Game-Hopping Characters!

by Darius Kazemi on August 10, 2006

in Uncategorized

I had a very interesting conversation with Craig last night. We talked about many things, one of which he posted about. I want to discuss something that I brought up during our conversation, related to his idea, but probably a little more pragmatic.

I love how old games like Quest for Glory let you import your character from sequel to sequel. It makes the whole series feel like one long game, as opposed to you starting over every sequel.

Wouldn’t it be neat if you could import characters between lots of different games? Maybe there could be some kind of universal but flexible specification for characters. Hell, I’ll lay out a first pass method right here.

Let’s do something really easy. Say you’re an indie developer. You have released two games. One’s a typical fantasy dungeon crawler, called OrcKiller. The other is a game where tanks shoot at each other in the future, called GeneriTank.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that a character for OrcKiller looks like this:

Name: Joe
Class: Fighter
Total HP: 100
Strength: 8
Agility: 4
Brains: 5

And let’s say that a tank in GeneriTank looks like this:

Model: RX-510
Speed: 40 mph
Armor: 5mm
Weapons: Laser Cannon, Machine Gun

You can import characters and tanks back and forth between these two games. Let’s take Joe the Fighter and import him into the tank game. You get:

Model: Joe-1209
Speed: 30 mph
Armor: 7mm
Weapons: Machine Gun, Portable Nuke

How did I come up with those figures? Well, agility maps to speed. In OrcKiller, the maximum agility score is 10, and it’s a linear number of character points to advance in (you spend 1 CP to get 1 point of agility). Well, in GeneriTank, the top speed of a tank is 100 mph. But a 4/10 in agility maps to 30/100 mph because in GeneriTank, you spend an exponentially increasing amount of money to upgrade tank points. I would spend a lot of time to make a simple formula that says 1 CP = $10,000, and all of a sudden I can convert hero agility to tank speed really easily. Same thing with HP –> armor.

What about weapons? How did I derive those? Well, I didn’t. I just subtracted the cost of the parts that I created on import from the total starting cash at the tank shop, and I let the player spend the remaining money on weapons. Similarly, I completely ignored the brains, strength, and class from the OrcKiller character.

The Benefits

The main advantage, in my mind, is that if I get bored of leveling my fighter in OrcKiller, I can import him into GeneriTank. Then when I get bored of blowing up tanks, I take my upgraded tank and import him back into the original game. Now the fighter has upgraded a subset of his stats, and I feel like I’ve made progress in the first game!

Furthermore, the sense of continuity you get between disparate games would feel enormously good. You could become extremely attached to what is essentially a single character that you’ve played in 10 different games.

The Drawbacks

Obviously there’s huge balance issues here. I wouldn’t recommend this for games with online play, as the opportunity to exploit is ripe. However, I think for single player games balance doesn’t matter so much, especially since in this case it’s unbalanced in the player’s favor, rather than unfairly hard.

Furthermore, conversion between various game systems will not always be simple. In fact, it’ll probably always be a really tricky math problem. It will almost never be as easy as 1 CP = $10,000. You’ll probably need a set of linear equations to handle all the transformation–not hard math in and of itself, but setting the coefficients intelligently could be a nightmare.

But Also…

The balance issue might not be so terrible. You could design many different games that look at different stats. Your players would say things like, “Oh, man. If you want to really increase your character’s jump height in Game A, you should import her into Game B as a hacker character and put lots of points into network manipulation!”

While this might not be the most balanced system in the world, I maintain that it would be incredibly fun, and that it would really help you feel a sense of continuity between disparate games.

Does anybody know any games that already do something like this (Quest for Glory aside)?


Craig Perko August 10, 2006 at 10:50 pm

It should be noted that if you use an open file system, people can simply invent characters with absurdly high stats…

Balancing factors can deal with that somewhat, but another measure should be taken somewhere.

Patrick Dugan August 11, 2006 at 1:21 am

Baldur’s Gate employed a similar concept exceptionally well. I think its better to employ this in an IP franchise where things are more consistent and theres a narrative momentum involved, it “automatically” balances what is otherwise sheer paidic messiness, which while fun, seems like it might be more costly than its worth.

Unfortunately the character models in the IP that I’m trying launch with the help of our ebullient friend here functions on a mostly “level” system, there isn’t a progressive model of advancement, because its not really a standard RPG, the differences between the characters are the point.

I bet you could make some parrallels between the ludic contiguity you’re discussing and episodic content, particularly in a drama game.

solipsistnation August 11, 2006 at 1:28 am

“Sir, another warrior has entered the arena. Zooming in now.

“…no, no, this one looks normal.

“…no, he doesn’t look like one of those orc things like last time. And he’s not some kind of embodiment of a tank. He’s got on a kind of skirt and a little white helment.

“Hold on! He’s doing something! He’s…

“Sir, he is planting flax at us. … Yes, aggressively. … Yes, sir, I suppose I could shoot him, but he doesn’t seem to be much of a threat, and we could really use some linen.”

…or maybe ATITD characters would import as some kind of weird crafting types. Or maybe it could depend on their rank. Master of Worship? You’re a cleric (or healer of some sort)! Sage of Art & Music? Bard or entertainer! Student of Body? A low-level Ranger! Pharaoh’s Oracle of Architecture? Uh.

Anonymous August 11, 2006 at 1:51 am

The big problem I see with this is the balancing of the game. Let’s say I beat the orc game and have the uber-powerful end-game character. How can I make the game fun for the character with those stats without making it impossible to get anywhere for someone with beginning stats?

Ian Schreiber August 11, 2006 at 4:34 am

I don’t know of any games that do EXACTLY as you describe per se, but there are a LOT of games where your characters in one influence the other.

Nintendo did brilliantly with the twin GBA games, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages. Both games had an intertwined storyline, and in each game you could find secret passcodes and such that would only work to unlock items or areas in the OTHER game. You could play either game separately or you could play both of them concurrently, going back and forth between them as you found neat stuff in one or the other. In order to get the final ultimate ending, I think you had to beat both games normally, and then play either of the two AGAIN with the code from the ending of the other in order to face a new final final boss.

The Suikoden series have looked for save game data from the previous game since their first sequel. If you have a previous save it gives you access to secret areas or characters, generally with an additional bonus if you beat the previous game with the best ending (i.e. finding all 108 characters).

Monster Rancher 2 gave you some special monsters if you inserted game discs from other games by the same developer.

Going back further, some of the old SSI D&D games let you import your characters from previous games (e.g. Hillsfar let you roll characters from scratch, OR use your party from Pool of Radiance, or something like that.)

The Ratchet & Clank series of games also gives you access to discounted weapons and secret areas if you have a save file from a previous game in the series.

I’m sure there are other games along these lines, where the developers include something a little extra for you if you’re a repeat customer.

I realize that’s not exactly what you asked for, but it is a step in that direction.

I’d imagine actual importing of characters across games would be exceedingly rare, because it requires:
* A single developer to live long enough to make multiple games (in multiple franchises, not just one game and its sequels);
* The developer creates this “universal” system from their earliest game so that it is both forward- and backwards- compatible. The intent must be there from day 1.

This combination of foresight and longevity is… not normal in our industry :)

Corvus August 11, 2006 at 10:47 am

I thought this would be a good time to talk about my plans for the Meta Character.

It’s pretty much along the lines of what you’re talking about here.

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