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Dec 02, 2011



I actually have seen a form of this in some RPGs. I can point at some examples in Skyrim right now. Let's see, I'll try to sand off the serial numbers to avoid spoilers...

Waifette says "oh my, the bad mans want to hurt me", and you're off on a quest to squash the bad mans. You can go in and squash them, and you get a "my hero!" response. Or you go in and start squashing them, and decide to talk to the leader, who says "Waifette is actually an evil witch in disguise, with $BACKGROUND and $MOTIVATION, and we're actually not bad mans, we're the league of prince charmings"... you see where it's headed. You can take a simple-minded direct approach to the dialog and plot and have a perfectly fine experience if that's the level you're playing at. There are other layers there too, but you have to dig to get them, which I think at least *correlates* with what you're talking about I think.


That type of choice usually comes in choosing the game in the first place. I also don't think any developer actively decides they want a shallow(note not simple) plot, but its more of a consequence of where priorities, resources, and/or talent lie.

I like Dougs idea with layers of deceit and intrigue you could uncover or bulldozer over metaphorical guns ablazing but that limits the sort of stories could be told in that fashion.

I think this is the function of side quests and such to a degree but the problem holding them back from what you mention is that they are isolated from the main plot of a game.

There is an idea though link the optional side quests that are normally isolated into the main storyline and change its progression in some fashion making it deeper and more nuanced. Things you die in early stages may have rippling consequences much later on. It'd be alot of work to come up with the content for that though with all the branching that could result.


I am currently working on just this! One of my projects I am working on for my MA is looking at difficulty and how it relates to narrative. This was spawned by noticing a lot of games reporting that "easy mode" means "story mode" (notably Deus Ex: Human Revolution's "Tell me a story" difficulty setting), when in reality, the story isn't affected by this choice at all. I've written a few blog posts on this so far: http://wp.me/pH6Us-1K and http://wp.me/pH6Us-23 .

The first explains my rationale, and is a bit of a rant on the idea that stories can be more complex and that just because a game is easy does not mean that you get more story out of it.

In the second, I talk about a project that I did for a class from about a quarter through the making of it. It talks about the game that I was making for one of my graduate classes and details what it was I was trying to do with it.

I am due for a third blog post on the subject, reflecting on my finished (prototypical) game and what I think succeeded and failed in my execution. Next semester I will be doing a more formal research project about this and on the concept of narrative and difficulty working in tandem, with the aim of producing an article for publication.

Very happy to see other people spontaneously talking about this!

@Doug D: I want to challenge you that in most RPGs, difficulty and narrative can be inversely related. If you take a side quest in a standard RPG, the player gets some extra story, most often not relating to the main narrative, and then the player gets a reward: "Here's a new, powerful weapon for you" or "Here have more of ." The player becomes more powerful, but the game's difficulty remains static. The game becomes easier for the player. The Elder Scrolls (TES) games (and related) try to address this by making the game harder if the player is more powerful (level adjustment of enemies, which has been criticized and which I feel ambivalent about). I feel like TES games tie narrative and difficulty in a very happenstance kind of way. It's very systemic and may not always work out if the player just doesn't gain levels.


Excellent! It's great to learn that someone is doing this!



Didn't LA Noire do this? If you can't figure out the plot, you get hints, then you get great big hints, then you get in your face hints, then an NPC figures it out for you.



Thinking more about this, I wonder if what I am doing is not directly opposite what you've suggested. I am, still, looking at adjusting the story based on difficulty, but I'm tying it to the game's overall difficulty, not just the literacy difficulty. But it can boil down to the same kind of thing, that the player gets as complex a narrative as they want. My prototype, in a way, punishes the player if they want story but don't want a hard game. I realize it's a flaw of the system I've devised, but it is trying get at the concept of an easy or hard narrative.


I'm pretty sure it isn't impossible now, its just more effort is put into making things explode and making everything look shiny sadly.

Some games give you an illusion of choices like this sadly not as intelligently as whether you'll be playing as Rambo or Professor Layton, two that spring to mind are Kingdom Hearts and Eternal Darkness, where at the beginning of the game you choose one of three thingies (elements in ED, weapons in KH) that affects how the rest of the game will play out.

One problem is how you do this without 'locking' the player into playing a game they won't enjoy. How do you foreground that the game will be more "puzzly", "hacky" or "shooty?". A super intelligent system would read your other save files and adjust depending on the kinds of games you like to play already (complicated by shared machines etc.).


I immediately thought of the old N64 game Goldeneye as an example of narrative changing based on selected "difficulty". At low difficulty levels, it was a very straight shooting game, where you could slaughter hordes of Russian soldiers with an AK-47, and your objectives were mostly "find key open door".

At higher difficulty, not only were you as vulnerable as the enemies and one or two bullets could kill you - which is the sort of "difficulty increase" that you expect from a FPS, and did make the game a lot harder - but the plot became a lot more extensive. Instead of running through a base, picking up a keycard that was lying around, opening a door and flying a helicopter out, you might have to get a key from a scientist, which would mean either picking up blackmail material by hacking into a computer, or maybe killing him and taking the key from his body, but that meant that his wife the helicopter pilot wouldn't evacuate you so you had to escape some other way. That sort of thing.


Do you mean that on lower difficulties, the other options were not present? You couldn't blackmail the scientist to get the keycard on the easy mode? Because if that's the case than I am very intrigued indeed.


That's an excellent point. I had forgotten about that aspect of the game. In the case of Goldeneye, game difficulty and narrative complexity were correlated.

The default choice in modern games, it seems, is between PvP and PvE. The former is the Good vs. Evil story line, while the latter is Dostoyevsky... or at least, Anne McCaffrey.


The Silent Hill games for a while had a choice of both combat and puzzle difficulty, which is a slight step in the direction you're gesturing in. :)


All I can say is thank god that Bejeweled gives me hints because I can't see patterns if my life depended on me.


I'm just going to quietly mention that my latest blog post is a discussion of my game project this semester (which dealt with narrative and play in games). I mentioned this blog post in mine, so I thought I'd say something about that here. Anyway, the long post is here (http://wp.me/pH6Us-2e ) if you were interested. My next semester will be taking a more academic look at this subject.

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