Monday, April 23, 2012

Shattered War: Choices

One thing I've really tried to do during the development of The Shattered War is to pose players with difficult choices. The adventure is aimed to give the player every ability to make meaningful decisions and have those come back to affect the events that follow on. So in today's post, I want to talk about how I'm doing that.

Small detail
The first point that I want to make is that decisions will affect that the way others interact with the player. Decisions will be reflected in small off-hand comments made by NPCs about past events. They will make a quip or jibe based on decisions, just to reinforce to the player that their decisions have been noted. While this is subtle, it help inform the player that their decision has been noted, and leaves them wondering "what if I'd made another choice?"

Real ramifications
Events turn out differently based on your choices. It's that simple. People could die, and almost anyone is fair game. From very early on in the game, the player could kill off NPCs or potentially pit them against you. They might have offered the player help which would provide assistance (potentially money, items, or even make a battle easier) for the future, or they might make the player's life more difficult. Again, they could simply just be dead entirely. No replacements issued.

Some key NPCs. You might kill any or all of them based on your choices.

Delayed Consequence
Not every decision will have immediate consequences, and I feel this is one of the more important factors to making meaningful choice. The potential drawback here is that it means that players might not necessarily know the cause of a particular outcome, but the small details and comments will help overcome that in a way doesn't break the Fourth Wall (See The Witcher for example of how not to do this). This means that player don't simply get to a make choice and find out what happens, which means that players have the option of a decision then immediately replaying the last five minutes to see whether they like the other outcome better.

The other potential problem here is that players may be making a decision but not realising that they are making one. This is something that I'm not really going to apologise for, because then I'm aiming for those "real ramifications" that really hit the player hard and show them that their choices to help or not help people have consequences that they may not have intended.

Your decisions might turn a rescue into a massacre

Compound Interest
Not all outcomes are affected by a single decision. People and events aren't simple. One single decisions should not make or unmake key aspects of a game, just as they do not in real life. The opinions of others about the player are formed over a series of decisions, which will eventually influence their overall attitude to the player. The same is true of battle-related decisions. The collective effect of multiple decisions will be used to determine the outcome of key aspects of the game. Just because you turned your back on someone when you first met them doesn't mean that they should despise you forever, even though in some cases that may be true.

Once again, the key aspect I want to reinforce in The Shattered War is that the player will be driving their adventure, potentially from decisions they don't even realise they are making. The outcomes may not always be happy, but they come from the choices that the player makes.

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