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998421 Posts in 39156 Topics- by 30569 Members - Latest Member: NisshokuZK

April 19, 2014, 09:04:01 AM
TIGSource ForumsDeveloperCreativeWritingContext in Games
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sebaslive
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« Reply #15 on: February 06, 2013, 10:52:36 AM »

This is interesting, having only played Oblivion and Morrowind I got a real kick from the guilds and all the little side missions I never expected. So I agree with Ridley on this because I usually felt as a weary traveler going from town to town and eavesdroping on the people of that town listening to their fears and myths that surround their village, which has nothing in common with the main quest. You can probably say its mostly rehashed material but in my opinion they tweaked it enough to make it a different experience each time.

Can you note on how Elders Scrolled missed the target on making things well said and also how they could have improved them so that it can be well said.
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Evan Balster
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« Reply #16 on: February 06, 2013, 11:23:47 AM »

I think the general sentiment was less content and more polish.  Consider the behavior of characters during dialogue in Oblivion -- there's a huge amount of dialogue in the game, complete with facial mocap, but there's a very muted quality to its emotiveness.  I blame this on the lack of full-body expressions -- something which would be difficult enough that they wouldn't have been able to fit nearly as much content in the game had they done it.

Have a look at this heart-wrenching scene -- two lovers who haven't seen one another in ten years, reunited due to the player's actions:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=3tIyRDlKW8s#t=185s

Sure, it's a little emotional, but bear in mind this is among the most emotionally charged scenes in the whole game.  It feels a little half-assed, doesn't it?
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Graham.
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« Reply #17 on: February 06, 2013, 11:38:53 AM »

I don't "disagree" with Ridley. I think Elder Scrolls are interesting games. I have played a lot of Skyrim. I didn't play Oblivion because my PC couldn't run it. That was the only reason.

What I mean is, there is this implication in what he said that you can, as a "world creator," choose between a small well-made world that hints at a larger one, or just build a larger one. I am saying that it is fine to make a larger world, and for-sure scale quality back a little bit - volume does count for something. But scale will never make up for inconsistent elements. You always have to pay attention to the imaginary world and its relationship with the provided one.

What's interesting about successful games is that they do a lot of things well and always make a few big mistakes. Bethesda made a balanced world, with a variety of quests and people, locations that were varied, enough spells and monsters to keep you occupied, and items and equipment to loot for a long time. But the writing and setting - outside of aesthetics - was not as good as they are in some other games. The game is engaging because it does a lot of things well, and when a game does a lot of things well its mistakes won't bother you as much, but that doesn't mean those mistakes aren't there.

I think Elder Scrolls has a weakness in how its characters are written, and how their lives are implied through plot and setting. The games are a grab-bag of independently interesting people that are linked loosely by theme. There's little consistency in how they live. Their implied lives walk all over one another. I think if those games were only their characters they would bore you out of your mind. They don't bore you because their characters balance out the rest of their gameplay. A glass of water in the desert is a miracle, no matter how dirty it is. Though of course Elder Scrolls is an interesting desert to be in.

"Scale" isn't the reason we write consistent characters. If I see a person in a movie I don't need to know 50 things about him to be interested because one isn't enough. I need to relate to the one thing I do know, and the only way I can do that is if the natural implications that come with that thing are consistent with everything I know about the world I am investing in. Consistency, not scale, is important. That's what makes things seem "real."

I can't tell you about the personality of any character in Skyrim for more than a sentence or two, but I can talk about Luke Skywalker for pages. I can talk about Skywalker for longer than I can about all of the characters in Skyrim combined from memory. Why? Because Luke meant something to me because he made sense. Each detail in his character hinted at something I could relate to, and thus had personal meaning for me. It is that personal part you are trying in invoke in your writing. A million details your audience is apathetic towards is not better than 5 that they aren't.

The idea that a small set of details can create a large world is important because such a property is of details that make sense and are relatable. The "large world" is a test of quality writing. The same way you can see a whole world inside someone you love... you get the idea. Players love the "large world" because they are invested in what is given to them. Anything personal will seem large. Something large may not be personal. You can't substitute one for the other. Your goal is to make the player connect.

To relate this to a subject I have a personal interest in. When designers get into proc-gen and non-linear stories (like Mass Effect, and Skyrim) - something I have a lot of experience with - they always go for scale first. We need more choices, more characters, more consequences. No, you need better choices, better characters, better simulations. The reason they go down the wrong path instead of the right one is because "better characters" are harder to write. More is easy. Quality is hard, and scary if you aren't used to it.
« Last Edit: February 06, 2013, 11:46:47 AM by Graham. » Logged
Evan Balster
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« Reply #18 on: February 06, 2013, 03:52:50 PM »

Good ramble, Graham.  <3
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« Reply #19 on: February 06, 2013, 05:29:46 PM »

Hahah, thanks man.
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« Reply #20 on: February 10, 2013, 12:19:25 PM »

I can't really agree. I think you could say that the Bethesda developers have different priorities, but I dunno about "right paths" and "wrong paths". Design that favor simulation over writing will appeal to players that favor simulation over writing. Design that favors writing over simulation (including Bioware, by comparison) will appeal to players who favor writing over simulation.

If you're the type of player who enjoys tracking NPCs across the world as they follow their elaborate schedules, to haggle with them, practice your speechcraft, pick their pockets, gain their assistance in fighting overworld mobs, learn of a dungeon whose whereabouts they know of, assassinate them for profit and prestige, etc, you might be very glad that Bethesda made the decisions that they made. You can't do all those things in the typical RPG.

As for me, I am trying to make a vast richly simulated world myself (in low-res 2D, not hi-res 3D), and I struggle with the same dilemma. I don't want to compromise on the writing side too far, but I don't want to compromise on the simulation side too far either. I want my cake and I want to eat it too. Current strategy is to designate some NPCs as "major NPCs" and the rest as "minor NPCs". With the minor NPCs, all the thing they do and say will be proc-gen, but with the major NPCs there will be uniquely written material complementing the proc-gen material and I'll be making more of a concerted effort to develop them as characters.
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Graham.
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« Reply #21 on: February 10, 2013, 12:50:00 PM »

I'm not rejecting Bethesda's priorities. What I meant was that a large world with bland characters, for the sake of having a large world, is a very different thing than a small world with well written characters that make the player imagine a large world. They are apples and oranges. You can do one or the other, or both. They are not substitutes for one another.

The dilemma you're talking about is solved with good writing, mixed with good dynamism. Think about all the ways a player can impact an NPC that generates (has dynamic) behaviour. Then ensure that each reaction that NPC can have is as well thought out as it would be if it were part of a linear story.

Often devs mess this up by looking for shortcuts too soon. If you want a lot of Super Mario Bros levels generated, first design a whole lot of good ones, then find patterns common to them, program them into your generator, then ensure that what is generated is as high quality as that which was hand-made.
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« Reply #22 on: February 10, 2013, 03:32:01 PM »

Wow. Thanks for all the reply and analysis, Graham. You definitely hit the mark; I misunderstood what you were saying about scale vs. quality at first. I actually kind of want to investigate how it's linked to the linearity of a game, because I think that's also a factor in how much quality you can put into your writing, if you want an experience that the player explores and defines for themselves. And I'm not sure how synonymous that is with scale.

But that's probably a discussion for elsewhere. You asked for an example of Paper Mario's quality of character, yes? Disclaimer being that, like I said, this is tangential and does little to hint at a bigger picture--the world is as large as it needs to be, and the characters well-written dialogue just makes what there is feel rich.

This is kind of why I brought it up, because I've yet to play an RPG that has been as expressive as Paper Mario, which is especially impressive when you consider how little the game has to work with. It does a lot with very little; not pulling from characters with pre-existing personalities or backstories (established with complexity-- it still pulls from the whole Mario vs. Bowser rivalry and such), or mythologies and real-world parallels--it's all very original and fun.

I can't think of a particular example off the top of my head, the game has pretty consistent quality, but my favorite moments are probably when you A) you encounter a large condor named Buzzar guarding a rope bridge on a desert mesa, having been employed there by Bowser to watch for Mario: you can lie to him by telling him you're Luigi, completely avoiding the boss fight and earning his friendship, or telling him you're Princess Peach and him getting offended by your insinuation that he's an idiot, and still fighting him. And B) you bake Gourmet Guy a cake to get him the energy to move out of your way, and he goes ballistic and runs up the walls and across the ceiling because it's apparently *that delicious.*

Sorry for the temporary derailment of topic. That's why I love the game, it exudes character. Definitely worthwhile playing it through.
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Graham.
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« Reply #23 on: February 10, 2013, 03:59:41 PM »

While scale can't be separated from dynamism entirely.... If you create a linear experience then add choices to it it will expand in size automatically. Hopefully that is obvious.

What you can do though is reduce scale as you add choice, then let players repeat choices in varying contexts. For example, every battle in Final Fantasy is similar, but also slightly different, because the monsters are different, the party is different, and the player's knowledge is different.

The game lets the player explore the same mechanics over and over, and doesn't let him get bored because each experience he has is somehow different than the last. Reusability is a commonly overlooked concept in non-linear stories. Often devs spend too much time thinking about adding more choices, instead of thinking about how to reuse existing ones, or create ones that have a high potential for reuse.

I loved the mini-games in Super Mario RPG. There's one segment in which Mario must hide from Booster, who wants to marry Peach, but needs a Mario doll to do the practice ceremony first, to prepare for Mario's probable intrusion. His henchmen - the Snifits - then open curtains in an increasingly challenging sequence of the player trying to avoid being seen.

Eventually he is seen, but only at the end. If he is seen before then, then I think the player has to fight two bosses instead of one. The player doesn't make any story choices but plays a pretty critical role in it. Success or fail. Success brings the more interesting result - it is interesting.

In this case, the mini-game uses normal mechanics: running and jumping. There are no unique animations; the NPCs just walk around and operate the curtains. There is 2 lines of dialog if the player succeeds that he otherwise wouldn't see, and the otherwise resulting boss battle uses characters you can fight anyway, or don't have any unique powers. That's reuse!

I think the best way to think about a dynamic story is like this:
  . pick a single dimension in which NPCs can shift - i.e. love/hate for the player
  . then have all the normal "gameplay" mechanics influence this dimension
  . have normal gameplay mechanics be influenced by this dimension
  . design interesting scenarios around it
  . occasionally write some extra dialog or something

In FF, _all_ monsters have health, and can be slowed (nearly), and have weaknesses. All of the party's abilities apply in every battle (... nearly). In a non-linear story, what you want is a mechanic that can be reused everywhere - like damage. Then you want to use it everywhere.

In Skyrim, for example, this mechanic could just be how heroic the player is. I'll leave the rest for now. ... In FF this mechanic is access. The player must do x,y,z before character Q will say/do thing R. ... In Mass Effect the player must have "paragon" state >x, for character Q to do R.

Context....
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Graham.
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« Reply #24 on: February 12, 2013, 09:09:10 PM »

I suppose I wasn't totally talking about context. I was kind of talking about dynamic characters, but that links in. how do you create a bunch of NPCs that give context to the player's actions?

some hints:
  . have npcs express themselves through existing mechanics
  . have the player's interactions with the npcs use existing mechanics (and rely on them)
  . develop a couple of strong npcs, then rip out their behaviour and reuse it in different places

Some example:
  . Curly Brace in Cave Story expresses her personality in the way she moves. very evocative. has bubble shield etc. when she dies (maybe): powerful.
  . FF7 requires the player to "find" people by exploring - using the mechanics! - or drive conversations in a certain way by talking to the right people - knowing the environment!
  . all enemies in Mario move. this is obvious.... however, since Mario is designed to deal with moving things in general, then each enemy's movement is not only a challenge but also a statement of that enemy's personality, because it reflects how Mario must deal with it.
  . similar to the above, in a more obvious "story-like" context, the partners you acquire in Skyrim that help you fight are cool. it would be even cooler if they behaved in battle in a way that reflect who they are e.g. the coward runs, the opportunist is shifty, the one with bravado charges forward but not always wisely.
  . the gestures chars use in FF are used by all sorts of NPCs. designed once, used everywhere.

A new example:
  . create an anim that expresses fear. have a slider to express a range of fear: like level 1, 2, 3. blend this with other animations. now everyone can express fear. have them express fear in contextually sensitive ways i.e. to shape the story, dynamically!
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