Home Forums General Discussion Branching game outcomes

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    • #3058

      Ok, Im going to make a post tackling this old topic…
      btw, this contains slight deus ex 2 spoilers.

      Ernest Adams. Dont remember whether it was at the workshop, or talk, but I distinctly remember him saying not to punish RPG gamers who made the ‘bad’ choice earlier in the game (ie, 30 hours earlier) by not allowing them recover from a ‘bad’ outcome later in the game.

      Now, this -seems- to make perfect sense.

      However, I recently played through deus ex 2. Cool game, lots of good stuff in it. And a lot of different factions constantly telling you to do different mission objectives. From the back of the box (dont laugh, i know its marketing):

      ‘Every descision you make affects the outcome and creates a unique game experience’.

      Now, I didnt expect this obviously, not even Ion storms impressive art department could produce an end cg for each player.

      But what I also didnt expect, was that having played through the entire game, and having pretty much consistently batted for my choosen faction (it gets a bit compliacted at some stages), the ending I get when I complete the game comes down to…
      A menu of 3 places where I can upload something to in a computer Ive hacked.
      What the outcome of the game is depends solely on this choice of 3.

      Doesnt matter what my previous faction alligiences have been, who ive killed, feelings ive hurt, etc.

      Now, this seems very much along the lines of what ernest said.

      It means if I took a choice earlier, and I didnt realise it was aligning me with a given faction, well, hey I get a chance to set it right 5 minutes before the end of the game.

      From my experience with DX2, I am now firmly against the idea of giving the player a chance to recover right at the end.

      DX2 isnt the only game like this. Those of you who played black and white will remember than regardless of which box you bought you got the same game! (No, just kidding).

      Those of you who played black and white will remember that regardless of whether you made your creature into an evil fiend and spend the first few years of its life abusing it, or treated it really well, half an hour or so game time (less?more? been a while, but about half an hour) will totally switch its behaviour back.
      Is this keeping the game open and accessible? or trivialising it?

      I now believe that a branching plot line must commit you to the branch, and the choices the player makes must be significant in order for them to not feel trivial.

      Granted, dont expect every choice to influence the outcome, but if none of them do, then whats the point in making them?

      The accepted wisdom, and certainly what ion storm went with, is to make sure theres a recovery possible from certain choices.

      Not sure I agree.

      I think this is just hanging over from days when game choices were restricted to a good outcome and a bad.

      Those days, are, hopefully, coming to an end, and I think the accepted wisdom should change as a result.

      Any other people have thoughts on this topic?

    • #11058

      The problem with building a story in which actions influence the future thoroughly is the enormity that the game is going to grow to. Chances are most people are going to finish the game once and so you build pathways through the game that the gamer just isn’t going to see. With a game like Deus Ex, doing it properly, you could so much that the gamer just sees about maybe 40-50% of the game when finishing it. And thats just not good sense financially, spending that much time building content thats not going to be seen. Sure, in the perfect world, the games would contain all this content, but its a fine line building the content needed within the publisher’s deadline.


    • #11070

      That isnt actually what I was getting at; sorry, I mustnt have explained myself properly.

      They *did* actually create multiple endings in deus ex. They created all the speech dialog neccessary for branching plot lines etc etc.

      What I was talking about is how the ending you got came down to a choice you made on the last level, a single menu selection in a computer, rather than being some function of the choices you made earlier.

      While content creation is an issue to prevent a game flow that goes like n-tree where n is the number of ways to make a choice, it is still possible to implement it as a DAG that splits and possibly rejoins later, with maybe 4/5 end nodes. In fact you could think of Deus ex 2 like that, but the second last node was the same in every case, and thats what Im objecting to.

      In support of your point, which is a very good one, albeit on a seperate issue, see the gamasutra postmortem of big mutha truckas,

      what went wrong, point 2:

      Our design intention was to include a lot of replay value, so we deliberately had some elements of gameplay that required the player to do a little more work to find them or replay the game and take a different “route” to uncover them.


      As a result, there are a number of events that most players will never encounter.

      But anyway, its not really what I was getting at.
      There are many smaller choices in dx2 with local effects that required the creation of multiple content paths, so this obviously wasnt their motivating factor, so much as allowing the player a recovery.

    • #11074

      I haven’t played Deus ex 2 yet so maybe I’m misunderstanding this. However, isn’t the issue here more about the player being unaware of the root causes of their ultimate doom or success by the time they get to it? So instead this has to be obvious like:
      1 of 3 computer terminals containing each outcome in the level before the end or whatever ???


    • #11076

      Yes, indeed, thats a good point; it certainly shouldnt be as obvious what the choice comes down to.
      That said, wouldnt it be better if it was some function of all the choices you made earlier in the game, that perhaps determines the possible outcomes of the last level (say, maybe 2 of 4 endings are avalable depending on how you chose earlier) and then the performance on the last level would determine exactly which you get.

      I think if you are going to make the player make so many choices then those choices should have some effect. Its not enough to just hide the choice that does have an effect; may as well just flip a coin then (or consult the PRNG or whatever).

    • #11078

      Hi Fergal,
      I understand. I remember bringing that whole discussion up in the pub with Dave and Tony etc. and I was nearly eaten alive…

      It’s funny! I think you would actually need some sort of diagram to illustrate or even work out what exactly you mean. It’s just one that people react badly to when described because it souds huge.

      Off to Photoshop or Illustrator with ya :)


    • #11082

      Flow charts, DAGs…..all sounds very software engineer-ish.
      Unfortunatelly game developers don’t understand that stuff :)
      Talking about it in uni last year…was funny….heheh, trying ot make a game structure using uml….oh how they laughed

    • #11099

      >Flow charts, DAGs…..all sounds very software engineer-ish.
      >Unfortunatelly game developers don’t understand that stuff
      >Talking about it in uni last year…was funny….heheh, trying ot >make a game structure using uml….oh how they laughed

      Hmm, not really sure what you mean by that…

      I wouldnt think -serious- game developers, or game designers, or whoever they may be, would laugh at an insightful way of thinking about their game plot.
      I certainly dont think it takes from the validity of the points I made…

      Anyway, I didnt actually mention flow charts at all, and as for DAGs, well, I dunno, I think that they come up a lot when anyone studies games – especially formally – which I imagine game

      developers must at some stage…

      In fact, a quick google brings up:

      ‘Distinguishing Between Game Design and Analysis: One View’

      ‘Plot DAGs revisited (was Re: Game Design in General.)’

      a treaty on dags which talks briefly about games (of the formal sort).

      Mathematics of Game Design: More Finite Structures

      I know thats not conclusive, but it appears dags arent such an alien concept to game developers, after all? :)

      As Ian said, i dont think its compliacated ideas, once you see some diagrams or whatever to
      explain the acronyms.

      As such, I have whipped up some incredibly poor and ‘programmer art’ style diagrams to try and explain what Im getting at.

      Alas, being a poor student, I have used Ms-paint and open office over photoshop…

      Anyway, the following diagrams should make clear what Im getting at!


      Tree1 is a game structure thats a tree.
      Lots of choice, which is good, but too much art and game content required, which means its not practical.

      dag1.pdf is what a game whose plot structure is a dag probably should be like.
      theres some choice to be made at different points, each choice doesnt neccessarily guarentee a different ending, but
      it takes you in a different direction.
      There are definitely games out there that use this sort of thing; some quite explicitly, colony wars on the ps was one example; there are many.

      Dag2.pdf is what I felt deus ex 2 was like; lots of choice, but doesnt mean anything in the end, because one choice you make, that seems a bit arbitrary,
      determines exactly what ending you get. Not so hot.

      Oh, and for reference, dag3 is pretty much how it was in the good old days.

      I object to dag2. Its bad.

      Dag3 is not very interesting either, and thankfully, we are mostly past that.

      dag1, well, some games are nearly at.

      A lot of games are trying to provide the illusion of the tree, and actually doing this.

      Thats about as good as it will get, unless, if ever, we have AI that plays the game enough to provide a narrative (and assuming games need narratives);
      the holy grail of vido games, perhaps?

      Then the tree structure becomes feasible, and every choice can have a different outcome, because we dont have to make movies and script character interaction
      for each sequence, as the AI provides pretty much it all.

      Whether or not this ever happens is up for grabs…

      … but i got the impression that’s perhaps the direction the next lionhead project is exploring.

    • #11106

      Nice one! This sounds interesting now!!!

      I’ll take a look at these tomorrow when I’m in the office.

      Talk then,


    • #11107

      I sorry, guess I was being a bit flippant…flow-charts and stuff yeah. I was just thinking deeper and into UML territory.
      Games are quite had to structure like this probably due to the constant changes made during development but plot structure and game plan, sure

    • #11110

      Yeah, I agree with you – I personally dont like the idea of trying to apply heavyweight development methodology to the technical/software developement side of games.

      Just to clarify, I wasnt talking about the game engine or the technical side of the game process, just about the game design side – the gameplay and mechanics -as opposed to their implementation.

      I also wouldnt propose using software methodology for plot structure/game plan. I just meant that some of the mathematical tools traditionally associated with it should (and I discovered are! ) also used for the gameplay/mechanics side of development.

      Anyway, on this note, Im going to start a new topic asking about the software side of development, as its obvious that theres knowledge out there that omen and others have learned about what methodologies work and what dont.

      I’d be really grateful if they were willing to discuss their hard learned information!

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