I admit I have had a soft spot over the years for the Total War computer game set. Admittedly these are single player/strategy games (not MMOG), yet in 2004 I wondered about moral clarity in MMOGs stimulated by one moment in a Total War campaign (Crying for Cordoba). More recently I've embarked on the long-winded grand campaign in Medieval II. I found myself wondering about the stuff of online character. Do NPCs make better role-players than people. If so, what does that say about you (chalk one up for AI, hmm)?
I am in the early stages of a grand campaign where I'm playing the English in the (sim) year 1222 (fn1). In this year we find "Fraunce the wrathful", age 33 - but one from a stable of stouts sons of my sim Royal family - defeating the Danes in a series of marvelous set-piece battles just beyond Frankfurt.
But that is not the point of this post. You see, Fraunce has traits, so do all characters (sons) in Medieval II. Page 16 of the manual describes the role of traits thusly:
"As your characters do things in the campaign, they will begin to develop traits and gain follows as they either succeed or fail. Sometimes they will develop traits just as a result of sitting around or being in a certain environment."
Fraunce is one of my more scintillating (ever) field commanders, his traits are:
- Gets merry
- Everyone's friend
- Talent for command
- Holier than thou
- Feels appreciated
- Driven by rage
- Proven commander
- Generally loyal
- Night fighter
- Strong defender
- Good with infantry
These traits map into game-specific benefits and costs, e.g. "Dauntless" = +2 morale for all troops in the battlefield. In the scheme of my experience Fraunce is a hard-boiled egg: a solid dependable warrior who has rescued my claim in Flanders and now howls at the door of the Danes. I've had many characters who I've feared (but more often than not forced to by circumstance) giving charge of an army or a city. I hate it when armies defect: I hunt them down like vermin - usually at great cost in treasure.
One of the virtues of describing behavior in terms of traits is that, I find, you can better imagine who they are: the brave, the coward, the foolish, the clever. Sure there is the asterisk, and that complicates things, yet discrete traits also lend a predictability that seems useful in role-imagination. For example, by page 16 of the manual, "Leave a General in a town with a bit tavern forever and he'll eventually turn to drink." Got it. Lead him not to temptation.
Sure it is simplistic, but perhaps that is the point. When one is off conquering the ye Old Worlde as we never knew it, characters with imagineable substance is good - yet characters that are too complicated to figure out is not. One might argue that too much ambiguity in character sucks the wind out of her role.
Say what you think.