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Author Topic: CSG update #29 - On C&C and Storytelling  (Read 3943 times)
Vince
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« on: August 04, 2018, 09:14:20 am »

As you probably know by now, Choices & Consequences are more than just a feature for us. It’s the foundation on which the game is built and a concept we’ll continue exploring and evolving as long as we stay in business. The reason it’s so important to us –and hopefully to you – is that the players need a steady stream of choices to craft their own tales and it is the consequences that give meaning to those choices and alter the tale.

AoD was our first attempt at C&C and I’d rate this attempt at 6/10. We did many things right and – predictably - we did many things wrong. We also learned quite a lot in the process and we hope that The New World will take C&C to the next level, offering a less restrictive and more engaging experience.

Essentially, there are 3 types of choices:

  • Multiple quest solutions to let you handle quests in a manner fitting your character. Keep in mind that you will not be able to handle every situation (aka side quest) with brute force or clever words, so some exceptions will apply, but you will be able to beat the game with combat, stealth, or diplomacy.

  • Taking sides in various conflicts, big and small, thus leaving your mark on the gameworld and defining your character through actions (aka role-playing). These decisions aren't based on skills but on your opinions, allegiances, beliefs, past decisions, etc. It works best when there’re plenty of double- and triple-crossing opportunities, like going to kill Lorenza in one of the assassins quest in Maadoran and letting her talk you into killing Darista and Gaelius instead, which affects your options with Hamza when you run into him in Ganezzar.

  • Big Decisions that alter the story (i.e. branching), affect the gameworld, and have far reaching consequences.

Since Big Decisions are appropriately rare (you can’t alter the storyline every 5 min) and multiple quests solutions are often determined by your build, the meat of the game is taking sides in conflicts, which is a lot more complex than pointing at some ruins and saying ‘there be monsters’.  

First and foremost, the player has to give a damn. Obviously, it’s a very subjective criterion and a major risk factor, especially in a non-fantasy game. Fantasy, ancient mysteries, sword & sorcery hold a certain, deeply engrained appeal. The sci-fi does not, unless it’s reskinned fantasy. However, since we can’t do much about it, we’ll put these concerns aside for a moment and focus on things that are actually within our control:

  • The conflict should be properly designed, meaning it should have a past and a future. The player should see how the conflict came to be, all the factors that led to it, and how the events might unfold after the player’s interference.

  • Since the player will take sides, both sides should have strong positions and offer compelling arguments. The player should feel that he/she is doing the right thing. Whoever the player sides with are the good guys fighting the good fight, the other side automatically becomes the evil that must be stopped (i.e. good and evil shifts with perspective).

  • Since the player will take sides, both sides should have strong positions and offer compelling arguments. Unlike in a traditional or reskinned fantasy setting, there is no "good" or "evil" faction; every faction presents the upsides to its strategy, and players will be able to see the downsides as well. Once you pick a side, other factions' beliefs become obstacles that amplify the downsides to your faction. As Mark Yohalem said it, “in a world where you can only make an omelet by cracking eggs, they keep trying to knock eggs out of your hand on the floor, mess with the heat on the stove, or slosh the pan.”  Players shouldn't feel like paladins, but they should feel that they’re doing the right thing under the circumstances.

  • Handling the conflicts in different ways must have different consequences, ideally ripple-effect style. The player should see the short-term consequences (hooray, we won!) but not the long term effects as the player wouldn’t have all the info (especially on the first playthrough) to consider all the angles. Well, Luther could hardly imagine that his fiery proclamations would eventually result in a bitter divide and a 30-year war…

Now back to the above-mentioned concerns:

We don’t expect everyone to like the conflicts and the themes we offer to explore, but we hope that our core audience would enjoy and appreciate the attention to details. Unfortunately, hope is not a very reliable tool, so we have to seek feedback to make sure we stay on the right track.

Since I talk to Mark Yohalem (the developer of Primordia who’s currently working on Fallen Gods, one of my most anticipated RPGs) quite often, I casually dump my files on him every chance I get. Now, I know what you’re thinking. I praise him, he praises me, everyone’s happy. It’s not like that at all. While I do praise his work and think that his Fallen Gods updates are really awesome, he is merciless, relentless, and tenacious in his criticism. You guys should see him tearing into my work like a fucking chainsaw. It’s a sight to behold.

Recently I did manage to score some positive points and I’d like to share them with you:

* * *

A few weeks ago, I had the painful pleasure of reviewing a small dialogue from The New World.  I say “painful” because I adored The Age of Decadence and had managed, despite its very public development, to go in without knowing much about its story or setting.  Every time I learn more about TNW, I’m taking a usurious payday advance against when I finally get to play it in a few years.  Sure, it’s fun to have a little something now, but I’ll be destitute when the release roles around.

And now I get to offer the same bitter pill to you, dear reader, because Vince asked me to share my analysis of the dialogue for this update.  This is doubly brilliant, since it not only lets Vince put up a long-winded pretentious discussion about narrative themes while maintaining his own laconic reputation, but also will make his future posts seem even more practical and modest in contrast to this one.  Given that Vince is basically a real-life Miltiades, I’m not sure why I keep following him into these alleys…

The dialogue at issue is a quest and mirror-quest where the player meets Lord’s Mercy, a gunslinging lady at the head of a gang of toughs.  Mercy is currently in the employ of one Jonas Redford, the owner of a brothel and the de facto boss of the Pit.  A powerful outsider gang, called the Regulators, was recently brought into the Pit to help keep out another faction, The Brotherhood of Liberty.  But now the Regulators are themselves trying to take over the Pit, and their leader Jeremiah Braxton (erstwhile Faithful Gunner of the Church of the Elect) is hoping to take down Jonas.  (Anyone familiar with the television show Deadwood should have an immediate sense for Jonas and the interlopers trying to give him the boot.)  The player winds up on one side or the other of this conflict and needs to either make sure Mercy stays loyal to Jonas, or flip her to Braxton’s side.

At the outset of my conversation with Vince about the mechanics of the dialogue, I gave him my thoughts on what I understood the dialogue’s themes to be.  (That’s because Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing persuaded me that when the writer knows what thematic significance a dialogue has, it helps him keep the dialogue lean and focused.)  Now, with a little bit of editing, I share my thematic assessment with you.

  • The struggle over the Pit is, like in Deadwood, basically a story about frontier independence being swept away by powerful forces from back in “civilization.”  Also, as with the overrunning of Greece by Rome (or any other of a hundred historical examples), it's about how the shortsightedness of internal factions in inviting outside powers leads to all the insiders losing their stature.

  • This struggle is taking place against the backdrop of a failing colony ship, so there’s also an undercurrent that as the world breaks down, power can perversely become consolidated into a few factions’ hands because the middle-class prosperity and law-and-order that maintain individual freedom are lost.

  • Jonas is a stalwart of the frontier/insider old guard: a rough and ugly man, but ultimately an exemplar of rugged/ruthless independence.  Braxton represents the more sophisticated, more cultured, more connected, more powerful, more modern outside/civilized strength.

  • Being a Badass Lady, Mercy already starts halfway off third base in terms of player sympathy.  She values her Word, her God, and her Gun, which is to say, she's an All-American Hero.  Given that she's an All-American Hero, she's naturally on the side of rugged independence, which is where we find her.  

  • The effort to flip Mercy to Braxton is thus about the prostitution of Lady Liberty to wealth and power, no?  It's Arthur Miller’s Death of a Gunswoman in one short act.  (Ironic that her prostitution should entail abandoning a pimp in favor of a churchman, but life is rich with such little ironies.)

  • Conversely, the mirror interaction with Mercy is a matter of saving her from such prostitution.

  • Because a huge part of AOD's appeal, and I think TNW's appeal, is the squalid bargaining the player is tricked(? enticed? invited?) into carrying out, it's excellent that the interloping powerful faction should be in many ways more appealing than the local independence faction because that lets the player think, for a while, that he's doing the Right Thing when helping Braxton and the Wrong Thing in helping Jonas.  And in neither case does he come off clean, since it's not like Jonas is George Washington and of course Braxton is a straight-up warlord.

  • So, with this set-up in mind, helping Braxton to subvert Mercy’s loyalty to Jonas should be about humiliating Mercy and/or undermining the values that are important to her.  It’s about getting her to trade her code of ethics for blood money, cheap status, or personal safety.  Logically, helping Jonas to keep her loyal should be about the flipside, but in order to make it work within the bleak message of AOD/TNW, Braxton’s men should have an opportunity to point out what kind of scum Jonas is.  Ultimately, the proviso to “fight for the American dream” given by The New World is “on behalf of an aging pimp who beats his whores and slits kids’ throats.”  The game is set at a point where the gangrene has gone too far—mutilation, death, or mutilation followed by death are the three options for the colony ship.  There’s neither a Flood nor a Redeemer coming.

  • If I'm right on these themes, I think the dialogue could use just a little bit more length (probably one more node's worth) so that you have more room for Mercy to waver and falter.  And rather than having her persuaded in a way that makes her decision seem increasingly reasonable and confident, I would do it in a way that makes her seem increasingly weak and fearful, or at least compromised.  My suggestion would be that the two roleplaying paths you’re offering the player (other than just fighting Mercy) are:

    (1) You establish an awful Et tu, Mercy? in which you show that even the steely-eyed, gang-leading, gun-slinging, hand-over-the-quickdraw-holster, views-the-scripture-like-Sam-Jackson-in-Pulp-Fiction-before-he-goes-soft lady can be bent and broken by the shabby corruptions of the world.

    (2) You carry out the grim work of convincing a good woman to lend her gun to a petty pimp so that he can keep the Pit as his fief, which is really another way of saying that we are doomed to have at best the devil we know.  And, of course, having bumped off the Protectors and having lost a good swath of his own gunmen in the process, Jonas has simply exposed the Pit to domination by some other outside faction down the road.

    (3) You might also offer a “player is also naive” path in which he persuades Mercy to side with Braxton because he’s a Good and Noble Man in contrast to Jonas, leading to the inevitable discovery that actually Braxton is simply a better class of bully bastard.

    Ultimately, I think this early quest will pull of the neat trick of simultaneously establishing that the player is a free agent capable of tilting the balances of power in a world of deadlocked factional struggles and establishing that there isn’t really room in this setting for a “good guy with a gun” to drive out the bad guys.  After all, Mercy is the good guy with a gun, and at the end of the day, she’s just a trigger lady for one or another of the bad guys.

* * *

You can convince Mercy to join your cause, whatever this cause might be. If you aren't much of a talker, you can kill her (either in a more or less fair fight or via stealth assassination) to weaken your enemies. Alternatively, let Mercy convince you to side with her when she makes her own play for power (she will help Jonas defeat Braxton, then you'll help her take out Jonas). Thus, the outcomes are:

  • The meddling carpetbaggers are defeated, the Pit remains independent ... but virtually defenseless. Now that the Regulators are gone, the Brotherhood might will surely come knocking on their door again.

  • The Regulators take over, bringing much needed law & order. Being a realist, Braxton knows that he must make an alliance with a major faction. The question is which one but we can leave it up to you. It will be relatively easy to make a deal with the Protectors of the Mission, the hardest with the Church as you'd have to convince Braxton to make amends and do some groveling for the greater good.

  • Lord's Mercy takes over. Maybe now is a good time to tell you she's an Old Testament kinda woman. Her God is a vengeful God and said so Himself in the Good Book. He's all fire and brimstone to His enemies, never thinking twice when it came to righteous retribution. If that’s what her name means, Mercy does her best to live up to it.

Hopefully, this update will give you an idea of what to expect in terms of quests, conflicts, and themes. Your comments, questions, and complaints are always welcome.
« Last Edit: August 04, 2018, 09:32:42 am by Vince » Logged
Wrath of Dagon
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« Reply #1 on: August 04, 2018, 12:20:49 pm »

My main concern is that all the factions are so evil it becomes a coin toss which one to support. I would say if one guy slits kids' throats and the other one doesn't, that's a pretty good logical determinant of who to support, regardless of rugged individualism. I would also point out that anarchy is not liberty, liberty means that the rights of the weak are protected, even from the strong.
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Secondly--MURDER? Merely because I had planned the duel and provoked the quarrel! Never had I heard anything so preposterous.
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« Reply #2 on: August 04, 2018, 01:49:48 pm »

My main concern is that all the factions are so evil it becomes a coin toss which one to support.
I don't see them as evil. Certainly not writing them as evil.

It's Jonas' town. He 'built' it for the lack of a better word. Naturally, a frontier town attracts a certain kind of people who can handle lawlessness and don't need or want any form of government to tell them what to do and restrict them in any way. That's not what I'd call evil and Deadwood certainly wasn't an evil town.

Braxton thinks he can do a better job running the town. He does have a point and if the town were to develop it needs someone like Braxton. Of course, Jonas won't hand it over without a fight, hence the conflict.

So essentially the player would have to decide what's best for the town, not who's the lesser evil here. The lawlessness would continue under Jonas but it suits most people there. Braxton will bring law & order, which is good, but he'll have to shove it down everyone's throat. Mercy offers her own version of law & order but it's based on the Bible. It's not for everyone but it's not evil either.

Quote
I would also point out that anarchy is not liberty, liberty means that the rights of the weak are protected, even from the strong.
I humbly disagree. The way I see it, liberty is about freedom, not rights. You're free to do as you please and the government doesn't tell you what to think, say, or do. Thus, it's about limiting the role of the government, rather than granting you individual rights that can be easily and quickly taken away when the political wind changes. To take it to the extreme to illustrate my point better, you can have a society where everything has rights but nobody is free because you can't take a step without infringing on someone's rights or breaking some regulations (not laws).

Anarchy is the opposite, which is another extreme: absolute freedom to do as you please at the expense of rights. It's always temporary as it won't take long for the strong to create their own rules and force them on others, which is what Jonas did, essentially.
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« Reply #3 on: August 04, 2018, 02:23:53 pm »

Freedom to kill or be killed isn't liberty, there's no liberty without rule of law. Totalitarianism isn't liberty either, which is what you example is about. If everything you do violates someone's rights or some regulation, then you don't really have any rights. I apologize if I'm veering off topic.
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Secondly--MURDER? Merely because I had planned the duel and provoked the quarrel! Never had I heard anything so preposterous.
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« Reply #4 on: August 04, 2018, 05:17:34 pm »

Freedom to kill or be killed isn't liberty, there's no liberty without rule of law.
If you put it like this, yes, but the 'wild west' (before the rule of law was firmly established there) wasn't a gladiator camp, was it?

The rule of law limits freedom to act as you please and establishes hard limits on what you can and cannot do. It's not a bad thing but it requires fine balance and foresight, two things mankind was never good at.

Quote
Totalitarianism isn't liberty either, which is what you example is about.
My point exactly. One can easily argue that the Soviet Union did a lot more than the United States to protect "the rights of the weak", yet nobody would describe it as the Liberty Land.

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If everything you do violates someone's rights or some regulation, then you don't really have any rights.
Precisely.

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menyalin
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« Reply #5 on: August 06, 2018, 05:53:02 am »

You just made my day by that SU-US discussion, Vince.  Smile In a good way. Also, a bit sad, that it was moved from this thread, because it was just so great illustration for theme of ideologically different factions with complicated history, cons and pros, and how badly most of people can manage with such differences.

Speaking about the main topic: looks very good, especially about possible "old testament lady" in control of a town. Really liked the concept, nothing to complain about.

Some other points about choices and consiquences, possibly obvious:

1) Epilogue is important part of all this consiquence thing, judging by Banner Saga 3 discussion and reviews (AoD endings were quite good in my opinion).

2) Restricting player from some content if he performs too good (from BS3 too) - not very good, but have some charm, should be carefully dosed if used (definetly overdosed in BS3, IMO, looks too artificial).

3) If something stated, then it should happen or be explained why not. In the described situation, if Mercy wins, then some local NPCs can be executed, for example. Preferably useful for player NPCs - should be enough suitable candidates in such place. If Brotherhood invasion stated, then they should invade, preferrably fast, while winners still leak their wounds. Otherwise it looks inconsistant and breaks the immersion.

4) So stated future cosiquances should be carefully dosen too, especially on early development state. AoD has such flaw, in my opinion: too much far-reached consiqunces expected for some sitiautions from how first act was made. It maybe better to make game start more local. Dragon Age 2 was good in that case, i think: first you settle down in new place and make reputatoin, then some big events with you participation come.
« Last Edit: August 06, 2018, 05:58:37 am by menyalin » Logged
Vince
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« Reply #6 on: August 06, 2018, 05:57:21 am »

Also, a bit sad, that it was moved from this thread, because it was just so great illustration for theme of ideologically different factions with complicated history, cons and pros, and how badly most of people can manage with such differences.
Precisely.

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Drirlake
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« Reply #7 on: August 06, 2018, 12:08:43 pm »

I missed the US=Soviet Union discussion and I do not want to derail the thread any further but I am surprised you said that Vince. If you mean that both have citizens that needs food and drink to survive then sure.The US is a dynamic society with constant changing cultural values due to the presence of a strong civil society, NGOs, an academia/intellectual class that is not handpicked and placed in position by the ruling elites (like in nations ruled by military Juntas or total monarchies: Ex Egypt and Jordan) and a robust free press whom could operate without fear of being locked behind the sun if they anger the authorities. The Soviet Union from its start to finish caused basically a societal/cultural stagnation due to its totalitarian nature.

Anyways I do not want to derail but basically I share the same fears as Wrath of Dragon. That the factions will be so repugnant in a hobbesian, unrealistic fashion that it will basically become a coin toss and a metagame issue: siding with the faction that provides the most in game benefits.
« Last Edit: August 06, 2018, 12:11:58 pm by Drirlake » Logged
Stellavore
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« Reply #8 on: August 06, 2018, 04:14:04 pm »

The important point that youve acknowledged is that evil is in the eye of the beholder. What is evil for one person may not be evil for another, in the real world and in in-game decision making. I find it to be pretty boring when you are given two very binary "this choice is good, this choice is bad based on modern societal norms", decisions.
Edit: ive also realized i need to be careful how much of your posts i ingest lest it spoil the game for me when it does release.
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Wrath of Dagon
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« Reply #9 on: August 07, 2018, 08:41:45 am »

I'm not saying everyone in the game needs to be a choir boy. What I'm saying is you should be able to make a logical decision on which faction to support. So for example if both factions are led by a bastard, but one believes he's acting for the greater good, while the other is only out for himself, then you have a basis for a logical decision. On the other hand if every faction is just a bunch of criminals, then it's a coin toss which one you go with.
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Secondly--MURDER? Merely because I had planned the duel and provoked the quarrel! Never had I heard anything so preposterous.
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« Reply #10 on: August 07, 2018, 09:29:22 am »

I'm not saying everyone in the game needs to be a choir boy. What I'm saying is you should be able to make a logical decision on which faction to support. So for example if both factions are led by a bastard, but one believes he's acting for the greater good, while the other is only out for himself, then you have a basis for a logical decision. On the other hand if every faction is just a bunch of criminals, then it's a coin toss which one you go with.
That's too simplistic.

First, neither Jonas nor Braxton are criminals as they broke no laws. Jonas runs his town the way he sees it and he runs it pretty fair, but he is unwilling to change it. Thus the danger comes not from Jonas himself but from the lawlessness he doesn't seem to mind as it doesn't affect him directly. Braxton is a mercenary captain, not a thug. He was hired to protect the town, he did it, but now he wants to take over. It's not a nice thing to do but he'll bring some semblance of law & order.

Second, in a lawless town power can only be seized by force, meaning the challenger would have to be willing and able to fight. Even men like Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickock often did as they pleased, meaning killed as they pleased, but they wore badges so we don't mind:

"The second killed by Hickok was Samuel Strawhun, a cowboy, who was causing a disturbance at 1 a.m. in a saloon on September 27 when Hickok and Lanihan went to the scene. Strawhun "made remarks against Hickok," and Hickok killed him with a shot through the head. Hickok said he had "tried to restore order". At the coroner's inquest into Strawhun's death, despite "very contradictory" evidence from witnesses, the jury found the shooting justifiable."

If such a scene was in a movie or an RPG, everyone would think the guy was a black-hearted villain.

As for the choice, it's not really between Jonas and Braxton but between lawless freedom represented by Jonas and enforced order represented by Braxton.
 
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« Reply #11 on: August 07, 2018, 11:02:05 am »

I wasn't referring directly to the Jonas vs Braxton case, which actually sounds good the way you outlined it, just giving an example of a logical decision that could be made. A lot of games just ask you to pick a faction without giving you any reason to care for either faction. Or one faction is depicted as so evil that picking it is an explicitly evil choice, like with Caesar's Legion in New Vegas, which wasn't how it was initially intended. As far as Hickock, I suspect the contradictory evidence played a part in the coroner's decision, and may be he just let his temper get away from him. Earp is well know to be on both sides of the law.
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Secondly--MURDER? Merely because I had planned the duel and provoked the quarrel! Never had I heard anything so preposterous.
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« Reply #12 on: August 07, 2018, 12:22:25 pm »

That I agree with and that's what the update was about, the Pit's main conflict was merely an illustration.
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denizsi
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« Reply #13 on: August 07, 2018, 03:56:12 pm »

A concern I would have about the whole deal is how much information about all these actors the PC would actually have and whether PC would exist in a vacuum to make a decision. The discussion so far seems to revolve around a perfectly informed PC who has The One Universal Truth(tm) about all actors (regardless of hard-to-predict long-term consequences) so that whatever choice she makes, it will also be perfectly informed and influenced by nothing else than her own instincts.

This is a bit boring. It is also often the case with most quests in most games. PC needs to have a preceeding baggage that influences her decision-making, shaped by her dealings with other actors and events up until that point. Maybe a certain vendor, that she's fond of elsewhere, is in business thanks to the current power dynamics of one or another faction or actor. Or a "trainer" (are these a thing in TNW?), or a potential quest giver, an informant or what have you. Maybe any change will be better or worse for any of those characters, in turn impacting PC's access to and dealings with them.

Maybe the PC will have this knowledge, maybe she will not. So maybe there are several layers to all factions and actors and you get to peel them only to an extent based on your current playthrough, so the PC is in the dark about many other aspects, with other actors around her trying to feed her information, true or false, to influence her decision-making as well.
« Last Edit: August 07, 2018, 04:03:08 pm by denizsi » Logged
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