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Norman Barrows

forcing negative plot twists on the player

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forcing negative plot twists on the player

 

i've started thinking about storyline quests for Caveman 3.0 (a stone age FPSRPG), and have come up with a storyline quest. but a couple of the plot points in the quest would require a negative outcome - IE death of a long term follower, and temporary loss of required quest item.

 

in both cases, you could setup the situation, even to pretty much guarantee a negative outcome - such as just keep spawning badguys who attack the follower.  but the player can reload a save, replay, and eventually discover the game is "rigged" - IE they can't play on without losing the follower, or losing the item, or whatever the negative outcome is.

 

now in each case its possible to handle both outcomes. you try to kill the follower, and it it doesn't work - so much for that chapter of the adventure. if it does, the player may be missing them later at the end when its time for the big battle. or you try to subdue the player and take all their stuff. if it works, you trigger an optional "get quest item back" quest, which must be completed to continue the main quest. if it doesn't work - it was just another close call, and the story continues on to the next plot point.

 

what if you want the player to experience the negative branch of the story line? IE that's the way you want the story to go?

 

does there have to be an implicit agreement between story-player and story creator that when necessary to guide the story in particular direction, the creator can deny choice? is denying choice even a proper thing for interactive games where the audience can have agency?

 

seems to me stories in games should be branching storyline and not deny choice - i know - more work.  and what if they don't choose the branch you really want them too, IE follow the story you want to tell, rather than the story they want to play?  

 

should games empower the player to play the story out as they see fit instead of forcing them to experience the story the creator wishes to tell? and leave stories for captive audiences to books, film, etc? meaning the writer's challenge becomes to make all branches interesting - not just their preferred path thru the branching tree of the storyline (IE the non-branching story they want to tell).

 

the average player would probably reload (at least the first time) rather than suffer the consequences of a bad outcome from a plot point encounter. even with a branching storyline that lets them play either outcome.

 

also, has anyone come up with a way to code branching storylines that don't "grow like trees!" - IE get complicated branching directed graph structures pretty quickly?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FYI: the plot i came up with for the first epic storyline quest in Caveman (inspired by the golden fleece):

 

plot point #1 - the reveal

elder band member (questor) tells player his/her family used to run the band. player's grandparent was band leader, carried "The Spear of their Ancestors" and was killed in the "The Valley of the Tigers". The spear has laid by their rotting bones ever since. Another family took over band after death of grandparent. Their child (a future badguy in the making) will be the next leader. if player gets "The Spear of Their Ancestors" (the goal) from "The Valley of the Tigers" (sabertooths -the main challenge), they can claim "band leadership" (the prize). 

 

plot point #2 - the sidekick (optional)

questor suggests sidekick (lifelong friend and fellow band member) accompany player, or side kick overhears quest and ask to join. play has option to take on sidekick as NPC follower.

 

plot point #3 - the grandparent's friend (optional)

questor also tells player about friend of grandparent who lives near the valley, says they may be able to help. the friend knows a secret entrance to the valley and will guide the player - for the price of completing one side quest for them first, of course (side quest yet to be determined). 

 

plot point #4 - the friend's grandchild (optional)

the friend near the valley has a grandchild. if the player completes the friend's quest the grandchild volunteers to accompany them into the "Valley of the Tigers" - adds another party member if the player accepts their help.

 

plot point #5 - getting the spear

so the player goes into the valley the front way, and deals with a bunch of tigers, or sneaks in the back way, and just has to deal with a few. they grab the spear, and leave. how and when they do all this is all up to them. if they go the back way, the grandparent's friend will be there, but is too old to fight well.   that can get the sidekick, and the friend's grandchild, they can encounter and befriend other companions, or even hire a bunch or warriors. who all they bring to the show is pretty much up to them.the spear itself is an obsidian flint tipped spear of approximately 200% to 250% quality level - making it the best weapon in the game to date.  maxing everything, the best i can craft is about 150% quality on anything.  so its truly useful, not just a token item to be carried around. and of course, at this point the player can just keep the spear and abandon the quest if they wish. all quests are optional and can be abandoned at any time for any reason. the idea being to make them infrequent enough and worthwhile enough that the player opts in and doesn't abandon them. as in this is a real opportunity, the kind that doesn't come along every day - like 10gp for 10 hides does.

 

plot point #6 - death of the sidekick (optional)

if the player has the sidekcik as follower, they die in the valley. this is the plot point that first raised my question about forcing plot points with no choice or control given to the player.

 

plot point #7 - loss of the spear

while returning home from the valley, player and company are waylaid by bushwhackers who capture them, knock them out, and talk all their stuff, including the spear (another forced negative plot point with no player choice). player/party must re-equip themselves from scratch, and then get the spear back. 

 

plot point #8 - the spear is recovered

player gets spear from badguys - however they want (i don't have pickpocketing in the game yet though).

 

plot point #9 - the player returns home.

band has been taken over by child of the other family who is now badguy. player must defeat rival and claim leadership

 

plot point #10  - the player wins

the player/party defeats the badguy. other mooks flee or surrender. player takes over the band, as band members, followers, allies, or friends.

 

plot point #11 - happily ever after?

at this point the player will now have a small band to run, it will be up to them whether that band lives happily ever after. and so the story of the player's new band begins...

Edited by Norman Barrows

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Forcibly stealing a key item from the player so the player has to work to get it back is fine, players are used to that and will play along.  I'd personally go with it being stolen by a monkey or being stolen while the player is sleeping, to make it clear that the theft is irrelevant to the player's combat ability.  But killing a sidekick isn't cool, especially in a simulation-based game where the player is supposed to have control over their own combat effectiveness.

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Why push for the death of a significant character? What is the player supposed to get out of it?

I think you'd have prime the player's mind into thinking that something negative isn't going to impede or ruin the game. You might be able to get players to accept with just some kind of foreshadowing. Somebody has a vision or a dream or something that the a death or the specific death will occur. You'll still get the players that are determined to reload the game after the death occurs maybe because either they don't want the character gone or possibly they just to see if they can do anything at all to save him.

I can't think of many examples where I've accepted a negative element thrown at me from a game without having some idea that there isn't really an option (check that list of RPG cliches).

In Dwarf Fortress, the idea of accepting death and disaster are a "fun" part of the game is communicated to players... somewhere. Maybe you have to read it in the forums or something. Once you understand that having to rebuild isn't a big deal, it's just part of the game.

In X-Com (90's version), I think I'd usually reload the game anytime I lost a squad member unless on some occasion I managed to find something pretty cool. It was a little easier since squad members were pretty easy to replace. But usually I didn't want to loose the character's experience that I had invested all my time and effort in.
 

Edited by kseh

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>> Forcibly stealing a key item from the player so the player has to work to get it back is fine, players are used to that and will play along.  I'd personally go with it being stolen by a monkey or being stolen while the player is sleeping, to make it clear that the theft is irrelevant to the player's combat ability. 

 

so contrived plot points are considered acceptable in some circumstances then.

 

>> But killing a sidekick isn't cool, especially in a simulation-based game where the player is supposed to have control over their own combat effectiveness.

 

too contrived, eh?

 

maybe that's a good test for the limits of the implicit "compact" between author and player as to how much control the player is willing to surrender. "take an item? as long as i can get it back - ok. kill my squaddie?  wait a minute! now just hold on there!".

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>> Why push for the death of a significant character? What is the player supposed to get out of it?

 

absolutely nothing. but its a classic plot twist that would be quite likely in a non-interactive story. a perfect example of considering story only without considering the fact that its a game, not a book, film, or play (IE not passive storytelling). 

 

so it would seem that what is perfectly acceptable in a book may not be in a game.  hmm...   interesting.

 

the fact that the player can have agency makes it unacceptable to restrict that agency too much.   players rebel against the story due to lack of control. quite the conundrum. you can tell stories, but only certain stories? can't take away too much control? anything bad in the story would have to be forced?

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Just a thought : that instead of specific vignettes of these plot twist 'negatives' that you systematically have 'shit happens' situations across the whole game where the 'dangerous world' is a constant factor.

 

Things you HAVE to run away from (or die)

Things that are hazardous which if you dont respect them, will kill you.

Unfortunate circumstances that happen randomly despite vigilance

 

Probably being a game where killing the player off alot is not condusive to fun, then partial disasters which the player then can compensate for (and learn to do this)  and react-to to make right (or make the best of) all the unfortunate perils of living.

 

Thus the player also has to be offered a sufficient plutrality of options and ways to react and compensate for specific 'negatives'.

 

Perhaps it depends how much your game is "sandboxy" or a closer controlled story arc.

 

 

--

 

Edit  - anything that deals with human interactions adds immense complexity of proper reactions to interactions (and of indirect actions) if its to be a plausible simulation of that kind of thing.    Human behavior goes beyond Fight or Flight simplicity.

Edited by wodinoneeye

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>> instead of specific vignettes of these plot twist 'negatives' that you systematically have 'shit happens' situations across the whole game where the 'dangerous world' is a constant factor.

 

already have the dangerous world. all this takes place while also having to survive in that dangerous world.  the negative plot twists are above and beyond the usual random dangers.

 

but since its not a hard coded spawn point world, there's no guarantee they will encounter dangers, unless you throw them a quest specific curve ball. but the travel distances involved alone (game weeks, maybe months) will almost guarantee action.

Edited by Norman Barrows

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