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Default BioWare - Patrick Weekes on Romances

November 9th, 2008, 09:23
Writer Patrick Weekes writes a three-parter on the BioWare blog about romances, which he finds"baddass". Let's start at the beginning:
I should note, as we get going, that I’m uncertain as I write this how much of this is supposed to be words of wisdom, and how much of this is supposed to be an actual blog, which would look less like what I’m going to write and more like:

“Got into work late OMGPARKING!!! Horrible programmer took last cinnamon bagel I NEED BAGELZ 2 WORK 4 SRS!@!
MOOD: WTF?
MUSIC: Faunts”

That said:

Some gamers hate romances. Some gamers love them. They are an enormous and complicated bunch of conversation files that a lot of gamers will never bother to see. They are a true attempt to create a real emotional connection with the player. They are cutscenes that cost a ton of money and create public relations hassles. They are a chance to see side-boob on a blue cutie. They are an annoying distraction from the main game and a breath of fresh air between long combat sections.

Personally, I think romances are badass. As a gamer, I’d love to see a game whose main story was a love story (and which did not involve a tentacle-based minigame). The argument for awhile was that not enough gamers cared about these simulated relationships to have that be the main focus of the game, and that it would largely be a long bunch of conversations instead of a game. On the other hand, the new influx of story-focused gamers, combined with new advances in digital acting, make it entirely possible that a love story could succeed with modern fans.
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November 9th, 2008, 09:23
tentacle-based minigame? where!?!


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November 9th, 2008, 09:39
Ugh. I'll just say that I find Bioware romances, by and large, embarrassing.
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November 9th, 2008, 11:58
Still, any romance is better than none. I do hope to see "enormous and complicated bunch of conversation files" in DA.
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November 9th, 2008, 12:14
Originally Posted by Nikus
Still, any romance is better than none.
No. Just plain no.

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November 9th, 2008, 12:16
Originally Posted by Nikus View Post
Still, any romance is better than none.
I disagree; I think no romance is much better than the cheesy, immature romances that Bioware's been putting out. I'd even take the Witcher sex cards over those conversations my PCs held with Aerie, Aribeth Shan, Kaiden Sky Onasi, or Liara any day: at least the sex cards are quick, unsentimental, and make no pretense at emotional connection. Whereas the post-coital "By the goddess, Shepard, that was incredible!" is just atrocious and the part where Kaiden wants the PC to choose between him and the blue alien with tentacles for hair just made me want to stab myself, it was so awkward and badly written.

It's weird, Bioware seems to think that romance is mandatory in an RPG, just as they think Ancient Evil Arising and Saving the World must be included in every single game. Actually, since you've the Torment symbol as your avatar, don't you agree that the romances—such as they were—in PS:T were much better handled than your usual Bioware fare? They were barely there, involved no nauseating dialogue, and didn't sound like they were written to appeal to teenagers.
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November 9th, 2008, 18:15
If you look at the stories that inspired this genre, you'll find romance there. It got fairly epic, actually. Edgar Rice Burroughs? Definitely not the sugary-sweet stuff your sister would have preferred, it made sense if you understood who the characters were and what kinds of lives they were living.

This genre casts players into roles like those and challenges them to play them well. IMO, romance probably should be a part of these games.

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Last edited by Squeek; November 9th, 2008 at 18:26.
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November 9th, 2008, 18:43
Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired the RPG genre? Not disputing you particularly, but his isn't one of the names that come to mind when I think of RPG inspiration.

Quite regardless, currently romances in RPGs tend to be nothing short of terrible. They tend to all be, yes, sugary-sweet—wish fulfillment, romantic interests who center their lives around you/your PC and are so codependent that they can't make any decision without consulting you first, and let's not even touch the pubescent-level tripe JRPGs vomit on the player.
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November 9th, 2008, 19:36
Originally Posted by Essaliad View Post
Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired the RPG genre? Not disputing you particularly, but his isn't one of the names that come to mind when I think of RPG inspiration.
Read his Martian series and tell me John Carter wasn't dungeon crawling. As far as I can tell he was the original dungeon crawler.

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November 9th, 2008, 20:12
I'm with Essaliad on Bioware and romance. Jade Empire wasn't half bad, though, I thought — for once, they weren't taking themselves so teddibly sediously. But for the most part, it really *is* cringe-inducing.

But that doesn't mean romance can't be done at all. The Safiya line in MotB was pretty well done IMO. Another game where it worked really well was Prince of Persia: Sands of Time — not a RPG by any stretch, of course.
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November 9th, 2008, 20:19
I enjoy a good romance, key word being "good". So I agree with Essaliad and Hümmelgümpf - good quality or not at all.

The BG2 romances (not Aerie's one though) were probably the high point of the attempts in the genre for me, and they were prone to having as many bad moments as good anyway.

Ironically I think the best computer game romance thus far is in Max Payne 2, a third-person shooty-shoot-explosions action game. I think that embarasses the RPG genre somewhat, as it usually takes the narrative highground in comparison to the quick-thrill GUNZ! games.
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November 9th, 2008, 20:51
Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
But that doesn't mean romance can't be done at all. The Safiya line in MotB was pretty well done IMO. Another game where it worked really well was Prince of Persia: Sands of Time — not a RPG by any stretch, of course.
Oh, I agree—but the distinction is being done well. Safiya was great; a practical character without being evil, a romance without her being emotionally needy and requiring the PC to be her unpaid therapist. I was so happy neither Safiya nor Gann spilled their sad sad life stories on my lap and whined "spirit-eating menace, please lend me your manly shoulder/your plenteous bosom, upon which I shall shed my many crystalline tears!"

Bioware, on the other hand, seems to have been confusing angsty tragic backgrounds with depth and personality since… well, forever.
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November 9th, 2008, 21:02
Originally Posted by Dyne View Post
I enjoy a good romance, key word being "good". So I agree with Essaliad and Hümmelgümpf - good quality or not at all.

The BG2 romances (not Aerie's one though) were probably the high point of the attempts in the genre for me, and they were prone to having as many bad moments as good anyway.

Ironically I think the best computer game romance thus far is in Max Payne 2, a third-person shooty-shoot-explosions action game. I think that embarasses the RPG genre somewhat, as it usually takes the narrative highground in comparison to the quick-thrill GUNZ! games.
Aerie's romance (especially in ToB) was the best one I've played until today. It wins over all the others hands down. *SPOILER* The decision not to become a god but to live my life with her is my personal pinnacle of emotional involvement in a computer game. *OFF*

It also beats most of the JRPG stuff that is out there, which are mosty superior to western depiction of romance in games, because the Japanese have understood something that western designers won't understand: Games need emotion to be memorable art, even if its overplayed teenage angst. Who didn't cry when … died?

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November 9th, 2008, 21:15
No no no no no no no no thanks.

The more I think about CRPG concepts, 1) the more I waste my life, but 2) the more I realize that there's a lot of utterly fundamental underpinnings (*cough* like defining CRPG even *achoo*) which have gone more or less unexamined. And yet companies spend milllions making games, basing their designs on guesses about or even ignorance of these concepts.

Here's one: in order for immersion to rock me as a player, my goals and my character's goals have to overlap. Look, I'll save a planet that you've failed to make me give a rat's ass about, you know just to complete the game, but I certainly won't feel like you've made a great game and I certainly won't get any kick from watching an outro movie celebrating all the lives I've just saved. Becaue I don't care about them. To put it another way, if you show my character doing something that's supposed to demonstrate his enormous emotional commitment to something I don't give a rat's ass about, that breaks immersion, and pretty much wastes my time. Because there is no my character, you dev idiots. There's only ME.

Anywho, romance is all the wrongness possible from the above, magnified 1000 times. You can make me care about what happens to characters and what happens to a world, that's good story design. When you do that, my goals and my character's goals can become one. You CANNOT, however, make me fall in love with a character in a frigging computer game. My character's emotions and my own can never overlap.

Look, you can make me want to see her naked; like for example that Vampire chick from Champions of Norrath! Wow, she was well-rendered. And if you write a realistic character who goes around bedding girls just for the sex (totally unrealistic, I know, but bear with me), and you sweeten the deal by providing me with some sort of visual titillation, then (once more) my goals and those of my character are the same. Look, I don't actually want games to do that (games are for killing, pr0n is for…), but my point is that this is an example of the way gamer lusts and character lusts might come together.

Romances, on the other hand, are just ridiculous. People who fall in love more or less go crazy. While there is a lustful component whch makes some sense, the rest is just nuts. It's inaccessible to me as the player, because it's something that belongs only to my character.

It's stupid to put it in a game. Stupid, stupid love. I hate you so much.
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November 9th, 2008, 21:33
Originally Posted by Essaliad View Post
Bioware, on the other hand, seems to have been confusing angsty tragic backgrounds with depth and personality since… well, forever.
Yeah, I get the impression that some of the people there have some pretty serious hangups about relationships.
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November 9th, 2008, 21:35
Originally Posted by Yeesh View Post
Romances, on the other hand, are just ridiculous. People who fall in love more or less go crazy. While there is a lustful component whch makes some sense, the rest is just nuts. It's inaccessible to me as the player, because it's something that belongs only to my character.

It's stupid to put it in a game. Stupid, stupid love. I hate you so much.
What about films or books? Romance in them belongs to the characters too. Why is it possible in them but not in games?
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November 10th, 2008, 00:30
I'd say romance is only good when its done good along with good NPC interactions ofcourse. If the romance is in level of NWN2…. just forget it!

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November 10th, 2008, 00:34
Final Fantasy VIII was like one long drama. It was a bit annoying at first, but it made me sob like a little girl during the ending.

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November 10th, 2008, 00:37
What about films or books? Romance in them belongs to the characters too. Why is it possible in them but not in games?
You're absolutely right that films and books are chock full o romance, and while shoehorning in of romantic elements can really break an otherwise good story's momentum, there are of course films and books where the romance is integral and/or awesome. It's a big and oft-romanticized (heh heh) part of life (for many of you humans), so of course it shows up in most art forms. Gosh, maybe all.

BUT in a CRPG, I'm playing, not watching or reading. For immersion to work, it's much better if I give a shit about what's happening. Romance is so personal, that whatever forced lines you click on for your character to recite are going to ring hollow, annoyingly so if not comically so, to 98% of the people playing the game. It's an immersion breaker, in a way that the vast majority of the other forced interactions aren't.

Look, I'm not made of stone. If a game dev puts together a decent little vignette of my father being beheaded and my mother being raped by Evil McFatty, I'll earnestly feel some desire to go get some revenge. And if I don't (because game developers tend to do a poor job drumming up empathy), well I still personally want to kill everything that drops loot, and if Evil McFatty has the best loot, then he's going down anyway.

I'm just sort of typing random things and am incoherent. My point is, romance is far, far less accessible. Even if done well, it will ring hollow to the 98% who would never say those particular things even if they were crazy in love, and who might never fall crazy in love for one of the three or four bedable elf dames presented anyway. SINCE romance is by definition all about feeling it in your heart, the fact that in a CRPG you (as the character's soul) are all but certainly NOT feeling it in your heart, romance becomes a stupid way for developers to waste time and money.
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November 10th, 2008, 00:45
Final Fantasy VIII was like one long drama. It was a bit annoying at first, but it made me sob like a little girl during the ending.
And let me say this: back in the olden days, when I had me a TV and friends and an SNES, we would rent JRPGs and play them and damnit, the overblown melodrama was a crucial part of the experience. There's no was the games would have been anywhere near as fun without the contrived sacrifices and inexplicable declarations of love and friendship, and I have nothing but praise for the insane people who designed those games.

While of course each game is differenet, I think Western RPGs are distinct from JRPGs because in most JRPGs there's an ensemble cast, and you're not necessarily stepping into the role of one in particular. In Western RPGs, it tends to be all about YOU, or the fantasy version thereof.

I know that breaks down and we can all think of games that don't fit that neat schism. But I'm saying that I find romance much more palatable when it's between two characters that supposedly have minds of their own, as opposed to when the romantic drivel is pouring from the mouth of the character who is supposed to be my own personal avatar.
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