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gravelbeast

DFA should have interactive narrative - The logical next step for adventure games

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I have always been a big fan of multiple ways to solve problems, that concept has been around since infocom text games in the 80's. I love the idea of different paths, interactions with different people, and multiple objects being the key to remove obstacles.

However, I have never been a huge fan of multiple endings. Since the days of Choose Your own Adventure books, I have hated wondering, "Did I get the best ending?" then, having to re-read or replay the same boring content again, solving the same puzzles again, watching the same cut-scenes, reading the same dialogue, just so I could try each branch.

That was about as fun as a hedge maze for me.

-edit- typos

Actually, I've always felt kinda the same way as icematrix here. I'm not against narrative-altering choices, per se, but I don't find them inherently fun. I know Gabe at Penny Arcade has posted about this several times, and I think there is an entire category of people like this, but having a series of narrative-altering decisions that lead to different endings can create a sort of decisions-making anxiety, especially when one of the endings is "the better ending" and you don't know which one you're choosing. Instead of feeling like, "Alright! A chance to alter the narrative!" it just paralyzes me. I sit there and stare at my television or monitor for minutes, trying to get in the developers head and guess what they want me to say in order to get the best ending. It brings the play to an abrupt halt and reminds me, in that moment, that I am playing a game.

Thank you for eloquently describing what I've never liked about multiple endings/non-linear stories but have never been able to put into words.

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Lots of interesting thoughts. I kind of agree with those leaning away from multiple endings for this sort of game, for many of the reasons that have been expressed. I think the kind of non-linearity DFA specifically could benefit from is multiple solutions to puzzles. I'm sure I'd enjoy some (any) amount of branching of the plot, but the plot probably is likely to be more powerful if everything is building towards one conclusion. Tim's writing is one of the draw-carts of the project and I'd certainly prioritize it above our desires as players to steer the plot.

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I definitely want Double Fine to take some risks with this project, because, even if I'd be perfectly fine with the old classics, this game got a lot of attention from the media and could generate a boost in good quality releases for years to come; no innovation would do nothing good in the long term, but I'm pretty confident that the team is capable to rejuvenate the old core mechanic with some tweak.

While I think that any approach will be good as long as it's executed correctly, my personal preference doesn't perfectly overlap with OP's sentiments.

I do strongly agree that a videogame works the best when the gameplay blends seamlessly with the plot; that's one sensation that no medium can deliver and its uniqueness is what makes adventures a much more fullfilling and complete experience than a “simple” puzzle game. I, for one, don't think it's necessary to keep being so attached to the old-style inventory-based interaction to accomplish that, since I can easily find recent examples that have worked good both when they used that mechanic (like Gemini Rue) and when they didn't (like Ghost Trick).

There are various ways to branch out puzzles and, while I see no problem in using them to unlock sidestories, as long as they are backtrackable, I instead strongly dislike the principle of having multiple solutions for the same situation, since I'd feel like cheating when skipping a solution by making use of a more straightforward one. I'd not hold the developer in good consideration if he understimates me and dumbs down the game accordingly. Anyway I did see one example where this particular solution worked as intended and it's actually a Double Fine Game, Stacking, where they do allow multiple solutions for the same puzzle but they also allow me to reach all the alternate solutions at any moment; I am still not sure if this didn't break the pace of the plotline though, but overall it was a design choice that I really appreciated.

About interactive storytelling, I'm also not that fond about it, mostly because in the end it makes me care less about the characters and the story; eg if my choice would decide the fate of a companion and this ends up dying then I'd know that he may be alive in another playthrough so I wouldn't feel for his death. In some games, like Mass Effect they also make it so clear that certain choices could have definite consequences that I almost feel like they are spoilering me the continuation of the plot. The only way I can see this style working correctly is when the two choices have both pro and versus and whatever way you go you lose and gain something; even in that case I still feel like tailoring a story on me not that attractive since some of the key plot twists may have a smaller emotional impact if you give the player too much freedom.

To conclude, I am pretty tired of this Games are Art debate, because I feel it usually ends up being just an unuseful exercise on semantics. Many have suggested that gaming productions are art only because they borrow the typical movie elements (eg plot, graphics and music) and they would work better in that way when they are almost stripped down of gameplay, but I can't disagree more. I feel a sense of accomplishment and inner peace from solving a well crafted room in Portal 2, in fighting to the end in a chess match, in figuring out how to counterattack a boss in Zelda that is totally comparable to reading a good book. In such a way I can personally see art in solving a mathemathic challenge, in designing an eletronic circuit, in discovering a chemical compound, etc.; it's up to the particular sensibility of the person to be able to consider if something touches him in a special way or not, but art is everywhere and it doesn't need to be pointed out as if it was a particularly characteristic feature of games.

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I agree with the puzzle arguement, and I think Double Fine has already clued in to that idea. I always disliked having to look up a walkthrough to continue my adventure game.

Stacking was a great example of puzzles that were fun. Generally several methods to solve them, and then you could move on if you wanted, or stick around and redo the puzzle another way.

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Bioware have done this well for a long time. It seems to be working well for Telltale in the Walking Dead game. It's definitely viable.

Given that, it seems like it's worth considering by the team when they're looking for ways to freshen up the formula. Kudos to the OP for raising it.

As long as the DFA team notices this thread (which they may have already), then we'll have to trust them to take this on board as far as they feel is appropriate and are able to make it work.

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It's not feasible for an adventure game. Tim promised an old-school adventure game. Do we keep forgetting that? That doesn't mean it just resorts to all the old adventure gaming tropes, of course not. But to me what's being discussed here seems far more suitable for those Mass Effect RPG-type games.. and not suitable for a game where puzzle-solving is involved.

I'm interested to know how familiar or fond the people posting in this thread are of recent, old-school adventure games? Or am I just hearing from a bunch of Psychonauts/Brutal Legend, action/RPG fans?

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It's not feasible for an adventure game. Tim promised an old-school adventure game. Do we keep forgetting that? That doesn't mean it just resorts to all the old adventure gaming tropes, of course not. But to me what's being discussed here seems far more suitable for those Mass Effect RPG-type games.. and not suitable for a game where puzzle-solving is involved.

I'm interested to know how familiar or fond the people posting in this thread are of recent, old-school adventure games? Or am I just hearing from a bunch of Psychonauts/Brutal Legend, action/RPG fans?

I grew up on adventure games, starting with King's Quest 3. I've played all the King's Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, Quest for Glory games. I used to love going to Costco with my dad because they always had game packs for sale and that was the first time I discovered Lucasarts, as they had a pack with Sam & Max, Day of the Tentacle, Indiana Jones, The Dagger of Amon Ra, Monkey Island, and maybe 1 or 2 others. I got my kicks with The Longest Journey, Broken Sword, Kyrandia, Beneath a Steel Sky, etc. I really enjoyed Machinarium and some of the more recent adventure games that have come out as well. So I'm both familiar and fond of the genre. I feel a little silly listing all of these but, apparently, we need to have our resumes ready in order to comment on this subject. ;P I kid, but I also disagree with your statement that it's not feasible. There are plenty of adventure games that have multiple endings depending on what you do in the game from as many as Maniac Mansion which had 5 up to Blade Runner which had 13.

I think what is being discussed here is generally would people like to see it in the game or not, and the answers to that seem to be mixed.

A lot of the arguments against multiple endings or puzzle solutions seem to be more...I'll say, personal, for lack of a better word. That they feel like they're not getting the "good," ending, or not solving the puzzle the "right," way. I guess this doesn't move me much; I don't find it a particularly powerful argument. The one I do get is not wanting to play the game over to see all the endings. I'm not entirely sure how that one could be overcome without having a game that was able to branch quite a bit depending on the choices you make. I still like the idea, but I don't know that it's either feasible for this particular game, or that DF even is toying with the idea.

I was just trying to think of ways to push the genre forward and make this game something incredibly unique. I know that DF and Kickstarter are under a HUGE amount of pressure. If this game isn't a success, both companies, I think, will have problems. So I was looking for ways for this game to really stand out as something at the same time both nostalgic but also different.

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I guess there are several ways to implement more interactivity into adventure games, which the OP kind of mixed together to serve the end goal of having an interactive narrative with multiple endings. I believe I agree with many of you that this end goal is not necessarily a thing that I'm looking for in adventure games. One of the great things of adventures is that you're really playing a character that has been designed (with much love) by the game developers. This is different with games like Mass Effect, Bioshock and Fallout. Here, you start as an 'empty shell' and you as a player get to design and play it as a character. For me, Grim Fandango would not have been the same (and as great) when you would have been able to develop the playable character yourself by making certain choices in actions and in dialogue and have a different ending as a result of that. The ending scene of Grim Fandango is one of the best in the entire game and triggered me to play it over and over again, just because it was such an emotional ending to this very gripping story.

Still, as I posted earlier in this thread, I think there are a few things that can be learned from the current trend to implement more interactivity into games. But I'm thinking more in terms of gameplay (puzzles) than in story. And I guess that's one thing that the aforementioned games still haven't done right. While Mass Effect and Bioshock offer you choice in story, they don't do that in gameplay. In Bioshock you're forced to run a pre-designed path (sometimes feeling like a tunnel) and just shoot your way through it.

This is why I gave Deus Ex as a good example of interactivity, because here you actually have a choice in how to approach the game world. For instance, when you're objective is to steal something out of an office building, you can just shoot your way through it. But you could also focus on stealth and go to the other side of the building and lockpick the backdoor. Or you could make yourself up to the roof and find an air duct. Or you could convince one of the guards through dialogue to just let you in.

I think this kind of gameplay interactivity could be interesting for adventure games as well. What if you could choose in Grim Fandango, for example, to either talk Eva into signing the work order or make your way up to the roof and change the answering system. This choice could than affect your puzzle solving opportunities later in the game. Solving it through dialogue, for instance, could result in Eva not helping you a second time, because she regrets her decision, while you could otherwise persuade her to give you the key to Domino's office.

This way there is more interactivity in terms of puzzle solutions, but it does not have to affect the entire narrative.

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It's not the multiple ending's thing that isn't feasible...it's wanting every choice to have an impact on the story of the game...wanting to make puzzles almost non-intrusive ..wanting to basically rewrite what adventure games are.

Which is fine. But do that with a game that you haven't promised to be an old-school adventure game to thousands of fans.

As for pushing the genre forward, well, I think Stacking moved the genre forward wonderfully well. I'm not sure how you could recreate that feeling- and when I played Stacking I really did feel like I was playing a modern adventure game- in a non-Russian doll game, but that was an absolutely pure adventure game, that changed things up a bit.

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A lot of the arguments against multiple endings or puzzle solutions seem to be more...I'll say, personal, for lack of a better word. That they feel like they're not getting the "good," ending, or not solving the puzzle the "right," way. I guess this doesn't move me much; I don't find it a particularly powerful argument. The one I do get is not wanting to play the game over to see all the endings. I'm not entirely sure how that one could be overcome without having a game that was able to branch quite a bit depending on the choices you make. I still like the idea, but I don't know that it's either feasible for this particular game, or that DF even is toying with the idea.

I was just trying to think of ways to push the genre forward and make this game something incredibly unique. I know that DF and Kickstarter are under a HUGE amount of pressure. If this game isn't a success, both companies, I think, will have problems. So I was looking for ways for this game to really stand out as something at the same time both nostalgic but also different.

To me it seems like both sides of the argument are equally unfazed by the other and kinda just say the same thing with the spin reversed. All the reasons one side dislike it are exactly the reasons the other side likes it, so the arguments just fly right by.

Q: Multiple endings: Innovative/interesting story technique?

FOR: Yes. Improves a narrative by adding a range of choices and possibilities instead of just telling a prepackaged story.

AGAINST: No. Weakens a story by substituting a bunch of noncommittal branching in place of a strong narrative focus.

Q: Effects on content?

FOR: Significant! Interesting!

AGAINST: Insignificant. Gimmicky.

Q: People who disagree with you: What's their problem anyway?

BOTH: Probably too bound up in their own quirks and idiosyncrasies to see reason.

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Q: People who disagree with you: What's their problem anyway?

BOTH: Probably too bound up in their own quirks and idiosyncrasies to see reason.

HAH! touché

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Really interesting premise, that certainly merits discussion. I, however, just wanted to butt in to add that the mention of skyrim as a game with branching choices is flawed. Skyrim, while brilliant, is an almost completely binary experience. At some point you do the quest... Or you don't. The only other choice is between what faction you support in a given city. Red or blue. That's it. In some cities it's even worse, if you're going for a good knight type character. There are two factions, both horrible, but you must choose to support one or the other. Your only choice, if you want to stay in character is to abandon the entire questline. That's in the realm of bad game design, asit happens in multiple scenarios. Sorry for the tangent, but that's been bugging me for a while. Carry on.

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I read the Op and skipped everyone else because I think this is sort of asinine.

All the Op ACTUALLY wants is quality.

He brings up dialogue but wants only "real characters" and not "robots" after all, Hamlet is only lines on a page. It is the execution that counts.

Yes, we can sit here and play theory game designers all day but what breathes life into something "meaningful" or "real" is focus and attention to detail.

In a game like PS:T or Skyrim the focus IS on non-linear game play, so that is what they excel at. To me, adventure games are about a well crafted story, not a non-linear one. Most people I know who love Skyrim not because of the main story quest, but because of the freedoms it offers. Adventure games are like a really good main story quest. I think if we were to trust Schafer's execution for making an adventure game, we don't have much to worry about. It will be adequate at worst and a fun ride until it comes out.

Puzzles aren't only "tacked on" that's just opinions. Op your opinions aren't arguments, you just want "good" puzzles. We all do.

And that whole "you should be able to friend/alienate people" thing doesn't matter actually because if it is a well designed game, you wouldn't have noticed. You would've just played it the way you normally do. If you need someone to write your freedoms on the game box, that makes it less of a freedom and more on an OPTION.

You see the inherent silliness in this? We are asking for "freedom" in games that are offering us options.

OPTIONS AREN'T FREEDOMS. We just want the illusion of freedom and that comes with a...what is it called?

A WELL DESIGNED GAME.

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The problem I see with all this is that the technical means to make a convincing interactive story just isn't really there yet. I think what people imagine when they talk about this kind of true interactivity is a future where game physics and AI are sophisticated enough that the computer will be able to build new situations around every action you make and, yeah, that's kind of where I hope games are eventually headed. To be honest though, we're a pretty long way off from that right now and all these little morsels of freedom that a lot of modern games tack onto their story usually only serve to highlight how unfree you are the rest of the time.

Gameplay-wise, I think the strength of puzzle games is that there's only really one right answer and the thrill comes from the challenge of working within a set of defined boundaries. Adventure games are extra fun because the boundaries are the same ones we operate in in real life and we get to apply our own personal experiences to the game world. The one thing that kind of counters this, which I think could a bit of added freedom could benefit, is probably the way inventory items works. How many times in an adventure game, for instance, have you needed some kind of long pole to reach something and have seen a perfectly good tree branch lying around but aren't allowed to pick it up? Or even worse, you are allowed to pick it up but you can't use it to solve this puzzle because you need it for a different one later? Those are the kind of super-low-level puzzles that I think applying a bit more freedom to would work. It'd be great to have the option to cut a rope with the knife you stole from the chef or the razor you found by the sink. Or if you need a grappling hook to choose whether you tie the trophy to the string of ties or the anchor to the dead snake or vice versa. I think that kind of thing would remove some of the frustration of having to think exactly as the writers did and would also mean there could be a few item-retrieving puzzles that would be like optional side quests. I think little touches like that could enrich an adventure game whereas larger ones would damage the formula.

I think this kind of gameplay interactivity could be interesting for adventure games as well. What if you could choose in Grim Fandango, for example, to either talk Eva into signing the work order or make your way up to the roof and change the answering system. This choice could than affect your puzzle solving opportunities later in the game. Solving it through dialogue, for instance, could result in Eva not helping you a second time, because she regrets her decision, while you could otherwise persuade her to give you the key to Domino's office.

This way there is more interactivity in terms of puzzle solutions, but it does not have to affect the entire narrative.

I kind of like this too although it would need to be really carefully balanced so that the way the puzzles effected the story made sure you didn't end up finding easy solutions to every puzzle or doing lots of the same kind of stuff. Also when you get right down to it, as neat as this sounds on paper, it doesn't really effect the gameplay experience until you replay it a few times. I feel like this multiple paths idea shouldn't just be a nice bonus that you get to see if you play through again, it should be about making you feel like you have actual freedom of choice while you're doing it. I don't think that's gonna happen in adventure games unless you also make it possible to just punch Eva in the face and run for it.

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How many times in an adventure game, for instance, have you needed some kind of long pole to reach something and have seen a perfectly good tree branch lying around but aren't allowed to pick it up? Or even worse, you are allowed to pick it up but you can't use it to solve this puzzle because you need it for a different one later? Those are the kind of super-low-level puzzles that I think applying a bit more freedom to would work.

That's exactly the kind of problem I was hoping to solve in my suggestions about more freedom in terms of gameplay. I recently played Monkey Island 2 and I encountered this exact problem several times. I had several pieces of wood already in my inventory, but needed a specific stick to solve a particular puzzle. I also had a rope, which I could have used to solve various puzzles, but the game didn't allow me to use it. Although MI 2 is still a great game I believe it shows that adventure games can be improved gameplay wise.

I don't think that's gonna happen in adventure games unless you also make it possible to just punch Eva in the face and run for it.

:-) Didn't think of that solution.

The more and more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that truly interactive narrative is not possible within a particular genre. For, in my view, having freedom in gameplay (in choosing how your character behaves) is an absolute essential component of that. Otherwise you could end up having situations where your choices in dialogue do not match up with your actual behaviour in the rest of the game.

Punching Eva in the face should certainly be an option had Grim Fandango been designed as an interactive narrative. Later on, you should also have the ability to pick up a gun, side with Hector LeMans and sprout El Marrow to pieces. Don't think that's what I'm looking for in an adventure game.

Still, implementing some degree of interactivity into the narrative could be an interesting opportunity to improve the puzzle solving aspect of the game. I guess that would already be challenging enough. As SpanielDayLewis1 already said, it requires care in balancing out multiple solutions, in order to maintain some difficulty.

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