BioWare and the Romantic Movie Genre

So back at PAX East, Larry asked if I’d help him with his Old Republic interview by using my many years of academic and professional training by holding up a microphone so he could take notes by hand.  Yes, I said immediately, not because I have a microphone fetish, but because I’m a nosy person and wanted to interject a few questions of my own.  After all, if the opportunity is there, it’d be a waste not to take advantage, right?  We’re all gamers, you understand how I’m thinking.

I forget who we were talking with (am terrible at names), but during a lull in the interview I throw a curveball.  “So BioWare is notorious for interjecting romances into its games,” I said, “and I know you’ve said there’s going to be romantic options with the NPCs in The Old Republic.  What I want to know, as a married man, is the romance going to simply end after your characters kiss or hop in the sack, or will you show that relationships go past that point?”

Cue one slightly weirded out-slash-nonplussed developer.  It’s fun to earn that look.

Romance and relationships… AFTER the kiss?  Is it possible?  Do such things even exist?  In real life, of course.  But in romantic movies and BioWare games, not really.  The moment when two people finally admit their mutual attraction and get together is kind of the ultimate point, and nothing happens past that; it’s just left up to the imagination.  Further courtship?  Marriage?  Relational maturity?  Bah… there’s no need to do that.  Just hook them up and churn out a sex scene for the perverts and we’ll call it a day.

I guess what I was driving at by asking that question was the hope that BioWare would be using the persistent, ongoing nature of an MMO to continue relationships through their ups and downs instead of building up to a single moment and then effectively ending it by freezing that relationship in time.  I’ve always wished that NPCs in all MMOs would grow in their relationships with you, especially the ones you’ve done favors for.  Most of the times it’s like you get that quest reward and then they shun you forever after that.  What, no follow-up phone call?  Ask me over for dinner sometime?  Name a kid after the hero who saved mommy from the dragon?

We’ve seen how players are pleased with memorable NPCs return later on in a game, mostly because it helps carry on the illusion that the player-NPC relationship is continuing in a way.  If virtual relationships are to be an important part of the future of MMOs, I want to challenge developers to at least leave doors open for future twists and turns in those relationships instead of an end point.

17 thoughts on “BioWare and the Romantic Movie Genre

  1. Nils March 22, 2011 / 9:39 am

    No relationships stay as romantic and lovely and elated after the first furious sexual events. When the tension is fianally gone, hormones make you feel happy for a while, but already the dissolution starts. You can keep it in check for along time – some cuples can fight it successfully for decades. But it is always there.

    Now, that the sex always happens directly after the first kiss is a bit strange, I agree. But to show me how the two kiss each other all the time and then marry .. oh come on!

    I know why I don’t like relationships in games in the first place. Some things can be simulated well in a computer game. Relationships cannot.

  2. Kadomi March 22, 2011 / 9:56 am

    I actually am really curious to see how Bioware does things in Mass Effect 3. In Mass Effect 1, my character had a relationship with Liara and I was really disappointed that this relationship didn’t continue in ME2. The Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC mollified me, as it provided the opportunity to have the relationship continue, so I am very curious as to what happens in ME3.

    Same with Dragon Age 3, the epilogue stated that my Hawke’s love interest stayed at her side, so we shall see.

  3. Fidjit March 22, 2011 / 10:10 am

    Nils, I think that’s a pretty dismal view of relationships. While the nature of relationships change over time, I think that in a healthy marriage people grow to love each other more deeply over time. It’s not just a slow decline to indifference.

    I do agree, however, that video games have done a pretty poor job of simulating relationships. I certainly wouldn’t miss the feature if it was removed from all future Bioware games.

    Good question though, Syp. For better or worse, I don’t think Bioware will really be interested in taking this any further though. Also… it might be kind of weird. Developing a romantic relationship with an NPC over the span of years, going through ups and downs… I don’t know.

  4. thade March 22, 2011 / 11:17 am

    You took the words right out of my mouth. Given how much of the end-game content I’ve heard about for TOR involves more story-based missions, I certainly hope there’s more to the romance than the first kiss. Given how dumb-founded you left that developer, though, I’m afraid it may not be on the table.

    Maybe it is now.

  5. Anjin March 22, 2011 / 12:31 pm

    Wow. I haven’t agreed with something you have written any more than this. If Bioware really wants their fourth pillar to stand up, they need to follow through on the romance too. I don’t mind how they handled it in their single player games because the romance plots climaxed at the same time as the main plot. You can’t get away with that in an MMO.

  6. Stratagerm March 22, 2011 / 1:12 pm

    In many MMOs NPCs are quest dispensers, interchangable with the signposts or posters that sometimes give quests. Giving NPCs personality would require AI, and don’t most MMO companies feel that they can dispense with AI programmers since the world is full of other players?

    There’s no AI involved, but it’s amazing how Valve made players care about Portal’s Companion Cube compared to the care shown by players for the NPCs in MMOs.

  7. We Fly Spitfires March 22, 2011 / 1:48 pm

    My characters aren’t interested in pursuing long term relationships… they just want to jump into bed with the sexy aliens and move on 😛

  8. thade March 22, 2011 / 2:05 pm

    Waitaminute. Did he NOT respond to that question (other than his facial reaction)? What was his response?

  9. Capn John March 22, 2011 / 3:31 pm

    I’ve noticed NPCs in LOTRO respond to my character as he rides past, not just the former quest-givers but sometimes guards or other random NPCs.

    Complete a “Kill 10 Bandits” quest series for a small village, ride through at a later date, and it’s not uncommon to see an NPC spout something like, “Balomir! Haven’t seen those bandits around as much lately. Thank you!”

  10. rowan March 22, 2011 / 3:34 pm

    Good question, Thade. Did the dev have more than a blank expression in response to your question, Syp?

  11. expostninja March 22, 2011 / 9:09 pm

    DA2 does at least partly address the “what comes later” aspect of the relationship – the actual consummation comes at about the midpoint of the game, with later interactions all made with the understanding that you’re dealing with relationship issues. Merrill and Anders in particular have their own goals, and while they want you to be with them through those goals, they’re willing to stake some pretty serious stuff on your devotion.

    That being said, there’s a certain element of romance that’s hard to replicate over the long term. A steady relationship develops in-jokes and a sort of warm understanding which can flare up violently; Maker knows I’ve had some truly pointless fights with Ms. Lady due in no small part to knowing each other so well for so long.

  12. NoAstronomer March 23, 2011 / 10:47 am

    Well I honestly never considered the … err … ‘intimate’ … aspect to NPC relationships. Though ever since I first played SWG 5 years ago I’ve always felt that the player-NPC relationship is the most under-utilized aspect of MMORPGs.

    Most games have a nod to this in some way. Some quest givers do recognize that you’ve interacted in the past. They’ll say stuff like ‘Thanks for helping with the foozles’, many don’t. Some NPCs respond to emotes.

    But overall it’s a completely wasted space. Maybe BioWare can do something with it.

  13. PeterD March 23, 2011 / 4:50 pm

    Not only do they not continue them very well, sometimes they cease to exist entirely. At the end of Dragon Age: Origins my character and his love interest were set to explore the world together. At the start of Dragon Age: Awakenings, my character was by himself again with no sign of his lady love, and no explanation as to where she went either. That kind of cheesed me off.

  14. UnSubject March 24, 2011 / 4:37 am

    Of all companies, BioWare has little excuse to look quizzical at people who ask that question. Romance options have been a basic part of their games for a long time, so it’s hardly a question out of left field. (My guess the answer would be, “No, this is Star Wars, and the character you kiss today could turn out to be your sister tomorrow.”)

    Also, if those “sex scenes” were for the perverts, then BioWare has no understanding of the pervert market at all (Liara being the human equivalent of 11 aside). 🙂

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