Game Logic vs Choice & Consequence

By RPS on November 21st, 2011 at 10:41 am.

Gameworlds have become ever-more lavish, but has there been a dark price paid for this? Craig Lager believes so. Production values are up but these worlds don’t seem to react to players’ actions as fulsomely as they once did, he worries – are we allowing games’ strange logic to take us for granted? But there is yet hope. Frowned at: Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dragon Age II, Skyrim. Smiled at: The Witcher 2, Dwarf Fortress, Outcast. Please note these are Craig’s views, not necessarily those of RPS.

In my version of Human Revolution, the police station should be surrounded. There should be SWAT teams, negotiators, probably even an evacuation zone. Adam Jensen’s face should be being projected from every single screen that litters Detroit’s streets as Eliza explains him as being a more-than-prime-suspect in a new, horiffic incident. An hour ago, she would explain, Jensen asked for access to the police morgue and was declined. Now the back door has been broken into, and a path of corpses and hacked computers lead to the morgue in which a body has been clearly tampered with. Instead, Jensen walks into the main lobby and is greeted with “Hello”.

In my version of Dragon Age II, Hawke should have been executed a hundred times over. Ignoring The Circle he wanders around Ferelden raining down fireballs on common thieves, all the while accompanied by (and probably going to be sleeping with) a Blood Mage – the most illegal type of already illegal gone-rogue mage there is. He flaunts his magical prowess and barely an eyebrow is raised as he walks into the city barracks, embers still practically tumbling from his hands.

In my version of Oblivion, the hero should be exiled from Cyrodill. He’s been locked up more times than anyone can count. He saunters up to random people in the middle of city streets and beats them half to death with a club. Then he stands still and waits to get arrested. Over and over, the same cycle – beating, arrest, jail, breaking out of jail. Then, when the time comes, he’s warmly accepted into The Blades and handed weapons so he can ‘save the world’, without so much of a discussion about the psycopathic idiot that’s frequented the Black Horse Courier’s pages so often.

It goes on. It’s game logic, or rather, a lack of. There is a clear disparity between what a player does or wants to do and what game environments or characters know how to handle. The above examples are extreme cases, of course, but it happens all the time – how often have you set off an explosion, killed a man, or even half flattened a city with barely any repercussion or consequence? How many times have you been forced to game a conversation tree to fit closest to what your character wants to happen; or been pushed down one path even though another makes much more sense?

Frustratingly, the gap is getting bigger. More and more our choices are restricted to fewer possible outcomes or ways in which an environment can handle what we’re doing, and to boil it right down, it’s because of the level of technology we’ve come to expect and the costs that come with it.

To pluck a couple of old titles out of the air – Planescape, Outcast, even the original Deus Ex – they were incredibly reactive to what a player could do and gave a multitude of options in what a player could say. They could do this because to code in options was cheap (or at least cheaper). Now, though, because of the level of detailing we expect from a title, a large amount of money has to be pushed at each new option that’s presented to a player. A new dialogue branch (never mind complete separate path for a story to take), for example, isn’t just someone typing in some text or getting some more recorded and bolted in – it’s a wealth of motion captured facial animation and figuring out details down to where a characters eyes should be looking. A new enemy type isn’t a simple model and textures – each limb is intricately detailed and animated, and the same goes for a new NPC and each new quest line.

With new ideas of elements to put in games there is a simple rule: as they get more detailed, they get more expensive, and there is only so much time and money that can go into making a game. It’s a choice that has to be made – detailing how something looks or sounds or detailing how it works with other things around it. This is why, along with simpler but exquisitely good looking titles, we see super lo-fi but expansive titles like Minecraft, Space Station 13, and, to push it to the extreme, Dwarf Fortress.

It’s a game where the simplest of mistakes can unravel into a chaos of problems as systems interact and bounce off each other, giving the player an incredible amount of choice of what to react to and how to react to it. For example, a solitary miner could be expanding a tunnel but ends up opening into a huge cavern. Inside, a Forgotten Beast has been waiting for an opportunity for years and bursts through the new opening and rampages through the fortress, killing dwarves indiscriminately. Eventually it is slain, but its blood somehow finds its way into the Fortress’s water reserve and poisons it. Inevitably, as Dwarves start to drink from the reserve they become sick and die, then, crushingly depressed by friends being ripped apart by a monster and another friend dying from poison, a blacksmith dwarf goes crazy at work and throws a masterwork of a goblet into a volcano. Faced with his proudest moment being thrown into a fiery end, the creator of the masterwork goes berserk, tracks down the blacksmiths wife and murders her for revenge, who then rises from the dead as a ghost and haunts the blacksmith into a deeper depression until he hurls himself into a void.

It goes on, and that is mapping one linear line through a set of events – each of which could be spawning a similarly complex line – but complexity like this comes at a cost. “It’s partially a matter of prioritization and partially a matter of talent and resources.”, says Tarn Adams, developer of Dwarf Fortress. “If I have to choose between adding two game elements or adding one game element and its corresponding graphics and sound, then I’ll add two game elements”” He works with the most lo-fi assets there are – ASCII characters, but it enables him to push how much the world and player can do, and he can expand on ideas super quickly without any emotional or financial investment.

“It’s easy to add new things and it’s easy to change my mind. It’s also easier to do procedural generation – I just need to make a paragraph description of a randomized creature and the technical specs without needing to make a Spore-like model, and it’s simple to add new detail there. I also don’t have a team of people with personal investment in elements that might need to be cut or altered.” But then, of course, you’re left with ASCII characters and cube worlds, and while we all have a soft spot for Minecraft, it could easily have remained a niche indie offering because of it.

Making assets attractive and pushing graphics is obviously important. The quality of sound, graphical fidelity, particle effects and complexity in environments which all combine to make staggering sales figures and spectacular games (whether that be Battlefield 3 or Modern Warfare to look at some extremes) could never have happened without the lineage of good looking but fundamentally less complex games, for example. Basically, the games industry couldn’t have grown to be the biggest in all of entertainment while looking ugly, and stories – linear or otherwise – deserve to be told in the best way possible: mountains collapsing, spectacular explosions and breakthroughs in how to get a virtual character to emote and communicate are something that we couldn’t do without.

I wouldn’t ask for a world without the expressiveness of LA Noire, characterisation of Mass Effect, or amazing visuals of Crysis. I wouldn’t even ask for a world without the linear Michael Bay fests that crop up a couple of times a year as, clearly, people enjoy them and they make games companies money. At the same time, however, I would ask for a world where wonderfully reactive environments and AI, and stories with more greyscale and branching were something that were prioritised more.

Fortunately, there are a select few teams striving for everything – an amazing looking and sounding game with hugely diversifying story and worlds that properly acknowledge your existence. I can’t think of a better example than of CD Projeckt with The Witcher 2 as (much like the original) it’s a game that doesn’t shy away from presenting you with choices and forcing you to deal with the consequences forever.

“Fundamentally, we’re out to give players an epic tale” says Michał Platkow-Gilewski of CD Projekt “and the genre we’ve chosen is governed by its own narrative laws. These require integrating choice into the story we want to tell, even if it means our team will have to work that much harder to achieve this.”

Presenting choices on a scale of what to do with an individual prisoner to the entire plot structure of the game and making it as polished as The Witcher 2 has is impressive, but predicatbly makes for a lot of extra work: “As regards game size, making a game like The Witcher 2 requires at least as much effort as making three or four less complex titles. It’s a tough way of doing things, and one that only a few RPG developers choose.”

The Witcher 2 is split into 3 chapters, but the content of chapters 2, 3 and the epilogue that follows varies hugely depending on the choices that a player has made. (*spoilers*). Right at the end of chapter 1, the player has to decide who to assist: a rogue elf or an human spy working for the Realm. One choice results in a celebration in the nearby town, the other a slaughter. But it goes further too – in the next area the player goes to there is a fight between a King and a Rebel leader and who the party side with is decided not by the player, but by his new companion meaning that an unrelated choice earlier has just split the possible story of the game in two, because the choice wasn’t just of what skillset a companion should have, but what moral choices and allegiances they would tend to as well, or as Michal says: “Feeling the consequences of your actions can’t be reduced to a statistic. It can’t be about getting +10 karma for doing something ostensibly good and -10 karma for doing the opposite. If you want to generate real feelings about a game, you have to forget numbers and show the real consequences of the player’s choices and deeds in the game world.” (*spoilers end*).

There are smaller things too which give the world a very reactive, entwined feel. If Geralt so much as pulls out a sword inside a town, guards pounce on him, but instead of immediately starting a fight they aggressively ask that he sheathes his weapons. Or if he has offended or humiliated guards at some point earlier, a few guards might band together and ambush him in the streets to get even. All of the time people run for shelter in the rain, hide from monsters at night, and comment frequently and diversely on what Geralt has been doing.

So, while what CD Projekt do is fantastic, it’s also incredibly rare and certainly an expensive way to make a game, but really, it should be able to stop being either for everyone. Graphics are constantly getting pushed for more detail but they have to plateau at some point and personally, I’d argue that we really don’t need to revolutionize what graphics can do for a while – games look pretty damn good at the moment. And as with anything, methods for voice recording and good animation will inevitably become easier with time, so, with all this combined, if creating and plugging in assets can inch closer to trivial (just like the ASCII characters of Dwarf Fortress), the more resource it opens up for coding options, branches, and ways that a world can react.

In fact, if you look at Skyrim (a game I only need the smallest of excuses to talk about) you can see some sort of middleground there. People will comment on what you’re wearing, what type of character you’re playing, things that you’ve done, and even comment when you’re ill – all things that re-enforce your sense of place in the world. And then, mechanically, things like only getting a bounty on your head if a witness actually manages to report you to a guard make sensible player logic like “no witnesses” make sense. Of course, to counter balance you still get the stupid things like guards telling you to be careful around the mages guild even though you, in fact, run it, or that you can still be a murderous psychopath yet still invited to save the world. So, while still flawed and stories aren’t particularly branching – there’s progress there, especially when it’s part of such a massive, gorgeous, freeform (and admittedly buggy) world.

If the next five years of big-title gaming development can focus on closing that disparity of what we want to do in a world and what developers can afford to let us do, rather than pushing technology to add complexity to raw assets, we can end up with environments that are more interactive, manipulable, intelligent and alive, rather than just prettier. It’s important to empower us, as players, to do whatever we want in games and, essentially, to make the choices and options worthwhile by having the game react in the most interesting ways it can.

__________________

« | »

, , , , , .

158 Comments »

  1. Mike says:

    In the academic world, at conferences like CIG you get this topic brought up a lot. It’s one that, from our perspective, is a really interesting problem to tackle through systems like procedural generation and frameworks for emergent gameplay. If you can code in lower-level concepts, then stuff like the police station becoming surrounded by SWAT teams becomes as natural as your Dwarf Fortress example.

    A far larger problem than a simple reduction in player choice is looming, in my opinion, namely that of player conditioning. I love the idea that Deus Ex: Human Revolution kills the hostages in the first mission if you take too long to leave for the chopper. However, we are training our players to not expect such reactive worlds. In doing so, we shoot ourselves in the foot – because by the time the technology matures to the point where our worlds are truly reactive, we’ll be forcing players to re-learn what a game world is, through the punishment of their actions.

    For instance, in Skyrim I’m now warned by people to leave their homes when trespassing or they’ll call the guards. The first time this happened I just chuckled, because Oblivion never had this in. Why would they code such a specific thing in. Turned out I was wrong, got caught, and had to reload. That wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t my fault either because I’m not used to such richness of interaction.

    Nice article! Enjoyed it.

    • AshEnke says:

      If you can code in lower-level concepts, then stuff like the police station becoming surrounded by SWAT teams becomes as natural as your Dwarf Fortress example.

      That was actually what Introversion tried to do with Subversion – code in every system, surveillance, electronics, and try to have a model that can be interacted with on every level.
      And that was part of the failure of the game, even for a game as graphically “simple” as Subversion, managing low-level behaviors is the trickiest thing possible.

    • etusa says:

      “we’ll be forcing players to re-learn what a game world is, through the punishment of their actions” if the world acts logicly, like in your example, the re-learning takes one “punishment”. After that you begin think like you would in the real world. No problem there.

    • Mike says:

      @etrusa: It’s one punishment per logical step you make. So you get punished for thinking you can wait around in the office while there are hostages being held. Then punished again when you think a police officer won’t mind if you look at his computer screen. Then punished again when you assume it’s okay to smoke in the operating room of the clinics. And so on and so on. It’s frustrating for the player not just because they are being told off for having learnt something from previous games, but also because it smashes the illusion that the player is situated in the world.

      In reality, you would not hang around while hostages were in danger. You only do it inside the game because you think the game won’t mind. When it punishes you for it, it breaks the roleplay because it makes you feel like an incompetent head of security. No-one wants to feel like that. So I think it’s a bigger problem than you think.

    • Plinglebob says:

      @Mike I disagree with you here as I find events like being told off for going into the woman’s toilet or hostages getting killed for me taking too long actually increases my immersion in the world because despite what lessons I’ve been taught by games, I still expect them to copy the real world.

      Personally, I think something like the hostages should be taken further especially in RPGs. It always annoys me slightly that the world waits to end so you can do your shopping. Imagine if in Skyrim if you haven’t completed the approriate quest within a certain time frame (X in game days) Dragons start attacking you anyway. Or how about after X in game months either the Empire or Stormcloaks kick off the civil war and invade somewhere without your help.

    • kulik says:

      Help the game punishes me for being stupid. :-)

    • Mike says:

      I absolutely agree, Plingle, but I think the game needs to be very upfront about it rather than just letting the player fall into it. If you don’t know this is going to happen, and after forty hours of gameplay the world ends and you’re told “Game Over, you didn’t do the main quest fast enough!” that’s a kick in the nuts you won’t forgive easily.

      Basically, we fall into the game design equivalent of the uncanny valley. It has to cross this realism barrier (for the games that want to cross it) without getting stuck in the middle where hostages get shot but it’s still super-OK to save the world whilst in the nude.

    • wssw4000 says:

      “Or how about after X in game months either the Empire or Stormcloaks kick off the civil war and invade somewhere without your help.”

      The AI in that game is far too stupid to do anything on its own. If it were less dumb it could be like in STALKER Clear Sky where factions fight battles on their own, but need the assistance of the player to win the war.

    • Cinek says:

      It’s not about predicting all of the low-level behaviors. And trying to make game react on every single player action.

      It’s about making proper illusion.

      Usually easiest way is to take one “good path”, two “bad paths” and one middle-ground. Like… if you enter the town than game should be able to react on standard behavior – just walking around – bad one: trying to steal something or kill someone, and very bad one: killing someone, and than killing guards and starting to slaughter people. And finally a middle-ground: make town people react on you if you intimidate locals often or if things start to disappear cause you steal them.
      Than you just use “many-paths-leading-to-one-outcome” scenario, and many simple behaviors that don’t require lots of expensive things (voices, lips animations, etc), like people going asleep, reacting on rain, doing regular things like walking to shops, visiting other people homes, working in the garden, going for hunting, and it starts to be possible to make a world that gives you impression of being a living one through relatively simple coding.

      It all depends on possible game mechanics – Skyrim for one has it very difficult cause it’s a very open world with lots of possible player actions, but most of other RPGs can handle this much more easily, especially in games based on points of focus.

      Issue is that gaming companies mostly try to create a movie-like experience, (it’s an issue especially in RPG games), while games are… games, not movies during which you need to press keys in proper order cause otherwise different, “loosing” sequence will be play, or giving player only one straight narrow path made in every single cave or during every single quests line (you see: this term is silly anyway – quests in RPGs shouldn’t be linear, there should be quests trees, even relatively narrow, but it can’t be that game has 5 or 10 quest lines while all of them are just linear sequences of quests, no matter what player does: there’s only one way to end them). Yes, I’m all fine with in-game cinematics, and few action sequences, and lots of missions but when focus of development goes on things like QTEs and complicated animated sequences or making the world “bigger than in it’s precessor”, with “more questlines than ever” and “mountain having exactly 7000 steps” instead of enreaching the living world than I can’t stand this.

    • suibhne says:

      @Mike, there’s a fine line here between the overarching problem of player conditioning and just plain bad implementation on the part of the game. I’d argue that the DX:HR example is the latter, and I’d further argue that good implementation could solve this problem pretty quickly in any given game. After all, we’re accustomed to adapting to different rules for every game anyway.

      In DX:HR, all we needed was multiple, escalating reminders about the prospective consequence of dead hostages. That was the first problem. The second was that the game was entirely inconsistent about this: it offered some large consequences like dead hostages, but was totally unable to react to your minute-to-minute decisions. The Police Station example is obvious, but let’s go back to the hostage example: hostages die if you take too long at base, but there’s no urgency whatsoever (in terms of game systems, at least) once you arrive on the scene. You can spend an hour being all meticulous and stealthy-like, even taking far more time than would have been “punished” if you’d been sitting around at base, and yet…no dead hostages.

      The real challenge posed by CoD-like player conditioning is going to be for games like DX:HR, which want to be reactive but only up to a point – games which want to be really inconsistent. For games which are ready to talk the talk and walk the walk, however, this challenge will be overcome with some good design thinking about how to clearly establish the rules of the gameworld early in the game, then consistently follow them. So yes, I see a problem with games conditioning players to essentially be powerless spectators, but I also see a problem, at least as large, with games giving mere lip service to player empowerment – or just having no idea what it would really mean.

    • apocraphyn says:

      All this talk about not doing the main quest fast enough reminds me of Fallout 1 and 2.

      Take too long looking for the water chip/G.E.C.K and…

    • Dinger says:

      Yes, the game punishes you for being stupid. At what point should the game punish you for being stupid? Back in the day, we had game designs where a stupid mistake made an hour previous would make it impossible to go forward. Hell, I think OFP:Resistance’s main campaign even had something similar.

      The article may be a little wrong, but so is KG below. It’s not design-xor-tech: the two are almost always interwoven.
      The “mistake” here would be treating game logic and narrative logic indiscriminately (we could be pompous and have some godawful mix of latin and greek with ludic and diegetic logic). Game logic consists in the set of rules that concern the player’s interaction with the environment. Narrative logic governs the succession of player interactions with the environment. Take “sandbox” games such as Skyrim or GTA, or what have you. While called “sandbox”, they’re more like amusement parks. There are a bunch of “rides” set within the gamespace, which is a simulated environment. Game logic dictates the operation of the gamespace; narrative logic handles the availability, interrelation and function of the various “rides”.
      You can build continuity and commentary in the game logic; at the level of narrative logic, however, it’s expensive to do so, and generally not worth it: if results are different, one is better than the other (Oh no, we lost Ding Chavez!), and the player will feel like a loser; if the results are the same, the choice is meaningless (who cares whether it’s a “New Middle Ages” or a Communist Utopia, the game’s over, dude). So each narrative chunk has a minimal, illusory effect on each other one.
      One solution is to minimize or to get rid of altogether narrative logic, and build everything as game logic. On the one hand, you don’t need much to get a very sophisticated structure; on the other, the more complicated that structure gets, the harder it is to manage, to balance and to maintain. Dwarf Fortress is supercool, but even with a glorious first-person interface, it would not be an easy or accessible game. Minecraft has a small set of rules for the universe, one or two bits of narrative logic (the end game) and those simple rules already lead to complicated interactions.

    • triple omega says:

      The big problem I feel comes not when a world acts like the real world instead of the “game world” that is common to us all now, but rather when it does so 5% of the time. How is the player supposed to know what is real and what is not?

      At the moment the good games fix this problem by giving the player cues and warnings, but when games start to act more and more like the real world(or a real world) it might become too difficult to include warnings and cues for everything. Even in the real world we don’t include warnings for absolutely everything. We assume that years of growing up in this world has taught you the basics of it, but a game world does not have that luxury.

      Even more confusing will it become when different game worlds use different rules. In one you might be scolded or arrested for causing a traffic-jam by parking your car in the middle of the road, while in another nothing will happen. It is going to be interesting to see how developers deal with this.

    • malkav11 says:

      Oblivion definitely did have that in.

    • michailnenkov says:

      What I collected from the post and the replies all gamers want reactiveness and logic, while maintaining the paradigm of missions and quests. This to me is critical to the discussion.
      Before I dive in the problems that emerge from this paradigm, a quick thought on minecraft. Lack of missions and quests in the game is a deal-breaker for many, but many find it to be an immersive experience. A lot have been sad about the reason for this, but this is why I think it is: the world in minecraft creates an illusion (or in fact doesn’t need to), that the world is going to do “it’s thing” with or without you, whether you alter it or not. It’s not a difficult thing to achieve, nature will do what nature does, monsters will spawn, trees will grow. There isn’t anything to break you’re illusion, the mindgame you play.

      Now back to conventional games, as in “created complying with conventions”. One of those conventions says there must be a goal. A point A and a point B the player must bridge to succeed. That is a linear concept and it is such for historical reasons. Now, since we moved far from the historical limitations, we try to fight the linearity, since it is not a familiar concept from our daily lives, the way we think. So we introduce branching into the linear concept. We keep points A and B, but create multiple paths to point B, or even introduce points B and C.

      The problem I see there isn’t the amount of branching, the width of the quest tree etc, it is the whole paradigm of quest, mission, because it requires a point A. Point A is what breaks player illusion, not the lesser quality or quantity of branching. Imagine DE:HR, the hostage situation. You’re driven into your point A by cinematics (main tool games have for concentrating all branches into one point, hence it’s unpopularity), point A is being described to you, your given a somewhat flexible point B. In point A you’re told who you are, what you’ve been through, what you want, what you need.

      This is a bad thing for immersion and it’s valid in games and in movies (although comparing the two is strongly opposed by gamers and moviegoers). The fundamentals of story design are pretty clear and well handled in movies, for they were established (ie. offer no interactivity and a fixed timeframe which is handled). Not so much in games, but not because story design doesn’t apply to them (there is only one story design to all things that work with story), rather because it’s handled like a closed movie-like narrative, based on a primitive understanding of movie-like story telling which begins and then ends (Point A and B).

      In movies there’s a complicated structure to how things set out to happen, means by which the story is progressing that do not rely on it’s limited timeframe (creating gaps between expectations and outcome, creating a need to return things to status quo, creating new a balanced states of being etc ) and those are the ones that need to be introduced to story design in games.

      I think that game worlds that are going to exist and freely transform uninfluenced by player’s presence are the future and that those tools of storytelling are the way to make the player choose to set out on adventure, rather than giving him a quest. Minecraft unconsciously utilizes those mechanics, motivating the player to create his own adventures because he wants to, because he feels a need to.

      If such a game world is crated procedurally and programmed on low level to handle situations in a non-player-centric way, than all gaps in logic will be overcome, because the player wouldn’t need to do anything. If he fails to do something, the world will not stop to exist. There will be no need to handle player actions in other way, than they would be handled if an NPC did it, so it would be self-contained in a game-logic, that wouldn’t have to be totally realistic, but it will be consistent. It would require a vast coverage of situations, but whey wouldn’t have to be quest-specific.

    • qrter says:

      So that happens once, and then you know you shouldn’t do that, and you adapt your playing style. I don’t see how that’s supposed to be anything more than a minor inconvenience.

      I remember the first time I played Thief: The Dark Project. I hadn’t played stealth games before, only shooters. In a way, I couldn’t be blamed for approaching the game as if it was a run-and-gun game. I had to learn what the game’s terms were, and I did it by playing, failing and adapting.

    • jrodman says:

      Maybe thief is a better point of comparison than you realize:

      I played it by trying, failing, and deciding it was an annoyance and a waste of my time, and uninstalling the demo.

  2. starclaws says:

    Skyrim or Oblivion?

    • Verity says:

      Both. You don’t have to choose to play this or that exclusively and never again play the other game. Why people ask such questions?

    • malkav11 says:

      That assumes the person asking the question owns both games, which is not automatically the case. If you don’t already own Oblivion, I’d personally call it a safe skip. Morrowind has more freedom in interacting with game systems and a much more compelling world and storyline. Skyrim is more vibrant and alive, fixes some longstanding issues with systems (albeit in a way not everyone will appreciate) and so far certainly seems to have a more compelling world and storyline, if not quite up to Morrowind standards. And, while I’m sure some would disagree, I find Oblivion’s graphic style distasteful. It’s technically high quality, but something about the rounded shapes, plasticky textures, bloom, and so on combine to put me off it considerably. I feel like a modded up Morrowind (with MGE, texture mods, etc), while of lesser technical quality, actually looks much better, even than the Morroblivion mod that aims to import that game’s places into Oblivion’s engine.

    • tetracycloide says:

      I’m hoping to see a Morrim mod sometime. The prospect of playing through Morrowind with Skyrim’s mechanics and leveling system has me positively giddy. Oblivion’s mechanics and leveling system, not so much.

  3. bleeters says:

    Good read.

    It’s particularly bizarre in the case of the cited Deus Ex: Human Revolutions example. The game gives you – to my mind – three ways to get inside, either by sweet talking, stealth or butchery, but only the first one really makes any sense given what comes next. My break-in-via-the-vents-and-rob-everyone-blind-along-the-way Jensen ended up reaching the morgue and getting automatically locked into a conversation with someone working inside there despite entering the room with an invisibility cloak active. You’d think he’d mention seeing you.

    As far as Skyrim goes, I love all the little incidental comments from guards/vendors/random folk walking the streets commenting based on your skill progression, even if I have to wonder why all the guards in Whiterun are seemingly aware that I’m a kleptomaniac locking-picking extraordinaire without me ever being caught doing anything illegal, yet never do anything about it.

    Their comments if you’re afflicted with lycanthropy made me smile, too. Fur coming out of my ears? I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.

    • Orija says:

      While running about in undies some random hunter asked to at least cover my privates for the sake of decency and protecting ‘em from the cold.

    • bleeters says:

      Hah, yes, that too. I was actually messing around with new armour and such at one point, and spent a brief moment with nothing on. At which point a passing NPC commented that I should consider putting some clothes on before coming out in public next time.

      Little touches like that really are under-appreciated in general, as far as I’m concerned.

    • Kelron says:

      I’m not sure I’d pick Skyrim as a good example. NPCs do comment on your appearance and actions, but there rarely seems to be any logic to it. One will denounce me as a sneak-thief (which I can only assume is based on my high thieving skills, because I don’t think anyone’s seen me thieving), while the next will praise me as a hero.

      It’s also very rare to have your actions affect the game world, beyond some scripted events in linear quest chains. It’s a problem Oblivion shared too, and to some extent Morrowind – although in Morrowind you at least had situations like rival guild quests facing you off against other guilds, forcing you to pick a side.

      Being a Dragornborn Master-Thief Archmage Lord of Everything makes very little sense outside of game logic, and it feels like they’ve chosen to give the player an appearance of a reactive world while making sure he can do whatever he wants without worrying about consequences.

    • Cinek says:

      Yea, right, girl walks next to you and tells something about you being naked and few moments later they send you to fight a dragon cause you are “well equipped”.

      I didn’t know that THIS equipment helps in fighting dragons.

      Skyrim is actually one of worse examples of how world should react on player.

    • Snidesworth says:

      @Kelron: That’s exactly what Skyrim (and other games like it) are about. They’re there to give the player a wealth of stuff to do and they’re designed so that the player rarely, if ever, feels that they need to do one particular thing or are discouraged from doing anything they please. You can’t fuck yourself up long term, essentially, or at least that’s not the intent. You can’t become the Butcher of Whiterun, chased away from an civilized settlement and avoided at all costs by everyone else. Which is a legitimate design decision, given the nature of the games, but if you’re looking for a world that feels real then you’re not going to find it there.

      Of course, other games stop you from fucking yourself up long term by simply not letting you take actions that would result in bad things happening. I personally prefer these sorts of games since I see the logic of why I/my character can’t or shouldn’t do something, but for others the obvious lack of freedom is far more offensive than the lack of decent consequence modelling.

      Every game has to strike a balance between a detailed, hand-crafted experience and player freedom, at least until we get AIs that can react and adapt the game world like a tabletop GM could.

    • suibhne says:

      “…it feels like they’ve chosen to give the player an appearance of a reactive world while making sure he can do whatever he wants without worrying about consequences.”

      Welcome to modern Bethesda games, mate. Enjoy your stay. ;)

      In all seriousness, I expect Bethesda’s design document must contain some statement like the following: “The player must be able to be all things to all people. He must be able to finish all quests without exclusion and must be able to complete all guild questlines in a single playthrough. Anything less would be non-immersive.”

    • Ultra Superior says:

      I love it this way. You have always a way out. You can make things right.

      Better than real world.

    • Hidden_7 says:

      I don’t think it’s that they are shooting for immersion with the total player freedom thing. I think they are shooting for player freedom. And it’s a valid design decision. It wouldn’t be the route I’d go, but I can see why they want to make everything non-exclusionary, and it’s hard to fault them for it.

      While being the grand master of everything is kind of silly, these are games that prize player and character freedom. You get to play the character you want to play, without hard-coded decisions about what’s not allowed. That means that no one on the design team has gone in and put a specific reason why you can’t be a fighter-mage. Ideally, there should be systems in place that require some sort of specialization, so that there’s still a sense of character, but the idea is that the designers didn’t pick what the specializations are. The Elder Scrolls games have been better and worse at this preventing “master of everything” effect over the series, I think Skyrim’s perk system is a good way to cut down on that, though, and a step in the right direction.

      The point about the guilds though, is that while it is silly to be master of everything, it’s maybe not silly to have a character concept that’s a sorta stealthy ranger, mercenary soldier of fortune type, that would be at home in the thieves and the fighter’s guild. Morrowind, with its conflicting guild lines specifically prevented this character concept.

      I personally don’t do everything in one playthrough. I usually create a different character for each sort of quests. But the idea about these games is that that’s a choice. Someone shouldn’t be forced into playing it in that exclusionary way if they don’t want to.

    • Kelron says:

      I understand it’s a conscious design decision, and why. There’s a certain appeal to it, and I’m enjoying Skyrim very much.

      But for me, it breaks immersion rather than helps it. I don’t have a problem with a game saying “no” to me, if no is the logical response. Bethesda games always say yes, whether it is logical or not. I’m happy for Bethesda to continue doing what they’re good at, but I long for a sprawling open world game that is truly reactive to the player.

      It’s a daunting task for any developer, and perhaps that’s why only Obsidian and a few indie devs seem willing to take it on. New Vegas was a good start but it could be taken so much further.

    • Buttless Boy says:

      “The player must be able to be all things to all people. He must be able to finish all quests without exclusion and must be able to complete all guild questlines in a single playthrough. Anything less would be non-immersive.”
      Have you played Skyrim? Most of the major questlines can be broken simply by exploring dungeons. Not in a good “game world reacting to player actions” way either, in a “game world fucked by shoddy QA” way.

    • tetracycloide says:

      I don’t know what game people were playing if they feel Morrowind had conflicting guild plotlines that prevented the player from mastering every guild. You could choose to kill NPCs that you needed for other quest lines and TES has moved toward making any character of consequence invulnerable but master of every guild and organization in Morrowind is certainly possible. It’s not particularly hard either, just avoid obviously guild quest breaking actions like ‘go kill the maste of guild x’ and look for alternatives. It’s a TES game so you know they exist, they wouldn’t actually making killing a guild quest line the only option!

    • McCool says:

      I think Skyrim is a strange one due to Bethseda’s lack of a general vision for the game. The quality of writing differs wildly from game area to game area, guild to guild, quest to quest. A guard saying “Wait, don’t I recognize you?” to a PC that is part of the Thieves Guild is good writing, whereas a guard knowing that you are good at lockpicking or illusion magic just by looking at you is poor writing. This is why its so hard to say anything general about Skyrim, it’s a big, partly wonderful, partly awful mess. A player who played through as a straight mage is almost playing a different game to someone who played only the Dark Brotherhood.

      @tetracycloide

      You’re wrong actually, you can only pick one of the three great houses in Morrowind, and the Thieves Guild and Fighter’s Guild conflict with each-other.

    • Morte66 says:

      @McCool

      You *can* play both fighters’ and thieves’ guild in Morrowind, but you have to progress a fair distance in one and change its politics to be compatible with the other before you can progress.

  4. Orija says:

    The Witcher games can not be praised enough when talking about choice and consequence, and overall storytelling, definitely my favorites in that regard.

    • Maldomel says:

      The Witcher 2 gave me that sense of consequences. I think it did because you have to choose, there is no neutral stuff at some points. You do something, and you will face what it spawned later.

    • Cinek says:

      There are neutral choices in W2 as well.
      But being neutral also give the consequences. And that’s exactly how it should be.

    • Snidesworth says:

      I particularly enjoy the Witcher’s choices. The game makes no judgement about your decisions, just has the consequences of your decision come back to haunt you. I’ve played through the prologue twice, for example, and was surprised that choosing to force a surrender (and thus sparing several people’s lives) would lead to a very different escape attempt than settling things honourably.

      NPCs will judge Geralt for what he’s done, of course. Which is really how things should be done instead of slapping an arbitrary, objective morality system onto a game.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      I loved the game but I felt like some choices are for the sake of choice – forcing you into boundaries make a choice – choose a consequence! I prefer when the game lets you having it your way – fallout NV and (in few quests) even skyrim – the choices are there, consequences differ, but your freedom of action allows for even more options – experiencing both consequences for example, depending on who you tell what.

      In witcher 2, the boundaries of consequences were too tight and felt forced.

      I for one didn’t enjoy not being allowed into that rebel city – I was standing right in front of its door, talking with characters who just walked in and out…it felt very much artificially restricted.

      I chose allegiances but I didn’t choose to blindly accept some restraining order…

    • Orija says:

      Ultra Supe, and I loved the game because of that. That it is impossible for a person like Geralt who is most probably the last of his kind to live without being forced to make choices that he wants no part in, is an underlying theme of A. Sapkowoski’s (the bloke who wrote the source material) and ties in with the role of destiny in Geralt’s life. With that perspective, I think it would have a bit out of character for Geralt to be able to get away without having to deal with the actions and follies of others. To me it just shows that despite being a powerful badass Geralt is can’t help but be a pawn in the machinations of other more important, powerful players.

  5. thesisko says:

    I don’t agree that limited “AAA”-blockbusters evolved from more complex games and are limited just because it costs more to produce content.

    Most “AAA” games are linear and limited by design because the developer believe it improves their “accessibility” and because they don’t think the target market cares anyway. These games are the modern equivalent of the multi-million selling console games of the past, except technology now makes it possible to pump in much more money into their production values, and since they are mass-market games that money goes straight into visuals.

    Of course, not all developers think that. Fallout: New Vegas sold over 5 million copies and is highly reactive to player actions and choices. If you start slaughtering people, you can count on being hated by that community and shot on sight. You can also kill all major quest givers without the game falling apart.

    So, I pretty much disagree with the entire premise of this article.

  6. Bluerps says:

    Great article! Though I don’t think more reactive game-worlds would be better for every kind of game, many games could obviusly profit from that.

  7. Phinor says:

    I haven’t played much of Witcher 2 but what happens if I kill crucial quest people during chapter 1 for example? Does it allow me to do that? Does the game end because the story it was telling is no longer possible? What if I just massacre a village but with no crucial quest givers, am I going to go to jail?

    I’ve a hard time believing that game has much more depth than any other game of it’s kind but maybe it does and as I said, I ask because I never got past the first five hours of either Witcher or Witcher 2. (Or is it just a case of showing few good examples from Witcher 2 and few bad examples from few other games.)

    • Droniac says:

      You’re mistaking reactivity for open-ended gameplay.

      A linear game that’s highly reactive presents limited choices, but a wealth of consequences. A non-linear game that’s marginally reactive presents (almost) unlimited choices, but practically no consequences. What this article refers to is the presence of consequences, not the depth or breadth of choice.

      A largely linear shooter could theoretically be highly reactive, if the environment and characters respond to everything the player does and how he goes about his shooting. On the opposite end of the spectrum you have games like Oblivion, Fallout 3, Freelancer, and (to lesser extent) Mount & Blade that offer tons of choices, but the game always makes you feel like it doesn’t give a shit because nothing ever responds to those actions and choices.

      So no, The Witcher 2 isn’t deeper than any other game in its genre within the context you’re referring to it, but it does offer a more reactive game world and plot than any other RPG out there. You may not be able to slaughter innocents wholesale and ruin your game by killing crucial quest NPCs, but when you decide to kill someone the game does respond… and the repercussions follow you throughout the entire game.

      Think of it like this: your options may be limited, but the game’s repertoire of responses within that limited scope is vast.

      Ideally you’d combine this reactivity with a wealth of choice and a great story. But I can only think of one game that’s ever successfully done that, and it’s already named in this article (Outcast, obviously).

    • tetracycloide says:

      On the other hand praising a game for its ‘interactivity’ when it’s not very open ended a la The Witcher 2 rings a bit hollow. There just aren’t that many things to account for because choices are limited by design. What if i want to kill the elf and the human? No dice, have to choose one other the other.

  8. Casimir Effect says:

    Chris Avellone os Obsidian is always talking about reactive game worlds and seems to be something he really wants to focus on sometime. The best he’s managed so far is Alpha Protocol where your decisions are commented on by other people in the game and many things have consequences. But of course that wasn’t an open world game so you don’t get the effect of some peasant having heard about you and so running away – as you did in something like Fable.

    • KenTWOu says:

      Michal says: “Feeling the consequences of your actions can’t be reduced to a statistic. It can’t be about getting +10 karma for doing something ostensibly good and -10 karma for doing the opposite. If you want to generate real feelings about a game, you have to forget numbers and show the real consequences of the player’s choices and deeds in the game world.”

      Unfortunately Alpha Protocol didn’t forget about numbers, and that’s why AP isn’t very good.

    • Danzig says:

      @KenTWOu Alpha Protocol was much, much more than numbers, in that the numbers weren’t rewards in themselves but rather necessary metrics that determined what “perk” you would receive in choosing a character to work with, and guiding prospective choices and reactions in a way that made sense.

      An example: In the Rome hub of the game the game’s protagonist, Michael Thorton, is pitted against Conrad Marburg, a very calm and professional black ops agent. At the end of the hub, you fight him, naturally, but whether or not you can actually kill him depends on the choices you had made earlier in the game. There were 2 elements – the first was whether or not you had pissed him off enough that he would forgo a clear escape route in order to fight you and risk his life needlessly. This required, as you indicated, a number system, primarily that you needed him at “-10″ disposition to get him to this point.

      But that wasn’t enough – the way to get him to that point is to be a suave jerkoff to him whenever possible, but unless Thorton has been a suave jerkoff consistently before that point, Marburg will realize you’re playing head games with him and bolt. The game rewards consistent and thoughtful player choice, in ways that aren’t readily apparent. People I know have played the game several times over and are discovering new things. Really the only reasons it doesn’t get as much love as, say, CD Projekt’s games are Obsidian’s reputation for buggy product, and a lack of fashionably grotesque, Martin-derived grimdark fantasy. That’s all. AP is the best RPG nobody bothers to play.

  9. andycheese says:

    What you seem to be advocating here – more intelligent game design – is, I believe, a noble thing. Nevertheless, to ask players to accept a more consequence driven design model is a flawed request. People in general, at least in my experience, play games for escapism, for the ability to make a decision with no consequences. If, in real life, I were to march down a street mowing down pedestrians in my motor vehicle, I would expect to be subject to the full weight of the law (not to mention my own conscience). If however I boot-up the latest Grand Theft Auto on my PC, I can do this with virtual impunity and without the need to worry about how many families I have ruined, or how many years ‘time’ I will be serving. Sure, this might be a poor example, but the same logic can be applied to virtually any game. We play video-games as a means of separating ourselves from the drudgery and or consequence of everyday life, we play them for enjoyment and the ability to know that our choices DON’T really matter. Certainly games like the Witcher 2, where consequence acts as the main plot-driving device, are excellent, but only in isolation. I for one would find video games much harder work if they all had the same guilt driven dynamic.

    • Kollega says:

      I second this notion. Worlds that are more reactive are all well and good, but i’m not completely desensetized to everything just yet, so when realistic consequences get to the point of “OH MY GOD THAT GUY YOU JUST SHOT HAD A FAMILY!” or “OH MY GOD YOU GOT TRICKED BY THE VILLAIN AND HE’S MASSACRED YOUR ENTIRE UNIT!”, it might get a little… unentertaining.

      Reactivity, like many other things, is a design tool. I don’t think games like Saints Row: The Third – which are just pure anarchic fun without consequence – would be possible if your gang simply got nuked the moment they start driving around in tanks and blowing skyscrapers up.

    • Snidesworth says:

      I don’t think that game worlds need to react in ways that punish/guilt trip the player. They just need to make sense within the game’s environment and show that you can affect your environment. Though it’s a pretty basic example, Red Faction: Guerrilla let you drive the EDF out of sectors of Mars by taking down their operations and had more civilians leap into the fight as you raised morale. It wasn’t very detailed, but it did make you feel like you were having some impact on the world and it could be expanded into a more complex system. For example, if you took out an airbase you wouldn’t be seeing many enemy gunships around the region, or those that showed up would take longer to get there and only have the fuel to stick about for a short while. Combine this sort of thing with a very, very difficult challenge (such as a rag-tag insurgency going up against a gigantic military force) and you’re handing the player meaningful ways to affect the game world that benefits them.

      Of course, that doesn’t even tough on character interaction, which is much a more intricate matter.

    • UberMonkey says:

      This is a false dichotomy. Reactions to player action have nothing to do with matching a certain moral tone or level of realism. I think the word that’s throwing this off the track is “consequences,” when the real words we’re looking for are “reaction” or “change.”

      Someone brought up SR3, so I’ll use a choice/consequence event there as an example (specific plot details omitted):

      At some point you capture a rival gang’s stronghold, and the game asks you if you want to blow it up or keep it. This is the kind of choice/consequence that makes sense in SR’s kind of world; no one is suggesting that every game needs to have realistic consequences for every action. If you blow it up, you get reward A, if not you get reward B (and the building is either still standing or not). It’s not a great example of a reaction, since it’s basically just a choice of 2 bonuses, but it’s an example of making the type of reaction fit the rules of the world.

      The key point here is less static. The “choice and consequences” term generally comes from RPG’s, which often try to have semi-serious themes of morality and consequence. The reactions should be designed to enhance the core design elements of the game, not harm them. If the game’s tone *is* serious and realistic, then realistic consequences for actions make sense. If the game is silly and crazy, the consequences would also be crazy.

      Any dynamic reaction the game makes improves the experience as long as it fits the style of the game. For example, in an RPG, a player could arive in a town and get a quest to destroy a nearby bandit camp. Maybe they reach the bandit camp and decide to help them take over the town instead, resulting in the town becoming an outlaw town (this is sort of borrowed from the tutorial-ish part of New Vegas). Maybe a third option has the player negotiate a treaty, resulting in the bandit camp becoming a small proper villiage. All 3 options could result in unique quest lines becoming available that otherwise wouldn’t have. This is a conflict that could exist in any RPG, but in most the results would be, at best, different rewards and dialog from each group. The extra step is having something in the game world actually change because of what you did, and not just in some after-the-credits “what happened later” sequence.

    • Kollega says:

      UberMonkey speaks the truth. I concede my points.

    • John Brindle says:

      I definitely disagree. People do find it fun to be given consequences for their actions, especially when those consequences are fun or surprising. Take something like Metal Gear Solid, which consistently surprises you by actually reacting to things you don’t expect a game to recognise. If you stay out too long in the cold, you start sneezing, and while this is slightly punishing for the player because they might get spotted, it’s also hilarious. Players can usually roll with the punches: the important thing is that the game doesn’t alienate them by completely knocking them out without warning. And even then – surely you’ve had the joyful experience of doing something really stupid in a game, saying “I bet it won’t care if I do this…” and then having it blow up in your face? Its joyful because it confirms that the game is reacting to us. Basicaly, what UberMonkey said: ‘choice and consequence’ doesn’t have to mean DAMNING MORALITY.

  10. thealexfish says:

    It’s not enough to make a game that lets players do what they pleased. You have to make them pleased to do what their doing. A prime motivator. Usually this requires a good story which is generally achieved with a tight narritive. Sandbox games that have a plot structure looser than sleeve of wizard will tend to be ultimately displeasing as long as there is no end goal in sight; and the tough part about that is that the player cannot invent this goal themselves as it is always going to be beyond their power to do so.

  11. Colthor says:

    One of the problems is that your completely interactionless non-games; CoD, Battlefield and so on (in singleplayer); sell a stupid number of copies. And so more are made, because clearly the people who buy games hate games.

    Happily, Skyrim’s sold squidillions, and hopefully Deus Ex: HR (which might not react ideally, but at least it doesn’t just kill you for making the wrong choice) did pretty well, so that should act as incentive to make games with a bit more to them.

    • Cinek says:

      People love stupid games about shooting and killing. It always have been like that. And for decades FPS games were these selling in highest numbers.

      It shouldn’t really matter for RPG player IHMO. :)

    • mondomau says:

      See, I think you (and others) are missing a trick there – There’s no reason ‘brainless’ FPS type games couldn’t have more reactivity to them and still be mad manshoot-fests:

      Example 1: You’ve got to storm an enemy building and steal vital info before they complete their withdrawl. Success = new objective of use info to infiltrate next position via tunnel system identified by stolen info You fail = head on assault with vehicle level.

      Example 2: you are given a mission to take out an enemy stronghold. You can either jump in the conveniently spawned helicopter with the big arrow above it, or you can ignore it, stealth into the building and blow the shit out of it with C4.

      Neither of these scenarios needs to get in the way of the mindless frenetic action sequences, yet they never appear in AAA titles. It’s irritating.

    • thesisko says:

      I’m afraid you got it backward there, there’s no reason ‘brainless’ FPS type games should have more reactivity to them and therefore no reason to spend effort on implementing it.
      Being irritated about lack of effort in ‘AAA’ games is like being irritated over the lack of thought-provoking dialogue in a Michael Bay movie – not gonna happen because the target market couldn’t care less.

    • Baines says:

      mondomau, AAA games don’t have such options because scripted scenes are integral to games that ache to be a Michael Bay film.

      It isn’t an option of just letting the player choose between a helicopter and a stealth infiltration. The helicopter approach needs sufficient cinematic set-pieces and mission-appropriate chatter. The stealth approach needs scenes lifted from Die Hard.

      And then someone important looks at the cost to raise both options to AAA game status, says “Why are we spending so much to make sections that only half the players will see?”, and the helicopter ride becomes the only option for one section of storyline and the infiltration becomes the only option for another section of storyline.

    • Mman says:

      As far adding choice in COD (and similar) goes, even within their rail-roaded framework, it confounds me why the developers haven’t added some of the stuff that makes the multiplayer compelling to many people; for instance, what if different characters you played as in the campaign had different perk load-outs, forcing you to take a subtly different approach to situations (without requiring much additional scripting) or letting you choose them yourself between missions, or/and having some of the gun customisation from MP so you can take along your favourite guns (with pre-sets for anyone who doesn’t care, and a little rail-roading for stuff like stealth missions)? They could even add some optional crossover with MP with stuff like this, which seems like something desirable to them.

  12. Gnoupi says:

    I find this particular article to match with the latest post from Gunpoint’s developer, about choice in game:

    http://www.pentadact.com/2011-11-20-gunpoint-is-delayed-level-design-is-hard-choice-is-weird/

  13. rvdleun says:

    For me, the most recent game that really, REALLY gave me a sense of being in a world that made sense and responded to my actions would be Fallout: New Vegas.

    Currently going through my third playthrough, and I’m amazed at the amount of things that I have discovered. For example, whenever I raided the Van Graffs, I would always kill the guard in front before barging in. This time, I decided to see what the quests for the Van Graffs were about, and wouldn’t you know it? That guard that I always killed without a thought? Turns out he’s part of a quest, has a personality to go with it, and is actually a character of his own. Blew me away that I was able to completely disregard such a character as ‘just another NPC’ and kill him without the game punishing me.

    And the game is filled with all sorts of little things like that. Join one faction, another will turn against you. Enter New Vegas in an unmarked manner by wearing a disguise and using the NCR monorail. Heck, infiltrate Cottonwood Cove by wearing a Legion outfit to grab an item that you need there, while making sure not to stand too near the guards who may recognize you. Play several factions against each other. See how people respond to your deeds.

    Of course, the game is filled with several bugs from the engine and I personally don’t think the fights are that interesting, but overall, I personally find New Vegas to be my favorite open-ended RPG due to the reactivity that everything has to your choices.

    • Wulf says:

      Pretty much. New Vegas still represents the best of all worlds. A completely interactive world that reacts to everything you do in a believable way, rather than a limited-rules, sandboxy sort of way, which is always so plastic and unbelievable.

      New Vegas has yet to be topped. I doubt it will ever be topped by anyone other than Obsidian.

      New Vegas is the holy grail of interactivity in games with story, it’s pretty much our bloody Citizen Kane due to the impossible nature of it. And I want to see more of that. Playing Skyrim, I kept asking myself things like…

      Why did you half-arse that? Why did you stop that there? I could have done so much more with a story like that. Why just leave things hanging and unanswered? Closure, damn it!

      Why are you not letting me do what I want, here? Why can I not insult this greybeard’s beard, why am I being so polite?

      Why aren’t there more options which are based on persuasion and speech, why can I use a sword for everything I can use speech for? What’s the point of having speech? What’s the consequence for not having speech? Nothing? Seems like.

      Why are you not letting me learn for and do myself? Why are you holding my hand and forcing me down your storyline? Why can’t it be my storyline? In New Vegas I could even choose to join Ceasar’s Legion if I wanted, but I’ve not the same options here regarding the dragons?

      Why did you force that character’s death on me when I knew it was going to happen? I would have chosen not to leave his/her side, I saw it coming. Why was that not my choice? If your plots are so easy to predict, why then take my ability to deal with that away from me?

      Why did you just have a funeral for one of the members in this faction when another lies dead in a dungeon? Why does he deserve no respect? Why was he just a placeholder?

      I just angered an entire town by saving a guy from an execution, why does he not even notice that I did that? Why is he just spewing generic NPC lines at me? Why did I bother? Didn’t they anticipate this? did they expect me to just sit back and let them go on with their storyline without interrupting? Don’t I get my chance to escort him to safety in Stormcloak territory?

      Let me give you an example of this. See, earlier on, I did one of the most amazing things I’ve done in Skyrim, but there was absolutely no recognition of it whatsoever. Let me explain…

      I was escaping from a prison with a bunch of guys and we had to go through a troll pit. So I outrun them before they get to the troll pit, I shift to werewolf form, and I start roaring my little heart out. Roaring fears all people in the area. This includes most monsters and people, so I had the troll and these two guys running for their lives. I had to keep roaring, chasing the troll, and hitting him without hitting them.

      It was the most ridiculous scene ever. I managed to take down the troll, and then I ran off outside the cave. I kept running until the werewolf form wore off, then I went back to them. …no acknowledgement of what just happened. I just did some crazy shit to save their life and they’re not going crazy about how they were just saved from a ravenous troll. They don’t even mention that the troll is there.

      If this were New Vegas, they’d have mentioned the troll, and they’d even have said something about how I handled the troll. They might even have been angry at me for risking their lives in such a stupid way. And that’s what separates New Vegas from Skyrim.

      I get frustrated at Skyrim because I’m going through such an incredibly linear storyline.

      A storyline that is distinctly not mine.

      And this is why I feel that, in a post-Morrowind world, the only way that Bethesda would ever see a truly great Elder Scrolls game again is if they let Obsidian develop it. Without putting any constraints on Obsidian at all as to what they could or couldn’t do.

      If the Elder Scrolls VI was developed by Obsidian, it would be winning and that’s all there is to it.

      —EDIT—

      In fact, the most bizarre, unusual, and incredible thing to happen in Skyrim, and by my choice alone, was due to HAX. I forced my choice upon the game via the console. And yet… there was no storyline surrounding it.

      See, that makes me sad.

      Imagine what Obisidian or someone like them could have done with this.

      Now that’s a choice! A really weird one. But not one the game wanted to let me make.

    • Shooop says:

      Goddammit Wulf! I almost spit coffee all over my monitor looking at those screenshots!

      Mass Effect’s mixed-race relationships suddenly seem so much more mundane.

    • Wulf says:

      I tend to do that.

      I worry that most gamers may just be very boring, but I like to push the boundaries and see what I can do. When a game limits me just because the developers hadn’t considered my potential course of action, then I feel limited by it. When I play an Obsidian game, I tend to feel that they’ve covered the bases really well. With an Obsidian game, it’s my story. With a Bethesda game, I’m just being forced to walk through their story.

      So I make these crazy choices, just because they fit my characters. I challenge an entire town’s guard just to save one lone man from an unjust execution, and the game doesn’t even recognise that I did it, just because the developer thought no one would actually bother to try. That’s where Bethesda’s weakness lies. What worries me is that most people would probably have just sat back, what scares me is how right Bethesda might be.

      How many people, on their first time entering Solitude, didn’t try to save that man? How many of those then, even if they did, only made a half-arsed attempt at it and gave up when they discovered that it was a difficult task to keep him alive?

      I want games to respond to things like that.

      I’m going to make the crazy choices, I’m going to do the insane things, and I want my story to be one of the sort of stuff that most people wouldn’t think of doing. Uncovering new content and new plot points solely because I did something that most people wouldn’t even consider trying, or wouldn’t see through because it takes too much effort.

    • jawbone78 says:

      @Wulf: I think you’re seriously overestimating the ability of a game designer to anticipate player actions in a game world as open as Skyrim. You’re also seriously overestimating how much of this happens in New Vegas.

      New Vegas felt like an imposition on me. Obviously, lots of players liked it, but to me it just felt too crafted, and I never felt like there was any room for my own imagination, because I was constantly being reminded that I was playing by someone else’s rules. Perhaps that’s why I preferred Fallout 3 – as far removed as that game was from reality, it’s ability to get itself out of my way made me commit more to the game world, even when it didn’t react the way you would expect an actual world to react (ie, generally not at all). That’s how I felt about Morrowind before it (though not Oblivion, which swung too far in the other direction, where nothing you do ever matters to anything at all – especially leveling up).

      Also, you’re maybe forgetting that what Obsidian developed with New Vegas, in fact what the company is pretty much known for developing, is really just a huge glorified expansion pack. Bethesda did 95% of the technical work before Obsidian ever got involved.

      Let’s assume that they shared comparable budgets for the production of the two games (which is unlikely, but let’s start there). Bethesda dedicates, let’s just say for the sake of example cause I have no idea, about 80% of the production budget to the development of the game engine and editor, and all the little technical bits – including the models and textures for terrain, characters, items, etc. They then have 10% left for quest design, writing, scripting, and voiceover. 10% goes to QA.

      Now Obsidian takes their turn. Flip it the other way. Tweak a few things under the hood, reuse almost every single resource from the first game, and add just enough new stuff to make it look like you’ve done something. Now pour 80% of your game’s budget into quest design, writing, scripting, and voiceover. Approximately 1% to QA (couldn’t resist the jab).

      Hardly seems like a fair comparison, anyway.

  14. foop says:

    There’s a fine line to tread between making the way a game world reacts more consistent and making a game unplayable.

    To take the first example, Adam Jensen should be the target of a huge manhunt. The corporation that employs him should be raided and he should be arrested or killed in the attempt. Then the game should end. Adam has failed to complete the mission, and is dead or incarcerated. There’s little way any further missions could progress because Adam is now a very distinctive and immediately recognisable pariah.

    There are ways that designers could get around this, but they can so easily get in the way of an enjoyable plot. Having a degree of response and escalation to player threat that mimics what might happen in the real world would make role-playing a law breaker untenable. Maybe it should be like this, but you’d see people forced to play the good guy out of frustration. As it is, most games with ethical dilemmas already focus heavily on the good side of things.

    For me, it’s fixing the little details that would give a better game experience than fixing the broader inconsistencies. Guards shouldn’t return to wandering aimlessly around while they still have an arrow sticking out of the side of their head. Grieving widowers shouldn’t cheerfully ask you to have a drink with them because, after finding their wife’s remains, you’re now their best buddy.

    • Snidesworth says:

      Wouldn’t that have been an enjoyable scenario, though? To see everything go to shit and the game catapult itself towards a Bad and Premature End because of the player’s actions? Sure, it could be seen as punishing the player, but it makes sense and it gives the player something they wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. They can always reload an old save to undo their terrible error and continue on through the main plot (which a sensible autosave system would ensure that they had access to). It would also make people who didn’t stir up trouble (either because they’re replaying or because they heard about someone else’s experiences) feel like they really dodged a bullet, rewarding them for not getting caught.

      Of course, producing that single Bad End scenario would either take a good deal of time or be reduced down to a few lines of dialogue and a cutscene.

    • foop says:

      It could be enjoyable, but would entail major changes to the way the game hangs together. If, ultimately, investigating the body in the morgue the “evil” way leads to Adam Jensen being branded a criminal and hounded to death or arrest, then all the content in the police station that you can interact with in an “evil” way is to an extent wasted effort on the part of the developers.

      Should they bother putting content in when the plot path that interacts with it inevitably leads to failure and reloading a saved game? It’s an interesting question. I’d guess that the vast majority of players would avoid that path if they knew it would require a reload, and most of them will know in these days of ubiquitous walkthroughs and mechanic-spoling reviews.

    • Snidesworth says:

      That depends how they see it. If it’s not a simple failure, but an alternative (if bad) end then some people might feel interested in investigating it. If it’s just a game over screen then sure, but in an ideal world it wouldn’t be so simple.

    • Wisq says:

      True Crime did this. Sure, it was based on your Good Cop vs. Bad Cop karma point value — you had to be Good Cop enough to progress towards the good ending, otherwise you’d get one of the bad ones.

      But they weren’t just “game over, you’re not good enough”. Instead, they actually took you down two (I believe) possible “bad ending” paths that actually included a few more missions (two to four?). They also made the path you were on very clear in the storyline mission selection screen, so you weren’t taken by surprise, and you knew where you branched and could select that mission and up your karma until you were able to progress properly.

      I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a game that put so much effort into endings that were specifically designed to be negative and non-canonical — except those Japanese games that pretty much coined the term “bad end” (I think).

  15. RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

    This is exactly what I want to work on.

  16. NathanH says:

    Strongly disagree with a lot of this.

    First of all, the “its getting worse” seems to be just conjecture. Indeed, the very examples given seem to contradict the conjecture. The behavior described in Human Revolution is normal for any game with a combination of dialogue options and action. You have the option to ask to do something, NPC refuses, you do it anyway, and the game doesn’t necessarily take into account the fact that you asked to do it. It’s been happening since the dawn of time, or rather I suppose the dawn of dialogue trees.

    The Oblivion example is true for Morrowind too and I’d guess something similar happens in Daggerfall (lol, why does my spellcheck accept Morrowind but not Daggerfall or lol?)though that is before my time. Similar behavior occurs in many other games too. For instance in Baldur’s Gate as long as you pause to give loads of gold at a temple the guards seem to forget you just butchered an entire patrol.

    The Dragon Age 2 example is out of place in this article because it isn’t an example of player choice leading to an illogical situation. The designers know you’re going to spend the game as or with apostates in a city that is very anti-apostate in a plot that revolves around controlling mages. But they didn’t really care to give it a response. This isn’t a symptom of a problem getting worse, it’s just that the plot as determined by the writers wasn’t logical to start with, before the player became involved.

    Now I’d like to defend the first two examples. I haven’t played Human Revolution, so I don’t know the details of the mission being discussed, but generally you want to allow situations where the player can persuade NPCs to let them do certain things, but you don’t want failing in such an attempt to cause massive repercussions. Unless the PC always gets what he asks for, and isn’t even allowed to ask in cases where the writers have decided he wouldn’t get what he asks for, then there are always going to be such examples. Expecting all such examples to have thorough follow-ups to the extent of adding significant content and massive plot changes is unreasonable, has always been unreasonable, and pretty much always will be unreasonable.

    The Oblivion example is just silly. Of course we can break the logic of a game that gives us decent freedom if we want to. That’s always going to be true, and any attempt to stop it will cause more trouble than its worth. For instance you sometimes stand a good chance of accidentally acquiring assault and theft penalties that you didn’t mean to, for instance when you have allies, and it would be incredibly frustrating if those instances could spiral into something more game-destroying, rather than just being the sort of thing that any gamer should be able to shrug off with a “that clearly didn’t happen within the fiction of my world, let’s move on”. (This, by the way, is one of the gamer’s most powerful tools and should not be underestimated or considered a bad thing). Risking such consequences towards legitimate players is not worth it in order to satisfy someone who wants to break a game just to make a point.

    The Dragon Age 2 example is an example of bad design. Plenty of that on offer in Dragon Age 2.

    So, how do we deal with illogical situations that arise legitimately, as in the Human Revolution example? We simply just shrug it off, as we can do and often do in many other forms of play. It’s not a big deal, just pretend that the minor event (asking for access and being denied) didn’t happen, or happened in a more subtle an elaborate way than the dialogue tree and game mechanics allow. We have that power, and we should not be afraid to use it! I wouldn’t have any problem with adopting this approach in other other forms of “make believe” that I’ve participated in, so I don’t see why I should make an exception for video games. For instance, a friend and I were playing a very immersive and enjoyable RPG together once; I was running it and he was the PC. After one session we were chatting about what had happened, and he suggested that it would make the story better had his character realized something that he hadn’t realized at the time but had during our post-game chat. I agreed that it probably would be. This made the link between sessions quite rocky if you took everything said and done literally, but we just re-imagined things and carried on happily.

    Short conclusion: the premise that these occurrences (apart from DA2) are bad is dubious, and the argument that they are occurring more because of tech changes cannot be made based on the given examples.

    • thesisko says:

      Good post and good points about BG2/Morrowind being just as bad as their successors. BioWare has never been big with the choice&consequences stuff – though I’d say that Origins was better than their older (and newer) games.

    • bleeters says:

      Bioware have an understandable but annoying tendency to pull their punches at times, though. Whilst I can sometimes appreciate the appearance of a more neutral third way when faced with a difficult choice, there’s a few times when it just becomes The Best Way Of Doing It and sucks all the impact of out the situation.

      The part in Dragon Age at Redcliffe castle where you can murder a small boy, sacrifice his mother to save him or just plain do neither and put off completing the quest until further on down the line with no consequence whatsoever springs to mind.

    • JackShandy says:

      Good post. With Human Revolution, the example given is actually a problem because you can butcher your way through the police station and there won’t be a single consequence when you come back there later in the game – the police officers around will give you all the same dialogue as if you’d talked your way in (Grumbling about being made to look like idiots). It’s such an obviously idiotic moment that the devs must have planned responses, but cut them due to time/budget constraints.

    • Mman says:

      Actually your point about being able to dismiss silly things in games as a thing that didn’t really happen is something I think higher graphical fidelity has created some problems with; older games (or anything which doesn’t use the newest tech for that matter) get shit on for their graphics, but, on the other hand, that lower level of graphical detail makes things inherently abstract and makes it easier to accept that what you are seeing isn’t necessarily what “really” happened. Whereas in super detailed newer games any weirdness sticks out that much more (and is harder to dismiss) because there’s enough detail to make the world come across as somewhat “real”. Like a sort of (mostly) non-character related Uncanny Valley.

    • Snidesworth says:

      @bleeters: That choice in Redcliffe always bothered me. I went for the easy way out option myself, fully expecting running off to acquire what I needed to result in something horrible happening due to my inability to do something horrible for the greater good. When I got back to find that nothing had changed, as if the situation had remained frozen I felt robbed. I felt like the game world was pulling its punches, especially after the whole spiel about how Dragon Age was meant to be a “dark fantasy” setting.

    • NathanH says:

      Good point Mman. Indeed it makes me wonder how easy it is to adopt my “shrug and get on with it” mentality if one has only started gaming with modern good graphics games. Perhaps it won’t be as easy as I claim.

      For the Redcliffe event, I would agree that it wasn’t dealt with particularly adroitly, but in principle it follows the sort of philosophy that modern Bioware games seem to follow (whether deliberately or not). At the risk of going slightly off topic, I remember reading someone somewhere (might have been a comments thread on here actually) mentioning that the Paragon/Renegade choices in Mass Effect are not simply choices about the PC’s actions but subtly often a choice about the “idealism/pessimism” balance of the whole universe, so that the player is getting not only the character he wants but also a universe with similar traits. It doesn’t work quite so well in this particular instance, but I think that is probably down to implantation rather than principle… the principle that the risky bold but virtuous choice gives the best result is not obviously a bad one to me.

  17. robotsneedlove says:

    It seems that good ideas are sometimes just not very obvious. NPCs reacted to pulled out sword in Gothic 1, in 2001, and no other game tried to do this really simple trick until Witcher 2 ten years later.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      But then you’ll find something else on the same game that won’t work fine (and to be fair it’s completely untrue that the Witcher is the only game where NPCs react to unsheathed weapons) .

      Interactive Narrative is a real unsolved problem. The lack of it in modern games isn’t about lazy programmers or unimaginative ones. A search for interactive narrative on Google will give you plenty of reading material. Mostly academic papers that try to discuss and present partial solutions to the difficult problem it is.

      And most of it can be summed up to the following: It’s extremely hard, and demands huge amounts of computer resources, to introduce non deterministic worlds to a deterministic machine.

    • robotsneedlove says:

      Interactive narrative is one thing, small, really easy to code details that nevertheless add a lot to immersion are another. What exactly is hard in removing dead bodies from the streets once in a while? Making NPCs notice when you walk into their home uninvited and take their stuff?

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      There’s nothing hard about that. Or maybe there is. We’d have to look at the code.

      The thing however is that the type of issue you describe is a never endless string of objections you will always find in every game. After bodies have been removed, you’ll start looking at why NPCs don’t react when you draw your weapon. After that has been dealt with, you’ll be annoyed at the fact you can cover NPC heads with a pot. Ad aeternum.

      Before you know it, your game has yet to be released.

    • robotsneedlove says:

      While I agree that the number of these small things is essentially infinite, I don’t see how this is an excuse not to implement the most obvious ones.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      Well, my point is that the most obvious ones were already dealt with. What you are seeing now are the new most obvious ones.

      Look, I’m not trying to argue about the validity of your annoyances. Believe me, they are mine too. But it’s just impossible not to fault any game when the entire world setting and the complex web cause-effect relationships is stored on a hard drive and into a size one deems reasonable.

      For that effect, Witcher 2 is just as a bad game as any other. You’ll find numerous “obvious things”. Your tolerance levels may allow them to go unchecked. But that will only answer your particular taste. Not that of the whole gaming community that will certainly have different and varied concerns.

      It is however certainly true that some games obviously could have done better. But that is true of any game.

    • robotsneedlove says:

      Well, I was just saying that not all immersion problems are a result of technical limitations – a great deal of them are just plain lazy/rushed design and have very little to do with the budget. Which is kinda sad, because we could have slightly better games right now, and we do not. Okay, now I sound like I’m grumbling, which was not intended.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I would say Gothic did it better than any other game. You have to choose to kill people inside towns and when you do the guards start using crossbows. There’s always an option to beat someone up and take their stuff or whatever, but frequently they won’t talk to you after that. It really is a buggy masterpiece.

    • Turkey says:

      I enjoyed how the NPC’s would react negatively to you sneaking around their homes and would try to chase you out if they caught you inside somewhere you shouldn’t be, and If you pushed it too far they’d start attacking you. Seems like a primitive system, but it was incredibly immersive.

  18. Gnoupi says:

    Deus Ex HR disappointed me a bit with the main “choice which has consequences later”: the chip replacement.

    (SPOILERS, obviously)

    It’s something which is nicely tricking, because the whole HUD is being glitchy, pushing you to do the change. But at same time the people telling you to go for the change are the ones involved in the appearing conspiracy in the first place, like the news, typically.
    The choice doesn’t have an impact before the late game, which is good… but it’s disappointing. In the end, all you get for a bad choice is a harder boss fight, and everything is fine the minute after.

    They didn’t have the guts to go the witcher 2 road, in my opinion. They made you choose, but with very limited consequences. I mean, this new chip is supposed to drive people crazy or turn off all augs. We are talking about a guy who has more than 80% of his body augmented. He shouldn’t even be able to move a finger, after the killswitch. That would have been bold, that would have been a choice which matters.

    • thesisko says:

      Ummm, no. Sierra did that stuff in their early adventure games and it was NOT fun. Oh, you ate that sandwich 4 hours ago? Too bad…GAME OVER.

    • bleeters says:

      Mmmyes. Heck, with the chip thing, you’re only actually going to be affected by that particular consequence if you actually took the augmentations you’re supposed to have for that fight. I rejected actually getting the upgrade (what with it being developed by a company the game all but renames Bad Guys Incorporated), but was running around without emp or flashbang immunity or the damage reduction augment anyway. I’m not sure how things would’ve played out any differently even if I had taken the new chip.

      And yes. Jensen’s got cybernetic arms and legs. His heart, lungs and most of my head is augmented. For the most part I was under the impression he was essentially walking around with with a built in life support machine, albeit a snappy one that lets you punch through walls. Having them all disabled really ought to do more than it did. How does he even walk with his augments disabled?

    • JackShandy says:

      Are you guys suggesting that making the wrong choice should have just killed you instantly, or left Jensen totally paralyzed for the rest of the game?

    • bleeters says:

      I wouldn’t personally, no. Having him hauled off and taken prisoner, losing the opportunity to rescue Character X or any other consequence whatsoever other than ‘your augments don’t work for a few minutes’ would’ve been preferable, though. All that does is make an annoying boss fight even more annoying.

    • Devenger says:

      As somebody who a) foolishly chose to get the biochip replacement, b) was playing on the hard difficulty, and c) went into that fight with a pitifully limited arsenal geared towards non-lethal combat, that hard-mode-but-harder boss fight was already pushing toward ‘Sierra point’. If that’s just a reflection of my ineptitude, so be it; for me, at least, it WAS narratively powerful in a ‘this game is asking something maddening of me now’ way, but it also demonstrated how tricky it is to sensibly have narrative decisions affect game difficulty.

      (Even if you don’t have many relevant augmentations, you don’t appreciate how wonderful it is to have a working ammo readout, or a correctly aligned crosshair, until they are glitched into uselessness.)

    • Gnoupi says:

      Of course it would annoying if it was just game over. And probably frustrating. But like pointed out, if you play on the hardest mode, it is possible that such choice is actually a game over, for you.

      But to take again the witcher 2 example, there are no “plain wrong” choices, just different paths and outcomes.

      Bleeters has a good suggestion, for me. Some different path, leading to a “worse” ending, in a way.
      After all, “the missing link” is already this, in a way. Waking up when you were anyway in hibernation, to find yourself striped of many augs. There could have been something like this.

      Killing Jensen right off wouldn’t be smart from the “bad guys” point of view. He is, after all, not only loaded with countless thousands of augs, but he is also known to be the one not rejecting augs. He is valuable to the bad guys. There could have been a story arc in which you wake up on an operation table, right after that. It could lead even to Megan’s death, in a way.

    • Shooop says:

      The problem with that is it turns into a right or wrong choice.

      The Witcher 2 didn’t suffer that because its choices don’t effect the difficulty of the game any, instead they determine where you go, who you talk to, and what you end up doing to progress – but none of them change the difficulty of the game.

      A choice like that would mean “choose B to make the game harder.” And that’s the kind of choice system we need games to get away from in the fist place in favor of The Witcher’s instead.

  19. Maldomel says:

    Maybe in the future we will get games with a megaton of choice AND some really big budget on the graphic side. Not that I am not happy with games nowadays, put it’s true that when the flaws are pointed out it is not as fun (or is it?).

    • thesisko says:

      Big budgets = mass market = Michael Bay. Let go of your desire for big budgets and you’ll have much more to look forward to.

      Of course, technological advances means that we can get nicer looking game without bigger budgets!

  20. JackShandy says:

    There’s only so much a game can do. In Skyrim, NPC’s will gather around corpses and comment on them. That’s great. But they won’t actually do anything about the body, so you’ll come back a week later and still find it in the middle of the town square. That breaks immersion. What would you have them do, Craig Lager? Do you want them to code dynamic body-burial routines and an AI that can create emergent funerals on the fly, is that it? Where does it end?

    Games just cannot do everything real life does, full stop. Any game that doesn’t totally railroad the player is going to have weird bits that NPC’s don’t react to, and the more effort you’ve put into making the world react, the more those bits will stand out like a sore thumb. In my opinion, you’re better off ditching it altogether and going for abstract representations of people and towns. Players won’t mind, and you’ll live longer.

    • thesisko says:

      No, just deleting the body if the player exits the cell once X amount of time has passed would do fine.

    • JackShandy says:

      Do me a favor and ignore the example, I’d prefer to talk about the central argument. The main immersion-breaking event in the corpse scenario is that NPC’s will walk up to a corpse, look at it, say something, then walk away and act as if nothing had happened while the corpse is still right there. Because they’ve called attention to it, it’s now more disturbing than if they hadn’t reacted at all. Either way, there are many more situation’s in Skyrim and other games that I could of used.

    • suibhne says:

      It doesn’t help to “ignore the example”, tho, because part of the point is that the problem posed by any example can be solved by decent game design. Thesisko easily addressed the challenge you brought up, in at least a rudimentary way, and I think good design could similarly – and efficiently – address any number of other examples.

      If you’re arguing that games will simply never be able to catch every possible inconsistency, then I totally agree. But Bethesda’s recent games have missed a lot of inconsistencies, and they really prove my point: with better design, they could reach a critical mass at which such inconsistencies would be less problematic for the player experience.

    • JackShandy says:

      That’s the thing: I don’t believe such a critical mass is ever possible, and I think more and more inconsistencies will spawn the more a game tries to reach it. It’s like the Uncanny valley effect. On the one side, you’ve got games like Kings bounty – totally abstract representations. You just accept that the stuff happening on-screen represents something else and move on. On the other side, you’ve got real life. The closer you get to making a game real life without actually achieving 100% fidelity, the more obvious the flaws are going to be.

    • Arglebargle says:

      As usual for Bethesda games, the ‘better design’ will be provided by the modders….

  21. Bensam123 says:

    I agree, in a lot of cases they take freedom away from players and introduce a fixed plot element with the illusion of choice. A good example of this is QTE events. QTE events are added to give player the ability to control what happens at a given moment and increase immersion, but they don’t. They simply force you to (often times) relive the same painful death till you hit the button at exactly the right moment. The illusion of choice is forward upon you, but in actuality you have no choice at all.

    Reactive worlds are becoming very scarce, not just in terms of plot development in a RPG, but also FPS’s. Where if you reload a clip of ammo, you lose the ammo in the clip or it’s recycled. Most games simply allow you to automatically put rounds into the new clip and you don’t lose a single one by reloading.

    In BF2 you used to be able to destroy the other teams assets. In BF3 there are no assets to destroy anymore. Bullet drop was removed from a lot of games even though realistically speaking, bullets do drop in real life. Going off that line, the biggest world changer so to speak was physics. Remember PhysX and the big physics war because it was the next biggest thing? Physics actually are an insanely cool idea, it adds a completely new level of depth to games, yet almost no developers actually used it.

    One of the very few and best examples of good physics I can offer is Men of War, which has amazing ballistics and world interaction (driving a tank through buildings and having it crumble around you, which isn’t scripted at all). A older one I would also add to this is Tribes 2, which had amazing physics and showed how much simply having actual projectiles and allowing people to intereact with eachother in a more physical manner could be amazing.

    I do enjoy the level of character involved in Witcher 2 and I’m not an RPG guy. Skyrim felt less involved then Oblivion, but both have some level of interaction between the character and their environment. They all really pale in comparison to Mass Effect 2. I never got enough of that game. Every single character made you want to learn about them and ever one of your choices made a difference, even the final battle was a decision picking contest and if you picked wrong, characters died.

    It’s sad that most people have never experienced this sort of thing so they really don’t know what they’re missing. It’s hard to explain to them what having a interactive world is like, where things in the world actually react to you. Minecraft is a great example of just how great that can be. It’s like trying to explain what color is like to someone that can’t see or sound to someone who is completely deaf from birth.

    • Brun says:

      In BF3 you are quite free to destroy the enemy’s assets (assuming you mean things like unoccupied jets, jeeps, tanks). You just aren’t awarded points for doing so.

  22. Lambchops says:

    I can’t resist an opportunity to wax lyrical about Outcast.

    One of the things I liked about that game was that it didn’t take the “be a dick or be a hero” approach to things. Outcast wanted you to be a hero but instead of doing it by having invincible civillians or whatever it did it by there being absolutely no benefit to randomly killing people and taking what little stuff they had. It was noticed and all the reations were negative. People wouldn’t talk to you, healers wouldn’t heal you and you got the ultimate insult of being called worse than than the tyranical ruler. This all just made the game harder, and who wants that?

    Plus Outcast was aware of its technical limitations and just made a joke of them. Why are we using the same model for merchants? Clearly they are all borthers competing to take over the family business. Why are there no female NPCs (Marion excepted)? They’re all of on an island elsewhere of course! It ‘s a case of making you can do with the tech you have work well for you.

  23. SuffixTreeMonkey says:

    The difference between the computer gaming development and desktop app development is that we’re much more used to free/open-source applications in the desktop app area. Firefox, VLC, 7zip,
    codecs, widgets, many graphical toolkits which we’re basically free to use (At least parts of Origin use Qt, I think, which is free).

    A possible improvement of the “more complex” aspects of game development (interactivity of objects, AI, etc) could be a standardisation of some of the higher-level tools, so that game studios do not have to develop everything over and over again. Currently, we’re somewhere in the middle of the path — we have mostly free low-level libraries, and some higher-level ones (there are some tree generating libraries out, if I remember correctly) but nothing is really standardized.

    Don’t forget that with a good engine, the quality of graphics could be orthogonal to the problem of the interactivity of gameplay. I still dream of an engine that would be able to switch between say Morrowind and Skyrim-like graphics (where one would be generated by hand and the other generated automatically) without having to rewrite any of the background code.

    There’s a myriad of ways to improve the situation. In Skyrim, for example, you can still recognize that two characters have the same voice actor. Couldn’t voice acting for minor characters be simply crowdsourced? Maybe some other aspects could be. After all, Team Fortress 2 has the most important aspect of the game — hat creation — crowdsourced and it works well, even when the game is free. I know, it’s not that simple, but it’s not too complicated either.

    • Plinglebob says:

      The only issue I could see with crowdsourcing voice acting is payment and acting related trade unions. However, if they did it as a competition or just posted the lines online and told people to send a sample, I think it’d be great.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I absolutely agree with this. I think we’ll see better open source efforts when graphics finally plateau. Open source projects seem to be best (and I could be and probably am wrong) when they have something to emulate and improve upon. Who wants to emulate something like UE3 when it will get changed in a few years?

    • jawbone78 says:

      Crowd-sourcing the voices wouldn’t lead to more diversity in the voices. Not if you consider quality to be something important. For all the complaining about the quality of some game voice acting, it’s still far better (on the whole) than you’d get from non-professional actors.

      As for open source, it’s far, far away from having a significant impact on gaming. The problem is that most open-source licenses are incompatible with for-profit game development business models. And if there’s no profit in making games, there won’t be as many games made. Look at the state of gaming on Linux. That’s where we’re at, and it ain’t pretty.

      Unfortunately for the open source gaming community, there is no Mozilla or Canonical or other such company that can generate and pour cash into game engine development. Maybe there will be some day, but I doubt it. The big players in open source are funded largely by for-profit companies and governments that use open source software to do their work. In other words, practical software gets funded and developed. Software with no inherent practical business value (ie games) are left to be labours of love.

  24. Mario Figueiredo says:

    I’ve been begging for nothing more.

    In fact, once I believed that would be one of the natural developments of RPGs along with graphics quality. It’s easy to see now how naive that was.

    One point:

    Worlds like this are great. But they aren’t just mind blowing expensive to develop, they demand computer resources we don’t have yet and very difficult to do right. I’m not so positive we’ll be seeing any of that soon. So far, the only way to achieve something similar is through MMOs and similar games where that organic world is shaped not by a game engine, but by the players themselves.

    Why? Because the world collective memory is stored in bits and pieces on the players brains, not on an hard drive. And the whole complex network of relationships along with its rules and semi-randomness, stored on players genes.

  25. Shortwave says:

    Being forced into shitty game logic has driven me to near insanity lately.

  26. Stevostin says:

    how often have you set off an explosion, killed a man, or even half flattened a city with barely any repercussion or consequence?

    Actually, very rarely. Because either the game handles it well and I am getting so hadly “balanced” that I am either dead or in jail or in “impossibly hardcore mode”. Either it doesn’t and I am just breaking the game – but worse than that, I am not roleplaying it, I am dummy testing it. It would be like, when I am offered wine, testing it in a lab rather than drinking it. What’s the point, really ? What’s in it for me ?

    I do care about the limits regarding what I could really want to do, thus. Fallout New Vegas is a good exemple on how those game dedicated to let you a lot of choices still deprives you of way more choices. Hopefully someone someday will decide to support a quest/goal system on a procedural rather than scripted mechanic. Heard Skyrim does that in part – have yet to try it.

  27. Kieron Gillen says:

    Yeah, I disagree with this entirely and the comparisons are completely false, and loaded towards a very limited view of what games “should” be. You could flip the article around and say that Skyrim is awesome and Witcher 2 is shit, because the world Witcher 2 presents is one where you can barely touch anything and can’t jump up ridges or whatever. In fact, the criticisms which are leveled at Skyrim are entirely born of it offering massively more freedom of action than the Witcher. Looking through this filter, it’s actually an article arguing in favour of less choice rather than more.

    (To state the obvious: the Witcher 2 is based around a single PC, so all the content can be pushed towards that. You’re never going to get a “being told to be careful about the wizards when you’re the head of the wizards” error because *you are never going to be the head of the wizards*)

    That isn’t even touching on the idea that “it’s getting worse because of the cost of graphics” tenet is entirely undermined by the main game Craig’s hailing being brand new, with an enormous graphics budget and all that. This is about design, not tech.

    KG

    • suibhne says:

      On the flip side, Kieron, I think it points up a somewhat different aspect of “consequences”: there are consequences to offering freedom to players, and not systematically or seriously addressing those consequences means undermining some of the benefits of that freedom. I think (don’t hold me to this) I’d rather play a more constrained game that recognized and reacted to my actions, than a wide-open sandbox game that frequently mis-reacted to my actions.

    • Reapy says:

      I thought the wizard thing was jarring until I remembered that not everybody knows everything in the world. He may very well tell me to be careful of wizards, even though I am the arch mage, but when is the last time this random NPC walked by the college and saw the arch mage to know what he looks like, or even the fact that I am a wizard?

      I was put off by how quickly and universally information spreads in skyrim. I’m glad they know about it, but sometimes its just odd how quickly people know things that I would think wouldn’t really be something to spread a rumor.

      I think part of it is how the skyrim population is so low, it is hard to believe about rumors spreading or news moving anywhere. There needs to be a bit more fodder around perhaps.

      Also, I think information dissemination would be easier to handle if the things you did were less grand. If i’m the head of the mage’s guild, I expect that a lot of people would know this and react appropriately to me. If i’m in charge of the tavern corner, i expect people to not know who I am and say weird things to me.

      I think that really is skyrim’s ‘problem’, you do big, epic things, and you expect the world to react appropriately, and it is jarring when they don’t.

      Mondays == rambling.

    • Felix says:

      I believe what @Reapy says is a perfect example of how the player interprets certain statements as illogical because they expect each NPC to know the lore of the land as it happens. Thing is, this is a medieval world we’re talking about here, not a world with BREAKING NEWS on their TV sets.

      Also, there is the player interpretation that someone who is a thief cannot possibly be a hero. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. They interpret statements as illogical by their knowledge, not seeing an NPC as an entity. This is less an issue in more linear games where you are only presented with NPCs that know exactly what has been written for them to know, logically, within the scope of the story.

    • Snidesworth says:

      Am I the only one bothered that these random people are talking to me as I rush by them? Imagine if you walked down a street and anyone you came within a few metres of spoke at you with eerie knowledge of your abilities and past deeds.

    • trouble_gum says:

      I’m inclined to agree with this, since, fundamentally – Skyrim and The Witcher 2 are not the same kind of game.

      I mean, obviously, yes – they’re both Roleplaying Games set in that Western Fantasy RPG Forest, City, Sewers and Mountains themepark that everyone who makes one rents, like the quarry that serves as all the alien worlds in Doctor Who, and they both have swords and sorcery and a protagonist with unique powers. But there the similarity, for the purposes of comparing how they’re designed and how their respective worlds react and their plotlines unfold. The Witcher, like Mass Effect and DX:HR, plonks you into the boots of One Protagonist. ME might allow you to give your version breasts and a new first name, maybe a different BioWare-issue haircut, but ultimately, it’s telling you from the get-go that “you will be this and you will do this.” ME and The Witcher take you from the start to a pre-destined finish, allowing you some degree of flexibility in the exact methods and directions you use to get there and allowing you a very generous travel timetable in which to do it.

      Skyrim, like Fallout 3 and previous TES games before it, plonks you into a world and says “You’re…someone. There’s some stuff you might want to go do, you know, if you can bothered. Or you can wander the tundra; pick flowers, murder rabbits with lightning bolts and…um…marry werewolves. Sounds ok? Good, we’ll leave you to it, then”
      I’m not going to call it a “sandbox” because that’s a term that gets overused these days to describe any game with a modestly-sized world that players can access all of from start up and pursue whatever activities they see fit aside from the “main questline.”

      Stylistically, the latter does not lend itself well to “gameworld reactivity,” because there are too many variables in potential player activity to react to in a meaningful manner without shutting down some of the “openness” of the world. The conscious design choice to create a game environment in which players can explore to the limits of the world and follow any and all ‘career’ pathways is one that, whilst allowing a vast amount of time to be spent by the player in exploring and investigating the myriad possibilities, ultimately limits how much visible (or audible) impact the player can have on the world itself.

      Does that mean that the world shouldn’t react to player choices? In my opinion, not at all. And yes, I find it very jarring that guards take on look at me and say “Keep your hands to yourself, sneakthief,” like I’m wearing some sort of jaunty sign around my neck saying “thief.” I’ll have you know most of my lockpicking and sneaking were acquired re-housing items from crypts full of the undead, thanks. Open worlds should react and they should react more carefully than they do a lot of the time. It would be nice to see less of the rote reactions from NPCs in Skyrim (and past and future games of the same type). “Oh, a mage, I can tell that from your magic skills. Which I know about because I’m psychic (like all PC RPG town guards) As opposed to any actual obvious, visible marker that I could actually react to.” If I went around wearing mage robes, carrying a staff, with some sort of runic symbol proclaiming my aptitude for Restoration magic, then people’s tendency to comment on the same would be more organically reactive.

      It’s this level of organic reaction that I’d want to see more of. Much as I don’t particularly hold with the opinion that Fallout: NV was some sort of paragon, the ability to disguise yourself as a member of a faction by wearing their uniform was a very nice touch. Here the NPCs are reacting to a variable that their characters can see, as opposed to some mystical number that they somehow psychically divine.

      I’d further agree with those who’d like to see a move towards RPGs closing down some of the options to pursue certain questlines or factional memberships, based on the player’s choices. This sort of limitation seems to have gone out of the window alongside more traditional FRPG ideas such as ‘character class.’ Whilst this -does- offer a great deal of freedom of action, it also tends to break down the purpose of specialisation, create somewhat ludicrous situations and an unfortunate lack of any feeling that your actions have real meaning in the world. Freedom, after all, only means as much when you have something to contrast it with. The open-world design choice, complete with its “Be all you feel like being, do all you feel like doing” ethos, albeit restricted by what the game engine can actually provide; provides massive freedom without providing meaningful constraint to give your freedom definition and purpose. I -can- be Guildmaster of the Fighters Guild, Mage’s Guild and every other Guild out there, so I will, because I can.

      It’d be nice to see, again, the kind of game design that says, at some points. “You did this, which for obvious reasons precludes you from doing that.” I’m sorry, you can’t serve as Master of the Guild of Fighters. Because you’re a Mage. Or a convicted criminal. Or that you CAN be a member of multiple Guilds, but eventually will be forced to choose.

      Ironically, I think the biggest mistake that a lot of open-world style RPGs do is to give you the open world from the start. One of the things I actually think Fable 3 did right (I can only comment on Fable 3, it’s the only one of the series I’ve played) was to let you continue to play with the world after you’d completed the main quest. Shame there wasn’t any compelling reason to do that, but it’s still a good idea.

      I’m assuming that, if I follow the main quest to its conclusion, Skyrim will roll credits and say “Right, you had your fun, move along now” much like DA:O did. I’m presuming Oblivion did as well. I never actually completed Oblivion, due to its horrible level-scaling, tedious Oblivion gates and other things coming along.

      This design choice actually helps to create a lot of the “unimmersiveness” people sometimes complain of. That main quest doesn’t have to be finished any time soon, and we wouldn’t want you to end your gaming experience prematurely, so take all the time you want getting to the end of the story. Better would be to let people continue to wander the world after the main quest, when a lot of the jarring sense of avoiding the big important, world saving stuff would no longer be an issue.

  28. Burning Man says:

    “He saunters up to random people in the middle of city streets and beats them half to death with a club. Then he stands still and waits to get arrested.”

    This is EXACTLY how I spend my time in Skyrim. It is FUN.

    ….Completely unlike Fable 3, where killing anyone makes everyone else scream and flee in terror. God, that was annoying. Shut up woman! I only kill guards! G-U-A-R-D-S! Savvy?

    So no, reactivity is not always a good thing.

  29. Lobotomist says:

    Ahh…Skyrim

    I truly feel that small but important step in merging graphic and presentation with reactive world has been made here.

    Anyway ,
    I would really like to see more “reactive game worlds”

    And I dont mind graphics.

    In fact. Ascii graphics is probably tad extreme.
    But pixel sprite graphic works well enough and almost enough for immersive game.

    But ahh… then I look at Skyrim.

  30. Justin Keverne says:

    Considering all of these games are running on machines whose very purpose is to process vast quantities of information in real time, maybe the solution to this and the very similar complains directed toward Rage is to make use of all that processing ability. Which is to say, systematize the way the world reacts to player behaviour.

  31. afarrell says:

    It’s important to empower us, as players, to do whatever we want in games

    Why? What about this would make for better games? And what about this argument is different from all the “If only you could talk to the monsters” bollocks down all the years?

  32. Archonsod says:

    “Planescape, Outcast, even the original Deus Ex – they were incredibly reactive to what a player could do and gave a multitude of options in what a player could say. They could do this because to code in options was cheap (or at least cheaper). Now, though, because of the level of detailing we expect from a title, a large amount of money has to be pushed at each new option that’s presented to a player.”

    Not really. The wonderful trick Black Isle stuck to is that there was only ever three paths through any conversation. Even if the player had six potential answers to a question, you’d usually find that just meant every pair of answers led to the same response.
    It’s not actually expensive to do do a similar thing now, at most you’d be adding one or two new lines of dialogue per conversation (and if you were being really smart not even that). I suspect the real reason it was abandoned was because it led to an awful lot of people complaining about pseudo-choice.

    • InternetBatman says:

      They still have more dialog choice than conversation wheel games, where you only pick the emotion. There are also other places where choice shows up. For example, in Planescape you can choose to become the king of the dead, ending the game in the middle.

    • Wulf says:

      ^ That.

      As I already said, and what’s going whoosh over some heads, is that Black Isle is very good at anticipating and predicting players, and then providing a well written scenario for every gods damn choice they make. Big choice? Little choice? Doesn’t matter. Everything you do has a written scenario behind it, and even that scenario can then be broken or moulded to your desires.

      THAT is what Black Isle did. That’s what Obsidian DO.

  33. InternetBatman says:

    I’d argue that voice acting is a major culprit and it will never get better. Voice acting requires the writing to be static, because of schedules for actors and so on. It makes writing more expensive because you have to pay actors, have multiple takes, run a sound studio, etc. The worst part is that people expect it. Some reviewers even mark games down if they don’t have it. A game like Planescape Torment will never be made again if it to be fully voice-acted.

    However, I think Deus Ex offers the illusion of choice, but its rails are still pretty apparent. Unlike something like Skyrim, you can’t really choose where you go, and the levels are much smaller. I really liked the game, but it was more artful at offering the illusion of choice and consequence while providing less in most cases (the brother was a really cool touch.)

    I think the most reactive game I have ever played was Gothic. If you beat someone up, his friends beat you up but usually the guards don’t care. If you kill them, and you have to choose to kill them, then you are considered a murderer for the rest of the game and everyone in that sect goes hostile. Animals in the forest hunt each other. The best part, my favorite little detail, is that when you are untrained with 1-handed swords you hold it with two hands and swing it like a club.

  34. Moth Bones says:

    Pedant’s point – the opening para contains an irritating misuse of the word ‘fulsome’.

    Worthwhile (perhaps) point – does a player’s apprehension of illogical events and reactions depend on whether s/he is having a generally positive experience of the game? Burning Man’s comment on Skyrim, for instance. My own amusement when, in Fallout 3, a strange man kills the sheriff of Megaton, then I kill the strange man, without anyone else in the bar even noticing. A whole generation of gamers chuckling at the berserk fury of the police in GTA 3, scything down pedestrians and smashing themselves up as they chase the player for a traffic offence. Because we are enjoying the games these things are amusing rather than annoying. We don’t expect a full virtual reality.

    I’m dubious about the concept of immersion (and consequently, things being ‘immersion-breaking’) because it seems to me that this is a value added by the player themselves. It’s very similar to what used to be called suspension of disbelief and to my mind is necessary for the enjoyment of visual fictions.

  35. malkav11 says:

    FWIW, depending on the game it may make perfect sense for you to still be able to carry on the main quest while being a horrible monster. In Morrowind, you are the Nerevarine, the prophesied hero. In Skyrim, you are the last Dovahkiin. You have unique, irreplacable attributes that mean you’re the only man or woman for the job even if you’ve spent the last few months mercilessly butchering hundreds of innocents. (I don’t recall the PC of Oblivion having any unique attributes other than happening to be the guy the Emperor passed as he was fleeing assassins, but maybe I’m wrong about that.)

    • Wisq says:

      Well, just from the tutorial sequence in Oblivion, I recall that the king had an inordinate amount of trust in you, as he’d seen you in a dream or something prior. (I don’t know anything more because I’ve puttered around a bunch in Oblivion without ever touching the main quest, so.)

      Still, the games should probably at least look at your prior actions and have the save-the-world quest-givers be either pleased to have you (if you’ve been good) or extremely reluctant but having no other choice (if you’ve been a psycho). Maybe they do this, but I doubt it. Then again, I’ve never had the time / patience to see a Bethesda game through to the end.

  36. Lagwolf says:

    Yet again I am reminded why I enjoy reading this site so much. Intelligent analysis, with a sense of humour, of games is hard to come by anywhere else.

  37. Shooop says:

    The thing with The Witcher 2 though is you’re still choosing predetermined paths which eventually converge. All it’s really done is offer you two different routes to get to your destination although it’s nice it’s not a “morality” kind of choice like most games turn it into.

    The level of interaction is also a lot lower than Skyrim. You can’t go anywhere in the world you please at any time because you’re still in the story and it demands you finish your business in that particular area before the game lets you move on. And worst of all you can never go back.

    But what Witcher is doing brilliantly is giving you the right kind of options. Ones that don’t make you feel like you’ve ever made the wrong decision by punishing you with high difficulty or about morality. Morality is a non-issue. It’s just about which of the crossroads you take to get to your goal and never about something stupid like karma.

  38. Tyrone Slothrop. says:

    But the reactivity you want from DX: HR wasn’t in any of the games you mention as being reactive due to the relative cheapness of asset-creation. You were never sanctioned for the genocide of civilians apart from an extremely rare reprimand for specific actions (like killing Joe Greene). Though it’s a dream of mine that there are massive A.I. and scripted events that happen as a result of your actions.

    For instance, imagine in a Deus Ex 4 if when detected during a corporate infiltration, a mistake will trigger an NPC running to a phone, yelling at the police, SWAT arrive and lockdown the building, you can prevent this at any stage or encourage it just to watch. Imagine if each NPC had a relationship with another and could wonder about the mysterious absence of another or feel apathy to a missing rival colleague.

    The closest to this level of A.I. interaction is in the Hitman: Absolution gameplay walkthrough that came out a while ago. Smashing a bong over a policeman while dressed as a policeman causes a stoner to remark about how awesome police brutality is, taking a new recruit hostage triggers a lot of pitiable cries with superficially reassuring responses from his superiors. Apparently walking in plain sight of the more panicked stoners will cause quite a different reaction to walking in with 47′s business suit. These are of course scripted, it’s tautological to say because they involve literally scripted dialogue and animations but they happen in response to emergent actions.

    The term ‘scripting’ has gotten a really negative connotation when they limit player mobility and action though when used as a compliment to player agency they’re incomparably effective.

    Also as a note on what many here are seemingly asking for, is rather than mere reactivity, are wholly and realistically branching narratives. Heavy Rain is actually quite a good representation of this, with its numerous endings and the potential death of its protagonists. I haven’t actually played the game… well I’m told watching it on youtube is basically playing it but it did offer a compelling and viable framework for choice and consequence. If only that excellent overarching design was pared with directly-controllable and stellar gameplay, we’d be looking at something amazing. Incidentally the soundtrack and ambiance is pretty brilliant in that.

  39. Ultra-Humanite says:

    I love when people refer to “people” when they actually mean to say “me.”

  40. Consumatopia says:

    @AshEnke
    And that was part of the failure of the game, even for a game as graphically “simple” as Subversion, managing low-level behaviors is the trickiest thing possible.

    True. Graphics and voice acting make this problem somewhat worse, but even without graphics the problem of interacting features still becomes intractable quickly. In fact, I’d say Dwarf Fortress has already reached this point. Read that Tarn Adams quote again

    “If I have to choose between adding two game elements or adding one game element and its corresponding graphics and sound, then I’ll add two game elements”

    Okay, so you end up with a long list of simulated features with primitive graphics–so far, so good. But what happens when it comes time to write AI code for agents to respond to and manipulate these features? Here we discover that there’s one feature that’s common in strategy games that’s absent from DF and likely always will be–you can’t have the computer play the game for you. You can’t tell the computer to plan and manage the construction of your fortress. When you encounter structures that other creatures in the game have built, they weren’t built by simulated agents designing a fortress in response to their local needs, they were procedurally generated by cellular automata to visually resemble settlements, like a parody of Stephen Wolfram’s “New Kind of Science”.

    So you can’t play a fortress vs. fortress game. You can’t delegate part of the management of your fortress to a simulated assistant–which means that many of those features that Adams adds to the game are actually making it harder to play. The social and economic simulations of the game are limited, because while DF has a mind-boggling number of features, it’s so much easier to add two new first-order features (e.g. bees) than to make a new higher-order system that can respond intelligently to all the existing features.

  41. datom says:

    Go play Football Manager. No, seriously! Say nasty things about an opposing manager then three years later run into trouble when he refuses to sell you a talented youngster. Create lifelong friendships between youngster and veteran which then blow-up in your face when you strip said veteran of captaincy. The best thing about sports management games is that you can reflect in the end on the ways you have shaped an interactive and dynamic world. Other games, like a good 4x, Elite, Space Rangers 2 etc offer this kind of dynanism constantly.

    However, these games require a huge tradeoff – you accept a bit-part in the grand scheme of things.
    It purposefully limits the role of the player to be not Prince Hamlet, but an attendant lord; I think that’s a much bigger stretch than the design decisions involved. There must be a sizeable number of people who want to be the protaganist in sole control of their destiny, not tossed around on the seas of misfortune and dynamic world design!

  42. Davee says:

    Great article! More of this please. :)

  43. Brun says:

    The simple problem is that too many games are trying to tell A STORY. One, single story written by the developers. Allowing meaningful player choice creates the risk of that story not being told in the way it was intended, and we can’t have that now can we?

    Games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect mask the fact that there is only one story by creating the illusion of choice through branching. There are 1-3 canned beginnings that lead to 1-3 canned endings through different paths. The overall story is the same. As the article mentions, this is where the Witcher 2 stands out since decisions along those branching paths actually change the outcome of the story – CD Projekt accomplished that by brute force (i.e. creating two separate Acts 2 and 3), and for all its merits, it shows in the rather abrupt ending. There just wasn’t enough time/budget for them to make what felt like a complete game by brute-forcing the separate paths.

    Personally, I feel like games like Skyrim and Oblivion are the closest to where we need to be on this issue. Along with their Fallout counterparts they create relatively convincing, living worlds. The freeform aspects of these games (i.e., when you’re out exploring and not interacting with NPCs) allow for the “story,” if you could call it that, to flow freely from experience, which is and should be the ultimate goal here. A story that is not told, but experienced. In this regard TES/Fallout have an excellent framework established that, with some additional work, could very well create that kind of experience.

    Now, as to whether the modern gamer could appreciate such an experience is another matter entirely. Again, fingers crossed for a 1983-esque gaming crash that will bring about the end to the on-rails FPS era and force the major publishers down a different path.

    • malkav11 says:

      I’m not convinced there’s one single thing games should be. Open world player-generated stories or scripted linear developer-created ones, they both have a place and an audience.

    • Brun says:

      Having a story that flows from experience is equally applicable to both open and linear games. I’d argue that it’s more difficult to do in a linear game, but still possible.

  44. Felix says:

    I did not think the Dwarf Fortress example was particularly logical after the poisoning of the water and consequential deaths. At this point I would expect the water supply to be tested, filtered if possible, isolated, a new source located, and/or some antidote to be found. The part where the blacksmith goes mad and kills his own wife (or is every dwarf a blacksmith and one blacksmith killed another’s wife?) for revenge against his own (or the other dwarf’s) actions which results in the wife haunting whoever. If it is two separate dwarfs, the events follow few logical threads. The game is reactive but also somewhat random and illogical. I do understand the desire for building a game quickly to increase the chance for reactiveness to flourish.

    While I agree that the aesthetic aspect of graphics is overdone in some cases, in others it adds to the reactiveness of games. Take destructibility as an example: if a rocket impacts a building, it should crumble and add a new dynamic to that area. This is seen in games like Battlefield 3 and Crysis. Advancing technology goes hand-in-hand with advancing reactiveness.

    Next, I’d like to address Skyrim, which I think is a poor candidate for making more reactive. Assuming you wish Skyrim to be wonderfully reactive while keeping it’s open nature, you would make the game far, far worse. You bring the possibility of not completing the game, perhaps even due to choices made so early that hours would have been “wasted” in the attempt. The most I can see in improving Skyrim’s reactiveness is the incidental comments and lore and lasting environmental effects. Not in long-term consequences that are detrimental to playing the game.

    I find that what another commenter, Droniac, said is very true: sandbox gameplay is not conducive to reactiveness. Combining both would be a challenge and would still include the possibility of not being able to complete the game, unless one counts failing to do so one method of completion, which is reasonable. I feel that choice and reactiveness are at odds. Yet reactiveness requires choice. Decisions, consequences. Even Dwarf Fortress is severely limited in choice compared to a game like Skyrim.

    Finally, there is the problem of interpretation. As I played the SWTOR beta as a bounty hunter I noticed that many choices were very much in the grey, as is the case with many Bioware games. However, Bioware dares to color code decisions as blue or red, bad or good, casting aside the grey veil. It is not representative of reality because we are never told whether some decision we have made is good or bad, morally. Let’s say these colors were cast aside and you were not given indication of what you did as being good or bad. You are left with your decisions and their consequences. The consequences will be, morally, good or bad, but the cascading consequences might be the opposite. It becomes a real situation. For example, one must consider the possibility that an NPC is lying to you. That NPC asking you for help could be setting you up to do something morally questionable (is that guy chasing him/her really bad?) and you might never know it till much later in the game, if at all. Is what you did right? As far as you were concerned at the time, it might have been, but you will personally only be certain if you choose to see the situation as morally black and white rather than the greyscale it really is. I would have found many choices in Bioware titles to be morally grey and logically reactive were it not for the colors blue and red.

    • Wisq says:

      You have to understand that Dwarf Fortress is fully reactive and immersive once you learn the altered rules of reality that govern the world of the Dwarves.

      For example: Dwarves don’t drink for weeks, and don’t eat or sleep for months. When they do drink, they’ll always have alcohol if they can, and they can survive on 100% booze with no water whatsoever. It doesn’t take water to make booze, either. (So a desert is a problem for us, and no problem for the dwarves.)

      For your example: They don’t have technology. They don’t have water screening. Hell, for a while, they didn’t even know what to do with stuff that’s on fire, and would happily put things on fire in contact with other stuff that ought not to be on fire — like themselves, or their beds, or the alcohol stockpile. They have personalities and jobs and thoughts and happiness, but they don’t have any ability to plan ahead, or to deal with problematic situations in any way unless the (omniscient, godlike) player gives them (or has previously given them) appropriate orders.

      Once you accept this altered version of reality — yes, the game is entirely reactive, because it’s wholly emergent and driven by the player’s decisions.

      Now, yes, you could say things like “once you accept that the police don’t notice if other police die, Jensen getting greeted normally in the police station lobby makes sense” to try to explain away the various issues in the original article. But that evades one of the main points:

      We’ve spent ages making our FPS NPCs detailed at the low level — patrol routes, line of sight, various idle activities, appropriate reactions to seeing the player, calling in reinforcements, setting off alarms, sending the player to jail. We’ve modelled them after reality, as best we know how. And yet we’ve failed so badly at giving them any kind of high-level detail, such as responding to the player being a complete psychopath that the entire world ought to know about by now. So you’re given the illusion of a “real” world, a near-future (for DX:HR) version of the world we live in, yet that illusion falls flat as soon as you step outside the bounds of what the authors intended.

      Dwarf Fortress, by comparison, is so much more abstract. You’re dealing with potentially hundreds of dwarves rather than one main character. They’re simulated internally, but the game is intentionally leaving all the logic functions up to you, the master brain behind the fortress. If you happen to miss that the water is poisoned, there’s no reason they’re going to stop drinking it. That’s just part of the reality, same as other high-level decisions like “if you don’t respond to a goblin invasion, your dwarves will keep going outside and getting shot at”.

  45. Lycanthrope says:

    Good gods, I love this article.

    Thank you so much for it <3

  46. Nate says:

    It’s not even like it’s just a choice between adding two gameplay effects or one effect with graphics and sound. Graphics and sound aren’t free doodads that you tack together after you’ve got all of your gameplay worked out– graphics and sound are integral parts of a game that determine what sort of interactivity a player will expect and what sort of interactivity can wow your players.

    Do you think that house in Zork maybe had anything besides a sword, a rug, and a mailbox? By limiting your awareness of details, it limited your expectations of interactivity. Of course you couldn’t flush the toilet– as far as you knew, there wasn’t even a toilet.

    You can’t just add snow or flocks of birds to an FPS for atmosphere after your gameplay is defined, because those things suggest gameplay. Stealthers should startle flocks of birds; footprints should be left in snow. When details exist, players will be disappointed if those details are meaningless. But nobody ever complained that Asteroids wasn’t immersive or interactive enough.

    It’s like there’s an uncanny valley, not just for graphics, but for physics and AI as well. Once you add a little bit, the parts that you ignored stick out all the more. And there’s just no way to add it all, no matter how long you take to develop your game, no matter what target specs you work toward.

  47. vecordae says:

    Quite a conundrum! My words as follows:

    I don’t agree with the gentleman who wrote this article. I do not believe that “game logic” exists. There is an awareness that one is playing a game and an expectation that certain things that happen in real life won’t happen in the game. How this is expressed exactly differs between genres, publishers, and even players.

    Where the balance needs to be found is, instead, between player agency and narrative cohesion. Here are some examples of what I mean.

    Deus Ex: HR had some moments where the player was granted some agency that, realistically, should have broken the narrative. Jensen kills ALL OF THE DUDES, but no one seems to care all that much. If they did, Jensen would be arrested and the game’s plot would, effectively, come to an end. This could have been addressed believably in the game, but it wasn’t.

    Call of Modern Manshoots’ single player campaign is so intent on preserving its narrative that the player is granted almost no agency. You move, you shoot, you get in zee choppah. Nothing else is allowed because it would break the narrative.

    Interestingly enough, The Witcher 2 isn’t, fundamentally, any different in its approach to the Modern Manshoots games. It simply does a better job of balancing agency and narrative. Despite the improvements, however, Geralt is still a prisoner of the narrative. He can never truly leave it.

    Mount and Blade barely has a narrative outside of “you are a peon in Calradia but might not be if you do stuff”. The only limitation placed on player agency is what choices the mechanics of the game allow for. This can give the player a great feeling of freedom, but without a narrative to refer to, it can often feel like the choices don’t really mean anything beyond changing some under-the-hood numbers. The games designers are hoping that you’ll create your own narrative and make your own goals, but this isn’t something that everyone is skilled at doing.

    Skyrim’s approach is much more complex than The Witcher’s, but suffers for the same reason that DX:HR does. The player has so much agency that the player can either break or, even worse, trivialize the narrative. In this case, trying to balance narrative cohesion against the staggering amount of agency the player is granted is an immensely difficult task. It would simply be easier to deny the player the ability to make certain choices entirely, but that’s not how Bethesda has chosen to approach things.

    Lastly, giving a player agency also means giving the player the means to completely hose themselves some time down the line. That is a hard thing to get right. On one hand, if you don’t allow those kinds of choices, the player may feel coddled. If you do allow for them, the same player might feel like they are being punished for their ignorance. I think that providing more player agency is really the trick. Let the player choose the severity of their consequences before they start up the game.

  48. Bloodloss says:

    Skyrim is as bad as you can get with there are no choices and consequences. None. Offering you multiple choices in dialogue is basically just a cosmetic thing. Nothing reacts to you, no one cares what you’ve done or who you are beyond saying “Move along, orc.” You can’t change anything 99% of the time, and the 1% of the time you can it’s purely cosmetic like people being in different uniforms in one location. It’s bad. I don’t buy the animation excuse or etc, but one thing that is more ‘complex’ is the voice acting now. I much preferred how it used to be in games like Fallout 1/2 where the voice acting was limited to the most important NPCs, and in general wasn’t used much. It allowed for much more, better written and expansive dialogue with branches etc, more choices, more consequences.

    Of course the main problem now is that developers have gotten lazy, and people don’t want or care about choices and consequences or deep RPG experiences. As you can see from some of the responses especially on the first page of this thread, your actions having consequences is too “unentertaining” – they want to massacre towns and kill babies and still be treated like a hero, because otherwise, well, it wouldn’t be entertaining man, that’d just be annoying if your actions actually mattered.

  49. fahrenheit says:

    I remember the olden days when I was playing Bladur’s Gate and being wicked (killing guards and what not) about it and when I got to a new town (assuming my rep was in the dumps) the guards there would jump me on site.
    Good days..

  50. shoptroll says:

    Yes! Yes! YES! A thousand times so. This is precisely what I want out of the “next generation”. Let the devs catch their collective breath and focus less on pixel pushing for a spell.

Comment on this story

XHTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>