Should other characters have free will?

I’ve noticed in quite a few games that your mc seems to be the only person who was given the ability to make choices in them. Everyone else seems to just react to everything you do and nothing progresses unless you make it happen. Romances won’t start unless YOU make the first step. A person will never have friends unless YOU befriend them. Nothing will happen unless YOU do it.
Personally, I prefer when other people in the story take initiative. Like how in some stories if you have a high rep with someone, they will actually try to romance you. Or if you don’t do something really important and set it off for awhile, someone else will get frustrated and just do it for you. I find it easier to play off of with a lot of my characters since most of them wouldn’t take the first step in a relationship or go out of their way to do things that don’t interest them.
But what do you prefer? Do you want a world in which you make ALL the choices and everybody just reacts to what you do, or do you want the other people in a story to make their own decisions?


I’ve noticed that quite thoroughly. As I develop my own game my attempt and main goal and focus for the game is to breathe life into everyone and everything.

Cog games are meant to have the MC influence the world around them. I prefer everyone else have their own thing going for them and be more…alive. Every choice I make shouldn’t be a presidential decree that influence everyone lives and bends things to my decision. Well that is unless I’m king in the game…though that shouldn’t change peoples emotons, likes and dislikes, and what their goals are, and generally if they do it or not.

Freewill in general is what makes things interesting and makes one think about their decision, and thinking about ones choices before they make it, that essentially is what I think makes the life blood of tales.

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Well ignoring the idea that even players don’t have truly free will in a designed game, I think it’s perfectly possible for other characters to have free will and they ought to in every game. Without it, a game would just feel like playing with an elaborate doll set instead of actually living any kind of real story. The romance stuff you mentioned in particular I would like to see more of. Why the other character can just flirt with us first is beyond me! Takes the same amount of writing and makes the game that much more exciting for me.

Games where the MC is more of a director than a character can be fun, but for me personally they get boring.


Nobody has free will in a game - they can only act according to their pre-programmed lines. That said, I do see a lot of proactivity in Choice of Games - Psy High, for example, has two of the three main romances (Tyler-Taylor and Ali/son) take an active role in pursuing your character. And of course, in Choice of Romance you are more a target of romance than an initiator.

As for the other stuff, well, if there’s a task for a player to accomplish, of course it’ll only get accomplished if the player does it. I will say, however, that there are very good game design reasons that you wouldn’t put a time limit on a task before another character will go ahead and do it. Time limits are a pain in the neck in a role-playing game, though somewhat less so in a visual novel or Choicescript game.


@Interestedparty Do you have an example of the games you’re speaking about?

In Zombie Exodus, for instance, there’s plenty of interactions between the group, and friendships, with characters who have their own motivations. Pretty much everyone, who might be interested in you, actively pursues you. I’d say dynamic characters interacting differently depending on your previous actions is one of JimD’s greatest strengths as a writer.

In Heroes Rise, Black Magic is again the one who does the pursuing. (Complete with one of the most inappropriate seduction techniques possible). They are also your in to the super-hero group, and are shown to have friends in that group that are independent of their friendship to you.

I’d argue Slammed! as well.

As well as the games previously mentioned. And I could likely pull up some other names.

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Stuff like EndMaster’s Eternal has various factions acting of their own free will. Indeed, I find the MC in that is reacting to events just as much as he is setting things in motion.

There is though, a fine balance as to how it is done. I think Bioware provide a great example of how NOT to do it with Anders in Dragon Age 2 and the chantry (if you haven’t played but intend to, don’t google this.)

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I think what’s really being asked is should NPCs be coded with their own motivations, making them more proactive instead of passive.

And I agree they should be more proactive instead of just pining away for the MC.


What about a game where the NPCs each have a path of choices they take themselves, but it’s randomized which they pick? It would make the player’s play through even more random.


Yes, playing through a whole game waiting for a character to romance you and finding out they won’t ;-;.

In general, NPCs with an own agenda are better than those who just passivly react to the MC’s actions.

However, in a choicescript game it’s not really possible to give the NPCs own decisions. You could simulate free will by using randomroll, for example in order to set their initial attitude towards the MC or resolve scenes between NPCs that occur offscreen.

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I like the idea of characters being more proactive. The solution, in my opinion, is fleshing out the important characters more. If a character has a motivation, goal, conflict, etc. I think it would only be natural as a writer to figure out how this character acts in certain situations and perhaps even orchestrates certain events.

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One inherent flaw with these kinds of games, is usually that you only get the one chance. The one decision. So even if you feel like the timing is all off for romance, or if you feel that it wasn’t the best move, you still have to say yes if you are at all interested, otherwise the person slips off the hook. But to constantly get prodded to go a certain direction wouldn’t be very fun either if done too much, especially if everyone turns out to be Joey from Friends. It’s a delicate balancing act to be sure.

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Heroes Rise 2 and 3, Choice of Vampire, Showdown at Willow Creek, Thieves Gambit, Choice of Robots, Life of a Wizard, Tin Star, and The Lost Heir. So, that’s about half of the choice of games available for purchase
I was going to put the ones on the forum, but figured that wouldn’t be quite fair since they’re still in the demo phase and still have time to change it up.
Also note that I haven’t played every choice game out there. I probably missed a few because the game concepts didn’t interest me.

Awwww that would ruin my ‘I am the Player, appease me and do whatever I like’ style😔 But I like the point

@Hell_Satan No. You have to choose.

@HornHeadFan See I’d argue plenty of NPCs are pro-active in achieving their own goals, however, because of the nature of the stories we may be apt to dismiss that. In every game I can think of, the majority of NPCs can’t be romanced.

@MutonElite I actually commented on that during my beta-test of Slammed! That if you rebuffed Ecstasy, because it was the wrong time (in the exact way they rebuff you earlier in the game) it ended your relationship. I loved that Paolo then changed things so you can say it’s the wrong time, and yet continue the relationship anyway. I actually prefer the Ecstasy romance.

Choice of Rebels plays with the whole only one chance too, with Breden. If you meet Breden, when you’re a noble, there’s a chance to kiss them. In most games unless you choose to kiss them then and there you’d be immediately friend-zoned and wouldn’t be able to progress with the romance. I did like that Breden acted realistically, but also that it didn’t sink the relationship.

@InterestedParty I dunno, in Heroes RIse 2 both Jenny and Black Magic clearly have their own agendas and they’re very much “my way or the high way” in regards to those agendas. Even if you’re dating them, they both work on actively creating their own friendships, and alliances with people, independent of their relationships with you. And in fact those alliances, and the outcome of the gameshow, are far more important to them, then that relationship. Black Magic does, also actively pursue you.


I totally agree. I hate when I feel like I’m the only person who can make anything happen and everyone just sits around until I decide something. I loved how in the last Mass Effect game, Tali and Garrus get together if neither of them are in a relationship with Shepard. There was this other game, Okami, where you have to go around restoring these sacred trees in order to drive away a curse and restore power to the land. For one of the trees, however, when you show up, the work’s already done and this character who’s been a bit of a pain up until now says you were taking too long so he did it himself. :stuck_out_tongue: I laughed when that happened.

Edit: @RVallant Yeah, Bioware’s not great about that, aside from the Tali/Garrus thing I mentioned. For a lot of the DLC missions, if you don’t buy them and play them, you find out in the next game that the mission was a complete disaster and everyone died because Shepard wasn’t there. Of course, that’s probably just a ploy to get you to buy the DLC. :unamused:

That’s a good idea. Or maybe for stats that reflect the state of the world, like the anti-Hero sentiment in Heroes Rise 2 and 3, different events trigger or people in general act differently once those stats reach a certain level.

I looked and couldn’t find an existing thread about this, so I’m curious what people think.

With every single COG I’ve played, you can pretty much have any of the romantic options. All you have to do is decide to pursue them. If you make horrifically bad decisions, you can lose them, but it seems like this is usually extremely predictable and easy to avoid.

Of course, in real life it doesn’t work that way. Nobody will be interested in you by default because in real life, there is no MC. People like you because of the things you’ve done, the things you’ve said, and your qualities, and nobody’s attention is guaranteed.

Have you ever played a game that worked similarly? (COG or otherwise.) Maybe you needed to have a specific stat or do specific things to attract a RO. If so, how did it make you feel? Does it ruin the escapist fantasy? If not, is this something you’d want to see?

I’m currently planning a story that I will maybe someday get around to actually writing, maybe in the medium of IF, and I would love to hear ideas about this before I even begin thinking about any romance in it.


Something to keep in mind:
If you tie romance to numerical stats, they’re bound to feel gamey, and thus, can be power-gamed.

If you have npc that can be asked out but will always say no, they’re not an RO.


It’s something I’ve considered doing, but I always end up dismissing it, as still giving the players options of RO’s, while also locking them to certain stats, would require a very high number of RO’s.
Also, the frustration of having the one RO you like locked to a play-style you can’t stand, is not so fun.

As for games that do it, I’ve definitely played some romance VN’s that lock their RO’s to a certain skill/background/job/class. It just meant that I only tried one path/Ro. :expressionless:

When it comes to CoGs/HGs, the only one that springs to mind is Unnatural, where certain RO’s are limited by which team you start in, which is based on stats.