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Slateboard

Does a game's world always have to be focused on the player?

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I hope I can make it as clear as it is in my head. Basically, what I mean is in typical games, the player Is the focus of the world, or events presently taking place. For example, a game may have the player in the role of a Super Hero, saving the city, or as some 'Chosen One' required to undertake a quest. So I wonder if it's 'supposed' to be this way. Could there be a game, where instead of playing the Hero, you're in a secondary role (in regards to the world's view.)? Like you're a Knight in the Kingdom's army, as opposed to being their Captain. I mean, there would still be a story, and the player would be a part of it, but it wouldn't be the main focus of the world. I guess I could sum it up as saying the player would be in the supporting role. Can a game work this way, or would the player be put off due to them not being in the spotlight? [Edited by - Slateboard on March 29, 2010 12:59:34 PM]

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Original post by Slateboard
Could there be a game, where instead of playing the Hero, you're in a secondary role (in regards to the world's view.)? Like you're a Knight in the Kingdom's army, as opposed to being their Captain.

I mean, there would still be a story, and the player would be a part of it, but it wouldn't be the main focus of the world.

I guess I could sum it up as saying the player would be in the supporting role.

Can a game work this way, or would the player be put off due to them not being in the spotlight?


Most multiplayer games will put the player in a supporting role. You have to group with others to move forward, and so on.

I'm not sure it's interesting enough to play as "number two" all the way through a single-player game. The further you get from being "unique" in a game, the closer you get to real life. Don't want that. ;)

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You might want to take a look at Heavy Rain, where the player does control the actors in the story, but where none of the actors is the lead actor and can all really be thought of as supporting actors.

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It's kind of a matter of perspective. The focus is up to the author, but remember that everyone is the hero of their own story. You could easily have a game about the main human bad guy of Half Life 2, and directing your alien minors to eliminate rebels, climaxing in the elimination of the most pesky one of all, Gordon Freeman.

I think game stories tend to lean toward "the world is at stake" more than other media, but outside of that context there are an infinite number of stories told from just as many perspectives. Is the story about a politician winning an election, or is it about his wife who finds her true self following him? Is Troy about Achilles or Agamemnon? Who knows, that's up to you.

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As far as the character's actions not having a major impact on the world, that's easy to accomplish. Does it really matter if you save a princess from a dragon, for example? If you avenge your father's murder? There's plenty to work with in the realm of personal or local conflict that still fits a traditional game narrative.

A higher hurdle is if your character's actions are not only not the driving force behind a global storyline, but not the driving force behind the story at all. You could shift the focus to another character the player is helping: George wants to save and marry the princess, you're just helping fight the dragon. Here the traditional one-two punch of game-play rewarded with narrative advancement remains applicable. Players can certainly form emotional bonds with the supporting cast, so even though they just helped, the player can be rooting for George to get the girl.

One step further is to make the driving forces of the story hidden from the player, along the lines of your example of being a soldier in an army you have no power in. Again, you can resort to minor narratives the player experiences: friends dying in battle, saving a small town from invaders, etc. The player is still being a hero, just in a diminished scope. I think the player will be fine with this, most of us don't need a constant sense of epic power: well produced quests and narrative on a small scale are fulfilling too. If you want to avoid the player having any real impact or interaction with the storyline at all things get a bit more existential, with the character proceeding through a series of battles they have no emotional connection with: it either becomes a very abstract game or a game with some deeper philosophical message. The former is fine, I think the latter would be well received in some quarters but not a popular title by any means.

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Original post by Slateboard
Could there be a game, where instead of playing the Hero, you're in a secondary role (in regards to the world's view.)? Like you're a Knight in the Kingdom's army, as opposed to being their Captain...

I guess I could sum it up as saying the player would be in the supporting role.

[1] Can a game work this way, [2] or would the player be put off due to them not being in the spotlight?

1. Sure.
2. If you don't design it right, sure.

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Original post by Polama
As far as the character's actions not having a major impact on the world, that's easy to accomplish. Does it really matter if you save a princess from a dragon, for example? If you avenge your father's murder? There's plenty to work with in the realm of personal or local conflict that still fits a traditional game narrative.

A higher hurdle is if your character's actions are not only not the driving force behind a global storyline, but not the driving force behind the story at all. You could shift the focus to another character the player is helping: George wants to save and marry the princess, you're just helping fight the dragon. Here the traditional one-two punch of game-play rewarded with narrative advancement remains applicable. Players can certainly form emotional bonds with the supporting cast, so even though they just helped, the player can be rooting for George to get the girl.

One step further is to make the driving forces of the story hidden from the player, along the lines of your example of being a soldier in an army you have no power in. Again, you can resort to minor narratives the player experiences: friends dying in battle, saving a small town from invaders, etc. The player is still being a hero, just in a diminished scope. I think the player will be fine with this, most of us don't need a constant sense of epic power: well produced quests and narrative on a small scale are fulfilling too. If you want to avoid the player having any real impact or interaction with the storyline at all things get a bit more existential, with the character proceeding through a series of battles they have no emotional connection with: it either becomes a very abstract game or a game with some deeper philosophical message. The former is fine, I think the latter would be well received in some quarters but not a popular title by any means.


This explains it better. I can see a game still having the emotional attachment to the story and characters, but without being in the spotlight.

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Well, seeing as to how being in power/control/the hero and/or the recipient of others' attention (whether consciously realizing it or not) are such common underpinning of people's psyches, by omitting the character being the center of the story, you would be deliberately limiting one of games' most compelling features. Most people don't get to be the center of the universe in real life, whereas in the escapism that games provide, the focus being on the player's avatar is a quintessential motivational feature.

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If I remember correctly, the first Halo game has this. You're just a marine fighting the Covenant, doing what is your duty. A big part of the game is played in a squad and the player is not an especially important member of it. Ofcourse you play a very good marine who does some badass things, but I can't think of a moment where you are addressed personally or are rewarded for doing anything out of the ordinary. Then again, I've played this game when it was new, so it's been a while.

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Original post by Silvermyst
You might want to take a look at Heavy Rain, where the player does control the actors in the story, but where none of the actors is the lead actor and can all really be thought of as supporting actors.


But in much the same way, all of them are the main characters. There can be more than one.

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Original post by Schildpad
If I remember correctly, the first Halo game has this. You're just a marine fighting the Covenant, doing what is your duty. A big part of the game is played in a squad and the player is not an especially important member of it. Ofcourse you play a very good marine who does some badass things, but I can't think of a moment where you are addressed personally or are rewarded for doing anything out of the ordinary. Then again, I've played this game when it was new, so it's been a while.


In the first Halo, you play as Master Chief. You are the last of a line of superhuman warriors. You are the only one left... and you are put on the most important missions because of that. Almost everything you do is part of a story path where the focus is on your character and what it does. Every soldier you encounter recognizes you and seems encouraged knowing you're there because you're virtually indestructible.

So I think the topic is asking about the OPPOSITE of Halo...

...perhaps you should replay it or something.

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One big issue you may run into is that of AI. Unless the AI hero's plays far better than the player it may be difficult to inspire the player to look up to them. If the AI hero does everything off screen or the gameplay is very straight-forward then this might not be an issue.

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That would make for a unique RPG.

You get a dungeon, it's already been raided, and the best loot has been taken.

You can't sleep at the inn, the hero's party took the last available room.

All the best items have been bought from the shop.

You try to rescue the princess, and she refuses. She likes the other hero better, and is waiting to be rescued by him.

You beat the final dungeon, and open the big chest at the end to get your prize, only to find a note inside that says you are a day late and a dollar short. On your way back to town, you get hired to sweep up the elephant poop at the parade in the hero's honor.



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Modern Warfare did this to an extent, didn't it? You bounce around from character to character, but more than once you find yourself taking orders from a supremely mad mother who's off-screen performing feats of derring-do, and sometimes you get rescued by squad leaders or your whole squad gets scooped out of the combat zone by a really awesome guy. In the climactic fight of MW2, [spoilers ahead] you spend most of the time on the ground, delirious with pain, staring at the knife sticking out of your chest while another guy has an epic fistfight with the villain. Although you do manage to play a key role in the resolution of the fistfight, it's not all up to you.

I remember an old game, Out of This World, where you're a nerdy scientist trapped in a parallel dimension, and you make friends with a hulking alien who saves your bacon more than once. At the end a boss beats the everloving shit out of you and your buddy rolls up and tackles him, and you crawl agonizingly over to a door control or something while he's got the boss in a headlock. Then he picks you up and carries you into the sunset on a pterodactyl. That game was awesome.

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Its hard to make a playable character secondary without literally taking choices away from them. Even if your character is a second-class citizen of the game world, just by virtue of the player experiencing the goings on through that player, they become primary. The only way I can see to combat this is to take control over the direction of the game away from the player, and to focus heavily on the exploits of whoever does have control over the direction. Now you face the problem of making that person not be bossy and unlikable (or perhaps that's their character.)


Another tact that might work is to make the player-character's role less pro-active and making it more reactionary instead. Then, instead of doing what they want to, they have to do what they're told, or what's necessary, to progress. Some of the RPG classics touch on this theme (though they typically trend toward the player taking control of their fate -- the typical Hero's Journey) where, rather than being foretold in legend, the player's troupe becomes caught up in events that are beyond their control, and are always one step behind the villian right up until the end.

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In general I support the idea, especially in the fantasy genre. It's not that there's anything wrong with epicness, but I'd like some variety. In many cases the game is really about leveling up and "making a career" so why not make the game explicitly about that?

But there has to be some way to influence I think. I used to play a WW2 flight sim where your performance had exactly 0 influence on the campaign. If you played as German you could slaughter every single bomber raid but you would still get pushed back. Sure it might be realistic that a single ace cannot win a war, but that is one kind of realism I can happily go without. And I tend to like realism for it's own sake.

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Simply by being the player, you play the *main* character of the story you're in. You cannot pretend to play a "secondary" role, as this is a matter of perspective, and only yours as a player is taken into account ^^.

I guess a naughty storyteller *could* have you follow another character too, using some narrative tricks (voice over maybe ? I'm not the storyteller kind...) but imho this doesn't change the fact that you, as a player, follow your character.

Whether or not to play the role of a leader is a different question. But many games already put you in the shoes of secondary ranking characters.

In fact, except Civilization maybe, every game put you in the shoes of secondary ranking characters ^^.

Well that's how I see it, anyway ;)

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I don't think you have to make the main story focused on the character. However, the character would have to be able to make some sort of impact. Either in his own story or the main story.

If you were to play a game of... say, CounterStrike, but whether you died in the assault or not, the Hostage is rescued or killed would make people feel insignificant. Not doing anything to the story would just be boring.

Just imagine Lord of the Rings, the movie. Remember the final scene where the humans/elves/drawves are basically surrounded 1000 to 1 by orcs? Well, imagine a game where you play Frodo or Sam, where regardless of if you destroyed the Ring or not, Everyone in the battle still ends up dead and you're left stranded at Mount Doom. Not exactly something you want to play. You don't actually do anything, sure you sneaked through a couple of Orcs and such but it was all for nothing. Likewise, even if you failed to destroyed the Ring, but they won the war... Well then, what was the point of you going to destroy the Ring? If they could've won, you didn't have to do it because they won anyway. With the orcs out of the way, anyone could just walk up and destroy it if they got enough Will to do so. ...... Might as well Catapult the ring into Mordor.

Now, if you got something like Heavy Rain, you don't have to find the Origami Killer yourself, but you have to atleast done something to help. Otherwise your character is useless, insignificant... basically a character in an MMO where any quest can be repeated without any consequence. Basically a "Yay, I beat the ultimate evil" and then turning around to see someone else that did that yesterday. Or a "I need herbs to heal my daughter" quest being done 1,000,000,000,000 times and yet she is never actually cured.

I hope I wrote that in a understandable manner .... hmm.

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What I would like to see is an Inspector Gadget style of play
Where you have the "hero" and you are the support...that basically is the real hero but without the glory as the "hero" is bloody useless with all the glory

As for player focus the game will always have a focus on the player no matter how epic or not he effects the world

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The player will always be playing the main character in game because that is from their perspective the story is being told form. They maybe only a small part of a much grander story but that is taking place in the back ground though. So it might be that there is an epic clash between good and evil, light and dark being waged across the land and player is caught up in the events like everyone else in the world. They might just be trying to protect their little village and small corner of existence while the gods wage an apocalyptic battle destroying all in their bath.

So while the Hero’s of epic being waged my of just slain Agamon the defiler of worlds up in the northern mountains it’s the player who left with consequences. The body of the demon has poisoned the local lake contaminating the water supply and killing all the fish. Now the player has to find a way to either purify the lake or find an alternative water source for the village.

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Player != character, for one thing.

Should the game's world always focus on the player? Absolutely. (In fact the entire game should.)

Should the game's world always focus on the player character? No, because in some game the player doesn't even have a character, and in ones that do that character can be anybody.

It's just that most people play games to get away from their daily lives, so you won't have much luck making a game about playing as a garbage collector or whatever. :p

One thing that's fairly popular is to let the player character start at 'the bottom' and work his way up, gaining a sense of achievement along the way. I can't recall any games that do the opposite.

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It's an interesting concept if the AI ends up being strong but if the player doesn't feel like he's having an impact then it can feel less satifying, a key component when it comes to why people play games.

FFXII had you play as a secondary character without much impact which really did hurt the game. worth looking into.

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Original post by Beyond_Repair
Player != character, for one thing.

Should the game's world always focus on the player? Absolutely. (In fact the entire game should.)

Should the game's world always focus on the player character? No, because in some game the player doesn't even have a character, and in ones that do that character can be anybody.

It's just that most people play games to get away from their daily lives, so you won't have much luck making a game about playing as a garbage collector or whatever. :p

One thing that's fairly popular is to let the player character start at 'the bottom' and work his way up, gaining a sense of achievement along the way. I can't recall any games that do the opposite.


This helps explain it further, as I didn't quite choose the right wording for my question.

The game is still focused on the player, but not the character. That helps sum it up a bit.

Another idea I was thinking of, is the case of the Knight/Hero scenario, you're doing the important work behind the scenes, while the world is oblivious to your real contributions.

Example:

A village has been overrun by Goblins and has become deserted. The Hero sets out to battle the Goblins and re-take the village. He succeeds, but ignores the fact that some of theme scaped, and due to your rank, you've been tasked with cleanup while he heads back home to various accolades.

During your cleaning, some of the escaped goblins return with reinforcements. You manage to defeat them (The means may vary), and in effect, save the returning villagers from a potential ambush due to the Hero's Oversight.

A bit improbable, I suppose but I think it explains it.

Also, I'm not sure if any of you watched Justice League Unlimited, but there was an episode where one of the heroes was forced to do backup duty instead of fighting on the front lines while a villain attacked the city. Because of this, he came across a potential threat to the entire universe, and averted the disaster, while the rest of the heroes and civilians were oblivious.

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^That's the thing... In that episode, the golden guy, I forget his name, took lead. Making him the main character for that little side story.

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