Monday, August 2, 2010

A Proposed Architecture

In my exploration of viable prototypes I've developed something of a proposed architecture for a narrative choice system; I'm still looking for the right narrative, but at least I've got the mechanics in mind. The architecture is called "WDL," or Win-Draw-Lose.
WDL follows a structure wherein the player is given a choice of different events to take part in within an ongoing story. Whichever one they choose, they must deal with the consequences of the other events moving forward without them. Antagonists and other parties involved in the story's events pursue their goals regardless of what the player decides to do. One way or another, each choice offers a logical decision that conceivably advance's one or more of the player's goals, if not necessarily the overall goal of defeating the antagonist. A few nodes into the story, however, that overall goal will reach its expiration date and the player will be forced to confront it.

Depending on what decisions they've made, what long-term threats and short-term threats they've neutralized, what support they've gotten from third parties, et cetera, players will encounter one of three entirely different end scenarios, approaching this ovearching goal from different perspectives. On one hand, the "lose" scenario, wherein the antagonist has gotten a major foothold and will probably get away with whatever plan is being carried out; the player is left, at best, to take care of damage control and insure that the situation is at least not a total catastrophe. On another, the "draw" scenario, where the player and the antagonist have fought one another to a standstill. On another still, the "win" scenario wherein the antagonist is all but fully thwarted and the player gains some major advantage.

To put what kind of outcomes are possible here into perspective: a "win" would mean that Indiana Jones gets away from Cairo with both the Arc of the Covenant and Marion Ravenwood safely, which means that Indy will simply have to defend them. A "lose" means the Nazis get it and have Marion prisoner, which means Indy will be forced to go after them one way or another--and as long as Marion is within their grasp they know exactly where to expect him to show up. A "draw" means the Nazis got the Arc, but not Marion, which means Indy has more of an element of surprise and more options as the story continues.

As should be implied by this only partial coverage of a "Raiders of the Lost Arc" scenario, the WDL format isn't applied to an entire game but rather pieces of it; it branches across one level at a time rather than throughout an entire game, giving each level one of three different endings rather than trying to apply a colossal branching structure to every possible event in the game. This gives a strong sense of variety without overloading the production. In an ideal situation the levels are episodic and self-contained, and the player is exploring the same story no matter what way the game branches.

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