Boston GameLoop 2016: Relationship building and game mechanics

Boston GameLoop is an annual game development unconference. I’ve been going for years, and I’m always impressed by the sheer wealth of knowledge available. I’ve written up my notes below, but I haven’t fleshed them out and they’re more than a bit incoherent (apologies for that!) I hope they’ll still be useful.

GameLoop participants: I have not attached anyone’s names to these writeups, and I’ve mostly scrubbed personal anecdotes out to maintain the privacy of attendees. Please contact me (carolyn at if:

  • I included something you said that should not be included, or
  • I quoted you without attributing (when you would prefer attribution), or
  • You think I got something from the discussion wrong


Relationship building as game mechanics

We need “emotional physics engines” – have given far more thought to how to simulate physics than emotions

NPCs are playersexual, have no true consent  – NPCs like players, end of story

Standard game relationships: rise to plateau, stop there, no concept of trouble and recovery

Persona <– must spend time together; relationships and romances both depicted

Relationship as a means to an end <– problematic

Fallout & Dragon Age <– followers approve/disapprove of actions

Relationships are more realistic when they’re more subtle – hide points, etc

Pet relationships <– sometimes easier to invest emotions when the relationship is constant and reliable (Fable 2 dog, Fallout 3 dog) but player behavior should still impact pet behavior

When games represent friendships, they’re often better at it than romances

In many cases (esp Fable series), marriage == house decoration

Relationships are often not part of the game – they’re separated out

Until Dawn – domino chain of conversations and relationship

So much talking about Mass Effect! – Garrus as bro

Good relationship writing matters more than good relationship mechanics

One More Dog Game; Never Alone

A Boy and His Blob <– hug button

Relationship as plot device vs. actual relationship

Halo/Cortana connection: no choice, prewritten, but people cared

The Darkness, watching TV with your spouse to form a connection – doesn’t work

Enemy relationships are relationships too, when tracked and built

Shadows of Mordor: Enemies changed by your actions and their actions

  • Like The Darkness, but tutorial done with your family and son – makes a difference

Players form connections by doing things actively, not passively.

Journey as a relationship experience <– depends on who you get matched with

People care deeply about Bastion <– the game, not the robot

People want to interact like people – thinking in terms of numbers interferes with relationship building

Ib <– RPGMaker; play multiple characters

Shadow of the Colossus <– people care about the relationship with the horse, because it’s there with you always and helping you (like Fable 2 and dog, or Nethack and d)

Catherine <– make time for each bar patron; more impactful/effective than the actual Catherine/Katherine choice

How do games represent broken relationships?

Harvest Moon and Mass Effect 3: NPCs can get together and have relationships in-game if you don’t interfere

Earthbound <– relationship with dad linked to save points, relationship exists even though in-game contact very sparse

Dyscourse – survivors on an island, how do you prioritize talking to people?

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