Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What you don't know does matter

One of the things that many player never realise is how much time and effort goes into creating the things that players never see. All the things that are necessary in order to make a game what it ultimately becomes. All the drafts, all the planning, all the scrapped ideas, all the background information that never makes it into the game but are there are significant driving forces and inspiration behind the final experience the player receives. I'd hope that regular readers of the blog would have a greater understanding of that due to my posts - if they didn't possess that knowledge already.

I'll pick a specific example for this point, namely characters. Most characters within video games will have fairly lengthy backstories created by the developers. This is not just RPGs, even though by necessity they tend to revolve more around fully developed characters and are thus more likely to have larger character profiles. These character biographies provide the game developers with a means to guide so many aspects of that character, from their appearance, their actions, their speech, mannerisms... not just "many" aspects - every aspect. Yet the chances are that the player may never see the information contained in that profile, or at least not in that form. It will be doled out in little bits and pieces, directly and indirectly as the game proceeds until the player builds up the full picture of that character.

Do PCs ever get paranoid about others reading their diary?

This raises a question of how much does the designer really need to force on the player? I'm not simply talking about the division of dialogue/cinematic versus optional information the player can choose to read or not read, but the choice of whether certain information should be included in the game at all. Do the players really need to be told everything? Can game designers leave some facts and history untold (or in some cases, amibiguous) to allow players to "fill in the blanks" and add in their own spin or thoughts on the idea? Or is this in fact a great design decision, allowing the players room for discussion and interpretation and to create their "own version" of the world of the game that they played?

As a reference, I'm going to mention not a game, but a movie. Take the "cult classic" Donnie Darko. Upon finishing, the viewers are left with a myriad of questions as to what really happened and the events and even the knowledge of some of the characters and hence their intentions. There were many differing opinions and many people had their own take on the story. Some time later, a director's cut was released, containing a lot more information and "filling in" many of those holes that caused the ambiguity or discussion. Even for those who were "right", the movie was far less interesting or worthy of discussion.

Anyone for popcorn?

I'm not advocating giant plot holes or characters that seemingly lack any motivation whatsoever. I'm merely saying that players don't need to be privy to everything that happens in the lives of the characters they meet in games. Some degree of mystique is healthy and creates intrigue.

PS This marks my 50th post on this blog. I hope that my thoughts have proven interesting thus far, and that I'm able to provide entertaining and thought provoking posts in the future.


  1. I most definitely think some stuff can be "left in the void" as it were, but I still think it's in the designers best interest to actually plan it all out behind the scenes to make sure that it *does* make sense.

    For backstory and such, Alpha Protocol introduced an extremely interesting mechanic on this. As you progress through the game, you get dossiers on various people and factions (viewable through a system reminiscant of the Codex in DA).

    These dossiers also fill up throughout the game depending on what you do, what you find during missions and if you decide to buy intel from the black market.

    That's all well and good, but what's really nice is that this information can be used in the game to influence some of the NPCs. The information becomes a tool for the player to use. And depending on what the player does or doesn't do, some rather big "reveals" may be completely hidden to the player in that playthrough.

    I am really a fan of that kind of design because it puts the player in an important position, his actions matter beyond the A) basic combat and B) beyond the basic choices.

  2. Thats one of the things i like about Alpha Protocol as well as it encourages the player to find as much information about the world and characters as possable and yes AmstradHero i have found your posts interesting to read and i look forward to many more interesting posts from you in the future.

  3. I don't disagree that the designers should plan everything out. In fact, I'm advocating that, only just saying that they don't need to tell the players everything.

    I also agree on Alpha Protocol's dossiers. I think it is an excellent means to make your decisions matter and the method in which you acquire that information is directly visible and makes sense in terms of the plot and setting. It's also far better than you "magically" learning more information about someone because your reputation with them is high enough. The fact you get to use that information in your conversations with them is excellent. Come to think of it, that might be an idea worth using in The Shattered War...

  4. Im not in the habbit of paying for incomplete product. To me this is something where I would want the details given to me. If I wanted to play make believe (to ANY extent) I would make up my own characters.

    This is similar to the novel vs movie concept; I'm not keen on novels as no two people's "mental picture" is even close to the same. The writer's vision isn't universally and accurately portrayed like it is in a movie.

  5. Personally I don't view as an incomplete product. It *can* be if it's simply clear that parts of it weren't thought through.

    But I feel one of the greatest compliments games can get is when people really can dig into the game afterwards, discussing events, the story, decisions, themes and so forth beyond the boring " fanboy thread!" posts.

    Simply omitting important stuff is of course a dangerous path to tread. But there's all kinds of subtle stuff that can be injected into a game to nudge the players' imagination, making him go "oh, maybe it's like this... or maybe it's like that?".

    I'll also confess that I generally really dislike endings (to quests, or to an entire game) that go out of their way to tie absolutely everything up. Again, simply omitting stuff is dangerous, but I like it much more when some stuff is left unclear, making me speculate on what will happen (or what would happen if I had chosen to do something differently in the game.)

    That said, I think Dragon Age probably had the best "wrap up everything" ending I've seen. I found it very satisfying (most likely due to how much I as the player could influence it).