Guy Hasson has laid down an interesting design challenge at gamasutra . In summary, it is to create a ‘fork’ in the storyline of a game such that the art assets (animations, models etc) are all used on both paths the story subsequently takes
(Note: this post has been migrated from the old site)
To add a bit of spice, there is a prize for the design with the most wildly variant paths
Sounds simple on the surface, but my first few ideas immediately hit problems. Say in one fork you are trying to protect the president and another trying to assasinate him. So the scene, scripts etc can be reused when you fail in one fork or succeed in another. However, to get from the fork to that particular scene, the players will essentially have to traverse the same spaces, and jump through the same hoops or see the same set-piece events, even if from two different perspectives. Essentially, it is the same storyline from two different angles. Worse, when the player goes back to play the other path, they will find it makes no difference to large parts of the story.
There are of course pleanty of more esoteric options. For example, having the player jump forward in time and then play everything in reverse.That still means the same story, just played in a different order. Equally, levels can be designed to be circular (two ways of getting to the same point) or modular.
My second idea involves having the same over-arching story, but having the two paths in the form of two characters. Depending on a decision the player makes, they end up playing as one or the other.
The challenge runs for another week, so I’ve decided to put the idea out there and see what Guy and others make of it. At worst I can submit a second try later and get disqualified for making multiple entries.
You are a member of a special forces team on a highly politically sensitive mission, where you get explicitly told by your superiors ‘America cannot be seen to be targeting civilians blah blah’. You get dropped behind enemy lines in thefighting. Team gets ambushed, stuff goes down, but you and some of your team make it back to a safe house along with a civilian that you’ve captured along the way.
You walk into a dimly lit room where one of your teammates has gone psycho, and is torturing the civilian prisoner. Psycho teammate, with bloodthirsty murder in his eyes, pulls a pistol and points it at the prisoner’s head. You (the game automatically for you) pull your gun and…
…shoot the prisoner. Psycho shoots you, game over (basically you’re not supposed to shoot the civilian).
…shoot Psycho (dead). Teammate C walks into the room just as you pull the trigger, and looks horrified. You spend the rest of the game not just trying to complete the mission, but also trying to justify your actions to teammate C and prevent teammate C and others in the team turning against you
At some point, one or more teammates decide to leave you and start actively trying to kill you whilst you try to complete the mission
…do nothing. Teammate D walks into the room and shoots Psycho (dead). You look horrified (as you are now teammate C). You get to chose to…
…lead other teammates to turn against Teammate D, or
…stay faithful to Teammate D and the rest of the team.
The mission has to be completed whatever path you choose. At various intervals, some minor mission has to be done. If on path 1, teammate C and his buddies get to judge whether you have justified yourself satisfactorily, or otherwise turn against you. Maybe as the game continues, they naturally become more likely to defect, thus forcing you to up your game / forcing the difficulty level higher.
Conversely, if on path 2b, side missions give you further chances to turn traitor or stay loyal
Assuming you are playing in first person perspective, then things can be manipulated so that you see neither yourself, nor teammate C/D until the scene where the decision is made. This way, when you play again and make a different decision, you see the character that you played as last time make the decision that you made last time, thus reusing all the animation and dialogue of that character and enhancing the effect that you chose to be in the other guy’s shoes this time. I.e. if I chose path 1 I become teammate D. If I chose path 2 I become teammate C
The missions, side missions and environments are all the same, ensuring maximum reuse of art assets.
You get to play in different ways; As a leader struggling to maintain loyalty after a morally tough decision; As a loyal subordinate trying to manage an increasingly paranoid leader; As a disillusioned follower looking for the right moment to leave the team? The art assets and dialogue should be all the same
Update: I won!
I won the competition in the end, though only four people entered, so was not like there was a whole bunch of competition. Still, made me smiley faced