue. Either feeling sorry for her, or condemning her for one reason or another.

By creating this one character; I've set the tone for the village in the process. Her description also gave the creator insight on how she'll act in her new environment, which will reflect her dialogue.


In Closing
I hope you've enjoyed the class, and hopefully you're able to take something from it. If there's a chance to give someone a new-found love for basic character creation then I have succeeded in my purpose for the class. Keep in mind to become involved in your everyday NPCs by giving them depth, and feeling something for them. You want a world that the player will enjoy exploring right? A big part of that would be the people the player meets along the way to the so-called "important" parts of the game.

All I want to say is good luck, and have fun with your creations! Thank you for taking the time to read this! Very Happy

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PostSubject: Re: [+] NPCs and You: A Guide to Creating Background Characters   Wed Apr 18, 2012 6:59 am

I'm making a psychological horror, so there's no NPC's involved for 99% of the game, but this is really useful for Bethesda. Specifically the Elder Scrolls series; that's just a small thing that bothers me: when you kill someone's family member, they keep acting the same way they always have. The NPCs in TES are the best in video games, but they're missing that one thing that makes them truly human; 'compassion' for their deceased family members (especially if they were brutally murdered by me when I decided to lock pick their front door and murder a random person in the house).
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PostSubject: Re: [+] NPCs and You: A Guide to Creating Background Characters   Wed Apr 18, 2012 9:30 am

Wow, this is excellent! A lot of people should put more thought into their NPCs. This is an excellent tutorial for getting the right ideas in mind when making them.

Thanks much for the contribution. <3

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PostSubject: Re: [+] NPCs and You: A Guide to Creating Background Characters   Wed Apr 18, 2012 9:58 am

Thanks you two! And no problem A.V.A. as I'm sure lots of people will contribute to make this site a great place for VX/ACE.

In the "Putting it into Practice" section, basically I use that outline to make every single character. It's a bit of extra work, but it makes for some pretty awesome NPC side stories.


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PostSubject: Re: [+] NPCs and You: A Guide to Creating Background Characters   Wed Apr 18, 2012 11:48 am

LadyLeilani wrote:
Thanks you two! And no problem A.V.A. as I'm sure lots of people will contribute to make this site a great place for VX/ACE.

In the "Putting it into Practice" section, basically I use that outline to make every single character. It's a bit of extra work, but it makes for some pretty awesome NPC side stories.

Side stories as in side quests or just interesting trivia?
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PostSubject: Re: [+] NPCs and You: A Guide to Creating Background Characters   Wed Apr 18, 2012 11:50 am

@BlackMuffin

Both, although I wouldn't really consider NPC internal problems as trivia.
But I do love making quests that don't consist of nothing but collecting enemy drops or something.

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PostSubject: Re: [+] NPCs and You: A Guide to Creating Background Characters   Thu Apr 19, 2012 10:06 pm

Enemy drops get kind of boring after a while; how about a danger quest, delving into an ancient ruin constructed by an unknown civilization that is ridden with traps and has an amazing artifact at the end? Except the artifact is exactly what the person wanted and once you return it to them you get 15 gold or something shitty like that?
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PostSubject: Re: [+] NPCs and You: A Guide to Creating Background Characters   Fri Apr 20, 2012 2:10 am

Exactly, that's why I implied that I don't want to see too many of those fetch quests...the quest rewards sometimes make me laugh at how low the prize is depending on how much you had to do.

I might make a questing tutorial next week or something...

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