When you're developing a game with a main character and a plot, one of the worst things you can do is just do whatever you want. This tip is more for greenhorns, because novices and above should already know this.
Years ago, probably in 2008 or 2009, I played this terrible RPG. It was awful for many reasons, but one of the worst offenses was the main character. I think the game was called Dark Orb or something ultra generic like that. It was an indie RPG made on RPG Maker 2003.
The part that made it really hard to get into was the way the developer decided to write his character, or rather, the way in which he didn't write his character. The very first set of dialogue we get are between him and a generic villain race.... called the Velun. Yeah, I think that about sets the tone for what to expect from this game. He has a brief talk with this woman, and it goes spectacularly wrong. Not plot-wise, but design-wise.
I don't remember the dialogue verbatim, but the very first thing he says to this character is to sling hostility. Keep in mind that at this point, we don't have anything to go on that this character he's yelling at is bad, outside him acting like she's bad. But that's not the big problem. The big one is that the character doesn't really have a personality. He's strikes me as an amateur script read aloud. RPG Maker, like most 2D RPGs uses text dialogue, so in order for it to feel like a script, it would have to be as bland as possible.
Then we come to the most painful mistake in this RPG. The main character is talking to this enemy character, and she tries to play off that she's done anything wrong. I'm inclined to believe her. I haven't seen anything that warrants my villain scorn. But the character I'm playing as has a different approach. He says something to the effect of "No, you are a Velun, I will kill you, bitch!" So now I'm confused as to this my character's motivations, and also confused as to why she deserves to die. If memory serves, they banter back and forth in horrendously broken English, and then battle. The part that makes it painful is the unfortunate fact that the characters level insults and heavy language at each other like a preteen playing Call of Duty in some misguided attempt at making the game sound mature and the character sound tough. "Fuck you, Velun bitch!" Which only ends up having the complete opposite effect. It sounds highly immature and the character sounds like he's got some self-esteem issues.
But though those are big mistakes, they don't do nearly as much damage as later on. In the same mansion I think it is, you come across another female being terrorized by another Velun. You embarrassingly banter with, fight, and kill the Velun, and free the girl, and this is where things really took a turn for the worse. Keep in mind the way the character behaved before. He walked up to someone we'd never met before, treated her with hostility out of the blue, and vowed to kill her, spouting immature insults all the while. Got that in mind? Good, because the character pulls a complete 180 and throws his entire established character out the window the instant he frees this girl. Suddenly he's talking nice to her. Verbatim one of the lines: "What wanted this Velun bitch from you?" Yeah, the word 'bitch' ends up getting fairly heavily abused in the smallest amount of time possible. And I did warn you that the English was broken.
Suddenly he's compassionate, trying to care for this kidnapped woman after proving, in the very first scene, that he's arrogant, dumb, jumps to conclusion, and is needlessly hostile. He also invites her onto his team to help her get out of there.
So why is this bad? Well, the character doesn't have a character. He just plays whatever role is convenient to the plot. He maintains his tough-guy act, but completely drops his unwarranted aggression as soon as the plot demands it. I mean, just because this girl was captured by the Velun doesn't mean she can be trusted. So he goes from aggressive, bloodlust to undeserved kindness and trust for little to no reason. Needless to say I couldn't get much further than that. It was too hard to suffer through it. Not just because of the awful character, but more an amalgamation of all the awfulness.
This brings me to my lesson. When you're creating a character, they HAVE to be who they are. If their reaction is to treat the first person they see with distrust, hostility, and unprovoked attack, he should do the same thing with the second person he sees. I understand that this character was probably meant to be tough, but also sympathetic, but there was no build up to either of those things.
Let's take a look at Devil Hunter: Seeker of Power. (Technically, it's Devil Hunter 2: Seeker of Power, but since the developer never bothered to publish the first one, the "2" is kind of redundant.)
The game opens with a demon slayer named Solian. Right away we're shown that he has inner turmoil, and he's not a very nice character. After a while of walking through the woods, he finds a woman. He maintains his character, acting grumpy towards her and remaining fairly unapproachable. She asks him to join up with her, but he refuses. it isn't until they have to battle a demon that pops up. They make it pretty clear Solian knows this demon, has dealt with him before, and that he is indeed as bad as Solian makes him out to be. Only after this demon drags both Solian and the woman, Raven, into a fight does Solian decide to join forces with her. Why? Because she's a mercenary leader and she can carry him across the boarder.
None of the encounter is forced, neither character breaks character, and hard language is reserved.
Treat your characters as characters, and never break character lightly. Always be asking yourself "what's my character's motivation?" and "Is this how this character would handle this situation?". The more you break their character and the more you play "fast and loose" with their personality, the less real and less like a person they will seem. If your character's an asshole who cares about no one but themselves, they aren't going to go out of their way to save someone else unless the asshole character has a change of heart. And a change of heart can't be slapped in there whenever you like. It has to be earned, and only after players get to know this character, and not a moment sooner. If the very first scene has the character showing he's an asshole, then immediately having a change of heart in the same scene, it will be meaningless, as we haven't gotten a chance to get to know their full character, yet.
You have to roll with your character choice, even if it clashes with the plot, because a character's personality integrity is more important than the plot. The story is meaningless if players don't get invested in your character, and players won't get invested in your character if they change on a dime to suit your whim.
Maybe in my next post I'll reveal my character building system to show how I build my characters.