How do you make a game where the player cares about the things they should be invested in, the consequences of their moral actions and the risks, rewards and magnitudes of their sacrifices?
How do you work towards that payoff moment where the player might say, “It was a tough decision, but it was for the greater good.” or “Am I willing to sacrifice everything I’ve worked so hard for in light of these new events?” or “Everything I’ve worked towards finally comes to fruition. I made good choices.” or …
Feel free to share your opinions and advice now, or read on to see that ‘+ Bonus Ranting’.
In theory, it’s pretty simple:
- Give the player two conflicting things to care about, exempli gratia: Wealth and Love.
- Tell the player what rewards these yield: Wealth rewards you with better equipment. Love rewards you with popular support.
- Tell the player the consequences of sacrificing either: Low wealth makes progressing in the game more difficult. Lovelessness closes certain opportunities to you.
- Make the player choose between the two.
In practice, however, it’s a little more difficult. Sacrifice isn’t sacrifice if we don’t really care about the thing we’re giving up.
Can I, right off the bat, ask a player to choose between sacrificing love or innocent lives (I’m looking at you, FABLE 3!) in order to broach and move on to the grander narrative?
Alternatively, can I spend seventeen chapters to establish backstory - why we love this person so incredibly much, all the hardship we went through, the dire-ness of the situation and why the support of the vox populi is so incredibly important, to formulate this one choice of severe consequence and risk it detracting from the grand narrative?
Of course, there are games that do it well, that allow you to build things up, work towards your own goals in a way that reflects who you are, that opens and closes doors based on what you want. Then, in a heartbeat, ask you to sacrifice half of everything you care about (Fable 2, you did super <3).
But, when writing, I often reach the point where I say, “That wasn’t really the point of what I was trying to do. This is only supposed to be a stepping stone on this journey we’re taking across troubled waters.”
I admire choice-like RPGs for their incredible feats in this area. Telltale does it well. I have it on good authority that Dragon Age knows what’s up. SW:KotOR, Vampire: The Masquerade and many, many, many ChoiceScript authors do it impeccably.
So, what am I missing here? What are your opinions and insights?