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Driving the story forward in a free-roaming world

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Hello, I'm thinking of ways to drive a story forward in a free-roaming world. I want the player to feel like he can freely explore the world but I also want to impose some kind of pressure/limit so the player doesn't get completely sidetracked and the pacing of the story gets killed. Another reason is to prevent the player from getting over-powered and ruining the progression-curve. 

 

Examples on how games drive the story forward:

 

The Elder Scrolls - It's entirely up to the player to progress the game by doing the "story quests". Personally I got so sidetracked by side-quests (the infamous draugr quests) that I got bored before moving on to the main story quests.

 

Mass Effect  - Similar to The Elder Scrolls, however each story-quests opens up the amount of side-quests available. The side-quests also tend to tie into the main story and has an impact on how the story progresses.

 

Persona 4 - This game has an interesting way of driving the story forward. You have a limit of the amount of things you can do each day and if you haven't done the story-missions before a certain date, you lose the game. You can plan ahead and be selective about what side-quests to do, before moving on to the story-mission. 

 

What kind do you prefer? Any games you think does this well? Any other ideas on how to drive the story forward in a open world-type game?

 

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Rockstar uses telephones in their games to remind you that there is a track that they ultimately want you to follow, but it always remains optional.

Prophetic dreams when a character or party stays at an Inn can get the game back on track.

Unavoidable timelined events can section off parts of the game world forcing the character to move to other areas and interact with the content there.

 

The problem with forcing the player to conform to your pacing is that you are taking control away from the player.  If you can pull it off in a way that doesn't break immersion, then good.  Otherwise, the FAQ writer will call you out (you will then see an unavoidable cutscene where you are kidnapped and taken to a sewer hideout).  I councel against anything that gives the events a contrived feeling.

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Rockstar uses telephones in their games to remind you that there is a track that they ultimately want you to follow, but it always remains optional.

Prophetic dreams when a character or party stays at an Inn can get the game back on track.

Unavoidable timelined events can section off parts of the game world forcing the character to move to other areas and interact with the content there.

 

The problem with forcing the player to conform to your pacing is that you are taking control away from the player.  If you can pull it off in a way that doesn't break immersion, then good.  Otherwise, the FAQ writer will call you out (you will then see an unavoidable cutscene where you are kidnapped and taken to a sewer hideout).  I councel against anything that gives the events a contrived feeling.

 

Timelined events that section off parts of the game world seems like a nice way to organically funnel the player in a certain direction. Makes me think of FTL where you explore sectors but are pressured to move on to get away from the pursuing rebel fleet. 

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The problem with forcing the player to conform to your pacing is that you are taking control away from the player.  If you can pull it off in a way that doesn't break immersion, then good.  Otherwise, the FAQ writer will call you out (you will then see an unavoidable cutscene where you are kidnapped and taken to a sewer hideout).  I councel against anything that gives the events a contrived feeling.

 

I agree. It has to feels organic, non-contrived and not compromise the immersion and story-telling. I'm hesitant of using time-constraints because I don't want the player to feel pressured in a "ticking timebomb" race-against-time type way.. one of the charm of certain open-world games is being able to set your own pace - to groove in the story world if you will..

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Any other ideas on how to drive the story forward in a open world-type game?

 

You push the story on the player.  His character gets a phone call or a carrier pigeon or a Facetime, or someone comes and "finds" him to give him a message about what's going on in the story while he's fiddling around -- basically, pull him back into the story by letting him know that he needs to get back to it.

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You should try prompting the player to get back to the story whenever they load back into the game. I don't mean instantly throwing the player into a mission or quest because that would suck. However, you can give the player a recap of their previous exploits in the game as a skippable cut-scene. Similar to how TV shows get you back into the show after a mid-season break.

 

Managing what's available to the player can help. For example, Rockstar & Bioware games tend to bottleneck when you complete missions that aren't related to the story. You need to complete a story mission to unlock more missions which are not relevant to the story.

 

Also, consider how you represent to the player what's story related and what's extracurricular. A simple icon message to say something along the lines of Story Quest / Mini Quest can help the player a lot.

Edited by herbertsworld

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If the player visits a certain area more often you could consider having your main story characters move there as well.   Essentially designed so the player will notice something unusual about the area(for a story line example you could always think of something like "howl's moving castle").   Or if you really want to get the player to do something the classic RPG "BURN IT DOWN"(the whole town).

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If a player is getting completely side-tracked by side-quests, it suggests that he is at least exploring and talking to people and generally wanting to do things in the game. So the seemingly obvious answer would be to just provide more things to do that are relevant to the main story line.

If you were paying like $50 for a good steak dinner somewhere, you wouldn't want your side dish to distract you entirely from what you're really there for. The side should accentuate the main and provide occasional relief when needed. It's not about the side being optional, it's about the two things working together.

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Maybe if the rewards from the main quest would make the side quests sufficiently easier so if the player finds a hard side quest, and fails at it, he will remember something about extra stuff (Armour, bonuses, weapons, money, or the story chance could change terrain or monsters) being promised if he completes another part of the main storyline. Then there should be ways everywhere that help the player to remember what he is trying to do. (because I know I would forget instantly) After that he may resume to doing the side-quests, but in some time, they will again become to hard without more bonuses that come from the main quest.

I am no expert, so excuse me if I said something stupid.

Edited by mousetail

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Controversial - obviously the need for this could vary by the type of game, but some people can't stand being forced or prodded to do anything.  Skyrim has basically two "main" quests, neither of which NEED to be completed for the game to be worth your money and time.  

 

Catering to different play styles like this is basically catering to different markets.  I'd never even consider a game with a fixed storyline - wouldn't touch it.  But I'm sure there are others who won't touch the sandbox games!  dry.png  Most people, if I had to guess, are somewhere in the middle (i.e. Skyrim style) - I'd opt for that style.  

 

Yeah you can get bored before doing the main quests (you know they exist - why not at least run through those before quitting?), but really, so what?  Do you feel ripped off as a result?  Perhaps you're trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist.

Edited by Tebriel

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