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Your Solution to Narrative Based Gameplay

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EDIT:It's good to see more people posting in here. I started this post to get help for my own idea. But I'm beginning to see that listening to others ideas has proven to be much more beneficial. This thread is not supposed to be based on one linearly developing design for a game, but the shifting and morphing idea that is our definition of what a narrative game is. Please feel free to summit any ideas or thoughts that you feel may contribute to this discussion of narrative based gaming. ---- I'm mostly posting this here to see what everyone thinks of it. I came up with it after reading some Gamasutra articles by Jonathan Blow on why games tend to fail on a narrative standpoint (http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=21202). It's often been said that video games will never be a successful as an art form is because no one will ever cry for a video game character. (while I'm sure there are many who will disagree) I hope to use this idea to prove others wrong. Find flaws in it. Prove me wrong. Help me improve this idea to a point where it might actually be usable. Happily Ever After? The game is based on a branching storyline similar to that of KOTOR or many other "Good or Evil" based games. Choices are frequent throughout the game be they "Yes or No" or "Good or Evil" these choices cause the games path to go in different directions very often. The game will be based on nearly 200 choices made by the player and each choice results in a different story line. Now I know you've all heard this before. Here's the two major points that make this thought an individual. -To play through the games story mode will take under 3 hours. -While "Yes or No" and "Good or Evil" choices still exist most of the choices in this game will based entirely on winning and losing. What I mean by this is that there are no more game overs. No more re-do's, and no more lives. Anything that happens to the character is based on whether they succeed-or fail. The player has control of what the direction the story goes: goals, characters, locations. All are based on whatever preferences the player chooses (this is done as the story progresses) but what determines what will happen in the story, what will happen to the characters, what events will impact the world, whether or not the player will see their goals accomplished determines on how well they play the game.The game will be a series of task, whether or not the player accomplishes these tasks determines what the next task will entail. Victory will equal happiness. Dreams realized, enemies defeated, love found, etc. Defeat will create tragedy. Horrors come alive, friends stolen away, sadness unresolved, etc. If the player performs well, they are witness to a happy tale, but if they cannot adapt to a sudden skill curve, the story takes a much darker turn. If the player finds themselves within the pit of despair, if they find themselves getting better at the game, they might soon see a light at the end of the tunnel. The story will remain composed of a single setting and start with a single event and be composed of an unchanging cast of characters, what portion of this cast and what perspective they witness events from depends entirely on how they play. The game will be extremely re-playable. Literally having to play through the game a dozen times in order to discover all of the stories secrets and possible outcomes. Each time the player plays the game (depending on how good they are at it) they will be witnessing another view of the same world, hearing another side of the same story. The key is to connect the player to the game through emotional rewards and punishments. We are already doing this but on a much more materialistic stage. What if instead of just giving the player a new ability we also have the players favorite character decide to help you out more often? What if instead of the player losing a life they have to watch their favorite character get killed by their most hated enemy? What if instead of having a looming final boss far off in the distance, being your eventual antagonist, they were constantly inhibiting you and slowing your progress. Try to generate real life emotions relevant to the games virtual situations. Look, it's 2 AM here. This is my first post on this website and I'm sure it's ripe with spelling/grammatical/logistical errors. Please post any comment, complaint,question, idea, thought, or reaction you have to this. This idea has been excitedly swimming around my for some time now and I think it's about time that I exposed it to the surface. Berate it, love it, I don't care. Give it to me straight, and give it to me here. Maybe some day I might actually see this in my, or your, game. [Edited by - DASHAZAM on February 7, 2009 2:56:09 AM]

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I don't really see the point of tying the story to victory and defeat - it restricts the kinds of stories you can tell, since you can pretty much only tell stories about fighting or sports, and it sounds like you would want the moral to be something like "winners deserve and get happy ending, losers don't" which I don't personally find a particularly pleasing or interesting premise. It would be fine for a first game of it's type, but pretty awful if it became a stereotype for a genre.

The rest of the concept is interesting - I'm not sure how much story you could tell in 3 hours, I'm thinking it would turn out more like reading a short story than like watching a movie, but it depends on how the story and gameplay would be woven together.

Replayability-wise, I think that rather than having branches occur at regular intervals such that there were few in the beginning and zillions at the end, you would get more player-satisfying results if the game separated into somewhere between 6 and 20 main branches by about 1/8 of the way into the story, then the middle play was more modular and the number of branches did not increase much until the ending. Although possibly playing inconsistently with the current branch could shift the player to a different main branch. (Personally though, I'm not sure replayability is necessarily a virtue.)

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sounds like a great idea.
It's a bit like watching your favorite movie thinking "what would have happened if...", only that you could actually try out all possibilities.

What you said about characters like the "boss" sounds good as well. Thus one could make something different to all those "the world is threatened by an evil force and you are the only one to save it" stories.

I have to agree with sunandshadow on the skill thing. Don't couple tragedy or joy within the story to close to the players skill. At least not to skills like hand-eye coordination, tactical descision making and such, which have to do with the gameplay directly. Thus you would take the possibility to see the "pleasing" plot from less skilled players.
I would rather evaluate how well he does in fields like moral descisions or rational thinking.

Here's the danger of making things to transparent. Maybe it's just me, but as often as I played these "decide between beeing good or evil" kind of games, I always had the feeling that I could to easily manipulate my character in a certain direction since it was absolutely obvious which actions or answers in dialogues would leave to which kind of character. This feels artificial and makes a character rahter flat, than adding any believability to it.

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I don't usually count gameplay out of a fight, but I don't believe strong narrative attachments develop much via interactive gameplay. Not unless we're referring to very intertwined plot+interaction type gameplay, where the interaction part is very limited.

Gameplay can backup what develops in the plot and story, such as a morally backward character getting no penalty for killing innocent characters, or an empathic healer becoming very distraught when someone on your team takes a nasty hit.

Gameplay can also easily break down what develops in the story, such as by making likable characters do insanely stupid things during an interactive situation. In my experience, this really does happen a lot. The game sells a character to me very well through dialog or background details, then flings it out the window by making the AI contradict it.

No game has ever made me sad like the Lufia game for the Super Nintendo. The player character travels with a normal party member throughout the game, where a trivial friendly relationship very slowly grows into something significant that no one mentions out loud, then she just bites it at the end before anything can happen from it. They both finally admit their feelings as she fades away. Very sad stuff, and great motivation to annihilate the bad guy. Keep in mind I'm talking about 13 pixel tall sprite characters, here.

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In address to Kest's post:

I'm only 19 so I haven't played it but I have heard a game developer once speak about Lufia. It was one of the games I took into consideration when coming up with this idea.
Modern gamers would more often reference FFVII and the death of Aeris in this situation, but I feel Lufia may have handled the character-to-gamer relationship more deftly.
Watchers (the movie-going, book-reading, picture-viewing equivalent of Gamers) tend to form a relationship with whichever character/environment they can most relate to or are most entertained by, Gamers on the other hand have a much more real relationship with games. While there may be SOME relationship with the character/environment we find ourselves much more closely attached to the game's mechanics. It's our relationship to the parts of the game that impact how we play that touches us more than any character. Think about it- You could ask just about any gamer who likes GTA and Tetris and they would tell you that they have more of a relationship with the "I" Tetris piece more than tany of the random pedestrians in GTA.
Gamers were sad when Aeris died, some because they really like her as a character, but I can guarantee that there were even more gamers pissed off because they lost they're healer, a major lynch point in their strategy. When we watch movies or read books, we are touched by characters because we can relate with them and see our own lives in the book. In video games the game is relating to OUR lives, impacting us on a much more real, material level. In Lufia this element is used to the narratives advantage, addressing an unspoken relationship between the gamer and the character. Whether you knew it or not you were becoming attached to the character, because that character was a part of the game and your relationship with the game was more real than whatever was going on with the characters. The relationship wasn't forced from the beginning it was developed as if you were getting to know each other. Our relationship with the game often outweighs our relationship to the characters on screen. This is fine and all but it's that major division between the game and the story that I feel keeps games from being fully recognized as an art form.
And I totally agree with you on the interactive storyline view. Half Life 2 is often viewed as one of our best video games but I think this game really failed on your relationship with Alex. ValVe stole away Gordon Freeman's voice so that you didn't feel like you had yours taken away. Yet when they forced the character of Alex upon you she was of little assistance to you when it came to actual game play and more often than not she was a hindrance. So when the game started dropping hints that the two of us were in love it felt more like the developers had decided that I was supposed to love this girl when it was quite the contrary. Because no matter what I did (let her fight enemies by herself, purposely drop crates on her, shoot her in the face) I was still just the heroic, intelligent Gordon Freeman to her, and it suddenly felt like I was living a lie. It felt like the world I was in was no longer a world, it had become a play, and no matter what I did the lines would be read, the actors would play their parts, and the show would go on, only with me, but it felt like I had no part in it.
The goal with my game is to make the game play be the story. Make the rewards be the story, and make the punishments have result in the story. Or at least make them synonymous with the game play. The idea would be to bridge the gap between the story and the game, making them one and the same. Not having time in the game stop when the player stops. When the game tells the player that there's a guy killing people across town, actually have a guy killing people across town. If the player takes to long to get there, maybe he kills one of the stories characters. When your allies with a character for most of the game and then suddenly kill one of your best friends, you'll find your self being questioned by your ally, or maybe even turned against.
The reason for the three hour length would be to make sure that with any given variable you create than the characters can react realistically and reasonably (according to their own personalities). Think of it like a game on the same scale of Oblivion or Fallout but compressed into a much smaller area with fewer (but deeper) characters.

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It's often been said that video games will never be a successful as an art form is because no one will ever cry for a video game character.

I am one of those people that disagree with that statement.
There is nothing wrong with what you suggest.

An example:

Game: The Little Match Girl

In this game, you play the little match girl in a cold winter night. The objective of the game is to sell all of your matches so that you would go home. You have 7 matches and you need to sell them in 3 hours in game time (3 minutes in real time).

You, as the little match girl, runs around and look for an NPC that might buy your match. The little match girl has a small voice. Only the person you approach could hear you. At any moment, there could a few person the little match girl could go to, and by choosing one of them, the other would continue to walk away, and the little match girl would forgo the chance to talk to them. She cannot switch and talk to another person once the talking had began. Usually the the conversation is short because the person would just ignore her.

In the second hour, the movement of the little match girl becomes slower and fewer pedestrians are walking across the center. The little match girl has to walk across the icy and slippery center to catch a pedestrian across. Slipping could make the girl fall and lose a chance. Slipping is a random occurance whenever the girl walks through the center.

In the third hour, the lights of the houses nearby are lit, it was dark otherwise, and the girl is hungry and starts to see hallucinations. Pedestrian across the icy plaza would be revealled as an hallucination as the little match
girl get closer. A hallucination that passes through lit windows appear translucent. They also don't have shadows, but it would be hard to tell.

The gameplay in tunned to be difficult. A first-time player is expected to be able to sell 2 to 3 matches. After playing a few times, being able to sell 4 or 5 matches is normal.

By the end of the third hour, the player loses control. The little match girl would walk toward one last pedestrian on her own. If the played had more than 1 match left, the last pedstrian would either ignore her, push her away, or turn out to be a hallucination. The ending scene would enter where the little match girl would start lighting the matches and die in the snow with her wishes.

If the player had sold 6 matches (1 left), A longer than usual conversation would begin. The last pedestrian would start the pedestrian by saying something like, "What are you doing here, honey, isn't it cold?" The little match girl would tell him that she was selling the matches. Then the pedestrian would ask about her lack of shoes, and the little match girl would said that she had lost her shoes before the first hour (The player never saw the little match girl with shoes, they were lost before the player took control. The player may or may not have noticed that she had no shoes. The player may not have noticed). The pedestrian would then ask about the bruised leg (if the little match girl did fell). She would say that she had slipped and fell. Then he would ask about her weak voice, and she would say she had a cold (The player was not informed beforehand that she had a cold). Then the pedestrian would invite the little match girl home so that she could get warmer and to have a meal. But the little match girl would say that she must go home to take care mom. Then the pedestrian would quickly buy the last match so that she could go home.

Then the little match girl dies because that last pedestrian was a hallucination.

[Edited by - Wai on January 23, 2009 8:54:16 PM]

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In my opinion developers don't seem to understand the less is more principle. You don't need to have all these branching stories and what not because the player knows what they are doing in most cases and because of that all you need to do is give them the option of how to proceed.

An example from one of my ideas...

You're on a quest to get several artifacts that are scattered around the world. Another group is also after them and as far as you know they are going to use them for evil deed. So, one artifact is in the middle of a city and it is being used to create a barrier around the city. So, what questions does this imply...

Should you take the artifact?
if yes how?
do you try to get it from the people?
do you steal it if they refuse?

Are you acting as a hero or as a villain? What might happen if you take it? if you don't? is it worth the risk to do so?

All this is fairly easy to code into the game and it's so simple yet it attaches that action to you as a player and a character.

If the city is destroyed it may result in you losing miniquests, items, whatever else, however if you don't take the item it may lead to the same thing and you then don't have the item, but there is no guarentee that will happen if coded right.

The whole multiple pathway thing is such a bad way of thinking about a story that imo it hurts games as art more than it helps because art is not logical and you are trying to make it so. Also it's inefficient for what you are trying to do...All you need to do for the thing that i just said...is set a few timers and set a switch or two and program a small miniquest... it doesn't take any thinking beyond that, where as the multi-pathing makes you think hundreds of steps in advancement and accomplishes far less.

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I have one problem with branching stories based on success or failure:

Everyone wants to win (regardless of their characters morality, goodness/badness, etc.), and no one wants to feel cheated.

Using Aeris' death in FFVII as an example:
-If the death occured as a result of a battle (i.e. if you could fight off Sephiroth, or he'd beat you and kill Aeris), players would simply reload their save until they beat Sephiroth since they'd feel cheated that Aeris (their best healer) was taken away from them. The reason that moment in the game had an impact was that there was nothing you could do. She was there one minute, and gone the next.

I know there are some games out there that remove a lot of the success and fail restrictions (like Wario Land 3 (I think it was 3) on GBA), but I can't think of any story based games that do so.


I like the idea of consequences for your actions a lot better than branching stories based on success or failure. Your example of Alex in HL2 for instance. The way you treat and interact with Alex (or with others when you're in her presence) would have an impact on how your characters feel about each other. If you allow her to die, then the circumstances of it all could affect how you proceed with the game (if you abandon here, or murder her you won't receive help from her father, but if she died while you were both battling, or you were trying to save her, you would still receive help in the way of vehicles, equipment, etc.)

In a way that is based around success or failure (of Alex surviving), but even if you take her mortality out of it, you can still build something interesting around character interactions (either through dialog, or through real-time interaction).

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Liking the use of the word "build" in that last sentence. Sort of like Lego story blocks that the player uses to construct a story of their choosing. Fantasy building blocks, to spin stories with, to feed the imagination.

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To Wai:
I really like this idea. What I was going for in my own was similar but with a broader scope. Was this an idea or is this an actual game?
The part where the man asks her what happens to her knee: that is what I hope to have in my game. Other characters will be able to recall simple events that happened to the gamer. An example would be similar to-
The player is walking down the street and see's an electronic store with TV's in the window. On the TV is a picture taken of a body of a character the player recently killed. The TV announcer is speaking with an expert as is making assessment as to how the victim was murdered. The idea would be to make every action the player makes to have weight in the world, not just the significant path branching ones.
Or maybe if a romantic interest in the game gets angry at you they might bring up the time that you accidentally shot an innocent bystander. Your love interest would reminisce the details of the person ("He was just walking down the street, and then you shot him! No I know it wasn't on purpose but do you think that matters!? That was a human being not just a piece of scenery! How can I think you care about me when you have such little respect for human life!?").
To Durakken:
I think your idea sounds a lot like The Elder Scroll series. While I feel these games are amazing and I've based a lot of my ideas on research originating from this game's development process I feel Bethesda's major flaw with games like Morrowind, Oblivion, and Fallout 3 was that the scope of the game was to large. The possibilities too endless.
An endless possibility of choice may sound like a good thing but it completely contradicts the idea of art in games.
Art (this is the overall wikipedian definition, not my own) is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the sense or emotions. So yes video games can be made as art, but how do video games stand out as its own medium? Games stand above other mediums due to its relationship with its participant. Games react to the action of the Player and the player is given the ability to react to the games actions. For example, in pong twisting a dial causes your your bar to move so that you can react to the the ball coming toward your side (an action of the game) when you hit the ball (your own action) the game reacts by moving it's own bar. The idea of using games as art is properly utilizing the player-game action-reaction relationship to create an emotional reaction in the gamer (enjoyment, fear, accomplishment, frustration).
In your idea of a good game, you decided to give the player many choices of actions, paths they can choose to take in accomplishing a task. While it is important that the player is able to express themselves, the reaction to the players actions is equally important.

In Fallout 3, at the beginning of the game I accidentally got a towns sheriff killed when I asked him to help me deal with a bad guy in the town. The sheriff was shot in the back by the villain when we were in the town's bar. I in turn killed the villain and everyone in the bar simultaneously said something along the lines of "I didn't see nothing" and went about there business. I took some of the sheriff's items for my own (I had nothing but the clothes on my back when I came into the town) and went on my way. A couple days later a boy approached me while I was wearing the ex-sheriff's duster coat looking at me angrily and said to me "you may wear my dad's badge but you'll never replace him."
I was shocked. Hopeful that I would be able to apologize to this boy for his dads death, maybe do something for him I followed after him and spoke to him. He turned back to me with a huge smile on his face and said "Hey there mister!"
The boy only mentioned that his father had died recently when I talked with him. Nothing else about how I was wearing his dead father's clothing nor even about how he died. I then proceeded to ask the people around the town and none of them said anything about the sheriffs death. Most of them hardly even acknowledged the existence of the sheriff.
Actions are important in Video Games but if there's no reaction to them it gives you the feeling that you're just performing a puppet show without an audience.
My game would be similar to Fallout 3, the only difference would be that instead of it taking 30 hours to play mine would take 3 hours but still have the same amount of content. Every action would have a proper reaction. The player would still have just as much freedom, but they would also be able to see the impact that they are leaving on the world and how the world is reacting to that impact.

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