Pictured above: The fast-paced, action-filled, edge of your seat dialogue system in Mass Effect
This is my first cblog, so I thought I’d start out by revealing something about myself: I love playing as the hero in RPGs. Constantly, incessantly, without fail when given the choice between a good or evil moral choice, I go with good. No matter how annoying or frustrating the NPC, I walk the path of righteousness. Why? Maybe because I didn’t have adequate acceptance from my peers as a child. Maybe my ego demands that all people, both real and virtual, see me as a likable figure. Or maybe I’m just a good person (unlikely, but possible).
For whatever reason, I choose to be a good guy. What do RPG developers do to reward this behavior compared to the rewards a player gets by choosing to be evil? Normally, I get a rushed thanks and some gold or a weapon, plus a little boost to my karma or whatever arbitrary point system used to differentiate between saintly and Hitler-esque. And if I’m really lucky, I get no gold or weapon but more karma.
Frankly, just getting a pat on the back and stuff what kills things gooder gets boring. I could try being evil, but it basically pans out the same way. Carcasses and some more stuff that puts down your enemies right quick. It’s like being a kid at Christmas who only gets sweaters and school stuff. You only really get two options in these games that are pretty much the same formula. Here’s how I boil down every moral choice ever-
Good Decision + Kill Bad Guys = Profit
Evil Decision + Kill Good Guys = Profit
Good or Bad seems to be the only variable that’s available to the player, and that’s a problem. When I talk about this with others, most of them think the solution is to add more moral ambiguity. While I agree that may be part of the solution, I don’t think that’s the only way. There are many more variables that are rarely considered that can be added to this equation. For example, in Fable 2, your actions changed how every NPC interacted with you. As a good guy, you were loved by every woman and respected by every man (or some combination thereof). This made it easy to get a spouse and get discounts at stores with increased inventories. So the Lionhead formula would be-
Good Decision + Kill Bad Guys = Popularity
Evil Decision + Kill Good Guys = Infamy
The way the NPCs in Fable 2 react to you doesn’t significantly change how the game plays out, but what if it did? In games like Persona 4, Knights of the Old Republic: The Sith Lords, and Mass Effect (sorta), your main character had to have conversations with his or her allies, it was a key part of the game. As you became better friends in Persona 4, new powers and abilities would become available. If you said the right things to the right characters in KOTOR, you could fill your space frieghter full of Jedi or Sith. And in Mass Effect you could unlock brand new stories through entirely optional conversation. Lets say this kind of formula looks like this-
Popularity + Good Decision = Profit
Infamy + Evil Decision = Profit
There’s an overlap between these games and another genre that most people ignore. Namely, dating sims. Like RPGs, you slowly build up your character to meet a goal. While that goal is usually doing the nasty in dating sims, the underlying concept of words being your primary weapon to affect change in the world is terribly unnoticed.
Try to imagine now, a game set in WWII where you’re a spy behind enemy lines out to spread anti-Nazi propaganda, or an RPG where you lead a squadron of misfit soldiers whose abilities are directly guided by not only the missions you send them on, but also by how they view you, or if you’re a particularly sadistic type, a Phoenix Wright style game where you discover and attack your enemies insecurities to send them into a downward spiral of psychological uncertainty.
I’m just spit balling with these, but the whole choice system and charisma stat in general are way too limited. If it’s not discussed, we’ll get more games with moral challenges like “Save the World or Kick a Cat?”.
Which would be just great.