I believe it is of a paramount importance to attempt to create an experience for players that offers something unique, or at least uncommon.
Many would argue that everything has been done already regardless of your medium or genre at this point, and I will acknowledge that it becomes difficult to create something completely new.
However, even if you are creating something that has “already been done before” by many others, I believe it is important to look for ways you can do things differently, something about your creation that makes it stand out from the crowd in a way that is not seen very often. Aspire to have something that “makes it your own” in the sense that it is at least a little bit innovative.
Sometimes that can be a simple thing. Taking a look at game development in particular (though this concept applies to any sort of creative field) for example you might have a unique and custom battle system in your Role Playing Game. Sometimes it can be the art style that is unique. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everything about the entire experience needs to be original for something to be considered interesting or unique. In fact, some familiarity can be beneficial too.
One way that I am endeavoring to bring uniqueness to the experience in my indie RPG Death? Preposterous! is by making dialog with NPCs a bit more robust than you usually find. (For those who don’t know, NPC is short for Non-Player Characters, meaning characters that the player isn’t in control of.)
If you look at the way the average Role Playing Game tends to handle NPC dialog, you’ll find that most characters will have one or two things to say to the player, at which point if they try to speak with them further, they’ll just repeat themselves.
Often what will happen in a game is the player will talk to a few NPCs in the game, and maybe they’ll go around and talk to all of them in a given area once or twice. Many times though the many NPCs will go ignored, especially if the player already has a good idea of where to go and what to do next. This is because when NPCs are used generically and without creativity, they simply exist as guides for the player to progress that, once conditions have been fulfilled, often times NPCs no longer hold any value to the player.
This creates very static and uninteresting NPC characters for the most part. Sure you might have a few memorable ones here and there if their lines are interesting enough and filled with enough personality, but that’s rarely the case.
Expecting the player to interact and engage with NPC characters that don’t add much to the experience is like expecting someone to re-read an operations manual when they are already well versed in operating a device.
The other thing you don’t see too often with NPCs is movement. NPC characters are almost always just hanging out in the same place, saying the same things, their sole purpose in life seems to be waiting around for the player to come find them so they can deliver their one or two lines and then fade away from relevance and memory.
For my game I have attempted to find ways to make NPCs a bit more interesting to engage with than the typical fare. Instead of just saying one or two things, they have a larger pool of dialog to select from at random, giving some variety to the conversations the player will get to engage with even from the unessential NPC characters. There will still be some characters that have more scripted dialog that are central to the story, but even these I endeavor to have that dialog change as the events in the game progress and unfold, giving them a bit more dynamic substance and expression.
And the other point I touched on was quite simple, a lack of movement. In Death? Preposterous! there will be times where you will meet the same NPC but in different areas, and there are also times where they will not always appear in areas where you have seen them previously. This is a very small thing, but it has a pretty important impact. What it does is this allows the NPCs a sense of purpose and makes it feel like they are living their lives in this place they inhabit. It adds an element of realism to the experience and makes these characters a bit more believable . They aren’t always going to be standing right in the town square saying the same two things they said 10 hours of game play time ago, long after the events they are talking about have been resolved.
It’s my belief that it is important to make these characters you encounter feel a bit more like actual people, and these are a few of the ways that I hope to give the player some sense of that. While eventually they will still succumb to the inevitable repetition in dialog, it will be more unpredictable in that sense. Between the deeper pool of dialog possibilities, and changes in conversations that reflect events as they transpire, my hope is that this should prove to make my game feel a little different than what you see in your average, generic, uninspired RPG.