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Predetermined results and emergent storytelling in RPGs

Discussion in 'Codex Workshop' started by Demo.Graph, May 2, 2019.

  1. Demo.Graph Literate

    Demo.Graph
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    I've began to replay Bloodlines and run into a conundrum that lessens my pleasure from the game and, I guess, would lessen pleasure from most other RPGs I might try. It's predetermined outcomes. Let me elaborate.

    When I've played VtMB for the first time, many years ago, I've written down all the quest outcomes and possible branches to get all I can from them. I did that because I knew that, first, Bloodlines is a game limited in scope (contrary to, say, Diablo that you can grind through forever) and, second, my time is limited as well and there's a slim chance that I would be able to spend 40 hours on it several times so that I could explore every plot curiosity. Several times during playthrough I've launched console and tried getting through dialogues with different skills. In the end my Tremere got most out of the game.
    During second playthrough I was prepared. I made myself a nice Malkavian girl and... it turned out I wasn't prepared well enough. It blasted my young mind. Still, I already knew that intimidation skill is useless, but that I should still get 3 Intelligence during chargen to boost intinimidation for some quick buck and that intelligence won't be lost as I would need it later to get maximum level of hacking skill (to see all e-mails in the game). I knew that I would need about 4 persuasion to get through Santa Monica, first hub in the game. I knew when to increase which of my skills to get most of the freebie skill increases from NPCs. In the end my character was as strong as it could get with a limited xp the game offers. And in the end I gave NPCs a finger and went bravely into the fog of freedom.
    Still, something bothered me. I've finished the game but at the same time I've destroyed some of the pleasure I could get. During playthrough I always knew which skills would be required of me to pass skill checks and advance the game. I knew which dialogue options to prefer to get most from dialogues. I was in control, but I've lost the sense of wonder from moving through the unknown world. I wasn't roleplaying my character. I've optimized my walkthrough and character sheet. I became a munchkin that I've always disliked. But I couldn't act differently. The game was limited. It was logical for me to optimize my character.
    Even if I didn't, I still remembered which character would betray me and whom I could trust. I could replay the game but it still wasn't the game I played for the first time. The game where I didn't know what would happen next.
    As I've said in the beginning, I've began to replay Bloodlines. I've got patch that changes balance, adds new locations, etc. But I've caught myself thinking that the charm has gone. I know what would happen next. It's not that interesting anymore.

    Now, the real world around is dangerous and not predetermined and people turn to escapism in games to went-off some of that frustration. Children and adults alike like to return to media exactly because they know what would happen. And "being in control", "being safe" is one of the reasons why people play and replay the games. It's a feeling that marketing departments tend to target. Whole genres are built on repetition of simple actions that lead to success. Many real-world institutions are built on and goods are sold on the same premise.

    Still, unlike books and movies games have a potential to be the medium without a predetermined progression. Let's say that in VtMB the game secretry modified every skill check in some random way during characted creation. NPCS would become harder to kill or easier to convince without player being able to guess which way is more efficient. In one playthrough you might persuade an NPC to become friendly; in other it would betray you no matter how many resources you've spent on him. Character optimization would stop being an implicit stimulus of character building. Internet guides would become useless. Every playthrough would be a bit different. The plot would become personalized.
    Today this effect is partly achieved in strategy games. You create a new random map in Civilization, Dominions, SMAC or MoO and then a unique geography generates a unique story. AI personalities remain the same and tend to act in predetermined ways, but the general outcome is different. "The world" turns out to be different. But strategy games are limited in a sense that they're focused on resource joggling, not on character interactions or plot progression. You know, things that are central to good RPGs.
    I don't know an RPG with a similar game flow. All I can think of are roguelikes without long-term legacy (FTL) or RPGs with predetermined branching dialogues that maybe would lead to a different picture that won't affect anything (from Fallout endings to Tyranny and everything in between).
    An RPG without predetermined outcomes would be harder to balance than a vanilla RPG. Sometimes it might turn out to be unfair. But RPGs are not competitive, they don't need to be perfectly balanced. It would be harder to design. But nothing a decent mathematician in developer team couldn't handle. Such an RPG will be more expensive to produce (to account for many possible results or their combinations), but it would be infinitely more replayable and its shelf life might be much longer than a life of modern AAA lables that are forgotten in a month. I think there's an unclaimed market niche here.
    Emergent storytelling nowadays became a buzzword that doesn't tackle the problem. At least I don't know games that do it well. If you do, tell me about them.
    Discuss?

    td;dr "Let's make emergent storytelling great" rant.
     
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  2. hello friend Arcane

    hello friend
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    I'm on an actual spaceship. No joke.
    You can solve this easily by being ok with not coming across every last scrap of content in the game and just going in blind. It's a lot more fun.
     
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  3. Demo.Graph Literate

    Demo.Graph
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    Yeah, I know. Stop being rational.
     
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  4. JarlFrank I like Thief THIS much Patron

    JarlFrank
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    Your problem doesn't sound like pre-determined results of certain actions and skill requirements, your problem is obsessive planning and powergaming to the see maximum amount of content in each playthrough.
    You made a fucking list of how to play the game to get the most out of it... and the end result is that you're not getting that much fun out of it.

    Just jump into the game without planning ahead too much and let it surprise you rather than making a big list of when to put X amount of points in each skill for the optimal route through the game. That just kills the fun, man.
     
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  5. AdolfSatan Learned

    AdolfSatan
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    Sounds like you'd be better off playing pnp. I doubt "emergent storytelling" will achieve the level of quality and response you're looking for in a long time, if ever at all.
     
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  6. Demo.Graph Literate

    Demo.Graph
    Joined:
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    I've pretty much made a character build, like in Diablo or any other aRPG. Many people do this routinely. Or make builds in RTS games. Nothing bad about planning in itself.
    There's a difference in outcome, though. In aRPG I would have known approximate enemy level and composition, in RTS or TBS I would have known approximate power level of my opponent for each time period. Having "a build" in each of them won't guarantee my success - enemy could still kill me.
    In most RPGs I would know exactly what I would need to advance the plot. It's especially bad for plot-oriented RPGs where the possibility for advance through dialogues is present, but challenges (skill checks, mostly) are predetermined. You increase relevant stats and then you pass. There's no game in it.

    I guess I did. I was a gamemaster for DnD and Ars Magica campaigns. It's the different kind of activity.
    I still think PC RPGs can achieve what I want. The possibility is there.
     
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  7. Syl Savant

    Syl
    Joined:
    Nov 3, 2011
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    I have an idea to increase replayability in RPGs through randomization. Something more complicated than random skill ckecks. It's the randomization of quests.

    For side quests, it's relatively easy.
    We can change the quest giver: A farmer looking for his dog can be any farmer.
    We can change the objective: He lost his horse.
    We can change the location: Lost in the south or in the north.
    We can change the receiver: Bring the animal to his wife or his son.
    And we can add a follow up quest, or not.

    For the main quest, there are also things we can randomize.
    Location of NPCs: The captain of the guard is often at the headquarter but he can also be anywhere, dealing with some problem.
    NPCs of any profession: Need a priest at some point? Unless the associated god is important to the story, randomize it.
    And probably some other things.

    We can go farther than quests too:
    The bigger the game, the better.
    2 villages in a region? We can exchange everything in them. Only one is important to the story? Randomize it. Must visit one then the other? Change the order.
    Bigger game with several regions.
    A troubled region can be switched with another: The game starts in the south, there are 2 regions in the north, one is on the path of war and must be dealed with, randomize it (i.e. exchange the location of every NPCs in each region).
    And why not a random map while we're at it? For 2D games at least.

    Imagine a game where even if you know the story, NPCs, locations and even some objectives change in each playthrough.

    With the budget of AAA games these days, it should be possible.
     
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  8. mondblut Arcane

    mondblut
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    Stay strong, brother. Crush that pathetic inner voice of a larper with an iron heel of perfect planning and execution, sans mercy, sans regret. In hoc signo vinces!
     
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  9. mondblut Arcane

    mondblut
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    How is that a problem?

    Don't make business plans nor research investment opportunities, just throw your money to random strangers to experience the thrill of open market!
     
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  10. Zep Zepo Titties and Beer Patron Dumbfuck Repressed Homosexual

    Zep Zepo
    Joined:
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    Divinity: Original Sin
    Predetermined results are shit. What's the point?

    It's like saying Inshillitron isn't a shill or that Crispy is not retarded.

    I fucking hate that shit when you pick an option, but it all comes out the same in the end.

    HONK HONK.

    Zep--
     
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  11. Tigranes Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    Tigranes
    Joined:
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    Serpent in the Staglands Torment: Tides of Numenera
    Kind of like Zep posts in the Grimoire thread, huh
     
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  12. vlzvl Educated

    vlzvl
    Joined:
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    You've proven that D&D and a zillion of CRPGs are a failure.
    It's impossible to make the game you're dreaming, and then it wont be a game, but thats my humble opinion, i still enjoy games.

    How about creating a game which have all these? have you tried it?
     
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  13. Chainsaw Gutsfuck Learned

    Chainsaw Gutsfuck
    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2017
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    But how compatible these two really are?

    A (good) story is a more or less linear series of events. Even branching stories are essentially fixed, in the sense that the writer knows exactly how each scene will play out after you choose A or B.

    Game design works differently: here the designer builds the core mechanics the player can interact with, and then the player determines how the game will play out.

    In other words, each attempt to combine story and gameplay inevitably ends up in constant tension: On the one hand the story pushes you in a more railroaded design, which doesn't let enough space for the gameplay to breath. On the other hand, giving more agency to the player makes it harder and harder to write a story, since the possibilities become endless. In the end, you have to pick your focus: Do I want to give precentage on the story or the gameplay? It is no accident that no game has ever managed to offer us a seemless fusion of both - the discrepancy can be reduced but not eliminated (or so it seems). There is a reason the overwhelmingly majority of games that want to have both story and gameplay tend to separate the two, putting the story outside the gameplay through cutscenes and the like.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2019
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  14. adrix89 Learned

    adrix89
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    Why are there so many of my country here?
    The fundamental problem is scripting, all RPGs are based on scripted events and we haven't even tried to do something else, we cannot even begin to comprehend what that something is. And PnP RPGs are NOT the answer.
    This means you have limited content no matter what you do.

    Now you can add some randomness and modularity to events and that solves the character building issue. The Blade Runner Game works like this.
    Thea 1 is also a good example of making character skill checks, events, gameplay and story work.

    For procedural emergent storytelling you would need a simulated sandbox like Kenshi and Rimworld. But how to make simulation dramatic we still have no idea.
    The Sims is pretty much mundane and boring, you would really need a hyperactive imagination to care about that shit going on.
    Dwarf Fortress, The Sims, Rimworld are all boring.

    We would need systems and concepts to make it more dramatic, maybe take inspiration through systematizing theater and film concepts.
    Simulate body language posture, faces, grunts(simple verbal cues), emotes and actions.
    Define what "plot" and "topics" from films are and understand how to map them to something freeform like a sandbox world.
     
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