Author Topic: Freespace Characters 101  (Read 4365 times)

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Offline Nuclear1

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Freespace Characters 101
Freespace Characters 101

You're planning your campaign.  You're trying to figure out how to tell your story...you wonder, what do people like about Freespace campaigns?  Good mission design?  Got that.  Epic story?  Check.  Shiny mods?  Plenty of.  What else...

Characters.  Memorable, lasting characters.

You want a cast in your campaign.  You want to have more than just nameless wingmen and squadron leaders.  You want real people for the player to connect with.

But...how to do it?  I mean, all it takes is some wise-cracking dialogue out of one, some scaredy-cat words out of another, and a stern leader, right?  Maybe have some brave, dedicated captains along with it.  Boom!  Insta-cast!

Well...sorry to say, it's a lot more complicated than that.

Let's start with Characters 101.


Your Hero, The Protagonist

Probably one of the first characters you'll try to develop is the hero.  In most cases, this will actually be the player's character.  It's also the one that's going to take the most work to develop, since you'll be spending the majority of your campaign talking about them or having them interact with others.  So you'll have to understand what the purpose of your hero is going to be.

In most stories, the protagonist--often, but not always, synonymous with hero--serves as the player's/reader's/viewer's guide to what's happening in the story.  The protagonist gives them someone

to connect with, and since we don't live in the GTVA in the 24th century (or whatever setting you're using), we need someone who's as close to an everyman or down-to-earth character as possible.

Typically, a protagonist is somebody who's dealing with an internal or external conflict in their life right off the bat; they're the new guy in the group, they're at a bad point in their life, or they're just not entirely satisfied with themselves.

In short order, they'll have to confront an internal and/or external force that opposes them, and initially they'll resist having to deal with this confrontation. But eventually they'll be left with no choice, and/or otherwise be motivated to deal with this force. It's only after they've grown as a character that they can pull through and triumph. 

Let me give you a couple of examples to illustrate.  Luke Skywalker is living with his uncle and aunt on a moisture farm on Tatooine.  It's abundantly clear he doesn't enjoy cleaning droids, doing nitpicky chores, or living the farmer's life in general.  He has dreams of something bigger, of doing something with his life...but his uncle and aunt's livelihood demands that he remains at home living a life he hates.  When he's offered a chance by Obi-Wan to leave home and pursue his dreams, he resists, but the deaths of his uncle and aunt leave him no other choice.

He begins training in the ways of the Force, and after a long conflict with the Empire, he learns to let go of his old self.  His use of the Force allows him to finally destroy the Death Star and save his friends, all while developing his character as a Jedi.

In Freespace, one of the best examples of this formula is in Transcend's Sunder Marcel.  We first meet Sunder at a bad point in his life:  he's running escort missions for people who don't respect him, who treat him like garbage.  He clearly doesn't enjoy it.  However, when Omicron arrives and presents the opportunity for him to leave that world, he initially opposes.  He doesn't want to be a part of this new life, but he grows as a character and eventually leads Omicron wing to triumph over the Transcendant.

This is typically what your protagonist should look like as well. 

Your Brothers In Arms

Now that you have a hero to help you tell your story, you'll undoubtedly want some comrades for him.  You want some people for the player and the protagonist to share this adventure with.  But how do you develop them?  How do you write them?

Since we're dealing with a military sci-fi setting, I'll use the prototypical military sci-fi character pallette:  the Colonial Marines from Aliens.  Know it or not, most of the characters in
science fiction or military works you've seen in the last twenty years have been, in some way, based off of these characters.  You have the no-nonsense, strict commander, the arrogant, cocksure young guy full of bravado who breaks down when things go south, you have the quiet one who is unwittingly forced into a leadership position.

Now let me preface this by saying that these stereotypes aren't bad.  There's a reason people loved Aliens, and the characters in the Colonial Marines were a huge part of it.  However, it's important to know why these stereotypes and character traits work, and why this is sorely misunderstood by a lot of new writers.

The Marines existed as supporting characters for Ripley.  Their actions and their dialogue provided a launching pad for other characters to grow.  Hudson's breakdown halfway through the movie provided another conflict for Ripley and Hicks to tackle as they tried to step up as leaders.  And were it not for Gorman's inexperience as a commander, Ripley and Hicks would never have had to step up in the first place. 

The point I'm trying to make is that supporting characters are not meant to just be people who say things when there's no action going on.  They exist to provide conflict for the protagonist, as well as to provide support for the protagonist as they go through their journey. 

Your Enemies

Alright, you have a protagonist, as well as a cast of supporting characters.  Now we need a foe.  Someone or something that the protagonist has to confront and overcome.

Creating the antagonist is very similar in many ways to creating the protagonist.  All of the elements that go into making the character are the same:  personality traits, motivation, and a background are essential in forming an antagonist that the player will not only want to fight, but will remember.

Before we start, it's a good idea to note that we're living in the 21st century.  While it used to be acceptable to create villains whose sole intentions were taking over the world or creating chaos, players and audiences expect better out of our antagonists now.  We expect some depth to the people our protagonist has to overcome, not just James Bond cutout supervillains. Note that, for the most part, I haven't used the word 'villain' when referring to the antagonist in a story.  That's because simply, the antagonist in a story doesn't necessarily have to be a bad person, but just a force that opposes the protagonist (hence the prefix 'ant-').  If this is confusing you, allow me to illustrate.

In Michael Bay's 1996 film The Rock, the primary antagonist is Marine Corps Brigadier General Francis Hummel.  In short, the story features Hummel taking over Alcatraz Island, taking hostages and demanding $100 million from the US Federal government, with the threat of firing rockets armed with nerve gas into San Francisco.  Just from that description, he should sound like a fairly straightforward villain who wants a lot of money, and is willing to kill a lot of innocent people to get it.

However, there's much more to him than that.  Those three elements I discussed earlier (personality traits, motivation, and background) play a huge part in raising Hummel's character from simple greedy madman to a more complex character.  Hummel is a veteran of many USMC black operations, commanding many Marines in conflicts around the world that were denied by the Federal government. 

Over the course of his service, he's lost 83 Marines in these black ops, and, as a result of their missions and secrecy, the US government has refused to give compensation or closure to the families of the fallen.  After attempting to correct these wrongs through other means, Hummel resorts to extortion.  In a symbolic act, he lays his Medal of Honor on his wife's grave, as he knows what he will be doing has no honor in it.  He demands $100 million to serve as reparations of $1 million to each of the 83 Marines' families, with additional funds to safely get his comrades out of harm's way.  He announces to the Marines aiding him that he will accept the consequences alone.

Sound like such a villain now?  No, in fact, he actually comes off sympathetic to the audience, someone with a clear motivation not driven by greed or evil, but by a sense of injustice.

With all that in mind, let's analyze our antagonist with regard to his background, motivation, and personality traits.  We've established his background as a black ops commander who's seen a lot of Marines die under his command, and who's reached his wit's end for solving this issue civilly or legally.  He's seen as someone who clearly cares for his subordinates, as he's willing to engage in the capital crime of treason to see their memories honored, and face this consequence alone.  He's also shown to be a very charismatic and strong leader.  His motivation is clear:  compensate and bring closure to a number of grieving families.

When all three of those elements are fully-developed and combined, the result is a very memorable and compelling antagonist.

This formula applies to any antagonist in the Freespace universe as well:  the GTI, the NTF, the HOL, pirates, mercenaries, the UEF, the GTVA, ad infinitum.  A solid antagonist with a clear motivation, strong personality traits, and a known background can make or break a campaign.

Developing a Personality

While we're on the subject, allow me to demonstrate how personality traits alone can make a character (protagonist, supporting, or antagonist) close to the player or memorable.

In their review of The Phantom Menace, Red Letter Media did an exercise intended to demonstrate character strength through traits alone.  I conducted a similar exercise with people who were familiar with different Freespace campaigns where characters were necessary for the story.  The task I gave these people was to describe certain characters in these campaigns without saying what they looked like or what their role or profession in the campaign was.  Basically, to describe these characters to someone that's never played Freespace.

Misuzu Stella (Wings of Dawn):
Happy-go-lucky, likes to play on people's nerves, very competitive, a show-off, a daredevil, insubordinate, reckless, a little stupid at times, flippant, very stubborn. 

Mackie Aubrey (Derelict):
Has an obsession with duct tape, jaded, sarcastic, cynical, insubordinate smartass, slightly sardonic, but in the end, has a heart of gold.

Lorna Simms (Blue Planet:  War in Heaven):
Strong, full of anger and hate, far on the dark side, dark and tough for the purpose of holding people together, troubled, and jaded emotional casualty of war who copes by being indifferent to others.

Sunder Marcel (Transcend):
Just an ordinary guy tossed into a situation he doesn't understand, has a strong mind to cope with the situation, puts up a facade of leadership and sanity to keep others going.

Aken Bosch (Main FS2 Campaign):
Very charismatic, intelligent, and brilliant strategist. Shaped by a dark past.  Callous and indifferent to others, including those under his command.  Fully aware of the horror and evil of his actions, but convinced that his ends justify his horrible means.  Essentially a monster, though a necessary one.  Has a love for humanity as a whole, which is the driving force behind everything he does.

These traits were developed, not by the player being told by somebody, but by the player's experiences with these characters over the course of the different campaigns.  Through Bosch's words, we can conclude he's callous and indifferent, as he refers to the NTF as an "army of stupid cattle", and how he leads thousands of his subordinates to their death in his race to the Knossos.  Through Simms' interaction with Laporte, we learn how her anger and hate stems from watching her subordinates dying in droves in the war. 

The more you can develop a character's personality without blatantly telling the player how to feel about them or how to think of the, the stronger that character will be.  As players and as audiences, we like to be able to deduce for ourselves how to view a character.  You can tell players through a command briefing how your antagonist is a hate-filled monster, but until we interact with this character or see others interacting, it means nothing to us.

Alright, So How Do I Make My Characters?

Well, there's a number of ways you can go about developing characters in Freespace.

Use Their Own Words

As is evident through Bosch's monologues, sometimes a character's own words can be enough to develop their personality.  Most writers and FREDers in the community prefer to use Personal Logs or other self-reflections from the characters.  This serves the purpose of allowing the player to see how a character views themself, and to show how a character develops internally over time.  Noemi Laporte's personal logs over the course of War in Heaven are an excellent example of this.

Use Other People's Words

While other characters' words alone aren't enough to fully develop a character, they allow the player to see an outside perspective on a character; how others view them.  The only way we know that Misuzu gets on others' nerves is by showing how they react to her flippant, happy-go-lucky behavior.  Some other examples:
Transcend, referring to Sam Rikas:  "Like I said, don't take it too personally. The guy you replaced, Joseph Chassil... he was a good friend of hers. From before she joined the 103rd, I mean."
Freespace 2:  "Yeah, that was Arthur Roemig's ship.  Hard to believe he turned traitor."



----

Thanks go out to General Battuta, Snail, MatthGeek and BTA for helping out with the character exercise.
« Last Edit: May 24, 2011, 08:43:05 am by Nuclear1 »
Spoon - I stand in awe by your flawless fredding. Truely, never before have I witnessed such magnificant display of beamz.
Axem -  I don't know what I'll do with my life now. Maybe I'll become a Nun, or take up Macrame. But where ever I go... I will remember you!
Axem - Sorry to post again when I said I was leaving for good, but something was nagging me. I don't want to say it in a way that shames the campaign but I think we can all agree it is actually.. incomplete. It is missing... Voice Acting.
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Offline Spoon

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
Good write up  (:

One thing I would like to add is to avoid adding characters simply for the sake of killing them off. If a character is going to die, make sure that the player at least has some degree of an emotional bond to it. I don't really have an example though, just avoid introducing a character, who tells you that he/she is going to get married after this is over and then promptly bites the spacedust for easy drama  :p

Urutorahappī!!

[02:42] <@Axem> spoon somethings wrong
[02:42] <@Axem> critically wrong
[02:42] <@Axem> im happy with these missions now
[02:44] <@Axem> well
[02:44] <@Axem> with 2 of them

 

Offline The E

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
AKA the classic Star Trek redshirt. Which you can do, especially in the beginning of a campaign (Lt Nehru says hello), but which is something that should be used sparingly.
Let there be light
Let there be moon
Let there be stars and let there be you
Let there be monsters and let there be pain
Let us begin to feel again
--Devin Townsend, Genesis

 

Offline MatthTheGeek

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
One thing I would like to add is to avoid adding characters simply for the sake of killing them off. If a character is going to die, make sure that the player at least has some degree of an emotional bond to it. I don't really have an example though, just avoid introducing a character, who tells you that he/she is going to get married after this is over and then promptly bites the spacedust for easy drama  :p
What about good old Nehru ?

EDIT : Aaaaaand I didn't read The_E's post. Silly me.
People are stupid, therefore anything popular is at best suspicious.

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666maslo666: Releasing a finished product is not a good thing! It is a modern fad.

SpardaSon21: it seems like you exist in a permanent state of half-joking misanthropy

Axem: when you put it like that, i sound like an insane person

bigchunk1: it's not retarded it's american!
bigchunk1: ...

batwota: steele's maneuvering for the coup de gras
MatthTheGeek: you mispelled grâce
Awaesaar: grace
batwota: oh right :P
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Darius: yes, i like that
MatthTheGeek: the way you just spelled it it means fat
Awaesaar: +accent I forgot how to keyboard
MatthTheGeek: or grease
Darius: the killing fat!
Axem: jabba does the coup de gras
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Axem: bring me solo and a cookie

 

Offline Spoon

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
AKA the classic Star Trek redshirt. Which you can do, especially in the beginning of a campaign (Lt Nehru says hello), but which is something that should be used sparingly.
What about good old Nehru ?

EDIT : Aaaaaand I didn't read The_E's post. Silly me.
Why is Nehru being named as an exception example? The only reason why people remember his name is because of that 'nehru challenge' thread, which involved trying to keep him alive fighting all those dragons. Not because the character is in anyway remotely interesting or emotional attaching.
Urutorahappī!!

[02:42] <@Axem> spoon somethings wrong
[02:42] <@Axem> critically wrong
[02:42] <@Axem> im happy with these missions now
[02:44] <@Axem> well
[02:44] <@Axem> with 2 of them

 

Offline The E

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
Nehru is a classic redshirt in the way that Star Trek used them. He has minimal characterization, and gets killed off early. He isn't meant to be engaging, he's just there to be killed off but still establish that there's more characterization than what can be found in FS2, and of course, that Shivans are dangerous.
Let there be light
Let there be moon
Let there be stars and let there be you
Let there be monsters and let there be pain
Let us begin to feel again
--Devin Townsend, Genesis

 

Offline MatthTheGeek

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
Why is Nehru being named as an exception example? The only reason why people remember his name is because of that 'nehru challenge' thread, which involved trying to keep him alive fighting all those dragons. Not because the character is in anyway remotely interesting or emotional attaching.
Well, he was given a name. That's more than most of your wingmen can brag about.
People are stupid, therefore anything popular is at best suspicious.

Mod management tools     -     Wiki stuff!     -     Help us help you

666maslo666: Releasing a finished product is not a good thing! It is a modern fad.

SpardaSon21: it seems like you exist in a permanent state of half-joking misanthropy

Axem: when you put it like that, i sound like an insane person

bigchunk1: it's not retarded it's american!
bigchunk1: ...

batwota: steele's maneuvering for the coup de gras
MatthTheGeek: you mispelled grâce
Awaesaar: grace
batwota: oh right :P
Darius: ah!
Darius: yes, i like that
MatthTheGeek: the way you just spelled it it means fat
Awaesaar: +accent I forgot how to keyboard
MatthTheGeek: or grease
Darius: the killing fat!
Axem: jabba does the coup de gras
MatthTheGeek: XD
Axem: bring me solo and a cookie

 

Offline Dilmah G

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
Hey now let's not get into that.  :nervous: Anyway, proper good job Nuclear, BP testing's got me back into FS...and subsequently FRED. Been reading your posts all throughout the night as reference. :yes:

 

Offline General Battuta

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
Hey now let's not get into that.  :nervous: Anyway, proper good job Nuclear, BP testing's got me back into FS...and subsequently FRED. Been reading your posts all throughout the night as reference. :yes:

Matth was talking about FreeSpace wingmen in general - all Wings of Dawn wingmen are generally named.

 

Offline Dilmah G

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
OH RIGHT.

mai bad, all good matth. :D

* Dilmah G realises that now everyone knows he hasn't played WoD...and gets onto fixing that.

 

Offline MatthTheGeek

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
Yeah, my sentence was ambiguous indeed. The "your" wasn't directed to Spoon, it was general.
People are stupid, therefore anything popular is at best suspicious.

Mod management tools     -     Wiki stuff!     -     Help us help you

666maslo666: Releasing a finished product is not a good thing! It is a modern fad.

SpardaSon21: it seems like you exist in a permanent state of half-joking misanthropy

Axem: when you put it like that, i sound like an insane person

bigchunk1: it's not retarded it's american!
bigchunk1: ...

batwota: steele's maneuvering for the coup de gras
MatthTheGeek: you mispelled grâce
Awaesaar: grace
batwota: oh right :P
Darius: ah!
Darius: yes, i like that
MatthTheGeek: the way you just spelled it it means fat
Awaesaar: +accent I forgot how to keyboard
MatthTheGeek: or grease
Darius: the killing fat!
Axem: jabba does the coup de gras
MatthTheGeek: XD
Axem: bring me solo and a cookie

 

Offline Spoon

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
Thing is, Nehru is 'just a redshirt'. First time I played AoA I hardly even noticed his existence and forgot about him completely in the next mission. He wasn't really there to generate 'easy drama' (cause he had zero impact on any of the characters or plot etc). So imo he didn't even really qualify as an example for that post of mine.
I was more talking about characters that show up, die off nearly instantly and generate drama in the progress because other characters are affected by his/her death.
Urutorahappī!!

[02:42] <@Axem> spoon somethings wrong
[02:42] <@Axem> critically wrong
[02:42] <@Axem> im happy with these missions now
[02:44] <@Axem> well
[02:44] <@Axem> with 2 of them

 

Offline General Battuta

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
Thing is, Nehru is 'just a redshirt'. First time I played AoA I hardly even noticed his existence and forgot about him completely in the next mission. He wasn't really there to generate 'easy drama' (cause he had zero impact on any of the characters or plot etc). So imo he didn't even really qualify as an example for that post of mine.
I was more talking about characters that show up, die off nearly instantly and generate drama in the progress because other characters are affected by his/her death.

When I get back from this mission, I'm retiring and getting married and I'm gonna pet my cat Fluffers! And then I -

KEWWWBOOOOM

 

Offline bigchunk1

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
This dialogue reminds me of a quote I heard from a former marine in the WW2 Japanese theatre. He was speaking in reference to casualties in his unit.

Paraphrased quote: "War is random, war is quick, and war is final"

These 'cheap drama' characters, they're common in war fiction because they generate that feeling of randomness. How would things be if that bullet were taken by the wind a few centimeters to the left? War is chaos, and 'redshirt' characters are another device to promote that idea. Granted, this divice has been so used in fiction it has become a cheap cliché, but that's not the fault of the divice as much as the way it's used or perhaps overused.

Also, I'd like to note in general that telling a credible, believable and dramatic war story, especially through the lens of a video game, is a very difficult thing. Even more so if that war is in space.

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Online Mobius

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
Very nice post, bigchunk1. I wholeheartedly agree with you.
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Offline Snail

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
Of course redshirt characters don't make the idea of randomness because only redshirts die. If a major character died an unceremonial death or something that as sudden as a redshirt death, then that would be the way to do it IMO.

 

Offline Mongoose

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
Of course redshirt characters don't make the idea of randomness because only redshirts die. If a major character died an unceremonial death or something that as sudden as a redshirt death, then that would be the way to do it IMO.
If you pull that, though, you run the risk of falling into another trap: killing off a main character just for the sake of injecting some MAJOR DRAMU into the storyline.  I won't link it for sanity's sake, but there's a reason that "True Art is Angsty" is a page on TVTropes.  I've seen more than my fair share of fiction where a main character gets killed off in some completely arbitrary fashion, and I usually feel like the work as a whole suffers for it...good main characters are interesting people, and losing them too soon can choke the life out of a story.

 
Re: Freespace Characters 101
This definitely is a tough trope to avert/subvert correctly, as well. I'm thinking some sort of balance, between redshirts surviving and dying, and main characters disappearing/dying works better too. Learning more about a main/major character's beginnings could cause it to expand in a more natural way (Like Boromir to Faramir) even after death.
Also the act of killing off a character has to be written well enough too. Not too much, not too little. Or blurring the line between typical redshirt and minor supporting characters, or even one major character (I guess like Laporte to Simms' perspective) In gameplay sense it's difficult though without balancing battles out so it's not invincible wingmen able to keep a whole ssquadron of baddies from destroying them.
I'm generally for a typical scripted death instead of suddenly while the player's busy trying to survive on his own, but as how to do it right... WiH1 gets pretty close already with for instance Rheza Alpha and Rheza Beta.
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-----------------

"Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress to more pain."
- George Orwell

 

Offline Marcov

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
This reminds me of TVTropes so much.

You could practically sum up entire personalities of villains in a word or two.

Good write-up, though. This formula was always my target, but in the long run my determination usually gets bugged down by the complexity of having to make quality missions; you'd have to set "has-time-elapsed" triggers to countless messages (arguably the longest, most boring thing to do usually in any mission), triggers, goals, etc. It's really a rather tough job even to make a single mission.
With the rapid increase of FS fan-made campaigns, we're giving the GTVA a harder time with more violence and genocide.

~FreeSpace: The Battle of Endor (voice dub)~
Part 1/4 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9K9-Y1JBTE
Part 2/4 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtQanXDRAXM
Part 3/4 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoBLKYt_oG0

Old (original) videos:
Part 1/4 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1ygskaoUtE
Part 2/4 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0uoPTksBlI

 

Offline Scotty

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Re: Freespace Characters 101
Uhhh, you know you can just chain your messages together with a chain delay, right?  It's a lot simpler.