Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Importance of Names

Names are very important. If you're making a game with specific characters, you need to be very careful to name them something that grabs the player.

But if you're working on something with random characters, names are... an interesting issue.

Many games simply leave random people's names blank, or name them "CLERIC_03", and let you change it. I don't think that's a very good solution.

But the "Big Bank o' Names" isn't so hot, either. Most names are pretty dull, and even the cool ones are unlikely to fit whoever they get assigned to.

So, I like making name generators.

I've tried lots of things. I've got a solid generator for realistic-sounding names for strange cultures, for example, where each culture can have their name dynamics tweaked easily so that things "sound right".

That works okay.

My most recent project is a kind of Ogre Battle clone.

One problem with these kinds of games is that I always want to get closer to the characters doing the fighting. The people you hire in these game are all faceless clones.

One way I decided to break this was by having skin tone, costume, costume color, hair, and hair color vary from character to character. So you can have something slightly more visually distinct than the squads of identical characters you find in all other games like this. (Downside: Extra hairstyles and costumes require more cells of animation. Fortunately, I'm not gonna bother to animate anything at all, so it's moot.)

But another, probably more important method to distinguish characters is by their name. A good name immediately paints a picture in your head. Even without any other social cues, you get a feeling for the personality of the character.

For this game, I made a list of about seventy random words, and I just toss them together.

This works great. It produces a lot of misses (boring or totally nonsensical names), but since the player will have a large number of characters, he'll use the ones with names he likes.

From this I get some really great names, like:

Famous Dandruff
Silk Whiskey
South Wind
Monkey Arrow
Desert Sunset
Man Berry
Dragon Rose
Short Hungry Warrior
(Dozens of one-word names, like "Smoke" and "Rain").

And some really dumb names, like:

Mouse Corn
Spider Young Rider
Singular Jade White Forest
Snake Duck
Timid Dancing Ruby Window
Wind Midnight

I think that's pretty good, for two hours work. :)


Craig Perko said...


Duck Sting
Green Duck Sun
Timid Duck
Shameless Sultry Duck...

Adding "Duck" was definitely a good choice!

Rum Lake
Sky Monkey
Cold Monkey Fog
Running Dog
Moth Fang
Wandering Dreaming Whiskey Smoke
Shameless Moon (on an underdressed character...)

Only about one in three or four names is really gripping, but that's a high enough ratio. :)

kestrel404 said...

Hrm, perhaps you might want to add links between specific words and specific classes (if you have classes) so that priests have 'father' in their name more often, and the warriors have 'monkey', or some such. Not an 'all the time' thing, but just tweaking the probabilities.

Also, add latin or latinesque words. Latin makes for good names.

Craig Perko said...

That would require more work. :)

kestrel404 said...

OK, how about this idea. Link quotefiles to names. People named 'Rum' are more likely to have stupidly funny 'drunken' quotes, and people named 'Shadow' are more likely to use the serious and deceptive ones. These are just lines that can get shouted out during (or before, or after) battle scenes for no good reason, and add the illusion of personality to the characters.

Or better still, have one or two tagged onto each character during generation, and that becomes their tagline.

Craig Perko said...

Yes, I'm arguing with myself over whether the quote files will be linked to name, class, or just randomly distributed.

"Shadow Rum" says... "Death comes in the night... ARRRRR!"?

Duncan said...

It's like randomly generating names in Worms. You could sit there for ages just clicking the random button and laughing at the names until you found one you liked. Then you could repeat for the other six squad members. Random names are fun, and often dumb!

Darius Kazemi said...

You mention how you often have hordes of identical soldiers working for you. This is why I love the systems in Shining Force and Fire Emblem--every character is unique, although obviously every character was designed from the start and not randomly generated. Which is why randomly generated, unique, recognizable characters would be awesome!

Craig Perko said...

They have to have an existence outside of combat, though. That's the hard part.

Workin' on it.

Random levels, then social stuff.

GregT said...

Your favourite names seem to be the ones with the format "noun noun" or "adjective noun". If you cared enough, you could marginally improve the system by tagging words that are adjective-only and disallowing them following words that don't have that tag.

For instance, "Cold Fog" is good, but "Fog Cold" not so much.

Craig Perko said...

Actually, I did. It's not quite as simple as described.

I even made it so that it could be ADJ-ADJ-NOUN and ADJ-NOUN-NOUN, but not NOUN-ADJ-NOUN