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Player Choice and Narrative

January 14, 2014

PRACTICE 2013: Designing Narrative Choice from NYU Game Center on Vimeo.

23 minutes in, Telltale games talks about how they designed around The Walking Dead game.

What’s interesting is although they’re talking about a videogame, the issues in terms of design and what it means for players carries over a lot for tabletop rpgs.  The two points which they hit on which I think are very relevant are:

1. Choice is how players give feedback to the game

…and in designing a videogame, you need to figure out how to make the game do something with that.  They point out that a lot of narrative tree games usually give you the false choice/all roads lead to Rome approach – you can choose options but they all lead you back to doing the same required thing in the end, which makes them very much fluff choices as opposed to meaningful ones.

This obviously ties over to the problems of Illusionist play since it uses the same tactic as a core part of play, except with more variance in dialogue.

2. Narrative Tree design is a lot of work

For them, they have to develop a giant narrative tree, since the game is just a program that responds to what you do, and they spent a lot of time with a team of writers, flow charts and putting it all together to create a good story.  (and, given that the videogame is short, people do play through it repeatedly).

Compare this to the tabletop game where you have one person trying to design a narrative tree, not just for one player, but several and the fact that unlike a videogame with a clear interface, the players are not generally under the assumption they only have a limited palette of options and on top of all that – will not play through the same situation again.

By comparison, sitting there with your friends and geeking out, “Wouldn’t it be cool if?”  “What if?” kind of story building is actually pretty easy.   Unlike the videogame, you are a living person who can react and improvise on the spot to meet the players’ actions.  All these simple logistical/play reasons, on top of the social problems, are why I think Illusionism is a dead end for tabletop rpgs.

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