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Upstaging the player

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Which do you think is better (or worse), making the player out to be brilliant through scripted actions and words or letting NPCs get all the glory? Ideally you'd like the player to come up with all the brilliant solutions to problems in the game world, using the tools you give them in terms of gameplay. But (especially in terms of story) this isn't always possible, especially if the solution is nebulous and complex (world peace, ending hunger). So which is better / worse: Story sequences where the player comes up with the brilliant solutions, or sequences where the NPCs present alternatives and the player chooses among them? Specifically, I was playing around with the idea that the player would have an opportunity to change some communities in the game world (in mostly deterministic, pregenerated ways). For instance, you come across two factions, one that is secretly preying on the other by manufacturing products that amplify a genetic defect. Storywise, you're forbidden from saying anything or interfering, but somehow you're presented with a solution that won't involve interfering but will solve the situation (not helping either side, for instance.) Would it be better to tell the player "You realize blah blah blah" and put them in the spotlight; or have NPCs come to them with the solution, then let the player choose to carry it out?

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Whilst this maybe not the answer you're looking for, I'd say that you should use a little bit of both, depending on the context of the situation. The player not not enjoy being constantly forced to choose a path as it were, feeling that their decision making was taken totally from them and highlighting the deterministic nature of the game. The player should feel the sense of achievement by being 'fooled' into thinking that they have figured the problem out on their own - I say fooled as the decisions will largely be predetermined, right?

However, there will also be times that the player would want to sit back and let the computer offer them suggestions, either choosing to take one of those or possibly inventing their own solution (depending on how free reign you wish it to appear). I think it'll bode well to implement both, especially if the player is a leader of a team. Team leadership isn't just about 'my way of the highway', the idea is that people in the team support the leader in their decision making process - in this situation, the team would offer up their own suggestions and the leader would be up to pick from one, but there will also be times where the fate of the team lies on the leader's ability to come up with their own solution.

I hope this was useful.

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I find most times when a game says 'You realise....' that it sounds patronising. Although if you've already worked something out on your own, and then the game tells you, you feel good because you kind of got there first.

I find In memoriam to be the best way of doing this, although it does use email which most games don't. If you work things out for yourself, then you feel good when a character emails you about it, but if you get stuck then they help you along.

So in conclusion I think you should use the 'You realise...' approach sparingly, and only when the character you're playing as would probably have worked it out, but a normal person, i.e. the palyer, probably wouldn't.

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In general the kind of upstaging you talk about is what I notice in console RPGs. While giving the player the ability to choose whether to accept or reject the choice (or give them a selection of choices) would be acceptable, I think what you want to avoid is the console fault of simply "forcing" the player to make a "choice" as a cheap way to advance the story. Nothing is worse then seeing "your" character make a grand show of making a descision you know (via standard cliches) is going to lead to disaster (since the designer/writer didn't come up with a way of getting the player into the bad situation without it being the players fault)

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This may sound pedantic but I would say the game saying "You realise..." is also 'Upstaging the player' because what it's really saying is "Your character realises...". IMHO when I play a character I don't want the game telling me that my character's smarter than me :). I think it works for directing the player, for instance the character saying "I'll never get past them, I better find another way around", but for major quest/problem solving I think I'd feel like I was cheated out of the challenge.

As to the difference between your character and another providing the information, both can work but with the PC it has to be done more carefully. They can talk to themselves and provide insight that way, or talk to you directly in some game types (graphic adventures come to mind). Having the NPCs talk to you makes them more alive so them giving advice is a good excuse to get them talking. Especially if two of them don't like each other and argue over which of their solutions is better, thereby informing the player while building up their characters.

For the example in your original post, I would say it would be best to let the player try to work it out for himself to begin with, as this gives the greatest reward for the player if he succeeds. If he's having problems, then giving him a hand will help prevent frustration. As well as NPC advice, you could add sub-quests which will make the ultimate solution easier or more obvious (visit the village elder for advice, but he wants something first and so on).

Fulby

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I like the idea of NPCs coming up with the brilliant plans and having the player make the decisions. Reminds me of how one of my uncles used to manage his department at BC Hydro. He always said to hire people smarter than yourself, and don't worry about one of them taking your job, since finding a good replacement for you is a pre-requisite for promotion.

If the player has the perspective of the "big picture", then he is in a position to evaluate brilliant plans. Maybe the NPC's could become resentful if you reject their ideas to often. (in order to keep your brilliant but bloodthirsty tactical officer happy, you have to go medieval every so often.)

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I remember a space game (I think it was star flight II), where you encountered a rather beligerant race. In order to establish good relations with them, you had to approach them with weapons armed and shields up and just about every 2nd thing you said to them had to be a threat.

Once contact was established, you could do a crew exchange to obtain the galaxies finest tactical officers. After doing that, I then had to do some business with another race. To get anywhere with this race, you had to kow-tow and grovel. My tactical officer ended up committing suicide.

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What I think usually works well is if several NPC's offer their perspectives... One says, "If only he were dead, we'd be free." and another says, "Too bad we need him alive, he's the only one that keeps the bad guys from attacking."

You're now given the choice, either through direct actions (actually attacking or not attacking him yourself) or even just through an option menu. The game has sort of presented you with only two options, but it's worked into the storyline in a way that makes it less noticable. Other clues and information obtained elsewhere may help you make a more informed decision. If you want the player to come up with a brilliant solution himself, try to seed the situation with enough clues that indicate there is actually a third choice available that isn't readily apparent...

If you're going to have a "You realize that..." moment, then at least hide it by having it be an NPC reveal or mention something...not come out and say it, but lead the player to the inescapable conclusion. At least this way, the player sort of feels like they realized it themselves, without being told that they realized it.

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I'm reminded of the old sierra game "Conquest of the Longbow" where you played Robin hood. In it there where two instance when you had to perform a rescue mission in order to save someone important to the main character or one of his allies. But rather then having the main character come up with a brilliant plan, you sat in council with your merry men and they would present there opinions and what they thought was the best plan. The player then choose which option to take and all had diffrent results, some of which required you to perform some tasks in order for the mission to succeed.

Something like that could work for what you are aiming at. You could have a set of prescripted solutions to the problem, and then have your crew present them to you, the option you are given would depen on your crews personalities and skills. In this way you keep the openedness that you want in your game at the player has a greater sense that there actions have an impact on the game.

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I think I'd prefer having other NPC's present the solutions.

I mean, both solutions would mean that something out of the players control comes up with the idea, and presents it to the player, and I'd prefer if my character didn't fall too obviously into that category of "things that is out of my control, live an independent life, and thinks independent thoughts"

Either the player should come up with the ideas, or someone else should suggest it so the player can make the decision.

Of course, you could use both, depending on the context. If the solution is somewhat obvious, you might take it for granted that the player has figured it out as well, and simply ask "Do you want to <insert solution here>?" That way, it isn't presented like something your character has thought out without involving the player.

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I'm not sure if this has already been said, but I like the idea of having scripted events and NPC actions to teach a situation and give clues/information, while allowing the player to ultimately make any decisions. If a decision is not genuine, it should not be presented in the first place.

Disingenuous (insincere) decisions (such as "oops, something happened--choose to go through the door or the big hole") are rarely a good design (imo, of course). A level that is designed with honest decisions and void of gimmicks is usually going to be a better alternative. It, in a way, goes back to the "miniature garden" philosophy: if people are not presented with situations (or levels) that are missing something, they will not be looking to fill anything in with something external. A level should be self-contained and have substance behind everything (such as the architecture). A well-designed situation should not resort to a "choose A or B" decision or the player feeling as though they were cheated or the designer presented something to band-aid a situation or provide an easy escape.

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I just wanted to say thanks to the folks who've been contributing here. I've just been sitting back and synthesizing opinions.


Exposition is the easiest way of adding content. Going with the option of mentioning "you sense..." or "you realize..." would be easiest because you can never know if the player will have the NPCs present. However, from the feedback so it seems that this is also the least satisfying option.

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You can add arbitrary NPCs that seek you out, to give you bits of conversation, requests, or offers of assistance. You can certainly make sure that the NPCs that are necessary, will be seen by the player, using any one of an army of constraining level design tricks.

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Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
Exposition is the easiest way of adding content. Going with the option of mentioning "you sense..." or "you realize..." would be easiest because you can never know if the player will have the NPCs present. However, from the feedback so it seems that this is also the least satisfying option.


Well, you could just skip the "you sense" part. I think that's what would annoy me the most anyway. Being told that I realize something. Sounds pretty patronizing, and spoils any kind of immersion. Can't you just assume that the player has realized whatever it is as well, and then present it to him as something obvious he can choose whether or not to do?

I mean, instead of saying "You realize that you can solve this problem by <insert solution here>", then just assume it has already been figured out, and just ask "Do you want to solve the problem by doing <insert solution here>?"

It's not really a big difference, but it does make it sound less patronizing. Instead of pointing out to the player that he doesn't actually have a clue what his character is thinking, you're just presenting it in a more neutral way, by just saying that a possible solution is to do this and that, without specifying whether the player, the character or some other entity actually thought of it.

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We live in a world of technology that is advanced and powerful enough to give a series of subtle clues to guide a player. Instead of saying "you sense the answer to the puzzle is...", you can give subtle clues and until the player understands the situation, you continue to give less subtle clues. A step-pyramid approach, you could say. If they don't get the clues at the very top of the pyramid, you go down a level to a "larger clue" until you believe that they have received the message. This prevents repetitive or "intellectually insulting" messages from being given to the sophisticated gamer while not leaving the slower ones out to dry. This would also prevent (as much as possible) the feeling that someone is playing the game for you or that the game believes that you are a moron. They only grab the players by the hand and walk them if they're eating jell-o with a fork.

It's obviously more complex, but I tend to favor complex feature-designs that affect the fewest amount of people in a negative way...even if it means more bug-fixing and re-designs.

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Maybe I'm not understanding the feedback here correctly.

Consider this scenario:

You walk into your secure, private quarters aboard your starship and receive this message:

"Something's not right. Someone has been here."

Or you encounter an ancient, alien artifact, and as you're exploring the ruins, you get this message:

"Ancient things swim through the murals on the wall, seemingly alive even after billions of years."


Or you're on an alien planet, and for the first time, step out onto a balcony and get this one time message:

"Sounds drift from the city below: The brief wail of a Terran child; harsh Gaktamite laughter; and the soft, dull hum of gravitic powered terradynes."


Now, without a multimillion dollar budget, it's unrealistic to expect each of these to be fully realized with sound and graphics. Is it the case that games have advanced so much that we expect any of the above situations to be played out in detail? I thought that RPGs were the exception to the rule. Exposition traditionally has been a way of fleshing out an RPG world without making the product exorbitantly expensive (especially for an indie).

If the above situations cannot be realized either in game or with elaborate cutscenes, would you move that they should be removed entirely?

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The problem with that type of situation that I have encoutered while playing games, is that they rarely occur in areas without a specific "clue" (which is generally obvious) and thus solves a puzzle for the player.

An example of what I am talking about is when you go next to an item and it says "an old, rusty lock in the shape of a diamond. Perhaps a key in the shape of a diamond can open it.". Unless the interface (or path of communication between the player and the game environment) is structured in such a way that the player is given information without a solution, then I would not appreciate the design. The player should not be given the solution to a puzzle without first being given information about the situation and the idea that a puzzle must be solved. Solutions should not come before problems, this isn't jeopardy.

On an unrelated note, keys that fit locks of the same shape, color, description, etc. are old and cliche anyway.......

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Wavinator, I think that you and the people that replied aren't exactly on the same wavelenght :)

Of course that in those situations a good piece of text is much better than any artwork or sound. It's been used in Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights for example, and as you know, text can express emotions and more subtle "feelings" easily (I hope I was able to express myself correctly).

What everyone else is talking about, is being given so obvious clues to a puzzle that the fun is ruined. I think that the best solution is the piramid thing mentioned before, and presenting the solution to the player as "do you want to ...?" only as a last resort like when the NPC that gives you the main clue is dead and the player didn't notice all the other clues (instead of "you realize ..." since it makes it seem like the game is calling you dumb).

If this was used more in games, a lot of the frustration that makes players all winny would disappear ;)

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Guest Anonymous Poster
If you want to use text to present subtle feelings or clues (much the way David Freeman outlines in his book Creating Emotion in Games), then the player must be taught to pay attention to those details. I am assuming that your game is going to be played by casual gamers who will likely not be used to viewing NPCs as thinking, feeling entities. Very few gamers think that way because we don't yet have the processing power and memory to make convincing artificial characters. Therefore, if someone is given a subtle clue (in text or in audio/visual clues), they are likely to assume that those clues are either 100% superficial or 100% "this is how you progress"--not because they are black or white, but because gray areas are so rare that most gamers do not naturally entertain those ideas. Information to the player is given as a superficial, "atmospheric" detail or as a progression detail--but rarely are subtle clues given indirectly to players.

If those clues will be missed by most gamers, then the designer must give direct information to the player (such as "you sense....") and will drastically change the way the player proceses that information. If at all possible, allow the player the chance (before giving them more information) to process these subtle environmental/contextual clues on their own. Players (people in general) are much more accepting of instructions when they believe they have created the instructions themselves than when they are given instructions.

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Wavinator, I expect no cut-scenes.
Seriously.
In most of todays games, cutscenes are usually crappy ways of advancing the plot anyways.

Lets go back to one of your examples. Lets say the next major plot advancement was given when you talked to a certain little terran girlbeing attacked by a Gaktamite.
Quote:
Or you're on an alien planet, and for the first time, step out onto a balcony and get this one time message:

"Sounds drift from the city below: The brief wail of a Terran child; harsh Gaktamite laughter; and the soft, dull hum of gravitic powered terradynes."

Beautiful. Without saying anything more, the player may go explore and find out what is causing the girl to wail. If instead the player mucks around(which is likely due to the obscure clue you just gave)the next quote could be:
Quote:
"Again the sounds of the city drift around you. The busy market is quite loud, but again there is the mornful wail of a girl in the distance."

Now most peole will get the hint here. the player was notified the second time about the crying girl. Most can take the hint. But for the knuckle heads who finish trading and want to leave:
Quote:
As you approach the ship to leave:

"Your engineer runs up to you."
Scotty:"Captain.... The warp engines won't work. I think they have been sabotaged. I am not sure how long how long it will take to fix them, but it sure would help to know exactly what was done to them."
First Mate Riker:"Let's go ask the locals what they saw."

Now since the little girl is a local, there is a chance you will go talk to her. If instead you try to leave a couple more times and Scotty gets tired of telling you it will be a bit longer then perhaps the following situation will happen:
Quote:
Number 1 walks up holding a little girls hand. She is wearing a red dress.

Riker:"Captain, this girl wittnessed the sabatoge. She says a Gaktamite was using a device while walking around the ship."
Little Red Riding Hood:"I watched him as he left too. Want me to show you where he went?"


If you still do not follow her. Give "You realize" message.
Quote:
Riker:"Captain, where are you going? We should follow the girl."

If you dont:
Riker:"Captain, follow me. Daphne just found an important clue."
At this time the character loses control and is walked to the correct spot so the plot can advance.


When they don't get it, then hit them over the head with the answer, but give the player some chance to do it first. No cut scenes needed.

Credits:-----------------------------------
Scotty: Thermodynamics
First Mate Riker: Thermodynamics
Little Red Riding Hood: Thermodynamics
Best Boy: Thermodynamics
Key Grip: Thermodynamics
Assistant to Thermodynamics: Thermodynamics
Univision Writing--------------------------

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The problem with "You realize" and other ways of describing the world through text is that it breaks immersion. That is a bad thing. If you can do these things without breaking immersion then go ahead. Just remember, if the player figures something out, and then ten minutes later he does something that causes "you realize" to appear, the player will think, "I figured that out ten minutes ago. This character is dumb." Immersion has just been broken. If the "you realize" appears before the player realizes, the player usually thinks that the game is calling him dumb. Immersion broken. It can be done without breaking immersion, if the "you realize" is given in just the right way, but it is more difficult.

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I think you could give the player a main objective, not so hard to acomplish, and many second objectives, but you have to complete all the objectives with just one strategy.

So the player comes up with a brilliant tactic to complete all the objectives, you give the player all his glory.

If the player comes with an idea that completes some secondary objectives and the main objective, you could say the player did better than most.

If he just completes the main objective, well, he did his job, what he was supposed to do so no bonuses for him.

If he doesn't completes the main objective and you want to continue despite that, make the NPCs come with the solution of the main problem at the last moment. Take something from the player or don't give him some important but non-crucial item/power/thing that can help him, but he was supposed to have.
---------------

Just a comment about cutscenes. Playing Tales of Symphonia I was disapointed at the lack of cutscenes in places where I would needed a break or did something that I could consider significant for the plot. There are some cutscenes but their amount is small and condensed, tought the aren't in places they shouldn't be.
--------------

Also, answering the first question...
I think that for a game for general gamer population NPCs giving alternatives is better. Nothing is worse in an rpg when you get stuck and you can't figure any way of moving on. Maybe just keep the brilliant sollutions for bonus and non-crucial things for thegame.

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This topic is 4836 days old which is more than the 365 day threshold we allow for new replies. Please post a new topic.

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