I don't get nearly as many chances to stretch my game-writing muscles as I'd like. One exception was last May, during a conversation with a fellow designer who was working on a warcraft 3 arena map. The setting was described as a sort of fantasy roman empire, and each of the 15 characters had some interesting backstory (which I've included below for context. Among his intended features was a neat crowd element:
The crowd gets in on the action! The dynamic crowd will cheer, boo, chant, or roar its support based on player actions, providing a variety of special effects. For example, there are killstreak rewards (somewhat like, say, Call of Duty uses, but don't expect to see helicopters ;))
(3:43:19 PM) Dagda: It's interesting, I like the allusions to the culture/background society
(3:43:28 PM) OneWinged4ngel: Go on?
(3:43:50 PM) OneWinged4ngel: Don't just tell me "it's good." Everyone tells me that about everything I make. It's not terribly helpful feedback :(
(3:44:41 PM) Dagda: Just that all their descriptions imply that their stories tie into a larger context- with the player's imagination being free to fill in the blanks.
(3:45:39 PM) Dagda: This isn't just random archetypes, all of them have ties to a larger world
(3:46:59 PM) Dagda: It'd be interesting to have the crowd shout character-specific things via text, though I'm not sure where you'd have it appear.
(3:50:02 PM) Dagda: The Abomination, for example. Cheer: "Great ___, it's hideous!" Boo: "Inhuman creature! Someone put it down!" Roar: "What a terror!" Chant: "Eat their brains!"
(3:51:03 PM) Dagda: Gives you a sense of how your character looks in the eyes of Rulaan's masses.
(3:51:46 PM) OneWinged4ngel: That's a good idea. I shall implement it.
(3:52:01 PM) OneWinged4ngel: Come up with more lines for them to say for other characters though.
(3:52:03 PM) OneWinged4ngel: >_>
AND SO I DID. Just to reiterate, the descriptions below aren't my ideas- I just came up with the crowd reactions.
The Missionary: An evangelistic priest and explorer from a faraway, previously unknown land who had set out on a mission to spread the gospel of his monotheistic sun god to the world. Upon arriving in Rulaan, the Missionary's compelling faith formed the seeds of a revolution against the established belief system, and he was imprisoned as an enemy of the state. Now, he is forced to fight against his will in the arena. In battle, in addition to sword and shield, he wields the wrath of God itself, calling down fire from the heavens.
Cheer: "It's that foreigner!" Boo: "Give up on your false god!" Roar: "Unbelievable!" Chant: "Prea-cher!"
The Heretic: A corrupt former high priest of the Order revealed and imprisoned for committing atrocities against his fellow Rulaani, the Heretic is a master of the dark arts who bargains with the masters of the underworld for power over death. He knows the secrets of blood magic, offering of his own flesh and soul to gain dominion over the damned. Ironically, he finds that in bonds he has been freed to go about his work; few comprehend his methods, and where once he had to operate in secret, the arena presents him with a plethora of living sacrifices.
Cheer: "Foul traitor!" Boo: "A quick death's too good for him!" Roar: "Such power!" Chant: "Wipe them out!"
The Witch: A pagan practitioner of the Old Ways, the Witch is in tune with the mind of nature and the sacred feminine, and is a master of herbalism, wards, charms, and hexes. The old ways are no longer observed in Rulaan, however, and since the rise of a new organized religion, the Order, the last practitioners of witchcraft are hunted down and imprisoned. Like all prisoners, however, they too are given the opportunity to participate in the blood sport.
Cheer: "Country girl! You don't stand a chance!" Boo: "There's no place for your kind, not anymore!" Roar : "Damn, she's a tricky one!" Chant: "Witch!"
The Abomination: Amongst the exotic monsters captured from the far corners of the earth to be put on display in the arena, the Abomination is the most unique and frightening. Captured from the deepest depths of the underdark, this nightmarish psychic Abomination employs staggering psychic powers to subdue his victims, break their minds, and finally consume their brains.
Cheer: "Great ___, it's hideous!" Boo: "Inhuman creature! Someone put it down!" Roar: "What a terror!" Chant: "Eat their brains!"
The Warlock: A centurion among Rulaan's warrior mages with a penchant for cruelty, the Warlock is a master of vicious evocation magics, able to call fire from the earth, lightning from the sky, frost from the air, or even tear paths through the fabric of reality. Already wealthy and powerful, she fights in the arena for simple sport and bloodlust.
"Centurion! Show them what we're made of!" Boo: "Fraud! This can't be our lady!" Roar: "Truly the finest of our warrior-mages!" Chant: "Rulaan!"
The Knight: A lovestruck former Rulaani nobleman whose forbidden passions have cost him his title, disgraced his lineage, ostracized him from his family, and landed the Knight in prison with only one hope of freedom to reunite himself with his love: becoming the champion of the arena.
Cheer: "There he is, a lord no longer!" Boo: "An utter disgrace!" Roar: "Truly, he fights for her!" Chant: "Fight on!"
The Hero: Once a celebrated war hero of the northern dwarves, the keepers of the ancient secrets of the Way Gates, the Hero was defeated and captured in a heroic last stand, which some saw as the moment that ended a long war with expansionist Rulaan. Now, he is a prisoner of war, forced to fight in the arena for the amusement of his captors in order to stay alive from day to day, wielding the power of his mystical heritage and secrets of dwarven craft.
Cheer: "Pathetic dwarf!" Boo: "This is the best his people could offer?" Roar: "Astounding!" Chant: "Hold the line!"
The Gladiator: A thrillseeking Rulaani freeman who fights in the arena for his own personal glory, fame, and profit, the Gladiator is a returning champion of the arena who hasn't let age dull his skills. The Gladiator is a master fighter with his axe and gladiator's net, and knows how to play to the crowd.
Cheer: "He returns once more!" Boo: "Old man should just retire!" Roar: "What skill!" Chant: "Champion!"
The Savage: A proud warrior of one of the many relatively primitive tribes of ogres scatterred around the western edge of the expanding Rulaani empire made victims of genocide, the Savage was captured and hauled off to be goggled at by audiences in the arena. Channeling his fearsome sorrow and rage on those he is forced to fight, the Savage wields a towering stone axe like a wrecking ball with sharp edges, trampling foes with his sheer size and strength.
Cheer: "What a beast!" Boo: "Who gave that animal an axe?" Roar: "He's unstoppable!" Chant: "O-gre!"
The Amazon: The overextended expansionist Rulaan is plagued by barbarian raids from far corners of the empire, and perhaps the most infamous of these raiders are the Amazon women from the southern reaches. A savage warrior woman captured in such a barbarian raid on Rulaan and put on display in the arena, the Amazon is a swift huntress with a vicious killer instinct.
Cheer: "It's a wild woman!" Boo: "Come on, fight like a man!" Roar: "She's amazing!" Chant: "Amazon!"
The Madman: A relentlessly clever inventor and a homicidal maniac to boot, the Madman defines the line of genius meeting insanity. After using his technological expertise to disintegrate one of the wonders of the world, the authorities stepped up their efforts and finally managed to capture the rampaging goblin. Now imprisoned, the Madman gleefully turns over his pioneering doomsday machines to the Rulaani army in return for an endless supply of live test subjects in the arena.
Cheer: "The goblin! Who knows what he'll do!" " Boo: "Deranged lunatic!" Roar: "He's a madman, but he's OUR madman!" Cheer: "Genius!"
The Outlaw: A daring brigand and expert marksman who terrorized the roads of Rulaan, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Even now that the law has finally caught up with her, the Outlaw does not intend to give up her mission of redistribution of wealth and is planning a daring escape with the help of her allies who still walk free. Until then, however, she must survive the carnage of the arena.
Cheer: "And they said she couldn't be caught!" Boo: "Time for her tale to end!" Roar: "A true legend after all!" Chant: "Freedom!"
The Assassin: A hired killer who once stalked the upper echelons of the Rulaani courts, being wrapped up in so many intrigues came back to bite the Assassin when one of her employers betrayed her, and she was caught in the act. Now, her mastery of the deadly arts serve her well in fighting for her freedom in the fighting pits of the arena.
Cheer: "Nowhere to hide now!" (And yes, they're badly mistaken) Boo: "This is no battle!" Roar: "A deadly foe!" Chant: "Kill!"
The Wanderer: The Wanderer is a traveler from far, exotic lands on a journey to become the world's strongest warrior, testing his skills against those of the greatest fighters from across the world and learning from every encounter with a new style. Now that he has arrived in Rulaan, he seeks to once more bathe his blades and challenge his skills in the Colosseum.
Cheer: "He'll see what the Arena has in store!" Boo: "Get out of the ring!" Roar: "Never seen anything like it!" Chant: "Warrior!"
The Gambler: A devious Rulaani lord with a compulsion for betting on arena matches who, after finding himself mired in debts, finally decided that the best way to rig the game was to enter himself! The Gambler is a master of Chaos Magic, wielding unstable arcane powers focused through cards inscribed with runes and sutras. And yes, he charges up the cards with explosive energy and throws them at people like Gambit from X-Men.
Cheer: "His luck's run out!" Boo: "Nothing but cheap tricks!" Roar: "Fortune's favorite, indeed!" Chant: "Against the odds!"