Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Westgate: Behind the Scenes, Part 2

Well, I can now reveal that my wife and I went to Las Vegas for her birthday this past weekend. It was a first time for both of us, and we had a blast. We're not big gamblers, so the only cash we lost was on the entertainment and meals. I bought us tickets to see Cirque du Soleil: KA at the MGM Grand on her actual birthday, and it was an amazing show. Other than that, it was just experiencing the city, which is rather unique in my experiences.

And then I got to update my US graph below to now include Nevada. Moving on...

Mysteries of Westgate
So last time I told the story of how Charissa came into existence. Now I'll give my take on the character and describe what I was trying to accomplish with her. Note that there are MoW spoilers below.

One of the things I try to do with most of the major characters I write is to make them three dimensional and lifelike to the extent that can be done in a game. Note, I said major characters, which describes only a very few, but Charissa definitely fell within this group.

Many people who play MoW and spend little time talking to Charissa will probably view her as opinionated, caustic, judgemental, and rigid in her thinking, and she would no doubt be proud to know she projects that image, but the crux of her character is that she is profoundly unsure of herself. In fact, she is in the throes of a deep internal philosophical crisis. It's what I now call a "Charissa moment." I recently had one, and I bet most people have one at some point in their life.

Essentially, this occurs when two "truths," often formulated during the simplistic idealism of youth, become no longer compatible in a single world. For Charissa, these two truths are that (1) her parents are innocent of the crime they are accused of (aiding in the kidnapping of Falucca Ardabrent) and (2) justice is an absolute principle. When her parents were arrested, she inately believed that they were innocent. When they were then found guilty, she began to search for answers, eventually arriving at the Tyrran church that promised justice would triumph. She has tried to merge these into a single universe, but over time, these two competing principles have proven unable to coexist, and no matter how long she searches, she cannot find a way to force them to. Fundamentally, if justice is universally true, then how do her innocent parents sit behind bars?

This, then, is the core of her restlessness. She believes that if she can find the pirate captain, Pharros Sneed, he will have the explanation as to how everything can be made right. He is the one who can prove her parents' innocence and allow justice to prevail. That is her sole mission, and anything else she engages in either is a means towards that end or serves as a proxy for it. (In other words, by destroying other evil-doers, she vicariously destroys her own.)

Charissa has, of course, reacted to this profound self-doubt by giving off an air of supreme confidence. She is determined to allow no one else to see her weakness. That is why, contrary to what one might expect, she lambasts Mantides and goes easy on Rinara. In Mantides, she sees a reflection of herself, and she handles that reflection the same as she does everything else she doesn't like: by bludgeoning it to a pulp. Though Rinara's world view is one she can never agree with, the certainty with which Rinara holds it is calming to her. As she says during one of the companion exchanges, "she'd rather be around with someone who knows what they believe - even if it is wrong - than one who is wavering in their belief."

This also explains one of the most controversial aspects of the character: namely during the Tyrran Enclave quest, why does a lawful good character abandon the slaves to their fate simply for vengeance? That's not lawful good! It's more like evil!

First, one must understand the Tyrran mindset is one that stresses justice first, so I never believed the choice here is all that clear-cut for a Tyrran. That being said, I would still think saving the slaves first is the more preferable choice. However, and this is key, Charissa is not a perfect example of her religion. Regardless of whatever principles the religion espouses, in this instance, the shock of at last finding Falucca overrides any thought of right and wrong. Here is a woman who can prove her parents' innocence, and she will apprehend her regardless of the consequences. I guess I could agree with giving her an alignment shift in the evil and chaotic directions, but I wouldn't agree that temporarily allowing one's passions to overcome one's mind is a reason to change alignments entirely. This is perhaps Charissa's most human moment in my opinion. The world is full of imperfect people who imperfectly live according to the values of their religion, even when they legitimately hold those values dear.

I have over time become wary of what is often termed "navel-gazing" characters, so there is no point that Charissa ever actually spells any of this out. Rather, one would need to talk with her often, look for subtle clues, and use their own human intuition to glean any of it. For those who simply want to get to the adventure and forget talking to the companions, they'll never get more than a surface-layer view of any of them, and that means the image Charissa projects will be the only one they see (just like real human relationships). But those who spend time with her should pick up several clues, such as the one mentioned above with Mantides and Rinara, that should reveal there is more to the character than just the bombastic, self-righteous priestess.

As an aside, Charissa's quest, the Tyrran Enclave, explores many themes. The obvious one is the fate of Charissa's parents and the beginning of her final resolution of her "Charissa moment." But there's something else for Charissa there. As her two key principles begin to come together, a third one gets added: compassion (or mercy). No matter which way she deals with Sneed, she has begun a process, which she articulates immediately after leaving the Tyrran shrine, in which she begins to think about the roles mercy and compassion have in her religion. The player isn't meant to be able to guide her along to think exactly as they do; Charissa's already too experienced and independent an adventurer to be led around by the nose. But she has begun a process of introspection that will lead to greater wisdom (important for a priestess).

There are other themes as well: love, fate, redemption, justice, and questions of the greater good. The first two are explored in the story of Falucca and Sneed, the third and fourth in Sneed's subsequent life, and the final one in how the player chooses to deal with the slaves and Falucca. Sneed's ultimate fate is not meant to be an easy choice for the player. (Obviously, Charissa is the one who makes that choice, but the player gets to advocate one way or the other.) As a pirate captain, it can be assumed that Sneed engaged in all kinds of theft, rape, pillaging, and murder, even if he is innocent of Falucca's abduction. However, he changed his ways several years ago and has since acted for the benefit of mankind. Does any future good he might do outweigh his past crimes? Is there any good to be done in punishing a man who has a clear track record of having mended his ways? Does that even matter since his past crimes have thus far gone unpunished?

As for the question of the greater good, many people probably view that as saving the slaves. It's certainly the more immediate good, but if Falucca escapes to set up shop elsewhere, there may be hundreds or even thousands of people who are sold into a lifetime of slavery as a result. So which is worse: killing ten people or enslaving thousands? Of course, there are other considerations such as the definite knowledge that the ten will die versus the hypothetical scenario that thousands will be sold into slavery, but that only adds a further dimension to the dilemma. One of the things I really wanted for this quest was to present choices that weren't easy or obvious. Hopefully, I succeeded.

Next time, I'll give some incite on the origins and intents regarding the other three sidequests I designed.

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