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How to write a non-linear story...

Osaka

Novice
Joined
Jan 31, 2004
Messages
2
Location
Toronto, Ontario
I've read all the pros and cons. I've heard general commentary on linear and non-linear plots for crpg's, and what I would like to know is how it's accomplished? I loved the variety of options in Fallout 2, but am at a loss as to how to create such a structure of plot and dialogue and keep it all straight.

Are there any good primers out there?

Thanks,
Drew Torrens
 

HanoverF

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Nov 23, 2002
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MCA Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Codex USB, 2014 Divinity: Original Sin 2
You get your begining, and your end, and then you come up with a great deal of various middle. Make as few hoops for the player to jump through in between as possible
 

Human Shield

Augur
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Sep 7, 2003
Messages
2,027
Location
VA, USA
I would start by getting away from any script writing.

Population the world with fractions that have different wants, set up conflicts.
Then think up interesting characters for the different fractions as well as neutral.
Set bounds of what the player can do.
Write out reactions to every action (or set up a dynamic adjustment system)
Pick a good place to start.

I would do away with some main plot around the player and set the entire world heading towards something and the player decides how to impact it.
 

Spazmo

Erudite
Joined
Nov 9, 2002
Messages
5,752
Location
Monkey Island
HanoverF said:
You get your begining, and your end, and then you come up with a great deal of various middle. Make as few hoops for the player to jump through in between as possible

I heartily disagree! Don't get your end. Get a whole whack of different ends that depend on what the player chooses to do. Otherwise, yeah, do that.
 

Osaka

Novice
Joined
Jan 31, 2004
Messages
2
Location
Toronto, Ontario
I was looking for more of an answer to "how in ____ am I going to be able to keep track of all the little things to make sure I don't cause problems with the plot down the line"

Example: Player may or may not have stopped the assasination of King Fred (or maybe they did the killing). Obviously this will affect all events that happen in King Fred's kingdom from then on, and will have farter reaching consequences. Now this is an extreme example, but the little things can have far reaching consequences as well. how do you keep it all straight and make sure you don't ignore something critical?
 

Spazmo

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Well, lots of playtesters help. There's no real trick to it, I don't think. I guess it takes a lot of creative gruntwork, but it's worth it if your game turns out good.
 

GreenNight

Liturgist
Joined
Dec 22, 2002
Messages
135
Location
Barcelona, Spain
The majority of actions should have local impact, and at most foreign karma.
Example: Helping a gipsy seer in town A gives you (apart from xp and rewards) a nice reputation against gipsies all arround the world but a bad local reputation in this town, and an increase of price in the smith because he hates her. Not helping her causes the town to be attacked by a horde of bandits in twenty days.

The world should be easy to explore. No major location should be as hidden as to require to chat with a very limited set of characters, or a single, difficult to find object in order to discover it.
Example: Arcanum and Fallout, you could go anywhere, do anything, and even then complete the game. Not sure for arcanum because my lazy ass has not finished it once.
Example 2: if you want to have the player only go to discovered places (ala ToEE) have as many ways as possible to discover how to go to the main places of action, specially to go to the finishing places. Having objects as maps can be a charm for this, as the characters could kill a whole city and even then find how to go to the place they have to go.

Make at least three ways to go farther in the adventure. Call the "good", "bad", "don't care" if you want :wink:

Have some way (diary, a npc, a whole class of npcs, an spell,...) to let the character find where's he supossed to go next for when the player feels lost.

...

No more random thoughts for now, be happy.
 

JJ86

Liturgist
Joined
Dec 5, 2002
Messages
206
Well you definitely have to start with a solid story with many characters. The story has to be valid with variations on the main character - meaning that it could still flow well if the main character as man, woman, stupid, old, etc. Maybe the first thing you could do is to think of minor variations of the story based on different characters. Then find key areas of the story where the path can veer. These key areas can be at conversations or during quests.

Then it will become an iterative process where you will refine it as you make adjustments. You really need to be creative to be able to think of how different things would affect a story. Maybe a chance meeting with NPC-X will allow the PC to get on the path to save Town-A. Or make variations dependent on charisma, reputation, etc. Just keep going through your core story with different variations and see how things might be affected. It is a long process but as long as you are prepared and are willing to experiment then it is should be do-able.
 

Anonymous

Guest
To keep track of things, use 'Webbing', a planning kinda of thing.

Draw a big circle and write 'King Fred' in it, then draw lines from Fred for each possible outcome, and then make bubbles on the ends of those lines, label the lines and fill in the outcomes, and then just keep webbing it on, the more you weave everything together, the more immersive it becomes (but dont over do it if it's only something as simple as giving a beggar money, unless you are planning something for that beggar).

Also remember to reward all styles of play about even, players wont wanna do things if all they do is get slapped for it and it's kinda lame to make certain styles not viable.

Also, when doing 'Decision - Outcomes' include options for different character types, the smart, the stupid, the ugly, the beuitiful, and so on. Not just good/evil/neutral, try to mix and match those two types, too. Evil and beautiful? Let the player seduce King Fred and then slip some poison into his drink.

Had a few other ideas, but lost them, hmmm.
 

Human Shield

Augur
Joined
Sep 7, 2003
Messages
2,027
Location
VA, USA
What do people mean by "a solid story". Do you want clearly defined villians and friends? Do you want scripted plot twists?

I would rather be able to choose who I want my friends and enemies to be.
 

suibhne

Erudite
Joined
Aug 21, 2003
Messages
1,951
Location
Chicago
In addition to the other great advice, build the world before youi build the plot. I.e., you'll have an easier time imagining the full range of narrative possibilities if you really have a handle on the world in which these narratives will take place - meaning other characters, politics, culture, even the damn weather if it's useful.

This is why licenses (like FR or Star Wars) are so useful: they cut out a whole heck of a lot of design time. (Of course, crappy games still rely too much on the licenses and don't do enough to breathe life into them.)
 

DarkUnderlord

Professional Throne Sitter
Staff Member
Joined
Jun 18, 2002
Messages
28,389
Osaka said:
I was looking for more of an answer to "how in ____ am I going to be able to keep track of all the little things to make sure I don't cause problems with the plot down the line"
Make one big muther-fucking flow chart. Throw in a few conditionals and wallah, a non-linear story reduced to linearity in the eyes of the maker.

If that doesn't make sense, try following a flow chart. At every path you're given options, but at the end of the day, you only get to make one choice. By the end of it, you may have had many options (non-linear) but you've only gone down "one path". A flow chart also allows you to see where certain storyline parts branch off and where significant events occur.

Also, don't worry with useless events, just track the main plot changing events. For example, if all that matters is that the King is dead and not that the player killed him, or hired an assasin to kill him or even *how* technically the player killed him (be it with poisoned knife, poisoned cup, combat etc), just have "If the King is dead..." then we have this path, but you also have "if the King is NOT dead" and your path down that way.

Keep in mind it's not perfect. Especially when a truly non-linear story should allow the player to *jump* to any part of the flow-chart food-chain. IE, They should be able to go off somewhere, get leet combat skills, then walk in and wipe out the entire palace, King, Queen and Country-men without having to get the magic flugel or do the "get rid of the rats in my basement" quest, or even join a particular faction. Of course, this changes how a faction may deal with him (if the king's already dead, they won;'t need the PC to go kill him etc..) which you have to take into consideration.

It's big, it's fucking messy and it's going to take a long time to really plan it all out. But hey, it's kinda fun.
 

Saint_Proverbius

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Staff Member
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Jun 16, 2002
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Location
Behind you.
Osaka said:
I was looking for more of an answer to "how in ____ am I going to be able to keep track of all the little things to make sure I don't cause problems with the plot down the line"

That's easy. You just don't make a hell of a lot of things dependent on one another.

Say you kill King Fred. You can have the NPCs in the town mill around muttering "Too bad King Fred is dead" and things like that. You can even have any dilalogue about King Fred check a flag set in the quest data for the player that checks to see if King Fred is, in fact, dead, so that when he's mentioned, they say he's dead. This way, all NPCs "know" he's dead, so they don't have to give quests involving King Fred - or suggest an alternative quest to accomplish the same result.
 

MrBrown

Liturgist
Joined
Dec 17, 2002
Messages
176
Location
Helsinki, Finland
Osaka said:
I was looking for more of an answer to "how in ____ am I going to be able to keep track of all the little things to make sure I don't cause problems with the plot down the line"

Example: Player may or may not have stopped the assasination of King Fred (or maybe they did the killing). Obviously this will affect all events that happen in King Fred's kingdom from then on, and will have farter reaching consequences. Now this is an extreme example, but the little things can have far reaching consequences as well. how do you keep it all straight and make sure you don't ignore something critical?


Well, simply don't have major consequences for the player's actions showing up in the game. If you want to emphazie the player's actions, do it before the action, do it for all paths with one way, and do it as mechanically as possible (ie. Saint's example) instead of scripting dialogue for all possibilities.

On a bigger scale, seclude portitions of the game from one another. Ie. Fallouts, where the areas of the game almost didn't affect each other at all game mechanically. In this manner, no matter if Fred's dead, who tried to kill him, who was his successor, was there a civil war after it, it doesn't matter long because in the next location/chapter the NPCs and the game world just don't care about it that much.
 

JJ86

Liturgist
Joined
Dec 5, 2002
Messages
206
Human Shield said:
What do people mean by "a solid story". Do you want clearly defined villians and friends? Do you want scripted plot twists?

You really need to write out a setting and story as a framework to build an RPG. It isn't just a random sampling of quests and battles. The quests should help to further what the author's idea is. Let's say that you decide to choose an existing story to turn into an RPG.

Just because I happen to have it handy, let's choose Candide. Candide would make an interesting game because it mostly is a series of adventures. He wanders the world after being forcibly removed by the Baron from Westphalia after finding his true love. The story follows him being almost randomly thrust through many adventures after which he is eventually reunited with Cunegonde. There are many characters like Pangloss and the Baron who Candide meets again and again throughout the story. But things can be juggled around and modified without destroying the story. Candide can just as easily be a female, white, or black, with some minor modifications.

There is an interesting entry over at Grand Text Auto asking whether it is better for the author to tell a story or for the user to create their own experience. It's thoughtprovoking and the discussion that follows leads into possible directions for the interactive piece to move.
 

lawfoster

Novice
Joined
Jul 28, 2003
Messages
9
For the whole author telling a story vs a more open ended game, it does depend on how restrictive the story is. From what I've seen, I see most platform "RPGs" to be hopelessly linear to the extreme-people leave and join wether you want them to or not, etc. The only thing you really control is what attacks you make and where you wander to on the overland map. Open ended games tend to be better, as I think I have more control over stuff. Sure, I see the hand of the designer even in games like Fallout, but I'm not always sure if I've done a quest the "best" way.

As for writing a non linear game, there are still controlled places where people "can't" go. Monsters too powerful, sealed magic doors, etc. I would think the best way is to think of a world and populate it, but alter it depending on what is happening. Don't just stick with what you first did. And basically think of how you want the game to end, then think of the ways to do it. I'd also suggest keeping track of how quests are resolved so you don't repeate them too much. [/quote]
 

Human Shield

Augur
Joined
Sep 7, 2003
Messages
2,027
Location
VA, USA
Most games mentioned are non-linear in a single direction, much like the mention of a flowchart.

I would like to see a web-design chart. The player starts in the center and is free to choose a goal to go towards. Dialouge at the start would point out options but the player is free to go any direction (not talking about walking around a map). Like if in Fallout the game didn't stop if you joined the mutant army, and the main opponent is now the BOS, and their bunker is now the final area. The story line for a such a game would be more cause and effect. And would probably be the toughest to do.
 

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