As I gear up towards learning about game design, I’ve been thinking a lot about what sorts of games I’d like to make. To this end, I started thinking about games that I like–RPGs and multiplayer games like Brawl or BF:BC2. While I always pine for intellectually stimulating games, I find that games which fulfill this role are not games I can usually replay and enjoy as much as the first time. I always come back to the multiplayer games, though. I explained this a bit in The Ultimate Reward, but the gist of it is, human controlled avatars are fluid. I can come back to the same level, map, or enemy and it will always react in a dynamic way. Where a game like ME2 is one that keeps me thinking about it long after I finish, it is not a game I can play multiple times.
In ME2, while all the decisions you make are intellectually stimulating, they become noise you don’t pay attention to if you play through a second time. You already know what your choices and their consequences are, or at least an idea of what they would be, because situations are always posed under the paragon/renegade system. You already know what your crew members say at which points, though the nuances may be unknown to you. Characters in the game never change, even though you might be playing a completely different Shepard from the first time. This is a problem because you may make a connection with a crew member, only to have them reach their scripted ceiling and repeat the same thing over and over again. This breaks the illusion.
I AM A CHANGED MAN
To be fair, you can’t possibly expect a developer to program an infinitude of choices and outcomes. The thing is, they don’t have to. Having limited choice is fine so long as you experience a dynamic playthrough. Enter Guild Wars 2 and its proposed “dynamic event system.” Colin Johanson, the Lead Content Designer describes his desire to build a living, breathing world which “allows the world to dynamically change based on actions and decisions made by the players. A single player decision can cascade across a zone, changing the direction of a chain of events until they dramatically alter the content played by players in a map.”
The thought alone is amazing. This, right here, is the problem with a game like Mass Effect. It doesn’t have a living, breathing world. You’re the only living, breathing part of it. Everything else just exists for your own sake–how exciting is that, really? Your choices do cause a chain of events, but they aren’t experienced by anyone else. It takes affecting another person–a real person, not just some avatar–for your choices to matter, and for your choices to have dynamic consequences.
Think about it: what if you took a game like Mass Effect or Fallout, and took its dialogue/choice system. Except, it doesn’t just apply to your proverbial Shepard. It applies to the world at large. What if your crew didn’t always repeat the same thing over and over again if you pick X choice? What if, instead of an AI controlling your Miranda or Jacob…you had another human being making choices as to what was being said or done at the time? This would be more than simple Co-op–what Shepard experiences is completely dynamic. You can’t tell what Miranda will say when you make a pass at her. She could enjoy it, but what if she interrupts you and just straight up slaps you? To me, this is what is truly missing from a game like Mass Effect: other human beings which not only experience the consequences of your actions, but also play an active role in shaping what those consequences are. Only through other human beings, and their choices can you create a living, breathing world. This is probably a good way to depict the many layers to be found within any one character within a game. If the appeal of a game like Mass Effect are your choices, having such a dynamic system which affects other people’s experience with the game would truly drive the idea of your choices mattering home. Real choices, real consequences, real people.
Perhaps the idea isn’t best suited for Mass Effect. In fact, this sort of idea would probably be better suited for a smaller-scale game.
“When a quest is completed it has no real effect on the game world. You receive your reward and then move on, looking for the next quest to do. The world appears no better or worse for your actions.”
Clearly this isn’t the case in Mass Effect: you have the power to change everything around you. But the world still doesn’t seem to be better or worse for your actions–and perhaps this is unavoidable because its “just” a game. The stakes are higher if they affect people, though, and perhaps that idea can serve as moral/ethical leverage whenever you make a decision that involves other people.
Ultimately I see player involvement as the future for video games. I’m not talking multiplayer per-se here, we already have that. More of, the idea of other people being integral to your experience with the game. After all, if people are being depicted on-screen, there can’t possibly be a better candidate to play that part except for another human being. No vision will be compromised if the developers know how to clearly plot out roles for people to take on; what they can and cannot do. Wouldn’t this approach alienate people who do not have access to online? It might, but frankly I don’t see the “appeal to everyone be accessible to everyone” as an impediment for creating a game with a clear sense of direction. We see far too many games which compromise vision, if not throw it out the window altogether in order to create accessible game. If anything, the drive to create the ultra accesible-to-everyone game has bastardized modern video games.
In any case, community-driven game play would be my version of “emotionally engaging” if I was manning a developer. For this reason, while I am not particularly interested in playing an MMO, Guild War 2’s lofty goals pique my interest.
Colin brings it home when he states that “Events are designed to help bring the community together and to give everyone a shared sense of responsibility and camaraderie in the game world”
These ideas don’t just apply to MMOs, though: I see them as being the next step in video games in general.