Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Personalised Experience

Well, firstly I must say that I'm extremely surprised at the complete lack of response to my Baldur's Gate 2 antagonist post.  For a game that is so incredibly popular, to have no response to an analysis of the game's villain is surprising to say the least.  I'm not sure whether I missed the mark entirely and people are so outraged that they can't comment or whether they don't have anything to add.

But, moving on to today's post, I'd like to discuss "the little things" again.  I know I made a post previously on whether people paid attention to the small details, but this is somewhat of a different issue.  Normally, when I talk about choice in video games (which I do a lot), I talk about the big things in games. Whether major NPCs live or die, whether your character's decision has some huge effect on the game world at large.  I love these decisions, but what about the small choices?

Take the case of Ser Landry in Dragon Age. This misguided warrior accuses you of treason and his honour demands you face him in battle.  While this is a small "quest", there are numerous options for dealing with him.
  1. Convince him you aren't a Grey Warden.
  2. Convince him you are innocent.
  3. Fight him and his soldiers.
  4. Fight him in one on one combat.
Packing it in, and running away... brave, brave, Ser Landry.

This isn't an important quest in the game, and it can potentially be over in merely a couple of sentences. However, it's good in that it offers a personalized experience for people who play the game. People get their own decision of how to deal with him and their adventure differs in a small customisable way. This is what I mean by a personalised experience, in that every player will have a game that is slightly different from every other. Even if a single player has multiple playthroughs, there will be small differences between each game.

But what things that the player doesn't so actively choose, or aren't presented to the player as clear choices they immediately get a result from.  When dealing with Ser Landry, the player picks a dialogue response to produce their desired outcome. What about situations where the world reacts to them differently as a result of certain actions or their character?

Take the potential for the player to be outed as a blood mage at the end of the "Broken Circle" quest line. Or the repeated prejudice that the player faces as an elf. These aren't elements that the player has directly caused right then and there through a dialogue choice, but are a reaction to the player's previous choices or actions.

I guess he didn't like Legolas in Lord of the Rings

What if, as a player, instead of being presented with major plot-changing decisions, you were presented with a lot of small choices or actions? What if these choices had little reminders of those decisions later on? Take a hypothetical situation of a farmer under attack from monster or bandits. You deal with the situation (or not), and later return to the town the farmer lives in. If you save the farmer, the people in the town are happy, but if the farmer died, people beg to you for money so they can buy food.

You have an immediate choice to make, but that choice informs what happens later in the game, perhaps only in the form of a few changed lines of dialogue. There's no "right" decision that rewards more experience or reward, just a different outcome. The player's decisions don't have a massive effect on the world as a whole, but they feel like they have a personal experience through a myriad of small decisions that all have a minor effect on many characters within the world.

Now, decisions that have an effect on the major aspects of the plot might have more impact in terms of how the player feel they've made a difference in the world. As a player and someone interested in game design, I love the idea that the player's action have that sort of huge effect on the main story.  But how would that compare to a game that had a focus on those small decisions?

With "small choices", every player will end up killing "the big bad" at the end, but each player's experience would be a deeply personal one. They'll have little reminders all along the way of the choices they've made, be ostracized occasionally for their ruthlessness, or praised for their benevolence; praised for saving someone's life, or merely see a gravestone marking another casualty of their passing. Perhaps that's the essence of a personalised roleplaying experience: a game where all your choices have an effect on the world in some small fashion.

PS I've also added little "reaction" buttons to each post - so now you don't even have to write anything to let me know what you think!


  1. First of all, I agree with most of what you said here.

    Also, I beleive that (at least in my case) people were amazed so much that they were literally speechless after reading the BG2 article. Or something like that. It was a good article, but I have nothing to add. Maybe because I only finished half of BG2...

  2. AmstradHero, have you played Alpha Protocol? If not, you really should, it works hard at making little decisions matter.

    One neat thing it does in addition to having dialogue and missions change in response to your decisions is explicitly reward both positive and negative attitudes from NPCs. Build up a great friendship with a handler? You get a buff from his support. Really piss him off? You get a buff representing your rivalry pushing him harder. It makes your roleplaying choices feel valid and supported, whatever they are.

    I'm concentrating on player choice for my current Dragon Age project, and it's Alpha Protocol (Not so much DA or ME) that's inspiring me.


  3. jackkel dragon: Thanks! Glad to know it was interesting!

    Mengtzu: Yes, I've played Alpha Protocol (I've discussed in previous posts) and I loved it. I probably should have mentioned it here, as it does seem to deliver on this front. I really need to go back and play it through more than once.