FPS Convention #14 - The Silent Protagonist

I just finished FEAR and started in on Quake 4 and of course in both these games, and almost every other FPS, your character is silent. I understand the reason, they are trying to complete the immersion factor, making you feel like that’s really you running around in the game.

I think that’s stupid. Supremely so. Riddick speaks in his game, and for me it made the story. All the conventions used to work the conversation around me being mute, it just comes out inane at best. Half Life 2 was horrible at this, FEAR just limited the dialogue to next to nothing, and Quake 4… ok I haven’t played enough to really judge it, but the first hour of play was not exactly promising*. If I have to hear “oh I hear you are a bad ass” in one more FPS I swear to god I will… probably do nothing but roll my eyes so much they hurt, but damnit, stop the madness.

For me, keeping the first person character silent just destroys the immersion, a far cry from it’s intended effect. Considering how popular this “technique” is, I take it their are fans of it?

  • Refering to the silent protagonist, not the game overall, which so far I like.

My thoughts exactly. It would be a nice touch if the protagonist would, you know, react to his surroundings once in a while, be it in speech or involuntary shaking or shrinking back.

Ironic, since Jack Carver actually does some talking.

Sam Stone does talk as well. Cate Archer talks. Patrick Galloway talks. Garret talks. JC Denton talks. Kyle Katarn talks. Master Chief talks. The characters in Giants: Citizen Kabuto talk.

edit - But yeah, most of them only talk during cutscenes.

Half Life 2 added the very amusing (or incredibly stupid) psi effect, in which all of your interaction is handled through telekinesis. Gordon Freeman aka Dr Magneto opens a door, drives a car, lifts a can, pushes a crate without using his hands.

This on top of not having a voice really killed immersion for me. Especially when ingame characters lets you know that you are “the silent type”, or talks down to you leaving you with the only option of having some other ingame character speak up for you.

Made me feel like they thought i was a retard.

Half-life 2 is , by far, the worst offender since it keeps putting the player into de-facto cut scenes with other characters where you expect dialogue out of anyone who isn’t a deaf and/or mute. It’s like watching an action movie where the protagonist just keeps staring blankly into mid-air as people try to have a conversation with him. But I guess all the gushing reviewers didn’t mind being treated like they were morons in-game.

I’d go on that and refer to history.

I’d prefer Duke Nukem on that idiotic space marine or whatever from Doom anytime.

One liners are always better.

As for the story, it sometimes does help you relate to what you think with a character (Like in fable where it makes you feel you are that guy) but in the ordinary FPS, it’s just awful.


“Suck it down!” “Shake it baby!” “Time to die!”

I thought Fable handled this pretty well. If you unlocked all the expressions you had about 14 different things to “say”/do, and each would be met with a reaction. Very clever.

I agree with the general tone, though. Let’s have the silent hero type phased out in the next gen. All these characters have background stories already, so who cares if they talk or give little comments. If you wanted to set a serious tone you could have them quoting Dante, Milton or Shiva “I am become death, destroyer of worlds”. If you wanted lighthearted you could go the Duke Nukem routte. In Halo some of this was handled by the machissimo comments of the marines around you. You could alwayw add in little quips, say when that 10 ton enemy busts out the wall in front of you, a “holy shit” would go a long way.

Half Life 2 really needed some self-awareness. I don’t like being a floating camera.

Any game where I can’t look around and see my body annoys the shit out of me. Granted, not enough to make me hate the game (or even dislike it), but it’s frustrating.

I sure hope that in the next gen of games, there’s always a body attached to my eyes, and that when I use objects, some kind of IK system makes my hands actually press buttons.

You’ll like F.E.A.R.

Just so we’re straight, most of us agree that most games have poor dialogue and writing. But people want more poor dialogue and writing? I don’t get it.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I wish my games would shut up more. If I can’t interact with people in any meaningful way, I’d just as soon have everyone be a mute.

Heh. They may as well say “Oh I hear you, player at your PC, are a badass” and it would be just about as immersive. Maybe they can let you type in your name and it will insert it with one of those crappy text-to-speech programs when NPCs are talking to you.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s not what anyone’s saying. It’s just annoying that so many games star characters with no vocal chords in attempts to give the player some sort of illusion that they’re actually in the game. If a game has shitty voice acting, it might as well have a main character with shitty voice acting, too, as opposed to nothing. But Riddick is a perfect example of how great voice acting, including from the main character, can totally work and be immersive in a game.

Amen. I can’t believe that some of you are whining about this.

I agree. People complain about a silent lead and would rather have more inane, and stupid one liners?

Guess its diffrent strokes. I thought the silent lead in HL when it came out was great. A cool change from the usual stuff that was sone. As with anything it can be overdone but I like it as an option.

I’m on the side of silent characters too, unless there is an actual writer who doesn’t suck ass on board.

That being said, the silent protagonist in HL2 was done quite well, as were the interactions with him. If you are imagining the scene from a third person… well then it’s your own fault. The NPCs aren’t talking to ‘gordan freeman’, they are talking to YOU.

That is the entire fucking problem. They were talking to ME, but I wanted to RESPOND. “Hey Alyx, nice ass. Sorry about your name but you’re hot so I can look past it” or “So how the fuck did I end up her in the first place?” are lines I imagine that I would say in a situation like that. Instead I got to see people talking at me and not expect a reply as if I was an idiot. Yeah, they were talking to me. And I wanted to tell them that I wouldn’t stand for their bullshit, except I couldn’t.

Yeah well, that’s a limitation of technology. Until natural language recognition is widely problem free and available, you’ll just have to suffer.

Me, in the meantime, don’t talk to my computer screen, so I don’t have your problems.

Or as an alternative solution, mute protagonists would only be used in games tailored around that fact instead of being forced into awkward situations involving long monologues and girls who think you’re hot for staring blankly at them while they talk.

I don’t think hearing my character speak breaks me out of the game, anyway. I don’t feel like it’s “me” in FEAR or HL2 or whatever, anyway. I feel just as immersed as long as they give me a good first-person view.

For what it’s worth, forcing me to experience the whole game in first person because showing me third-person cut scenes is not something I consider essential to immersion, either. Though I like FEAR’s compromise: they let me have control of my view, but lock my feet down and force me to look in roughly a certain direction while a cut-scene plays out.

You know what improves the immersion for me a LOT more than having a mute character? The way FEAR (and some other games, like Thief 3) let you sort of see your body, and give your body real weight in the environment. Look down and see your feet, look at a wall and see a shadow that’s doing what you’re doing, that sort of thing. I love how in FEAR, I can walk over bodies or debris or whatever and it reacts to being stepped on, shifting around a bit.

So everybody hates the silent protagonist, except those who just hate bad writing, in which case it’s a mercy. We can all of course understand that, but does anybody actually feel that immersion is broken when your first person viewpoint opens it’s mouth? I very much think that isn’t the case, and it’s always far more distracting to see everybody talk around me like I am an idiot than for my character to state his own opinions.

Riddick didn’t have great writing, but it wasn’t all that bad either. Far Cry was horrible period as far as dialogue is concerned, no argument there. But I don’t think Jack Carver opening his mouth ruined the immersion, except perhaps by the drivel that poured out. But that’s the fault of the writer, not the concept of the talkative protagonist in a first person shooter.

I want a protagonist with Tourette’s Syndrome.