Ok so it's about that time I went off on a rant again. I wanted to discuss "choices" in games. Do we really have any? How much freedom do we really have? How much do gamers really want?
I look at a lot of interviews and follow a lot of games and developers who are always pushing the bounds. I will only talk about games I have played and know something about.
I was recently watching a interview about Dragon Age: Origins. This game looks to have potential but the way the CEO worded many things made me skeptical. It made me think back on some games of Bioware's past like Mass Effect. He said things like "The people you choose to come with you and how you treat them will effect the story". How so? What if I choose to be a loner? Will the game let me or will it be written into the story of "Help person A kill person B or save person B from person A" and whichever you choose becomes your ally for the game... Because thinking back to Mass Effect I liked the idea of "Be who you want" and I myself like to go away from the path when they say that and see just how far outside of the box I can really go. I made my guy a renegade. I opposed everyone I talked to and treated them with total lack of respect. I defied everything I could but still I managed to hit every key point in the game the same way my roommate did... I even remember being in the comms room talking to the committee and cutting them off half way through the conversation and the story wouldn't let me progress until I reestablished comms and heard what they had to say... This disappointed me greatly and I fear that Dragon Age will follow many similar ideas.
Now when I say I don't like to follow the crowd and I try to break the mold... Let me give you an example. My girlfriend recently got Sims 3. She made her little Sims and they had good jobs and had babies and well... They were pretty boring all around. I started asking her if I could try it out. So after I created my sim who was a fat green skinned guy with purple clothes (to match) I decided I wanted to create and Evil Genius with the ultimate goal of becoming a botanist whose life goal was to create the worlds first 'Man eating" plant... It didn't really come to fruition and was actually a little dull but the idea of playing with the concept was fun. How about building 4 walls around your sim and watching them starve or do the same with their baby! There is some fun to be had if you don't follow the line painted for you.
Spore had very unique customization. However your goal was always the same. Evolve and conquer/befriend... No real going off the line painted. I mean you couldn't ever really just be different. You all learn to walk, create fire, etc... You could make a team of giant worms with lots and lots of tusks like I did but in the end... Your not gonna be a good dancer... I guess I just liked the idea of a Worm driving a tank.
Fable. While I have yet to play very much of Fable 2 Fable 1 was... in many ways similar to infamous to me(as I recall) you basically have choices that determine your overall Karma. Good or bad choice leads down a path that opens more choices. in the end you can be customized differently and be proficient at certain things but the end you all seem to pretty much get the same outcome...It has more of a middle ground then infamous but still not as open ended as promised.
Fallout 3. Now I will be honest I have the game but still haven't played it too much. Maybe 3 hours and my goal was to kill everyone in the world. I didn't get to far but from what I can tell it also has some pretty linear ideas. killing everyone doesn't get you very far. I mean I guess writing out a 14,000 page script just to suffice my whim of going rogue and becoming the apocalyptic batman loner of the wasteland would be a little much. I just don't see the point though. Go big or go home. You don't have to give players everything but if you talk big on variety then you should deliver.
Alpha protocol had a good Documentary on "If you help this chick she will help you but if not you fight her" And if she dies then what? I hope that's it. You made your bed now lie in it. I bet there will be a phone call though and on the other end someone will say "You killed her. Thanks for getting her off my back. You seem to have skills so how about I put you to work?" of course this part wont be a choice because your character will probably say without a button choice "What did you have in mind?" because that's how games work and I bet you 10/1 it's a carbon copy of the mission you were going to get anyway if you helped her.
My point I guess is If you are going to make a set story make it a great one that is linear. Zelda, God of War or Call of Duty 4 are examples of great linear stories that don't need all these "Choices" and every game I have ever played with "Oh we have a million choices but only 3 endings" really kind of fail in my eyes... It's like a "choose your own adventure book" but where the last 3 pages are always the same... Why not just make one great story or give you absolute freedom? I think what I am getting at is that I just don't like all the hype around "OoOoO here you can do something good or bad. Kill or save" When maybe I just want to watch and point and laugh, or throw my beer at them or kill them both and do something else... The illusion of choice is really a very 2 sided coin instead of a 100 sided die.
Why not just say "We're making a cool game that looks good and has an interesting story that will vary the experience" instead of making promises of "ZOMG teh game is such different every time you play... Except the start... And end... and 5 or 6 things between there... And characters... And places you see... Other then that it's always changing!!!" because that's what I feel they are doing. Not just Bioware(Although I feel they are the biggest culprits lately). $0$0I mean how many people worked like crazy to build a huge thriving city in Sim city just to have Godzilla tear it down? I know I did. Why? because that's what makes it fun. Then drop a ton of tornadoes and earthquakes to see if you can kill Godzilla.... I never could... That's what makes it special. The ability to turn everything you worked for to crap at the press of a button. That is choice not what developers think is choice.
So what do you think? Is it just a pipe dream? Or do you think a game like Mass Effect 2 or Heavy Rain might break out and surprise us all? Am I just asking too much? Is there more a way to even do it right? Are MMO's the key? Second life with player created content that actually impact your character? I don't know the answer but I have ideas... I'd like to hear yours.
Thanks for reading.