Non-player characters that help players.
In many moments during gameplay, players may either need or want help, either in the form of information or actions. Helpers are people in game worlds controlled by the game that provide such help. Some provide just one type of help in one specific place while others follow players exploration of gameplay to provide continuous help.
Rumor spreading non-player characters in the Ultima, Elder Scrolls, and Fallout series sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly giving the player advice on how to progress in the game. Each of the games in The Legend of Zelda series contains several helpers, ranging from helpful grandmothers to talking boats.
Solving quests or mysteries in games such as Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain, requires talking to non-player characters. This also occurs in the Dragon Age, Elder Scrolls, and Fallout series, and here sometimes the Helpers take active part in the gameplay to limited periods. The Dragon Age series and the Fallout series also provide companions that help players throughout large parts of the game regardless of what specific quests are being undertaken.
Choosing the Mysterious Stranger perk in the Fallout series gives players a certain chance to be helped very temporarily in combat when things look grim. Fallout: New Vegas add a similar perk, Miss Fortune, that provides a Helper that deals fatigue damage rather than real damage.
Players that have go off the race courses and fallen into the oceans present in some maps in the Mario Kart series are towed by helpful non-player characters so they can resume the races.
Using the pattern
Designing Helpers consist of deciding on what type of Non-Player Characters the Helpers should be and what type of help should be provided. They two areas are however related since the available actions and planning of different types of Non-Player Characters can allow some types of help but be unable to allow other types of help.
Giving Clues, helping with Quests in some fashion, and engaging in Dialogues requires little agency and can be done by Non-Player Characters as limited as Self-Service Kiosks represented as diegetic people. When Narrative Engrossment is wanted, Gossip may be an appropriate way of providing Clues since it is also inherently diegetic. Helpers can be used to create Red Herrings for players as the information they provide is rarely Direct Information about the game state. In games with Private Game Spaces, Tutorial Neighbors can offer the same types of helps as Self-Service Kiosks but can provide an additional way of supporting Smooth Learning Curves through giving players an example of how gameplay can develop. Both these types of Helpers can also allow players to engage in Trading or have access to Privileged Abilities such as Crafting or healing Damage.
Companions are the most versatile types of Helpers and may be as helpful as AI Players, including being members of Parties. Cutscenes are in contrast very restricted but can also be used to create Helpers, typically then as part of Predetermined Story Structures. Helplessness is not so often alleviated by Helpers but the Mario Kart series shows how this is done through Cutscenes and the Left 4 Dead series shows how Companions can be skilled in doing this.
Helpers can be modified by Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences. That is, they can be designed so that they will not help players that have behaved in a certain way, or may require players to perform certain actions to begin helping them. This may also be represented as Quests which differ from the ones Helpers provide aid with through the fact that they are done to gain access to the Helpers. Gaining Helpers aid may also be as simple as meeting requirements regarding players' Abilities, Attributes, Powers, Skills, Character Levels, or other characteristics. Gaining Companions in the Fallout series or the Baldur's Gate series provide examples of this.
Helpers is a Diegetic Pattern in that it gives players help in a diegetic form.
Helpers can be used both to drive Predetermined Story Structures forward and to provide additional details to them.
Helpers are Non-Player Characters that help players in Game Boards, Levels, or Game Worlds by providing players with Clues, Quests or services such as Trading or performing Privileged Abilities (e.g. healing Damage). Quite naturally, Helpers are not compatible with Enemies but the presence of the pattern Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences can turn Helpers into Enemies if players do despicable actions according to the Helpers.
The information provided by Helpers is likely to be in the form of Indirect Information since providing Direct Information through them breaks Diegetic Consistency. Like Clues, Helpers can support Smooth Learning Curves by offering additional help when needed.
Can Be Instantiated By
Can Be Modulated By
Possible Closure Effects
Potentially Conflicting With
An updated version of the pattern Helpers that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design.
- Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.