A World to Explore

Now there is a problem with „Choose-your-own-adventure“-style branching stories: the complexity grows with every decision the player can make. It is clearly impossible to create something like an open world or to visit different locations at the player’s whim with branching elements. A large studio can do it, like Quantic Dream did with Heavy Rain, but it is always limiting.

This is getting out of hand, and we just had two decisions per branch yet…

The answer is a web instead of a tree. We need locations, that are interconnected and can be traversed by the player back and forth. Like this, the player can visit a vast number of locations in an order, that he likes. But this is lacking the actual decision making and the progression.

Now we have a world to explore, which can be easily expanded, but it is still dead, without interactions…

So what we need is combine the two approaches. The player must be able to change the locations with the actions he takes there. He might even be able to change the location in one or more ways, as his decisions dictate. Each location represents its own branching decision tree in a way, but can be visited and abandoned in more than one of those states. The decisions and events in one location can even affect the states of other locations.

Now we can change the world!

This approach is expandable as well. The player character can have his own stats, that can be changed by triggering certain events in locations. He can learn new skills, he can improve his abilities, he can earn a reputation that might open some doors elsewhere. Of course he can find loot, new weapons, armor and trinkets, that give him more power or new abilities. He could even gather followers, other adventurers to travel with him on their way to glory.

This way, we get a world, that can be explored and that can be played with, and that can be expanded easily, when the story demands it, with a set of a few simple systems. But the player ist still caught on a preset path, like in a labyrinth, that he can only explore, but not leave a mark on by choosing his own approach.

The story-based Approach

In my previous attempts of recreating the fun and excitement of pen & paper role playing games, I primarily focused on the pure game mechanics. I would always start out by writing down game mechanics and implementing them, like character creation, combat mechanics, item stats and thelike, sometime of my own making, sometimes in an attempt to faithfully recreate a known Pen&Paper system. Only one of those attempts saw the day of light (Quest for Revenge), but numerous didn’t. The projects quickly became too big and unmanageable for one single designer and developer, and were abandoned because I ran out of time or, sometimes, motivation.

I still think, that the recreation of those mechanics is an important step for the look and feel of those specific Pen&Paper systems (still dreaming about implementing my beloved D&D 4th Edition rules), but the true core of the Pen&Paper experience lies elsewhere. One of its most important aspects is the collaborative storytelling. This is why railroading your players sucks, because only one is telling a story and forcing it onto the others. We can’t quite recreate this type of storytelling in games to this day, unless you count curious experiments like Sleep is Death. But it is clear, that we need to tell a story in our game, and that the player must have at least some influence on it. The most basic form of this are choose-your-own-adventure style books. Its very rudimentary, but the player gets to decide the path of the story, although it is predefined, and storytelling is basically its core mechanic.

Mechanics vs. Storytelling?
Mechanics vs. Storytelling?

This shall be the basis of my concept. The main focus is telling a branching story, in which the player can decide the outcome or at least the direction and path. But this, of course, is not enough.

Next up: A world to explore