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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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#41
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.


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.

 

 

Personally I'm assuming that the "earth shattering event" will be after a short prologue. And I assume that when people are talking about "different locations" then they are talking DA:Origins style.

 

What you are suggesting could work, with just the first 30 minutes being a bit different but with the rest of the game being largely unaffected. It sounds kind of neat actually and wouldn't even take that much time and effort. 


Edited by moridin84, 17 July 2013 - 03:03 PM.


#42
Tsuga C

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I selected #3-6 on the backstory and #2 for the location question as I think that this combination will strike the best compromise bewteen a blank slate background and a completely pre-defined one. Much is defined by the player with this set of options, but Obsidian still has plenty of room in which to work to enrich the experience of the player.

#43
Lephys

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Well, just to be clear, in DA:O, you quite literally start in drastically different locations. That's an option, but, I just wanted to make sure what you initially meant when you said everyone will pretty much need to start in the same location because everyone will need to witness a supernatural event. DA:O is actually a very good example of what I was getting at, also: you start in completely different places, but you get recruited by Duncan no matter what the starting situation.

Also, just for what it's worth, I'd much rather have backgrounds that have relatively significant effects upon the on-going narrative/gameplay experience of a single playthrough with less difference at the beginning, than the DA:O style of "OMG, you get to play through a TOTALLY unique prologue!" followed by pretty much no significance, whatsoever (except for maybe one or two little tiny "Hey, remember how we let you choose a background? 8D" quests).

But, I definitely think a lot of the game could be experienced from a variety of different angles as an effect of the various backgrounds, rather than having to have oodles and oodles of "you only get to even meet these people and get involved in this situation at all if you chose Background A." That way, you don't run into that whole "we spent 2 months making all this background-specific content, but we still have 4 backgrounds left to provide unique content for" dilemma. Sure, you still have to write more factors and differences in for each additional background, but you're not creating new areas/environments/characters for each and every one. You're just writing different lines and interactions for the already existing stuff.

Between the two options, it's a lot less work.

#44
jamoecw

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Well, just to be clear, in DA:O, you quite literally start in drastically different locations. That's an option, but, I just wanted to make sure what you initially meant when you said everyone will pretty much need to start in the same location because everyone will need to witness a supernatural event. DA:O is actually a very good example of what I was getting at, also: you start in completely different places, but you get recruited by Duncan no matter what the starting situation.

Also, just for what it's worth, I'd much rather have backgrounds that have relatively significant effects upon the on-going narrative/gameplay experience of a single playthrough with less difference at the beginning, than the DA:O style of "OMG, you get to play through a TOTALLY unique prologue!" followed by pretty much no significance, whatsoever (except for maybe one or two little tiny "Hey, remember how we let you choose a background? 8D" quests).

But, I definitely think a lot of the game could be experienced from a variety of different angles as an effect of the various backgrounds, rather than having to have oodles and oodles of "you only get to even meet these people and get involved in this situation at all if you chose Background A." That way, you don't run into that whole "we spent 2 months making all this background-specific content, but we still have 4 backgrounds left to provide unique content for" dilemma. Sure, you still have to write more factors and differences in for each additional background, but you're not creating new areas/environments/characters for each and every one. You're just writing different lines and interactions for the already existing stuff.

Between the two options, it's a lot less work.

you actually start in ostagar (the tutorial), the stuff prior is a complex and convoluted cut scene, like the ones in ME3 where you walk around at a snail's pace until the game continues.  they just have different ones based on background choices that also have a dialog line or two thrown in through the game.  you seem to have experience with human customs, even though sometimes you are asked about your dwarf isolation from human stuff and then express that you know nothing due to being isolated and need to be told about it.  had they scrapped the background cutscenes they may have been able to polish this stuff up better, heck maybe even thrown in a couple more lines of dialog or an option in some quest that reflected your background.  not the worst background stuff in a game, but probably the biggest waste of resources (both the player playing and the developer).



#45
motorizer

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

 

 

 

Why does it have to be a chokepoint though? it's a supernatural event, it could happen anywhere, say it's a demon wandering the earth or something, does it matter where you meet him? it could just be at or near the exit of whichever area you chose to start at

nothing kills replayability like a chokepoint


Edited by motorizer, 20 July 2013 - 02:25 AM.

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#46
moridin84

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

 

 

 

Why does it have to be a chokepoint though? it's a supernatural event, it could happen anywhere, say it's a demon wandering the earth or something, does it matter where you meet him? it could just be at or near the exit of whichever area you chose to start at

nothing kills replayability like a chokepoint

 

 

As I understand it, the game is going to be full of "chokepoints". Essentially Act 1 / Act 2 / Act 3 type things. This is probably the best way to handle RPGs which aren't open ended. 



#47
Lephys

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you actually start in ostagar (the tutorial), the stuff prior is a complex and convoluted cut scene, like the ones in ME3 where you walk around at a snail's pace until the game continues.  they just have different ones based on background choices that also have a dialog line or two thrown in through the game.  you seem to have experience with human customs, even though sometimes you are asked about your dwarf isolation from human stuff and then express that you know nothing due to being isolated and need to be told about it.  had they scrapped the background cutscenes they may have been able to polish this stuff up better, heck maybe even thrown in a couple more lines of dialog or an option in some quest that reflected your background.  not the worst background stuff in a game, but probably the biggest waste of resources (both the player playing and the developer).


I'm not debating the quality of the implementation. Only stating the literal. "You actually start" in whatever background you chose. And you play from there. It's not "just a cutscene." "It might as well be a big cutscene 'cause it was such an excuse for 'gameplay'" might be accurate, but, again, I'm not even attempting to debate that. So, it's moot.

I'm attempting to discuss concrete, objective, tangible design shapes/paths/factors regarding the intro of the game, and how to best incorporate backstory lore and the like.

Why does it have to be a chokepoint though? it's a supernatural event, it could happen anywhere, say it's a demon wandering the earth or something, does it matter where you meet him? it could just be at or near the exit of whichever area you chose to start at
nothing kills replayability like a chokepoint


Because, something that shapes the entire rest of the narrative has to be a chokepoint, to some degree. It doesn't have to happen at the exact same point on the ground, but... that supernatural occurrence you witness (we have very vague details, obviously) has to have effects beyond simply your witnessing it. Effects on the world. Your character isn't literally the center of the entire story, or we wouldn't have a coherent world at all. It'd be a terrible story. "No matter what exactly happens or where it happens, the whole narrative is about that." They'd have to write like 50 different full main narratives, with the supernatural event affecting 50 different areas in 50 different ways depending on where/when/how you witnessed it, laying 50 different groundworks for "the" main narrative.

There's just only so much you can stray and still have a single, coherent (albeit reactive/dynamic) narrative.

Now, with our limited info, I don't claim to be able to tell you extremely specifically just how much freedom there can be in the approach to the supernatural-event-witnessing without compromising the main narrative, but, to some degree, it's going to be a chokepoint. That much is a given. Wherever/however your character begins the game, all starting characters are going to have to converge on that chokepoint, even if it can move about a little bit and/or happen at slightly different times or in slightly different ways.

#48
mcmanusaur

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Hmmm... I'll remain open-minded toward such "choke points" in Project Eternity, but the understandable notion that all supernatural plot events must irrevocably change the world is just yet another reason why I'm increasingly liking the sound of an RPG sans magic. "But how could a mundane and unexceptional situation possibly be interesting?" Well this isn't a place for me to rant about magic, so I'll leave it at that.


Edited by mcmanusaur, 25 July 2013 - 08:04 AM.

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#49
Monte Carlo

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some adventurers meet in the Green Dragon inn and decide to explore and loot a crumbling sorcerer's tower, which local legend suggests is cursed.


ladies and gentleman, this is all the background I need, am happy for a brilliant story to emerge from it.
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#50
Jarmo

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While I'd love to select from a bazillion options, I'd also like there to be two options to choose first.

 

1. Start with default character.

2. Customize character.

 

Where option 1 immediately tosses you into the game with a well balanced fighter.

You're some dude, now face the adventure!



#51
Micamo

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While I'd love to select from a bazillion options, I'd also like there to be two options to choose first.
 
1. Start with default character.
2. Customize character.
 
Where option 1 immediately tosses you into the game with a well balanced fighter.
You're some dude, now face the adventure!


I think NWN2's "Recommended" button is the best solution to this: I was perfectly happy with it from a usability perspective (I just wish it made smarter choices sometimes). Do as much or as little micro-management as you desire! My preference was to carefully micro-manage my PC's build, and let the recommended button take care of the companions at level-up (unless it made a really, really stupid decisions like wasting feats on Weapon Focus and Toughness).

Edited by Micamo, 25 July 2013 - 02:32 PM.


#52
Lephys

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While I'd love to select from a bazillion options, I'd also like there to be two options to choose first.
 
1. Start with default character.
2. Customize character.
 
Where option 1 immediately tosses you into the game with a well balanced fighter.
You're some dude, now face the adventure!


Haha.

"You're out tilling the fields for the season. Suddenly... DRAGONS! Annnd play!"


Hmmm... I'll remain open-minded toward such "choke points" in Project Eternity, but the understandable notion that all supernatural plot events must irrevocably change the world is just yet another reason why I'm increasingly liking the sound of an RPG sans magic. "But how could a mundane and unexceptional situation possibly be interesting?" Well this isn't a place for me to rant about magic, so I'll leave it at that.


I agree with your sentiments, McManusaur. However, I wouldn't equate a supernatural plot event in P:E being quite significant to the narrative with ALL supernatural plot events always drastically shaping the narrative.

It's when the significance of the event relies directly upon its mere supernaturalness that such things are crappy. That's just bad writing.

Example: There's fundamentally no difference between a powerful Mage or dragon attacking a city and leveling some buildings, and an army/militant group attacking a city with perfectly realistic explosives/technology and leveling some buildings. The significance of that attack upon a city should (if you're a good writer) come from oodles of other factors (what buildings were taken out, what was going on at the time, who was involved, who KNEW who was involved, who made what decisions whilst fighting them off, or prevented them from destroying further buildings, etc.), not from "OMG CANNONS!" or "MAGEERY!" or "DRAGON-NESS!".

In other words, fantasy and non-fantasy are just flavors. Bad writing is bad writing, not because supernaturalness, but because bad writing.

Edited by Lephys, 25 July 2013 - 02:44 PM.

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#53
Kjaamor

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

 

It might not be terribly helpful to the poll, but I selected all but the last option. I love character creation and I almost always think the more options the better.

 

The downside of the above, is that it makes it trickier to weave the personal into the narrative (although I appreciate that many people here are seeking the opposite of this anyway). In the past this has been done most succesfully when games have kept restrictions on the history of the player character. Baldur's Gate is a good example of this. KotOR is an EXCELLENT example of this.

 

I wouldn't regard myself as apathetic about this, because I'd be excited about either approach. What I would say, is that if Obsidian haven't already committed to the latter, I'd like to see as many options as possible in the former.

 

Should Project Eternity offer different starting locations?

 

I could rant about DA:O and what went wrong there, but I'll just keep it short for once and say that I don't feel different starting locations are necessary or a particularly useful use of resources.

 

(edited for formatting, which went a bit strange)


Edited by Kjaamor, 25 July 2013 - 02:42 PM.

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#54
Knight117

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I think giving you too much choice in terms of 'who is your character?' can lead to a helluva lot of problems. I'm sure it has been mentioned, but if you have a thousand different storylines, the way they integrate into the main plot will be cheap - much as I have faith in these guys, they can't write an entirely new game simply because your Halfling Barbarian decided to be born in Bum's End rather than Ear's Hole.

 

At the same time, however, I think a few choices are key. Having a single set place where everyone originates from can stilt the imagination. Take Candlekeep; Candlekeep was a decent example, because you could be a wild child, wandering outside, a fighter, always sparring with the Guards, or any number of things - they gave you a reasonable explanation. However, you couldn't be a wandering old man who just wanted to be left alone, or a pretty young house wife with a bustling family. It set you up in the perfect place to jump into the story with few hindrances, and then gave you options from there.

 

Looking at Chris Avellone's work, I think that'll be the case. You'll have options as to where you're from, what kind of reputation you have, but you'll have been funnelled through a castle or an event that sets you up to become the Hero of Project Eternity. I don't mind that at all, as it gives me a very nice point to jump off from. What I'm worried about is that they make your past essentially written - NWN2, you were Dagen's foster son. Baldur's Gate, you were Orion's Ward. Give me a bit of mystery, or let me choose my own past. Icewind Dale, while light on the integration, gave me plenty of time to just have fun with my backstory. 



#55
forgottenlor

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I'm not debating the quality of the implementation. Only stating the literal. "You actually start" in whatever background you chose. And you play from there. It's not "just a cutscene." "It might as well be a big cutscene 'cause it was such an excuse for 'gameplay'" might be accurate, but, again, I'm not even attempting to debate that. So, it's moot.

I'm attempting to discuss concrete, objective, tangible design shapes/paths/factors regarding the intro of the game, and how to best incorporate backstory lore and the like.

Well I'd like to add that they functioned as tutorials and gave different perspectives of the DA:O world, and you wouldn't have got the same impact from a cutscene.

 

 

 

 

I could rant about DA:O and what went wrong there, but I'll just keep it short for once and say that I don't feel different starting locations are necessary or a particularly useful use of resources.

 

(edited for formatting, which went a bit strange)

 

I agree that it might have been a waste of resources. In general I find it more desirable for different paths or exclusive content to appear later in the game, as it is rather anti-climatic to have the most exciting content in the beginning of a story. Its leads to a kind of a preprogrammed letdown. However, for whatever faults DA:O had, and that included the origins not being followed up on as well as they could have been, I still enjoyed them. 



#56
Lephys

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I think giving you too much choice in terms of 'who is your character?' can lead to a helluva lot of problems.


This is quite true.

To put it simply, though, even if you can't merely ask "Who was/is your character?," you can still ask "How/why did your character get here?"

Maybe he can't get somewhere else, and there are only so many valid reasons for his being in the given situation. That's all we need, though. Scope.

There's more than one way to skin a narrative. :)





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