Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Subtle Consequences of Choice

We talked before about the absurd branching we're allowing in Hellenica—how each social hub ends with 2-3 choices that can steer the player (and the story) in completely different directions. Previous posts have also dealt with the somewhat elaborate restructuring that sometimes needs to happen to make these stories flow into each other. But today, I'd like to delve into some of the subtle details involved. So far, no one's specifically noticed these kinds of dialogue tweaks as consequences of the choices they made, but I guarantee that they've improved the experience.

This week, I've been iterating on the various story paths heading into Athens in act 2, and I found that while the broad strokes all mostly worked, a bunch of little seams kept diminishing the narrative experience. As an example, while most of the story paths involved the party wanting to ask Socrates for help on their quest, the finer details about who their enemies were differed. This resulted in the characters either seeming to make HUGE assumptions about who the villains might be, or sounding mind-numbingly idiotic because of their inability to make obvious connections. So even though the overall structure and flow of the conversations remains the same for all incoming paths, most of the lines dealing with their quest have specific variants depending on how much a player knows.

Character relationships are another instance where subtle details can help a story flow much better. While players will interact with the various Athens NPCs under almost identical circumstances, it helps immeasurably to augment these interactions with helper lines that show that the characters actually remember if they've interacted with each other in previous levels. Once again, the additional lines are minor and the structure and flow of these conversations is mostly unchanged. But their absence makes the character interactions feel jarringly dissonant.

Another way subtle details were important in Athens was to acknowledge the fulfillment of foreshadowing. I don’t want to give too much away, but when someone predicts an event, and then later, it happens, the characters should acknowledge it. This doesn't change the party members’ reactions to the event, and surrounding dialogue is the same, but without that acknowledgement of the foreshadowing, the characters would seem less aware of their surroundings.

I'm hoping to have the level 5 version of Athens ready for internal testing any day now. So hopefully there'll be a post in the future about how well it's worked out and what else needs to be done.

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