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EmpyrealHell

A truley non-linear story

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EmpyrealHell    125
So I had this idea a while back, and I've fine tuned some of the design details, but I'm not sure if it would be fun to play, or just more frustrating to players. The concept is a sequence driven story. Lets say that in the game there are a couple hundred scripted story events that a player can possibly experience. Each of these events has certain requirements that must be met in order for it to happen (right time/right place, right people still alive, certain events already happened, etc). Each event will alter the game world in some way (either people living/dieing, attitudes towards the player or other NPC), as a result, the pool of events that can be triggered is made smaller, or directed towards a different path. This would create a web of possible story paths, all being directed towards any number of possible endings, sort of like a gigantic choose your own adventure book. I also thought that along side this it would enhance the free-roaming feeling to make character death in battle permanent (all except for the main character of course), while making it much harder to die in battle. Having certain characters alive would cause them to either help you or stab you in the back, so their state of affairs would genuinely affect the story line as well. The question I want to pose is this: would that system make you simply reload the game anytime something seemingly bad happened, or would you let it play out and see how the story unfolds?

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Overburn    126
it depends... if it is done right i would play to see the story unfold. if however it's done poorly, i would almost surely reload some times. there are too many unclear variables here and you will not get a good answer unless you do a prototype of the game and ask some people to test it. :)

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EmpyrealHell    125
that's the kind of answer I was afraid of. Drat. I can't really explain it in detail without the wall of text problem and I really wanted to get some feedback on the idea before starting to code it.

Are there any examples of games out there like this so I can get an idea for what works and what doesn't? Also, What would make you feel that it was done well? Good writing? A clear understanding of how the gameplay works before you start playing?

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Wai    1007
My thoughts:

The player reloads when they perceive that continuation does not lead to a desired goal. The player needs to have a goal and a way to judge whether the goal can be achieve before he can make the decision to reload.

If you don't want the player to reload, you could design the game such that:
1) The player has no goal; or
2) The player can never tell whether a setback is unrecoverable.

Requirement (1) doesn't seem realistic because if the player has no goal, the game isn't a game to the player. So instead of (1), perhaps:

1a) The player does not self-assign any goal
1b) Whenever a goal is made unreacheable, the game introduces a new goal.

The last two ideas suggest a game where the states required to move the game forward is defined for the player. At each moment, the player would be given a number of goals (perhaps only one). The player would attempt to complete any one of them to move the plot forward. If the player makes an unrecoverable mess on one path, the player could try the other paths, the game could give the player a new path to try, or the game could wait until the player asks for a new path.

For this particular design, I am assuming that all possible paths are defined, and that the player is more or less satisfied with the paths the game provides. I also assume that the game world is not an open world where the player is expected to set their own goal.

This is another way to interpret (1) and (2):

1c) The player knows all possible paths to reach the goal, and the player is playing with the mentality to reach the goal by any mean.

In this situation, the player would only reload when all paths are deadend. Because the player has the mentality to use any mean to get to the goal, the player would not be affected by minor setbacks. The player would not care about any setback such as not being able to reach the goal with their pet.

One possible design is a one-for-all design, where, whenever the player passes a stage, the player could resurrect all of the lost members or equipment, such that as long as the player could pass the current stage, there is no loss.

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EmpyrealHell    125
Ok, that gives some good food for thought. The thought of the player not being able to tell when something is a setback is something that flows along with the idea I had for this. This was intended to be an RPG type setting, so there aren't any clearly defined stages, but there are clearly defined goals. The "Any means necessary" idea seems really appealing. This I think would also help subtly guide the player down the different paths without making him feel like there is a distinct change in plans.

As far as the goals changing throughout the game, I really like that idea. Since I want this to have multiple possible endings, it would make a lot of sense for the game to present you with the opportunities to take that path.

Example: You fight NPC1, when you get him low on health, he begs for you to spare his life. You kill him. Since he was the only one with information on storming NPC2's castle, the player has cut himself off from that path. As you leave the area, NPC3 comes on screen to tell you that NPC4 might have information to help you get at someone close to NPC2.
Should you chose not to kill NPC1, he tells you the information, and you go storm NPC2's castle, and then go from there.

The idea is to make the player not ever feel like they are in a dynamic environment. I want to make it play smoothly as though every choice the player makes was the right choice. Everything should have that RPG feel of "well something bad happened, how do we fix it". At any point in the game the player will have 3-4 different events that he could go trigger. NPC's will tell the player where and when to go to different areas to start them.

If a PC dies, the NPC's will react to you differently (maybe they were X's friend and not yours, so they won't talk to you now) or when you go to where the event should start, a different one happens because X doesn't piss off Y, or X sees the trap ahead of time, without ever saying "Oh, X didn't come, I guess we'll just leave then" or something jarring like that.

Smooth is the goal I guess is what it all boils down to. Is it possible to make it feel like player isn't just taking a multiple choice test with some fighting in between? Is it possible for the player, knowing that what they choose to do has an impact, to feel like he's playing a linear storyline that fits together, and not just like it's some modular story with mix and match parts?

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Trapper Zoid    1370
Interactive storytelling in games is something I was keen on, and hope to get back into sometime soon. One of the first topics I started here was Automated storytelling and interactive plot in games. In the first post there I've listed a collection of resources on the topic that might be of interest. It's a few years old now and I'm out of touch with the area, but I hope they are useful.

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EmpyrealHell    125
After reading through a few of links (some were largely over my head, and I don't really want the story to be dynamically created anyway) I determined that I'm looking for something along the lines of this

I don't like dialogue choices, as those always seem to break up the flow to me. What I was thinking of was more along the lines of the actions a player performs will determine the dialogue choices, so they don't feel like they are picking from a list of outcomes.

in the previous example of choosing to kill or not kill NPC1, we could pose the following situation: NPC1 begs for mercy, you decline to attack him with main character. Main character says "I can't do it, I can't take a life". PC2 pipes up "I can" and deals the killing blow. Now if PC2 had died in the past, he wouldn't be there to to take the action, so after the main character expresses his moral qualm, NPC1 ends up alive. On the other hand, if the player chooses to attack, NPC1 dies, and a little less is known about PC2, but we have a deeper insight into PC1.

Start constraints and end states is exactly what I was thinking. Each story event only starts when certain criteria are met, the player is offered a choice, thought not something super obvious (it could be Fable style where if they player decides to attack the NPC instead of listen/help them then a different end state is produced) and new criteria are set to trigger the next events.

Thinking about this from a programming side as well, it doesn't seem that hard to put a list of starting criteria (NPC1 is alive, player is in City a, Group 1 hates the player), a scripted event, and then give complete control back to the player and have the game wait until an ending criteria is met (player agrees to pay the NPC off, player refuses and leaves, player kills the NPC), where the ending criteria that determines what ending states are set.

[Edited by - EmpyrealHell on December 15, 2008 1:23:55 AM]

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I have never tried to create a non linear story or anything, but..


Ever played one of those interactive story books when you were young?

You know, you sit there with a piece of paper, keeping track of your inventory, money etc. And you make choices and the story is driven by those choices aswell as what is in your inventory? I only ever played when I was very young, but roleplaying is very popular among all age groups these days, perhaps they have books for the older generations too?

Eg: A Zombie glowing eyes fix on you from the swamp ahead, and a deep growl that makes the hair on the back of your neck rise, is coming from somewhere in the dark woods behind you.. If you currently hold the silver cloak, proceed to page 15, if you do not, jump to page 45.

Im not sure what those books are called, but you may want to look at how they design and test those story lines. Surely they have ported the concept to pc by now, they may have programs that help you design those stories these days, and algorythms to test all possibilities for flaws.

Ofcourse the problem with those books is the same problem you are mentioning. It was too easy to lie. Too easy to go back and make a different choice, too easy to pretend you do have the cloak, which often resulted in you having no choice but to lie further in the future, because you broke the story lol There is no joy in that, no victory, but you didn't want to have to start at the very beginning either, which is often what happened, as it was easy to end up dead.

Your best bet IMO is to save the story each time a choice arises, and save again each time a choice is made. Some players don't like that, but if you say it won't be so easy for the main player to die, then I see no problem. If the story is compelling and immersive, and interesting enough, then any choice will be interesting to the player. If however, the choices/quests are largely repetitive or the story is the same old unimaginative stuff found in similar games, then it will be boring. Make sure that you aren't basing the story flow on the same variables all the time. You need plenty of different unrelated variables to work with, and a random factor that is out of the players control could be fun too.

Perhaps it is difficult to even get elements of the scrambled story to work in different orders, but make sure that you don't feel victory when you have accomplished that, that just means its working correctly. It does not mean its an immersive story, which is what your actual goal needs to be.

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge is drawing the player into the story as opposed to the player simply wanting to kill stuff. They need to want to know what happens next. Read some books and you will see how they do it.

Ofcourse it is easier to do so with a book. Because a book infact uses only words, and a readers own mind to create a personalized world which is always better for the reader, than someone elses imagined world. That is also why movies almost always fall short of books, for fans. Because the readers imagination is personalized to themselves. Movies and games are limited presentation, whereas imagination is unlimited.

Creating a game instead of an interactive book gives you other benefits though. Complexity being the main advantage. The interactive books often still felt linear because of the simplicity required, because the reader kept track of the variables which meant they needed to keep it simplistic, and work with very few variables.

[Edited by - HumanoidTyphoon on December 16, 2008 4:45:53 AM]

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sunandshadow    7426
Can't you get the info from the guy, then kill him? Or storm it by brute force instead of info? How about bribing someone within the castle to be a replacement informant? Or getting yourself magically transformed into a friendly looking dog, adopted by a castle inhabitant, and then you would have the run of the place...

In the abstract, I really love the idea of a gameworld that is like a virtual world in that it's not just about killing everything that moves, you can use flattery and seduction and bribery and blackmail and disguises and theft. But to me it destroys the magic of having a virtual world to play in if you don't let the player chose their own goals and especially if it ends up being just another cliche rpg story about war, and because RPG settings are big you won't be able to develop any of it in the depth a virtual world needs. Also, it's not fair to set the plot up like a puzzle to be solved and yet hide all the information about where different actions will lead and still expect the player not to undo actions that had an unexpected unpleasant consequence.

An unrelated problem I have encountered in other non-linear games is that they tend to have interesting events happen too far apart or be missed by the player, with the result of a world both boring and alienating.

But, actually you can see from my posts in that example thread what I think would be the right way to do things. Basically you create a dictionary of objects, characters, places, each of which have some built in basic options and some more options that emerge when the have particular relationships to each other, and yet further option that depend on the pc's current state and what all they have done in the game so far. If you deeply developed a small setting and cast of characters with that kind of structure, you might come up with something really interesting.

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Wai    1007
Re: EmpyrealHell, regarding to what Sunandshadow posted:

For my own game I am actually using the architecture she is describing, where the game world is system of simple operations (each with an requirement). There is an implementation reason behind this architecture. For me the reasons are emergent events and the lack of scripted events.

You don't need use an architecture like this. It is your choice.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong about a design of a restaurant where the player selects:

0) the house special (aka "you get what the chef happens to cook")
1) the meal
2) the individual dishes
3) the individual components of the dishes (as in a buffet)
4) the ingredients and cooking method (as in the chef cooks the fish you picked)
5) the ingredients (as in pick the fish and cook-it-yourself, cooking utensils provided)
6) the bait (as in you fish yourself, the sea is provided)

You could choose to implement your game at any level (or any mix of them). There is no intrinsic reason to implement it a, just as a diner could be satisfied in a type 0 restaurant where he doesn't even make a choice in the course. Just eat and be happy.

People who make games are in general doing a type 6 activity. So for some of us we could only be satisfied when we have the control of a type 6 situation. It is not a reason why your game needs to be type 6 (high degree of player control), even if it is a non-linear story (which starts at type 2, in the analogy).

For me I wouldn't care if a game only gives me a type 0 situation, because if I want a type 6 situation, I would just go back and code my game. This depends on whether one has the power to fulfill their own desires. I am trying to say that people who enjoys type 0 games are not by any deduction "stupid" or "uncreative" people, and a type 0 game is not by any deduction a "limited" or "stupid" game.

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sunandshadow    7426
I'm not sure I agree with type 0 players not being uncreative, but I don't think there's anything wrong or stupid about not being driven by creative urges, or not being in a creative mood on a particular day. I personally regard player creative freedom as the main motivation for designing something nonlinear, and as a tradeoff for the coherent artistic message you can present with a linear game. But, that's only my opinion, non-linearity might be valuable for other reasons to other people. And I agree that the people whose opinions you will hear on this forum are heavily skewed toward the 6 end of the spectrum compared to your average player, pleasing us is not necessary if we are not your target audience.

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EmpyrealHell    125
Re: Sunandshadow
There would be more options than the few I listed, that was just a simple example to illustrate the point. Stealing, bribing, coercing, blackmailing, all of those things would be valid choices, with each altering the NPCs feelings towards you, which would adjust certain scenes later on in the game.

The setting of the game I have in mind for this is a murder mystery/political corruption story, set in a modified present day world, so storming castles doesn't get one very far. The idea was to spend most of the dev time on making these storyline trees, creating what would eventually be 14 distinct paths the player can choose to set himself on. I'm not intending on the plot being a puzzle, there is no way to fail this game, no matter what actions the player chooses, it will all result in a gameplay experience of roughly the same length, with the same characters, just telling a different story.

To make sure the character doesn't dig himself into a hole, I was planning on having an emergency plot kick in at various points to put the character on the right track (ie. you kill everyone and remove any way you had at getting at group a. Group b kidnaps you while you are walking down the street. They see that you hate group a, and are in a bad situation, they will help you if you help them, at that point, you can follow along with them or team up with the people they tell you to kill/blackmail/find/whatever)

In regards to the events being missed or too far apart, the idea was that there would be nothing in between events but travel time from one area to the other. If you happen to miss an event because of time, a different event happens at the same place. If you decide to blow the event off and go somewhere else, the game world will have enough events to fill the game world so you can't wander around for too long without having something happen.

The reason I like the scripted event idea better than a dynamically generated event is that with a scripted event system I can control the the experience to make sure it never seems too rigid or jarring. I know it will require a lot of different events to be created, but if I make an editor for them it won't take too much, especially since a lot of the events will just set different variables at the end with minimal changes to dialogue.

I'm not looking to create a sandbox world where the player can set whatever goal they choose. I'm looking to take the idea of multiple endings, and expand it to a realistic point where if the ending is different, the story that led up to it surely must be different as well. To use Wai's analogy, I want to put the player in the kitchen, say, "here's a fish, he's where to get started cooking it" and then show them along the way "Here's a few other ways you could cook it, and there's the other types of fish as well".

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Wai    1007
Given that a 'non-linear' story doesn't mean an 'open-ended' story, I think another motivation behind non-linear stories is situational freedom, or simply situational difference. These are not general terms. I am just making up some terms similar to "creative freedom".


Situational freedom: The player is free to choose an action given a situation. For example, the player could choose whether between to kill a guard or to transform into a puppy.


Situational difference: The game unfolds a situation depending on the current stage. For example, to get pass a guard, the player _must_ attempt to kill the guard. However, if the player fails, the guard locks up the player, and now the player _must_ escape from the dungeon. If the player killed the guard successfully, the dungeon part would be skipped.


Non-linear not only does not imply "freedom of goal", it also does not imply "freedom of action", nor even having "multiple endings". However, having no freedom does not mean requiring no thoughts:

In the dungeon example, you could still give the player some margin of thoughts by not telling the player how exactly to get out of the dungeon. As long as the game does not end, the player would believe that there is a solution. But this could open a can of worm because the player would start thinking, "why isn't (that) also a possible solution?"

The description of Situational Difference echoes the design concept where whenever a path is messed up, the game presents another path for the player. This keeps the player from reloading, because the player is thinking, "if the game gives me another goal, it means that I could still win in this game, I don't need to reload."

The way I imagined creating content under this plan, is to first have a linear plot. Then for any situation where the player could fail, introduce another path the player could take in the event that the player does fail. The code that determines whether the player is in a gameover state does not declare a gameover until all alternatives are exhausted.

A property of this content creation method is that the player would be told if he is in a situation where there is no way to win. This way, the player does not need to strategize about the overall goal. This could be a good property if the story author does not want the player to strategize. In this method, the player cannot (and does not need to) project whether he could still beat the game, since as long as the game does not end, there must be a way to beat the game.

This is different from a content creation method where the player could have exhausted all possibilities to beat the game, but neither the player nor the game could detect the gameover situation.


The overall plan reminds me of a Jackie Chan movie named "A Simple Mission" where the mission was supposed to be very simple, but things happen along the way to deny the simple solution.

[Edited by - Wai on December 15, 2008 6:03:32 PM]

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Guthur    101
This idea is only half baked but I thought I'd post before I forget it :)

Its not really a game or even a story idea but rather the idea of a 'functional expression for progression through a variable storyline'; man thats a mouthful, and don't look it up I just made it up :)

It came to me while I was reading a book on algebra in the bath, true eureka moment :p. Its based on the functional expression of a sequence of numbers eg 3, 4, 5, 6 = n + 2. Well i was thinking that if n represented a node within the story and that the function, +2 in the example, represent a progressional avenue for the story line then a means for building a story algorithmically is born.

Simple example would be a character alignment branch, ie the the function would represent a position on the sliding scale of good to bad.

Now of course those are all one dimensional examples it would have to given further functional dimensions for it to actually make for a truely varied story. Plus the function would need to affected by the players decisions and/or the worlds events.

Well there it is, I think i'm might just be talking some hot air though :). Too much stuff flying around my head and nothing to do with it :|

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Trapper Zoid    1370
Quote:
Original post by Guthur
This idea is only half baked but I thought I'd post before I forget it :)

Its not really a game or even a story idea but rather the idea of a 'functional expression for progression through a variable storyline'; man thats a mouthful, and don't look it up I just made it up :)

It came to me while I was reading a book on algebra in the bath, true eureka moment :p. Its based on the functional expression of a sequence of numbers eg 3, 4, 5, 6 = n + 2. Well i was thinking that if n represented a node within the story and that the function, +2 in the example, represent a progressional avenue for the story line then a means for building a story algorithmically is born.

That's getting close to the approach I've seen people use. But instead of formulas, stories are formed by a grammar. It's similar to grammar in language: you've got a set of symbols (words) and a set of rules for how they can be combined together (rules of grammar). Except for stories, exactly what the set of symbols are and the rules are very much open to question [wink].

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Guthur    101
Trapper Zoid: Informative link.

To truely achieve the adaptive story there would most likely be a need to employ some sort of generative grammar function, but i think it would be in the area of character dialogue generation; progression of story and its structural control should possibly be regarded as a different problem.

The key I think is to atomize the story into it's smallest component parts, eg. antagonists and protagonists, locations, opinion affectors (again I'm making things up I'm thinking here of actions that have a wider affect on the main protagonists journey through the story) etc.

I really wish I could develop this further, but time is not on my side unfortuately :|

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Magfuse    100
Hey I like this idea... If you want to make a text based adventure similar to the choose you own adventure books or like the old school games before graphics. There is a programming language called inform. It uses grammar.

Another one that I have been interested in HTML tabs. With this you can also add sound and graphics to a text based adventure. I kinda wanted to make a text based adventure like this but i am having a hard time with the objective. Perhaps if it was a kids game it could go on forever potentially... Anyways I wanted to see if i could add speech recognition to old text based adventures. But then I thought that all this effort might be a waste if i could just mod a 3d game.. But I like the idea of prompting players. Like if a player mentions a ghost in his response then it becomes part of the world... This might work for a mmo mud type game. Where the world is an AI script that continually grows based on player input.

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sunandshadow    7426
That way of encoding the game's current state sounds ideal for a save-game file.

EmpyrealHell - Scripted events can be good too, games like Harvest Moon, dating sims, and even some adventure games make great use of them. The design for Xenallure: A Tapestry of Hearts that I worked on for quite a while was a 'branching story built out of scripted events' type of game.

I'm puzzled by what exactly the phrase 'travel time' would refer to in gameplay. A screen with dots traveling across a map to an X? Walking through a mostly-linear dungeon killing monsters?

Also, '14 distinct paths' - wouldn't the distinctness of a path be a bad thing? Distinct sort of implies that the player would get on one near the beginning and stay on it until the end. Wouldn't you want something more like 14 intertwining paths that the player can move freely between, or at least can work hard to change to a different one if they find they don't like the current one? Or did you mean something more like 14 play styles, 14 endings...?

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snak_attack    136
Regarding your 'will-players-reload' question - I think back to the game mount&blade, which was at one level an RPG. The game had a setting that prevented re-loading saved games (it auto-saved every time an event occurred). It also had moderately-soft knockouts in that if you were defeated in battle, you could usually run away with at least part of your army intact. If you lost really bad, your army would desert, but you'd still have your main character (stats, skills, and cash) and could rebuild.

Personally, I thought this was a great system - it introduced the right amount of tension and risk-management, and it eliminated the hard boundaries of a traditional RPG (you must complete quest XYZ to unlock zone ABC)

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AngleWyrm    554
One of the reasons I got into Space Empires IV and later Masters Of Orion III was the interactive story aspect. Which contrasts sharply with Galactic Civilizations, where the story is pre-fabbed and dished out one scenario at a time. (GC was an advancement in several other departments -- not at all a bad game -- just the story was already designed).

In both of those games (SEIV & MOO3) I could daydream up stories and details for what was going on, and even play specifically to advance those daydreams. I would rename star systems/planets to fit into how my imaginary yarn was unfolding, and make up leaders for various fleet/faction/ships.

Sometimes I wish that they had included more of an allowance for player-written notes, Captain's Logs and that type things within those games.

But this is much different from being 'told' a story; more like leggo story blocks to play with.

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EmpyrealHell    125
Quote:
I'm puzzled by what exactly the phrase 'travel time' would refer to in gameplay.

The map is like the one in the SNES game shadowrun, just one big map. The travel time would just be walking the character across the map from one area to another, be it through streets to a different city or through a dungeon to an encounter.

Quote:
Also, '14 distinct paths' - wouldn't the distinctness of a path be a bad thing?

Maybe path wasn't the right word. There are 14 different story threads, all of which are related to eachother. Basically, there are 7 different factions that currently run the world, and the player can choose to try and bring down or build up any one of them. There are close alliances between them all, so at any point in the game, certain NPCs are trying to coax the player in various different directions.

To clarify, the player can play a sleeper agent, going down one path until the very end and ruin the plan at the end, or simply take a different side halfway through if they decide. The player can however cut certain threads short through their actions, but there will always be at least one thread available until one of the 14 ending situations are met.

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