New Breakthroughs In The Field of Reverse Phrenology

As every Modernity-minded subject of the Clockwork Empire familiar with the new Sciences of Personality has learned, each person in Society possesses certain individual Inclinations and Traits which determine their actions in Daily Life. Indeed, the New Science of quantifying and measuring these Inclinations and Traits is certain to lead to great advances in the Art of Education and Employment of Shiftless Wastrels.

— Prof. Eustace Boretrain-Charnickels for the Royal Phrenological Society

To make a game about compelling characters, some degree of complexity in personality is required; you shouldn’t be able to know everything a character will ever make of themself at glance. At the same time, if every character is so complex as to be entirely unpredictable, the game won’t actually function as a game. Players will end up poking a weird ball of algorithms with a stick without the ability to ascertain any kind of cause and effect, so it might as well be completely random. Finding a good balance is a really, really hard problem that honestly can’t be solved without at least a little bit of luck, but we’re trying.

The system we’ve developed takes as a basis for personality a number of qualitative traits, such as

  • Foolishly Brave
  • Hat Enthusiast
  • Bee Fancier
  • Lazy
  • Doomed

Dredmor-Style icons are fun, though it’s not actually set that personality traits will be expressed in this manner for the final game.

We’ve made a huge list of these traits internally, and are deconstructing them to determine how they will impact the decisions of a given character.  Characters can have quirks that aren’t described by traits as well, but they won’t be quite as visible in the descriptions.  (I also love this approach because it lets us do some fun writing while still having emergent characters.)  For example, “Fishy Behavior” may be broken down as:

  • Obsession with the water, the sea, things aquatic, fish.
  • May occasionally take a long walk into the water, never to return.

Whereas “Romantic Inclination” could be:

  • Higher inclination to make / break romantic relationships – “relationship” activities of all types (good and bad) are higher priority
  • Higher proclivity to being an artist/poet

The specifics are handled as weights on numerical values for a vast array of behavioral traits for the character, which modify the likelihood that they will choose a given action.  The process of the character actually performing the task is currently being moved from a data-driven process to a somewhat more script-based process; as we started adding to our behavior list we realized that we just couldn’t cram all of it into data.  (As Mr. Whitman rightly pointed out, we ran into this issue with Dredmor: if you try to start making complex behaviors in data, you have to start supporting them with increasingly complex interpreting code, and you lose the benefits of the approach really, really fast.) The choosing of the task is still data-driven, but the finite state machines that are responsible for, say, implementing “eating” or “walking into the ocean” are now being coded in Lua. So far this has been successful.

Characters will have the ability to gain or lose traits due to traumatic/ecstatic/sublime experiences, and will also form strong attachments to things that have been important to them in their lives – other characters, other items, or other places. This is not good if the place is “the mysterious statue on the outside of the town”, or if the item is “the mysteriously glowing jar with a skull in it.” More on that later, I think.

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20 Responses to “New Breakthroughs In The Field of Reverse Phrenology”

  1. Fade Manley says:

    This is awesome, and I want to find out what happens when someone gets shot right in the Bees Node. But mostly I’m dreaming of cultivating a lovely little colony of doomed hat enthusiasts, and wondering how long it’ll take before they unearth a mystical glowing cloche that destroys them all.

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  2. Brian says:

    So, Reverse Phrenology is the imprinting of traits by forcing bumps and indentations into a person’s head? This can easily be done by softening the skull in a vinegar bath, and then pressing it into a mold. This other haberdashery “psychiatry” bears no hope of being brought into mass production, and bears no further study. Phrenology forever!

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  3. Blaze Azelski says:

    I don’t understand the tie between Gaslamp Games and bees.

    I gotta say though, the size of the tentacular impulses part of the brain is a little scary.

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  4. Kawa says:

    My inner fifteen year old would have a FIELD TRIP with a “Clockwork Empires personality test for Livejournal”.

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  5. Lekon says:

    Okay, you have the trait “Doomed”.

    Considering this game’s theme, isn’t that trait a bit redundant? Wouldn’t it be easier to assume they all have it, but one guy will have “Somehow we couldn’t kill him just yet?” as a trait?

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    • Teleros says:

      Perhaps “Not yet doomed”?

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      • Bropocalypse says:

        Presumably there are varying grades of damnation involved, here.

        “Doomed” is standard-grade stuff, meaning this person is as likely as anyone else to fall face-first into a demonic woodchipper. Therefore one surmises that there are levels such as “semi-doomed,” which may result in merely losing MOST of your life to otherworldly horrors, and conversely you may see “especially doomed,” where the various eldritch nasties will fill their naval cavities FIRST.

        Then there’s being doomed in a metaphorical sense, such as falling into the habit of self-sabotage in the face of opportunity, or being unable to overcome an especially repugnant social schism that happens to come up at every party.

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  6. Godwin says:

    “May occasionally take a long walk into the water, never to return.”

    So much food for thought 😀

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  7. Not the beeeees!!

    So I like the “Hat Enthusiast”, this means you guys will have to make hats…. You’re finally going to attract people away from Team Fortress 2 >_>

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  8. RedAria says:

    This picture is inaccurate. As we all know from TF2, the ‘Hats’ section takes up 85% of the brain.

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  9. Oscar says:

    “Characters will have the ability to gain or lose traits due to traumatic/ecstatic/sublime experiences, and will also form strong attachments to things that have been important to them in their lives”

    Now that sounds cool. A perk system like Dungeons of Dredmor with some dynamism depending on your actions would be awesome. Do you like fire? Then demonstrate it to the game and you may become a pyromancer.

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  10. Maxwell says:

    This brings up an interesting subject. Will characters have relationships? Not just two people in love, but friendships, or work relations? If say, a worker becomes friends with his overseer, will the boss be more easier on him? Can people have enemies, either small quarrels or to the point where they try to murder each other in the street? If you can provide an answer I would be grateful.

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