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Intertwined, decision based outcomes for 2 playable characters. (Forums : Development Banter : Intertwined, decision based outcomes for 2 playable characters.) Locked
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May 1 2013, 2:00pm Anchor

(Posted this in Writing, but probably better here. Please delete the one in writing first, if I'm not allowed dual posts in two different threads).

Hi,

I'm just working through the level process of a game I'm working on and would just like to get some input or solutions from the community.
First of all, the number of decisions made does not matter. The entire structure of the game is designed to be as easy and free flowing as possible. Each outcome based on a player's decision during game will follow an easy to follow and well structured tree, which will eventually lead the player down a different ending. To be completely honest, there won't actually be that many big decisions for the player to make anyway, as these will only come at certain junctures within the level.

When playing the game with one character, this is easy to do. However, this game will have two playable characters.

So, onto the idea:

Initially, my thoughts were to have the game automatically start with the first of my chosen characters. This is so that I can develop the story exactly how I want and gives me full control on when to reveal things important to the game at a later date when playing as the other character. Both characters complement each other really well, so this (hopefully) has a really strong effect when answering those important questions by the player regarding the plot.

However, I've been analysing what problems this will cause when put into action and trying to come up with a solution.

So, the basis of the story line goes like this:

Two playable characters; intertwined stories that differ and develop depending on players actions and decisions.
Missions and levels consist of this layout; Story Element/ Narrative -> Semi-Free Roam Objectives-> Liner Action Juncture -> Player Decision -> 'Hidden' Level Selector (depending on decision)...

Map changes will alter depending on decisions etc and lead players down a different route in the story. Like a branch. Some ‘levels' of the game will be skipped if the player decides on one thing and not the other. Likewise, depending on the decision, all levels can be played at some point depending on their decision; adding to replay ability.

That's the idea anyway. Let's look at it from a practical viewpoint.

Developer question; How will this alter the players experience when playing the other character? If, played in order as the idea suggests, then their initial single action will remove certain choices for the second character. The second character's storyline, in essence, will be dictated by the first character. They lose control of the true free decision making which the idea suggests and can only make alternate decisions based on the first characters influence over the situation they got into.

(Reference: Sky is the first playable character. Cable is the second playable character).

How do we solve this?

Solution A: Create new choices based on player's previous play through with Sky. So for example, if Sky decided to release Cable from capture, then Cable's choices would be different to what they would be if Sky didn't release him in the initial play through. However, we still pose the problem of Cable not being able to influence any new decisions or alter Sky's previous play state. He is in effect, under control by Sky's previous decisions and lacks the true ability to alter his own course. For example, making a decision which prevented him getting captured in the first place. This poses a problem as each play through runs within the same time frame and it doesn't seem realistic for those decisions to have been based on a previous play through. Even though the play through was in time previous to that of the second one, the actual elements and internal time frame of the game is not.

Solution B: Reduce the number of intertwined instances; only saving them for important plot elements. However, these will still potentially impact Cable's play through if Sky chose negative actions. However, the problem is drastically reduced and a few changes might be of much more interest when replaying. It's also a lot less work on the developer side when creating the levels based on these alternate decisions.

Solution C: Remove all intertwined instances of decision making. Allow free roaming outcomes to be different no matter what the player did on the previous play through. Each play through will just be based solely on the actions of the player during that run and the determining outcome will be separate. A single story, per single person; with alternate endings.

However, this poses a new problem of alternating story lines, but in reality (and based off the original idea), both their paths should result in the same outcome - just with different paths. It could cause huge plot holes and flaws within how each game is played out, ruin the motion of the story, and reveal spoilers too soon. Unless of course, this is done on purpose so that the player can just enjoy each play through however they like? In this case, it makes having two characters completely pointless and in essence, it should just be two separate games.

One solution to this would be to put each player on their own path, but instead give them both different decisions and options particular to their unique situation at the time, and they can judge on how they respond to that as individuals. These would be external influences which do not directly correspond with each of the players as an intertwined unit, but instead, as a sole entity. For example, Sky blows up a building (just an example). That building falls into the path of Cable, meaning Cable cannot travel further that direction. (In fact, no, this goes back to the problem in solution a. The only way this could potentially work is if the building collapsing wasn't part of Sky's decision making, and in fact was part of a fixed story element which happens regardless of any decisions made by any player).

Actually, an even better solution would be, neither had any part in the building collapsing, but it alters both sides story in different ways and projects their own stories uniquely.

Solution E: Allow the player to choose who they start the game as (rather than Sky being the default start). This would allow Cable to be able to influence the game first hand, as Sky initially would if played through as her first. This allows for dynamic game play and adds more replay value depending on which order you play the characters in. On top of that, you have added value based off their minor decisions which occur during game play. Really, for game value and replay ability, this is a huge bonus for the player. Negatives: requires a lot more work, might have to scale down the game or number of intertwined decisions as there will be a finite number of paths each player can take depending on who started when, what decisions were taken and so on. Story would have to be re-worked to ensure a well thought out process on discovering important plot elements and so on. This could be potentially easier if the plot per play through focuses more on the individual characters and their own problems, than the general game world itself and how other decisions effect them.

Solution F: Scrap the damn 2 player idea and just focus on developing the one character, using the 2nd character as an NPC; but keep them involved in the story. Many (if not all) of the gameplay elements both characters brought, can be interchangeable and fully developed into one character.

Anyway, these are just my thoughts. I'm sure I'll come to some final conclusion on how the games going to play out, but I wondered if anybody else had any instances or ideas for this to work properly?

Seb

Edited by: Tetsuo3

May 2 2013, 12:22pm Anchor

I think you should look at reality. If 2 people are interacting with the same object in real life, player1 or player2, then naturally, player 1's decision to do something with that object directly affects player 2's decision making process when interacting with the same object. Player 2 has no control over what player 1 does with the object.

Example: Player 1 and Player 2 both see a banana on the ground. Player 1 decides to pick it up while the Player 2 isn't looking. Player 1 scarfs the banana down as fast as possible, throws the banana peel in front of player 2's walking path. Player 2 doesn't know about player 1's decision to eat a banana like an ape. Nor does player 2 know player 1 made the decision to throw the banana on the ground.

Player 2 proceeds waling forward, before turning around, player 2 slips and falls on the banana and bumps head. Player 1 laughs uncontrollably.

(Later that day)
Player 2 is getting ready to cross a street. She is limping to the street corner since she hurt her leg after falling. As she is stepping into the street, she grabs her stomach because she feels like she has to go #2 on the porta potti. Her stomach is hurting, has diarrhea and her leg is limp. In a flash, she looks to the left just in time to get a glance of the BIG ASS BUS THAT RUNS HER ASS OVER AND KILLS HER.

Had player 1 never eaten the banana, player 2 would have been OK with at least slipping on the banana and maybe narrowly miss the bus hitting her on the street because she wasn't holding her stomach because the banana made her constipated.

Had player 1 never thrown the banana, player 2 would have also been OK, even though player 1 ate the banana. Player 2 would have been well across the street by the time the bus came because she wasn't walking with a limp or she wasn't waking across the street to go to the McDonalds to buy food anyways since she was no longer hungry. Either way, she wins.

Had player 1 not eaten the banana or throw the banana, Player 2 would have picked up the banana, ate it, then smash the face in of player 1 with the banana peel for player 1 whistling at her nice (&%. She would have been saved in scenario 3 also.

But notice... none of these outcomes would have occurred had player 1 not taken or taken action to begin with.

It seems like you want to defy the natural progression of things. A solution to that could only be found using quantum physics and/or alternate dimensions.

May 2 2013, 12:36pm Anchor

Sounds like you need emergence. Program an emergent sandbox full of persistent NPC actors and have fun!

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May 7 2013, 1:03pm Anchor
Tetsuo3 wrote:Map changes will alter depending on decisions etc and lead players down a different route in the story. Like a branch. Some ‘levels' of the game will be skipped if the player decides on one thing and not the other. Likewise, depending on the decision, all levels can be played at some point depending on their decision; adding to replay ability.

That's a very slippery slope you're walking on there, since it's so easy to get this wrong.
If you aren't careful, you don't add replay ability, but merely lock the player off half the content on the first playthrough, which is just annoying. It happens when the different storylines are too close to each other. Typically when they share the same key-scenes (like the same ending for example). Different ways to get the same outcome. The key is the following (and don't think that's an easy thing to accomplish):
No matter what decisions the player makes, the story needs to feel complete.

Here's one example:
Imagine a game in which the player character lives in a city that's in civil war or something like that. At one point the player decides whether he sides with the government or the "rebels". When he plays the game for the second time, he'll experience the same story from a different perspective, seeing things in a different light. Each story is complete in itself.

How to not do it:
Go through door A or B. After you made your decision the other one locks. Let's say you tell your story Shock-Style with Audio-Logs. You've put half of them in the room door A leads and half of them in the other one. The player finishes the game at which point the story is full of plot-holes an unanswered questions for him. Let's say he knows 75% of the story at this point. He plays again to go through the other door to get the other 25%. For this he'll have to experience the 50% both storylines share (beginning up until the decision and same ending) again, just to get to the missing bits.
This is not good story telling!

tl;dr
A game with good replay ability makes the player want to play it again, and doesn't force him just so he knows what the hell was going on.

Tetsuo3 wrote:[...]

ZorNiFieD has already nailed it.
"Free choices" only exist within limitations whenever two people are at least remotely connected to each other. In other words:
Most of the time our choices are influenced by other people, even if we don't notice.

It is very possible to build a story around choices. Scrap the idea of one story with different decisions and understand that it will be A SHITLOAD OF WORK.
Here's how I'd do it:

-Temporarily forget about the two player thing. Take one player (Player A) and player B, while not playable, is part of the world and thus important.
-Write one complete story (Storyline A), without choices.
-Now change one thing in this story on a "what if..." basis and write a different story from this point on. (one that really differs) (Sub-Storyline A1)
-Repeat until Storyline A is filled with choices. (Many Sub-Storylines)
-Repeat for every Sub-Storyline.
-Do the whole thing again for player B.

The amount of work would grow exponentially. And I mean "exponentially". While many people know this word, most don't understand.
To make this possible, you have three choices for limitation:
-Make the game short, so that there isn't room for a bazillion choices (2-3 hours like Portal for example)
-Limit the amount of choices, which would lead to less choices based on choices based on choices based on.......I think you get the idea
-Get an army of writers

To be honest, I think the best would be a combination of all three. Don't make this game too long, don't add to many choices and don't write it all by yourself.

That's just my take on this though.

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