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Flexible Backstories and Early Game?

backstory background character flexible

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Poll: Narrative Flexibility in Project Eternity from the Beginning (81 member(s) have cast votes)

How much control would you like to have over your main character's backstory?

  1. I'd like to control my character's past accomplishments and/or level of prestige. (25 votes [8.87%])

    Percentage of vote: 8.87%

  2. I'd like to choose my character's wealth/financial background or starting skill level. (22 votes [7.80%])

    Percentage of vote: 7.80%

  3. I'd like to define my character's personality, habits, and other quirks in advance, in addition to defining these through play (would affect dialog options). (40 votes [14.18%])

    Percentage of vote: 14.18%

  4. I'd like to determine my character's moral alignment, values, and other motivations in advance, as well as defining these through play. (38 votes [13.48%])

    Percentage of vote: 13.48%

  5. I'd like to pick areas of knowledge in which my character has prior learning (could affect dialogue options and certain checks). (52 votes [18.44%])

    Percentage of vote: 18.44%

  6. I'd like to choose my character's religion and/or cultural heritage (could affect dialog options and starting location). (55 votes [19.50%])

    Percentage of vote: 19.50%

  7. I would be happy picking from a few generic archetype-based backstories (ex. orphan or widow) that explain my character's call to heroism. (30 votes [10.64%])

    Percentage of vote: 10.64%

  8. I think this detracts from the strength of the narrative. (6 votes [2.13%])

    Percentage of vote: 2.13%

  9. I am ambivalent/apathetic to this. (14 votes [4.96%])

    Percentage of vote: 4.96%

Should Project Eternity offer different starting locations?

  1. One should be able to start a character in virtually every small village. (3 votes [3.70%])

    Percentage of vote: 3.70%

  2. There should be a series of starting locations, that you can choose from depending on your character's cultural heritage. (34 votes [41.98%])

    Percentage of vote: 41.98%

  3. I'm content with all characters starting from the same place. (41 votes [50.62%])

    Percentage of vote: 50.62%

  4. I think this is a bad idea for some other reason. (3 votes [3.70%])

    Percentage of vote: 3.70%

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#21
Pshaw

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I guess it's a really a question of if it can be done well. I'd prefer a strong narritive over a blank page for me to fill out my characters past if it meant that my past had no effect on a single thing in the game. I don't think I'd want an exhaustive series of choices but some things I would like to have a choice over such as religion, upbringing, prior knowledge specilzations. I'd like to see it done in the way you can answer questions to determine your class in the elderscrolls games.



#22
Ieo

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I just prefer significant in-game character development during gameplay. The actual amount of prewritten (nonplayer) backstory doesn't matter to me. 

 

Some might argue that player RP creativity is limited with prewritten backstories, but just look at PS:T... You don't get much more "locked in" in terms of backstory than that, but the significant in-game character development supercedes that limitation (well, still within the limits of good/neutral/evil, but thankfully PE doesn't have that). Obviously that sort of implementation is going to depend very heavily on the nature of PE's storyilne, but it can be done.

 

As in real life, while background can significantly affect advantages and disadvantages and there is no such thing as a level playing field, you can't choose your parents or place of birth or upbringing. But what makes a person after that is choice, whether because or despite those beginnings. Maybe as an Orlan, you experience discrimination in most places. But it's still your choice how to react to that, in both dialogue and action.

 

The thing about allowing a lot of player backstory is that it likely won't affect the actual gameplay content at all with what we're expecting in Project Eternity, which is PS:T-type world/NPC branching content. Even adding a few additional variables for starting character backstory over our existing choices of character sex and race would, if Obsidian were to make those matter, affect too much content going the branching route, and that sounds like it would just be too much work. After all, the primary thrust of the Kickstarter in relation to content depth and breadth was pointing to the "world-affecting choices" in PS:T/BG2. 

 

In terms of development resources, I imagine the relationship between player backstory and world reactivity on an inverse scale. Assuming those variables would matter to world reactivity, then the more freedom you give players for backstories would be inversely correlated to available branching world content due to complexity (in addition to usual "choices" in quests). Likewise, if character backstory is prewritten, that would IMO allow far more freedom in developing branching reactive content with more emphasis on choice. I'd rather Obsidian just keep "baseline reactivity" in terms of character backstory limited to sex and race, and let the world react to your choices after that. 



#23
Micamo

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In terms of development resources, I imagine the relationship between player backstory and world reactivity on an inverse scale. Assuming those variables would matter to world reactivity, then the more freedom you give players for backstories would be inversely correlated to available branching world content due to complexity (in addition to usual "choices" in quests).


Only if you assume quest choices and backstory to be mutually exclusive: What if we used the same development resources to implement backstory *and* quest reactivity?

Like, let's say there's a quest where you have to talk to this Orc chief, Grug: If you do another quest to make Chief Grug your friend, then there's an alternate solution to the first quest. What if, however, you could make "I'm friends with Chief Grug" part of your backstory at chargen and be able to get that alternate solution without having to do the befriending quest?
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#24
mcmanusaur

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In terms of development resources, I imagine the relationship between player backstory and world reactivity on an inverse scale. Assuming those variables would matter to world reactivity, then the more freedom you give players for backstories would be inversely correlated to available branching world content due to complexity (in addition to usual "choices" in quests). Likewise, if character backstory is prewritten, that would IMO allow far more freedom in developing branching reactive content with more emphasis on choice. I'd rather Obsidian just keep "baseline reactivity" in terms of character backstory limited to sex and race, and let the world react to your choices after that. 

 

I personally don't believe said features are inversely related any more than any other two features are in a zero-sum game where development resources must be allocated, but fair enough. The view that there is a dilemma of flexibility between these aspects of the player character is at least incorrect hypothetically, because previous choices in addition to the later choices can only compound the overall degree of "choice" in the situation. Sure, when you have a game like PE that's being written in a traditional fashion, it may be difficult to flesh out what becomes an exponential myriad of potential character paths, and even if you manage to do so you'll end up with an inconveniently long list of dialog options for every choice; refining this list of choices is my logic behind defining the character in advance.



#25
Fearabbit

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Checked the first 5 answers and "content with one starting location".

 

I think the story should start with a common event, and I believe that's what Obsidian wanted to do anyway. There's some sort of incident at some location, and (for whatever reason) you are in the midst of it. Simple and effective to get the story going.

 

But I actually want lots and lots of customization at the beginning. Why am I at this location, how'd I get there? Who am I? I want to be able to give my character a past and various character traits. That doesn't mean that I want to experience living in that town or arriving in that ship and then going off on an adventure. The game itself can set in with the event that starts the story, I don't need any prologue.

 

As always, Arcanum is a good example. It starts with a bang, quite literally. You wake up on the crash site of your blimp, some guy says mysterious stuff of utmost importance, then another guy hails you as the Chosen One.

This is the same for every character, but it's a very short sequence (in contrast to the, in my opinion, way too long opening dungeons of PS:T and BG2) and just like that you know what you can/should do. And before that, you can choose one of the many character backgrounds, some of which even mention where you're from and why you're on that blimp. It's quite atmospheric, really. Too bad that it was of limited scope and the background isn't considered at all in the game itself; even though the blimp started from Caladon, you don't know where it is on your map until you discover it, for example, and not once are you able to say "hey, I'm 35 years old, yes I know about the marvels of technology".


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#26
motorizer

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Checked the first 5 answers and "content with one starting location".

 

I think the story should start with a common event, and I believe that's what Obsidian wanted to do anyway. There's some sort of incident at some location, and (for whatever reason) you are in the midst of it. Simple and effective to get the story going.

 

 

 

I don't really see why the event has to be in a set location though (though of course that depends what the event is) Say for example you help someone who is fleeing a supernatural creature and get cursed for your troubles...that is something that could happen anywhere.

 

The event could happen like a random encounter...except more scripted and not random.

 

I like making characters and replaying games like this, but the thing that usually puts me off(other than not having the time) is having to do the the start in the same order again and again


Edited by motorizer, 13 July 2013 - 04:52 AM.

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#27
Sacred_Path

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As always, Arcanum is a good example. It starts with a bang, quite literally. You wake up on the crash site of your blimp, some guy says mysterious stuff of utmost importance, then another guy hails you as the Chosen One.
This is the same for every character, but it's a very short sequence (in contrast to the, in my opinion, way too long opening dungeons of PS:T and BG2)


There are good examples for both kinds. Arcanum as you said is a good example for the medias res approach, a good example for an opening dungeon would be Wizardry 8. (Though of course it could be argued Arcanum's prologue is actually crash site + Shrouded Hills)

#28
Karkarov

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Like I said in another thread, blank slates are great.  It let's me make the character I want and do what I want.  Sadly that also means no structure exists for the game to react to my choices or my character background.... because it is all in my head, not in game.  With a blank slate the game doesn't understand that I sided with the Imperials against the Nords in the war because I am in fact an imperial and loyal to the empire and that it allows me to get closer to the elves who killed my friends in the war so I can strike at them covertly.  In fact it doesn't even attempt to assign me a motivation at all for fear it would be the wrong one I guess.  So I can have all the glorious backstory I want but best case scenario the game won't react in any specific way, worst case, it will try to assign me a motivation that is totally wrong.  Which happens more often than not.

 

If you go the DA:O route and try to force some restricted backstory choices you at least have a basis for a character driven story.  The game knows these specific events happened in my past so it can work off those.  It knows I made choice X in character creation so when situation Y pops up it can have a better understanding of my motivation.  Yes this limits my character options, yes it limits some story segments, but it also makes for a considerably more interesting and personal story and gives me the chance to build my own path through the game.

 

Blank slate characters simply can't do it, because regardless of what character you created, your character concept does not exist in any tangible in game way.  We need a balance between Elder Scrolls and Mass Effect.  That's where the potential for a great Role Playing Game through PC and console exists.



#29
Eiphel

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I actually feel like all of these approaches work and can be done poorly or done well. They just fit different narratives and styles of game. New Vegas did a great job of starting you as a blank slate character and yet ultimately making your background of great importance, and so - of course - did Torment. It depends a lot on the narrative that the game will have. Some narratives neccesitate a set starting point for your character, and I think that's fine - I'd hate to throw out all of those narratives just for that fact. And besides which, when handled well, a set origin can be really conducive to a great roleplaying experience because it gives a clear starting point by which to measure your development and change across the game. A blank slate opening or one that is heavily player-defined usually tends to feed more into the character being a constant throughout (though by no means neccesarily). The only thing I'm opposed to is the game telling us what SORT of person we've been prior to the game. I'm not actually against this as an absolute rule either, but clearly for Project: Eternity it wouldn't make sense with the game experience that's been developed for us to be locked into a particular nature beforehand. On the other hand I don't mind if it tells us where we grew up, what past events we were involved with, and so forth. From a game mechanics point of view, I would be wary about two many character creation options devoted to defining things like this - vague traits can be good, but you run the risk of simply ruling out certain possibilities by not supporting it. A blank slate or simply an undefined opening might not offer much support in the very early game for your character concept - this is certainly a common issue - but it doesn't negate concepts in the way that a mechanic player-defined background can do.


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#30
teknoman2

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the idea in itself is not bad, however if it is like arcanum, where the choice only affected the initial stats and for the rest of the game it seemed like your character lived his background story in a different world, then "no, we are fine with a common start for all"



#31
forgottenlor

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I think the strength and what was really memorable about Dragon Age:Origins was were its multiple start stories. In fact, when most people talk about the game in a positive way, this is what they talk about. The multiple start stories of course then blend into the same rather generic game. I like branching exclusive content. It doesn't have to be at the beginning of the game. In lots of games you join some faction at some point and get a quest branch exclusive to what you choose (Gothic series, Might and Magic 7, Neverwinter Nights 2 OC). I do like the idea of culture and background being recognized throughout the game. I also think it would be an interesting experiment to have personality based dialogue. Of course, let's face it the more exclusive content in a game, the more work a developer has.  


Edited by forgottenlor, 14 July 2013 - 05:54 AM.

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#32
curryinahurry

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As others have mentioned in this thread, I would be fine with having certain background traits reflecting my characters ancestry, childhood, education, and possibly, birthplace.  All of these could affect starting stats in some mild way.  They could also give you access to certain areas at the beginning of the game that are somewhat exclusive.  As an example; let's say you choose to be from an Aedyran mercantile background, which would open up an encounter with an npc in the commercial center of the starting location; or someone from a lower class, thiefing background might get access to a thieve's guild in the same town.

 

Since I think multiple starting points are unlikely, there are still ways, as the above, where backgrounds can have fairly significant influences on game-playing experience.  



#33
nikolokolus

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I don't really see the need for multiple starting locations, because A) that would probably take a good amount of development funds and B) At some point very soon after the game starts, we all know we're going to end up at the fulcrum where the "Big Event" TM  takes place.

 

However, I do think that having the world react to variables like cultural and personality traits as you progress through the game is a good way to make backgrounds feel meaningful.

 

If you are making a game that allows for a wide variety of character archetypes and designs one the worst things a developer can do is create a very detailed and scripted starting narrative like the ones that were in NWN2 or Dragon Age: Origins; at that point the range of plausible characters (or personality types) becomes very narrow and the designer is imposing control over my character concept.

 

In short:  

The game giving you general background traits that it can react to in a meaningful way = good

The game deciding your character's backstory and/or imposing a narrative on your character before the game even begins = not so good.


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#34
jamoecw

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The thing about allowing a lot of player backstory is that it likely won't affect the actual gameplay content at all with what we're expecting in Project Eternity, which is PS:T-type world/NPC branching content. Even adding a few additional variables for starting character backstory over our existing choices of character sex and race would, if Obsidian were to make those matter, affect too much content going the branching route, and that sounds like it would just be too much work. After all, the primary thrust of the Kickstarter in relation to content depth and breadth was pointing to the "world-affecting choices" in PS:T/BG2. 

 

In terms of development resources, I imagine the relationship between player backstory and world reactivity on an inverse scale. Assuming those variables would matter to world reactivity, then the more freedom you give players for backstories would be inversely correlated to available branching world content due to complexity (in addition to usual "choices" in quests). Likewise, if character backstory is prewritten, that would IMO allow far more freedom in developing branching reactive content with more emphasis on choice. I'd rather Obsidian just keep "baseline reactivity" in terms of character backstory limited to sex and race, and let the world react to your choices after that. 

that's why i think the most efficient use of any sort of backstory stuff from a developer resources standpoint is banter for adventurer's hall characters.  having a few choices to select a grouping of generic banters for player made characters would make them seem less band compared to the other NPC's, this all assumes that there is banter in P:E.

 

let's say you make a male dwarf, you select female voice, raised by elves, likes indoors, and dislikes dungeons.  you end up with some sort of effeminate dwarf that likes staying at inns, has a lot in common with your elf party members, and tries to get you to not take dungeon delving quests.

 

even if it doesn't alter dialog options, the backgrounds can improve the game via banters, though you are right.  if they devote resources toward origins having a serious impact on gameplay then you will have a significant amount of permutations, or you could go the BG route and have 3 options that don't mean anything (results in the same choice).



#35
lolaldanee

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it's a "nice to have" feature for me

dragon age did this in a very good way, but even there it barely played much of a role in the later game (but when it did, it was great)

however, i don't have the slightest problem with games that totaly force a certain character on you (witcher games e.g.) either


Edited by lolaldanee, 16 July 2013 - 02:09 PM.


#36
Lephys

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They could always just take the Bethesda approach. "You miraculously get dragged into this whole world conflict... FROM A PRISON CELL! Why? Who knows! The only limits are your IMAGINATION! That's like... INFINITE backstories! I mean... as long as they all involve you ending up in a prison cell! 8D!"

Haha.

Seriously, though. I think even just an elaborate tree of scripted (like the officially teased bridge-jump scene, or giant-egg-in-an-alcove scene) events would be nice. That way, you can get a LOT more intricate backstory options and variety in the same amount of time it'd take to DA:O in significantly fewer playable background areas. Then, like McManusaur said, you could still have different starting locations, all converging on a single point of narrative origin (i.e. the supernatural event that you witness that kicks off this whole thing). You could even witness this event in slightly different ways, from different angles/perspectives/vantage points or at different times, etc.

Think of it like a dot on a grid, with lines coming from like 10 different directions that go through it. If you come at it from the left, you come out the right side. If you come at it from the bottom, you emerge on the top side. From the right, you emerge from the left, and so on and so forth.

I think one problem with the DA:O approach (not that it was a problem with all the specific backgrounds) is that it's realllly difficult and resource-intensive to actually craft out entirely playable sections of the game when they're just your background. Well, without only having like 3 of them, at least. Why? because only SO much of your background has anything directly to do with the rest of the actual narrative of the game. Whether you came from a farm or came into town as a slave in a caravan, or as a noble's servant, doesn't really mean that the main narrative is going to feasibly work in that farm, or that caravan route, or that noble's house into things. Granted, your character is going to continue interacting with the world, and that farm/caravan/house is going to do so, as well. So, you'll cross paths with people/elements of those backgrounds. But not necessarily the locations, themselves.

This means that every area they make for a background is essentially all that work JUST for a prologue. The characters with whom you come into contact again could be in the game, regardless of your background. The only thing that changes there is your relationship to them. So Nobleman Godfrey is in some city, but if you're from a farming background, he just treats you like a peasant. If you're from a slave background, he probably treats you even worse (but still a little differently). If you're from the noble house background, maybe he has a lot more impact on your specific playthrough. But, he's not a unique character/area that only exists when you choose his background. Writing some extra stuff for him isn't as intensive.

#37
rjshae

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Something they could do to make your background matter a little is to start you off with a small family inheritance: say a unique crafting recipe that you inherited from a parent or guardian. The nature of the recipe would depend entirely on which background you choose, and it would be unique--you couldn't acquire any of the family recipes through your adventures. In other words, it's a family secret.

 

For example, suppose your family were pig farmers: you could inherit a crafting recipe to build a device for drawing small amounts of pure water out of the mud. This seems pretty worthless at first, until you figure out how to use it to veil yourself in concealing mist.


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#38
Lephys

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^ A rather interesting idea, Rjshae.

Even if not that exact thing, starting out with different, unique resources like would be interesting. As opposed to simply varying amounts of money, or slightly different skill points.

Edited by Lephys, 17 July 2013 - 02:40 PM.


#39
moridin84

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Umm If I recall correctly the start of the game is going to have the player character witness an "earth shattering event", I think that a single starting location is almost required for that. 

 

For the background trait stuff... I can see it as a bit of "fluff"  similar to how it was done in NWN2 or Mass Effect rather than anything important. 

 

Actually... does anyone know if the main character is going to have a defined background similar to Planescape Torment or NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer? As opposed to a "blank slate" character. If the main character is going to be a defined background then this thread isn't really relevant. 


Edited by moridin84, 17 July 2013 - 02:42 PM.


#40
Lephys

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Umm If I recall correctly the start of the game is going to have the player character witness an "earth shattering event", I think that a single starting location is almost required for that.


If by "location" you mean like... city or area, then yeah. But, you could still start in different spots. Although it's possible, I wouldn't assume that the very start of the game is LITERALLY your character witnessing a supernatural event, kind of like how the start of the Lord of the Rings isn't Frodo setting out for Mt. Doom.

You could start in different parts of the outskirts of a city, or even different parts of a city, itself, and have different prologue "companions," and different interactions with the very same NPCs within that city, even, and STILL end up witnessing the very same event that every character in every playthrough witnesses to kickstart (pun alarm) the main portion of the narrative storyline.

The witnessing of the supernatural event is like a chokepoint between areas. Plenty of factors before AND after it can be totally different.

In fact, what might even be pretty interesting is if all the backgrounds are in some way affiliated with the starting city/area, and they're all "there" no matter what. In other words, if you COULD be a farmer entering the town for the day to sell his crops, or you COULD be a mercenary brought into town to help the militia with something, then, as the mercenary, you actually can bump into the farmer (who, now, simply isn't you, and therefore doesn't end up witnessing the supernatural event), and vice versa.

If that farmer is Cedric's nephew, from the Salnor farm, then, even if YOU don't choose that background, an NPC who is Cedric's nephew from the Salnor farm could be wandering around town, between the gate and the market.

Edited by Lephys, 17 July 2013 - 02:58 PM.






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