#1 Posted by Nodima (1102 posts) -

I've been watching Danny O'Dwyer's Random Encounters streams of the three PS2 GTA games, alongside playing a TON of the Final Fantasy XIV PS4 beta (I'm not sure how that happened either...) and DmC: Devil May Cry. This obviously isn't a new topic of conversation, but for some reason it was really nagging at the back of my head during DmC, became as overwhelming as the convention is wont to do in an RPG and then, of course, became as explicit as possible watching the old GTAs.

For a form of entertainment filled to the brim with protagonists/playable characters without whom the entire town/city/country/world/galaxy/universe would be destroyed, I'm sure having a hard time thinking of games (moreso in the era of storytelling as a given, roughly Playstation-onward; though I'd love examples of independent old school too) in which that's truly the case. For a guy as all-powerful as Dante it's interesting how completely confused he has to be throughout the game purely in service of the player, from how limbo works to what it'll take to save the world. Likewise, Grand Theft Auto games are all about independence from their mechanics to their storylines and yet that message is delivered via a number of people who know much, much more about the world than your character(s) could ever hope to (Grand Theft Auto V actually does some pretty good work in bucking this trend, as Michael and Trevor both find work for themselves throughout the game...sadly I don't remember Franklin being much more than a puppet).

#2 Posted by joshwent (2112 posts) -

@nodima: Maybe because it's late and I'm full of cold medicine, but I have no idea what you're actually asking. It sounds interesting though. Care to clarify?

#3 Posted by JasonR86 (9608 posts) -

What?

#4 Posted by Darji (5294 posts) -

I do not get everything you want but if you want a game with a powerful Protagonist or team that is not about saving the world/universe try Persona 4

#5 Posted by Clonedzero (4091 posts) -

I believe he's asking about protagonists out to do stuff because they want to do it. Not being told by someone or ordered by a boss/government ect.

Uh, in recent memory most of AC4 you spend running around on a personal quest for riches.

#6 Posted by Nodima (1102 posts) -

I'll try to say it another way...

In most games, the avatar for your actions is usually the strongest or smartest person in the room, but it rarely makes a choice for itself. Someone tells it to go somewhere all the time. In Grand Theft Auto V, for example, Trevor decides to go on that killing spree during his first segment of the game of his own free will. Whereas Dante (or Call of Duty guy, or Mario, or Assassin's Creed Hero X) often don't have much to go on without their friends to push them along and tell them why the world makes sense / what's important.

I get that it's a convention that helps bring a person into the game, you feel welcome. But sometimes it just doesn't feel natural, it's a weird sort of half-step between breaking the 4th wall and not. Some games have done it in clever ways recently, like Bioshock Infinite having two characters share objectives between each other or The Last of Us having Ellie for Joel to explain things to rather than NPCs to explain things to Joel.

I'm curious about games that have protagonists who don't get much explained to them by other characters, who choose their own objectives and satisfy their own goals. John Marston is an example of a character with the perfect built in excuse for walking around asking people for an eye for an eye, but the game can't help feeling disingenuous and gamey about it.

#7 Posted by Zeik (2222 posts) -

I don't know if it's entirely what you're thinking, but The Witcher is the first game that comes to mind. Geralt generally seems to have control of the situation and the story generally treats him as someone who knows how the world works, even if the player doesn't.

#8 Posted by Legend (2649 posts) -

Beyond: Two Souls comes to mind. Jodie doesn't like to be told what to do and she does things because she wants to for most of the game. York in Deadly Premonition is pretty independent too.

#9 Posted by believer258 (11632 posts) -

The Metroid games, the Witcher games, most RPG's for that matter.

Having a boss of aome sort is an easy way to dispense objectives, though I agree that it's often taken too far. RPG's usually involve gathering quests from people that need something, not bosses telling you what to do.

#10 Edited by LackingSaint (1771 posts) -

The Courier from Fallout: New Vegas. Interestingly, The Lone Wanderer from Fallout 3 does NOT fit this trope; where New Vegas can easily be completed without following anyone's instructions (As noticed by this rather fantastic run in which the dude kills EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER HE MEETS), Fallout 3 relies on unkillable side-characters who the player must forcefully act out errands for so that the game can be completed.

#11 Edited by audioBusting (1477 posts) -

Yume Nikki, maybe? The main (technically the only) character seems to have a life that we don't clearly get to find out about. I guess Monaco is kinda like that too, since everyone's acting out of their own greed and seems to know more than they let on.

The main characters of Broken Age give that sense of independence, now that I think about it. Except for the part where Shay does that thing with that guy, if you know what I mean, but that's kind of on purpose anyway. Manny from Grim Fandango and Guybrush from the first Monkey Island games are quite independent characters too, since the puzzles are usually other people being reluctant to helping us out, and the goals are mostly personal.

#12 Edited by EuanDewar (4757 posts) -
#13 Posted by Sinusoidal (1289 posts) -

Kratos. Characters in the series who are not him are good for one of two things: killing or fucking.

#14 Posted by LackingSaint (1771 posts) -

Kratos. Characters in the series who are not him are good for one of two things: killing or fucking.

Ehhh, i've been replaying the first game and it's pretty much just him following the whims of Gods. It's only after he ascends to Godhood himself that he starts fucking everyone/fucking everyone over.

#15 Posted by Nodima (1102 posts) -

Yeah it's a tough balance because sometimes the character is clearly independent (again, Dante) and yet characters who would clearly be lost without him are the sole source of world knowledge and ideas for how to move forward. Dante just smirks and smashes things.

#16 Edited by ArtisanBreads (3743 posts) -

I think making a game where your character has more independence is just difficult. It'd take a lot even technically. It'd have to be something like a simulation that you could manipulate. Bethesda and other big open RPGs work the most this way, I think.

I think the Witcher is a good example though. To me Geralt is like a X factor in the middle of some wild goings on and no one knows what he will do. Part of why those games are impressive: their polished RPG presentation (on the level with the best) yet a lot of freedom at the same time.

You bring up GTA and I don't think it fits, in fact, quite the opposite. I think the "why am I working for this asshole" question has been there throughout the series, though I think the Heists in V were a bit of an answer to that and I think Red Dead seemed to acknowledge how Marston was at the mercy of other forces. It would be awesome if there was a GTA type game and I could decide how I wanted to proceed from the get go. Choosing a gang, rising in their ranks, maybe betraying that gang and joining another, maybe assassinating other higher ups and having that have a reaction. That's what I hope for in the future.

#17 Posted by joshwent (2112 posts) -

It would be awesome if there was a GTA type game and I could decide how I wanted to proceed from the get go. Choosing a gang, rising in their ranks, maybe betraying that gang and joining another, maybe assassinating other higher ups and having that have a reaction. That's what I hope for in the future.

Good news! That future already happened... in 1998.

#18 Edited by ArtisanBreads (3743 posts) -
@joshwent said:

@artisanbreads said:

It would be awesome if there was a GTA type game and I could decide how I wanted to proceed from the get go. Choosing a gang, rising in their ranks, maybe betraying that gang and joining another, maybe assassinating other higher ups and having that have a reaction. That's what I hope for in the future.

Good news! That future already happened... in 1998.

ha I hated that game.

Update that shit. One day they'll have the freedom with the production values and a story that can adapt.

............

I also suddenly was thinking about this game, thinking about this idea of independence: Boiling Point: Road to Hell.

It was very rough but I loved the idea.

#19 Posted by mosespippy (4032 posts) -

The games that immediately come to mind for me are Minecraft, Terraria, DayZ and Rust. You are given no objectives. You just do what you want. None of them have narratives though.

#20 Posted by xite (775 posts) -

Doomguy fits, right? He just wants to shoot John Romero's severed head with a rocket launcher.

I dunno, I just wanted to say Doomguy.

#21 Posted by Atlas (2430 posts) -

I dunno, maybe Sean Devlin from The Saboteur fits the bill. There's a cobbled together resistance movement driving his actions and intentions, but for a large portion of the game you're basically doing what you think is the best thing to do, and a bunch of people are following your lead. I wouldn't say that that example entirely fits what the OP is asking for, but it's one of the best examples I could think of.

I think a lot of the games that are about more independent characters are also the ones that are much looser in terms of narrative. The Mount & Blade games grant you almost complete independence - you can complete tasks for lords and kings, and become a noble vassal, or you can roam the countryside just hunting bandits, or become a trader, or a bunch of things - but there's absolutely no structured narrative. The Elder Scrolls games often put you in a position of dependence, but allow you to transcend the process by eventually giving you power, such as when you join a guild and do a bunch of jobs for people, but then eventually you get to run the whole place: and you can opt out of that cycle entirely and just explore the world entirely on your own and still have a rich experience. People have already brought up other good examples, such as The Courier from Fallout: New Vegas, and Geralt from The Witcher.

Does Joel from The Last of Us fit the criteria? I mean, his core mission was kinda dictated by others, but he sort of seems begrudgingly willing to go along with it, even when things get uncomfortable - the only thing driving Joel in TLOU is his will to survive and to protect Ellie, not some mandate from on high. It's not like he has superiors, and when he and Ellie get on the road, the only cooperative tasks they perform are for people who are in a direct position to help them, or for each other. But I guess in thinking about it, there are times where you cannot progress in the game without directly performing a task for an NPC, so it can't count.

Maybe characters with near total independence and peerless expertise are deemed to be less relatable than a character who works within a more hierarchical structure; it's how we humans have organised ourselves since the time of Sumer, Akkad, and the earliest days of civilisation. I mean, how many people have jobs that allow them a large degree of independence? How many people don't have a boss? One thing's for sure, the vast majority of people making games have bosses to report to and targets to meet and so on.

#22 Edited by Nodima (1102 posts) -

To be clear, I don't feel that way about any of the games other than V, and most particularly Trevor's initial mission structure, which is essentially set off because he's mad Johnny's mad he's fucking that meth head from Liberty City. That's a fully independent decision that Ron and Wade don't have any intel for; Trevor just tells them to jump in the car and away you go towards the yellow dot on the map.


You bring up GTA and I don't think it fits, in fact, quite the opposite.

#23 Edited by ArtisanBreads (3743 posts) -

@nodima said:

To be clear, I don't feel that way about any of the games other than V, and most particularly Trevor's initial mission structure, which is essentially set off because he's mad Johnny's mad he's fucking that meth head from Liberty City. That's a fully independent decision that Ron and Wade don't have any intel for; Trevor just tells them to jump in the car and away you go towards the yellow dot on the map.

@artisanbreads said:

You bring up GTA and I don't think it fits, in fact, quite the opposite.

Ah fair enough.

Even still, the difference between an independent player and character. Which is a weird distinction but one that's important to games. I'm still doing what Trevor says.

I'm imaging a GTA game where, say, I need X amount of dollars to do something so I can choose which heists and jobs to pull off to get that money. Then you'd have freedom as player and a character.

#24 Posted by m4r71n2012 (39 posts) -

In pretty much every tomb raider (except perhaps the 2013) one the basic premise seems to be lara wants to get some kind if artifact and does whatever it takes to defeat who ever is using it for nefarious means so in that way i think she is pretty self motivated

#25 Posted by RVonE (4603 posts) -

In pretty much every tomb raider (except perhaps the 2013) one the basic premise seems to be lara wants to get some kind if artifact and does whatever it takes to defeat who ever is using it for nefarious means so in that way i think she is pretty self motivated

That's actually a pretty interesting example that seems to fit what the OP means.

#26 Edited by Brodehouse (9585 posts) -

I suppose to some end it's to attempt to embody the player in the protagonist. If someone tells you/protagonist to do something, you do it, that sense of role playing is maintained. If the protagonist decides to do something independent of you, there can be dissonance.

Consider Catherine. It asked the player questions throughout the game, and it selected an ending based on what it thought about your answers. In these endings, the protagonist makes final decisions, and they may be the exact opposite of what the player expected. At that moment I remember a swirl of negative emotions inside me; I felt like I was being unfairly judged and told I would do something I would not do. I assume it's that result that devs are trying to avoid.

I do like it when protagonists talk to 'themselves' when it's really the player. "Have to find a ladder to get up there..." or "My target should be north of here."

#27 Edited by Oldirtybearon (4594 posts) -

I do like it when protagonists talk to 'themselves' when it's really the player. "Have to find a ladder to get up there..." or "My target should be north of here."

I want more of that, except in a more generalized tone. Something that stuck out to me was Shepard's solo missions in the Mass Effect series. Some of it was the stuff you listed, but other times he'd mutter sarcastic asides and generally complain. That's more what I'm thinking about; the protagonist talking to themselves.

I mean, we all do it. Everyone talks to themselves. Muttering asides or full blown conversations with yourself, it's such an utterly human thing to do I'm surprised more games haven't capitalized on it.

Although I do suppose there's Francis York Morgan...

#28 Posted by BisonHero (6169 posts) -

The Banner Saga is sort of what you're looking for? Nobody tells you what to do, so you act as the leader and make decisions for the group, and fuck everything up all by yourself.

#29 Edited by xite (775 posts) -

@oldirtybearon: I remember Garret talking to himself constantly in Thief: Deadly Shadows, and he probably does in the newest one too, but we all know how that went. It's almost jarring when you're in a tense situation and he makes a sarcastic quip when you come across something noteworthy, especially in the Shalebridge Cradle level.

#30 Edited by GERALTITUDE (2917 posts) -

The Metroid games, the Witcher games, most RPG's for that matter.

Having a boss of aome sort is an easy way to dispense objectives, though I agree that it's often taken too far. RPG's usually involve gathering quests from people that need something, not bosses telling you what to do.

Metroid for sure.

Isn't The Witcher kind of counter common RPG stories? Seems to me in most Western or Japanese RPGs there's always someone who's pushing you along to save the world. Geralt on the other hand is almost entirely self-directed.... I think.. memory... straining..

I feel I might be short-changing the FF heroes but for some reason I feel like many of them were compelled to quest rather than being the originators. At some point they might take up control but.. hmm... maybe I'm not so sure about this anymore.

Sweet comment, I know.

#31 Posted by Silvergun (297 posts) -

How about Mass Effect 2? Sure, you're technically doing the Illusive Man's bidding, but more realistically, Shepard is pretty motivated to stop them from the word 'go', and it honestly feels more like the Illusive Man and Cerberus are just there to support your galaxy-wide heroics/rampage than direct it.

#32 Edited by Vuud (1943 posts) -

Donkey Kong is... I'm not sure what the hell Donkey Kong is supposed to be doing. I think he just wants some bananas.

#33 Posted by Aegon (5401 posts) -

Uncharted.