Choices in games - Complications Ensue
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Sunday, September 25, 2011

I'm working on my MIGS talk, N+1 Screenwriting Tips for Game Writers. The part I'm working on is about allowing players to make choices that have consequences, particularly to the ending of the game.

The obvious recent example here is HEAVY RAIN, where your success or failure on missions leads you to a bunch of different possible outcomes. But I'm not a huge fan of HEAVY RAIN, which, as I am not the only person to have remarked, can seem more like a "choose your own adventure" than a game with excellent gameplay.

In DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION you can save or fail to save certain characters, and you can decide how to play (stealthy, non-stealthy pacifist, typically homicidal game hero). But the story really doesn't change except at the very end when you can choose one of four buttons to press to decide your values.

What are some emotionally powerful choices that you've been able to make in games that affected the outcome?

Labels:

7 Comments:

You should play the Witcher games.

By Blogger Megazver, at 6:42 PM  

Why is the Ending the most interesting part to change?
As stated here, The Witcher 2 has a very significant decision early on that impacts most of the game, but not the end. It is a very interesting decision.
Another example might be Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis, where you could chose your gamestyle (solo-adventure, solo-action or with a sidekick).
Playing Atlantis with or without Sofia was a very different experience (emotionally).

By Blogger Kalugny, at 6:58 PM  

The thing about choices that affect outcomes is that which every outcome you have, you increase production costs. Like with film, anything you write and create costs money and many times, it's not through lack of desire or ability, but because multiple outcomes very easy snowball into a costly mess which leaves producers glaring at you with burning eyes of hatred.

Designers everywhere would love to have a full matrix of outcomes to every decision point in the game, but that is simply impractical to the point where you are spending a lot of money to make content that few players will see.

The best solution here would be to examine how choices are presented in order to maximize resources and leave the player with an experience that feels organic, but doesn't require a full game's budget worth of content that hardly anyone will see. And that is a balance we are all trying to find.

I mention this because so many books on games say "choices should have consequences" without awareness or acknowledgement of what that actually means and the practical outcome of the statement. I've had to deprogram a lot of aspiring and junior narrative designer types of the idea that they can get everything they want, and that no one before them has ever though of having more choices in games. Branching outcomes are an obvious solution that very quickly encounter very high hurdles, and the entire concept needs to be built from the ground up with the resources at hand in mind.

By Blogger Erik J. Caponi, at 10:33 AM  

Yeah, I'll be talking about that, Erik. But I'd like to come up with some examples of games that allow players to make meaningful choices. There are minor consequences in the Mass Effect and Deus Ex games, but I'd like an example of a major consequence.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 12:23 PM  

I don't know how major it is, considering it's a bit similar your example of Deus Ex. But in Metal Gear Solid (that first one to come out on Playstation) during the middle of the game you're put through a torture test, and depending on whether you get through the test or give up, it decides two characters' fates at the end of the game.

By Blogger Bob, at 7:49 PM  

Dragon Age 2. Your final battle scene is impacted, depending on whether you side with or against the mages, based on many in-game choices.

Your romance options are also impacted by your political choices. So I hear.

By Blogger leannet3, at 11:47 PM  

In a lot of Bioware games (Baldur's Gate, Dragon Age, Mass Effect), the choices you make affect your companions and not so much the storyline. The trick is making you care about the companions.

By Blogger Gnasche, at 10:39 AM  

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