Sunday, December 1, 2013

Practice 2013: Designing Narrative Choice

Narrative and simulation in Versu (by Emily Short)
·         Modeling social physics and behaviors (shyness, aggressiveness)
·         Goes through interactive fiction, but without the text adventure missions.
·         With Versu, the author models characters with characteristics and they act appropriately based on their personalities and on consequences that would benefit them.
·         Failure – simulation runs completely off rails
o   During a scene where you’re talking to one character, two NPCs in another room get into a fight and one murders the other. This breaks the story that the author intended.
·         Failure – simulation doesn’t affect narrative
o   Your boss starts assigning you to a task, he gets on your nerves and you punch him, but the scene ends and the boss ends up shaking your hand and telling you you’ve done a great job.
·         Failure – narrative doesn’t affect simulation
o   Character who is kind of a player get dramatically rejected and re-examines his view on life and women. But still has the same hitting-on-people affordances as ever.
o   Solution – when you choose actions, your character’s traits will change and later action options will reflect the new traits.
 (by Sean Vanaman and Jake Rodkin – co-creators of IdleThumbs and Campo Santo)
·         Walking Dead is an adventure game. You make dialogue choices on a timer, you solve puzzles, you explore spaces, you are given choices that you often cannot remake, choices are about exposition
·         Criteria for designing impactful and meaningful choice, choice is the main verb of the game
·         What is the purpose of narrative choice in a game? marketing (you choose what happens!), empowerment (you are powerful and in control!), player agency (how do you feel and what do you want?)
·         What makes a well-designed choice? 1) Allows the player to express herself in the game, 2) fits within production scope, 3) entertain, enlighten, teach, or surprise the player
·         Entertain/Delight/Surprise
o   In a adventure game, choices that surprise the player are the most important. It’s like the shooting in a FPS or the jumping in a platforming game.
o   Telltales inspired by Monkey Island. What players talked about were the choices that they got to say in that game. Walking Dead tries to give the player really delicious dialogue choices and really fun things to do.
o   Choices illuminate things about the characters. What characters could say (but don’t) tells us who they are.
o   Choice is a form of player expression.
o   Gives players the room to determine how they feel, and a way to tell it to the game. Deliberately doesn’t give a value judgment to the game. There’s no light side or dark side.
o   Walking Dead is effectively a corridor you walk down, you decide how you will walk down that corridor, and the game doesn’t give value judgments to any of your choices. It is very similar toDishonored in that way.
·         Production scope
o   If you decide everything that will happen, you will go insane.  You will accidentally produce a simulation instead of a story, or a simulacrum of a simulation.
o   Montage effect – multiple inputs and one outcome, but will produce multiple stories. At the end of the talk, we can applaud, give a standing ovation, walk out, or call bullshit. If the speakers cry to any of the choices, it will create four different stories.
·         Story driven games start with characters. Stories can happen devoid of any specific characters.
·         The specificity of characters is something very interesting. The character you embody and how you make him react is game design.
·         People walked out during the development of Walking Dead because they said it wasn’t a game.
·         Does the breadth of options stunt the player? Do not give choices that are not interesting or not relevant to the story. Make the choices have real consequence.
·         Warren Spector doesn’t care about whys and hows people get through a section, but what they do to get there. Walking Dead only cares about the whys and hows.
·         Don’t care about the debate between simulation and emulation. They just want an emotional response in the player.
·         “It’s good for the choices to be surprising, but not surprisingly surprising. The second derivative of that should be zero.” – Emily Short
·         Warren Spector’s talk was really about having characters and objects respond naturally to your actions. Walking Dead was a genius piece of work. The game made players embody Lee’s skin and the most powerful choices were the ones that made you contemplate yourself as a human being. The game also illuminated skill from choice and consequences, and the worst parts of the game are the skill parts.
·         The writers of Walking Dead wanted to remove the skill parts of the game every single day, but there was a lot of pushback.
·         There were no zombies in the Walking Dead DLC, but nobody ever noticed besides marketing.
·         Kentucky Route Zero lets you choose what the story will be, and not what the characters do. It feels more intellectual than emotional.
·         In their latest game, you play as a character and form relationships with other characters as you talk to them.
·         Walking Dead felt like a disjointed movie. How do you create enough conflict in the story, yet players are constantly trying to resolve the conflicts as soon as possible? Get the player to feel “I didn’t get everything that I wanted, but I did everything that I could.” Playing lots of tabletop role-playing games (Polaris, Shock) where players do something and the game never fails you for it, but your actions have some other consequence that the player might not have expected.
·         Walking Dead is a polarizing game and many people do not like it. To them, the choices do not matter. Game designers cannot have every action be solutions because it would wrap up the game too nicely and the game ends in 5 minutes. Make people feel like they are working towards something (building a specific relationship).
·         Expressive/reflective choices – do not have systemic consequences but it’s a way for the player to express themselves.
·         DotaMinecraft, and Day Z are systemic, emergent games. Dishonored is often brought up as the example, but it still starts with a movie and there are several movies within in.

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