Alexander Amnell

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   Okay so this is something I've been thinking about for a while. My game that I'm working on is an adaptation of a story I wrote some time ago and have expanded since. Part of the transfer of that game involves a system where the main character (who at the start of the game is a young child) is influenced by the opinions of her friends and allies. This is done by having 2 core ideologies each with three connected ones that each reflect different views on life held by different types of people, and leaving it up to the player to decide which viewpoint the mc will gravitate toward over time. The 6 branch ideologies only affect the choices that can be made during certain missions and a few sidequests; the other two however at their core determine what the main motives are behind the protagonist's actions throughout about 2/3 of the game.

   The main idea is that either she will keep on a path for revenge tracking down the person that killed her mother with no regard for the aftermath of such an action or she will be influenced in a more positive way by the people she meets along the way and choose her actions with more consideration for them. Along one path she gets her revenge; but cripples a military and destroys a government to do so, setting up her allies (revolutionaries of said country) for invasion on both sides and walks away from the situation because by the time she gets her revenge the damage can't really be undone.

   Obviously if she instead is influenced by the ideals of those she is working with along the way and comes to care about their wellbeing more than revenge then her actions will be less rash, and while the country will be weakened by the overthrowing of it's current corrupt ruler it is done in a way that allows them to fight of the initial invasion on one front which prevents the invasion on the other side of the country from even happening, and the story goes into it's true final ark.
   My question is this. How much weight should player decisions be allowed to have in a video game? People talk all the time about how disappointed they are with the 'illusion of choice' in games where you end up either being a paragon of goodness who saves the world or else a raping, pillaging bastard who also happens to save the world in a similar manner for some reason. But what if the choices are more arbitrary, to the point that the game itself could actually end prematurely or take a shortened path based on what the player decides is most important? If you decide that you think the player should pursue a certain goal to the exclusion of others, would it make you as a player angry to lose the ability to continue onwards with those other goals after the first one was completed or would you enjoy the fact that your choices actually have real consequences and that by deciding what is actually important to your protagonist you also choose what isn't and have to live with that choice by possibly missing the content involved with it.

   How would you handle such a thing, how many buffers and warnings would a player need and how obvious. Should there just be one big point of no return or would you prefer for the combination of all of your choices decides for you what path you will eventually follow. People say all the time that they want real choices, but if those choices come at the cost of real content per play-through beyond just doing a mission or two a little differently how many of you would still honestly want them? The more I think about it that's really the only way to have 'real choices' in a game.
 
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HumanNinjaToo

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Kind of makes me think of chrono trigger in so much that on new game+ you can beat the game at 8 different points if you choose. It's a great feature as long as the player has the option to save before the end game decision so they don't have to start again from scratch if they don't want to.
 

ロリ先輩

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I think that it's important to put weight on player choices, especially if they're given those choices to begin with. If you're not going to add weight to them, then just make them trivial choices like what the player is going to eat or what color they're going to wear.

However, I think it's also important to understand that it's very difficult to make a game/story where player choices are actually important. It's not possible to know what the player is thinking, and what they mean to happen when they make a choice. If you try to account for those key factors, you end up with an almost infinitely branching game. A player that chooses to save a village might not be doing it with good intentions- they might be greedy and after rewards and fame, despite appearing to be paragon of justice, or they might intend to slowly betray the villagers, one by one, in a game of doubt, resulting in the slaughter of all villagers in a sick twisted game. What you want to limit in a game isn't 'choice' but 'freedom'. 

Your choices should not decide what path you will follow- especially in a video game. Most current games use point systems to handle good and evil, but those systems fail to actually represent the 'real' choices that players can make. I might be a foul bandit, raiding villages and slaughtering caravans, but I might be a pretty awesome family man, looking out for my family and friends, and helping those around me... At the same time, I just really like to burn houses. There's no real way to account for that without making a massive branching tree of options that becomes unmanageable.
 

whitesphere

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I was thinking of Chrono Trigger as well.   However, even Chrono Trigger's multiple endings don't change the plot, really.  They just mean on a New Game Plus, the player can choose to face the Big Bad at different points.

Now, you can indeed make a game with multiple branching storylines.  But, if you remember the old Choose Your Own Adventure book series, this ALWAYS comes at the expense of content.

Now, making a really good plot for an RPG is already difficult.  With a computer-based RPG, you're making sure all of the in-game assets (NPCs, maps, dialogue, quests, etc) tell the story in bite sized chunks that progress towards the ending.

If you add significant branches, you can do that, but the amount of story you need to write rises very rapidly.  If you have, say, 10 independent player branches, you now need to write 10 independent stories which have varying degrees of overlap.

Now, from an RPG standpoint, as you add more significant player choices which branch the plot, any event which is impacted by these choices becomes far more complex.  Say you have a branch where the player can choose to kill the Evil King, which causes  a slave revolt, which causes the Guards to declare martial law, etc.   But, if the player chooses to work with the Evil King, he becomes more corrupt, and is drawn into political intrigue.

So a lot of significant NPC events, which might already have been complex, now get far more complex.

It can be done, and I think it is a nice feature, but it is much harder to write and debug such a game.  So I try to stick to a game with a single plot.  Once I'm comfortable making complete single-plot RPGs, then I'll try my hand at more intricate multiple branched plots.

So, while I think player choice is important, I think it's better to make a really good single plot RPG than a poor multi-plot RPG.  If it's easy to make a bad single plot RPG (and it IS), it's 100 times easier to make a bad multi-plot RPG.  As a player, I wouldn't like a game that had, say, 5 plot branches, but in return, cut dramatically down on the content or length of the story.
 

Alexander Amnell

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@ロリ先輩 & Whitesphere: Part of the problem I'm facing is that my protagonist in game is not just an avatar of the player's choosing, rather a young, sheltered child who has lost everything that they personally valued early on within the game. The game starts with this child trying to survive and the 'choices' offered are dependent upon which ideology she follows. They take a different path than the good/evil branch and are pretty much broken into 8 fields with two core ideals each with three branch ideals.(Justice, Rationalism and Philanthropy stemming from Honor and Idealism, Vengeance and Narcissism stemming from Nihilism) In this way the game kind of telegraphs the kinds of consequences/altered paths the story would take based upon their choices. In choosing certain ideals above others the player tells the game what is more important to them, most of this is done by interacting with companions and choosing whether to accept or reject their assertions. Then when the player gets to make a choice the choices available depend upon which ideals the player chose to be most influenced by in the available conversations. This leads to a point within the game where a more revenge-drawn player with a more nihilistic view wouldn't have any need to proceed further; which is the main problem I'm facing. I could write in a short branching story that explains where she goes off to after finishing her own personal goal, but the fact is that those decisions leave in their wake destruction, destruction that a personally motivated person would have no vested interest in stopping or trying to deal with after the fact. I don't want a game with a dozen divergent plots, just one where your choices leading up to a key confrontation matter. The simple truth is that the results of those choices result in either moving forward after that confrontation ends or choosing that as your own personal ending, which has me concerned that players that choose to act selfishly will feel cheated somehow, whether they clearly stated that they didn't care about the consequences of their actions three dozen times prior to those consequences or not.
 
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Matseb2611

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I like the idea of choices in games, and I agree that it is difficult to pull off well. On the one hand we have games that give you a bunch of redundant choices, all of which lead to the same outcome regardless, making those choices pointless. On the other hand we have the idea of choices completely changing the content and making the player miss out big parts of the game.

The problem with the former is that illusion of choice will eventually be noticed by the players, when they realise that their actions count for nothing, when the game's world is not influenced and changed by their decisions at all. The players will no longer feel in control.

The latter probably has even more problems. First of all we have the game devs who will have to spend much more time and resources creating content for each individual story branch, many of which will be witnessed only by a small fraction of all the players. Secondly we have the players, who want to witness as much of the game as possible. Many might not have the time to replay the game a dozen of times. There are some players out there who like to witness everything the game has to offer in a single playthrough. Another problem with this is that some players might unintentionally make a choice that suddenly cuts half the game's content off and ends the game prematurely for them. What if they no longer have the save file that allows them to go back and change their choice?

That's why I think the middle ground between the two is the best. Give the player control. Make their decisions influence and change the game's world around them, as well as the way the NPCs see them. But don't give them too much choice as to the point of changing the game completely. Most importantly, making the player aware of the importance of choice and potential consequences is a good practice. I can't stand games that make you do a choice only to punish you for it later, where the outcome has virtually no logical connection to the choice and is not something the player could've foreseen.

From time to time giving the player a no win choice can greatly add to the drama and tension of the game and this sticks with the players, so long as these instances are well placed and fit the story. Mass Effect 1 is a good example of this where you are in a situation where you can only save 1 of the 2 party members. You have a choice of which to save, but you cannot save them both.

Another good one was in Deus Ex: Human Revolution: The Missing Link. (spoilers below)

In The Missing Link you are faced with a difficult choice where poison gas is being pumped into the facility. You can only shut it off to one section whilst flooding the other. In one section you have your witness whom you need alive to bring down this evil corporation that does experiments on people. In the other section you have a bunch of innocent hostages. Whom are you going to save? I loved this choice, and it made me want to replay this part both times to see what the outcome of each choice was. This was however ruined when I later found out there is something you can do to save them both. This instantly single-handendly broke the tension and destroyed any sense of climax to this dilemma, simply because there was an easy win-win choice provided.
 

whitesphere

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@ロリ先輩 & Whitesphere: Part of the problem I'm facing is that my protagonist in game is not just an avatar of the player's choosing, rather a young, sheltered child who has lost everything that they personally valued early on within the game. The game starts with this child trying to survive and the 'choices' offered are dependent upon which ideology she follows. They take a different path than the good/evil branch and are pretty much broken into 8 fields with two core ideals each with three branch ideals.(Justice, Rationalism and Philanthropy stemming from Honor and Idealism, Vengeance and Narcissism stemming from Nihilism) In this way the game kind of telegraphs the kinds of consequences/altered paths the story would take based upon their choices. In choosing certain ideals above others the player tells the game what is more important to them, most of this is done by interacting with companions and choosing whether to accept or reject their assertions. Then when the player gets to make a choice the choices available depend upon which ideals the player chose to be most influenced by in the available conversations. This leads to a point within the game where a more revenge-drawn player with a more nihilistic view wouldn't have any need to proceed further; which is the main problem I'm facing. I could write in a short branching story that explains where she goes off to after finishing her own personal goal, but the fact is that those decisions leave in their wake destruction, destruction that a personally motivated person would have no vested interest in stopping or trying to deal with after the fact. I don't want a game with a dozen divergent plots, just one where your choices leading up to a key confrontation matter. The simple truth is that the results of those choices result in either moving forward after that confrontation ends or choosing that as your own personal ending, which has me concerned that players that choose to act selfishly will feel cheated somehow, whether they clearly stated that they didn't care about the consequences of their actions three dozen times prior to those consequences or not.
If you're trying to show how revenge is useless, you can do that by having the choice of "go for revenge" end the game with scrolling text.  That way you're not coding the entire game world in a multi-faceted way. 

If the in-game choices just make small game world changes, it's much more doable than if the choices cause the entire game world to change.  It's more realistic as well.  We often vastly overestimate our impact on the world.

And, if a selfish player feels cheated, well that IS kind of the core moral you're trying to convey, so that is fair and reasonable.  The player may not like it, but a game which hinges on personal choices often does implicitly or explicitly convey a moral.
 

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