Hypothetical Game Case Study: Woman from the Future

Take a look at the color picture on page 4.

In this game, you play a character who is merely a guard a guard, how ever, in a top-secret facility researching time travel.

Everyone there treats you like dirt, except one guy named Byron. He works for the Secret Service. Byron treats you well, because, as he says, he knows the only difference between you and him is the agency who issued you the gun and the badge. To him, you're both in law enforcement and, therefore, colleagues.

He's more than just respectful; he's actually a friend. When he sees you treated dismissively by one of the top scientists, he verbally defends you and berates the man.

And then, one day, there's a knock on your door. It's this desperate young woman, Dani (the one in the picture).

She tells you that she came from the future three years in the future and that she works on the same time-travel project that you currently help protect. By that point in the future, she tells you, the time travel project has succeeded. She knows, for she's the very first time-traveler.

Dani says she was just a secretary in the facility. On the day of the first time travel experiment with a human being, the time flyer the man who had trained for months for the first time jump shoved her into the device just as it was activated. The next thing she knows, she was sent back three years to your time period.

She has no idea why the time flyer shoved her into the device. Had he flipped out? Was it intentional? Is she a victim in some conspiracy?

Worse still, there's a man, right now, in this day and age, trying to kill her. She just escaped with her life from a close call.

Things get more complicated. The two of you look up Dani's younger self, in this time period and she doesn't seem to exist. She doesn't live at the apartment that Dani claims she lived in during this time, and there are no records of Dani at any of the jobs or schools she claims to have attended.

Dani gets progressively more distraught and freaked out by these unfolding events. Someone has erased her from history.

Things get even more complex. It turns out the man trying to kill Dani is Byron, your friend. He says he can't tell you why she needs to die; it's top secret. But he says the fate of the Earth depends on her dying.

Who will you believe? Dani, who you don't know but who seems sincere, or Byron, your friend, who seems equally sincere and anxious that Dani be killed for the sake of mankind?

It's a tough choice. No matter which choice you make, it will be a First-Person Deepening experience.[1]

[1] This kind of choice brings up the problem of the potentially high cost of building assets to support a branching story-line. Some solutions are offered in just a few pages.

Another Example of Technique Stacking

By the way, the preceding scenario also uses a few other Emotioneering Techniques discussed earlier in the book, providing a good example of Technique Stacking.

  • Because Dani is in danger, we empathize with her. That's an NPC Rooting Interest Technique (Chapter 2.10).

  • She's confused and afraid, and these emotions give her depth. They're NPC Deepening Techniques (Chapter 2.2).

  • Because you'll end up helping her (taking responsibility), you'll feel chemistry with her. That's a Player Toward NPC Chemistry Technique (Chapter 2.11).

  • Because you take responsibility for her, you, the player, become a deeper person. That's another First-Person Deepening Technique, and we'll get to that a little later in this chapter.

In an ideal world, everything would flow exactly as written in the game with you and Dani. However, there are four challenges that make it difficult to pull off.

Problem #1: One Choice Seems Better than the Other

It's not much of an emotional choice or even a difficult choice if saving Dani is the clearly appealing selection.

The solution is to make the choice a bit more complicated. Therefore, we've got to make Byron a very good and believable guy, and make Dani's story questionable and perhaps make her not overly likable, at least at this point of the game. In short, we'll adjust both of their Rooting Interest Dials (see Chapter 2.10) until the choice is difficult to make.

Also, Byron can tell you that if he doesn't catch Dani, he'll be killed by his own superiors. He wasn't supposed to know anything about this time travel project with Dani, and now he's considered to know too much. His superiors see him as a liability unless he proves himself by bringing Dani in. You get evidence that supports his story, so you know it's true.

Thus, making the choice as to whom to help is complicated by the harm that will befall Byron.

Problem #2: Save Points Mitigate the Emotion of Making a Tough Choice

If you can just save the game at the point where you need to decide whether to help Byron or Dani, then the choice doesn't matter. Your player can explore one option, and then return to the save point and explore the other.

Thus, there's nothing emotional about making the decision and certainly nothing that would cause you to become deeper the way tough decisions cause us to become deeper in real life.

  • Solution #1. Give the player a save point a few minutes earlier, before the decision point. That way, there are some consequences to the decision and the player will think more seriously about it.

    Of course, this requires a balancing act and some serious game testing before shipping. If the save point isn't back far enough, then it hardly makes a difference. If it's too far back, then the player will get frustrated and angry at the game.

  • Solution #2. This is the more interesting solution: Make neither choice completely wrong or right. For instance, if you choose to save Dani, Byron will end up getting killed. There can be other bad consequences as well.

    If you don't save Dani, she'll get captured and incarcerated in a cell in a special location. But maybe, to handle this new threat, a man named Richard Hutton, who you suspect is evil, is put in charge of the time travel project, with some kind dire consequences resulting (explained a little later in this section).

But, there's still another problem.

Problem #3: This Scenario Means You Need to Build Assets for Two Different Paths

This problem is one of the key considerations that scare game designers away from forking paths in a game (multi-path structure). "Why build assets that many players won't see?" designers rightly ask. And they readily point out that the money you spend on these potentially unseen assets could have been better used if spent on other areas of the game that all the players will encounter.

When designers use a multi-path structure, the most common approach is for the game's path to fork for just a short period, and then for the paths to rejoin into a single route through the game.

This can be a satisfactory compromise, except (as frequently occurs) when there is little or no plot consequences nor emotional consequences as to what choice you make. And the truth is that, in many games that have offered sections of multi-path structure, no matter which path you take, it doesn't really make much of a difference.

How could we build not just plot consequences, but emotional consequences into our game about Dani, even if the path branches for just a short time?

Let's say you believe Byron and don't help Dani. Dani tries to escape into the time travel chamber. She's caught, but before she's apprehended, she accidentally does something that slightly alters the time stream.

Suddenly, a second security guard at the installation, who was a friend of yours, disappears into thin air. Whatever Dani accidentally did, in this new time-line, your friend has never been born. If you sincerely liked him, this would be an emotional consequence. As a result of this mishap, the head of the time travel project is dismissed and Richard Hutton, the evil man mentioned earlier, is put in charge.

Let's say you took the other path and decided to help Dani, and not help Byron. Then, as mentioned earlier, Dani's escape will lead to Richard Hutton being put in charge of the time travel project, and he'll blame Byron, who knows too much and who, in his opinion, has screwed up big time. Byron, therefore, will be killed by Hutton. Because he's someone you liked, you'll feel his loss.

Then the two paths come together again.

No matter which path you choose, we need to arrange it so that (1) your friend, the guard, is out of the game, and (2) so is Byron. Furthermore, (3) you need to end up with Dani, and (4) Richard Hutton needs to end up in charge of the time travel project.

We've already shown how Hutton could come to power in both scenarios. But how do we make sure the other three points are accomplished in both paths?

Let's say you help Byron, and as a result, Dani gets captured. We know the guard will disappear in the time-travel mishap Dani causes in her escape attempt. But how can we get rid of Byron now and make sure you end up with Dani? In this path, you'll discover Byron is part of an evil conspiracy, secretly in league with Hutton, and that Dani is innocent. You'll need to rescue Dani, and you'll kill Byron in the process.

So, all three of our remaining conditions are met.

note

The fact that the two paths come back to gether in a fairly short period of time means that giving the player the decision as to whom he or she will side with doesn't add significantly to the cost of the game.

Even still, giving the player choices like this does add some cost, so it's likely that, if you're keeping an eye on the game's bottom line, it's probably not a technique you'll want to employ frequently.

That having been said, Ion Storm, headed by Warren Spector with project direction by Harvey Smith, is perhaps the company most dedicated to having all sorts of short- and long-term consequences linked to a multitude of decisions made by the player. At the time that this book is being completed, Deus Ex: Invisible War hasn't yet been released. But rumor has it that the designers and programmers there are trying to take the entire issue of consequences for player decisions to levels of sophisticated repercussions never before attempted in a game. I've peaked at the software they created to track player decisions, and it's daunting.

Making decisions with meaningful emotional and moral consequences is probably one of the things the game will be known for, and this factor will likely serve as one of the key reasons players will buy it. My guess is that the folks at Ion Storm are trying to create a game that will entice players to go through it multiple times, experimenting with different modes of playing and making different choices at the numerous decision points.


Let's say that you side with Dani from the start. We already know that Byron will get killed by Hutton. The guard can get a promotion and say goodbye. So, once again, all the conditions are met.

So, no matter which fork you take, you're soon back onto a single path, with both Byron gone and the guard gone too. Furthermore, Hutton is in charge of the time travel project, and you're on the run with Dani.

Problem #4: There Are No Long-Term Consequences in the Game

Of all the problems, this last one is by far the least important. If the other three problems are addressed, then the player will undergo the First-Person Deepening experience we're intending.

However, if we want to be even more artful, it would be good to have some long-term consequences to the choice, even if they're not particularly emotional ones, for it makes the player feel like his or her decisions matter in the game.

The key is to make any long-term consequences not cost too much time (and therefore money) in terms of programming or building assets.

Here are some samples of possible long-term consequences for our example:

  1. If you chose to help Byron, then Dani's failed attempt to travel in time could change the time-line and suddenly half the trees in the city could disappear and never come back.

  2. If you choose to help Byron, and your fellow guard gets a promotion, then someone could refer to having seen that guard in his new job later in the game.

  3. If you choose to help Byron and then end up killing him, you could later run into a friend of his who has some pretty hostile things to say to you.

None of these would cost a lot of money or time to integrate into the game.

Case Study Summary

Let's recap the key points of this example:

  • In a branching path, the decision as to which path to follow should be strategically and emotionally difficult, if it is to cause a First-Person Deepening Experience.

  • There should be both plot and emotional consequences to the decision, at least in the short run.

  • Ideally, the decisions should have some long-term consequences, even if they're not particularly emotional (although that would be preferable). It's important for the player to feel his or her choices matter.

Linking actions to consequences also helps connect one part of the game to another. It's a Cohesiveness Technique, as you'll see in Chapter 2.26.

note

The bottom line in our example with Dani is that it's a First-Person Deepening type of choice because it involves an Emotionally and/or Morally Difficult Decision. By contrast, most choices in games don't promote First-Person Deepening because they're simply strategic; they're not difficult to make due to emotional or moral reasons. A strategic choice would be, for example, whether to use firepower or stealth to accomplish a mission, or deciding which weapon to use.


To further illustrate the technique we've been exploring, let's take a look at another example game that involves the First-Person Deepening Technique of thrusting the player into an Emotionally and/or Morally Difficult Decision.

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Creating Emotion in Games. The Craft and Art of Emotioneering
Creating Emotion in Games: The Craft and Art of Emotioneering
ISBN: 1592730078
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 394

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