Would this work: Choices silently altering MCs actions/character

I’ll frame my question up top and then provide a rambley explanation.

I don’t know if this idea or approach is new, so perhaps you can point me to other games that have done this. I’m thinking of how to approach meaningful choices versus fixed or flexible future actions for the MC.

I’m wondering if a model whereby a player selects an action at one point (run away from the spider). Then later on when confronted by spiders the narrative has the player act scared or even run away. Would that kind of silent shaping of the story work?

Some points of thought and clarification:

  1. This doesn’t remove or replace player choices. In our example the player still gets to choose what to do, but the surrounding narrative has been decided by earlier choices. So we give the player some choices and those give them scores for bravery, intelligence and charm. Then during the game there are 3 versions of the same scene: one for high, medium and low intelligence - the one that is played is determined by the earlier choices.

  2. Perhaps this is fundamentally the same as how most games work now. But I’m not talking about locking scenes or choices behind a variable check. The three scenes would hard code behavior and characterisation into the MC that they can not control.

  3. I think one of the big gripes is a game that makes a player run away when they are playing an MC that would fight. The idea of my system is that it has measured the style of play and therefore the hardcoding of behavior will fit.

  4. Having them be scared doesn’t lock them out of fighting. But the narrative of the eventual fight is qualitatively different.

  5. Would probably have to be quite clear that every choice you make is shaping your character in subtle ways.

  6. In my mind it would lead to different paths opening or closing on a macro scale. So the scared player is never getting the dungeon path but they get more magic. The point being that this overall arc decision is hidden from them.

  7. Does this fall over for players who just react as they please for any given choice?

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sound like a system that eventually will force the player in one set route.

Mc: I wanna smash trough this wall, why I can’t do that?
Game: Because you picked lock pick ability 6 times before. That raised your Dex and Speed but lowered your Shoulder Pad Powers!
Mc: What???
Game: Jiggle Lock Pick Come on, Abracadabra Poke Poke!

Kind of thing?

Oh I forgot to add that the only time I personally saw something like this, would be in Dragon Age 2 and it’s related to the character Hawke that you play. You get 3 personality (Noble-Sarcastic-Butthurt). If you pick one personality and use it a few times, Hawke start acting during dialogues more like said personality. The difference is the game never EVER block you from changing Hawke personality. You can pick ‘Noble’ whenever you feel like it, you can mix it up and make the data in the background tear its tiny 1 and 0 and go error 404. Which is the true freedom of the game and one reason I love it.

5 Likes

What I’m thinking is less definitive and more around the narrative. I also think my fantasy example is not the best as those games then to be more inherently stat based (like your example). I’ll have a go at a better one (the stat changes and checks noted below would all be hidden to the player):

Scene 1
As a child you were often left to play on your own, leading you to explore all over the ancient house. During one game you came across multiple spiders

  • You ran away screaming (- 1 bravery)
  • You incorporated them into your game (+ 1 bravery)

Scene 2
You would have been about 12 when you first discovered the world of stand-up comedy. Your dad let you stay up late and watch as performer after performer tried their wits at the microphone

  • You laughed along raucously with him (+ 1 comedy)
  • You didn’t really get it (- 1 comedy)

There’d be a number of these, some more subtle than others - and not in a quick fire scenario like this. Then we move on in our story…

Scene 23
IF BRAVERY >= 5
You get to your feet and turn to face them, defiance blazing across your face. You have no intention of giving these two mugs anything.

  • Make the first move and take out the nearest one
  • Wait for them to move and dart in under their guard
  • Try and de-escalate the situation, but be ready to fight if you need to
  • Back away slowly, keeping alert for the slightest murmur of attack
  • Back away slowly and hope they don’t follow. You have no intention of fighting today

IF BRAVERY < 5

  • Turn and run as fast as you can
  • Back away hurriedly, keeping a wary eye on the pair
  • Try and de-escalate the situation
  • Make a show of force by raising your fists

So in both situations the player has fundamentally the same choices. The brave player can’t out and out run away and the non-brave player can’t be the aggressor. But either player can fight, de-escalate or attempt to leave. The cruicual difference is in the characterisation of the players - this is hardcoded in the narrative and decided based on earlier choices.

So, to go back to my original question - is this something that writers already do (to a greater or lesser extent) - I’ve not played enough games to know? My feeling is that characterisation is either fixed in the narrative (and unresponsive to choices) or is entirely put into the choices. What is the feeling about how players do/would react to this? Do you think this is too subtle and likely to leave players frustrated that they ended up somewhere they didn’t want to be?

3 Likes

heavy stats games probably have something similar. I don’t know, most of the games I play (In this forum) are Choices based. Related to dialogues and decisions making. The stats are simple enough that I barely look at the start screen.

Heavy stats based games are another thing, and I let those who wrote them tell you more about them. (cause numbers give me a headache :sweat_smile:)

again, the issue wasn’t they have ‘Different choice’ but the fact that the choice is locked behind ‘‘You don’t have enough X stat because you didn’t pick enough of X a few pages back’’.

Most WIP (work in progress) have a save-load system for debugging. But it is never added once the game is released (Some create checkpoints though), so I can see some frustration with some players.

Some players want the story and don’t care for the Background shenanigan even if they aren’t shown, because they are ‘Felt’.

Like everything else in life, you will get 2 sets of replies to this. Some peoples like to see STATS, others don’t want them shoved in their faces. Some would want to know how the system work and even ‘Add cheats’ so they don’t lose and Pump all Stats (Nobody ever does that), where others will rejoice at how ‘innovative’ the system is and will nerd with glee lol.

Don’t base your decision on what the peoples want, you will get many opinions and very few agreements. I say, take their opinions and use the advice and knowledge to help you ‘Frame’ whatever you want to do better and tweak it so it works the way you want it, and will frustrate (and delight) as many peoples as you can. (Uh I mean not frustrate as many peoples lol bad wording)

Anyway, that’s what I think :wink: Good luck!

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I’d be very careful approaching this sort of thing, personally, for things with major in-game effects. While The Luminous Underground does have a few flags that are like this - mostly, whether or not the character is anxious - it only manifests in slightly modified text in relatively few circumstances. For something like that, especially with the whole “makes the character run away when their concept of the character would fight,” I’d wall that behind multiple checks, so that the player has already established this pattern of action.

I’d recommend against closing entire paths because of choices players didn’t realize they were making, though. That feels like a route to dissatisfaction and frustration.

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I said this before in a similar topic and I think it’s relevant here. I think it’s especially true if the choices are silently altering the MC and thus, the player may or may not have any clue why they were railroaded into certain actions or know how to accomplish which path they wanted. These games are played only one or two times frequently. Authors often focus deeply on replayability, but the key is still making sure the first time they play the game they feel it was worth it rather than being frustrated and thinking “what the heck was that?” For some people, “what the heck was that?” may prompt them to replay and find out. For others, it may prompt them to never play the game again and/or leave bad reviews. The latter is undesirable I’m assuming.

So basically, just be careful about micro —> macro is my advice as others here have said.

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(Emphasis mine)

I think this is reasonable. It seems to me that this amounts to flavor text, which in my experience most players appreciate. I think the important thing is to give players a significant amount of time to “build” their personality–opportunities to reinforce their tendency toward bravery/cowardice/etc through multiple choices over several chapters.

And a lot of games do lock players out of choices based on their stats. While I would hesitate to lock entire routes/paths based on personalities, that doesn’t seem to be what you’re doing here.

And the best way to find out if this works is to try it! Listen to the feedback from your readers. If they don’t like the mechanic, you can change it. It will be much easier to address this topic contextually anyway.

Good luck!

5 Likes

I’m not a fan of the idea. Obviously it’s your game and you can do what you want with it but this seems like a way to force a character into a box. Just because a character is a coward most of the time doesn’t mean they can’t be brave that one time.

Also it seems like it would take away opportunities for character development. Using the example you gave, maybe a character with less than 5 bravery would try to make the first move and be the aggressor, since they may feel it’s the best way to get out of their current situation. They don’t have to succeed, but taking away the option means that there’s very little room to grow. The character never gets the chance to grow and become brave, they’re stuck as a coward for the rest of the story because of choices they made at the beginning, before the story began to escalate. Again, what the player is doing doesn’t have to work out if it doesn’t match with their stats or make sense considering the situation, but giving them the choice is important.

So for me, this would be a no go, because I like to play games and see my characters grow, see how the story affects them and they way they would act. I personally wouldn’t find the story enjoyable if the game didn’t give me the option to see character growth.

7 Likes

I do it a lot, but for flavor not major decisions.

2 Likes

It’s not exactly the same thing as you’re suggesting, but it might be useful to note that the official “Writing for Choice of Games” doc cautions against the use of tests in ways that might take agency away from players:

Tests Without Choices

Sometimes, tests can be hidden in the text rather than in a choice, like this:

You get to work bright and early, and immediately report to your boss.

*if rel_boss > 50
    She greets you with a cheerful smile.
    *goto boss2
*else
    She scowls at you.
    *goto boss2

This is a really good way to make your story more dynamic, and to show the player that their actions matter. The relationship with the boss will feel more real.

However, you should use this kind of test with care so that the player doesn’t feel that some of their agency has been taken away:

“Is there something I can do for you?” your boss asks.

*if secrecy > 50
     “No, just passing through,” you reply.
    *goto office
*else
“Actually, yes,” you reply. “There’s something that’s been worrying me, and I’d like your advice.”
    *goto bosstalk

What the player would see is either:

“Is there something I can do for you?” your boss asks.

“No, just passing through,” you reply.

or

“Is there something I can do for you?” your boss asks.

“Actually, yes,” you reply. “There’s something that’s been worrying me, and I’d like your advice.”

So the player wouldn’t know that a stat check has been done; they’d just see that they decided to ask their boss for advice without having actually chosen to do so. The player might regret their character’s lack of secrecy earlier in the game and want to try to change their ways; in that case, the player would feel that their character’s choices had been taken away. It would be better to handle this as a choice instead of a test. In general, actions should be determined by choices, but reactions can be determined by hidden tests.

4 Likes

UnNatural does this with the monster who kills your family. But it is something the player can overcome and it also increases their lore in that monster as it makes sense for someone to research what scares them.

1 Like

You seem to have gotten a lot of push back against this idea. Give Samurai of Hyuga a look, as it does a lot of this with its personality system. I personally think this can be a nice way of making the character feel more real, and enhancing the story.

Are you asking how you would do this in code? Because your outline is basically how. You’d just need to add the indentation and format it to choice script. You could also do it with booleans
*if (ran_away_from_spider)
1 set of choices
*else
another set of choices

Hi, did it worked for you that way ? Or have you found something else to do it ? If yes, could you please share with us ?

If you’re asking me whether I have implemented this, then the answer is: kind of.

I am no longer working on the the game idea that led me down this track. However, my current idea uses something similar. I haven’t got to actually working on that bit yet, so it may well fall flat on its face.

The idea is that your character has a number of personality axes (let’s say Bravery-cowardice; intelligence-stupidity and moral-immortal). Various decisions push you along these axes in one direction. Then each other character in the game has preferred, neutral and non-preferred traits - when you interact with those characters, the specific text that is displayed based on their assessment of you (i.e. where you are on the three axes in relation to what they like).

I don’t know how dissimilar this this to many other games. The idea is that it moves away from more binary interactions whereby the MC gets to pick who they hang out with/be friends with/date and the other characters just go along with it no matter what.