I'm playing a couple of new games, and they have amazing gameplay. But something's missing for me with their characters.
Now, granted, you can have a pretty good game without strong characterization. A game can be superfun without it. But it can't make you care about the characters. It can't move you.
I have a long-running beef about many fantasy and SF and historical games. Characters are defined primarily by their situations.
Say, for example, you're an outcast. Members of the Tribe are mean to you. The character you play is, naturally, spunky, and doesn't let the meanies get her down.
But suppose you were a Jew in 1930s Germany, or a Muslim or a trans person in South Carolina now. You do not fit in; some people are mean to you.
But they are mean to different degrees and in different ways. Some will mock you. Some will hit you. Some will pretend you don't exist, because they're not fundamentally mean and they're embarrassed about it.
Some will be mean if other people are around, but nice to you if other people are not.
We expect characters from the 20th and 21st centuries to be people with personalities. Their attitudes are colored by their situation; they're taught to react to you a certain way. But some people are angry and just looking for someone to take it out on. For some, duty is important and they might hurt you but only because they think they're supposed to; it's not personal. People are different.
I miss that in a lot of fantasy and historical and sf games.
I can't wait for the cave man game where you meet a Neanderthal, and he's a bit of a joker, but actually, you realize, actually kind of an asshole.
People also have their own stories going on. I can't wait till I'm playing a game and I meet a member of the Other Tribe, and she's really upset about something that just happened (like she just broke up with her boyfriend) and meeting me is not the most important thing in her day, I'm just a weird happenstance.
In A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh, the animals are people. When you meet Eeyore, he's a self-pitying mope. In fact, he is such a specific self-pitying mope that I feel positive that, if I'd gone to a garden party at A. A. Milne's house, I'd have been able to figure out which of his friends A. A. was making fun of.
So if there are three kids from the Tribe harassing the playing in a prehistoric or post-Apocalyptic game, then maybe one of them is really intent on hurting you, and obviously angry at your very existence. But a second kid is trying to pull him away because she was enjoying the game they were playing and you're nothing to her. And another is obvious upset at what the first one is doing, but doesn't want to rock the boat.
Just because you're writing historical or pre-historic characters doesn't mean you can't write people. Modern homo sapiens — meaning humans who you could dress up and put in the subway and they'd look completely normal — have been around for at least a hundred thousand years. A hundred thousand years ago they probably believed the mountain was a god and the stream was a god too and so forth. But don't tell me that some of them weren't really nice people, and some of them were jerks, and some of them you had to catch on a good day, and some of them were egotistical. Some of them wanted to be chief of the tribe, and some just wanted to get with the ladies or the men, and some were no use for anything but okay in a pinch, and some were smart and clever and useless in a fight.
And I guarantee you some would not listen to anybody, and some could make you feel good when you fell on your face, and some just made you feel stupid, and the kids didn't listen to their elders as much as the elders wanted, because people have been complaining about that at least since the invention of writing.
(Seriously, we have texts from the Romans and even the ancient Egyptians saying, basically, "Kids these days, amirite?")
When you're writing aliens, other species, people from other times and places, try writing them like specific people that you know. Write them so specifically that your friends will recognize them. Give them the flaws of the people you're basing them on.
And then, and only then, put on the pointy ears.
Then they'll really create a reality. Then I'll really care.