This is an old revision of the document!

Companions in games

Part of Project Lirec

If an enemy monster is stupid (because its “brain” is just a couple of hundred lines of computer code running on a personal computer that is busy doing a lot of other stuff) it isn’t too bad. Hey, it’s a monster. It’s not supposed to be smart. But when a human character shows up the player expects him or her to act like a human. Then when they walk into the player’s line of fire, get confused by doorways, get caught up on scenery, or utter the same phrase for the tenth time, they are exposed as a fraud and the illusion of the gameworld is broken. NPCs have so many ways they can break immersion that it’s difficult to enumerate them all.

From a good article on NPCs and immersion

Some non-player characters (NPCs) in games are designed to help the player in some form. This is a list of interesting characters who are either designed to provide some assistance in solving problems or fighting battles, or are a central theme of the game and therefore are intended to form a bond with the player.

Companion Gameplay purpose Intelligence Attachment level
yorda.jpg Yorda in IcoTo be rescuedGeneral wandering, object avoidance, local route finding - lack of any direction or purpose until a cutscene script takes over. Talks in strange unintelligible language.Quite high to begin with, followed by a trough when you realise she's actually quite annoying - e.g. inability to avoid being dragged away by the “shadows” that come after her. In the end you strangly feel attachment again, when she's taken from you - a sort of attachment due to persistence, an annoying friend that won't go away.
alyx.jpg Alyx Vance in Half-Life 2Cooperative playObject avoidance, combat, use of terrain and cover, blind fire etc. Helping with level progression tasks and capable of showing excitement, dismay and anger.Reception seems good from players, although some complaints about dialogue spoiling the effect with repeated and nonsensical chatter
dogmeat.jpg Dogmeat from Fallout 3Cooperative playDogmeat warns the player of danger, can be sent to search for items and distract enemies in battle.Not such a good response from gamers on Dogmeat - he is not strictly required to play the game and can get in the way in battle situations. Also seems a little contrived as he miraculously appears when you need help.
ashleygraham.jpg Ashley Graham from Resident Evil 4Needs rescuing and helps with some gameplayFollowing and object avoidance, pointing out possible solutions to puzzlesNot good on this character either, as being in the horror genre, it's very unforgiving to AI goofiness. The lack of attachment may also be due to the fact that unlike in Ico, where Yorda is with you all the time up to the last part, Ashley Graham often get recaptured.
floyd.jpg Floyd in Jet Force GeminiHelps with gameplay/optional 2nd player control/sidekickA pet/companion robot which has to be built by the player. Helps with battles, has infinite (low power) fire and is indestructible.What is interesting about Floyd is that the fact that the player has made a contribution to his construction 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 (from Kassen. Attachment can be greatly helped by requiring the user to invest time in it's construction and having input in it's design.

Unlike other games, pet games are solely concerned with creating an attachment with an artificial companion. In this way, the companion is the focus of the game. Other gameplay elements are introduced as a way of increasing the bond between the player and their pet. Most pet games are targeted at a younger audience, although in practice these games can have a much broader appeal.

Game Interaction Attachment level
nintendogs.jpg Nintendogs DS touchscreen for stroking and cleaning, and the microphone for training and talking to your puppy.The NPC interaction feels very natural using the pen on the touch screen, and the voice control is done well - it takes a few attempts each time to learn commands, which fits well with the technical solution. The best selling game of all time, so it's doing something right. The portable nature of the DS console might largely be part of the success, along with the shameless use of dog breeds per game release.
tamagotchi.jpgTamagotchi3 buttons, allowing you to feed, clean and play games with your pet. It tells you when it needs feeding, and dies if it's not attended to.A huge success, which indicates a good attachment. So much so that it proved controversial due to children taking them into classes to keep them alive. Keeps well out of the uncanny valley as the Tamagotchi hardware (the name comes from the words egg and watch in Japanese) is very limited, so the display only tens of pixels across - which only adds to it's appeal.
chau.jpgchaudc.jpgChau Adventure, part of Sonic AdventureSimilar to Tamagotchi, but crucially, and of high relevance to Project Lirec the 'chau' pets migrate from the DreamCast console to a hand held device (either a VMU or a GameBoy Advance) and back again. The chau can be taken away and trained (or evolved) for various tasks in the main game, and can even be bred together by connecting two people's VMUs togther.The chaus were not a core element of Sonic Adventure, so this feature was more of an experimental idea taking portable pets from Tamagotchi and integrating them with a full game. However, it was fairly successful and well received.

There are also examples of games which immerse the player in more complex social situations, involving groups working together, or squads fighting together.

Game Game description Attachment level
pikmin.jpgPikminThe player has to grow and use small creatures called pikmin to retrieve parts of a ship which has crashed, and rebuild it to escape the planet. There are types of pikmin which have different abilities. Up to 100 pikmin can be active at one time.The focus of the game is to interact with your pikmin as they help you to solve problems and carry out tasks. The game works well due to the large quantity of individuals, which is a much more forgiving strategy than using a single companion. They are also designed to be obviously very alien (as they are part plant) so the player can accept any shortcomings as “natural” and more amusing than frustrating limitations in game technology

Breath of Fire III

The Thing


Strategies used in increasing attachment to companions in games:

  • The companion using language which you can't quite understand, as use of natural language is one of the quickest ways to breaking the illusion of intelligence.
  • User investment in the design or construction of the agent, which increases a feeling of ownership.
  • Collective intelligence - by using multiple agents.
  • companions_in_games.1232973284.txt.gz
  • Last modified: 2009-01-26 12:34
  • by davegriffiths