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Update #31: Enter the Story Zone

Story Josh Sawyer Chris Avellone Project Eternity

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    (4) Theurgist

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I don't quite know where to put this, but it certainly has to do with the story and how to make you care about it, so I'll post it here. I want to talk about dialogue and choices.

In the update, it has been mentioned that a story can be made in different ways - that it can be an emotional, personal experience or highly political and that the difficulty is in making the player care about it.
However, in my experience there's a very simple solution to this: The player will always be interested in the story if he's interested in his character. And in order to achieve that, you simply have to give him choices that don't actually affect anything in the game, but are simply there so that the player can choose what kind of hero he wants to be.
Now this seems very obvious, but many games simply don't do this, or worse, they connect it somehow to an alignment system or to undesirable consequences. Or they don't make it clear enough when you're actually making a decision that will affect the game in a certain way so that many players shy away from "crass" lines of dialogue because they don't want to screw up their game. (I remember laughing heartily at some of the dialogue options in Dragon Age, wanting to use them but then thinking "but if I say that the game is going to assume something about my character that's not true" or "but if I say that, Alistair will hate me because he will take it the wrong way and for SOME reason there's no way to rectify that".)

Don't do that. Don't mix my "decisions" with stuff I just want to say because I would like my character to be the kind of person who says that. Imagine this: An NPC asks you if you will rescue his village from an evil dragon, and a choice pops up - you can either say "No" or you can say "Lol wtf herp derp okay I guess I'll help you rofl". These are your only options, and they are displayed exactly like that. (The NPC will react accordingly and, if you help him, treat you like an imbecile.)
Now as a player you're in a horrible situation: You DO want to help the NPC, but you do NOT want to say that stupid line. You're suddenly forced into a very specific character that was never what you had in mind.

The same thing goes for the main story, in a way. If the main story uses emotional hooks which don't work on my character because he's a sarcastic smart-aleck, that doesn't mean that you have to think of a new main story. It's actually a very cool role-playing opportunity. When my supposed best friend comes to me because he urgently needs my help, give me lines like "I'd rather drink the urine of an orc than to help YOU again". When the king explains to me that his country is in danger of being overrun by the evil Empire, give me lines like "To be perfectly honest, I couldn't care less".
And then let the NPCs convince my character somehow to still help them. The reluctant hero and the antihero are great archetypes, and I would love to play them out without having to fear undesirable consequences. The game has to help the player be the hero he wants to be, because as an effect he will be completely interested in the story. After all, it's a story that has his ideal protagonist.

A very good example of this is The Witcher 2, even though its hero is a "reluctant hero" by design. Within the confines of that basic archetype the dialogue allows me to play the character however I want, and when there are choices that majorly affect the game, it's perfectly clear that they are choices. Playing the game felt good because I didn't worry that I'd say the wrong thing. I played this character the way I saw him and the game encouraged me to do so, whereas your typical RPG encourages you to either play a politically correct goody two-shoes or a quipping villain.

And while this might not seem like the biggest problem to worry about in an RPG, it's probably the main reason why I haven't finished many Bioware games and generally just don't like them. My main characters are almost always the sneaky types, thieves and rogues, and very much influenced by characters like Vlad Taltos (of the Steven Brust novels) or Han Solo. They basically have to quip nonstop and be sarcastic and kind of annoying to everyone all the time. It's what makes them fun to play. However, the games don't allow that: In Dragon Age for example, I simply wouldn't have any companions if I did that. Even Morrigan, who enjoys quipping herself, gets offended if you try joking around with her. Instead of embracing the (in my opinion) great story of the annoying-but-somehow-lovable Grey Warden whose companions slowly get used to his constant sarcasm, the game makes them betray me.

So, to me, this is the single most important issue, and I really hope that Project Eternity tries something new here. It obviously depends on the other features the game has: Is there an alignment system? Will your companions have a "trust meter"? If neither of them is the case, then you're almost done; just put in enough flavor dialogue and make it clear (not by outright saying it, but by implying it somehow) which dialogue choices are actually decisions that affect the game and which aren't.
If alignment system and/or "trust meter" are in, do them carefully. Alignment should be something the player decides for his character, and doing something good or evil should be a conscious choice, not something you just stumble over because the game interpreted something you said differently than you did. And trust shouldn't be something you earn by sweet-talking somebody - quite the opposite, in fact, reasonable NPCs should start trusting you when you prove your worth to them and they should start distrusting you when they notice that you're behaving in a certain way to get them to do something.



    (1) Prestidigitator

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I just hope that you aren't forced to be the good guy, or a good guy who happens to do a lot of bad things but ultimately saves everyone.

What if I want to take over the world with forbidden magic? An evil ending lets you take the plot in different and interesting directions, allowing the exploration of more sophisticated literary themes and potentially doubling the replayability.

I feel like it can actually get more complicated than that. It's not just "Are you good or evil?" It can range:
  • Who knows you in the town that you start in?
  • What have you been doing before starting your adventure? Does that give you any advantages?
  • How much of the game world should you really know (Arcanum failed here...) about?
  • What have you been doing with your life until now?
  • Do you have a family? Wife? Children? Parents?
  • Where does your character start? Why was he/she there?
  • and so on and so on.....
From what I understood from the update, it seems like OEI wants us to be able to play as many different characters as possible from the beginning of the adventure and for us to fill in as much background story as we want to. Therefore, they can't "railroad" out characters too much by giving them too much background.


Wow, the video on the second link is pure troll. :banghead: At no point was it ever stated that the Courier had amnesia. The lack of a background was merely there to provide a blank slate for the player's avatar... it's a no less valid approach compared to giving the player character a background and letting him start from there. Oh , Bioshock just got mentioned. Closing. I suppose being a courier is enough personal background that you may as well throw personal characterization out the door and start the game in raider armor, according to them :yes: :no:



    (5) Thaumaturgist

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BG gave us a backstory, it worked because you were a demi-god in hiding with a specific destiny.
IWD worked on the other end of the spectrum because there was no story, allowing the player to fill it in himself.
the perfect balance i think was DA: Origins...your character was much like an IWD character (no one truly special) but was given a background (of choice) that made him/her feel like they were actually a part of that world rather than just "spawning" out of mid-air.



    (9) Sorcerer

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Maybe you guys can add the Harpers in the game, a badass organization that appears out of nowhere to restore balance at a crucial point in the game ( maybe before a great villain is killed or evil is too strong and its on rampage ).

I've never really understood the principle of "maintain teh balance" organisations in western fiction, as they're always basically fighting evil all the time.
What if the good guys are winning? Can we then see harpers assasinate Lady Galadriel or Elrond or something? Fix up the balance?

Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: Story, Josh Sawyer, Chris Avellone, Project Eternity

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