So the design issue is this. I want to include a passage which is essentially about persuasion. There is a clear distinction between player and protagonist (I’ll say “PC” for the protagonist). The essence of the idea (not novel, of course) is that by directing the player towards particular actions, or thoughts, or dialogue choices, the player alters/manipulates the protagonist’s state of mind, which in turn opens up or closes down further choices. The precise details don’t matter, but let’s suppose we track the PC’s loyalty to two other characters, X and Y. At some point in the game the PC will face a choice between X and Y: and the range of choices will be determined by his/her loyalty. If highly loyal to X or Y, the choice may “make itself”, and depending on the balance different choices may be available.
Although I’m talking of choices, this is intended to be basically parser, which is where much of the problem comes.
The trouble is clear communication. The whole experience is basically random unless the player (1) thinks it might matter whether the PC is loyal to X or Y (“cares” about it, whether intrinsically or extrinsically: i.e. whether because it seems worth caring about in its own right, or because it is predictably going to affect game outcome), (2) can understand what effect particular choices have had on the PC’s state of mind, and (3) can reason in advance about this.
The biggest problems I have are with (2) and (3), I think, which are related. How does one best make it clear to a player what effect an action has had? And how does one best enable the player to predict what consequences some action may have? I care about that because it seems to me that games that try to do that often have a lot of rather obscure ex post facto logic. Perhaps looking at a picture of my sworn enemy will make me hate him more. Or perhaps it will remind me of the time I loved him, and melt my heart of stone. Either may be (in context) reasonable: but for the experience to be satisfying, the player has to be able to anticipate the result, or at least anticipate a result. All too often these sort of techniques seem to me to end up being completely arbitrary, and I don’t want that (i.e. a sort of “mental maze”).
As to communication, the real question for me is “How explicit should this be?” At one extreme one might make stats overtly accessible. At the other, one might drop only the subtlest clues.
Among the questions I have are:
- What games do this or something like it particularly well, or badly?
- Can it be done in the parser? Or is the parser just too open for this to work well?
- Can it be done simply by “ordinary” parser actions (eg examining objects) or can it only work with some sort of thinking or remembering mechanism?
- If so, are there any games that do thinking or remembering particularly effectively? As far as I can see, the most common “memory/thought” mechanisms are (i) tying it to physical objects (which is really just a way of not having an explicit memory system, but extending “examine” so that it involves an element of introspection as well as inspection), (ii) a metaphor where the memory is like a sort of encyclopaedia that can be consulted (highly flexible, very vulnerable to guess the noun, does not give the player much direction), (iii) a sort of “inventory” of memories, treating them as “mental objects” which can themselves be examined. But I’m sure there are others I haven’t thought of.
- How do you think it is best to communicate the underlying stats mechanism: let it all hang out? hide it completely? something in between? Again, are there games that do this particularly effectively (or not)?
At the moment, I lean towards (i) rather explicit communication of stats and stat changes (i.e. make the underlying mechanism more or less transparent to the player), (ii) a system where most psychological change happens as the result of explicit introspection (i.e. memory or thought) rather than interaction with the physical world, (iii) probably a system that uses an “inventory” of memories/thoughts which can be made salient (by “examining/thinking about/dwelling” on them) or suppressed (by “dropping/dismissing/forgetting” them). But I’m not sold on that, and before I go very far I’d be interested in other people’s views.