Development Diary 3: the world and the player
In this Dev Diary we’ll talk about the game’s world, leaving aside for a moment all the details on the setting and focusing on the conceptual basis of the game design on which we’re building Zaharia.
In RPGs the player plays as a specific character, and through him he makes choices that, in theory, should influence the surrounding world. One of the first things that game designers study concerns the importance of giving all kinds of feedbacks to the player, and of making him understand that an action leads to one or more consequences. However, this principle isn’t often applied to all the elements that form a videogame.
Yes, when we click a specific button in the interface we usually hear a sound that confirms that that button has been clicked, but we think that an RPG should go further than that. One of the most fascinating things in RPGs is the fact that the player can make all kinds of choices. However, these choices should have tangible consequences over the game’s world, otherwise they’ll exist for their own sake and their utility will quickly disappear.
That’s why the gameplay can’t consist of a static group of monsters and characters that exist only to make the player level up and finish quests. That world should be a consistent and dynamic video gaming representation of the setting the developers chose to represent. In everyday life we don’t need to perform actions of any sort to make the surrounding world evolve constantly; this is the reason why a player who finds himself in a static world can’t really be totally absorbed in the context.
Not only does this process apply to the player’s choices, which should necessarily have tangible consequences consistent with the setting, but it also applies to a series of side elements that play their part in creating a credible, lively and dynamic world.
Choices and consequences
Obviously, the choices and their consequences are one of the key elements in creating a dynamic world: the player becomes part of a context, performs actions that modify this context, and these changes carry concrete consequences that can be seen for short, medium or long periods of time. It’s not necessary that each single action leads to a complete disruption of the game’s world, but it is important that also little things carry their weight.
It’s also fundamental that all the different choices are not trivialized by the abuse of a dualistic ethical system, that every time gives the player the possibility of choosing only between a good and a bad action. What is important instead, is that every choice is made coherently with the context. That means that, working on a storyline, we won’t insert the different choices using a certain ethical system as reference. We won’t forcedly include options that have nothing to do with the context just to leave the player the opportunity of adhering to the stereotype of the paladin, of the mad psychopath, of the anti-hero and so on. At all times, the player will always have to think about what is happening, he will have to understand the consequences of his actions and, finally, he will have to make decisions choosing between the available options, options that will rarely feature the perfect compromise that satisfies everyone, an easy way out we’ve already seen in too many games.
In addition to that, great attention will be given to the way we treat the player. We won’t consider him a stupid: it’s not necessary to explain every time each possible consequence of the choices he makes, and it’s not even necessary to always limit these choices to dialogues. An amazing aspect of games like Metro: Last Light, is the fact that the player can make choices that have a tangible impact (in this case they change the ending), but the game does never let him know that, in a specific moment, he can make a choice. Nobody tells the player not to kill a surrendering enemy soldier, but the player has the possibility of not doing it, and this choice carries real consequences. That’s why in Zaharia, the player will have to pay attention to all his possible actions, not only to those he performs during dialogues. Sneaking inside houses, attacking bandits who are planning an ambush, ignoring the requests of an individual: in all these cases the player will perform an action that will surely have an impact on the game’s world. Maybe this impact will be relatively small, but the player will be forced to think about what he does at any moment, since he will be really living inside an alternative world.
A dynamic world, independent from the player’s actions.
It’s important that the game’s world be in constant evolution, regardless of what the player is doing. That means not only that the different NPCs will have an artificial intelligence that will be in charge of their daily routine, but also that we’ll work to create all sorts of events that will unsettle the world around the player. If there’s an accident in one of the most important iron mines of Zaharia, the prices of the iron-made products will grow; if there’s a banditry increase, the travelling player will bump into several bandits as well as poor unfortunate victims; if the blacksmith of the town is ill and dies soon, he will be replaced by his apprentice who may be less capable and have fewer goods to offer.
That means that the world’s evolution is not a simple narrative stratagem whose consequence is only the appearance of some dialogues commenting current events, but instead it will have a real impact on the gameplay.
In our opinion it is thanks to expedients like that that the player will begin to feel himself part of a living world, to reason avoiding metagame’s logics and to embrace instead the zaharian reality, with its innumerable aspects.