Monday, May 18, 2015

May BoRT: How in-game decisions can make you miss content

I am the kind of person who likes to plan things out in my life. I like to plan out what meals I'll make for my family ahead of time, and if something has to change at the last minute, sometimes I freak out a little. Having a plan gives me a little control over my life, which now that I have a year-old daughter, is even more important to me. I've enjoyed games like Rune Factory 4 and Bravely Default which let me plan my actions out pretty far in advance. I hate it when games unexpectedly take you away from an area you could have done more sidequests in, or if I feel like I can't get off the narrative tracks.

When I first played Dragon Age: Origins, I left the first town, Lothering, before I had fully explored it and I missed out on Leliana and Sten. When I found out, I felt cheated. Two characters represented quite a bit of the story telling that I actively wanted to read! I probably should have noticed various subtle signals that I wouldn't be able to return to Lothering. I also felt cheated when [spoiler] I couldn't stay with Alistair because I was an elf! [/spoiler]

Another time I felt like I "missed out" was in Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. I found out that I could have returned a wallet I picked up for extra points, among other things. I felt both impressed that they included this detail and annoyed that it didn't follow other adventure game conventions where people don't care about their crap.

yes, of course you pick it up

what do you mean this was the appropriate reaction 2 hours of gametime later? [src]

I could have avoided this "missing out" if I had read through walkthroughs carefully. But as much as I like to plan things, I also enjoy not knowing what will come next. If never missing out on parts of games means never being surprised, I'm okay with missing out on a few things.

And perhaps it's more realistic to have some actions have big, unpredictable consequences (like what race you choose in DA:O). It's hard to simulate "fate" in a computer game, since the entire storyline is obviously "fated" by the writers. But when a decision you make turns out to affect more than just the immediate situation, it can give the world a richer feel. That is, as long as it's not a dumb decision like whether you choose vanilla or chocolate ice cream (an actual decision in the branching-path graphic novel Meanwhile that determines whether or not there's any story at all).