Monday, June 18, 2012

Action, Reaction: The Shattered War

Recently I did two posts about a player's interaction with a game, covering how the game can train a player and how this can led to an undesirable narrowing of gameplay options chosen by the player. So, in the spirit of continuing this series of posts, I want to discuss how The Shattered War reacts to the player, and how this can affect and influence their gaming experience.

Within the process of playing a game, the first step is for the game to introduce itself to the player and explain its mechanics. While this is essential for a game to ensure the player is not overwhelmed, gradually new elements are introduced to increase the complexity of the experience. As the Shattered War is a standalone experience set after the main campaign, it can be expected that most players will have played it, and thus have some background in the mechanics of the game and the setting itself. As such, The Shattered War does not start the player at level 1 and force them to start off with a miserly array of combat options. Right from the start of the module, the player is given numerous tools to deal with all situations. However, new items and placeables have been created to add a little more creativity to the mechanics.

One such example is the medic table, which allows a player to rejuvenate their health/mana/stamina. This is only available at certain encounters, and can prove the difference between life and death in challenging fights. Of course, doing so takes time and will remove the character from the fight, making it more difficult for party members still engaged in battle.

One character runs to heal while Taraz kills an ogre

In addition to fighting, another key aspect of the game's reactions to the player is the way that the narrative progresses in response to player actions in dialogue and even in their quest choices. One of the things I'm aiming to do is to make it such that the player will need to make choices that they won't be able to have everything they want, but more importantly that they feel like those choices have been validated. For anything the player might have lost from not pursuing one course of action, they will gain something else that may be useful to their cause.

A key concern here is that the player feels that their action was a perfectly valid choice. Every decision must feel like a logical extension of the story and must flow naturally, else the player will feel as though their actions have been penalised. Every possible outcome presented should be as though it is the only story, and do as little as possible to draw attention to the variations within. Whether characters live or die should feel natural to the player.

Will these characters survive the experience? It could be your choice.

In this regard, some of the choices are designed such that the player should not necessarily realise they are making a choice. The approach is such that a player makes decisions or choices in the people they support and the quests they choose to pursue. Furthermore, the player is not given a penalty for pursuing different roleplaying options. Decision making can be pursued regardless of the character's moral disposition, allowing them to side with one person or another with freedom. The actions of the player are met with equal, but different reactions for every choice.

Gameplay decisions with significant benefits will also cause comparable negative consequences, but these are balanced among different choices. This way each set of choices allow the player to feel some reward, but also some temptation to wonder "what could have been". This is the way for every action and reaction to feel unique and special to each player, and to allow them options to play and replay the adventure to experience different outcomes.

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