Companions and OPCs Are Tricky – Make Them Enhance the Gameplay Experience
A companion character in a game is usually a second character that appears on screen with the main character (or their presence is understood) and helps the player character throughout the game. The companion is usually controlled by artificial intelligence, and having a variety of different movements and abilities programmed for the companion makes it more enjoyable. Sometimes players can switch between the main character and companion character to complete certain tasks.
The companion character’s abilities should compliment the main character and provide a variety of additional gameplay experiences. Opposites attract and having wildly different characters working together can be very rewarding for players. Be aware that having an interesting and enjoyable companion character will be a lot of work and will take up some significant game resources and development time.
OPCs are other playable characters in a game besides the main one. Sometimes you can play the same levels as multiple characters and other times you can only play certain levels with a specific character. Other playable characters are usually created with variety in mind in terms of what types of levels and challenges players can complete. So other playable characters should all have abilities and powers that are specific to their character which allows players a choice in how they approach a level. Remember that opposites attract both visually and in gameplay.
The following advice applies to both OPCs and companion characters: levels and obstacles should be built to accommodate each character in the game, and they should each have their own character development with increasingly better weapons, powers, etc. Each character should have their place in the story and be allowed a “highlight moment” in the game.
Balance Multiple Player Characters to Maximize Effectiveness
Balancing multiple characters gets it’s own highlight because it’s a key principle in designing gameplay around multiple characters. Balancing is the process of making sure that one strategy, character or playing style dominates the others available. If one option almost never gets picked by players with free will then you know immediately that the game is unbalanced and the unpopular playing styles need to be enhanced to be as fun and effective as the popular ones. In general you can tweak offensive power, defensive power, speed, weapons and powers to increase the balance and enhance a character or style. You rarely want to make one style or character less fun if you can make others equally fun instead.
Give Your NPCs Gameplay Functions and Not Just Story-Telling Roles
Non-Playable Characters appear frequently in games and are often used as plot devices with silly but helpful dialogue that helps the player to understand something about the next task, the game world itself or a plot point in the story. NPCs have also been used as an objective to protect or follow during gameplay. Sometimes NPCs hold the key to getting a special item or power up for the player. No matter what the purpose of your NPC remember to make them engaging to the player through their interactions. Instead of just speaking information you can make NPCs respond to certain actions that require the player to think a little and play the game.
NPCs can function as non-playable companions for certain parts of a game and drive vehicles, provide cover fire, make a distraction or help the player overcome obstacles in the level. Some NPCs have special powers that allow the player to upgrade and take on new abilities. These significant NPCs should be named and have their own signature look to highlight their position in the game. Sometimes an object, item or location can serve as a Non-Playable Character by influencing events in the game. For instance in the game Shadow of the Colossus the main character climbed up a giant living creature made of rock, dirt and trees. The terrain itself was alive and teeming with gameplay elements.