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Designing Character Relationships

Discussion in 'Oliver's Lab (The AI/Living Universe Forum)' started by dirkgently, Sep 27, 2015.

  1. dirkgently

    dirkgently Lord of Statistics
    Staff Member Developer Forum Admin Testing The Galaxy, One Star At A Time

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    One of the most challenging aspects of designing Imperia is making the characters work right. The Intel system we're planning (which I'll most definitely be posting on someday soon) revolves around working out who's corrupt, who's plotting what, and who's a threat to you from incomplete clues, and for that to work, the characters have to act and react in a way the player can comprehend. Not only that, but they have to avoid breaking immersion: they have to feel human. This is hard enough with hand-crafted characters, never mind procedurally-generated ones, so we've been putting a lot of thought into both how characters interact and how their relationships are presented to the player.

    So I've recently been watching a lot of Broadwalk Empire, which if you've not seen it is an HBO drama featuring Steve Buscemi as a Prohibition-era politician and gangster. And this set me to thinking. It seems to me that there are a codifiable set of relationships to be found in any piece of gangster fiction - relationships that shaped how the characters behaved towards one another and to third parties. And what is feudalism but gangsterism with fancier hats? So the system I came up with does away with the traditional one-dimensional relationship number, as seen in Crusader Kings II and Civilization. Instead, a pair of characters can fall into any one of fourteen different relationship states. These are:

    None (they either don't know or have no interest in one another)
    Friends
    Allies
    Superior & Inferior (in a hierarchy, in which the latter is expected to obey the former)
    Challenger & Challenged (in which the former has issued some sort of verbal or material insult to the latter, who must respond or be seen as weak. There are different degrees of challenge severity.)
    Rivals (informal rivalry between characters of similar potency)
    Antipathy (like Rivals but at different power levels)
    Shunning and Shunned (mutual Shunning is treated as Antipathy or Rivalry depending on power levels)
    Sworn vengeance & object of sworn vengeance (regulated by law)
    Vendetta (formal rivalry, regulated by law, also occurs if both swear vengeance against one another)
    Married (regulated by law; two characters may also be legally married but occupy a different relationship state - if they are estranged, for example)
    Lovers (also potentially regulated by law)
    Hanger-on & hung-upon
    Patron & Protégé

    These are public states, in that they're visible for all to see, including you, the Emperor. (The characters also have secret attitudes to one another, including both romantic and platonic love, undying hatred, and their willingness or otherwise to betray the other, but I won't list these exhaustively today - perhaps in a future post.) The point of these is twofold. First, they tell the AI how to behave. Who can a character call upon if they are threatened? Who should they plot against? Who should they prepare defences against? Who is likely to come to a character's aid if they are threatened, and who is likely to join in the attack? Secondly, they tell you, the player, those exact same things. When you want to know where a character stands, you can simply glance at their relationships.

    Let's look at some of these in a little more detail.

    The relationships that vary most from the simple numerical system are the Challenger and Challenged, Patron and Protégé, and Hanger-On and Hung-Upon pairs. The first is generally very temporary. It often represents a relationship in flux: a character can pass from a nobody to a Rival, and/or gain or lose Fear and Status in the eyes of their peers, by issuing a Challenge. It's meant to capture those beats in a classic gangster story where one mobster muscles in on another's turf, shoots his underling, or similar, and the latter has to strike back or face the vultures closing in. A Challenged character will most likely attempt to slap their Challengers down, strictly as a matter of survival.

    One of the most interesting parts of having a system like this, in fact, is the scope it provides for things characters can do - or have happen to them - that move them between the states. A Hanger-On, for example, becoming an Inferior, either because the character they hang around decides they're useful or because they proactively persuade them to give them a chance; an Inferior proving their worth (or getting on well with their Superior) and becoming a Protégé; the Protégé, having become sufficiently powerful, leaving their Patron's protection and becoming a Rival (perhaps by way of becoming a Challenger) - the system lends itself to creating stories. Perhaps the Protégé is a disappointment, and upon getting ditched, develops a grudge against their one-time Patron, plotting against and eventually destroying them; perhaps, on the contrary, they remain so loyal that when their Patron is killed, they develop a grudge against the killer. Perhaps, before they can do any of that, a jealous Hanger-On slanders their name, forcing them to leave their mutual master's court entirely as they are Shunned by them. These are the kinds of histories we intend this system to generate.

    What do you think? Have I left out anything important? How could this be improved? All feedback is welcome, so tell me what you think!

    Oliver
     
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  2. Ashbery76

    Ashbery76 Minor Viceroy

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    It's strange to me that a game about feudalism has no mechanic for your children.Having a heir was the most important thing for a king.
     
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  3. dirkgently

    dirkgently Lord of Statistics
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    There will certainly be parents and children in the game! The default relationship between the two is Patron-Protégé, but it can change - a disappointing child might be relegated to the parent's Inferior, a rebellious child could become a Rival, etc. We're still thinking about how to handle the player's family, whether the player should be a member of a Great House with siblings, cousins, etc. or the last of their line, and so on. We're always open to ideas, so if you're struck by sudden inspiration, we'd love to hear about it!
     
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  4. deeraw

    deeraw Viceroy-in-Training

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    There is a game out called Massive challice. I like the way that they do it. you for a relationship with someone whether its male or female. and you have several kids and they take on traits from both parents. and if you want to get a pure bread child it may take generations to get the traits that you want. you can also breed children to get the exact result you want until you find the heir that you want to take the throne. the other siblings can be dukes or ducthess in control of planets or something like that. this is my most favorite part of your game. Keep up the great work everyone
     
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  5. dirkgently

    dirkgently Lord of Statistics
    Staff Member Developer Forum Admin Testing The Galaxy, One Star At A Time

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    Massive Chalice looks pretty cool. Imperia's set over a shorter timescale, though: you're one emperor, in 3050 AD (3048 if you play the tutorial section) trying to pull the Empire together before it's too late, so you don't really have time to breed your aristos. But I like the idea of something like 'Bene Gesserit: The Game', where you're trying to breed the Kwisatz Haderach or whatever, through secret manipulation and scheming.
     
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