Borderlands 2 writer Anthony Burch says he now regrets the minimal amount of dialogue he and the team wrote for the player characters.
Speaking with Kotaku, Burch said he was first inspired by games like Half-Life and Portal to write silent characters in order to reduce the barriers between the player and the game world.
"This kind of characterisation works, in theory, because if your character never says anything you (the player) disagree with, you're more 'immersed,'" Burch said. "You're not at risk of your protagonist saying something that you personally disagree with."
Burch said he'd latched onto the "Blank Protagonist" as a universally applicable principle when in fact it only serves a particular purpose. "If your franchise is built to be more 'immersive' and put the player in a more investigative frame of mind (like, say, the pre-Infinite BioShock games), a silent protagonist can give the audience space to be a little curious, a little confused. If you want to make the world feel a bit more lonely and haunting, silent protagonists can be great."
The writer said he learned the error of his ways when focus testing Borderlands 2. "These focus testers were irritated because, in a game full of colorful characters and gags and monologues long and self-indulgent enough to give an editor an aneurysm, there was a weird black hole of nothingness where our player characters were concerned," Burch said. "Everything in the game had a backstory, even the hordes of no-name bandits! Everything was explained and joked about and explored, except for the main characters of the game!"
Burch said he experimented with adding more dialogue to the heroes in Borderlands 2's DLC and that players generally responded very well.
"I liked the Gordon Freeman style of characterisation too damn much, and I didn't want to let go of it, but I received emails from fans that asked us, in so many words, to stop taking half-measures. They wanted us to stop worrying about making our avatars' ciphers, or 'heroes' (whatever the f*** that means), and just let them be characters," he said.
"Immersion can be fun, sure. At the end of the day, though, we're not the characters we play, and we know that," Burch realised. "Sometimes, a writer or designer's job is to make the space between the player and the protagonist as slim as possible. Other times, it's their job to acknowledge that distance, stretch it out, and have as much fun with it as they can."