My post on "Fire Emblem: Awakening" yesterday got me thinking. As interesting as the brutal Hun-like slaughter of anonymous enemy units is - Fire Emblem is a game that takes no prisoners - almost more interesting is the possibilities opened up by the relationship value system. Inevitably some players will discover the system on their own, learning that their units can suddenly decide to marry each other, almost in an automated story, though most will probably read the manual, study GameFAQs guides, and create a massively detailed plan for the perfect Bene Gesserit eugenics program, thus birthing a race of Kwisatz Haderach units who will devastate any foe. The min-maxing wanking of those people is not really what interests me, RPG players have been doing that for decades. What more interesting is this idea of an automated relationship generator.
Because what it means is that in a small way Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have developed a Story Engine*, a self-creating system in which every player's experience is entirely different depending on every campaign. Basically every video game that bothers to have a storyline creates its story in the same way that an author would write a book, movie, or non-interactive medium. There's a beginning, middle, and end, non-player (or in the worst cases player characters) will act and react in pre-determined ways moving the planned story forward. There's nothing wrong with that concept, its been the method of story creation for all of history. This is because up until computers, it would have been impossible to have characters independently make any decisions at all, and stories had to move forward in a linear path. Now with video games, I wonder if perhaps it is now possible for stories to write themselves.
Obviously what we're dealing with here is not going to end up as Shakespeare, at least not until the technology grows more advanced. Essentially all it would be is an independent module for Character Interaction, probably best suited as an aspect of an RPG but perhaps, if strong enough, could be the game itself. The basic concept isn't too far away from the Fire Emblem system, as Characters fight together, they begin to interact. However the Nintendo system really only unlocks pre-written conversations between the Characters, not that different from a Romance Simulator that many Otaku players love, but it isn't really quite as organic and self-creating as what I'm imagining here. The Story Engine would be conversations occurring spontaneously between Characters, as their relationship goes from friendship to romantic to hatred, in a much smaller and simplified simulation of real life human interaction.
Character interaction in the Story Engine could be trigger by any value as determined by the programmer, be it merely physical proximity or a more proactive occurrence. Say two units in combat fight the same enemy, then their Affection Values would go up. Or perhaps it could be the passage of items between characters, using magic to heal, or other effects.
The important value is that each character would essentially be a package of Relationship Stats, let's say between -50 to 50. -50 is pure unending hatred, a kind of grudge that does not appear easily, and is very difficult to break. 50 is the truest most selfless love that any person could have for another. 0, at the middle, is True Neutral, essentially how much you care about strangers you meet on the street. A Relationship is not a shared value, one person often loves the other more or less, so each Character would have individual stats of Affection for another character. In order to simplify the simulation, I'd say Characters could only have Affection with around five other Characters.
As Affection Values raise or lower, Character Behavior changes. At a high enough Affection, Characters will go out of their way to protect their beloved units, perhaps even sacrificing themselves to save the other Character. At a low enough value, Characters will ignore the plight of the other Character, and at truly low values, they will attack that other Character as an enemy. The player, of course, would not want such an event to take place.
So here's a brief and cheap diagram, with just two characters:
Character A "Johnny"
Affection Value (AV) for "Janey" - 31
Behavior - Will protect "Janey" if she's in trouble, add damage to any attack upon a unit threatening "Janey".
Character B "Janey"
AV for "Johnny" - 11
Behavior - Does not react to "Johnny".
So you can see the relationship is not entirely equal, Johnny likes Janey more than Janey likes Johnny. Perhaps as Johnny continues to help Janey in combat, her AV will raise for Johnny, and their relationship might be stronger.
Now let's add a third character, "Stevey", who is actually an enemy unit, but will still have Relationship behavior.
Character A "Johnny"
AV for "Janey" - 31
AV for "Stevey" - -28
Behavior for "Janey" - Will protect "Janey" if she's in trouble, add damage to any attack upon a unit threatening "Janey".
Behavior for "Stevey" - Will attack "Stevey" automatically, add damage to attacks.
Character B "Janey"
AV for "Johnny" - 11
AV for "Stevey" - 14
Behavior for "Johnny" - Does not react to "Johnny"
Behavior for "Stevey" - Will avoid combat with "Stevey", decrease damage to attacks upon "Stevey".
Character C "Stevey"
AV for "Johnny" - -40
AV for "Janey" - 29
Behavior for "Johnny" - Will attack "Johnny" automatically, add damage to attacks. Will attack recklessly, lower defense.
Behavior for "Janey" - Will not attack "Janey". Will protect "Janey" if she's in trouble, even those on his side, add damage to any attack upon a unit threatening "Janey".
So now thanks to the random AV numbers that have been generated, what would have been just two of your Characters attacking a single enemy unit has become much more complex. We have an entire love triangle formed right there. Now its not necessary that this be two girls and a guy, depending on the AV load-outs, we could have any kind of character map.
Look how complicated "Fire Emblem 12"'s** relationship chart is.
Imagine if we could generate something like this naturally.
As the game unfolds, any number of events could occur. Stevey could wind up switching sides to your army if Janey supports him well enough. Johnny could kill Stevey, but this would probably further lower his AV with Janey. The less supporting Janey is to Johnny, the lower his own AV will become, you could end up with these two allied units feuding, with the origins being the long-dead Stevey. Perhaps these characters could even work out their differences and Janey could love both of them. This would all have to do with what choices the player makes, and the semi-random fluctuation of the Story Engine.
The only question ultimately is how these relationships are expressed. The easiest system would merely to have these Characters react to each other with various emoticons. But a really ambitious game designer could program massive values of conversation, which are triggered by the AV numbers between the Characters.
A more sophisticated version of the Story Engine could even include Personalities. This would be how willing Characters are to raise or lower their AV to another Character. An Antisocial Character might even lower his or her AV when another Character tries to help them out. An Outgoing Character would react in the opposite way. These Personalities could furthermore be used to determine what sort of conversations would occur, we could have a maudlin love story, or perhaps a wacky comedy of errors between two Personalities that do not understand each other. Or maybe a Greek Tragedy.
I guess my point is ultimately video games and computers are an unlimited medium. Maybe instead of using this miracle of processing power to just make games that are much prettier, we could be doing all kinds of experimental and fascinating things with them. You know, more than just shooting a dude in the head in HD.
Just an idea, game developers.
* Unofficially patented by Eric Fuchs, 2014, as much as an intellectual concept can be patented. All rights reserved.
** That's the one for the Nintendo DS that never left Japan, by the way.