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Friday, November 16, 2012

Trouble with Binary choice

A decade and a half ago in the late 90's games such as Fallout and Planescape Torment released; among their accolades were the extensive dialogue trees that provided a sense of choice to the player with regards to how the story might play out. Each had varying degrees of success, but it was clear that your choices in any given conversation might effect that sub-story going forward; with some impacting the finale. Fast-forward to 2012 and we're cheering on games like Infamous, Mass Effect 3, and others simply for giving us the "paragon/renegade" options; the distilled, streamlined, and frankly, shallow, facsimiles of the systems that came before.

I can't entirely blame developers; it's far easier to do the binary (sometimes tri-nary) systems than it is to do a massively detailed tree of possible conversation outcomes. Really, to me the main problems with these choices are that they tend to only resolve as far as the end of the conversation, and that they tend to have a minimal if not tiny impact on the rest of the story. It's particularly sad to see this result by a company like Bioware, that not a few years ago had released Dragon Age Origins, a game who's dialogue system harkened back to the rose-colored good-old days of RPGs.

Here's the thing, I as a player, want to feel like my choices matter. In Mass Effect 3 the "choices" just resulted in a different name for that 20 additional war assets. Most conversations in Mass Effect end nearly the same regardless of the option chosen; all that really separates is whether the person likes or hates you at the end...and it never ends up mattering. If you ARE going to just add different units to my army, make the effort to SHOW them. In Guild Wars 2 at several points the player is sent to recruit aid; then (SPOILER ALERT) during the final section of the story, that aid often shows up to help, sometimes 20 or so levels after it had been enlisted. (OK YOU ARE SAFE NOW)

I get it developers, I really do; the fractal storyline really isn't feasible on a limited budget...especially if you are planning on giving us voice acting. At least make our choices meaningful, make them last and give us a significant ability to change the game with them. We might end up at the same basic point, but let us get there from different paths. I'll even admit, that a lot of this feeling comes from how unabashedly simple the story ends's clear we are on a path that is more or less linear with a few deviations. If you want to improve things, obfuscate that...let us decide some of the path we take even if it results in us reaching the same result.

And for the love of all things holy, stop putting in an NPC "hero" that gets all the credit at the end. (I am looking at you Arenanet and Blizzard...)

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