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How to bring TV-quality drama into your strategy game ?

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Specifically into a game without a designated main character. And, how to integrate it into the game so it wouldnt be too obtuse so players just skip every bit of it.

Some games, like Jagged Alliance, have PC characters with involved personalities, but there is almost no drama. As soon as something vaguely dramatic starts happening - some character gets offended and leaves, leaving you with no ability for further interaction.

Dwarf Fortress has plenty of drama, but it completely depends on the imagination quality of the player.


What i'm interested in, is how to bring drama into a game with randomised characters and make it convincing enough if at all possible. Usual things, like, a character having sworn enemies and getting into all kinds of oral duels with them before engaging in battle, things like a character showing remorse for carrying out an operation in a small town and nearly leveling it while fighting, things like having a traitor in your squad that slowly comes over to your side, showing the higher ups of the other side ordering POW executions, avenging the death of a comrade that covered you from a bullet just a moment ago. That sort of thing.


Do you think this is at all possible to do in a "non-linear" game without having specific characters with fixed personalities ?

Edited by Karnot

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One key thing might be to have the drama unfold right before game effecting decisions.  For instance, a spy reports certain types of weapons will be used, and you also have an opportunity to open trade with a foreign kingdom that would be quite valueable.  As the drama unfolds, it is invariably tied to the decision of which route to focus on.  The story line would also give information as to the possible outcome and value of each decision, but of course tied in through dialog.  This gives tactical reasons to pay attention to the story.


With randomized characters that will be tougher.  I designed out a large scale editor "Mad-Libs" type plot generator, that would tie together several randomly chosen plots, and weave them into others.  It turned out to be a lot of work to try and get our version of that idea to become effective.  Its possible though.


Here is the basic idea of how it worked.  


1) generate a lot of small key plot ideas, that requires a certain set of characters / traits.  

 - I.e. a love interest, a boss/friend and a weapons dealer. 

2) If one doesn't exist in your character's circle, introduce them as a new character.

3) Each mini Mad-Lib has starting characters, and then ending condition characters.  

 - The idea being that a character who starts as a love interest may become an arch enemy.  or a boss may become friend.

4) It picks two plots at a time, so long as any starting or ending characters match up between plots. 

 - If two plots have a family member to start, but one ends as an enemy and the other ends in the original state, then don't tie those two plots together.

 - if they have different characters that don't overlap at the beginning, and they don't have matching characters at the end either, then they can be tied together.

 - if they have one matching character, so long as that one starts and ends in the same condition, the two plots can be tied together.

5) Next, when those two plots finish up, it selects two new plots, and tries to get ones that start with character needs that match the ending state of the characters from the previous plots.  - This will keep a rich ongoing story, with new characters from time to time, and role switches, that seems to take new shapes all the time as the game progresses.


6) But that alone doesn't work, because the story is separate from the technologies at hand


But it needs to be coupled with a secondary plot system to really work with keeping the game moving.

A) look at the characters used in your current plot lines.  (maybe 3-5 characters)

 - Types would be: Boss, Friend, Family, Love Interest, Bully, Nemesis, Political figure, Parent, etc...

B) also look at the technologies and features in the players current state of the game.

 - They are very early, have weak technologies. enemy might be in a single character with no following, but flies a ship, or runs a small squad.

 - Perhaps you are farther in the game, and you run two planets, and have several space armies.  Your enemy might now be the general of a large space pirate batallion, that seems to be targeting your planets trade routes.

C) Now, you combine those to give each character a little tie in to the game.  

 - Enemy gets tied to a battle.

 - friend gives you an old beater space ship to get around since you just lost your ship.

 - Love interest is having a hard time with pirates, so you want to help out.

 - Boss presents tasks to get paid.

D) All the while, these characters are also continuing with their key plot, intermingling story with in-game actions.

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With a randomized character, this isn't storywriting. In my opinion, this deals with the technical aspect of game design and how it affects the plot, so it is not purely creative, and thusly not storywriting.  It's more like the 'postmodern paper generator'. 


As evidence, I post a related link.



So the question we're now asking all the writers (Yay, forum bouncing is fun)... how do you code a modular plot that can be fit to a generic character?

You'd need gender abstraction, personality abstraction, an 'interesting engine' designed to take fun snippets... you'd basically have to code something to write like I write. XD


From a writing standpoint, you could always try 'not involved'.  Where characters have their own interpersonal spats and it has an 'apparent' effect on the plot, but it has no functional impact.  Basically, you write in such a way that you introduce BIAS and let the players ASSUME the characters spats are having an affect on their abilities/performance/etc.


Second, you can pick key variables that can be influenced.


Third, you can do more.


Look at how RPG's are coded... they usually use key items.  Actually, a fake 'emotional inventory' can work rather well and use pre-existing systems.  I've seen it done once with key items, though it was never explicitly called as such... cutscenes functioned a lot like objects and the interaction of the event system and the inventory worked it out.   Generalizing the system is surprisingly difficult, but should allow for the inventory, plot, and character actions to function using a single data structure, though, again, I'm not sure this is optimal as it makes further downstream changes MUCH harder should the systems diverge. 


I actually have instructions on how to write what could be effectively an 'emotion simulator' (and if I look, I have source for some of it), but it's a lot of work and I'm not making an RPG.  Estimated delivery date: December, 2040.  Just tried integrating them conceptually, and there are some issues.)  Not going to bring them up here, but just know that it can be done.  <deleted> it's all tricky parts, top to bottom.  Look up Planner... maybe that can help (from shrdlu).

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Though, in general, as said... it's far easier to fake it with good writing.  (I say that, but I can't honestly think of any examples, so maybe it's not).

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a modular plot

Just to clear this up, i, personally, am not interested in a "plot generator" at this time. My goal is to create a...cut-scene event system, that flows from player's actions and serves to further motivate the player. It shouldnt affect the basic plot.

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