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Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I'm wondering about switching between two or more parallel storylines or settings, and whether that can be done in a way less like film. In film, the story keeps going until the writer has decided that it's an appropriate place to end the scene, and then it suddenly switches to another scene. Afterward, it might even jump right back to where the first scene left off. This doesn't strike me as particularly elegant: I think the only reason I'm comfortable with this kind of forced-switching is because I'm so used to it that it barely registers. But there's got to be a more interactive way of doing that.

The problem with the film method is that control is so out of your hands. What if you're enjoying a particular scene so much you want to see it go on longer? Well, too bad. It's decreed that you shouldn't see the continuation (even though there is one) until you jump to a different scene. And contrariwise, if a scene's really dull, you can't go see what's going on anywhere else. You have to wait patiently.

I guess what I'm advocating is along the same lines as the game flow control post. The player ought to be given the tools to decide for himself when to switch from A-plot to B-plot.

I guess it's not good enough to let the player decide - you need to let them make an informed opinion. If the two storylines are going to come together in the end, what happens when you play through an entire branch all the way to the end, and haven't even started the other one?

You know, this really isn't as complicated as I thought it would be. Now that I'm thinking it through, I realize that you just need to lock the parts of the story which (for whatever reason) the player isn't ready for yet. You don't need to explain it, you just say "You can't continue until you go back and check out what you missed." in some simple way like putting a padlock icon on the screen and offering a button to go straight to what you missed. So if you switch from story A to story B, and the two stories eventually meet up, then when you get a bit before that point in B it'll give you a button to jump back to exactly where you left off in A. Makes sense.

Sorry if this is a bit rambly, I'm just working out my thoughts. You understand.

I'm not sure it's a good idea to always force the player to play through everything. Surely some parts are optional, no? You know how whenever they edit a movie, there are good bits which they cut out because they're inessential? Well, why not keep that kind of thing in, but make it perfectly clear that it's optional and can be skipped? Let's say a minor character leaves the story, and the writer has come up with some great scene for him, but it has nothing to do with the rest of the story? So a notification pops up on the screen saying that a new optional scene has been unlocked, and you can go to that whenever.

But it isn't really whenever, is it? You want the player to play that while it's still relevant, but you don't want to force him into anything. I mean, if he waits until the end of the game that minor character might be in a totally different place, and the little side-scene will no longer interest anyone.

Let's think out the logistics of all this. There really needs to be a map of the story, with lots of lines of different colors, the colors indicating whether you've played it already and whether it's optional. (Or maybe just whether you've played it; "optional" could be an icon of some sort.) So you see how the storylines branch out and reconnect, and where you stand in the whole thing. It would also have a name for each storyline (which you'd see by clicking on its line), saying which character stars in it and maybe roughly how long it is. All this stuff could sometimes be a spoiler, so you hide it then. But there could be a red vertical line at some point on the map, saying "We won't let you know what happens next, but you can't continue until you " you know what, this is silly. There's no need to be so cryptic. The player can know that two stories are going to intersect, it won't ruin anything. Okay, that's not true. I can think of specific cases where it would ruin some cool surprise. But you can find some kind of work-around in those specific cases. There's certainly no need to make it a regular thing.

I just had a thought about how flashbacks can work, and this is actually specific to Dreams of a Fractured World, an RPG I'd like to make someday. When the character reaches an object that reminds her of her past, that object goes to the menu (Okay, it's not really a menu. But it's the easiest way to explain it without going into a detailed description of the game.) where you can access it at any time. As soon as you see the object, you're brought to the menu and are able to play it, but maybe you don't want to. Since it's just a flashback, there's no rush. But accessing the flashback changes the character's behavior in the present a little bit.. you know what, this is way too specific to Dreams of a Fractured World. I'll just carry on.

I think in exploration games, it makes a lot of sense to keep any settings you're switching between distinct. Like, I have this idea for a game where you're wandering around a world at war, and at any time you can switch to the first time the character was there (years earlier) and the last time the character goes there, years later. And all three are in real-time, they're not just static images. (Okay, the one in the future might be pretty static.) But you can switch back and forth at any time, because it doesn't matter whether you know how each part ends. You can play through the entire past part first, or you can play through the present first and then go back and see how it all started. I think both work, dramatically.

But that kind of total control over progression is only for stories specifically designed for them. Especially exploration, like I said.



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