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midnite rule

The Right to Rampage

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In CRPGs the ideal has long been to give the player as much freedom of choice as possible. This would seem to include the possibility to kill anyone you come across in your journey. But if you’re trying to tell the player a story, this raises a problem. What’s to stop the player from killing the plot driving characters before they have a chance to advance the plot? Let’s look at some methods game designers have used to overcome this problem.

Method 1: Devilishly convenient documents
As seen in: Arcanum, Fallout: New Vegas
Killed an important character; no problem, you’ll find a letter or diary entry on their corpse or nearby, pointing you in the next direction. This was done rather well in New Vegas, where it was only employed in the early parts of the game; in Arcanum it was used throughout the game and strained plausibility after a while. It could be made interesting if the letter or diary was written in a cipher or foreign language and you had to get it translated before you could continue.


Method 2: I have to search you
As seen in: Deus Ex: Invisible War, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, Fallout: New Vegas
‘No you can’t approach the King wielding your Broadsword of Infinite Death’. This is a logical way to solve the problem, as it only makes sense that important characters would have bodyguards that force you to disarm before meeting their charges. It was however rather poorly executed in Invisible War, where the areas in which you could or couldn’t use weapons were quite random from a consistent world perspective.


Method 3: You just can’t
As seen in: KotOR 1 and 2, Dragon Age, The Witcher
Simply remove the ability to manually enter combat at the player’s whim. This is something of a cop out, but nonetheless I find it an acceptable method.


Method 4: You fail
As seen in: Planescape: Torment, Morrowind
Game Over, man. This was the method used in my favorite game: Planescape: Torment; but it really isn’t a good one. At least in Planescape the plot advancing characters were few and pretty well indicated to be such; in Morrowind these characters were many, and with no indication at all until after you killed them.


Method 5: No consequence
As seen in: Oblivion, Fallout 3
Just kill anyone you want, no one will give a flying ****. In Fallout 3 you can go berserk with a nuclear bazooka in the middle of the brotherhood’s base; and all the essential characters will simply wake up, with no recollection of your atrocity. This, in my opinion, is even worse than method 4.


Method 6: Lose the Plot
As seen in: Fallout 1 & 2, Gothic 3
Just don’t have any characters that are indispensable to the story. This might be the best way, but probably the hardest to execute whilst simultaneously telling an engaging story. In fact I’m not sure it’s even possible to make a game using solely this method, for instance I’m not sure what happens if you decide to go berserk in Vault 13 in Fallout.

The best way to go about it is probably to strive for method 6 whilst using methods 1 and 2 as a last resort. Of course a lot of it comes down to design and execution; Planescape: Torment used of bad method, but is an excellent game; Deus Ex: Invisible War used a good method, but is a terrible game.


Thoughts?
 

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Sorry to say this Mr Rule but i'm a proponent of number 4, it may be harsh but it's also a clear case of choice and consequence, which i'm always very fond of. This may also lie in the fact that I find such open aggression distasteful, and as a method of empowering the player rather clumsy and cheap. In fact i'd add the secondary mechanic in Torment arguing against such slaughter, mazing as a warning followed by being enwrapped in the Ladies shadow.

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Quite an experience to live in misery isn't it? That's what it is to be married with children.

I've seen things you people can't even imagine. Pearly Kings glittering on the Elephant and Castle, Morris Men dancing 'til the last light of midsummer. I watched Druid fires burning in the ruins of Stonehenge, and Yorkshiremen gurning for prizes. All these things will be lost in time, like alopecia on a skinhead. Time for tiffin.

 

Tea for the teapot!

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its an interesting design issue, my personal favorite way to handle it is a combination of methods 1 and 6: very few, if any, characters that the plot requires, and if one of those very few characters does happen to die, you can still find you way to the end of the game with careful enough searching/investigating/exploring


The Internet: A place where everything is literally binary and the only shade of grey is the one seen by angry nerds when imagining what their ideal Diablo screen-shots look like.

Killing is kind of like playin' a basketball game. I am there. and the other player is there. and it's just the two of us. and I put the other player's body in my van. and I am the winner. - Nice Pete.

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There is another option: make essential characters so much more powerful than the player that messing with them equals death.

 

I know attacking the first bartender you came across in BG was a very bad idea (iirc he used Time Stop, among other spells that weren't even obtainable by the player in the game). And I'm pretty sure that messing with Elminster (if it was possible, it never occurred to me to try) wasn't a very good idea either.

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Method 6 is by far the best choice. Method 4 and 5 are totally unacceptable. method 2 and 3 are bareable albeit lazy design. Method 1 is alrightish but also shows lazy design.

 

Yup, Method 6 is the the way of the real role-playing.


DWARVES IN PROJECT ETERNITY = VOLOURN HAS PLEDGED $250.

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What do you mean by "lose the plot?"

 

Are you referring to allowing the game to exist in a state where the main plot cannot be completed? (but the game continues on)

Edited by alanschu

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I think employing 1, 2, 4, and 6 as the situation fits is good. Characters that are supposed to be powerful SHOULD be powerful enough to horribly murder you...but in actual combat, not via a cutscene ala PS:T, (4); removing characters' weapons or disabling magic in certain circumstances makes sense, (2); placing letters and stuff that hint about what to do next when appropriate is good, too, (1); and ultimately try to make the rest fall under (6) when possible, though (3) I think can be used sparingly for characters who you really, really probably don't want to murder and are important, but ultimately is something you can attempt anyways. (5) is absolutely awful, though. There's no reason to ever use that method.

Edited by Bartimaeus

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What do you mean by "lose the plot?"

 

Are you referring to allowing the game to exist in a state where the main plot cannot be completed? (but the game continues on)

 

Uhm… no, I mean what’s written underneath. In the first two Fallouts there were no plot points, you were given a quest to find the magic macguffin and once you completed that given another task to destroy the big baddie that threatened your people. None of the characters you came across in your journey were in any way essential to completing your objectives. In Torment or Arcanum this isn’t the case.

 

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Sorry to say this Mr Rule but i'm a proponent of number 4, it may be harsh but it's also a clear case of choice and consequence, which i'm always very fond of. This may also lie in the fact that I find such open aggression distasteful, and as a method of empowering the player rather clumsy and cheap. In fact i'd add the secondary mechanic in Torment arguing against such slaughter, mazing as a warning followed by being enwrapped in the Ladies shadow.

Well said. Obsidian needn't accommodate the desires of frustrated punching bags and misfits to lash out at random within this game. Making allowances for such puerile behavior will only happen at the expense of the verisimilitude of the P:E milieu. Why sacrifice anything for such nonsense?

 

This isn't a sandbox-oriented game, so let dire consequences fall squarely upon those who openly behave like sociopaths. When they grow tired of their characters being consigned to oblivion, they'll pull their head out of their rump or quit the game. Either way, mission accomplished! 

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Go afield with a good attitude, with respect for the wildlife you hunt and for the forests and fields in which you walk. Immerse yourself in the outdoors experience. It will cleanse your soul and make you a better person.----Fred Bear

 

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Uhm… no, I mean what’s written underneath.

 

Evidently that wasn't very clear to me, hence why I was asking for an elaboration.

 

 

 

In the first two Fallouts there were no plot points, you were given a quest to find the magic macguffin and once you completed that given another task to destroy the big baddie that threatened your people. None of the characters you came across in your journey were in any way essential to completing your objectives. In Torment or Arcanum this isn’t the case.

 

Ok.  To me this is not "Lose the Plot" it's "Do the plot in a different way."  Something I didn't find clear with your original statement.  Though "plot points" still exist (you gave two).

 

Having said that, I'm actually not convinced that step 6 is actually superior.  An extreme way to look at your step 6 is to determine whether or not the plot is viable without any of the NPCs along the way.  If you removed them all from the game, can the plot still be achieved?  Technically yes.  Does it make for a more interesting game?  Definitely not.

 

Murderous rampages perhaps work a bit in a fantasy setting because the ability to communicate and warn others of your psychosis, but where you see #4 as a fault, I saw it as a creative and setting appropriate application of a rule that prevented destructive gameplay decisions.

 

 

Going around and murdering everyone in a game like Baldur's Gate and Fallout does more to remind me that I'm in a fan-servicey video game where I can achieve things that don't really make much sense.  Ideally I'd prefer solutions to #4 that come across more naturally, with the gameworld reacting to the fact that you're a psychopathic murderer.

 

No whether or not plot arcs need to be linear is something sort of touched on by #6, though I think that that has little to do with the desire to go on a rampage.  As a game player exploring the world, accidentally stumbling upon a later plot point, and going from there, is very interesting.  (Rather than requiring you to play through the game reaching the specific plot points in a prescribed order).

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I'm actually a fan of Method #4 as well.  I like it when a game has actual consequences for your actions, and that's pretty much as consequences as consequences gets.


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Morrowind.

Get a easily skippable message that you cannot win. RAGE for all the time you wasted on leveling skills obly to know that you skipped a message stating that you lost, but can play on.


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Yeah, Morrowind (which I quite like otherwise) was terrible in its implementation, shame that Bethesda made such a cop out 'fixing' the problem though.

 

I don't really have a preference for any of those types except as above, they all can work well in different situations. As with most things the good or bad is mostly in the implementation,  how well, how consistently and how appropriately it is handled.

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The idea of just mindlessly or sadistically slaughtering every man, woman and child in the game world for ****s and giggles doesn't really fit in the realm of roleplaying games. Unless you're playing a sandbox or god game it's a rather absurd concept. If you really did do that in a proper RPG with a fleshed-out world full of factions and armies and large populations and so on, you'd unite massive armies against you against which you'd have no chance of success unless it was designed to make the player an undefeatable Mary Sue, like Oblivion or Skyrim.

 

Why can't you use Skyrim or GTA to play out your sociopathic fantasies and let the rest of us enjoy a quality RPG? I think garbage like the Postal games are more up your alley.

Edited by AGX-17

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Sociopath tendencies aside, I can see the advantage in less reliance on a "critical" path. It would make for a more "robust" game, if you can't accidentally shoot yourself in the foot. You can make life harder for yourself, but can still work yourself out of a situation. Unkillable stuff just feels 4th wall breaking in games. I'm all for emergent gameplay :)

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“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice.” - Albert Einstein

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I don't mind messing around with a game like that, but it's not something I necessarily expect. It's merely a writing issue in terms of resources, and there's a line beyond which it's not possible to cover off the range of possibilities. In the end I'd feel the best way to imagine it is as if you had a pact with the writer: they provide you with the full range of responses to any path of action that you might reasonably take, and in return you roleplay in a consistent, in-character fashion. It's an aspirational goal obviously and not something that will ever be truly met, but I'd be satisfied with any sincere effort in this direction.

 

As per some of the examples above, you have, say, Torment reasonably not permitting you to realistically challenge the Lady's authority. There's no reason to randomly murder Anderson in Mass Effect. To kill Lord British, easter eggs aside. In all cases I'm perfectly fine with not having the option to do any of those, no matter how it's implemented programmatically, because I feel it's unreasonable to expect the writer to have to deal with the blatantly out-of-character player.

 

On the other hand we have the cases where a blatantly obvious action is denied by writer fiat. This represents a broken "deal", and given that break in immersion, I, the player will no longer feel obligated to play by the rules, leading to a cascade failure and swift disillusionment with the game. The whole contortionist act of turning you into a Warden in DA:O. The obligation to play along with the Brotherhood in FO3. The shenanigans you have to get into in NWN2 just to get past a gate into another part of the city. The Illusive Man.

 

TL;DR: Reasonable actions should be handled gracefully by the writing team. Otherwise, they can pick whatever resolution they like, be it method 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 2037; though I do feel a preference for the Morrowind approach.

 


 

Another tangential issue is the continuing fear developers are seemingly forming over the idea that players might not see their precious content. Fear that results in crap like the Rachni queen resurrection in ME3, or the virtual-reality vault in Fallout 3. It's more satisfying to circuit-break, even if the result is a significantly shorter, or even immediately ended game. I'd love the option to end New Vegas by killing Benny, then proclaiming "that's it, I'm done - I'm going back home to California."

 

I've raised this before, but I'm reminded of the initial version of Wing Commander 3 when, midway through the game, Thrakhath tries to goad you into a duel, which was meant to be a no-win situation once you accepted. But it was possible (though never did it myself, so someone correct me if I'm wrong) with a big dose of luck, to kill him in time to make the jump, which ended the game early with victory. Unfortunately I think this may have been misguidedly patched out in later releases.

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The best solution is to make the game and the story malleable enough to still allow you to continue after going completely against the grain.  Say, for example, your character is supposed to do some work for a wealthy and well connected noble, in exchange, this noble will then grant you passage across a sea.  There is a naval blockade in effect, and no ships can get through, but his ship can because he has connections with the admiral's family and can get passage.  Well, being the murderer that you are, you instead decide to savagely murder him in cold blood (he looked at you wrong).  Now the game isn't over, but you just made things significantly harder for yourself.  Not only have you been branded as a murderer and will be hunted, the one person that could get you passage across the sea is dead, so that's out.  What do you do?  Try to steal a ship and attempt to break through the blockade anyway?  Good luck getting a ship in a land where you're branded a murderer.  Even if you get one, good luck getting through the blockade.  Go around the sea on land through dangerous and inhospitable lands?  Not only will that be a much longer journey, force you to spend money on months of supplies, but you'll be trudging through areas that even well armed companies are deathly afraid to travel through.

 

Please excuse the poor example, I'm just spitballing off the top of my head here.

 

Of course, making a game that's extremely breakable and still able to be completed while still maintaining a deep and focused story is an incredibly difficult feat.  First, just being able to account for all the different ways players could break the game is difficult enough, then you have to program in all the different branching scenarios that arise from that.


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I'm all for player being able to shoot themselves in the foot, so I'd be ok with some variation on Gorth's post above.  It is fun to go on a killing spree sometimes, was fun to finally "settle" my accounts with those stealing kids in The Den at least :p


Why has elegance found so little following? Elegance has the disadvantage that hard work is needed to achieve it and a good education to appreciate it. - Edsger Wybe Dijkstra

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