Article - The Responsive World

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AuthorTopic: Article - The Responsive World
Triad Mage
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The Responsive World

Something that a lot of designers of neglect to consider is the fact that the world, or at least the area of the scenario, will change in response to what the party does. This can and should be different depending on the scale and type of scenario that you're writing, but it should happen in all of them, unless you make it a point of the scenario that the party has no effect on anything (which would be very weird and very interesting).

There are quite a few ways to go about making a fully responsive world. The easiest and most common is changing dialogue based on events that happen and things that the party does. A step up from that is changing dialogue and the perceptions of the towns by including some sort of a 'reputation' or 'karma' counter that can be used to lower/raise prices, get hired by more prestigious people, and so on. The last step is causing far-reaching effects as a result of what the party says, doing other events, et cetera.

Changing dialogue is the preferred way of getting these changes across to the player, and it's incredibly easy to do so in Blades of Avernum. Having dialogue depend on a condition, having strings removed and added, and dialogue actions like INTRO and DEP_ON_SDF all greatly improve the control that we have over dialogue. This makes it a cinch to change everyone in the town from being scared of the baddies to happy that you killed them.

This does not have to be contained to the threatened town - maybe all of the towns nearby have heard of what you did and now more options become open. That's getting into the second type of changing world, based on the deeds of the party and changing the perceptions of the characters with regards to it.

Another important thing to remember is that if the big den of monsters has been cleaned out, all outdoor encounters related to it should disappear, either with a message upon encountering them, or just purely destroying them. Outdoor encounters, unless used properly, do not add a lot to a scenario.

The second method of changing the world requires an SDF or two that would serve as a reputation or karma counter. As the player did more quests or said things that people liked, NPCs would become more friendly. This can also work the opposite way, and it's great to see either one. Knowing that your actions have an effect on how you can play the game makes the player think.

It's fairly easy to implement these changes too. Something easy to do is call a state when entering a town that uses an else-if ladder to determine a dialog box to show that describes how the town feels about you. It could be "They notice you and start talking excitedly. These are the adventurers who killed X, Y, and Z," or "The citizens of the town sneer at you as you walk by. You certainly don't feel welcomed here," or something in-between.

There are still dialogue changes, and everything from the first level should be included here as well. In addition to those before, using actions like SET_SDF upon giving a favorable/unfavorable response will allow you to let the party express their opinion through dialogue, and then you can concoct the appropriate responses. This is particularly effective in scenarios with multiple sides to join, as it can be used to determine how each side views you, à la Geneforge.

The third method is by no means the most intricate method available, but it's still more complicated than the two described above. This can't be used in all scenarios, but it can be extremely effective when it's used properly. It still builds on the first method, and it's possible that it would implement the second as well. The main idea with this method is 'consequences'.

Everything the party does will have consequences and repercussions in the world - some foreseeable, and others not. If the designer implements them, it makes for a much more challenging and fun game to play. Shutting off the power to an old factory that's spawning muck monsters may also shut down the waste-processing plant, which could dump sewage into the water supply, poisoning a town.

Variable Town Entry is generally fit for a purpose like that - if a town changes radically, especially its terrain, and if people die or have dramatically different dialogue responses, you'd be better off creating a whole new town and just replacing the old one. This generally fits in when a disaster occurs, towns are wiped out or attacked, or even when there have just been so many changes that it would be better to just have half happen in a completely new town.

Something you have to ensure when working with VTE is continuity. If someone gives you a quest in the old town and is still alive in the new town, they should still give you a reward, or at least acknowledge the deed. Maybe the economy has crashed between getting and finishing the quest, and he can't pay you in gold - only copper. This creates a little bit of an 'oh, man' factor, and it encourages the player to replay the scenario and see if they can complete the quest before the disaster occurs.

Imagining and implementing these consequences will allow for a fuller game that immerses the party and lets them know that for every action, there is a response, even if it may seem like there isn't. A very good way to mix it up a little is to have the original quest you were supposed to solve create a horrible and unforeseen problem that you now have to deal with, because you were the one that mucked it up in the first place.

As a player, you always want to play in a world that makes you feel like what you do is either important or has effects. Playing in a static world is no fun. Even though this may not apply to some scenarios (especially ones where you can't go backwards to places you've already been), it helps if every designer would consider them.

"At times discretion should be thrown aside, and with the foolish we should play the fool." - Menander
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Posts: 9436 | Registered: Wednesday, September 19 2001 07:00
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one of the reasons i like avernum better than exile is because that there is reputation in avernum
Posts: 26 | Registered: Monday, April 12 2004 07:00
Shock Trooper
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Nice article. It gave me some more insight to a problem I'm having. I found that is hard to mix all three and a few other element together it make a real life enviroment. Even harder when its your first try at making a scenario. But its coming out better then I had hoped. Maybe I'll be done by the time I'm fifty. =o

Once more thanks for the article, it has helped answer questions I didn't even know I had.
Posts: 228 | Registered: Monday, October 21 2002 07:00