Micro-Essay #3

Adam Honigman

 

The troubled morality of modding video games stems from the core of ownership in the industry – mainly the fact that a purchase of a game from a consumer does not equate to full ownership of the assets, but merely a privileged usage of the finished product on behalf of the original developer and publisher. The developer has put in the time and resources in order to fulfill a vision which is then presented to consumers, and is within their right to ensure that this vision is not tampered with and spread online to create a false perception of their game.

But as the old adage goes “all publicity is good publicity” and thus consumers stretching their own creative talents in order to utilize the pre-existing engine and assets should not be seen as a betrayal of the game, but rather an embrace of it. Allowing aspiring developers to use the tools already created by a much larger development studio means that they can focus on game design and storytelling without needing to go through the rigorous process of making their own engine. It allows people to become comfortable with storytelling without needing to commit to their own tools by means of Machinima, where they can create cinematic stories from the comfort of their own computers.

Mods usually come from a place of genuine love from the players, those who want to spend more time in the game world and push its boundaries to its fullest. This can range from QOL (quality of life) enhancements in large complex games such as Skyrim which allow players to have further control over the game’s user interface, or fan translations such as the one for Mother 3, which was spearheaded by a passionate group of fans who just wanted to plan the Japanese-exclusive game in their own native language, and remains the only way to do so. Modder’s put in ample amounts of time into their creations, even working just as hard and creating as quality content as the original creators. But there is a social stigma that what they’re doing is simply for fun and the community feels entitled to their creations free of charge, as there is a disconnect between time committed to creating a project and how the online consumers will eventually consume their creation. Modders can commit entire years of their lives to create a meaningful add-on to a long dormant game with a passionate fan base, but will be unable to be compensated for their work by anything other than faint praise. The compromise for this is that many modders utilize their projects and exposure as a platform to eventually get noticed by a development studio and receive a “real” job developing a game from its inception.

 

 

References

Kücklich, Julian. “Precarious Playbour: Modders and the Digital Games Industry.” The Fibreculture Journal, 5

(2005).

This Spartan Life: Episode 7

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Micro-Essay #3

“Meowth! That’s Right!”: A Look at Pokémon Fan Content

The phenomenon of Pokémon has evolved and thrived for more than twenty years, the longevity of its global success has been due to a multitude factors, but in large part, it is due to the games international fan base. Pokémon is the brainchild of Tajiri Satoshi of Game Freak Incorporated which saw massive success in Japan and later on globally due to the marketing of Nintendo.

The purpose of this paper will be to analyze the fan community and fan made content, in juxtaposition with the development and marketing of the games by Nintendo. Nintendo’s approach to game development was to adopt the Japanese principals of kawaii or cuteness and as such the appeal of their game, Pokémon, has a broad multi-generational appeal.  The game has action and competition without excessive violence .The fan base of the game is a global acceptance and adoration of cuteness of the Pokémon characters.[1]  The animations of the Nintendo characters, Pikachu et al. and the score of accompanying consumer products have a universal appeal. The initial release of the first Pokémon game in 1996, Pokémon Red and Green, in Japan, created a huge demand for further development of the Pokémon franchise, the Pokémon games, Red and Blue, were subsequently released in North America and worldwide in 1998 and consequently were followed by comics, an animated television series and full length cinematic productions, all of which were supported and /or exploited by vast and diverse consumer goods, from t-shirts to stuffed animals and so on.

Nintendo has released numerous main series games that adhere to the formulas introduced in 1996 and many spin–off games over the past twenty years and the Pokémon franchise has become an industry in its own right. Nintendo answered the fan demand with new Pokémon, new worlds to explore and improved graphics and audio. Nintendo’s promotional material for the games focuses on the activities of catching Pokémon, making friends with them, the competition of battling with the Pokémon and in turn, they combined it with the adventure of exploring a new world. The franchise promotes the theme that pokémon are not a means to an end; they are not there to serve their master but to work alongside one another. Pokémon although it entails battles, is a non violent game and as such has broad multi-generational appeal. The initial games introduced some one hundred and fifty Pokémon and with the new versions there are now approximately eight hundred Pokémon.

Pokémon has been highly marketed by Nintendo; the fan consumer base for Pokémon games and the fans love for the characters have created a vast market for products. Nintendo has responded to fan demands for the creation of new characters and new worlds but in essence the story lines are repetitive and follow the same themes, just with the introduction of new Pokémon and a change of surroundings. In response to new games, fans, in general, seem to be content with the familiar format; it is the story of good and evil told through an innocent character who wants to become a Pokémon trainer, they encounter evil, through the negative forces who want to use Pokémon for selfish purposes. The inevitable Pokémon battles between good and evil take place, the innocent rises to the opportunity and good invariably defeats evil and all live happily ever after.  Nintendo introduces a new Pokédex for each new version and does make slight improvements to the gameplay, itself.

The Pokémon Company International is a subsidiary of the Pokémon Company of Japan, which are both under the Nintendo umbrella of companies. As an enterprise it oversees the international distribution of games, comics, television programming, movies and all relevant Pokémon material. Pokémon has become its own industry given its worldwide popularity.

The Pokémon products are targeted towards children and adults who grew up alongside the multi-media franchise.  Nintendo had run into issues following the fourth and fifth generation of  games, there was a need to reinvigorate the games as the games names sake, the pokémon, were viewed as unimaginative, the gameplay had become stale and therefore the games were not as successful as previous iterations. In recent years, Nintendo has implemented new features and re-imagined older pokémon designs in an attempt to attract an adult demographic and to lure back former Pokémon fans.  An example of the aforementioned would be the launch of Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire a remastering of the Pokemon titles, Ruby and Sapphire that were released in 2002.   Although these games were simply updated versions of the 2002 releases they had sales figures on par with the newest generation of Pokemon games, Pokemon X and Y. The games had an appeal to an older, twenty something demographic that had initially played Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, as young children.[2][3] 2016’s Pokémon Go had immense success because it targeted not only fans of the franchise but also drew in a wide variety of people of differing age groups. It revitalized the Pokémon franchise, as it was no longer required to have a Nintendo console and anyone who had a phone, could now play.  Subsequently the newest generation of Pokémon was released, Pokémon Sun and Moon which piggy-backed the enthusiasm raised by Pokémon Go. The Pokémon Company has been able to rekindle their old fan base and continue to attract new fans.

 

Fans of franchises tend to be loyal and are inclined to produce derivative versions of the original content as a means of appreciation or adoration of the game however this is not generally reciprocated by the game manufacturers or publishers. Fans of the Pokémon games have produced works, as a way of influencing or asking for the implementation of certain features, within the game. An example of this would be the simplified use of HMs to overcome obstacles and progress through the overworld, facilitating the gameplay. In another instance, they failed to listen to fan requests concerning the feature of having the lead Pokémon follow the player around in the overworld, which was included in Heart Gold and Soul Silver but was removed from subsequent games. The inclusion of these desired features; alongside the demand for the creation of more Pokémon games, has lead people to create their own content, such as Pokémon Uranium.  Games such as these adhere to the traditional Pokémon game design and themes but introduce new features, original assortments of Pokémon and mature content.  Nintendo does not accept fan produced content and strongly enforces the EULAs published on their games. Pokemon Uranium was halted within a matter of weeks of its introduction. The newest Pokemon games, Sun and Moon, introduced alolan forms of selective pokemon from the original one hundred and fifty-one. The fan community produced numerous ideas for potential alolan forms which Nintendo did not even acknowledge.  Fan based content is not made with the intention of replacing a game but is an homage to the original game.  The rejection of fan made content by Nintendo has lead to disappointment and unrest within the fan community.

Nintendo is extremely controlling when it comes to the image of Pokemon, only giving exclusives to specific news outlets like Coro Coro or their own website pertaining to new content. Nintendo and the Pokemon Company oversee an array of licensing agreements for all of the Pokemon products sold throughout the world. Fans are huge consumers of all of the products manufactured from stuffed animals to bandages. Pokémon is a multi-million dollar industry and as such Nintendo wants to protect its image and its greatest asset, the game and its future. Nintendo has a calculated strategy for the longevity of the product.

Fans form a social network based on a shared common passion for the Pokémon games and it is evident that the fan community is dedicated to the franchise and its continued progression. Pokémon could not have thrived for twenty plus years without a active fan base and a continued demand for the evolution of the games. Nintendo’s vision of the Pokémon franchise is shared with the fans however they have to be more accepting of the fan community’s opinions.  It is evident that there is a need for a greater rapport between Nintendo, The Pokémon Company and its fans and to establish new avenues for fans to provide reciprocal communications and ideas for further development of the games.

 

 

Works Cited

  1. Official Pokémon website. Pokemon Company International.
  2. Lambirth, Andrew. “Review of Pikachu’s Global Adventure: The Rise and Fall of Pokemon.” British Journal of Educational Studies, vol. 53, no. 4 (2005): 489-491.
  3. “10 Wanted Sun/Moon Alolan Forms.” Youtube, uploaded by The Jwittz, 25 September 2016.
  4. “Top Selling Title Sales Units.” Nintendo Company Japan, 31 December 2016.
  5. Pales, Eli. “Pokemon Games are Selling to an Older Demographic in Japan.” Nintendo Enthusiast, 1 December 2014.

 

“Meowth! That’s Right!”: A Look at Pokémon Fan Content

Technology? That’s Wack! A Flashback to a Bygone Era

Adam Honigman

Instructor: Carolyn Jong

English 255B – Video Games and/as Literature

18 April 2017

Video Project: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bw_IGsNsd7WySXZqLXZTSm92SDg/view?usp=sharing

When told that the final assignment for this class was essentially “Either an essay or literally anything else that’s not an essay” my brain went spiraling in anticipation considering the different ideas I could convey. As a (technically) film student, I really enjoy creating projects that utilize fun and video in any capacity. My eyes drifted over to a 1994 Donkey Kong Country Nintendo Power cassette I acquired at at used book sale for a quarter some odd years ago, and I knew what it was I wanted to create (here’s a link, highly worth your time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdJl8MYlRvY).

My goal for this project was to recreate an over-the-type, radically tubular informational video from the 80’s-90’s. I am hoping to identify if it is possible to re-purpose certain aesthetics from the past in the modern age, or if they are such a snapshot of their time that anything created now would simply be a cheap imitation. I chose to focus on the shift from analogue cassette tapes to optical CD’s, as it is an incredibly drastic turning point that seems commonplace nowadays – in fact, we’re on the verge of moving on from CD’s entirely, in favour of blu-ray and entirely digital libraries. Analogue media is so beloved because it is so real; you can hold it in your hands and see the different components moving as they play. There is no question about how it works and your ownership over it, whereas nowadays  the line has blurred drastically with content libraries existing solely in streaming or in the cloud. Ownership is glorified borrowing.

Technology? That’s Wack! A Flashback to a Bygone Era

promo

Introduction

For this assignment, I have chosen to analyze the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game (MMORPG) known as Final Fantasy XIV (Square Enix, 2010) and determine a few of the ways in which its players use it to construct identities and represent themselves through its characters (player-made and otherwise) and the jobs they can have. Additionally, I will look at how the game’s economy is defined and how players also use it to define and represent themselves. Initially released under Square Enix producer Hiromichi Tanaka, it is the second online entry in Square Enix’s list of Final Fantasy games, and the races used by the player characters are based on the ones from the first online entry known as Final Fantasy XI (Square Enix, 2002), with their names having been changed while their appearances were also improved. Though the game has a complicated history, its first version was released in September 2010 (Sainsbury, 2015) and, despite being visually beautiful, boasted several gameplay problems that caused not just lag but also frustration for players, such as menus that took too long to navigate, a convoluted battle system that made every action take a long time to execute, and a lack of variety to combat-based content, to name a few.

A game reborn

The game’s many issues were such that they could not be fully resolved by having a new team take over its production and releasing patches that addressed several of the problems, so the new producer, Naoki Yoshida, shut down the servers in November 2012 and released the second version of this game in August 2013 (Sainsbury, 2015). This was accomplished through the use of a CGI (computer-generated imagery) trailer in which the world as players knew it was essentially destroyed, paving the way for Yoshida’s team to rework the physical environment and maps of most areas.

Where the original version received an overwhelmingly negative response, this second version garnered widespread approval. Though this new version, subtitled A Realm Reborn (Square Enix, 2013), was released a few years ago, it continues to add new expansions to its universe, with Heavensward (Square Enix, 2015) being the most recent one and Stormblood (Square Enix, 2017a) scheduled for release on June 20th 2017. Several factors combine to make Final Fantasy XIV (Square Enix, 2010) a consistently relevant and popular game even today: each new expansion, like A Realm Reborn (Square Enix, 2013), is released in Japan, North America and Europe with the language options of Japanese, English, French and German available to all versions; its massive player base was last reported to be over six million players (Square Enix, 2017c); and it has a long list of awards to its name, including a Guinness World Record for “Most prolific role playing game” (Stephenson, 2017, para. 2). As such, the game fits Storey’s (2009) first definition of popular culture as ‘well liked by many people’ (p. 5).

Gaming as a social activity

A great part of the appeal of MMORPGs is their social aspect: they allow people to connect to each other through the Internet over a common interest. As humans are naturally social creatures, they have a need to interact with others around them, and this is no different in the gaming world where players rely on others for information and friendship (Grooten & Kowert, 2015). In fact, because of its online nature, online gaming allows people to interactively connect to literally anyone in ways that may not otherwise be possible for them, whether it be because of time constraints, distance, disability or simple social discomfort. Games may also allow people to temporarily escape difficult life situations such as isolation or abuse. By its very nature as a MMORPG, this game promotes collaboration and teamwork, and as such most content, such as dungeons, cannot be completed alone. There are five Data Centers spread out between Japan, Europe and North America, and each one features several servers. The Duty Finder feature, which allows a player to queue for any given duty, automatically matches up the player with others from servers across the same Data Center, giving each player the option to select which other languages they wish to queue up with. Further, the roulettes of this feature each contain a number of dungeons with a particular level or difficulty requirement: this ensures that new players who are queueing up a single duty have the chance to get help in completing it from other players, and grants those veteran players who use the roulette a special bonus for queueing it up.

There is also a wide variety of player guilds (known as Free Companies) that one can join upon reaching a certain level and where they may ask for help from their guildmates, and players are also able to add other people on their server to their friend list. On the other hand, the quests of the game mostly promote independence by making effective use of signifiers (Chandler, 2016): for example, a meteor icon above an NPC’s (Non-Player Character) head denotes a quest from the game’s main storyline, a glowing spot on the ground can be clicked on to pick up an item, and a quest icon on a player’s mini-map tells them where they have to go in order to progress with their quest. Of course, if any of these signifiers are unclear to the player, they can ask for help not only from the people they know, but also from strangers through the use of chat filters such as Shout which make a player’s message visible to every other player on the same map. The game is also very customer-focused and community-oriented in other ways: Yoshida, the producer and director, regularly stays in touch with the player base through the official forums, often attends player conventions, and is known to give several interviews. Through the forums, he also hosts contests and “question and answer” sessions in addition to regularly teasing information about upcoming content or merchandise through “Letters from the Producer”, recorded videos that are shortly thereafter translated and made into transcripts, with all of this content being shared on the official forums (Square Enix, 2017b).

Gaming as identity forming

As Grooten and Kowert (2015) point out, games allow people to create virtual identities in a digital world through their avatar, which can become part of the process of forming their own identity as the character may represent the player’s personality. The way the player’s character(s) is(are) programmed in Final Fantasy XIV (Square Enix, 2010) allows for a wide variety of customization options to create one (or several) character(s) that they feel best represent(s) them: different face types with further customization options for specific parts such as the eyes, nose and mouth, a wide variety of skintones, hair colors and hair styles, and even the option to have hair highlights and heterochromia (two different-colored eyes). Part of this customization also includes choosing a voice for their character although this character remains a mute, and the voice is only heard during combat or when the character is performing some emoted actions. The fact that the character has no voice in which to speak and is only occasionally given textual choices during pre-rendered cutscenes is supposed to allow the player to feel more immersed in the game, the idea being that they can imagine themselves in the character’s shoes. When the character’s lips are seen to be moving but the player is not given any textual options, it allows for the creativity of the player to imagine how their character might be talking in their own voice and what they might be saying.

In Final Fantasy XIV (Square Enix, 2010), the player’s character is an adventurer and the player chooses what city-state they will begin in by choosing which starting combat class to assign to them: for instance, an Archer will be sent to the forest town of Gridania. The player’s starting class generally leads them to a job specialization at higher levels; however, one of the advantages of this game is that it does not force the player into a single combat role per character. As of level ten, the player can, by equipping a different class or job’s weapon, immediately switch to that job or class. This type of flexibility is more suited to the modern gamer because it allows them to become fully invested in a single character without being limited by what they can try. The beginning of the story is all about learning about your first class, and the game forces you to familiarize yourself with it to a certain extent by not unlocking the ability to use other classes until you reach level ten. Its focus at this point is also not on the story: it progresses slowly and most of your questing consists of either fetching items for an NPC or killing a certain number of one or several weak monsters. In that way, the game eases the player into becoming familiar with its controls, features, and environment (namely, the local area maps) while also granting new combat skills every few levels to maintain player interest and motivation in leveling a class. The level of flexibility granted by the many classes that a player can choose to level allows them to adopt several identities on one character as the mood strikes them.

As McCloud (1994) points out, drawing an object in a realistic fashion serves to objectify it and emphasize its difference from the player. In the case of Final Fantasy XIV (Square Enix, 2010), the weapons and armors are drawn somewhat realistically to reflect the themes that they are supposed to represent, with a variety of details and accessories often accentuating their otherness from the player. Given that the contests are often about designing a new outfit or hairstyle and that the winners get their entries made into content, this game can in a way be said to fit the fourth definition of popular culture outlined by Storey (2009): ‘culture actually made by the people for themselves’ (p. 5), especially since Yoshida has been known to consider and even acquiesce to certain player requests. As he is himself a gamer, Yoshida understands the importance of listening to player feedback in helping to improve the game in order to both retain their current players and attract new ones (Lin, 2015). This was what led him to develop an open relationship with players by keeping them regularly updated on the status of the game through the forums (Square Enix, 2017b). As a result, players can develop positive relationships with both other players and the team producing the game that they play.

Gaming economy

Another way in which players can define their identity, as well as their level of power and influence in the game, is through the game’s economy. Apart from the monthly subscription fee required to progress past a certain level and keep up with the game’s updates, Square Enix does not require players to spend any additional real money. Instead, there is a Market Board through which players can sell their tradable goods to other players. Some of the jobs one’s character can choose to level up are classified as crafters, called Disciples of the Hand, and gatherers, called Disciples of the Land. The better one’s equipment is, the more easily the player can craft or items of high quality. In addition, there are certain items that are locked to the casual crafter and gatherer: to unlock them, players need to obtain specific “tomes” that in turn require a high level of skill in crafting or gathering. The materials unlocked by these “tomes” thus become rare commodities (Coleman & Dyer-Witheford, 2007) that players can sell at prices of their choosing if demand is high enough, which allows them to control the market on these items. As a result, some players become quite rich and control the game’s economy. In addition, the game has housing districts with a limited number of plots that feature three different plot sizes: small, medium and large. Each district can only have a certain number of each plot size. As demand for these is high, players are quick to grab any that become available and, if they resell, can set expensive prices in order to turn a profit, making houses another valuable commodity of this game (Coleman & Dyer-Witheford, 2007). Players can define their identity and how they represent themselves through the crafter(s) and/or gatherer(s) they choose to level up, and also through the styles and sizes that they choose for their houses, including the types of decorations they choose to showcase.

Conclusion

Final Fantasy XIV (2010) presents players with the opportunity to interact with peers, thus learning to work collaboratively and build friendships and partnerships. It also stimulates their creativity and imagination by allowing them to choose both their character’s appearance and the role that they will play, which in turn lets them create and present to others an identity of their choosing. Its in-game economy contributes to the identity that they choose to present to other players by giving them a certain level of power over the player market through the crafter and gatherer jobs that they can specialize in. Players are allowed the freedom to express themselves in a variety of ways that encourage them to define their own journey throughout the game.

 


 

References

Chandler, D. (2016). Semiotics for beginners. Retrieved from http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/S4B/

Coleman, S., & Dyer-Witheford, N. (2007). Playing on the digital commons: collectivities, capital and contestation in videogame culture. Media, Culture & Society, 29(6), 934-953.

Grooten, J., & Kowert, R. (2015). Going Beyond the Game: Development of Gamer Identities Within Societal Discourse and Virtual Spaces. Loading… The Journal of the Canadian Gaming Studies Organization, 9(14), 70-87. Retrieved from http://journals.sfu.ca/loading/index.php/loading/article/view/151/189

Lin, J. C. (2015, April 14). Meet the Guy Who Saved Final Fantasy XIV from Total Disaster. Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/3817373/final-fantasy-14-naoki-yoshida/

McCloud, S. (1994). The vocabulary of comics. In Understanding comics: The invisible art. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Sainsbury, M. (2015). Game art: Art from 40 video games and interviews with their creators. San Francisco, CA: No Starch Press.

Square Enix. (2002). Final Fantasy XI [MMORPG]. Tokyo, Japan.

Square Enix. (2010). Final Fantasy XIV [MMORPG]. Tokyo, Japan.

Square Enix. (2012, November 11). FINAL FANTASY XIV: A Realm Reborn — End of an Era [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39j5v8jlndM

Square Enix. (2013). Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn [MMORPG]. Tokyo, Japan.

Square Enix. (2015). Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward [MMORPG]. Tokyo, Japan.

Square Enix. (2017a). Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood [MMORPG]. Tokyo, Japan.

Square Enix. (2017b). Letters from the Producer. Retrieved from http://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/forums/642-Letters-from-the-Producer

Square Enix. (2017c). FINAL FANTASY XIV Promotional Site. Retrieved from http://na.finalfantasyxiv.com/

Stephenson, S. (2017, February 21). Final Fantasy racks up three new record titles at Frankfurt fan festival. Guinness World Records. Retrieved from http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2017/2/final-fantasy-wracks-up-three-new-record-titles-at-frankfurt-fan-festival-463343

Storey, J. (2009). What is popular culture? In Cultural theory and popular culture: An introduction (5th ed.) (pp. 1-15). New York: Pearson Longman.

NPC Design in Mabinogi and its Contribution to the Consistency of the Game World

Andrew Ma 27392699

ENGL 255

 

Mabinogi is a fantasy massively multiplayer online role-playing game(MMORPG) which was developed by devCAT studio, and released by Nexon in 2004 in South Korea and 2008 in North America. The game engine uses hand-painted textures along with edge detection outlining which results in visuals that are reminiscent of anime and manga style drawings. The game world has been continuously under development; important releases that include new areas, additional features and further depth in the storyline are named “Generations.” While some game mechanics have been changed over the years for convenience, the core of the game remains the same. The player character(PC), a character directly commanded by the person playing, has a customizable appearance, an age, between ten and seventeen, statistics (hit points, wound points, mana points, stamina points, hunger level, strength, dexterity, intellect, will and luck), a level, a total level, ability points(AP) and the ability to be reborn(Rebirth). Ageing once per real-time week, players can earn extra stats as well as extra AP. This amount will decrease as the PC gets older, until they cannot earn any more. AP and stats can also be learned by earning experience points and leveling up as in other MMORPGs. However, since there is no level limit, the Rebirth feature is essential as it allows a player to reset their age and current level, therefore earning AP at a faster rate. Skills can be learned by equipping different items, questing, talking to NPCs and ranking up other skills. While Mabinogi is one of the only MMORPGs with a freeform skill system that allows players to learn any skills from any combat trees at the expense of AP, the design of non-playable characters(NPCs) and the design of our interactions with them as players is the area in which the game truly shines. NPCs in Mabinogi are an integral part of the game world as they contribute to the coherence of the narrative and the consistency of the game world itself. Consistency can be defined as the application of something in a conform manner for the sake of logic and accuracy. In the context of this essay, the player has to feel that the NPCs belong where they are and do not feel out of place. First and foremost, the affordances used in the design of the NPCs and the interface through which players interact with them made those NPCs recognizable and distinct. Next, the interface used during an interaction with an NPC creates a sense of intimacy with the player. Finally, by taking a closer look at the system behind the interface used, we notice that conversing with an NPC in Mabinogi is the same as interacting with one that is in an interactive fiction game or a visual novel as the NPCs seem to be aware of the world, the other NPCs and the PCs around them. A combination of these three elements is the recipe that is used by devCAT to create NPCs that a PC can relate to from the point of view of the game world and therefore create consistency within that game world. In turn, it will increase a player’s level of immersion or, in other words, a player’s connection to the game world since the NPCs feel “alive” so to speak and since the NPCs evolve and change due to a player’s actions.

When I first started playing, I walked into a town called “Tir Chonail.” Nothing seemed out of place and all the NPCs or residents seemed to belong here. Even though the graphics are dated today, the amount of details that can be seen in the looks and the mannerisms of the NPCs is simply astonishing; we are able to guess the functions of each NPC by taking a look at what they wear and what surrounds them. For example, let’s take a look at the affordances used in the design of the NPC Malcolm. He wears what seems to be a set of worker pants, holds a lute, a wrench, stands by a workshop full of tools and is surrounded by a wide variety of items. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for him to be the owner of the general shop and to be able to repair all items that are not weapons or jewelry. In addition to this, in case the player was not able to see the wrench properly, Malcolm was also designed to occasionally do a torquing movement with the wrench on the top of the lute to insinuate that he is repairing it.

mabinogi_2017_04_17_004.jpg
An interaction with Malcolm, the general shop owner in Tir Chonail

Here’s another example: Elen and Edern from the town Bangor. Elen wears little clothing, a hairband, holds a hammer that she swings around, stretches occasionally and stand by two furnaces and an anvil. Edern is topless, is well-built and hammers what seems to be the hot blade of a sword to be on an anvil. Even without the displayed blacksmith sign, players could have easily guessed that those two were the people who sold and repaired weapons as anvils and hammers are often associated with blacksmithing. In addition to this, it is logical for both of them to wear little clothing because of the heat coming from the furnaces and the molten metals; the impression of heat is given by the fumes and the liquified metals. Also, a player can guess that Edern is a better blacksmith than Elen for several reasons: we are under the impression that Elen is lazy since Edern is the only one working, Edern is a well-built man, therefore a symbol of strength, and Edern’s hair is white which means he is older and probably has more experience than Elen. My doubts were confirmed once I talked to both of them and learned that Edern had a 98% success rate for repairs versus Elen’s 90% and sold advanced weapons which Elen cannot make. Again, this is a proof of consistency in NPC design as players are able to differentiate and recognize NPCs and their functions based on the affordances used in the creation of their looks and mannerisms.

mabinogi_2017_04_18_001.jpg
Elen and Edern in Bangor

The two following affordances used are subtle and concern two specific features of NPCs in Mabinogi overall. The first is used to simulate the feeling that the NPC a player is talking to has their attention and is listening to them. devCAT induces this feeling by making each NPC look at the PC it’s interacting with.

The second is used to make the NPCs feel “alive” by giving them player like characteristics such as the ability to show different facial expressions, all of which are available to PCs as well.

This leads to the next element used to create consistency in the game world which is the system of conversation using keywords and gaining closeness with an NPC as a result. Beforehand, we need to take a look at the affordances and the techniques used in the design of the interface used during an interaction. The portrait of the NPC is displayed while the rest of the screen is partially blocked by black bars. This is an extra diegetic element that is used to create a sense of focus around the conversation with the NPC. In addition, the animated portrait, the message box as well the option buttons are put forward to further accentuate that focus. As a result, the player is unable to click anything else than the buttons. When conversing with an NPC, a travel diary, symbol of exploration and discovery, with all the keywords learned by the PC is opened. As soon as the PC learns a new keyword, it is automatically written in the diary and can be used when conversing. The diary also has the shape of a book which symbolizes knowledge and learning. The keywords are in a color that sets them apart from the usual black and white words, blue to be precise, and are put in boxes. Also, the blue color of the keywords and the response produced when the interactor puts their mouse over them is reminiscent of the techniques used in hyperlink based interactive fiction games and visual novels. On top of that, the diary is designed to be used like a book, an object that is common in real life. A mouse click on the edge of a page is used to flip it; a click on the right page flips it, allowing you to move forward in your reading of the book and vice versa for the left page.

mabinogi_2017_04_16_002.jpg
The diary opens when conversing with Aranwen

Now, on to the keywords and closeness system that define the conversation system in Mabinogi. In addition to a player being able to uncover an NPC’s past through the “Generation” quests, an NPC’s character and past can also be discovered by conversing using the keywords from the travel diary. devCAT has incorporated many elements from interactive fictions to create NPCs that are distinct, aware of the existence of PCs and other NPCs, have their own past, personalities and therefore, an irreplaceable part of the game world. Here’s an example of an interaction with Aranwen.

I have talked to her several times with this character, therefore we can say she was fairly open towards me. We also notice that she was aware of the existence of other NPCs as well as all the locations in this town. It makes the players feel like she has her place in this town and has been there longer than I have been. What happens when we talk to an NPC for the first time, you may ask?

A description of the NPC is the first thing that is displayed whenever a PC interacts with one. It helps define the overall look of the NPC and the aura surrounding it. It’s also the kind of description that can be found in fiction as well as interactive fiction as seen in the following picture.

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Meeting Comgan in Bangor

Next, the interactor has the option to start a conversation with an NPC. Upon doing so, we notice that there is also a feedback system where the overall impression an NPC has of the interactor is displayed as the conversation goes on. It is also vital that the first person is used in the NPCs’ dialogs and feedback as it helps create a sense of closeness and intimacy.

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Leaving a good impression on Kristell

Although the feedback provided is mostly positive, an NPC’s attitude will change throughout the “Generation” quests, especially when trouble arises or when they desperately need you, the PC. The feedback is there to encourage players to get to know an NPC and maintain good relations with them. This is further enforced as NPCs seem to be able to remember the PCs. Let’s take a look at my interactions with Edern and Caitin for example. While both these NPCs fulfil their functions as blacksmith and grocery store owner respectively, with the conversation system in place, players are encouraged not to limit their interactions to simply using an NPC’s function. Edern spoke to my character, Fireblades, in a cold, business-like manner the first time I spoke to him, but remembered my name and acted in a friendly manner after I conversed with him.

The same goes for Caitin who smiled at me like she’s known me forever and even joked around somewhat embarrassing information with me when we conversed

.The idea of maintaining good relationships with NPCs is reinforced once again when Nerys, the weapon shop owner in Dunbarton, tells me how to please Aranwen, the instructor at the school, so she will teach me a new skill.

Furthermore, the NPCs are also aware of the PC’s accomplishments in the game world and will change their attitude towards them as they progress in the “Generation” quests and learn more about the world and its people. For example, after completing “Generation 1,” Duncan, the chief in Tir Chonail remembers that I have saved the world from the resurrection of a fiend.

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Duncan remembers me and what I did

Another pertinent example of a change in attitude would be that of Kristell, a former succubus. Her usual warm demeanor changes as soon as I talk to her with the “Succubus Slayer” title, a proof that I have killed one of her kin. However, she is not hostile to me anymore and even offers me help because I was forced to fight succubi during “Generation 1” and because I have developed a harmonious relationship with her while doing the “Generation” quests. On the other hand, the screen turns partially red; it is a sign that I might have incurred her wrath.

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Kristell reacts to the title I wear

The different attitudes and reactions of NPCs towards PCs create a sense of consistency within the game world and give the illusion that the player is a seamless part of it and has an effect on it. Despite its ability to showcase an NPC’s personality, past and its relationships with other NPCs, the conversation system used in Mabinogi falls short when a player uses a keyword that is unknown to a certain NPC, such as knowledge from another continent. It is explained in the game that NPCs from one continent are not aware of the existence of NPCs on other continents. Whenever such a situation arises, the NPC will answer in a manner that signifies “I don’t know.” While, in my opinion, it does not break the connection I had with the world as a player, it was certainly a disappointment to receive an unsophisticated one line reply.

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Kristell has no information on the keyword I used

While there is much more depth to the NPCs in Mabinogi such as NPCs opening secret shops to players and offering them secret quests once a certain level of closeness is reached, three important points remain: the NPCs’ looks must be conforming with their surroundings to create a sense of consistency, the interface used during an interaction must be intuitive and designed to create a sense of intimacy, and the NPCs must have enough depth to make a player want to maintain harmonious relationships with them. Those three key points were cleverly exploited to design NPCs that are clearly distinguishable from one another, have different pasts, personalities and needs, fulfill their roles, belong to the towns and the areas in which they are, help the progression of the narrative and, more importantly, make the player feel like they are part of the game world and have an effect on it with each interaction.

N.B. Here are the single images in case you can’t zoom in on them.


Montfort, Nick. “The Pleasure of the Text Adventure.” In Twisty Little Passages. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. 1-36.

Jenkins, Henry. “Game Design as Narrative Architecture.” First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and  Game. Eds. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004. 118-30.

Stern, Eddo. “A Touch of Medieval: Narrative, Magic and Computer Technology in Massively Multiplayer  Computer RolePlaying Games.” In Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference Proceedings, ed. Frans Mayra. Tampre University Press, 2002.

Mabinogi (Nexon, 2008).


List of NPCs studied:

Malcolm, http://wiki.mabinogiworld.com/view/Malcolm

Duncan, http://wiki.mabinogiworld.com/view/Duncan

Caitin, http://wiki.mabinogiworld.com/view/Caitin

Kristell, http://wiki.mabinogiworld.com/view/Kristell

Aranwen, http://wiki.mabinogiworld.com/view/Aranwen

Nerys, http://wiki.mabinogiworld.com/view/Nerys

Comgan, http://wiki.mabinogiworld.com/view/Comgan

Edern, http://wiki.mabinogiworld.com/view/Edern

Elen, http://wiki.mabinogiworld.com/view/Elen

NPC Design in Mabinogi and its Contribution to the Consistency of the Game World

Engl 255 Term Paper

Although I would have enjoyed to create a twine game.
I had little time and no knowledge to create the type of game I wanted to produce.

Thus I wrote a paper about my favorite game series, Steins;Gate.
It is primarily a visual novel, basically a story with pictures, sounds and voice acting.
You proceed through the game reading the text and then deciding the choices.
Each choice will bring you to a different path to the story.

This game is available on the PlayStation Network as well as the sequel to this game.
They are both in English.
Steins;Gate : https://www.playstation.com/en-ca/games/steins-gate-psvita/
Steins;Gate 0 (sequel): https://www.playstation.com/en-ca/games/steins-gate-0-ps4/

The game is semi complex with the choice system.
Here is a link of the flowchart of the game.
http://steins-gate.wikia.com/wiki/Steins;Gate_100%25_Completion_Walkthrough

I shall discuss how the visual novel follows the Hero’s Journey and contains theological aspects.

I included here a small teaser. You can see the cover art of the game as well as three different screenshots. Just to show how detailed the art is and the tone of the game too.

So here is a document of my paper.
Enjoy. And I hope you give this game a try.

Jovanovic Ryan Term Paper

 

 

 

Engl 255 Term Paper