Tools for providing agency within main story besides text trees — Guild Wars 2 Forums

Tools for providing agency within main story besides text trees

Psientist.6437Psientist.6437 Member ✭✭✭
edited December 5, 2018 in Guild Wars 2 Discussion

The mmo PC perspective is challenging to write and gamify. There is an obvious absolute claim to player agency. Text trees can provide agency but add mass demands to long term gamification and many PCs don't like to read. Here I would like to discuss ideas for adding player agency to main story narrative besides text trees. I have two ideas now and would like to see any other ideas or modifications to mine.

Story created finishers:

Along the path to defeating villains the PC is provided opportunities to select options toward a unique finisher to use against specific foes. The finisher could be enhanced for repeated use such as interrupting dialogue or providing general bonuses. Progression could be managed as a mastery. Make defeating someone important and unique to the PC.

edit: Original idea may be too convoluted. Perhaps a story finisher should be approached with following premise in mind. The studio writes our motivation for killing a foe, the story finisher mastery system would allow us to augment that motivation. If we kill for the glory, we would use a glorious finisher with flashy kitten. If we want the Herald of Balthazar to know why we enjoyed killing her, we could use a finisher that has her civilian victims join in the killing.

Environmental modification:

Provide opportunities for the PC to modify the environment of a story instance. If the instance is focused on an ally, the PC would have opportunities to help their ally such as cleaning up a mess and opportunities to snoop. If the instance is focused on a foe, offer ways to mess with the foe. This would provide and absolute measure of agency. Agency could enhanced by allowing modification to provoke small changes in the narrative or text trees that provide subtext to the main narrative.

edit: Environmental modifications would not include environmental weapons and would have no achievements linked to them. Their purpose is to augment the studio's characterization of the PC protagonist. Interactions with Zalambur in his office would be a great example of where to use this idea. Here we have an example of the PC having to work with someone who they don't have a lot in common with, the PC is all hero and Zalambur is all profiteer. Interactive objects in his office such as art work, books, or desktop curios would provide better characterization of Zalambur. The PC could interact with the objects in such a way as to express opinions of Zalambur that the studio does not allow for in their writing. The PC could either start or stop a desktop kinetic sculpture, sneer or nod approvingly at a painting, and in general support or antagonize Zalambur.

all primes work and not tearing down has value
ready purrlayer @ any parsed feels enhance the value of something that is already worth everything
what other chordal approach but penultimate singing along to quantum cuddle clocks

Comments

  • Edelweiss.4261Edelweiss.4261 Member ✭✭✭

    I like player agency. MMOs, as almost a rule, keep player agency to a minimum. Story created finishers seems kind of uninteresting to me, but I don't really pay attention to finishers. Environmental modifications could be interesting. Perhaps, an opportunity to play smart if you can't play well. This would then become a thing people looked up, though, so probably not a popular idea.
    At this stage, I don't want agency over the world. I just want agency over my characters thoughts. Unfortunately, the dialogue uses that as a doormat, so :'(

  • Psientist.6437Psientist.6437 Member ✭✭✭

    I like player agency too and yes many mmos keep player agency to a minimum. Arenanet offers us consumption as our primary means of agency. They could offer much more, mmos can celebrate player agency. That being said, an epic studio driven story can be fun which makes resolving the tension between player's expectations of agency and the studio's insistence valuable. Finding ways for player agency to resonate with studio driven story is even more valuable. I will add some edits to the original post to make my ideas clearer.

    all primes work and not tearing down has value
    ready purrlayer @ any parsed feels enhance the value of something that is already worth everything
    what other chordal approach but penultimate singing along to quantum cuddle clocks

  • Danikat.8537Danikat.8537 Member ✭✭✭✭

    I have absolutely no interest in story themed finishers and I think they would make a very poor alternative to branching storylines and other genuine player agency. That's like trying to tell me IT locking most of the settings on my work computer doesn't prevent me customising it because I still get to pick the wallpaper. Honestly I'd rather have neither than be told picking 1 flashy effect is just as good as deciding how we deal with the latest threat.

    I like the idea of more interactive objects in story instances, especially ones which give us more lore and background information on the current situations and characters but again that's not player agency. It doesn't let us make a choice or change anything, it just explains what we're being told we are going to do in a bit more detail.

    "You can run like a river, Till you end up in the sea,
    And you run till night is black, And keep on going in your dreams,
    And you know all the long while, It's the journey that you seek,
    It's the miles of moving forward, With the wind beneath your wings."

  • I'm not interested in the stories or lore in MMOs and any dialogue I have to bother with is rapidly clicked through without reading it. :D

  • Psientist.6437Psientist.6437 Member ✭✭✭

    @Danikat.8537 said:
    I have absolutely no interest in story themed finishers and I think they would make a very poor alternative to branching storylines and other genuine player agency. That's like trying to tell me IT locking most of the settings on my work computer doesn't prevent me customising it because I still get to pick the wallpaper. Honestly I'd rather have neither than be told picking 1 flashy effect is just as good as deciding how we deal with the latest threat.

    I like the idea of more interactive objects in story instances, especially ones which give us more lore and background information on the current situations and characters but again that's not player agency. It doesn't let us make a choice or change anything, it just explains what we're being told we are going to do in a bit more detail.

    You don't have to have any interest, but I don't understand the all or nothing approach to player agency in the story. I think it contributes to the lack of dimension in all characters, not just the PC.

    My idea for interactive objects would not offer lore or information. It would supply opportunities for agency instead. They would be small opportunities so you would likely be uninterested.

    all primes work and not tearing down has value
    ready purrlayer @ any parsed feels enhance the value of something that is already worth everything
    what other chordal approach but penultimate singing along to quantum cuddle clocks

  • Reference: SWTOR.

    SWTOR's stories are a kind of half-way house. The player/NPC interactions in the "base" game (including expansion content up to Rise of the Emperor - "Ziost" - released in version 3.2 or so in early 2015) were, with a very, very few exceptions not only text-scripted, but voiced, with branching conversations. In most cases, the branches were fairly localised in the story, rarely extending beyond the "planet" (roughly equivalent to a GW2 PS chapter) on which they took place.

    With Knights of the Fallen Empire (KotFE, 16 chapters) released in 4.0 (October 2015) and its follow-up Knights of the Eternal Throne (KotET, 9 chapters, 5.0, December 2016), BioWare responded to cries for choices made in dialogues to be more "lasting". As you might expect, this rapidly became a "be careful what you wish for, lest you get it" situation.(1) There are several significant branching points in the KotFE and KotET, and the consequences aren't always what you expect, and some of them haunt you or come back to bite you a long time later. In content size, a LSxEy episode is roughly 2-3 KotFE chapters, and there are choices that you have to make in chapters 3 and 10 of KotFE that can continue to bite until the first chunk of content after KotET ended, i.e. 23 and 16 chapters after you make them. Imagine if something you did in LS4E1 left a permanent mark on your character whose effects could only be seen halfway through LS5...

    So, yes, branching story content with long-lasting effects can be done in MMORPGs, but it comes at a cost. The MMORPG medium does not support "undo" or "save and reload", which is the saving grace of single-player games in this respect.

    (1) The SWTOR forums are littered with threads lamenting people's inability to recover from the (delayed) after-effects of reckless choices. Heck, one of my own characters got bitten by one of those delayed after-effects (the spectacularly long one alluded-to above), but hey, that's my fault for having her do something bluntly pragmatic but immensely out of character.

    @Biff.5312 said:
    Exercise your whimsy.

  • Danikat.8537Danikat.8537 Member ✭✭✭✭

    @Psientist.6437 said:

    @Danikat.8537 said:
    I have absolutely no interest in story themed finishers and I think they would make a very poor alternative to branching storylines and other genuine player agency. That's like trying to tell me IT locking most of the settings on my work computer doesn't prevent me customising it because I still get to pick the wallpaper. Honestly I'd rather have neither than be told picking 1 flashy effect is just as good as deciding how we deal with the latest threat.

    I like the idea of more interactive objects in story instances, especially ones which give us more lore and background information on the current situations and characters but again that's not player agency. It doesn't let us make a choice or change anything, it just explains what we're being told we are going to do in a bit more detail.

    You don't have to have any interest, but I don't understand the all or nothing approach to player agency in the story. I think it contributes to the lack of dimension in all characters, not just the PC.

    My idea for interactive objects would not offer lore or information. It would supply opportunities for agency instead. They would be small opportunities so you would likely be uninterested.

    In this case my objection is based on the concern that if Anet could successfully present choosing the effect you see when you kill an enemy as an acceptable level of player agency in the story then it removes the incentive to do anything more and actually makes it less likely we'll get the kind of choices players keep asking for.

    The usual reason for the "all or nothing" reaction to suggestions is because Anet do not have infinite staff or infinite time and money to develop the game so there always has to be trade-offs. Every thing they do is at least 1 thing they can't do because the necessary people were working on that. For example they could re-release Season 1 as instanced repeatable content like Season 2 onward, but we've been told it would take nearly as long as making new content does, so anyone asking us to support the return of Season 1 is indirectly asking us to support a long break in new content or longer breaks between each episode while staff work on re-releasing Season 1.

    Whether people support that or not is entirely up to them and everyone's answer will be different, but it's not as simple as saying people who are against it do not want Season 1 back - they may just not want it as much as they want new content.

    I must be misunderstanding your interactive objects suggestion though - it sounds like you're suggesting expanding the system some story instances have where you can click on objects and get more information through either reading/examining them or through the characters reactions. Scarlet's Workshop in Season 2 is a great example - there's journal entries from her dotted around and pieces of her early experiments and either reading/listening to them or your character discussing them with the others there provides a lot of background on her and her plans. How is your suggestion different to that?

    "You can run like a river, Till you end up in the sea,
    And you run till night is black, And keep on going in your dreams,
    And you know all the long while, It's the journey that you seek,
    It's the miles of moving forward, With the wind beneath your wings."

  • Psientist.6437Psientist.6437 Member ✭✭✭
    edited December 5, 2018

    I guess I see any addition of player agency as valuable, though I do understand your position. The studio does have a history of putting the least amount of work possible into narrative and player agency, but if the best possible outcome isn't available and we refuse anything but the best possible outcome, we are left with nothing. The Commander is on a studio driven plot vector and I do not see that changing.

    My idea is to use environmental objects as a way to deliver agency not information or back story. Imagine you are in an office and must do business with the person who owns the office. That person must also do business with you. You don't like them but are willing to put up with them for the sake of saving the world. The Commander's story is filled with such instances. "Accidentally" breaking something in the office would allow the Commander to express themselves without effecting the story.

    all primes work and not tearing down has value
    ready purrlayer @ any parsed feels enhance the value of something that is already worth everything
    what other chordal approach but penultimate singing along to quantum cuddle clocks

  • Psientist.6437Psientist.6437 Member ✭✭✭

    @Steve The Cynic.3217 said:
    Reference: SWTOR.

    SWTOR's stories are a kind of half-way house. The player/NPC interactions in the "base" game (including expansion content up to Rise of the Emperor - "Ziost" - released in version 3.2 or so in early 2015) were, with a very, very few exceptions not only text-scripted, but voiced, with branching conversations. In most cases, the branches were fairly localised in the story, rarely extending beyond the "planet" (roughly equivalent to a GW2 PS chapter) on which they took place.

    With Knights of the Fallen Empire (KotFE, 16 chapters) released in 4.0 (October 2015) and its follow-up Knights of the Eternal Throne (KotET, 9 chapters, 5.0, December 2016), BioWare responded to cries for choices made in dialogues to be more "lasting". As you might expect, this rapidly became a "be careful what you wish for, lest you get it" situation.(1) There are several significant branching points in the KotFE and KotET, and the consequences aren't always what you expect, and some of them haunt you or come back to bite you a long time later. In content size, a LSxEy episode is roughly 2-3 KotFE chapters, and there are choices that you have to make in chapters 3 and 10 of KotFE that can continue to bite until the first chunk of content after KotET ended, i.e. 23 and 16 chapters after you make them. Imagine if something you did in LS4E1 left a permanent mark on your character whose effects could only be seen halfway through LS5...

    So, yes, branching story content with long-lasting effects can be done in MMORPGs, but it comes at a cost. The MMORPG medium does not support "undo" or "save and reload", which is the saving grace of single-player games in this respect.

    (1) The SWTOR forums are littered with threads lamenting people's inability to recover from the (delayed) after-effects of reckless choices. Heck, one of my own characters got bitten by one of those delayed after-effects (the spectacularly long one alluded-to above), but hey, that's my fault for having her do something bluntly pragmatic but immensely out of character.

    Branching main story lines are an expensive and risky way to deliver player agency, the player can not predict what will happen. If the goal isn't just to make the PC feel powerful but instead to make the Commander more compelling then there are less expensive and risky choices such as letting the Commander have friends outside of the main story.

    all primes work and not tearing down has value
    ready purrlayer @ any parsed feels enhance the value of something that is already worth everything
    what other chordal approach but penultimate singing along to quantum cuddle clocks

  • Psientist.6437Psientist.6437 Member ✭✭✭

    The cost and risk of branching main story arcs is also a red herring the studio uses as an excuse to explain the near total lack of RP agency. Besides market agency of course, we do get to express revealed preference. Personally, I don't think branching story arcs would be an effective way to add dimensionality to the Commandeer's personality. We would just get different ways to combine the same traits the studio already offers. The Commander possesses the traits required to be Tyria's willing defender. Those traits do no crowd out every other possible trait and if we are willing to accept player input as compelling, we could see a far more interesting and individually compelling Commander.

    all primes work and not tearing down has value
    ready purrlayer @ any parsed feels enhance the value of something that is already worth everything
    what other chordal approach but penultimate singing along to quantum cuddle clocks

  • starlinvf.1358starlinvf.1358 Member ✭✭✭✭

    @Psientist.6437 said:
    The cost and risk of branching main story arcs is also a red herring the studio uses as an excuse to explain the near total lack of RP agency. Besides market agency of course, we do get to express revealed preference. Personally, I don't think branching story arcs would be an effective way to add dimensionality to the Commandeer's personality. We would just get different ways to combine the same traits the studio already offers. The Commander possesses the traits required to be Tyria's willing defender. Those traits do no crowd out every other possible trait and if we are willing to accept player input as compelling, we could see a far more interesting and individually compelling Commander.

    To call it a red herring is disingenuous at best. Because as described, you use of the term "agency" doesn't mean what I think that you think it means.

    The term "nods" would have much greater clarity in this case... and Anet has done this on occasion.

  • IndigoSundown.5419IndigoSundown.5419 Member ✭✭✭✭

    I would not find the OP's suggestions to be desirable.

    • Different finishers would more likely annoy me, largely because -- in order for a finisher to be used in this game -- the target would need to enter a downed state. I find that mechanic to be annoying in PvE.
    • The suggestion to "mess" with a foe using environmental items smacks way too much of the silly mechanics I see in some raid encounters. We already have those in some chapters. "Optional" ones would either be more efficient,and thus would be considered mandatory, or as/less efficient. The latter would result in a few people (perhaps the OP) using them, with most everyone else ignoring them.

    I agree with Starlinvf that these suggestions would not represent agency, just nods in its general direction. Neither one would provide me with a sense of character development, which to my mind is what agency does. Please understand, I am not opposed to greater agency in GW2 stories, but if ANet were to take a stab at it, the OP's ideas are not the way I'd want them to go.

    Compared to what is available in P&P RPG's run by a good GM, the type of agency available in video games is a very poor thing by comparison. Of the games I've seen, branching dialogue in which choices matter is about as close as video games have come. As we learned in Twittergate, branching dialogue is not on the table in GW2.

    Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. -- Santayana

  • TheOrlyFactor.8341TheOrlyFactor.8341 Member ✭✭✭✭
    edited December 6, 2018

    I just want the option to punch Rytlock in the face every time he opens his mouth.

    Guess I'll just have to stick with role playing and writing stories in order to give my characters the agency they deserve.

    Make Dragon's Watch great again (by booting Rytlock out of it).
    Asura fanatic.
    World's largest Zojja fan.
    Illconceived Was Na fanboy.

  • Psientist.6437Psientist.6437 Member ✭✭✭

    Player agency describes a broad spectrum. If complex branching stories are a 10 on the spectrum, then the ideas I offered are indeed a 1 or 2. We are not going to get 10 and I don't understand holding out for 10 or insisting that agency only occurs at 10. I guess red herrings work.

    Offering more opportunities for character development and agency outside of the main story may be a more productive way to get to 5 or 6. There are so many NPCs and groups of NPCs that could support smaller branching stories.

    all primes work and not tearing down has value
    ready purrlayer @ any parsed feels enhance the value of something that is already worth everything
    what other chordal approach but penultimate singing along to quantum cuddle clocks

  • Psientist.6437Psientist.6437 Member ✭✭✭
    edited December 7, 2018

    In the context of a complex topography, I approach agency as describing the players freedom of movement toward any specific goal and the degree their movement effects the complex topography. The degree of effect players have could be considered on its own but can't occur without freedom of movement. Gold and a trade floor provide for the potential of limitless agency.

    I will put my mind to a trade floor for story agency.

    edit: products would include punching Rytlock, choice from a collection of NPC allies/friends to include in the story

    edit: Could it be as simple as making the interruption or addition to the story craftable from a story currency and market? I can't think of a scene in PoF where the progression of the story couldn't continue after a scene where the Commander has an aside with any character.

    all primes work and not tearing down has value
    ready purrlayer @ any parsed feels enhance the value of something that is already worth everything
    what other chordal approach but penultimate singing along to quantum cuddle clocks

  • Zaklex.6308Zaklex.6308 Member ✭✭✭✭

    @Dibdabs.3410 said:
    I'm not interested in the stories or lore in MMOs and any dialogue I have to bother with is rapidly clicked through without reading it. :D

    The what's the point of playing one...if you don't have 1 minute of your time to read some dialogue you must have no time to live. Besides, who needs agency, it's a game, it's a distraction from the real world. I've created the character, it's mine...and half the time I put words into it's mouth anyways, regardless of what the Devs have written.

    Yes...no...maybe...what do you want, can't you see I'm busy saving the world...AGAIN!

  • jbrother.1340jbrother.1340 Member ✭✭✭

    @Psientist.6437 said:
    In the context of a complex topography, I approach agency as describing the players freedom of movement toward any specific goal and the degree their movement effects the complex topography. The degree of effect players have could be considered on its own but can't occur without freedom of movement. Gold and a trade floor provide for the potential of limitless agency.

    I will put my mind to a trade floor for story agency.

    edit: products would include punching Rytlock, choice from a collection of NPC allies/friends to include in the story

    edit: Could it be as simple as making the interruption or addition to the story craftable from a story currency and market? I can't think of a scene in PoF where the progression of the story couldn't continue after a scene where the Commander has an aside with any character.

    Their efforts would be better spent on other areas of the game. Even with separate teams working on these endeavors they only have so much total time and resource to spread around to them and the game needs work in other ways that are far more important than this.

    It is nice to suggest stuff though so they can at least see it on the forums if they bother reading it.

    I don't think this will gain any traction overall with them though. They do like to take their own direction with story based directives.

  • jbrother.1340jbrother.1340 Member ✭✭✭

    @Zaklex.6308 said:

    @Dibdabs.3410 said:
    I'm not interested in the stories or lore in MMOs and any dialogue I have to bother with is rapidly clicked through without reading it. :D

    The what's the point of playing one...if you don't have 1 minute of your time to read some dialogue you must have no time to live. Besides, who needs agency, it's a game, it's a distraction from the real world. I've created the character, it's mine...and half the time I put words into it's mouth anyways, regardless of what the Devs have written.

    There are other things to do in this game besides the story.

    One aspect of the mass multiplayer part of MMO is interacting with other live players in various ways. Some people never do anything but that.

  • Psientist.6437Psientist.6437 Member ✭✭✭
    edited December 8, 2018

    please remove thank you

    all primes work and not tearing down has value
    ready purrlayer @ any parsed feels enhance the value of something that is already worth everything
    what other chordal approach but penultimate singing along to quantum cuddle clocks

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