"Tough decisions" in a RPG

Games with combat, inventory, crafting and more beside a story and dating/life sim gameplay

There should be decisions that cause permadeath of a character (or more) on a RPG?

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jack1974
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"Tough decisions" in a RPG

Post by jack1974 »

Recently I've played the awesome Walking Dead episode 1 game from Telltales and I am in love with the "Tough decisions" mechanic. Now, for those who don't know what is Walking Dead or what those "Tough Decisions" are, a short explanation:
- Walking Dead is based on a famous zombie comic book, which became tv series, and now a videogame
- Tough Decisions: since that game is a horror survival, in several situations of the game basically you need to pick who to help/who survives. As you can imagine it will influence the outcome of the plot later.

Now, on a RPG I know that sucks when you lose permanently a character. But I also think would be cool (adding more realism - if all characters are invincible and never die, is not much realistic..) and also be part of a gameplay (you might want to replay the game several times to find out what change if you saved another character instead).

I'm not sure what players think, but as game designer I am really intrigued by this idea 8)
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Themobboss
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Re: "Tough decisions" in a RPG

Post by Themobboss »

I really like the idea. As you say it does give additional replay value and makes you consider your choices more heavily. As a goodie-goodie player I'm more of a fan of situations where you can get characters killed but there are also paths available, usually with more work, that allow me to keep everyone alive. That way I can appreciate the difficulty and seriousness but also experience the thrill of total success (like Mass Effect 2's suicide mission). Still it can be a relief sometimes to kill off or somehow rid myself of annoying characters :mrgreen:
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jack1974
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Re: "Tough decisions" in a RPG

Post by jack1974 »

Yes I know that some people would like to save all characters until the end of the story. Maybe I can change it so that they don't die, but cannot fight / take part in the story anymore, if that can help them feel better :mrgreen:
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pysali
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Re: "Tough decisions" in a RPG

Post by pysali »

Wow this is one of those that I actually can't vote on. On the one hand I do not mind character death to further a plot or add more tension in an appropriate piece. On the other hand though I've never been a fan of making a game darker and grittier for the sake of darker and grittier by chucking a character into death just to ratchet up the emotional tension or squeeze a tear out of me. I think the 'tough decisions' mechanic can really work well in a horror or adventure scenario, possibly even in a murder mystery case with a locked house/vacation from hell situation. Or a variation with a visual novel where if you get caught in a love triangle and they find out about each other then yes, you do end up having to choose and if you mess it up badly enough you get neither person.

As examples:

Like - You're in a Theseus and the Labyrinth style game and your playable is one of the nine men or nine women who are given as sacrifice to the Minotaur. Depending on who you befriend, help out or save you can have up to two different people from that pool of initiates that will journey with you throughout the game (not all of them being usable, but like six total, 3 men, 3 women, the others being killed in ways or locations you cannot help with). Depending on your play through you have a lot of different player set up combos right there from just those six people, especially since four of them must die/be inaccessible after the first chapter. Especially if the deaths/decisions aren't hard scripted so the players decisions feel like they matter rather than people having a walkthrough with the perfect way to get X or Y character through each and every time. Not 'Don't take Sheila down the fire trap hallway, she's an idiot and stands in fire' instead it can be 'here are the methods we've found where Sheila doesn't die, but here's a list of ways she can.'

The Mass Effect series did well with this, though they were a bit static and linear in the solutions for loyalty missions.

Dislike - You're adventuring with your brother/sister and your adventuring party. Suddenly your sibling is stolen away by the evil person in charge of evil! And you don't really do anything for like two chapters of the game because you've got a side thing. Which is just, what? Something vaguely pointed out by the kindly wizard in your party that your higher destiny is that you have to stay on your path, which involves stabbing 500 more orcs to get a fabled sword, but don't worry, your sibling will be alive and well waiting at the final boss fight. Or you eventually get back to finding/saving your sibling, but then the bad guy needs to up the anti and stabs them fatally because you weren't taking your quest seriously enough. Revenge!

Dragon Age 2 and the siblings. Especially if you're a mage and you've got Bethany. Complete disconnect for me because logically my Hawke should have been in the same situation as Bethany, only she wasn't and she made no effort to even try and help her sister.

I think it depends on how overly played the cliche is and why the death is being used. Sometimes a death out of nowhere for a valued NPC can be really heart wrenching and appropriate, but a death out of nowhere 'Rocks fall, everyone back there dies' in a party is incredibly frustrating as a player. Depending on the death. If you refrigerate the body of the main players girl/boyfriend solely for the sake of providing the reason why they fight that's irritating as hell. If the decisions really feel like they're in the players hands 'X chose to go this way through the house, but didn't help Diego with the broken through steps here and so he was injured and slower in this confrontation' that's interesting. More so than scripted things like having the thief nobly sacrifice themselves to save everyone and making that decision on their own with absolutely no player imput or ability to talk them out of it or choose a different person.

I think a lot of my hesitation for the 'tough decisions' scenario comes from being a woman and keenly aware that a lot of times this comes down to 'your princess is in another castle!' or 'No your wife/sister/daughter is dead, go out and get revenge!!!' and I get mightily tired of seeing female characters have almost no development beyond, 'she's in danger go save her. Don't worry, she'll just be hanging around waiting.' Shoot a lot of times they don't even get to have a pulse except in flashbacks. Substitute kids for almost all of these situations. When it comes down to it, I like the concept, but I'm leery of the way it tends to get used especially in fantasy or comic books.

Also I agree with Themobboss, I too like games where if I work a lot harder I can save everyone, but it takes more time and thoughtful planning. That way I can be evil in other play throughs and try to defeat the big bad with nothing but a rubber band because everyone else died by my foolish decisions.
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Themobboss
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Re: "Tough decisions" in a RPG

Post by Themobboss »

I think it really comes down to how you'd want a character death to impact the tone of the story. While in a perfect world I prefer a game where nothing really bad happens to the protagonist and friends there's something truly powerful in a "good and meaningful" death. Pysali pointed out some powerful examples and I'd toss in one more, Dragon Age 2 with the "All that remains" quest. It's probably the most heart wrenching experience I've had in any game, it's brutal, uncompromising, and honest while at the same time furthering the overall tone that the game had established.
Trust your judgement with it though. With Loren you've really hit on the three legs of a "good and meaningful" death. Does it make sense? Yes Does it fit with the tone of the story? Yes Does it advance the story in a meaningful way? Yes. So if you feel like the story you're creating truly calls for it don't be afraid to use it.

One other thing, an element that made "All that remains" so powerful was that the events for it were set in motion much earlier. Even though it was impossible to do anything to alter the outcome the "over the horizon" aspect really makes you think, " What could I have done way before to get a different outcome?" A simple game choice of 'if I turn left here X dies right away but if I turn left all is well' has it's uses, but there's just something about if I save X in Act 1 there's consequences not in Act 1 but in Act 3. Also things like the unintended consequences. In Baldur's Gate 2 there's a, it's not even a quest, but a scene. You enter into a tavern and witness a Romeo and Juliet esque situation with two young lovers being separated by their respective families. You have the option to go to the lovebirds and convince them that love should conquer all and they should be together no matter what the folks say. Sounds wonderful, except the reason the folks kept them apart is because they are a pair of pyromaniacs.
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pysali
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Re: "Tough decisions" in a RPG

Post by pysali »

I had forgotten about the 'All that Remains' quest line. It was very powerful and had a lot of prior set up. I also liked the final choice in Loren and thought it made a lot of sense and was also very poignant.

Themobboss is right, ultimately you should use your judgement Jack. And it can be fun as hell in a horror/survival game. I noticed you mentioned Horror Steampunk RPG in your weekly blog post. That could have a lot of intense potential especially if there are clues or small hints that things are going to go a bit crazy later on. It can really add to the overall tension. I'm a bit of a romantic so I instinctively want to grab all the characters in my party and hide them from anything awful and terrible that could happen to them, but yes, death can be a very powerful tool, even sprinkled throughout the story as opposed to being either the initial motivator or the ultimate sacrifice.

*hides all the Loren characters in a bag with air holes*
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jack1974
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Re: "Tough decisions" in a RPG

Post by jack1974 »

Thanks for the input. I am not really sure indeed if this way can work well in a RPG. I mean in a normal VN or even a dating/life sim you're expected to replay the game several times to see all the different endings, while in a RPG is very different... I know that as a player I hated when Bethany died in Dragon Age, so that I was almost tempted to quit (and I feel like other people would think the same).
So either I make it work so that you can save them all if you find the right strategy, or simply use this idea not in a RPG but in a VN/life sim :)
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jack1974
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Re: "Tough decisions" in a RPG

Post by jack1974 »

I saw you two other posts after I posted the reply above and wanted to clarify better. I wasn't talking about a "late in the game" deaths, but since is horror, they would happen early in the game. There would be key points where you must literally choose who dies and who remains alive. If was only a later event like the 'All that Remains' quest (which I thought was wonderful too indeed) or even Loren final decision, I would have no doubts about making it :) but as I wanted to do, I am not sure it could be fun in a RPG or mostly piss players off. Well, is not like I must decide NOW anyway :mrgreen:
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MarSel
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Re: "Tough decisions" in a RPG

Post by MarSel »

I like the idea as long as it is a choice and not a done deal. I hate growing attached to a character only to find out they die later and they is nothing you can do about it and the annoying character you hate survives.
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jack1974
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Re: "Tough decisions" in a RPG

Post by jack1974 »

No no, it would be a choice, but I guess if I put 5-6 "Tough Decisions" and let's say the game has total 12-14 playable characters (like Loren+expansion) I guess there could always be someone unhappy. I would make the pick between two opposite characters, like in Loren for example Rei - Mesphit, or Chambara - Myrth. Haha I think people would hate to have to choose only one character to save though :lol:
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