Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Plot Continuity Across Sequels (ft. Crusaders of the Dark Savant)

Crusaders of the Dark Savant is the first game for which this import process has implications beyond character attributes and equipment.
                     
If a developer allows meaningful choices in the game, how does he reflect the consequences of those choices in sequels? This question grows more and more pertinent as the years pass, and meaningful choices become a greater expectation among RPG players. Indeed, it is common on today's blogs and discussion forums for players to insist that meaningful choices--affecting the direction of the plot and the ending of the game--are an essential part of a role-playing game. Such a claim ignores most of the history of RPGs, in which the only choice most players had was whether to attack with a sword or an axe, but I'm willing to allow that true role-playing choices might become an essential characteristic of a twenty-first century RPG.

The issue becomes pertinent for essentially the first time in Crusaders of the Dark Savant (1992), a sequel to a game in which the player's choices could produce one of three different endings. This isn't quite the first time this happened, but previous "alternate endings" were either just creative deaths (i.e., ways of not winning the game), such as the "bad" endings of Dungeon Master (1987), Ultima V (1988), Pool of Radiance (1988), or The Magic Candle (1989), or alternate paths that funneled to the same basic ending, as in the Quest for Glory series (1988-1992), Dragon Wars (1989), Sword of Aragon (1989), or Disciples of Steel (1991). Prior to Wizardry VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge (1990), the only game I can think of that offered true alternate ways of winning the game was the roguelike Omega (1988), and it didn't have a sequel. Slightly earlier, however, Phantasie II (1986) and III (1987) chanced some introductory dialogue depending on whether the party was created or imported, reflecting the player's choice to have finished the previous games at all.

Phantasie III his Filmon say that Nikademus would "never suspect you" if you're a new party. If you're imported, he tells you that he chose you because you'd already defeated his minions before.
          
I haven't played a lot of games post-1992, but my read is that alternate endings aren't necessarily common even through the modern era. The Elder Scrolls games, excepting Daggerfall, basically just have one. The Infinity Engine games may have offered a lot of roleplaying in between the beginnings and ends, but they all ended basically the same. There are some notable exceptions--Fallout New Vegas, Fallout 4, the Mass Effect series, and the Dragon Age series all come to mind--but I'd be surprised if more than half of modern RPGs, no matter how many branches they offer along the way, end in more than once place.

On the other hand, even games that don't offer multiple endings tend, these days, to include significant player-influenced changes in the world state between the beginning and the end. The main quest of Skyrim might end in the same place for everyone, but along the way either the Empire or the Stormcloaks won the war, the Dark Brotherhood is either destroyed or has just assassinated the Emperor, the Thieves' Guild either revived or hiding in some sewers, the world either plunged into eternal night or not. These are not factors that will be possible to ignore in any sequel just because every player "defeated Alduin."

So now that The Elder Scrolls VI is at least partly announced, what is Bethesda going to do? Based on previous games, there are several options:

1. Adopt one set of possibilities as canon. This option renders many players' choices meaningless, but it's easiest on the developers. It also tends to fit with what most players did by default anyway. So although you can end Baldur's Gate with any of about 20 NPCs in your party, the developers figure at least 50% of us are going to have played with Imoen, Minsc, Jaheira, Khalid, and Dynaheir, and Baldur's Gate II begins accordingly. In a less-obvious use of this option, most sequels assume that the players finished all the side quests and expansions in the course of winning the previous game, and thus have no problem introducing NPCs, enemies, and objects that some players may never have encountered (e.g., the player of Ultima VII Part Two starts with the Black Sword even if he never played the Forge of Virtue expansion to the first part). The developers basically have to choose this option if they want to include the game as part of a larger universe along with films and books.
            
A line in Skyrim assumes the player finished the Shivering Isles expansion.
           
2. Set the sequel so far away in time and space that it doesn't matter. Based on player choices, the world state at the end of Oblivion might look quite different from one Hero of Kvatch to the next, but 200 years later, during the events of Skyrim, no one cares who was head of the Fighter's Guild in a different province at the end of the Third Era. Similarly, Fallout IV makes no references to the choices made by the protagonist of Fallout: New Vegas because there's no communication between Nevada and Massachusetts, and both places have their own problems.

3. Account for all the possibilities. This one is pretty rare, and insane when it happens, but it's featured quite notably in Oblivion and Skyrim to explain the events in Daggerfall. Depending on player choices in that game--the only Elder Scrolls game so far to offer multiple endings--the giant golem Numidium is activated in support of one faction (or not) and political boundaries are reconfigured to the favor of one or more factions. To deal with all possibilities, future games feature a book called The Warp in the West that basically says at the end of Daggerfall, time "broke," Numidium was seen at multiple places, all possibilities occurred, and a trio of gods had to intervene to untangle the mess, resulting in a stable political state among four new kingdoms. 

In a less dramatic option, games after Morrowind don't take a stand on whether the Nerevarine killed the gods of the Tribunal. They're gone, sure, but maybe they disappeared on their own.

(As an aside, one of the things I love about the Elder Scrolls lore is how many distant past events can be interpreted as if they were the results of multiple player choices retconned into the same kind of a "warp" that the developers used to explain the end of Daggerfall. Take, for example, the many conflicting characterizations of Tiber Septim. Who was he originally? Where was he from? Was he the noble hero who united an empire or the lecherous villain who seduced Barenziah and then forced her to abort their love child? Did he become a god? What about the events at Red Mountain? Did Vivec kill Nerevar? What happened to the dwarves? The implication is that major characters of Tamriel's past, like Tiber Septim and Vivec, were player characters whose stories could have gone multiple ways. Their games just haven't been developed.)

4. Dynamically adapt the plot and world state of the sequel to reflect the player's choices. This is the rarest and most admirable option, and I can't think of any series that does it better than Dragon Age. The games certainly have their flaws, but attention to player choice isn't one of them. Inquisition is particularly well done. Choices both major and minor in the two previous games determined everything from the leaders of nations to the specific NPCs the player encounters, and where. (If you didn't play the previous games, you just got defaults.) The effects on the world state, the available NPCs in the game, and the direction of the plot are significant enough that players who made different choices in Origins and Dragon Age II face very different games when they get to Inquisition. (I should also note that this dedication to adapting the world state extends to the minor expansions as well as the major titles; both Awakening and Witch Hunt for Origins start very differently depending on choices made during the main campaign.) I understand that the Mass Effect series offers the same attention to this kind of detail.
              
The "Dragon Age Keep" web site lets you set the world state from the first two games, greatly enhancing continuity as you begin Dragon Age: Inquisition.
                     
While I characterize Option 4 as the most "admirable," it's also somewhat understandable when developers don't take it. It greatly expands the amount of content that they have to create, much of which will never be seen by most players. It's probably unsustainable across more than three games; certainly, it's hard to imagine Bioware accounting for all choices in Inquisition plus the two previous games if they make a fourth one.

On the other hand, it's horribly disappointing for the player to start a sequel and find that his choices in the previous game are ignored. Some games adopt a compromise between Option 1 and Option 4, using player choices in previous games to tweak a few variables (which might affect dialogue options) but otherwise offer the same gameplay experience. I seem to remember Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II going this route, changing a few scenes based on the result of some (clumsy) dialogue options at the beginning, but otherwise making some assumptions about how the first game progressed.

It's easy to think of Option 4 as the most advanced option, and thus the one we expect to see later in the development of RPGs. In fact, if it was going to be commonplace, its best chance was in the 1990s, just as meaningful choices became more common, but before reacting to those choices meant significant chances to graphics and voiced dialogue. A developer can afford to be generous with simple text adaptations.

And thus we begin Crusaders of the Dark Savant with three separate sets of opening scenes, each with different text, but sharing many of the same graphics.
             
All opening narratives show this scene, but they all use different text depending on whom the party is with.
        
If the party ended Bane of the Cosmic Forge having rejected the queen, overseeing the suicide of the vampire king, and heading off into space with a friendly dragon named Bela, they soon find that Bela has made friends (over the radio) with the Umpani, a race of intelligent pachyderms. He relates the story of Guardia and the Astral Dominae and warns the party of the other factions seeking to possess it, including the Dark Savant and his T'Rang allies. They arrive at Guardia at the same time as the Dark Savant. Bela drops the party off in the forest to start looking for the Astral Dominae while he himself chases after the Dark Savant to find out what he's up to.
           
Bela talks about his new friends.
          
If the party ended Bane by trying to take the Cosmic Forge only to be intercepted by the android Aletheides, Savant begins by having Aletheides explain that he's been sent to retrieve the pen by the Lords of the Cosmic Circle. He relates the threat to the universe now that Guardia has been discovered, and he enlists the party to accompany him so they can find the Astral Dominae before the Dark Savant. Since he has to return to the Lords with the Forge, he drops off the party in the woods on Guardia and then takes off.
          
Aletheides lays out his plan.
         
If the party ended Forge by killing everyone and boarding Bela's ship on their own, they're soon swallowed up by the Dark Savant's frigate. The Savant clearly states his intention to challenge the Lords of the Cosmic Circle and "end their stranglehold on the Destiny of the Stars." He demands that the party assist in his search for the Astral Dominae and has them fly to Guardia on a T'Rang ship, where again they land in the woods to begin their adventure.
            
The Dark Savant offers no chance to object.
           
Finally, if the player didn't complete Bane at all--or didn't play it--the game assumes that they're treasure-seekers who found the Cosmic Forge in a temple on a random world. Just as in the second option, Aletheides reaches them just before they take the pen and enlists them in his mission. As with everyone else, the party begins in the woods.

Although all parties start in a forest, they're different forests, on different maps, and thus begin the game with quite different experiences. And because my understanding is that Savant is quite nonlinear, they probably continue with different experiences as well. What I don't yet know is whether choices made in Bane affect anything in Savant other than the backstory and starting location. Do the various factions begin predisposed to like or dislike you? Does Bela show up again if you didn't kill him? Those types of adaptations would be admirable, but perhaps a little too much to expect this early in the era.

I was able to download other players' saved games to experience the different beginnings above, but in 1992, I would have been out of luck. Knowing that there were different beginnings to Savant would have made me eager to re-play Bane, independently of what I thought of its replayability as a stand-alone game, the same way that Inquisition has made me want to replay the previous games in the Dragon Age series. Thus, we see that good attention to continuity can increase the replayability of not only the current game but previous ones in the series.

Continuity of character is, of course, a separate consideration from continuity of plot. It is also far more common. We saw it as early as 1979, with the ability to move the same character among multiple Dunjonquest modules, and most classic game series--Wizardry, Ultima, Phantasie, The Bard's Tale, the Gold Box games--have allowed you to continue the same character or party across at least one sequel. There was even a period in the mid-1980s when you could move the same characters between franchises. As a kid, this was far more important to me than it is now. Today, I find that such games either reduce imported characters to the point that they're hardly better than new characters or they're so overpowered that they ruin the game. A few franchises--the Gold Box and Baldur's Gate come to mind--have done a good job achieving balance, but on the whole I like that the modern inclination is to retain the universe but start each game with a new hero.

In that spirit, for my "real" Savant party, I'll be starting over from scratch with a new set of characters, partly because I enjoy the early levels the most, and partly because the game assumed I did that anyway (I must have screwed up something with my saved game in Bane). We'll pick up with the adventures of the new party in New City after a detour to investigate the German Die Dunkle Dimension.

In the meantime, which continuity options do you prefer? What games best exemplify them? What other methods have you seen for reflecting player choices across the game's universe?
   
   

64 comments:

  1. For moving characters across games and even across platforms, I should mention a feature of the 70s/early 80s RPG milieu that has likely been forgotten. When you had a character, that was your character. If you sat in with another group, you brought your character with you and played with them. When you gained XP and went back to your regular group, you had that same XP on your character sheet.

    The modern practice of 'alts', having a half dozen characters in different games or genres and playing different ones depending on where you were wasn't as widespread. The DM didn't "own" your character, you did.

    I realize there will be shouts of "that's stupid", "Rule 0", "This sort of thinking directly obviates and lessens the joy of playing an RPG", and "play your character, not your character sheet." I retort that this is modern thinking that either didn't exist back then or was certainly not widespread.

    The D&D concept of henchmen came about so that one player could play more than one character, but I remember being so confused by the henchman and follower rules and how to apply charisma for these effects that we never used them.

    So all of these character migration options should be understood with this kind of thinking in mind. They were trying to replicate the paper and pencil RPG rules on a computer, and that's what we wanted as players.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can absolutely confirm this for late 80s pen and paper RPG in Germany - I distinctly remember taking my characters to RPG conventions and playing them there as well as DMing other players that brought along their own characters.

      Delete
    2. I've seen people say this but this must have been less common by the time I started playing in 1990. We started off by creating new characters for each DM or campaign, and I never heard of anyone trying to take old characters into a new game.

      Delete
    3. Yeah, the practice had died out by then.

      Delete
    4. We had a fixed group of schoolfriends playing RPGs together back in the early/mid 90s. Role-playing wasn't exactly widespread so group-switching wasn't much of an option. It would have been odd, too, since we played long, continuous campaings with the same characters. When we had different groups (consisting mostly of the same people) we used to switch gaming systems.

      I think this was still a practice for Das Schwarze Auge (Realms of Arcania) in the 90s, though, for people who went to conventions. DSA has an official canon which is constantly extended, and your character could even become a part of it.

      Delete
    5. There's a convention among online players called FLAILSNAILS, which is pretty much the same thing. With the ease of online role-playing, you see characters that have bounced through all sorts of campaigns, just like those early days of the hobby.

      Delete
  2. Coincidentally enough, I went through this process recently with Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire. Took a while to find my original PoE1 save in my old system backups.

    I don't want to give too much away about the story of either, but the sequel adopts something similar to what you were discussing with regards to Dragon Age and Mass Effect. While it doesn't quite adjust the whole plot of the second game around some monumental end-game decision in the first, you'll frequently see NPC responses and cameos in PoE2 that were the results of your actions in PoE1. The game even provides you a little icon on the text window to indicate that it was a change precipitated by your PoE1 save. So far I've met a few of my old companions who remembered how I helped them in the previous game, though I couldn't say if that made them want to join me any more or less than they would in a default game state.

    It also, like Mass Effect 2 and 3, lets you build a custom backstory from of a menu containing all the decisions from the previous game, in case you lost your save or jumped systems. It's a neat idea, though it can insinuate the occasional spoiler by putting an unusual amount of emphasis on decisions you considered relatively minor.

    (For the record, I love when games do this. Imported character levels and equipment is one thing, but seeing the decisions you made have long-term effects on the world is really cool. PoE 2 doesn't save anything from your PoE 1 playthrough in terms of character progression - you're back to level 1 with basic gear - but the story stuff was more important to me.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When I read the post I was immediately thinking of PoE2 as well - awesome game btw, I like it much more than the first one.

      From what I gather you mostly get different dialogue options and some companions can be in other locations. If you actually got a companion killed permanently in the first one you cannot recruit them in the second one. But the world state as such is mostly independent of the first game AFAICT. Though I didn´t import a savegame.

      Delete
    2. "The game even provides you a little icon on the text window to indicate that it was a change precipitated by your PoE1 save."
      That's a simple, but really good idea. There were times in Mass Effect 3 where that would have been welcome.

      Delete
  3. I think the first game I noticed with true choice was Deus X and I was quite stunned by it, couldnt decide on a pathway and basiccly tried to fulfill all three, until I had to finalize one of them...
    I never played the sequel though, so I dont know how it dealt with my decision. Probably it didnt and I wouldnt have minded that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ROT13 just in case:

      Nyy bs gur cbffvoyr raqvatf ner ng yrnfg cnegvnyyl pnabavpny. Gur pnaba "qrpvfvba" vf sbe WP gb zretr jvgu gur Uryvbf NV va gur "Oraribyrag Qvpgngbe" raqvat, ohg gur zretr vf hafhpprffshy. Guvf fgvyy erfhygf va gur snvyher bs Nern 51, n grpuabybtvpny oynpxbhg, naq gur qrngu bs Obo Cntr ertneqyrff. Va guvf jnl, gur erfhygf bs nyy guerr raqvatf, vs abg gur pubvpr oruvaq gurz, ner fbzrjung pnabavpny.

      Delete
  4. Love it that you´re playing Crusaders. I am pretty sure I finished both Bane and Crusaders though I didn´t import any party. IIRC correctly I played one of them on Amiga and the other on PC.

    Anyway, looking forward to you playing the game and triggering those old fond memories. I well remember siding with the Umpani since I found them so cute, much more sympathetic than the T'Rang in any case.

    I also remember that my Valkyrie saved my ass a couple of times with her ignore death power.

    ReplyDelete
  5. A few franchises--the Gold Box and Baldur's Gate come to mind--have done a good job achieving balance - well, that's more because of the limited customization of ADnD, where any character of a given class and level hardly differs from any other character of the same class and level, than smart design.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One could say that limited customization is, indeed, smart design, as it helps achieving balance. :)

      Delete
    2. I didn't realize Josh Sawyer was a commenter here...

      Delete
    3. If every character is exactly the same, then you can have balance - but I don't believe anyone with any passion for gaming would call that smart design.

      Delete
    4. Considering the creator of AD&D created the RPG genre (with help from others), was an avid war gamer and started his own company to produce war games and later RPGs, I'd say he had a "passion for gaming." Not to mention the many people so passionate about gaming that they continue to play AD&D to this day.

      AD&D is not the pinnacle of game design, especially considering that it's too old to incorporate recent design philosophies, but please do not be so dismissive of it either. Whilst it all comes down to personal taste and I respect that many people dislike its bare-bones character development, it works very well for what it tries to be (a class-based RPG with relatively quick character generation), as evidenced by not only its popularity but the success of the aforementioned games. Plus, in contrast to some other games, each class is unique provides a tighter experience that's different for each character. BG2 in particular nailed this aspect of it, IMO.

      Delete
  6. Apart from about 15 minutes of Crusaders, the only Wizardry game I've played is 8 - and I've played a lot of 8. It's never occured to me though to download characters so that I could experience the different beginnings. In part this is because the default opening in the monastery is possibly my favourite bit of RPG ever - maybe even my favourite bit of computer game ever (the pace of character development - both in skills and equipment - at the start of the game is just right. It's incredibly satisfying).

    It's interesting reading about some of the background to 8 here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I actually never finished 8 I think - what killed it for me was that monster difficulty scales in the various regions but not linearly but with jumps every 6 levels IIRC. If you´re a completionist in the Monastery you can actually face emerald slimes or something similiar IIRC which are almost impossible to kill. Had similar situations near the endgame when I was slightly too powerful to trigger the next higher difficulty level but too weak to make it through.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, I think the general advice is that you DO NOT level up anyone beyond level 6, even if they have the experience, before leaving the monastery. The first trip along the Arnika Road can be difficult enough even so.

      But I like that sometimes you have to be careful about entering the Swamp, for example, as you're just not ready to deal with enemies like Nightmares.

      I've only actually finished the game once, despite hundreds of hours of playing over many years. The mid-game gets a bit grindy, and after a break it's sometimes just more fun to start over rather than picking up that old save.

      Delete
    3. And yet that trip down the canyon when outclassed (having taken level 6) is pure white-knuckled fun, as you peek around corners, hide behind rocks, backtrack and finally make a dash for the town walls.

      Delete
    4. Yeah, that's true when you manage to survive! But - as Andreas says above - you can also find yourself in an unwinnable, and sometimes unavoidable, fight, which is no fun, especially if you're an inexperienced player.

      I once tried to leave Arnika and found a bunch of relatively high level Geomancers, or some such, immediately outside. I had no way to counter or resist their spells, so my only viable course of action was to retreat into the town and wait for them to go away. Which took about 4 or 5 eight hour camps, leaving the town, then running back inside, before I went outside and found they were gone. Weirdly, though, the elemental they'd summoned was still there, as they return to whence they came only when their summoner is killed (or you kill them, of course). That, thankfully, was a winnable battle though.

      Delete
    5. The level scaling starts right at the beginning, it's just hardly noticeable in the monastery. Additionally, most areas have a minimum and a maximum level, so it's possible to wander into a sector grossly under- or overlevelled.

      Nontheless, I tried to keep out of later areas as long as possible due to the level sensors on the chests to get the best chances on good loot

      Delete
  7. I think Bela shows up in Wizardry 8.

    As for previous parties, I also like the early levels the best. I think the only game I used an imported party for was Chaos Strikes Back, and that was fine because you were supposed to start at a very high level. (My front chars went up about a zillion Ninja levels kicking worms in the first room anyway.)

    Another approach was used in Bards Tale 3. If you started with a new party, you would level right the way up to Archmage or equivalent - the top levels of the previous game - just by completing the first dungeon. After that you were on a par with imported parties.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are several of the characters from earlier Wizardries in 8, but spoilers...

      Delete
    2. I remember that I was more than stunned that you could get additional XP in Wizardy 8 if you managed to bring some item to Bela that was originally from Bane. Thus, the only way to get the XP was to import to Crusaders from Bane and then import to Wizardry 8

      Delete
    3. Without exaggeration, in 32 years that was my most favorite moment of any Rpg ever. The simple fact that, after so many years, they remembered.

      And the reward, even if it was just xp and a line was significant. It was a warm, kind love. And it was a lot of XP, even in the endgame. Millions of it.

      Delete
  8. "As a kid, this was far more important to me than it is now." I can agree with that sentiment. I actually, for example, have come to play each Gold Box with a new party; otherwise it gets too easy after a while.

    I could never finish Wiz 6 so I never had an alternate start in Crusaders. I will say that whether you support the Dark Savant and his allies or oppose them do impact the story.

    Another game like this might be Temple of Elemental Evil. There are several ways to end the game, both good and evil and when the game ends, you are shown, in cut scenes, how your actions have affected the lands and individual persons.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fallout 1 and I think 2 also feature different endings based on what you did in the game, as does Avernum (at least Avernum 1, can't remember if Av. 2 has multiple endings and haven't played another episode). In Fallout you see how different factions end up, based on your actions, somewhat like in ToEE. Whatever you do doesn't affect the next game, there is a canonical story no matter how the player ends the game.

      So far, I like this option best. It gives a player freedom in the current game and gives the developer freedom to create a coherent story.

      Delete
    2. ToEE also has slightly different beginnings, depending on the alignment of your party.

      Delete
    3. I've been playing ToEE a bit recently, can somebody tell me in rot13 if you can actually complete those quests you're given in the openings scenes?

      Delete
    4. Yes you can, though some alignments have more difficult quests than others. The Lawful Neutral quest, for example is easy. Talk to the mayor of Hommlet about the bandit raiding going on. On the other hand, Chaotic Good, you must rescue some lost elves.

      Delete
    5. Sorry, did not use Rot13.

      Delete
  9. Oh, and something I thought of while reading this was that the Steve Jackson's Sorcery! books, which were from the early 80s, I think, had alternative endings in book 3 (again, I think) that affected how you began book 4.

    It's a long, long time since I played through the books though, so my memory could be deceiving me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, you remember correctly! If you went out of your way to beat every boss in Book 3 you could start Book 4 from a number different from 1, reflecting the fact that you approach the final conflict unnoticed.

      Delete
    2. All four had book-to-book ramifications to greater or lesser degrees, retained and greatly enhanced when Inkle adapted them as computer games. The furthest logical extension of this in a gamebook context is probably the Fabled Lands gamebooks, which plug seamlessly into each other -- they're basically data disks for a giant sandbox RPG. You can try it out on your computer at http://flapp.sourceforge.net/

      Delete
    3. I'd also really recommend Inkle's Sorcery! adaptations--they carry a lot of elements over between iterations, which ends in a pretty extensively different final book-game.

      Delete
  10. Of the various methods, I prefer 1.

    Simply picking a "canon" ending results in a much tighter game design for the sequel, avoids any lockout problems, and allows an easy summary at the start - if you're playing the games months -or years- apart, this is a big help.


    ReplyDelete
  11. I'd rather developers focus on making a great stand-alone game, with a great beginning, middle, and end. That's a difficult enough task without trying to manage continuity with previous (or future) titles. I think in most cases those allowances do much more harm than good.

    The biggest problem is that a core part of most RPGs is taking a character or party that's weak with limited options and gradually building them into something powerful with a variety of abilities. That journey over the course of a game is fun.

    But with continuity you have the problem of starting out powerful in the next game with nowhere to go, and I don't think there are any great solutions to this. The best solution is probably to send everyone back to level 1 and either ignore that it doesn't make sense or make up a contrived plot point about it.

    Why not just start over with a new story (even in the same setting) and focus on getting your mechanics right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not necessarily. The Elder Scrolls games start over with a new character each time, so you don't have the problem of being too powerful to start. But they still try to address the question of player choices in previous games, with varying degrees of success.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, I wasn't so much addressing plot continuity, which was the main point of this post, but which I don't have strong feelings about.

      I was a bit off-topic talking about character/party continuity which I think generally doesn't work well because most RPGs need to take you from low power to high power.

      PoR to CotAB kind of works because PoR is the rare game that ends with you just at medium power so there's still room to improve. But even then, CotAB is probably better with just a new party.

      But yeah, The Elder Scrolls get it right by keeping the world and history but starting a new character's/party's story.

      Delete
  12. I like the idea of option 4 the most, but I'm not sure I'd actually enjoy the multitude of options and choices, trying to track what changed in later games. I haven't played a game yet that made it obvious that choices from any earlier game influenced the setting.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I like #4, but it's hard to pull off, and it can end up like Mass Effect 3, where people got outraged by the ending because up until that point in the series you had been making what felt like a lot of big choices and almost none of them end up mattering. In the end, I think the Fallout series, where you make lots of important choices in each game but they don't matter in the next game is probably the best and "safest" method to do.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I do like option 4 but it really is soo hard to pull off well. If you can't do it option 3 like the did in oblivion was my next favorite way to go. Even Skyrim so far in the future they did it that little bit with sheogorath and it's one of my favorite parts of the game.

    The best game I've played that did option 4 was shining force 3, it was three scenarios over three discs and each one you started with a new party but you met most of the characters in the previous ones. So even though you start weaker you do get to pull characters into the third scenario from the previous games for the big showdown. Unfortunately only the first scenario was released in English and it was changed to not end on a cliffhanger, the Japanese games had it all though and I played a fan patch, awesome games.

    I don't like option 1 because I always pick the weird options, I still haven't finished Baulders Gate but I have played the first half quite a few times and I could never get into using the party they picked for the next game, guess I'm just strange that way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So it is possible to play them in English today? Hmm, I didn't know.

      Delete
    2. A huge number of Japan-only titles have gotten fan translations that can be played on an emulator, although the quality varies drastically.

      Delete
  15. I don't want much effort put into extending branches from previous games. I'm pretty happy with 'many endings but one canonical' - which happens to be the way two of my favourite series, Fallout and Geneforge, handle the situation. World continuity is too hard otherwise. You have to make player actions in the previous game(s) mostly irrelevant if you allow them to persist through the series.

    ReplyDelete
  16. First of all, this one was a big nostalgia title for me.

    Second, that was a hard-core spoiler on Skyrim, a game I intend to play a some point in time!

    ReplyDelete
  17. The transition between Bane and Crusaders has always struck me as one of the oddest ones in any game series, in that it formally maintains continuity with the previous game while more or less discarding everything about its setting and plot. It's like if Fallout 4 had canonically followed the Mothership Zeta expansion and been a space opera, with the only remaining Fallout elements being that your spaceship crew had ghouls and super mutants and deathclaws and everyone wore vault dweller uniforms. (Now that I mention it, I would actually play that game.)

    My hunch is that Bradley came into the series with the sci-fi Dark Savant plotline already in his pocket, but was not able/willing to completely change genres for the series on his first game. So Bane was a nice friendly fantasy-themed dungeon crawl designed to serve as a transition.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I'd be interested to know how many people actually started with the "good" ending (traveling with Bela). I feel like most people would be starting the game fresh for one reason or other, and even for those bringing the party across I imagine it would have been rare to have thrown the cross away as that wasn't an obvious option. I only ended up with this ending because I had a party completely stuck near the end of 6 and ended up getting through the last bit with a walkthrough, picking the ending I liked the best so I would have a party I could use for 7.

    I definitely think you're better off with the other beginnings - there was only so much I could do in the area you start in until I had to grind, grind, grind to get a party powerful enough to survive leaving the area. Once I reached the default starting area the game suddenly got more fun.

    One of my favourite things about bringing your characters over from an older game, especially in party-based rpgs, is getting reacquainted with your characters after forgetting about them for years at a time. There's an added zing when you thought you'd lost your old saved games due to various broken laptops and hard drive failures only to find you managed to transfer them somewhere.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I seem to recall this issue being raised in a game-making progrsm I played around with years ago. It brought up various ways you could defeat a big bad, duch as driving them off, killing them, or trapping them in a magic lantern (that line always stuck with me for some reason), and hiw to use variables in the program to add that to the save to pick up in a sequel.

    ReplyDelete
  20. "Do the various factions begin predisposed to like or dislike you?"

    Yes they do. There's an attitude variable (-100/100) for each faction, a new game starts with all at 0 but it changes with the imported savegames. You can see it with Mad God's Cosmic Forge editor.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I have been playing myself, with a new party. We are at about level 6 - 7. Cleared the starter dungeon and got the map kit. Explored New City. Got the Dragon Map and now we are in Gorn territory. I will try to change class on the Faerie thief to ninja, but the rest of the party will stay as is.

    On attitudes, you can negotiate and use money or items as bribes. Negotiate is a skill. Lords and Bishops have it.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I found it really impressive that the Kaiden/Ashley decision had an impact during the whole trilogy, all the additional content...also the Rachni storyline.. that's how I like it. For the criminally underrated Mass Effect: Andromeda they went with Option 2 in a way that felt like a cop-out. And why didn't the protheans think of this?

    ReplyDelete
  23. In Realms of Arkania 2, if you make a new party a goddess grants you EXP when you leave town to begin your journey. However, it's very possible to get into fights in town before you leave which will be very difficult or even impossible, and also the exp's far less than a regular party would have at that point. Good idea but it needed some balancing to make it work

    ReplyDelete
  24. Long-time lurker here - I worked on Morrowind and Oblivion. The designers were making an intentional point, especially in Morrowind: history is always mediated by politics, culture, etc. If you weren’t there, it’s impossible to know what really happened. All history is propaganda, at some level. The books in the special library in Morrowind intentionally conflict with the others that you find in the game. Who do you believe, and what does that say about your own values? What really matters is what is happening now and what you do about it.

    The Warp in the West was needed because Numidium was too powerful, and we allowed too divergent endings from Daggerfall. It was also a chance to reinforce the intentional “weirdness” in the ES setting - the nature of reality is fluid, especially when dealing with gods.

    Personally... I always liked the idea that Dagoth Ur was the Nerevar's best friend, that the Nerevar was murdered by his lieutenants, and that Ur had been gradually driven mad by proximity to the Heart of Lorkhan.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I apologize if someone already mentioned this, the comments are long and time is finite, but I wanted to bring up Witcher3. I like how the Witcher games are about the books and not the previous games, so player choice can be thrown out for the most part, but I was delighted when my tattoo from Witcher2 was included on Gerault in Witcher3. A minor detail perhaps, but it really did it for me.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I actually wrote a list of ideas for how I think an Elder Scrolls 6 should play out. In terms of story, I decided it would take place fifty years after Skyrim. The dragonborn didn't help either side win, the emperor was assassinated and the new emperor commissioned necromancers to raise a draugr army to defeat the Thalmor across most of Tamriel. I figured that the dragonborn took the side of the Dawnguard because the sun being blotted out would cause too many problems. If you want to read all of the ideas I have concerning Elder Scrolls 6, follow this link: https://www.deviantart.com/wariodude128/art/Elder-Scrolls-Six-Ideas-717739383 Hope you like them.

    ReplyDelete
  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Option 4 would be best, but it must be noted that quite possibly few outcomes prevent scenarios envisioned by developers from taking place. I can't point to any such game, bit it is possible that player whose team sides with evil won't be able to play game where it is assumed that he didn't.

    This brings me to my favourite subject, namely scenario generators. We are far away from them I believe, but I think that it can be done by putting few key characters into the world, each with his/her own objectives (become king, head of fighters guild, head of a cult, best magician, master merchant, whatever) and tons of tools for their AI to achieve these objectives. But I can't even begin to think how this would work :)

    ReplyDelete
  30. Having played through KotOR 2 recently, I can say that it basically asks you what you did in the first game, via conversation with an NPC. The games are only loosely connected, so it doesn't matter all that much.

    The different starts in Wiz 7 are only a couple minutes from each other, so I consider it mostly a fun flavor thing. Wiz 8 actually has different intro movies based on how you ended Wiz 7 or made a new party.

    I've beaten Wiz 6 a few times and Wiz 8 at least once, but Wiz 7 is still on my to-do list. I've made at least a couple of serious attempts over the years, but it's a long game with many puzzles and the annoying randomness of the wandering NPCs. I really want to carry a Wiz 6 party all the way through the 6-8 trilogy; I want to do the same thing with Baldur's Gate and Quest for Glory as well (currently on QfG3 with a carried over paladin+magic character who did QfG1EGA & AGD's QfG2VGA, but I haven't played it for a couple months).

    Finally, I'll mention that Wasteland 2 does option 1 well, by bringing the first game's party back as NPCs - some of whom can even be recruited.

    ReplyDelete

I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) THIS ALSO INCLUDES USER NAMES THAT LINK TO ADVERTISING.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters.

3. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

Also, Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

NOTE: I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.