“I am virtually never alone in newer video games.”
September 29, 2019 12:17 PM   Subscribe

The rise of the virtual sidekick, and what it says about the shift in video game storytelling. [Slate] “That “alone” part of the equation for video games has been changing in recent years. Yes, long ago there was an explosion of online gaming’s popularity, giving players the ability to join up with or hunt strangers, friends, and (occasionally) new friends you’d meet through a game. But there’s also a newer, largely unarticulated trend: the end of being alone in video games. Now, even on single-player outings, you’re typically teamed up with a computer sidekick for the duration of the adventure. [...] But this is an interesting and new experiment for video games, one that raises a lot of questions. Or, at least, one question: Why? I have a hunch. The most ambitious examples of the computer sidekick are always plot-critical characters who grow and change and have actual personalities and points of view. They accompany a shift in the sorts of stories told in video games, and how the player takes part in them. ”

• Sidekicks in video games can be frustrating narrative devices, but not in Skyrim [New Statesman]
“She scuttles across the room, planting herself dutifully in file behind the Dragonborn, a trail of destruction in her wake, as the skeletons draw their swords and the Necromancer turns from his table, his hands bathed in magical flames. Lydia has arrived. Video games feature many companions. From the faithful hounds of Fable, Dragon Age: Origins and Call of Duty: Ghosts to the unobtrusive daughter figures of The Last of Us and Bioshock: Infinite to the hollow shells of absent co-op players in Gears of War and Resident Evil 5 to name but a few. But there is only one Lydia. So what makes Lydia special? What could possibly make this outwardly generic warrior woman such an important part of the Skyrim world and so much more interesting than all the Elizabeths, Ellies and Rileys that have appeared this year?”
• The most believable video game sidekick is a giant flying cat [New Scientist]
“I live with a very big cat. He likes to sprawl across my lap when I play games. He’s good company but pretty stupid. I often wonder what’s going on behind his big wide eyes. So perhaps it’s not surprising I fell so hard for Trico, the house-sized, big-eyed feline in The Last Guardian. Trico is obviously fake – he can fly and shoot lightning from his tail. But when I clamber up his feathered flank to rub him between the ears he responds with that purry nasal whine, and the emotional punch is as real as it comes. The Last Guardian was finally released in December. Made by GenDesign, a Japanese studio led by Fumito Ueda – whose two previous games, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, are widely recognised as classics – it had been in development for a decade. Spend a few minutes with Trico and you get a good idea where that time went. There has never been anything quite like him in video games before. The Last Guardian is about a relationship. When you first meet Trico he lashes out, hurt and afraid. But after 10 to 15 hours together the big beast is risking his life for you, pushing himself to overcome instinctive fears to keep you safe. The overall experience is remarkable.”
• The 5 Best Video Game Sidekicks (And 5 That Are Useless) [The Gamer]
“Video game protagonists have existed for almost as long as video games themselves. Some of them are tools on top of being a sidekick, like Clank or Kazooie or any horse; others are sometimes playable or provide aid and tactical advantages in combat; some are glorified talking tutorials. To put it lightly, some are great and some are awful. Here, we’re going to look at five of the best and five of the worst sidekicks in video games. These characters do not necessarily reflect their games as a whole, and the list has been limited to those sidekicks who can actually be said to have a concrete personality, either through their dialogue or their actions.”
• 15 Video Game Companions That Were Interesting Than The Player [Gaming Bolt]
“It’s all too easy to bungle a video game companion character spectacularly, and there have been several high profile examples over the years that support that notion, sadly enough. But by that same token, there have also been so many games that have featured some truly amazing companion characters. Characters who are along with us for the journey (or parts of it) and make it so much richer than it would have been without them, characters who constantly delight us with their amazing personalities and antics. This feature is dedicated to all those characters, and here we’re going to list fifteen of them. Do note that this isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, and given the sheer number of amazing companions we’ve seen in games over the years, there’s every chance that we’ve missed out on several notable ones. So if you can think of a name that you don’t see on this list, don’t forget to mention it in your comments.”
posted by Fizz (56 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
i clicked through that whole "15 Video Game Companions That Were More Interesting Than The Player" list and didn't see floyd the robot anywhere so i declare it invalid.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:21 PM on September 29, 2019 [13 favorites]


Donald Duck isn't on the "useless" list and I was mad until I realized that no, Donald Duck isn't useless, he's an actively malicious force that HEALS THE FUCKING ICE ENEMY WITH ICE SPELLS!!!!!!
posted by brook horse at 12:30 PM on September 29, 2019 [10 favorites]


Not many games are comfortable with solitude. I love Shadow of the Colossus because there are no other sentient characters present. You've got a horse. That's it.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:38 PM on September 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


I remember when Daikatana was supposed to be the first game with intelligent FPS companions. That... did not work out.

Skyrim companions are garbage unless by companions you mean vicious Daedra torn from the Plane of Oblivion by the puissance of my spellcraft.
posted by selfnoise at 12:46 PM on September 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


Can any of these new companions be trained to steal stuff from shopkeepers?
posted by octothorpe at 12:54 PM on September 29, 2019 [13 favorites]


Can any of these new companions be trained to steal stuff from shopkeepers?
Came here to say "nethack had it first," got beaten to the punch.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 12:58 PM on September 29, 2019 [9 favorites]


I mean, my favorite video game companion are horses, it will forever be Epony and Roach, the two best horses in all of gaming.
posted by Fizz at 1:09 PM on September 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


Have to agree with Pynch; if you don't at least mention Floyd then I'm wondering if we agree on what "video games", "sidekick", or indeed "best" mean in this context. Clearly we diverge somewhere, but if you're going to talk about symphonies, you should at the very least explicitly exclude Beethoven, you know what I mean?
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 1:26 PM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


Just returned to retail WoW to see how my troll Mage was faring...

Now I've got some frost Mage hanging out with me, breaking my polymorphs with freezes...

It's kind of off putting. Though, lots of bonus ice lance damage
posted by Windopaene at 1:42 PM on September 29, 2019


Shoutout to 80 Days, the only game I can think of where you play as the sidekick (Passepartout) joining the hero on their quest.

And that situation feels much more relatable to me, probably because it's pretty much my role at work.
posted by FJT at 1:55 PM on September 29, 2019 [7 favorites]


I had to quit playing a game I may have really enjoyed because of a sidekick SO FUCKING annoying that I almost smashed my controller in a fit of rage. The game is Okami and the sidekick is Issun. That motherfucking asshole.
posted by the webmistress at 2:01 PM on September 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


But this is an interesting and new experiment for video games...

From an obscure 21 year old game: "Hey! Listen!" {repeats endlessly while you swear at the Great Deku Tree for lumbering you with this fairy, and you quietly hope Epona tramples it underfoot...}
posted by Wordshore at 2:11 PM on September 29, 2019 [13 favorites]


Surely not surprising that sidekicks are more interesting than the player character given that PCs are usually ciphers whereas sidekicks are the engine which drives the story and provides the players link to the world.

As mentioned up-thread 80 days subverts this brilliantly. As the side kick you get all the best lines (through which most of the exposition is accomplished) whilst Fogg is most of the time just bland posho. Such a good game!
posted by tomp at 2:21 PM on September 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


Can any of these new companions be trained to steal stuff from shopkeepers?
posted by octothorpe

eponysterical? sort of? judges, might need a ruling on this
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 2:26 PM on September 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


Skyrim’s sidekicks would have been ok as long as there wasn’t friendly fire. If you’re ranged, it’s sometimes difficult to not hit Lydia when she’s flailing around. But I did enjoy my vampire friend. She was mostly a caster and rarely broke stealthy archery.

As far as RPGs go, the best sidekicks are the hunter pets and warlock demons in WoW. They don’t talk (other than a little whining and/or threats from the demons) and you can control them in the flow of battle easily. Though WoW also has the worst sidekicks too: hell is other people.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 2:29 PM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


The first time I played Skyrim, I was taking lots of notes, including a list of recruitable companions and their locations, should I want to come back and hire them some day.

During the mage college questline, my dear Lydia died, fighting off a horde of spirits invading a nearby town. I recorded her death and the circumstances in my notes, feeling like she deserved to be remembered and honored.

I continued to log the deaths of my companions, whether it was that elf archer from the first town who died helping me fight a skeleton dragon, or that other guy who died in a fight with the Forsworn on a bridge, or that other guy who died fighting a dragon in the mage college courtyard, or that asshole who I specifically recruited in order to sacrifice him to that Daedra in exchange for some cool cursed armor. The list of dead companions swelled, and every time I looked it over, I appreciated anew their service to of my sacred mission.

Then I found out that, due to the weird rules Skyrim has regarding companion deaths, and the fact that friendly fire is a thing in Skyrim, it was actually my own indiscriminate use of fireball spells that was killing all of my companions. My list of honors suddenly became a list of crimes. It was hilarious.

My apologies to all those followers I obliviously murdered and hypocritically mourned. Except for that asshole I sacrificed to the Daedra, he had it coming.
posted by ejs at 2:32 PM on September 29, 2019 [36 favorites]


I really miss the sense of isolation that so many older games had. Playing games like the original Tomb Raider titles, or the Resident Evil 1 remaster, or hell, even Mario 64, there's a beautiful, profound sense of quiet that's missing from most newer titles. That's probably part of why when I play modern games I tend to gravitate towards games like Dark Souls and Hollow Knight, where you spend most of your time in strange and hostile environments miles away from the nearest sentient being, and any interactions with other people are a welcome and brief reprieve.
posted by Green Winnebago at 2:40 PM on September 29, 2019 [11 favorites]


> Have to agree with Pynch; if you don't at least mention Floyd then I'm wondering if we agree on what "video games", "sidekick", or indeed "best" mean in this context. Clearly we diverge somewhere, but if you're going to talk about symphonies, you should at the very least explicitly exclude Beethoven, you know what I mean?

the list is clickbait written by someone who was like negative 27 years old when the infocom games came out. it’s understandable that they’d not know about floyd. i was just being a cranky old man....
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 2:42 PM on September 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


Can any of these new companions be trained to steal stuff from shopkeepers?

I’m pretty sure Durandal would have no problem. Well, Durandal would probably nuke the shop from orbit, but...tomato, tomahto.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:43 PM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


The 5 Best Video Game Sidekicks

Dorian Pavus, Chloe Frazer, Jack, Mordin Solus, and the one and only Cass of Fallout: New Vegas. There, I fixed the list.

Sorry, Garrus. You're amazing but Chloe is voiced by Claudia Black.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:51 PM on September 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


Don’t trust the skull.
posted by notoriety public at 2:52 PM on September 29, 2019 [15 favorites]


Even if we restrict ourselves to “best supermutant companions in 3D Fallout games” there’s no way Strong beats either Fawkes or Lily.
posted by ejs at 3:26 PM on September 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


where is the palico
posted by poffin boffin at 3:31 PM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


So what makes Lydia special? What could possibly make this outwardly generic warrior woman such an important part of the Skyrim world

Is it that she is SWORN to carry my burdens?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:32 PM on September 29, 2019 [11 favorites]


Sidekicks! The frustrating escort missions you just can't quit!™
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 3:34 PM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


Even though "Booker, catch!" is permanently etched into my brain right alongside "Plebs are needed!", I can still tell you that a person who thinks Lydia is a great companion and Elizabeth is a terrible companion might as well be an alien from another planet for the extent which I understand them. Elder Scrolls companions have always been the worst of both worlds to me - not enough of a character to be interesting, but just enough of a character to make me feel terrible when they inevitably die horribly (I avoid this by assigning them to watch over my house at the first possibility and EVEN THEN sometimes they find ways to get killed). Elizabeth, on the other hand, is quite an interesting character and wears absolutely 100% impenetrable plot armor at all times and for that I am deeply grateful.
posted by mstokes650 at 3:45 PM on September 29, 2019 [9 favorites]


A Roman walks into a bar, and wants to go bowling with his cousin.
posted by avocet at 4:48 PM on September 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


Agreed that one of the best companions was the hunter pet in World of Warcraft. It felt like it was just you and your pet against the world. You could issue crude commands to manipulate what they did (move, attack, return, etc) and you could even assume direct control (eyes of the beast). You had to feed them their favored treats to keep their happiness up. There were endless aggro tricks you could use, getting them to kite, tank, or dps. Hunters could solo many quests with their pet that would take a group of other classes to accomplish.

Every Hunter wanted Broken Tooth, a unique cat found only in the Badlands, which players spent hours scouring the desert for. He had the fastest attack speed in the game, which made him the best for interrupting spell-casters. He could also stealth, so I picked a night elf hunter for PVP to remain hidden together. As the PVP team leader, I'd play defense and coordinate the team, usually solo, and keep "eyes on" the rear objectives as a traffic controller, so we could deploy more players to the front line than the enemy did. Being stealthed along with my pet gave me the initiative: if it was just one enemy back-capping (usually a stealthed rogue or druid) I'd just straight up solo them - I spent the majority of my time in the game mastering 1v1 duels between hunter vs rogue and hunter vs druid. I had a major advantage because the tables were turned - I'd start in stealth and get first strike while the rogue starts unstealthed because he's uncapping. If it was a group of 2-3 I'd remain in stealth and use my pet to delay their cap as long as possible while I called for a specific number of players in to help, and then come out of stealth to fight as they arrived.

It was a strangely idyllic time. Me and my pet, hiding in stealth on a hill overlooking the river and some objectives. The battle was occurring far away, beyond my ability to see or hear in the game. I'd watch the friendly player dots shift, the objective markers flip. Hear the battle reports come in over voice chat on enemy contact - you can't see enemy players on the in game map. I'd make small adjustments to player deployment in response to shifts in enemy strategy. If you have 4 people defending Blacksmith but no enemy is attacking there... by definition the enemy is preparing to attack elsewhere, so I have to pre-emptively reposition them. Sometimes the whole game would pass that way and I'd never engage anyone in combat. Sometimes a Rogue would try their luck. Hunters had a reputation for being pushovers in PVP because they were seen as a "noob" class and the actual pros would be playing Rogues, Warriors or Mages, but I was well practiced and geared to the teeth with a combination of R13 and raid gear, and even had the fabled Renataki's trinket. They almost always lost. Sometimes they would come try again, most of the time they wouldn't.
posted by xdvesper at 4:58 PM on September 29, 2019 [11 favorites]


I think the pets in Torchlight help you in combat. But no matter, the great thing is that they will go into town and sell your loot.

Saints Row lets you call companions in to battle, but this is usually way less fun than it should be. But there are also missions where Pierce and your character sing together, which are some of my favorite bits in the whole game.
posted by zompist at 5:33 PM on September 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


The night of the day my divorce was finalized I decided to finally finish off the Institute for the Railroad.
I did something wrong though (failed to issue a warning?) and I blew up the Institute while everyone was still inside. Many deaths.
The next time I spoke to Preston Garvey (my only friend who had been there for me when I needed to be told I was awesome over the previous months) he lost it and accused me of being a war criminal. Another, more minor but still sympathetic, character killed himself and left a note blaming me.
That was a long night.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 5:42 PM on September 29, 2019 [8 favorites]


Goblins ill like fire!
posted by tobascodagama at 5:48 PM on September 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


I think the pets in Torchlight help you in combat. But no matter, the great thing is that they will go into town and sell your loot.
Who's my good boy?
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 5:49 PM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


The Pawns in Dragon's Dogma really do not suck. You can teach their AI how to act and you really do shape their personality on a bunch of axes. Some really great emergent stuff happens in that game that I haven't seen in other games, even in DA:I which has a whole lot of hardcoded stuff in it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:57 PM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I love DD's pawns a lot. Even though they canonically don't have any real personality to speak of, they're mechanically super cool, and the whole "asynchronous co-op" aspect of them is really unique as well.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:01 PM on September 29, 2019


How has none of the Ace Attorney sidekicks shown up on either list
posted by divabat at 6:13 PM on September 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


But there is only one Lydia. So what makes Lydia special?

[J'Zargo hated that]

Skyrim companions are garbage

[J'Zargo pooped in your shoe]
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:20 PM on September 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


How has none of the Ace Attorney sidekicks shown up on either list
They're just stepladders to the next plot point.
posted by persona at 7:30 PM on September 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


If you've got the PC version of Skyrim and you're modding, please give Inigo the wacky cat thief a try. He is a modded companion. He's quite funny, has remarks for just about every occasion, will compose songs about you, has an actual backstory. Also, he's one of those companions who won't permanently die, and he comes with an ebony sword and bow.
posted by panhopticon at 7:32 PM on September 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


One of the things that I love about the Mass Effect franchise isn't just the different personalities given to the squadmates, but how many of them interact, not just with the PC but each other. Hook-ups, friendships, rivalries, even the occasional genuine conflicts, e.g. Jack and Miranda. (Who, ironically, are great for certain missions in ME2 where their powers have excellent synergy; I call them Team Hatesexy.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:47 PM on September 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


The 5 Best Video Game Sidekicks
Dorian Pavus, Chloe Frazer, Jack, Mordin Solus, and the one and only Cass of Fallout: New Vegas. There, I fixed the list.


Companion Cube not listed. List is useless.
posted by happyroach at 9:42 PM on September 29, 2019 [10 favorites]


"Hey! Listen!!"

Shut the fuck up, Navi!
posted by loquacious at 1:16 AM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


If you've got the PC version of Skyrim and you're modding, please give Inigo the wacky cat thief a try. He is a modded companion. He's quite funny, has remarks for just about every occasion, will compose songs about you, has an actual backstory. Also, he's one of those companions who won't permanently die, and he comes with an ebony sword and bow.

Inigo is so good, he becomes a reason to play Skyrim even if you must overlook that you otherwise dislike the game. Speaking from experience.
posted by seraphine at 1:21 AM on September 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


Horrible Goose from Untitled Goose Game has no sidekick. They also have no conscience, scruples, or friggin' chill, but it's a totally modern game (game of the year!) where you play as a solitary being questing to accomplish goals (of being horrible.)
posted by Mizu at 3:39 AM on September 30, 2019 [7 favorites]


I just came in to make sure Inigo got a mention, and glad to see he did. I think all game developers could stand to learn a lot from what Inigo's creator achieved with that mod. It never ceases to amaze and impress me. For instance:

- Inigo has a backstory (and quite a tragic one) but you have to be seated in a safe place before he'll share it. it's quite lengthy but adds a lot to his character
- He interacts with other NPCs, be they followers or townspeople. The dialogue is brilliant. Not least because the creator had to make use of existing dialogue from the game files
- He takes part in quests with you, offering his thoughts and suggestions along the way. In one quest where you get drunk and pass out, he wakes up beside you. It adds so much to the experience
- He has his own quest (a work in progress still) and I like the idea that the player can be his companion as much as he is yours

There was an interview with the creator that I really enjoyed too. It really goes to show what's possible when it comes to creating characters that aren't the usual one-dimensional stereotypes.
posted by Acey at 5:41 AM on September 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


Borderlands 3 or get out! Both Fl4k and Zane use sidekicks (Fl4k like Hunter in WoW), and Moze runs around in a giant robot. In fact almost all of the borderlands games had a character that used sidekicks.
I dotes on those critters doin's!
posted by evilDoug at 7:37 AM on September 30, 2019


Haven't played a lot of Borderlands 3 yet. But I was very disappointed with Moze's mech-Bear. I guess they can't make it overpowered at first, but it just feels like a safety cage more than anything else. Really liking Flak and his lizard-dog pet though. You can command it to do stuff, but you can also ignore it and it's pretty useful just running around distracting and killing things.

Anyone try Code Vein yet? It just came out and it's thoroughly Anime trope-filled, with giant breasts and skimpy outfits for the women and outlandish rock star garb for the guys. The men in the game all look like pre-teens, too. The whole thing feels embarrassing sometimes(I'm not an Anime fan). Basically, it's a more relaxed version of Dark Souls where you can use companions to help out. Some of those companions comment on almost every damn thing you do, like the Pawns in Dragon's Dogma. Some people really get irritated with the constant talking, but I find it charming in a loopy kind of way.
posted by SoberHighland at 7:49 AM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Haven't played a lot of Borderlands 3 yet. But I was very disappointed with Moze's mech-Bear.

I mean [throws grenades] yeah, but [throws grenades] she has [throws grenades] so many other useful [throws grenades] skills that [throws grenades] I end [throws grenades] up forgetting [throws grenades] that she even [throws grenades] has an action [throws grenades] skill.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:43 AM on September 30, 2019


I've just found another interview with Inigo's creator that was published just yesterday so I thought I'd add it here for posterity.
posted by Acey at 9:07 AM on September 30, 2019


How has none of the Ace Attorney sidekicks shown up on either list

Right, it's time for me to explain to everyone here why Susato is the best person. In the midst of Japan's modernization at the turn of the 20th century, Susato is the "judicial assistant" officially chosen for a prestigious study abroad in London, and accompanies Naruhodou, the young novice defense attorney, during their investigations and trials. She is consistently a rock of moral strength, always there to remind Naruhodou, the jurors, and even the prosecutor of what needs to be done for justice to be served. She also has the courage to take matters into her own hands when necessary, like when she cross-dresses in order to personally defend her friend in a diplomatically sensitive murder trial at a time when women were not allowed in Japanese courts, or whenever she judo tosses any scoundrels who may presently deserve it. But she's not all serious business either, and takes time to very politely make fun of Naruhodou's bizarre misconceptions or squee over Sherlock Holmes. In short, Susato is the best assistant in the whole Ace Attorney series, which is yet another reason why you all need to play The Great Ace Attorney now.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 1:04 PM on September 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


Another third-party companion for Skyrim is Lucien, who not only has his own commentary but will interact with Inigo's! Still looking for a female companion that can match these two. Sofia seems the closest, but I find her constant innuendoes and tendency to strip down in the middle of combat to be off-putting.

I love the idea behind Gil, the friendly draugr.

There are a ton of third-party companions in Skyrim that use vanilla assets.
posted by Eikonaut at 2:30 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it just figures that the only decent companions would be dudes. I'm sure a non-"waifu" female companion mod exists, but I haven't heard of one.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:12 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Much like TES V: Skyrim, TES III: Morrowind had some fantastic companion mods featuring a wide range of personalities, possibly helped by the lack of voice acting in that game. The quantity of mods with decent writing and a massive scope really makes me wonder if advances in companions are held back by a need for good voice acting.

The two I'd like to highlight are Julan, Ashlander companion, and Constance, who was a thief. Both quickly became must adds in my mod list - no matter how light a hand I was taking to adding mods to the game, I always had those two.

Julan was unique not just for how he commented on quests, but for how he integrated with the main quest. The main pitch of this mod was that Julan (quite reasonably) thought he was the prophesized character, the Nerevarine who would defeat Dagoth Ur & the Tribunal and drive the Empire from Morrowind - in other words, he believed that he was the one who would finish the main quest, and he was asking you to be his sidekick. This wove in with the main story wonderfully well, and his sense of betrayal when it came out that you were not only an Imperial spy, but also seeking to fulfill the prophecy of the Nerevarine, remains one of my favorite moments in gaming.

Julan had commentary on most quests in the game and it's expansion, and on quite a few locations too. He also was fallible outside of combat in a way that felt very endearing. He'd get drunk, insist on training, and get annoyed and concerned with the player faffing about. He had a past with a couple of npcs that was not entirely rosey. Like many companion mods of the time the player could pursue a romance with Julan, but Julan was not only one of a very few mods that allowed a gay romance, but one where he had to work through and accept his feelings for a male player. As a gay man, this really stood out to me in a positive way.

Constance was a thief without any shame. She benefited from the latest evolution of a long small community effort to make powerful scripts to drive Morrowind's many modded companions, and as such had a few tricks that were pretty rare - most notably, she could pick locks and would occasionally pickpocket npcs

Constance felt very fresh for not being combat focused while still being a valuable companion. She could find keys and enchanted items you might want, and she'd occasionally help you charm NPCs so they'd give you a better price on your loot or a critical piece of information. She could be a skilled marksman in combat, but unlike most Morrowind NPCs at the time she was smart enough to switch to melee if enemies got close.

Beyond that, she had a lot to say - about quests, NPCs, and the wild world of Morrowind. She also had timed chats and other triggers that could lead to her revealing more about herself, and like Julan she had a robust questline of her own that she was looking to accomplish - she felt like a partner with her own agency and goals, not a servant. She also, iirc, had 0 interest in romance, a refreshing change for modded Morrowind companions.

Both Julan and Constance felt like fleshed out, flawed characters with their own agendas and quests, and I am amazed at how few NPCs like them we've seen in games since their release. Through clever scripting and amazing dialog they felt alive and three dimensional, like they would have been doing their thing whether or not the player had come along. Modern games could learn a thing or two from them.
posted by cidthesquid at 8:38 AM on October 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


The quantity of mods with decent writing and a massive scope really makes me wonder if advances in companions are held back by a need for good voice acting.

Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation fame often has similar laments about how it would be nearly impossible to make a game with the sophistication and complexity of something like Deus Ex in today's triple-A market, where games are expected to have extremely high production values.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 9:43 AM on October 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


The ironic thing about limiting Skyrim's dialogue because of the need for pre-recorded voice is that Skyrim's voice acting is appallingly bad. I'm actually doing a play-through now and turning off the voices is the best game option ever -- after turning off the music, because rapist composer.

I don't need to hear voices, I really don't, if they're going to suck. Nothing quite pulling me out of immersion like hearing a crappy thick-tongued accent from a parent, then their child speaking with like a California middle-school accent, and then someone else chiming in who sounds exactly like the first actor doing a different shitty accent. Come the fuck on.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:59 AM on October 1, 2019


I think they learned that lesson afterward, because Fallout 4 had much better voice acting all around.

(Oblivion gets a bit of a pass just because that variety of jank is more or less the defining characteristic of its era.)
posted by tobascodagama at 11:02 AM on October 1, 2019


Although honestly I wish more games would do what a lot of MMOs from that Oblivion/Fallout 3 era did, which is to have a text box with the full dialogue and then cherry pick one particularly important or flavourful line out of the whole big block of text to be voice acted. LOTRO does this, and I honestly think it's great.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:05 AM on October 1, 2019


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