Artificial companions in games

Noting an absence in the Lirec research about games (maybe I’ve missed it – there is a lot to read) I’ve started collecting together games which attempt to nurture a bond between the player and another character. My first thought was Ico, but I also remembered the Chau in Sonic Adventure, which migrate from the DreamCast to the VMUs and back again – covering one of Lirec’s core themes.

3 thoughts on “Artificial companions in games

  1. ICO is the first that comes to mind, yes.

    Examples that I found noteworthy;

    *Final FantasyXII, you control a single character that’s a member of a party, the rest will follow you. You can switch which character you take as the leader. The interesting bit is that a simple programming system consisting mainly of IF, ELSE IF, ELSE IF, etc structures can be used to control your companions or at least outline their behaviour in very general terms. I found that I cursed the AI programmers significantly less for the “retarded” behaviour of the NPC’s when I was partially to blame myself when they inevitably did something inappropriate. I also found I didn’t experience the game as too dumb when I could let the AI handle many of the battles. Very interesting choice in the “avoid thrown joypads” sub-field of game-AI design.

    *Jet Force Gemini. Mainly a single player game on the N64 where for the first few levels you collect the parts for a robot/pet companion. When a second player is around (after it is finished) he can use a second joypad to control this robot’s aim and firing. I felt the robot was more valuable to me as I had had to work at getting it and it wasn’t simply given to me (even if it can’t die from there on). Using a companion to keep a friend happy while you play a one player game is a interesting choice as well.

    *The fairies in Breath of FireIII. Characters in a “manage a town” sub game. Can be assigned tasks and have different stats, making some more suitable for some tasks. These are quite helpful (they can get you items you can’t otherwise (easily) get) and they are generally likeable. The tricky bit is that they can be send on missions (off screen). Some of these missions are more rewarding and more dangerous (requiring more skilled fairies), consequently the fairies send on them can die. This leads to confronting choices, assuming you care for 16bit sprites, then again; if you don’t you likely won’t be playing that game. Also note that this game contains a boss character named “Kassen” (it’s a sort of demonic rabbit head) so when you play it you will get to see the line “You defeated Kassen”. This may or may not be cause for giggles.

  2. You’re welcome, it’s a good question, I liked thinking about it.

    I wrote the above while rushing out of the house again after only having been in for a hour or so and I missed one that I wanted to mention.

    *The dog character in the search application in MS Windows XP is a good example as well… or at least a good example of this going all wrong. The dog is supposed to look like it’s helping you (it starts to sniff while the application searches as well) but it’s not very helpful. Actually the whole application is quite crappy and personifying it like that with a slightly clumsy looking dog makes it go from simply crappy to downright annoying. I think this shows the dangers of personifying things without giving it proper thought.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *