Thursday, July 24, 2008

companion milestone

In a hands-on preview of Fable 2 at Kotaku, Michael McWhertor notes that the game's combat is fun "especially when the dog comes to your aid, gnawing on the limb of some recently dispatched foe". That's a sort of enjoyment that is common in games, but the potential is largely unexplored.

I'll venture to say that what Molyneux's team has done with canine companions is a monumental achievement; a stepping stone toward an important trend in future games. He's capitalizing on the joy of love.

As the philosopher Peter Kreeft once said, love is about "with-ness". It's a desire and/or choice to be together with something; in presence, in experience, in ideas, etc. Love is about communion.

When you love any being, you take joy in simple exposure to it. A newborn baby can't even focus its eyes, yet family and friends are captivated by anything and everything he or she does. Likewise with pets and wild animals. There's joy in merely watching and listening to them.

The deeper, more complex NPCs become, the more potential they have to entertain the player through exhibitions of personality, quirks, and dynamic experiences. In McWhertor's Fable 2 experience, the dog in combat is doing nothing very different from companions in Diablo 2, yet the player's interest in the dog's actions is significantly deeper. A well-rendered, clever (AI), dynamic pet evokes a stronger emotional response than a 2D, simple-minded skeleton without a name.

One of Bungie's brilliant moves with Halo was giving NPC companions dynamic comments. The player kills an enemy and a soldier behind him says, "Aww, man. That one was mine!" (or something like that).

NPC mistakes can be made endearing, rather than frustrating. Trivial dialogue can be made more memorable than story arcs. It can be done through deepening characters... adding individuality and dynamicity. Fable 2's dog is an important step that barely hints at things to come.


  1. Aaron you may have somrthing here, I am looking forward to how Prince of Persia will develope the companion idea with Elika.

    I get a good feeling that she will give the game an experience that few do at present, that being the one of co-operative gameplay with a npc.

    Fable 2 also looks encouraging...

  2. Most games are pretty unfulfilling for me, but if there was a game that successfully stimulated that feeling of companionship, I'd love it so much. It's something I want to do myself in games, though I'm not yet sure how.

    There's one digital painting I find really inspiring in this regard, whose mood I desperately want to recreate in a game: tamanoir by gueusav on deviantART

    It's also the reason that I love this short animation so much: Pandora's Book by Etoli

    It's not about doing anything, even. It's just about sharing your experience, your routine, with a friend you know well - their tendencies and preferences, habits and likes and dislikes, their moods. Just hanging out somewhere nice, doing nothing particularly exciting or interesting.

    I always dreamed of having a pet dragon when I was young. It's that sort of thing. Thanks for writing. :)


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