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  Click here to go to the first staff post in this thread.   Thread: For the Love of God, Choices!

  1. #1

    For the Love of God, Choices!

    Honestly, all I want in this game is for choices that MATTER, for them to be dependent upon previous choices.

    Now while this has already been addressed by Stoic . . . "Your choices in dialogue and throughout the game truly affect the story and the people around you" . . . I believe that's easy to say but hard to achieve.

    For my 2 cents, what I would like to see is a story where choices literally matter. As in choices must depend upon previous choices to make the game more realistic and replayable. Now while of course that's certainly a lot to ask, allow me to clarify.

    Most games today have, what I perceive is, a braid like story line where the player-character is led to a choice, given the effects of the choice, and then brought back to the main story line with a new choice that is independent of the previous choice, hence the "braid story form". I believe this is a inferior / dull way to tell a story because it confines and alienates the player, forcing them to mainly be recipients of the story with novelty roles rather than an active force that defines the story.

    It looks like this . . .


    However, In my opinion, the greatest games have a story line that draws the player in through simply having dependent choices that rely on the previous actions made by the player. This is what I call the "Tree story form" and what makes it so great is that it forces the player-character to be sucked into the game as an actor that drives the story along its predetermined tracks, allowing enough freedom to grip the player, but enough structure to allow the game to flow and function well.

    It looks like this . . .


    So going back to why I am creating this thread. I would like to see many choices that are dependent upon previous choices, I want a story that's going to grip me, a story that I'll remember because I was apart of it.

    Now, you might be thinking, "but knivesalot this sounds crazy and complex, how could it exist as practicality?" Well, let me draw from a few examples off the top of my head.

    First and most recently, is the game "The Walking Dead" based on the comics by Tell Tale Games. They have incorporated this "tree" structure by promoting every choice as a choice that has these dependent ties. For example, there's one point where the player-character is given the choice between saving one of two members of the survival group that you are apart of. When the player-character makes the choice, the character not chosen dies and from then on the player that lives is apart of the story from then on.

    Second, let's consider the age old classic Deus Ex. Now this game definitely had a tree story line and the replay value was phenomenal. Specifically, I remember the first time I played it I was faced with a choice of killing this rebel guy or not. Instead of doing what I was supposed to do I decided to turn around and shoot the robot lady who was making me choose in the face. This resulted in a completely unique story line where I was constantly on the run being pursued by the lady robots friend who was seeking vengeance. Amazing! Now that was a game.

    Therefore, what I'm trying to get at is, the more dependent the choices are in an rpg the better the game (assuming everything else is reasonable). Said differently, let in-game choices be a marker for, and definition of, a new path for the story; rather than just having the choice loop around to the next inevitable event DX. So please, please, please, put in dependent choices!
    Last edited by knivesalot; 05-01-2012 at 09:09 PM.

  2. #2
    Superbacker Kaffis's Avatar
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    I completely agree. Now, I understand why the "braid" method (as you call it) has become popular -- it's exponentially more work per hour of gameplay/unit of story in one playthrough to do branching trees.

    However, what I wish game developers would understand is that I place a premium on the tree type of story because one of the *big* draws about playing stories with choices is talking with friends and fellow gamers about our different experiences! And the experiences are never very different if the choices always lead back to the same dialogue and plot points for everybody.

    Similarly, I fear that developers tend to approach trees as a bunch of "wasted" writing and development, because one playthrough only experiences a fraction of it based on one path through the works. This is anything but the case! Instead, what that "wasted" work amounts to is an interest on my part to play the game multiple times!

    I will say this, though: the most compelling merging of mutable story and gameplay was in the Wing Commander series. I loved that that game took the tree(-ish -- the possible routes the game would take branched out while providing points at which your actions could jump from one branch to another down the line, before the whole thing narrowed down to 2 possible endings again) approach, and I love that doing so promoted a mindset while playing of accepting that sometimes you fail, and the moment things start looking bad, the thing to do is NOT to hit your "restart mission" or "load game" menu options, but to try to mitigate the damage and shoot for an acceptable *degree* of failure, that could be salvaged with diligent work and success in later missions.

  3. #3
    I, for one, have faith we're in very good hands on this topic. OP sounds like they might enjoy Chrono Trigger.

  4. #4
    Backer cichy69's Avatar
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    @knivesalot ...I approve this message ;]

  5. #5
    @Kaffis - Couldn't of said it better myself.

    @Forgot69 - I sure Hope so

    @cichy69 - I am humbled

  6. #6
    Superbacker Ratatoskr's Avatar
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    I agree completely. I think in one interview Stoic was actually talking about this, saying that they wanted to make a game where if your village burns down in the beginning it's not the end, you simply have to try to go from there. So I think they definitely have the idea of it's not exactly whether you win or lose but how you get there that matters. And it'll be interesting to play a game where you're not reloading all the time because you screwed up unless like everyone dies or something.
    I'm also pro tree-style because I feel like that really ups the replay value of a game if every time you play you can take an entirely different path so the experience is always different. And since I'm going to have to play a few times at least to try a few of the awesome crests other than mine I am all for that.

  7. #7
    I definitely get the impression that this is one of the big things that Stoic is shooting for and I'm excited to see what they come up with.

    To be clear though, more mainstream developers understand that story is a premium draw and they don't consider branches wasted writing. It's just that branching that way is really an incredible amount of work. Not like twice the work, but seriously much much more than that. Consider the time, effort, and money that went into the three Mass Effect games. Consider just how many times more writing, voice-acting, animation, and levels would have had to have been made if every scene was a culmination of all the choices that came before it. Towards the end of even the first game you're talking about thirty or forty different scenes instead of the one with a few variations that you're given.

    I suspect that Stoic is going to figure out a lot of awesome ways to go about approaching this. But I don't hold it against BioWare for only delivering the massive amount of content that they did :-P

  8. #8
    Superbacker Jenn's Avatar
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    I agree knivesalot, absolutely. I'm sure you've seen this, but in case you haven't: https://www.penny-arcade.com/patv/epi...e-and-conflict It's not so much about the braid vs tree idea (which is fantastic by the way), but about the choices themselves being interesting

    In a similar vein, this article sums up what has been disappointing me in recent games: https://boingboing.net/features/morerock.html

  9. #9
    Superbacker Skitnik's Avatar
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    Games featuring choices and consequences are more than rare. Not only are they more expensive, but they are contrary to the trend of handholding present in mainstream games. A game, that I cannot recommend enough, that really recognizes choices both in character devloppment and in story progression, is Arcanum : Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. Available for peanuts at gog.com.

    About The Banner Saga, one of Stoic's inspirations is King of Dragon Pass, another awesome and unique game, so, I think that it's a safe bet that choices will be here, and that they will matter.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by kale View Post
    I suspect that Stoic is going to figure out a lot of awesome ways to go about approaching this. But I don't hold it against BioWare for only delivering the massive amount of content that they did :-P
    What I hold against Bioware is not so much the choice to not go with a tree storyline, but rather them lying about it. Right up until Mass Effect 3's release, the developers insisted that was exactly what they would never do, that the ending had many different variations based on your choices, and that several choices from previous games would have a huge impact. That did not end up being the case, of course. It wouldn't have been as much of an issue had they been straight-forward about cutting off the branches and explaining their reasoning for doing so.

    Back on topic, I agree that a tree storyline is a must in The Banner Saga. Your choices must not just inspire some future event, but also open up new choices. In this way, you can really affect what's going on by going the same direction with every choice, or you can mitigate the damage of previous poor choices. This need not conflict with the overall storyline; a tree of choices about the workings of the clan and relationships between people is fulfilling, but does not require the game to go an entirely new direction. To go back to Mass Effect 3, it would have been possible to have many branching sidestories (such as a group of missions about the Rachni) based on your previous choices, without changing anything about Shepard's goal of stopping the Reapers---affecting the final battle, yes, and possibly its outcome, but not making it an entirely different game.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Kimberly View Post
    What I hold against Bioware is not so much the choice to not go with a tree storyline, but rather them lying about it. Right up until Mass Effect 3's release, the developers insisted that was exactly what they would never do, that the ending had many different variations based on your choices, and that several choices from previous games would have a huge impact. That did not end up being the case, of course. It wouldn't have been as much of an issue had they been straight-forward about cutting off the branches and explaining their reasoning for doing so.

    Back on topic, I agree that a tree storyline is a must in The Banner Saga. Your choices must not just inspire some future event, but also open up new choices. In this way, you can really affect what's going on by going the same direction with every choice, or you can mitigate the damage of previous poor choices. This need not conflict with the overall storyline; a tree of choices about the workings of the clan and relationships between people is fulfilling, but does not require the game to go an entirely new direction. To go back to Mass Effect 3, it would have been possible to have many branching sidestories (such as a group of missions about the Rachni) based on your previous choices, without changing anything about Shepard's goal of stopping the Reapers---affecting the final battle, yes, and possibly its outcome, but not making it an entirely different game.
    Yea, I definitely agree with all of that. I love pretty much all of the ME series until about the last 10 minutes and then everything goes horribly awry. I'm just a little sad because there hasn't been a ton posted on the forums yet and much of it already seems to revolve around, "I love this project because it will do things differently than BioWare and BioWare does everything badly." I'm pretty sure BioWare doesn't do everything badly. But more to the point, I think the Banner Saga is an awesome enough endeavor that we should be able to discuss it and be excited about it on its own merits rather than always in to comparison to other things we might have liked less.

  12. #12
    Backer hannibal's Avatar
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    Tree-branched choices are great, but expensive to produce.

    If you take the example of knivesalot, there you have as a player two choices, but the designer has to develop already eight different stories. With every further choice that number doubles, 10 choices would result in 2048 story branches, an insane number in connection with game design.

    In reality one could reduce design time by eliminating redundancies etc., but still, I understand why even big studios only do the 'braid' method.
    Personally, I'd love to have some real choices, too, of course ^^.

  13. #13
    Superbacker Troll's Avatar
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    Not only does a tree branching style needs work, it also needs the mind(s) to work out coherent and interesting branchings. On a small / medium lenght game it can be done with correct ressources, but on larger games with a big universe I'm pretty sure it becomes way harder to weave all those branchings in an interesting and coherent way while keeping each branch different from the others.

    I do want a tree style branching in The banner Saga though, it would fit quite well with the setting of the clan always on the move in a caravan.

  14. #14
    Backer balnoisi's Avatar
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    i do have a solution for producing multiple story branches : let's make the same scene, viewed through different color filters one for each branch. colourful tree, no ?

    now seriously. in my opinion no game will be developed with a 100% tree story line like the one in the firmly drawn sketch by knivesalot. one or two main lines could be, but 20 ? 100 ? 1000 ? .. there's no way to make this possible, maybe making a whole new game for every main line, or you would need to be able to create a complete real universe.

    the way i picture it would be more like a journey in a metaphorical tube (metro), you will always be travelling the same line, choices you make are represented by a change of clothes, companions, if it's a wagon or a truck or a bike; but none of this allows you to exit the line.
    because after all you may change order of events, present a number of possible solutions for every situation, do as in a sandbox kind of game. but the main Story has to be written down.

    wow, i went all philosophical there. i guess only i understand what i meant.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by balnoisi View Post
    i do have a solution for producing multiple story branches : let's make the same scene, viewed through different color filters one for each branch. colourful tree, no ?

    now seriously. in my opinion no game will be developed with a 100% tree story line like the one in the firmly drawn sketch by knivesalot. one or two main lines could be, but 20 ? 100 ? 1000 ? .. there's no way to make this possible, maybe making a whole new game for every main line, or you would need to be able to create a complete real universe.

    the way i picture it would be more like a journey in a metaphorical tube (metro), you will always be travelling the same line, choices you make are represented by a change of clothes, companions, if it's a wagon or a truck or a bike; but none of this allows you to exit the line.
    because after all you may change order of events, present a number of possible solutions for every situation, do as in a sandbox kind of game. but the main Story has to be written down.

    wow, i went all philosophical there. i guess only i understand what i meant.
    I think the mistake a lot of you are making in imagining this is figuring that all choices are related. It's entirely possible to condense a lot of choices into just a few versions, and some choices are not related. Let's say you have four choices in situation X and three in situation Y. Each choice has a result, so you have seven results. Now, there's 4 * 3 = 12 possible combinations, but the developers still only need to have seven events.

    If multiple choices led to the same event, that reduces the amount of events needed, as well: let's say one of your choices upsets the warriors. Instead of having a special event for that choice, have it add to the behind-the-scenes "warrior_upset" counter. If the counter reaches four, you get a "the warriors are rebelling!" event. That way you made just one event that showcases the effect of a bunch of different choices, taken together.

    So a branching storyline is really not as impractical as it would seem at first. The main story can keep going in the same direction, a number of choices will eventually lead to the same event, and not every combination of choices requires its own programming.

  16. #16
    Backer Mudfly's Avatar
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    I like the idea of a branching storyline as well. But I don’t think every choice have to lead to a dramatic change in the story. I think well balanced mix of both braid and tree style storytelling would be preferable.

    Look at dragon age: origins. That game forced you to make both big choices, like character origin, which fractions you helped and so on, but also smaller ones as well. One of my favorite parts of the whole game was when you tried to save Anora from Arl Howe and whether or not you were able to do so changed the story quite a bit during the next 15 minutes or so, but only very slightly after that. This did not require hundreds of hours of writing to accomplish (probably). They only had to change a few lines of dialog here and there.

    I’m not really sure what I’m rambling about anymore so I’ll try to stop now.

  17. #17
    Backer Kaffo's Avatar
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    I remember me and my friend comparing our Witcher 2 endings. So much variation between us!

  18. #18
    I don't have a problem with a story which is linear as long as it's used to tell a more cohesive narrative. Books are great at pulling me in without giving me the ability to change the course of the story. Let player choice dictate the path which leads you to the end of the game but if this is a game about dealing with what's thrown at you, it shouldn't be too hard to make the malleable aspects of the story relate primarily to your small group and have the rest remain the same regardless of what you do.

  19. #19
    Ooookkkk, First of all let me say thanks for the replies everyone!

    Now, what I just realized after all your comments is that I never really flushed out the practical nature of the tree story line. The truth is that the unhindered Tree model is a model that's impossible because it's reality. A game is really just a model of reality that we can have fun with without having to worry about real life repercussions because there are so many possible outcomes (practically infinite).

    Therefore, the tree model "untrimmed" (as I call it) actually looks like this . . .


    . . . which quickly becomes unmanageable due to the exponentially increasing amount of choices.

    So the question is then, "but knivesalot how is the tree story practical in any form and what's the point in talking about it if it's so impossible?"

    Well, I realize what I didn't elaborate on in my first post was the necessity of not only dependent chocies but also choice "aggregation".

    Certainly the tree model (while it's what we all want) is impossible. So my answer is to approach these effects as close as possible until it doesn't matter that the story line isn't a true tree model (kind of like calculus).

    This can be achieved by "trimming" the tree model down to a manageable size or combining it with braid model manageability.

    Visually this becomes . . .


    What's significant about this form is that the story line is built in such a way to allow as many choices as possible until they become unmanageable. At this point a significant event happens where the player-character is faced with a choice. However, what's different about this choices is that it is an "aggregated" choice that the player doesn't make directly, but rather, makes it indirectly through all the subsequent choices. The effect is a result at the event, based upon all previous choices, which sets up the next cycle of choices. These cycles repeat until the story is concluded. Therefore, the final choice before the next tree cycle is no a single choice at all, but an aggregate of previous choices that yields the results which begin the next cycle.

    Now, the theory is all well and good, but how could this be practically applied? Well lets assume that the banner saga begins in a village and the player-character is given choices on managing that village. Time goes on and the village changes in a unique way until the end of the first "tree" cycle. At this point, based on the previous choices, the village either burns down or is saved. However, because the world is ending the tribe has to leave the village either way (even if it never got burned down). But for the player-character that saved their village they get to salvage supplies, etc. from the village and move on well stocked. For the other player-character who's village did get burned down they don't get to start with supplies and are forced to raid other villages or make risks to gain them. But because they are unencumbered they move faster and don't have to deal with the catastrophe that forced the other player to leave their village. Thus the result is a new tree cycle with choice 1 being already made because it was an aggregated choice.

    Now what's important to point out is what I don't want and I think a good example is Mass Effect 3.

    Just as Kimberly says,
    What I hold against Bioware is not so much the choice to not go with a tree storyline, but rather them lying about it. Right up until Mass Effect 3's release, the developers insisted that was exactly what they would never do, that the ending had many different variations based on your choices, and that several choices from previous games would have a huge impact. That did not end up being the case, of course. It wouldn't have been as much of an issue had they been straight-forward about cutting off the branches and explaining their reasoning for doing so.
    Mass Effect 3 is a perfect example of what NOT to do. Drawing from the final choice in the game, the player character got to directly choose what happened at the end. This is not the tree model, it is the braid model. I say this because the choice the player makes is (basically) independent of all previous choices. I mean sure, they came close with the point system etc. but the final choices of the game should of been an aggregate of all previous choices. Now I'm not saying that didn't happen (certain characters died, etc.) but it was trivial and the player could just simply choose to control the reapers or kill everything (or make it all robots?) whatever. The point is that Bioware should of, in my opinion, set up the results of the game to be dependent upon previous choices made during the game aggregated together (and of course made the results better but that's a different topic).

    Thus Addressing the concerns of Kale, Skitnik, and Hannibal, etc., I agree that a tree story model is certainly more difficult, more expensive, etc. but it is absolutely necessary for a GOOD game that is designed to revolve around rpg elements. Without the tree form then the game will ultimately become a shadow to other rpgs that do incorporate the quality of the tree method.

    Furthermore, these problems can be mitigated by using the "trimmed" tree method to make a tree structure manageable. While certainly, unrestrained, the exponential nature of the tree method is not possible and you could end up with some odd 2048 branches. but by aggregating these choices the exponential nature can be controlled.

    For example, lets assume a story starting with 2 choices and gaining 2 choices for every choice . . . so that's 2 choices the first round, 4 choices the second round, and 8 choices the third round, 16 choices the fourth round, which comes to a total of 30 branches. Then these choices are aggregated into a result with 2 outcomes and the process starts again at round 1. Now assuming 4 cycles of this and we come up with 120 branches across the entire story. Compare this with a story that has no aggregating qualities (you get thousands of branches) and we can see that the tree model (when trimmed) is not only possible but also practical.

    So to edit my last post's conclusion, add dependent and aggregated choices!

    Oh and Jenn, awesome vid/ article! lol
    Last edited by knivesalot; 05-02-2012 at 05:20 PM.

  20. #20
    Superbacker Kaffis's Avatar
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    It's worth pointing out that the other way to aggregate choices is much like Mass Effect's endings do, by quantifying previous choices on an axis and creating demarcations to create "ranges" of cumulative choices that correspond to a lesser number of consequences/effects.

    So, if you make three choices that anger your warriors, you end up with an influential warrior leaving your tribe and striking out on his own. If you make eight choices that anger your warriors, half your warriors follow him. Etc. This is also aggregation, because, if that represented ten individual choices, we don't end up with 2^10th (1024) potential results.

    The *other* thing to note is that not all choices need to be directly dependent on all other choices. Whether you anger your warriors or not with your food rationing, you can still come upon the same marshy stretch of land.

    Finally, if you do aggregate, you can aggregate along multiple axes, too, and have results/consequences that can check more than one axis to create a more complex aggregate system.

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