Hard Choices in an RPG setting?

Discussion in 'Game Mechanics Design' started by Damascus7, Aug 11, 2019.

  1. Damascus7

    Damascus7 Villager Member

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    One of the central themes I want to present in the RPG I'm working on is "hard choices," where you have to choose what direction to take the story in, or how you want to revolve certain quests. Something similar to Dragon Age or Mass Effect in terms of how dialogue plays out, but with more concrete consequences to your actions. I haven't really seen many games do this kind of thing, so I'm a little stuck on how I want to present these choices. Rather than good vs. evil, I want to present it as practical vs. empathetic. Much of it will naturally come off as good vs. evil, but I want to make it more of a grey area.

    The gist of it is that I want to focus on these two things:
    2) Choosing the practical route makes the game less difficult, HOWEVER...
    3) The player is not punished for taking the empathetic route.

    Balancing these is flummoxing me. I want to make it so both routes seem like equally valid options, but for different reasons. In so many games, like Dragon Age mentioned above, it's immediately obvious what the "right" option is; many games give you a moral choice that's like "pet the dog" vs "kick the dog for no reason b/c evilz".

    I'm hoping to achieve something where perhaps powergamers are more lured to the practical route (for tangible rewards), and roleplayers are lured to the empathetic route (for social/emotional rewards). I'll give you a few examples of what I mean.

    EXAMPLE 1: You come across a wounded old man that's been attacked by a werewolf. He asks you to stop the beast, but before he passes out, he begs you not to kill it. It's on its way to town to attack more people, so you fight it and have a choice to either subdue it, or kill it. You know beforehand that werewolves can give you a rare creature part, and you have good reason to kill it to stop it hurting anyone. However, if you subdue it, you find out it's the old man's son. Bringing it back to him, he will make sure the kid is more secured when he transforms, and he will now give you free resting and healing at his lodge.

    EXAMPLE 2: A wizard asks you to capture an elemental spirit for him to study. When you attempt to trap the elemental, it malfunctions and drives it into attacking. The wizard asks you to fix the trap so it is safely contained. If you do so, he will reward you with a magic item. Instead, you can free it. This earns the wizard's disapproval, but the elemental can return to fight alongside the player as a reward for giving it freedom.

    I'm worried about either making the rewards between the paths too even (so players will just go for the "right" option, knowing the result doesn't really matter), or making them too UNeven (so the game is telling them that being a dick is what gets you rewards).

    For all you RPG makers out there, do my examples sound like good ways to present these hard choices? If not, how would you go about this concept?
     
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  2. Kes

    Kes Global Moderators Global Mod

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    Please note that Game Mechanics Design is not for feedback on individual specific projects, though you can, of course, use a particular project as an example to start the discussion or illustrate a point.

    If you want feedback on your game, please Report this post and ask for it to be moved to Game Ideas and Prototypes. If it stays here, then not all replies will be relevant to you, in which case ignore it, don't try and get the conversation back to your game. That reply might be just right for another Member.
     
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  3. alice_gristle

    alice_gristle Veteran Veteran

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    I love this topic, I'm all for choice in videogames! :biggrin: Having said that, though, I think "hard" may be a bit hard to define... After all, a tough choice for me may not be at all tough for somebody else. In your examples, I'd naturally spare the werewolf - wouldn't even think twice. ('Cause I'm all for SAVING THE ANIMALS!) Also, I'd just as naturally fix the trap. Again, a no-brainer. (Since I reflexively follow orders... I know, it's a fault, sometimes, but I do that...) However, that would also depend on the kind of role I'm playing - a self-serving killer who hates wizards would choose differently, but again, the choices wouldn't be hard for them either.

    What I'm saying is, if we rely too much on the assumption that the choice will be relevant for the player, we might be disappointed. For some players, the choices might be meaningless, and we gotta live with that. Right now, I'm leaning more towards creating a choice in my game, and making it something that'd be interesting to me. That way, the odds will be a little better that it will be interesting to somebody else as well.

    All in all, though, the examples you provided seem interesting enough, so I'd say you're on the right track! :biggrin:
     
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  4. kairi_key

    kairi_key Veteran Veteran

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    I like your second example more as it can really be a hard choice if presented well. But it will stray from practical vs empathetic since it can become the question of who you are more empathetic to; the wizard or the elemental.
    I think you should also try to find a situation with more moral ambiguity. Every choice can be a dick move to anyone. That will also be hard.



    There's also this way

    A mighty beast block your path from continuing on and the only way pass is to fight it head on. There is, however, a legendary mage in town who can help you, but you found out she's an old mage who is currently protecting the town with holy barrier. If she use the spell that will give you better chance against the beast, it will result in her death. You can either choose to have her do it because the world is at stake which she gladly comply, or just not do anything and fight the boss the hard way. The town's people will also praise you if you can avoid sacrificing the old lady but that's it, but if you chose to sacrifice the old lady, the town's people will not be that happy about you, and that's also it. The question will be, would you sacrifice a life for that, or would you rather just endure the hardship yourself.

    This situation will give you that sense that choosing a "practical" way will give you gameplay reward while the more "empathetic" way will give you a social/emotional reward. I know it's uneven and it's kinda obvious which one is the right one, but that's also what practical vs empathetic is. (To be fair, if we wanna go deep, it is more to raise the question of whether being empathetic a more practical solution or not.)
    One fun thing about this is to balance the battle in favor of the practical choice. Make it so that choosing the empathetic choice will be a challenge. The game is still beatable, but it's going to be hard.
     
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  5. alice_gristle

    alice_gristle Veteran Veteran

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    I think you're making a good point there... if something is practical, that's the option that should be the easiest. That'd be, y'know, just practical. :biggrin:

    One thing I hate about the kind of situation OP described: the game presents you with a binary choice, and THAT'S IT. I mean, no matter how interesting the choices are, I think that's kinda limiting. It's like, here I am, collecting coins and killing monsters, and BAM, the game tells me it's choosing time, and THESE TWO are what I can choose! I haaaate that. It's like, does the game think I can't think for myself? Even my choices have to be premade for me? Ugh!

    Now I know true choice is pretty much impossible in games, and this is really more about the illusion of choice than the breadth of it. When games present me a problem, and then present me with two (or three, or four) choices, the illusion shatters. All's left for me is to tick box A, B, or C.

    What I'd like games to do more, is to make me figure out that there are options in the first place. For example: the player is a sandestin, ordered by their master to procure a magic jewel from a closely guarded tower. Presto, the player accomplishes this, and the jewel is in their possession. The player brings the jewel to their master and is rewarded. End of quest. However... if the player snoops around before handing over the jewel, they'll meet a jeweller who, for a fee, creates a replica of the jewel. Now, the player can instead present their master with the false jewel, which will lead to consequences! They might even sell the real jewel for plenty of gold. Additionally, they might find a bottomless well, and out of sheer spite drop the jewel into it. This might lead to even more consequences!

    That's what I'd like to see more of in games. Choice, but not choice that's outright presented to me. Rather, choice that I have to discover for myself. Choice that is more than just A and B branches in dialogue.
     
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  6. xoferew

    xoferew Veteran Veteran

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    In Ex. 1 the completionist in me tells me to spare the werewolf. Killing monsters is the default and someone bothered to code in a choice so something unusual will likely happen if I take the bait and spare it. Unless this particular game sets up a different expectation, I would guess killing the werewolf is the default path in which nothing new or interesting would happen. Also, in Ex. 2 the completionist in me says there is more story to see in freeing the elemental that I went to all the trouble to trap.

    Not a criticism, just a comment. I know not every player goes for the "reward" of seeing every possible scrap of story.
     
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  7. Damascus7

    Damascus7 Villager Member

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    This is what I really want to go for, though a part of me still worries about crossing the line into making the player feel punished for making the "good" choice. Though I think emotional rewards still go a long way, like how playing the Pacifist route in Undertale is very difficult with next to no material rewards, but still makes the player feel good.

    @alice_gristle that is a very good point. I want my choices to be organic rather than just a drop down list, as well as having more than just two choices. Something like, with the elemental, you can either trap it, free it, or just outright kill it, but those options are given to you in the form of who and what you interact with, and what options you take in battle. For the most part though, I'm struggling to think of ways to present those choices in a natural way, since they ought to be somewhat aware that there is another option available that they don't just walk right pay. In your example, the player might have no reason to believe they can even interact with the well to throw the jewel in.
     
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  8. Restart

    Restart Veteran Veteran

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    The most time-consuming and most effective way is to put the quest into a finished area, call in a first-time blind playtester, and take notes on what they try to interact with after taking the quest. Then just add interactions to everything they tried doing, and repeat, until everything your playtesters think of gets covered.
     
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  9. xoferew

    xoferew Veteran Veteran

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    Is there just one person in the party? If not, they can discuss their options. Maybe there's one character who pushes for the practical, profitable course and another is all "Screw it, let's throw this stupid thing in the well." You could then have the lead character say "Let me think about it," keying the player in to this being one of the "hard choices" if you want.
     
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  10. TheoAllen

    TheoAllen Self-proclaimed jack of all trades Veteran

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    When I play RPG, I think of this. "Is this for roleplay? or is this for gameplay?"

    When I think of roleplay:
    • I completely throw away most of the game mechanic, even the choice consequences.
    • I hate it when the choices do not cover much about my character personality I want to develop. I.e, the choice should be consistent. If there are binary good and evil choices somewhere in the part of the game, make it everywhere in the part of the game.
    • I'm fine with "this is an evil choice" if I'm making my character behaves like an evil. Thus, I don't exactly dislike a pure evil choice.
    • I don't think the choice as myself, but instead, as the character. Thus morally ambiguous was never been my issue. I choose the path based on how I think my character is thinking rather than personal thought of "what is right".
    However, some games just outright punish you for roleplaying, thus I'm forced to think about gameplay and using META so I can steamroll everything. I usually hate this type of game. The choices aren't real, and I have to deal with seemingly hard to beat game difficulty because of roleplaying.

    When I think of gameplay:
    • I completely throw away most of the roleplay aspect. If I help this NPC, will I get a new power? yes, but turned out the NPC is an evil being that required me to do an evil thing to get the power. I don't care.
    • I saved a lot. There two choices. What if I choose this? what will happen? let see... then save the game, reloaded the game just before the choice, that is if the game allows me to save.
    • I favor min-maxing or focus on the playstyle I like.
    That said, I play any game usually for the gameplay reason at first, then if the game has enough replay value, I try to use roleplay route.

    To answer the question, I wrote The Chart of RPG Design in another day that I believe the more choices you have, the more you have to make the game "easier" because of those choices. Unfortunately, I have no experience to actually answer the question on how to make the best of both worlds. Although I believe the one who wants to use the practical route (and have an actual impact on choosing) and emotional one (little impact on choosing) is a different target audience.
     
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  11. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    Kind of a tough one. I think your goal is a little different than what my ideal aim would be (which would be to make truly "tough" choices where neither one feels entirely wholesome and the immediate rewards are less important than the prolonged storytelling hooks they set up). I'll try to keep your goals in mind here.

    The most important thing you want to do if your theme is "pragmatic vs. empathetic" is to keep the outcomes consistent and meaningful. Because a "meaningful" reward to a pragmatic player is different than a "meaningful" reward to an empathetic player, you can keep the two very different in terms of their balance while making sure that each feels rewarding. Ultimately, both types of players will feel good about their choice if you do it right.
    • For the Pragmatic rewards, increases in power and functionality are good rewards. The 'functionality' part of that is important because simply having numbers go up is not that interesting. Giving new combat abilities or access to new systems (such as kill-quest style achievements) will enhance a pragmatic player's experience.
    • For the Empathetic rewards, additional rich storytelling opportunities, increased access, and alternative methods of solving puzzles or avoid combat are good rewards. The opportunity to come back to the people you helped later for additional dialogue, and the spread of good rumors in town about you, makes it feel like you helped actual, living people. Increased physical access to areas such as hideouts (and accompanying Exploration-based achievements) can be nice. For alternative methods around puzzles or combat, people that you've helped could be called on if the player figures out that X NPC might be helpful in this situation. Being able to call in a favor from someone you've helped in the past feels rewarding, without making the rest of your gameplay easier.
    Your second example - the Wizard who wants to capture an Elemental - illustrates why it's so important to keep the rewards consistent, though. In general, unless the Item the wizard gives you contains extreme game-long power, gaining an extra ally (or even an extra choice of ally) in combat is likely a much more powerful reward, despite being what I assume is the "empathetic" choice. It's the kind of thing that a pragmatic player would appreciate having (even more than the Item), but they won't ever get it!

    For your type of goal, I'd also recommend trying to make the choices clear and transparent in whether you are being good or greedy. Unless I had seen similar situations already in your game, or dialogue made it clear that the wizard isn't a kind figure, I'd have a hard time determining whether the "kind" thing to do is to obediently help out the wizard with his work, or to grant the elemental its freedom. Perhaps the wizard is trying to use the elemental to keep the entire city safe (a "Rights of the Few vs. Needs of the Many" philosophical argument), or perhaps the wizard needs to drain the elemental's essence in order to save his dying daughter (something of a "Sophie's Choice" dilemma), and in a world where "monsters" are generally a dangerous, malicious force, or are framed as being OK to mercilessly harvest, even the empathetic part of me would side with the Wizard. I think that such dilemmas are great, but they go against your stated aim of "what is practical vs. what is right", so keeping the choices well-forecasted and consistent across scenarios will be important.

    Regardless of how you do it, keep in mind that storytelling doesn't have to end with the reward! In the Wizard scenario, in addition to the Item, you could have the Wizard, grateful and trusting of you, let you in on his plans for what to do with the Elemental (perhaps something noble, perhaps something shady), allowing them to help with the Wizard's research as an additional quest for even greater rewards. Or in addition to the promise of help down the line from the Elemental (or whatever more appropriate reward you give for freeing it), bands of townspeople could become scared of this new force running free, and you need to change their minds with the help of the Elemental - perhaps they townspeople, contrite about their prejudices after being helped, would offer the rewards for this additional quest.

    Finally, I'm in agreement with several of the above members who say that it can feel a little hollow to make the choice from a 2-way choice box. You didn't talk about the mechanics of how the player makes these choices, and perhaps it's beyond the scope of your question, but to use your Werewolf example, the easiest but worst way to design it is to have the player fight the werewolf, and then decide whether to "Kill it" or "Subdue it" in a choice box. A better way to do it would be to have a combat mechanic where the player has to get the werewolf down to, say, 10% of it's HP without killing it, in order to unlock a "Subdue" action, which perhaps starts a minigame where you have to do something to subdue it, or perhaps just gives the wolf a couple turns to wail on you while you attempt to wrangle it. This would make the task of subduing it harder (in line with your goal), and a player that's struggling in combat (or in the minigame) may feel they have no practical choice but to kill it (again in line with your goal), and make it feel like it's something you do rather than something you pick.
     
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  12. Damascus7

    Damascus7 Villager Member

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    That's a good idea that I should have thought of earlier. :p I did want your party members to comment on your actions at times, so that's always a good way to convey information.

    Nice chart! Yeah when it comes down to it, I'm going for a JRPG with customization usually seen in open world RPGs. I'm not really planning on having hardcore puzzles and problem solving, and instead focusing on the social aspect, which I think fits in this chart pretty well.

    In the end I think rather than having it feel like "Good choices = hard mode, bad choices = normal mode," I'd prefer something closer to "Good choices = normal mode, bad choices = easy mode," to oversimplify it. I want players to focus on roleplaying and character choices than actual difficult combat and strategy.
     
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  13. alice_gristle

    alice_gristle Veteran Veteran

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    The first (and so far, only) time I played Undertale I was a pacifist. Didn't think it was too hard. Rather, since everybody was either so nice or so cute, I thought it was the only sane way to play! :biggrin:

    Oh boy, you touched on one of my biggest gripes with RPGs! Despite how tough you make your choices for the player, there's still usually very little scope for roleplay. My saddest example was playing Mass Effect 1. My character was anti-establishment, pacifist, pro-alien soldier. It... didn't go well. :biggrin:

    Not saying tough choices should equal opportunities for roleplay, and maybe this is an unrelated tangent anyway... but despite how much we tout "choice" and "consequence" there still seems to be precious few chances to really roleplay. More so in open-world games, but there it's usually less satisfying.

    I'm not even sure how many people play RPGs so they could roleplay? I mean, there's PnP, which makes so much more sense in that regard anyway.

    That's something I can totally get behind! I hate it when I make what the game touts as a "big choice", but then nothing seems to come out of it, once the rewards and/or punishments have been dished out. Then again, long-term effects and consequences are much harder to make, rather than just one-off events, so I can understand that... Still hate it, though. :biggrin: I'm just afraid I'll have to go down that same route myself when I'm making my games...
     
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  14. kairi_key

    kairi_key Veteran Veteran

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    Yes I think many bring up good points here. And it's important to make it clear what kind of situation you are exploring. What is the more empathetic choice and what is the more practical choice.

    This is this thematic system at its best for the moment. It makes sense too.
     
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  15. xoferew

    xoferew Veteran Veteran

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    It might be interesting to have different follower characters have traits like "laser focus on the big goal," "sucker for cute animals," "hates organized religion," "wanted by the military," "target of prejudice," etc. such that if the player keeps making choices a certain party member hates they will give a warning and then leave. "I signed up to defeat the World-Eclipsing Velociraptor of Despair, and I thought you believed in that too. But you keep getting sidetracked with crap like collecting ten wombat butts for that kid to make his stupid birthday stew for his sister. I swear, if you seriously choose to delay us now to rescue this freaking kitten from the well, I am out of here!" Maybe after this character gives her speech another one says, "Yeah well, if you're not the kind of leader who would take ten minutes to help a defenseless kitten then I can't follow you any more." That kind of choice would have lasting effects. Then down the road you may meet up with the character again in a tavern or needing help in a fight and they may give you another chance.
     
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  16. Tai_MT

    Tai_MT Veteran Veteran

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    As a video game player, the problem I always run across are "The choices to make are so obvious, why would I ever do anything else?". The "good guy" choices are obvious to make.

    That is to say...

    As a video game player, if I know my character is going to be loved, adored, and treated kindly by everyone... I'll make choices to accomplish that, instead of choices to get random bits of power for my character. So, no matter what your rewards actually are... If doing this other thing is going to obviously get me "the best ending", then I'll do that instead. Doesn't matter if it handicaps me to do so, either.

    Why? Because, unless I'm going out of my way to specifically play contrary to my upbringing, I'm not going to play any other way. It is difficult to play against your own morals, unless you want to make a conscious effort to do so.

    Per your examples, these would be easy choices for me.

    1. I'd kill the Werewolf since it's dangerous and it already escaped once. I have no guarantee it will not escape again. Much worse, the man wants me to keep his dangerous son a secret from everyone (I assume, anyway, based on the scenario, since he didn't tell me his son was a Werewolf to begin with). Already, this whole thing is shady as crap. Very shady. I suspect I'm "aiding and abetting" a criminal by helping this guy subdue the Werewolf. There's just too many red flags here. Killing the Werewolf is the Practical solution as well as the empathetic one. I'm saving lots of lives, and preventing future issues. One man's happiness is nowhere near as empathetic as preventing the unhappiness of a lot of others when this event could likely happen again... when nobody is around to stop it.
    2. I'd free the Elemental. It's obvious this experiment is dangerous and he's not prepared to handle what he's doing. The experiment went awry, it angered the Elemental (assuming, if it had gone well, the elemental wouldn't be angry), and now I have to make a choice on whether or not to trust this guy who didn't even have a grasp of the situation to start with? I have to help someone who is obviously incompetent at their job? With no guarantee they won't screw it up in the future? With now, no confidence in their ability to deliver on whatever they were promising? No, I'll let the Elemental go in this case. It's the Practical Solution as well as the empathetic one.

    That's something you're going to need to consider as well. What does the player perceive is the practical solution? Or the empathetic one? Are your solutions maybe covering both at the same time?

    You also have to remember that if your choices are meant to be "hard" ones, then your players are going to put a lot more thought into making them than you, yourself, have. Look at what I gleaned from your scenarios with only the information you provided me. Look at my train of thought and reasoning. The way you'd designed the choices seemed like a simple binary thing, right? But, here I am, putting a lot of thought into those choices and comparing them to my own morals. Much more thought that it seems like you'd anticipated.

    Actually, I wonder if framing the choices as "practical" and "empathetic" are just two different words for "good" and "evil". You're slotting the "bad guy" choices as practical. You're slotting the "good guy" choices as empathetic. If you're just substituting one word for another, then why bother? Why not just frame them as good guy choices and bad guy choices anyway? "A rose by any other name..." and all that.

    The main problem you're going to have, using these two framing aspects, is the limited number of scenarios you're going to be able to concoct using the "practical vs empathetic" choices.

    For example:

    You are going on a hike with your family. Up a mountain. You have to take your children with you, and you won't ever be coming back to this place (let's assume you're fleeing your home country for some reason and will be killed if you do not). Your children want to take the family goldfish with them. This means, you'll have to make extra preparations in order to haul a fish tank, feed the fish, ensure the fish survive, and stay warm enough in higher altitudes... or the fish will die. The children will be absolutely heartbroken if they can't bring their fish with them. But, you could put your foot down here and now, and tell them that it is incredibly impractical to haul the fish with you. Your children might hate you for years to come, if you do this, but they will be alive. So, do you chance discovery and having to haul a ton more stuff and take a ton more precautions to bring the family fish along with you (empathy)... or do you take the practical solution and leave them at home, since the goal is just to keep everyone alive and there's no guarantee of doing that, if you take those fish you with you?

    In such a scenario, most players would likely take the practical solution. But, what if the consequences for that, are that your children hate you for the rest of the game? That your wife dislikes you for making such a practical decision? She knows why you made it and is appreciative, but doesn't like you for not considering the feelings of your family first.

    Now, let's look at what happens, if I change the pet to something far less cumbersome to deal with? A dog, perhaps. Then, it's a non-issue. The dog can come of its own volition, or find you on its own much later. The dog may even have a practical use in alerting you to patrols or helping you hunt.

    It is a difficult tightrope you're going to have to walk in constructing choices that adhere to those two principles. The scenarios will have be designed in such a contrived way, in order to highlight those two aspects.

    The real issue you're going to have much later is something most people don't consider with a "choices" system.

    Binary players. Players who make all the Practical Decisions. Players who make all the Empathetic Decisions. With very little, if any, overlap.

    Mass Effect had this problem. "Who cares what the Paragon choice is, I'm picking it, 'cause I'm a good guy". You're going to have the same issue with your system. If your choices are going to be based on a morality of some kind, that's what you're going to get. You're going to get the vast majority of your players picking the "good guy" option and not thinking too hard about it. Just select it because you want to be the good guy. You don't know why this option is the good guy option. You don't know how what your choice turns out to be, will be the good guy option... but, you select it, because it's what the game had told you your choices are. Good guy option or bad guy option.

    I'd wager that most of your players will pick the "good guy" option of Empathy. If they don't, they'll pick "Practicality", then explain it as the more empathetic option, and be irritated for the game dev's logic and not seeing how it's the more empathetic option, or the best "good guy" option. As in, the player doesn't get the outcome they thought they'd get from making the most intelligent decision they could, because they view their decision, not as practical, but as more empathetic than the option they perceive as "short-sighted empathy".

    A practical player will see these as "the optimal answer. The one the creates the most good". They will see empathetic answers as "short-sighted attempts to just make a single person happy, no matter how much pain and strife it causes later". An empathetic player will see them as "I don't want to be mean and rude" and "I want people to be happy if I can make them happy".

    It's going to be very difficult to create overlap in decisions to cater to these quite opposite viewpoints.
     
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  17. alice_gristle

    alice_gristle Veteran Veteran

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    Such a great post, really opened my eyes! :biggrin: Also makes me wonder why games keep force-feeding us morality choices... I'd be much more into choices that had nil to do with morals! (Or at least weren't presented that way...)
     
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  18. Damascus7

    Damascus7 Villager Member

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    Hell yeah! This is almost exactly how I want my game to be in the ideal, and this has opened up a world of ideas for me on how to skew the rewards.

    EDIT: Though I haven't done a great job of making it seem that way, I think my goal really is what your ideal aim is. Though I am providing some immediate rewards (magic item, vs help in combat), I'm also trying to set up a reputation system that influences how NPCs behave and alter story hooks along the way. I definitely want choices to have a lasting impact on the game and characters rather than just a one-time reward.

    Regarding the elemental idea, the idea was that the item you get as a reward for trapping it was not super strong, but also when you free it, the elemental only shows up to help you during a single fight in that story arc (the most difficult one, but it's still doable without it). As for the moral angle, I think the wizard basically wants to research the elemental in order to make magic items that can benefit the townspeople and protect people; but on the other hand he still only sees the elemental as a tool for him to use. On the flipside, the elemental is a free-willed creature that just fights to protect its territory; but on the other hand, it has a short temper and is very deadly, and has been known to kill lost townspeople that wander unknowingly into its area. So I feel each choice you can make on what to do with the elemental has its good and bad moral arguments, and you can make a practical or empathetic argument with either choice.

    As for some ideas I've already tested out regarding how you can resolve the elemental quest without just a simple pop-up box: To set up the ritual, you can go up to any of the five points and place or remove a crystal. Once all five are placed, it begins. When the ritual goes awry, one of the five crystals sealing it explodes, leaving the trap unstable. The wizard asks you to grab another crystal and replace the one that broke. HOWEVER, you can do any of these three things.

    1) Go to the point where the crystal exploded and place a new one, completing the trap and sealing the Elemental.
    2) You still have the option to remove a crystal from any of the points around the circle. When you first try to do this, the wizard will warn you that removing it will undo the whole trap, and then you can take it or leave it.
    3) You can enter the ritual circle itself and run into the Elemental like any normal combat encounter, and fight to kill it. (I will also possibly include another sub-option in this, as many enemies in my combat system will attempt to flee or surrender at low health.)

    This way it's more of a dynamic and active way to make choices. Granted I'm still looking for new ways to make the choices feel more natural.

    This gave me plenty to think about, too. I guess the reason I have been wanting to avoid just calling it "good and evil" even though it kind of is good and evil, I don't want people familiar with the game mechanics to come into the game going "Now I'm going to play a Good Character/Evil Character." I'd like people to make their moral choices more on the spur of the moment. But I think that is probably too much to try and accomplish for a simple RPG game played by all kinds of different people. Most people are going to go into this game already knowing what choice they'd make in any of these circumstances.

    Considering that, I don't want to just boil it down to Empathetic vs Practical. I want to have choices between two empathetic options, or two practical options, having it depend on who you want to side with, or which practical option you prefer. In other words, part of the reason it's a hard choice is because sometimes it's not immediately apparent which is the "good" choice.

    One thing I'm definitely going to try and avoid is clearly labeling choices the way Mass Effect does, like a bright blue star for the good choice and a red fist for evil choices. Dragon Age did it a little better with icons that more represented ideas like "stoic choice," "angry choice," "sad choice," etc. But for me, I'd like them to just be choices. You know that there's different things you can do here, like with the elemental idea above, and you just go and do them.

    I consider it a good sign that I already see people saying they'd naturally subdue the werewolf, and others saying they'd naturally kill it, just based off the prototype idea I present. If I tweak these ideas just right, I can achieve an ideal balance.

    As a final thought, one example I've thought of on how to make the good and evil choices less obvious will be the first such "choice" you make in my game, which is just a conversation and not a quest. Your mother has been training you to fight since you were young, and asks you which is the most important thing to have when you fight: Courage, Caution, or Strength.

    The "right" answer (the one that will improve your standing with her) completely depends on who you are, and who you're talking to.

    Woof, this is getting complicated, but it's still giving me plenty of great ideas on how to tune this system! Thanks so much everyone for sharing your insight!
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2019
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  19. Basileus

    Basileus Veteran Veteran

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    To add to the Mass Effect examples, the first Mass Effect game also ties player access to dialogue options to their cumulative choices. The more Paragon choices you make, the more Charm ranks/options get unlocked. The more you select Renegade, the more Intimidate ranks/options you get access to. This means it actually hurts the player to split their choices since doing so means you don't get either Charm or Intimidate since neither of your scores are high enough. So players pick one at the start and stick with it.

    Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic also does this by granting bonuses to characters that are full Light Side or full Dark Side, so there is no reason to ever alternate based on the situation. The second game sort of tries to fix this by making a "Grey" path possible but it's not much of an improvement.

    I think it was Mass Effect 2 and the Paragon/Renegade "Interrupts" in cut-scenes that actually actually made a difference (that and not tying key stats/options to your total). It led to a pretty popular "Paragade" style of play where players would pick all of the Paragon options for major story moments to still be the good guy that wants to help people, while still getting to use a lot of Renegade interrupts when dealing with annoying characters to still get the fun of being a jerk to someone who deserves it.

    I know we aren't getting into the exact mechanics of the choices, but I think it's important to bring up just like how the mechanics of making the choices matters. The nature of the rewards matters a lot. When planning rewards you should consider if you are incentivizing the player to actually make choices each time they come up, or if the rewards will mean they are really just making a single choice at the very start.
     
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  20. Diretooth

    Diretooth Lv. 23 Werewolf Veteran

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    A binary system is not nuanced enough to encompass what you want. Pragmatism vs. empathy does not work as a system unless you're writing a sociopathic character who would need to think about whether or not either is the better for their code of conduct.
    D&D, for instance, has two alignment axes, Good/Evil, Law/Chaos. Good and Evil are the more obvious, you can be kind or cruel. Law and Chaos are less intuitive, do you follow specific guidelines presented to you, do you choose to follow the law, to uphold order, or do you do as you will, or pursue freedom from law and order? This system provides a greater nuance that a lot of games don't typically have. A Lawful Good character will typically try to do good so long as it is within the bounds of the law, but they will typically not follow an unjust (Lawful Evil) law. Similarly, a Chaotic Good character will typically ignore the law if they find it too restrictive, but will recognize that cruel actions made on a whim (Chaotic Evil) should not be tolerated, and may follow a law just because they are a good person.
    You could actually add a third axis based on pragmatic/impractical choices (which is really what you should have focused on, rather than making it a choice of morality.)
    Even going with just two axes, that's nine possible choices you could make. Let's start simple. You need to progress, there is a powerful monster guarding the way. You can either fight the beast (impractical) or ask for aid (Pragmatic). You later learn that the person you can ask for aid will likely die. Fighting alone is the good option, asking for help is the bad option. This opens up slightly more nuance to the issue and gives you a reason to choose the impractical path.
    You then learn through exploring the town you are in that there is a way for you to take a third option by gathering the components necessary for a spell or potion that will make the boss easier to handle without sacrificing the person you can ask for help. You can gather the components by tackling a dungeon (lawful impractical), or buying or stealing the components from another person (lawful/chaotic pragmatic).
    Already, there is more choice and nuance in the situation, and because there are more potential options through exploring the area, (which also gives the player a reason to stick around and not just go straight for the boss,) the whole situation potentially becomes more engaging.
    For me, it isn't about 'which choice is better', it's about finding and recognizing that there are several potential routes you as the player can take. The more paths you lay out, without hand holding, the more potential for fun there can be, provided you also don't overwhelm the player.

    (I wrote this at 4 AM, I apologize if it's a little incoherent.)
     
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