I have ideas forming for a story. It will have many NPCs, but I don’t want it to be a conversation-based or conversation-heavy story. That though must be common in stories with many characters.
I’m wondering if you can help me by telling me of some other stories and games which successfully have many characters but aren’t conversation-based. What do they do? How do you react with the characters? What is the feel or vibe of the story?
Crysis has a lot of characters. They shoot at you.
You might try:
Kaged (Ian Finley) uses a system where you can only TALK TO a character, not specify what you’re going to say. Consequently there’s some conversation, but it’s always context-appropriate, and because it’s not very complex, the player can usually tell when he’s used up the interesting chat and should focus on doing something else.
Textfire Golf (Adam Cadre) has a bunch of NPCs who have feelings about you, but you don’t talk to them at all. Their reactions to you are all based on how well you did on your golf shots. This is a pretty extreme/unusual case for IF, but actually it highlights something that’s fairly normal in commercial games. F’rinstance, in Halo ODST, you don’t really control how you talk to the other characters, but they do have comments that they’ll make in response to your fighting style while the gameplay is going on. In other words: focus the player on whatever form of interaction your game is about, but then make the NPCs responsive to what they see and hear.
I played an RPG on the DS a while back, called “The World Ends With You.” Now, a lot of it was about conversations, but what struck me (although certainly not unique to that game) was that there were so many people around. You couldn’t talk to most of them, but every once in a while you could read their thoughts. Long story.
In IF, I’m not sure it’d be a good idea to write “You can see: a tall person #1, a tall person #2, a short person #1, a blonde woman #1, a blonde woman #2…” You may not be talking about a crowd – just many NPC’s – but it’s an idea. They could exist not to converse with, but to be scanned/mindread/something.
Another idea would be if the PC can’t communicate. Speaks a different language, for instance (one of my games sort of does this, but with very few NPC’s and with no explanation until the end). Or for sci-fi, if the PC is “out of sync” with time/space, so that these people exist but can only be interacted with in some non-verbal way.
The ifdb poll at ifdb.tads.org/poll?id=rladr7x9vqz5a5fx may be of some help here.
Looking over the games in that list, the ones that aren’t conversation-heavy mostly involve interactions via object manipulation and physicality. My own Child’s Play avoids conversations because the protagonist and most of the NPCs are babies; Mystery House Possessed shows a lot of NPCs wandering around, one of whom is the killer who leaves behind clues; When In Rome 2 has a goal-seeking NPC whom you must work against. Four in One has the four Marx brothers running around and causing havoc, while Bad Machine involves robots. Any of those may be useful starting points for you.
Child’s play has a bunch of NPCs.
One group talks to each other.
The other group is babies and doesn’t talk at all.