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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperCreativeWritingAttempting a plot twist Vs. Utilizing dramatic irony
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McMutton
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« on: January 22, 2011, 09:01:19 PM »

 I've been mulling over this for the last couple of days. For the most part, when writing a story, you can go one of two ways when implementing a surprise:

1) You could attempt a plot twist. Do the usual; Throw in a bit of subtle foreshadowing, make the player/reader expect one thing, and then at some point completely subvert those expectations. But- and I'm not sure whether it's good or bad- A lot of times, the plot twist you work so hard to make unexpected actually turns out expected. The player gets to that point and says to themselves, "Yeah, I saw that coming."

2) Alternatively, you could make that plot twist known to the player at the beginning. By doing so you could bust out some dramatic irony. THEY know what's going to happen, but the characters that they grow attached to don't. By making it a forgone conclusion, you don't get the surprise, but you do get a whole lot of tension.

Now here's the question: What sort of circumstances warrant the use of one over the other? When would you decide to use 1 instead of 2, or vice versa?
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« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2011, 09:18:29 PM »

I've been mulling over this for the last couple of days. For the most part, when writing a story, you can go one of two ways when implementing a surprise:

1) You could attempt a plot twist. Do the usual; Throw in a bit of subtle foreshadowing, make the player/reader expect one thing, and then at some point completely subvert those expectations. But- and I'm not sure whether it's good or bad- A lot of times, the plot twist you work so hard to make unexpected actually turns out expected. The player gets to that point and says to themselves, "Yeah, I saw that coming."

2) Alternatively, you could make that plot twist known to the player at the beginning. By doing so you could bust out some dramatic irony. THEY know what's going to happen, but the characters that they grow attached to don't. By making it a forgone conclusion, you don't get the surprise, but you do get a whole lot of tension.

Now here's the question: What sort of circumstances warrant the use of one over the other? When would you decide to use 1 instead of 2, or vice versa?

I would say that the first works really well in an RPG if it is done right like in Legend of Dragoon(aka JESUS) but it must be done just right. If it comes off planned or corny then it really detaches the player and depending on when it happens (usually near the end) that could be a VERY bad thing

The second one I see in a more humorous situation, I can also see it working really well if you show what happens but don't explain it leading the player to come up with their own idea of what it is. This way if you try t make it a surprise when it does happen the player will either go "OOOOH that's what it is" or "Awesome I got it right".

Of both those two I think the second would be the hardest to mess up in almost all situations.
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« Reply #2 on: January 22, 2011, 11:44:46 PM »

Type number two also works extremely well in a tragedy or a horror.

Romeo and Juliet starts right from the get go telling you that the titular emo-babies are going to off themselves. But you know what? Your spend the whole damn thing in denial, hoping they're going to find some way to cheat their way out and get that happy ending.

It's sort of liberating to realize that things were pre-determined, it makes bad news easier to swallow.
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« Reply #3 on: January 23, 2011, 12:07:10 AM »

You should play Baten Kaitos II for an example of plot twists done right - the game really throws you for a loop. Predictable plot twists happen when the narrative is too cliched and the foreshadowing is too obvious.

In my opinion, overt dramatic irony works better in passive entertainment because it has the potential to kill your motivation. Mysterious dramatic irony works better.
« Last Edit: January 23, 2011, 12:13:12 AM by SundownKid » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2011, 09:46:07 AM »

I think one of the main problems with bad plot twists is not that people see them coming, but that they are largely unnecessary. In a good plot twist, the obscuring of the twist is something central to the story itself. Fight club spoilers: in Fight Club, for example, it makes sense that the viewer does not realize that Tyler is the main character's alternate personality because the main character himself does not realize it. When the realization occurs, we empathize much more closely with the main character because we are feeling the same things he is at the same time.

I think much of it depends on what narrative function you want the possession of that knowledge to serve.
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« Reply #5 on: January 23, 2011, 01:28:59 PM »

Agreeing with 404 and elaborating a bit, there does seem to be a serious negative view of plot twists in games these days, and I think it could be the fact that games aren't run by plot. Twists, or conflicts in understanding are wonderful and are a good step beyond just a representation of events, but I think the strength of the change is connected to the medium. Poetry has paradox and a range of rhetorical devices, painting has juxtoposition of color or form, prose has the plot twist, film has the perspective shift, music has dissonance.

For a game, if there's a change in plot there should also be a change in control, physics, goal, or something that makes it feel different. Bishock's twist was great for a film, but did little gameplaywise. So I guess you need to ask for your game what changes with the climax, and what all would that effect?
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« Reply #6 on: January 23, 2011, 01:42:32 PM »

There's also a third option, which is to make the player expect a plot twist to happen (by giving him somewhat obvious hints while making it seem like he's not supposed to see it coming), and then... BAM! It doesn't happen.

IMO, this is the most effective way of shocking the player, as long as it's done right... the problem is that it's really hard to "do it right". If you make it too obvious, the player will notice he's being tricked too early on, and if it's too subtle, he won't have any expectations for the moment, making the whole thing pointless in the end.
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« Reply #7 on: January 24, 2011, 04:21:41 AM »

For a game, if there's a change in plot there should also be a change in control, physics, goal, or something that makes it feel different. Bishock's twist was great for a film, but did little gameplaywise. So I guess you need to ask for your game what changes with the climax, and what all would that effect?
I agree with this. One of the things plot twists in video games generally don't do, is make the player think "I wasn't expecting this, so this makes everything different". Taking the Bioshock example: we find out that Ryan isn't the true "bad guy" behind all of that, but our goal still doesn't change and we keep moving forward and killing people, working towards the same goal we had before figuring it out: getting the hell out of Rapture and killing (mostly) everyone in the process.
Perhaps a plot twist works better with open-ended games, where you can forge your own goal. Perhaps you find out that your friend is actually one of the bad guys, and you can choose to kill him and keep killing bad guys to achieve the goal A, or you can say "oh fuck it, I never liked my kin anyway" and side with your buddy and kill your people (either by plain killing or changing gameplay, like making a bomb or a virus, I don't know), therefore aligning with the bad guys and achieving goal B. The player must understand that goal B isn't necessarily bad; it's just different.
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« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2011, 11:41:43 AM »

One of the differences between the two is what you hope to get out of the change of plot direction. (It must be said, I don't consider 'to surprise the reader' a good reason for a twist.) In case 1), the traditional plot twist, you're actually imparting knowledge. That guy's betrayed you, the aliens aren't really aliens, soylent green is people... And for the plot twist to be effective, it has to change one of two things (perhaps both):

a) the reader/player's comprehension of the plot so far,
&
b) the direction/motivation of the character.

In games, as opposed to traditional narrative, the more freedom you give the player to make meaningful decisions, the more likely it is that you can achieve both of the above. However, as you say, it's also very easy to screw up a plot twist. The alternative, of revealing the plot twist to the reader/player but not the characters, is risky. On the one hand it's been used for centuries, and particularly suits tragedy and comedy. However, it risks driving a wedge between the reader/player and the characters - especially if the characters act oblivious, or fail to pick up on hints towards the twist - and as a result may put a certain percentage of your audience off.
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« Reply #9 on: February 15, 2011, 10:50:41 AM »

Eh yo,
so far in this thread I've seen no example why twists in games would be different from in movies,
I agree that twists USUALLY FAILS in games but IMO that's simply because they are poorly written, so those would fail equally bad in movie-form.

As for your exact question:
There is no correct answer on which type of twist to choose for your game, it all depends on your story.

As for how to write a meaningful twist in general:
I agree with what has been said tho I would like to add 1 more concept,
The twist must have been hinted at during the story[/i], when the twist is finally revieled your reaction should be "Argh why didn't I think of that?!",

for example:
Rainbow-six Vegas spoiler:
/*
You play the entire game doing missions for your general, in the last level the HUD-video from the general explains that he was the guy behind it all along! and then the game ends with "to be continued" as if that was supposed to be a great cliffhanger or something.
This example does satisfy the critera someone mentioned above since your play-style will adjust in the next game because of this information (you will now go after the general) BUT the problem is that there was no natural "aha"/"why didn't I think of that?!"-moments and that makes it useless, they could just as well have aliens fly from the sky saying "it was us all along!", it's all useless if the game didn't set it up during the game.

*/

Heavy Rain spoiler:
/*
HR actually had a brilliant twist BUT they failed to explain it properly!
it turned out that the hero detective of the game was actually the killer! this made me and several review-sites claim that the ending was just a cheap twist that made no sense, "why would the killer investigate his own crime?",
but turns out there was a explanation, he was never trying to solve them he was just walking around covering his tracks. all the creative clues he was chasing down was him trying to think like a detective and seeing if it leads anywhere, if it did lead somewhere then erase that trace.
One of the alternative endings had one of the heroes explaning this, but many ppl didn't see that ending so many assumed that HR's great twist was just really cheap.

*/
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« Reply #10 on: February 26, 2011, 06:40:56 PM »

Personally I think it depends on where you want the tension in your game to be.

A plot twist sacrifices the rising action of the game (usually spent hinting at/away from the plot twist, and therefore more restricted in actual plot development) for a very tense climax (typically when the plot twist happens).  Dramatic irony tells you the ending; the climax is essentially destroyed, but you immerse the player during the rising action (they're know the ending, but are curious as to how it unfolds).

Dramatic irony is sort of the safer way to do it, I think.  Good for games that don't interlace with the story too much.  But if you have a more complex storyline (that doesn't fit too many cliches, preferably) then I'd go for a plot twist.

The biggest danger in doing a plot twist is having the player predict it.  Not only is the plot twist destroyed, but all of the hints dropped along the way become useless; sort of an all-or-nothing deal.  An original story, with multiple points of focus can help distort the player enough to mask the plot twist.  Of course, the more straightforward your story is, the more lulzpoints the player gets when the plot twist hits, but it also increases the chance of them predicting it.

TL;DR:
Plot twist for complicated, serious, story-heavy games that rely on a tense climax.
Dramatic irony for simple, casual-ish, gameplay oriented games that rely on a constant amount of tension throughout.
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« Reply #11 on: February 27, 2011, 12:07:30 AM »

The only purpose officially on the table here is "to surprise the player." If you really want surprise, the plot twist should come out of the blue.

If you're looking for something beyond pure surprise, then dramatic irony makes sense. Information that the player has but that the protagonist doesn't can support a great progression to a climax. It could also make clear a character's shortcomings, or at least her ignorance.

Somebody mentioned Baten Kaitos II. I didn't play it, but I played Baten Kaitos; that game has both one of the most personally gut-wrenching twists (in the middle), and also one of the lamest (at the end) that I've ever seen in a game.
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« Reply #12 on: February 27, 2011, 12:59:41 AM »

BKII Minor Spoilers
In Baten Kaitos II, some of the twists are foreshadowed while others come out of the blue. I wouldn't say they are original per se, but the way they are presented is really good and make you feel like the character you are controlling is vulnerable - whereas usually in JRPGs you can basically power through everything.

I think that unexpected and unforeshadowed twists are definitely okay, because 1)life is unpredictable and 2)it shows how the characters deal with such a situation, revealing personality traits they wouldn't show normally.
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« Reply #13 on: March 24, 2011, 03:05:53 PM »

On the subject of dramatic irony in games, it's a perfectly legitimate means of creating tension, but only if you're okay with creating an immediate dissonance between the player and the narrative. Because in videogames we usually control the protagonist, the natural assumption is that we are the protagonist in many ways. To strengthen that link, games make sure that the player and the character both know the same things at the same point in the story.

If the player knows something their character does not, they end up being raised above the character in a sense. They become less like the character's silent companion on their quest and more like a God figure, guiding the player's actions from on high fully aware of some aspect of the character's fate beforehand.

That's not to say that dramatic irony is incompatible with game narrative, or makes it rubbish by definition. It could work - I couldn't say how on account of me being too dumb - but that dissonance is something you will have to bear in mind.
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