Firing every gun

AuthorTopic: Firing every gun
Electric Sheep One
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To me BoA is just something I might try in some happy distant day when I have lots more time, but I'm generally interest in the theory of game design, so this might be a good question for this board.

Chekov laid down the rule for drama, that "One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." This has been elaborated by various people. I first heard it as a rule for short stories, that a gun mentioned in the first paragraph must be fired by the end of the story.

Does this principle apply to CRPGs?

Jeff has said, in connection with his plans for A5, that in future he wants to have tighter plots, with chokepoints and channels so that players can't wander randomly over wide areas, doing or not doing all sorts of things in arbitrary order. This seems to me to be going in a Chekov's gun direction.

On the one hand it sounds like a nice, disciplined principle. But on the other hand, the problem with Chekov's gun is that it telegraphs the drama's punches. (Metaphor Kama Sutra for the win.) See the gun, wait for the shot. So Chekov's gun only really works for you if you're the first person doing it; once everyone does it, it sucks. And CRPGs are so full of conventions anyway, designing one according to Chekov's gun will just make it obvious and predictable.

Or?

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We're not doing cool. We're doing pretty.
Posts: 3335 | Registered: Thursday, September 4 2003 07:00
Lifecrafter
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There are a few popular variations on this principle:
Leave a loaded gun onstage, play it as though someone will use it, and at the moment of truth, throw in a plot twist.
Leave the loaded gun onstage and use it as a metaphor.
Leave the loaded gun onstage as character development.
Leave the loaded gun onstage and confuse people with it (a la Lost).
Leave the loaded gun onstage. Then take it offstage. Then bring it back (cycle ad infinitum). Then, use the lack of a gun as a plot point.
Leave the loaded gun onstage, and then club someone with it.

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The Silent Assassin leaves the gun onstage and then promptly tasers you when you start to investigate why there's a gun onstage.
Clever, yes. But he's still a jerk.

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-Lenar Labs
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Ushmushmeifa: Lenar's power is almighty and ineffable.

All hail lord Noric, god of... well, something important, I'm sure.
Posts: 735 | Registered: Monday, January 16 2006 08:00
Law Bringer
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Personally, I've grown to love including things that the recommended party shouldn't be able to do (see SoG), as well as things that just don't really go anywhere at all. There's a lot to be said for elements of the game added for atmosphere, whether it's adding real conversations to the starting town's inn or being able to get multiple versions of the same story from different NPCs.

Anyway, I like to leave a bunch of guns on stage, loaded and unloaded. Because seriously, when will there be just one "gun" in a room? :P

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Thuryl: "Runescape: for people who are too stupid to save their games."

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Posts: 4130 | Registered: Friday, March 26 2004 08:00
Law Bringer
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Then there is the gun brought on stage where its purpose is forgotten by the creator. For example the Nethergate puzzle box in the lair of Reptrakos.
Posts: 4643 | Registered: Friday, February 10 2006 08:00
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Chekhov is one of my favorite playwrights. I'd rather see a good production of one of his plays than just about anything else. He knew his stuff. But he wasn't necessarily a good computer game designer. It's good to leave a few misdirections and loose threads in.

"Then there is the gun brought on stage where its purpose is forgotten by the creator. For example the Nethergate puzzle box in the lair of Reptrakos."

No. I am not stupid. I'm not sure why you assume I am.

I create items like that to leave me options later on. Later on, I might need a game element to tie in somewhere, and the puzzle box gives me a potential tool to use. And, if I never have a place in, it's a perfectly good red herring, and it creates a little sense of mystery. I "forgot" nothing.

And, by the way, the puzzle box has exactly the same position in Nethergate: Resurrection as it did in the original. It's doing exactly what I want it to do.

If you want to see another excellent example of this, head on over to the Geneforge 4 forum and look for threads about the true identity of "Shaper Monarch."

- Jeff Vogel

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spidweb@spiderwebsoftware.com
Posts: 960 | Registered: Tuesday, September 18 2001 07:00
Raven v. Writing Desk
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Aha! So you're saying Shaper Monarch is really Sylak. ;)

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Posts: 3560 | Registered: Wednesday, November 7 2001 08:00
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"Aha! So you're saying Shaper Monarch is really Sylak."

It's Garzahd, FTW!

- Jeff Vogel

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spidweb@spiderwebsoftware.com
Posts: 960 | Registered: Tuesday, September 18 2001 07:00
Law Bringer
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I based my reply on the puzzle box on these topics one, two, three where Schrodinger and Aloreal said that Jeff had forgotten. I guess that this is a Spiderweb legend.
Posts: 4643 | Registered: Friday, February 10 2006 08:00
Shaper
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Alorael long ago spake thusly:
quote:
written March 29, 2003 11:20 PM —Alorael, who has a suspicious feeling that the "puzzle" in the Puzzle Box is that it has no use. Once again, Jeff is getting many laughs at the expense of his poor gamers."
Wisely suspcious and suspiciously wise words from the insightful. Pearlblossom's necklace must fall into the red herring bin as well.

-S-

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A4 ItemsA4 SingletonG4 ItemsG4 ForgingG4 Infiltrator NR Items The Lonely Celt
Posts: 2009 | Registered: Monday, September 12 2005 07:00
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"Pearlblossom's necklace must fall into the red herring bin as well."

Normally I wouldn't comment on this, but this thread is about design theory, so sure.

In Nethergate, for those not familiar, you meet this sad old pixie named Peaseblossom, who was banished from the lovely faery fort because some old faery biddy mistakely though Peaseblossom stole an earring, Years of players of this game have tried to right this injustice.

But it can't be done. The earring was permanently lost or found centuries ago by someone else, or whatever. All it is is a sad story and a red herring. It was designed to serve as such.

Why do this? To frustrate the players? To be mean? No. It makes a point about the world of the faeries: that it is a harsh place, and not all rights can be wronged. It creates an emotional involvement that a tidy loose end and a "quest completed" message never could.

When I rewrote Nethergate, I seriously considered and rejected adding some closure to the Peaseblossom quest. But, like the puzzle box, I left it be. I want Shadowvale to still have some mystery to it.

So there is my answer to the loaded gun question.

- Jeff Vogel

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spidweb@spiderwebsoftware.com
Posts: 960 | Registered: Tuesday, September 18 2001 07:00
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One other thing. I am a huge fan of the Sopranos.

In one episode a couple seasons back, we see, very briefly, that the main character, Tony Soprano, has a hand grenade hidden in his house. Not just a gun. Not just an assault rifle. A FRICKIN' GRENADE.

Nothing has ever come of this. I hope nothing ever does. I hope it's just there to provide an extra touch of dread.

I worship Chekhov. But, on the gun issue, he was wrong. But remember, he was writing at a time when goofy melodrama was the primary theatrical mode. In that context, gun has to be fired, sure.

- Jeff Vogel

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spidweb@spiderwebsoftware.com
Posts: 960 | Registered: Tuesday, September 18 2001 07:00
Electric Sheep One
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Pearlblossom seemed to work fine for me; she made the points Jeff said she made. The puzzle box would be much more frustrating, I think, because you want to see what's in it; but by the time I found it I already knew there wasn't any way to open it, so I was happy to keep it as an indication that dragons are mysterious.

So I don't buy the interpretation of Chekov's principle that forbids all possible loose ends.

But I picture Chekov talking about rather small sets without too many props, and a prominent gun that draws the audience's attention. A gun is obviously something that could do a lot. Moreover, the official Chekov principle is not that the gun must be fired, but that somebody must be thinking of firing it. The story doesn't necessarily have to take the obvious path, but it has to recognize and address it.

And this seems to me to be more generally valid. On this view, Chekov's gun in Nethergate isn't against Pearlblossom. It would be against never having a big battle between Celts and Roman soldiers. From the beginning of the game onward the player is reminded of Roman legions demolishing Celtic resistance, and there are plenty of Roman troops wandering around the fort area. The Legion is the gun placed prominently onstage. Will it ever attack any of these weird Celts and Faeries? And in the end it does, Bang!

For me, it would have also been acceptable to have no such battle, but instead a dialog pane that offers some excellent reason why the big Roman attack can't happen. For example, Nero recalls everyone, playing the theme of Roman military might against the theme of Roman political corruption. Not as fun in a CRPG as a big fight, but dramatically okay. The gun doesn't have to be fired, as long as its firing is considered.

What I really don't like are big, obvious possibilities that are simply ignored. Chekov's gun as the elephant in the middle of the room. I can't think of any cases where Jeff has done that, but I bet it's a problem for beginners.

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We're not doing cool. We're doing pretty.
Posts: 3335 | Registered: Thursday, September 4 2003 07:00
? Man, ? Amazing
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I like that in ZKR you don't have access to the dragon's treasure. I mean, what would you do with it all?

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WWtNSD?
Posts: 4114 | Registered: Monday, April 25 2005 07:00
Shake Before Using
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Why, sell it and retire wealthy, of course.

Or, more realistically, buy yourself more training and spell levels. :P
Posts: 3234 | Registered: Thursday, October 4 2001 07:00
Law Bringer
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*bump* To preserve material
Posts: 4643 | Registered: Friday, February 10 2006 08:00