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Plot lines pros and cons


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#1 Jack Mariani   Members   -  Reputation: 117

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Posted 26 January 2011 - 03:12 AM

For now I see three main types of plot evolution in a videogame.
- Linear plot line (Yeah, follow the road) -> Shooter and arcade
Where the player have to follow a plot that go straight, forward: event after event.
Examples: Assassin Creed series, Prince of Persia series, Bioshock.
Pros:
When he finish the player can feel completeness since he had played ALL the game.
It's easier to concentrate on only one storyline.
Cons:
The player may feel less control on the story.

- Multilinear plot line (choice and consequenses). -> Bioware RPG
Where the story branches in two or more plotline. This can allow choice and consequence (if the consequence of a choice is irrilevant to the plot line, the plot could rimain mono linear)
Examples: Dragon Age, Mass Effect (I and II), Alpha Protocol.
Pros:
Freedom: the player can take choices and see their consequenses.
The player has to play more times to see ALL the game. (this can be also a Con, depends on the player types)
Cons:
Creating two or more storyline needs more time, and there's an hazard: one of the plot line can be poorer than the others.

- Sandbox -> Bethesda RPG
Sandbox we give the player a setting, and he may choose where to go first. This type of plot line can melt with the two before since in a setting there can be more indipendent linear or multilinear plot line. Also Dragon Age (with its multilinear plot) has some sandbox features.
Example: Oblivion, Fallout (Bethesda) you can choose where to go first, but every quest has indipendent mono linear plot, and they have no relation with each other. You can try the main plot years after the begininng of the story, but you will find no problem for coming late.
Pros:
There's the freedom to choose where to go first, but with no consequences this sense of freedom can be flawed.
The player can take his time to choose and try the quest he want.
The player can experience ALL the possibility of the game in playing only one time.
Cons:
Level scaling can become a mess since we don't know where the player will go first. For example there was many critics on the random encounter in Oblivion.
It can be difficult to organize all the indipendent plot lines and set them as a congruent whole story.

*Story creator games.
There are games who create stories. Such Sims or Civilization where every time you play you go through a different story, but these are out of topic since this feature is more game related than story related.

Seems that RPGs focus more on multilinear and sandbox plots, while other type of games such as arcade adventure or shooters focus on linear plot lines. Maybe it's caused by the type of players enjoying them. For example maybe the RPGers prefers to take choices, while the arcaders/shooters want to enjoy all the game playing it only one time.

So, do you think that one type of plot is better than the others? Do you see any other pros and cons? Or... do you see any other plot types?
Perfection is only a limit to improvement - Fantasy Eydor

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#2 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 5071

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Posted 26 January 2011 - 03:11 PM

What category would you consider true interactive fiction to fall into? It's not linear enough to be multilinear, but it has a lot more story than the average "story creator".

As for which is better, I think that is a matter of personal taste. I myself dislike sandbox games, but I know other people who prefer them to linear games.

Story creator games tend to frustrate me because you cannot put story ideas into the game, or modify the game's internal rules to get behavior that better matches your story idea.

Phone game idea available free to someone who will develop it (Alphadoku game - the only existing phone game of this type is both for windows phone only and awful. PM for details.)


I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.


#3 DontBotherNone   Members   -  Reputation: 102

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 01:07 AM

Without dealing in semantics, aren't those descriptors more representative of gameplay than plot types? I only say this because a game can be entirely linear (even on rails), but the plot can jump, for example, between characters, or to different points in time (flashbacks), thus it wouldn't be, necessarily, a linear plot. Maybe it's just that you use "sandbox" as an example of another type, because "sandbox" can be entirely linear, multi-linear, or arbitrary (sidequests) in respect to plot, which is throwing me off (using a term typically reserved for a genre). A sandbox game such as inFamous has a linear storyline (with certain sidequests/arbitrarily occurring, non-canonical events), for example.

Anyways, I can't necessarily say whether linear or divergent plots are better or worse because I don't think they can inherently be either. It's how they're executed, ultimately. In an effort to sound less non-committal, it's certainly true that "our" medium of gaming does still have unexplored (or just-being-explored) potential with respect to divergent plots that are contingent on the gamers' actions, though there is still much more that can be done. It's nice to see these types of plots explored further (even in other genres), yet it can also be shoe-horned in and feel a bit..."cheap." Just offering alternative endings based on a handful of key choices isn't particularly impressive ("choose-your-own-adventure books have been around for some time). More subtleties need to be offered. Small choices should have legitimately recognizable, rippling effects (they're sometimes considered to be the most important); subtlety and ambiguity would be appreciated, too (not just "evil ending" and "good ending").

I'll likely pick up Mass Effect 2 sometime this year, so I'll see how that does in respect to these concerns. I actually haven't played a Bethesda or Bioware title this generation (save for Fallout 3, which I didn't complete). What I recently read about the newest Elder Scrolls is promising, too (the gameplay also seems to have been dramatically improved from what it's said to have been).

One of the issues with sandbox games, as we're considering them, seems to be reconciling player action with plot. This can be said for most games, actually. Having played copious amounts of JRPGs, I've always found it a bit funny how the final boss will gladly wait 30+ hours in their dwelling while I run around doing sidequests and grinding; the removal of a sense of urgency breaks immersion, in my opinion. It becomes all about the 1s and 0s and stats and mechanics (which is sometimes preferred, such as the case of Final Fantasy VIII and its non-sense plot and annoying, angst-ridden characters!). Heck, there are even instances in shooters (linear plot, linear gameplay) where you can just - unrealistically - stand around and do nothing while the game world refuses to progress without you.

I think that's why there's often such disconnect between plot and gameplay in games, why it's easier to allocate narrative to cutscenes and have it be independent of gameplay (even in games we consider to have strong plots and the like) - games ultimately cede much to the gamers, especially in games that offer different playstyles (sandbox). As protagonist Cole in inFamous (sandbox world with divergent plot threads), I can kill civilians left and right (collateral damage!), but still do enough "good" to be a positively karmic deity and people will still approach me on the street and cheer. More importantly, however, is that it'll still toss me down the "good" plot line. "Sandbox" titles have the monumental task of almost having to create an infinite number of different worlds based on the gamers' choices/actions (to be believably reactive and dynamic), which doesn't always happen as well as it should...mainly because it is hard as heck, especially when the individual gamer is only going to experience one (or a handful) of these individual realities. Of course, games themselves often have a disconnect between the stories they'd like to tell and the much-to-frequent gaming mechanics that revolve solely around killing/fighting, but that's a whole different issue.
Published writer with a background in journalism looking for experience in game writing.


#4 Wai   Members   -  Reputation: 1002

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 01:21 AM

Re:

Property vs Perception

I think at certain level of design, a designer would no longer care about "pros" and "cons", because the designer recognizes that those are not the features of the objects you are writing about, but only your (or the common) perception of those objects. For example, if you tell me that roses are pretty, you aren't telling something about the rose itself, but your taste. A designer doesn't need your taste to do their design: they only need to know what each object has--what they do with that object is up to their creativity. Therefore, to a designer, it makes more sense to say that 'a rose is a flower that has thorns on its stem' than to say that 'people like the flower of the rose but the thorns hurt.' The first sentence focuses on what the rose is and has, the second sentence focuses on what the speak thinks about rose. The second type of sentence is dangerous for design because when people read it they think that is what design is about, they follow it and they all end up making similar things, and the more similar they are the more justification they give themselves to keep doing it.

For example, you said it is easier (for the designer) to concentrate on only one storyline in a linear story, which suggests that it is harder for a multi-linear or non-linear story. However, I could say that it is easier for a multi-linear story because you don't need to have to create a single plot that everyone likes, and it is easier in a non-linear story because you let the player arrange the plot in their own liking themselves.

Therefore, a summary of "pros" and "cons" only hides the true range of options available to the designer. To see the true range of options you need to analyze what you see, so that you can visualize beyond those that already exist.

#5 DontBotherNone   Members   -  Reputation: 102

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 02:22 AM

For example, you said it is easier (for the designer) to concentrate on only one storyline in a linear story, which suggests that it is harder for a multi-linear or non-linear story. However, I could say that it is easier for a multi-linear story because you don't need to have to create a single plot that everyone likes, and it is easier in a non-linear story because you let the player arrange the plot in their own likely themselves.


I think it's worth mentioning that dr Jack never stated that it would be easier for the designed to concentrate on one storyline. I actually interpreted it as it would be easier for the writing staff to focus on one storyline, given which area of the forum we're in (writing for games). However, it could even be in respect to the player's experiences, which doesn't necessarily make sense to me (as the player wouldn't know about any of the other storylines), but fits when compared to the other "pros" and "cons" attributed (and their direct reference to players).

I know that when I mentioned that divergent narratives are hard to do (well), it was mainly with respect to writing. If a game is truly, evolutionary divergent - or even fairly complexly branching - then it requires exponentially more work from the writers because there's going to be massive amounts of extra dialogue and scripting required. Of course, I'm sure this added workload translates to other areas, too - ones I'm admittedly not too familiar with, such as the AI's appropriate response to an occurrence based on all the data compiled up to that point, etc.
Published writer with a background in journalism looking for experience in game writing.


#6 Jack Mariani   Members   -  Reputation: 117

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 05:31 AM

@sunandshadow
What do you mean by true interactive fiction?
Well, if you mean something with something like a game master well, that could create a different type of game (with no ingame plot).
In this case the plot is in the hand of the GM who could actually change it in real time.
They don't seem story creator games, I think we could call them storyboard game. A board that can be used by a GM to create any kind of plots he has in mind.
An example could be the multiplayer of Vampire the Masquerade Redemption.
If you think you had a better term (or if I misunderstood what you mean by interactive fiction) just tell me. It was something I hadn't considered.

@DontBotherNone

Without dealing in semantics, aren't those descriptors more representative of gameplay than plot types?

I think they're plot (story) issues melted in a game design element. (Since I think taking choices is a gameplay element)
Changing characters or having flashbacks are still plot elements. A linear plot doesn't necessary involve always the same character or always the same timeline. But if it can go only forward is a linear plot.
They still remain plot and story related element.

Just offering alternative endings based on a handful of key choices isn't particularly impressive ("choose-your-own-adventure books have been around for some time).

Yeah. In some games (especially RPGs) we can consider many type of choice and consequenses (like the class you choose, the skill you train, even the hair color of the charafter), but I'd like to consider only important choices with important consequences.

Having played copious amounts of JRPGs, I've always found it a bit funny how the final boss will gladly wait 30+ hours in their dwelling while I run around doing sidequests and grinding

Yup, it's a common cliché. Mass Effect 2 have a different approach to the final battle. If you wait too much people of your crew starts to die. I appreciated that: using time as a gameplay element related to the Player choice.

I can't necessarily say whether linear or divergent plots are better or worse because I don't think they can inherently be either.

I think that they can't be generally better. But in specific situation maybe one type of plot type can offer more satisfaction to some type of audiences.
We can even find some new type of plot maybe.

@ Wai

I think at certain level of design, a designer would no longer care about "pros" and "cons"

I think not. Level designers, designers and story designers have the duty to satisfy their audience.
And to satisfy them they need to analyze what's better for the audience.

For example, if you tell me that roses are pretty, you aren't telling something about the rose itself, but your taste.

I can analyze players and tell: my audience likes roses.
I can analyze story design and tell: this type of story needs more effort and time to implement. (Ex. multilinear needs more time to create, and more effort to make it congruent. That's common knowledge.)
Yeah, I can also make wrong analysis, but I should try. If I don't try I don't improve.

Therefore, a summary of "pros" and "cons" only hides the true range of options available to the designer.

Something is better (pros), and something is worst (cons) in every specific situation.
Using pros and avoiding cons helps to create the best story to implement in a game.

That's my way to design stories.
Perfection is only a limit to improvement - Fantasy Eydor

#7 Wai   Members   -  Reputation: 1002

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 09:05 AM

Re: DontBotherNone

dr Jack's list of pros and cons are actually mixed: the pros are for the player and the cons are for the designers. By designers I simply mean the people that make decisions about the design of the game, as opposed to people that implement the design (when they aren't the same people). So a writing staff that has the free to decide what happens in the story, what characters the story has, how long the story is, etc... would be a 'designer', while a writing staff who only writes the dialogs following an assigned outline is an 'implementer'.

If a game is truly, evolutionary divergent - or even fairly complexly branching - then it requires exponentially more work from the writers because there's going to be massive amounts of extra dialogue and scripting required.


This conclusion suffers from two assumptions:
Assumption 1) Producer hires writers to create the story content of the game so that the game can be released.
Assumption 2) An infinitely large space requires an infinite amount of time to create.

To break these assumptions, consider:

1) If each writer you hire increases your profit, why would you mind hiring many writers?
2) What are some situations where you are paid by the writer, or where writers work without charge?
3) What are some situations where it is easy to create something complicated and/or infinitely large?
4) What is the origin of drama in real life when people don't live their lives following a script?
5) What is the minimum work to turn a dramatic situation into story if you get the dramatic situations free from gameplay?

#8 Wai   Members   -  Reputation: 1002

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 09:57 AM

Re: dr Jack

By "pros" and "cons" I was refering to the type of list you made that is mean to be used by a designer as a reference to make a decision. It is not to say that a designer doesn't need to consider benefits and costs to make a decision. However, if someone reads your list and thinks that the pros and cons you said about linear story is the main concepts they need to know to decide whether to use a linear story (as opposed to a multi-linear story etc.) then they are skipping the design about the fundamental role and format of linear story. The list views the types in their stereotypes, not in what they are. It is like saying this:
I see three types of cusine:
1: American: The American cusine consists fries, burger and a soda. It is served fast.
2: Chinese: The Chinese cusine consists of sweet and sour meat over rice. The portions are larger.
3. Japanese: The Japanese cusins consists of raw fish. It is served cold.
Now I've told you about each type, it should help you design your restaurant because it allows you to choose the cusine for the customer.


It is true that you need to analyze what is better for the audience. But to do so you need to know the true options. The type of list you made skips the understanding of the true options. Your list isn't showing the true properties and options of each story type, only your perception of what each type can achieve. Design is different from review because not only would you need to compare and make decisions, you also have the power to change the objects that are being compared. Therefore the type of static list you showed ignores a large part of the design process.

I am telling you the smallest change that will improve your analysis--by describing each object by its properties so that it shows where the options are.
This concept doesn't need to be learned by experience. Someone that understands it can use it the first time they try to design something.


A note on comparison:

To compare a linear story and a multi-linear story, you need to compare them on the same basis. If you compare a linear story that is 10 pages long and satisfies 1 person, and a multi-linear story with 10 storylines that is 10 pages long each that satisfies 10 people, you can't conclude that the linear story is 'easier' because their benefits are not normalized.

Ex. multilinear needs more time to create, and more effort to make it congruent. That's common knowledge.

If you don't see the options, you would consider this knowledge. If you see the options, you consider this stereotypical belief.

When a design method is correct, you can tell not only what has been done, but also what has not been done. In your case, you could "challenge" your cons so that they become valuable assets to the design. But if you do that, the "cons" are really "pros" wouldn't they? At that point you get to the understanding that listing the pros and cons like the way you did is moot.

#9 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 5071

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 01:19 PM

@sunandshadow
What do you mean by true interactive fiction?
Well, if you mean something with something like a game master well, that could create a different type of game (with no ingame plot).
In this case the plot is in the hand of the GM who could actually change it in real time.
They don't seem story creator games, I think we could call them storyboard game. A board that can be used by a GM to create any kind of plots he has in mind.
An example could be the multiplayer of Vampire the Masquerade Redemption.
If you think you had a better term (or if I misunderstood what you mean by interactive fiction) just tell me. It was something I hadn't considered.

In this forum over the years we have had several discussions about the possibility of a "digital GM" or in other words making the game itself carry out the role of a game master or roleplaying partner. This kind of game doesn't fully exist yet, but more primitive forms do. Chat-bots such as Eliza are one example. Choose Your Own Adventure games were originally multilinear in the early/mid 80s, but since then there has been a shift to a more modular approach, in the form of dating sims and similar games. The goal is that the game's plot not resemble a tree at all, but instead a buffet or multi-course meal. The game should offer the player a little taste of each plot option, then the player can choose whether they want to eat that dish or skip it. Ideally this makes the game replayable in a more flexible way - you can do something totally different at the beginning, but still potentially replay one of your favorite parts in the middle. The game ought to be able to recognize what the player is doing and react intelligently - if the player really enjoys the first plate of fish, offer them more fish, and congratulate the player on being a gourmet of fish-dishes. Give the player an achievement of eating all the fish in the game and a checklist to track their progress.

@DontBotherNone

Without dealing in semantics, aren't those descriptors more representative of gameplay than plot types?

I think they're plot (story) issues melted in a game design element. (Since I think taking choices is a gameplay element)
Changing characters or having flashbacks are still plot elements. A linear plot doesn't necessary involve always the same character or always the same timeline. But if it can go only forward is a linear plot.
They still remain plot and story related element.

My opinion is that they are plot structures. The important factor is whether the player can change "What happens next?" which is the question plot is built out of. Location in time or space doesn't matter. What matters is whether the game goes exactly the same way every time you play, or whether and how much the player can change the game's path.

Phone game idea available free to someone who will develop it (Alphadoku game - the only existing phone game of this type is both for windows phone only and awful. PM for details.)


I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.


#10 Jack Mariani   Members   -  Reputation: 117

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 02:49 AM

@sunandshadow

In this forum over the years we have had several discussions about the possibility of a "digital GM" or in other words making the game itself carry out the role of a game master or roleplaying partner.

One other example could be Left for Dead (1 and 2). This game had the Director, a sort of internal GM who choose where to put zombies, witches and other enemies based on player attitudes. LFD had a mainly linear plot line, the story is really tunnel like, you can only go forward, but the director change every time the challenge in the tunnel.
I think we can set these type of game in Story creator games, with characters deeply controlled by the PC. Like Civilization (where the other civs are totally controlled) and Sims (sims are controlled).
Now you've told it seems to me that this element (the internal GM) is one of main feature of the games I call "Story creators".

What matters is whether the game goes exactly the same way every time you play, or whether and how much the player can change the game's path.

I agree. That's one point.
Perfection is only a limit to improvement - Fantasy Eydor




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