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Kickstarter For Our New Game/Series - Queen's Wish: The Conqueror

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1 hour ago, Faith Feeding Fate said:

A home base and a home cast of characters are useful plot elements. They just need to feel like plot more than mechanics or the game loses story and starts feeling like a return to town in Progress Quest.

Somewhat tangential, but this reminds me of a horrible experience I had in Shadowrun: Hong Kong, which reflects more generally on a CRPG issue that I've been sort of thinking about:

Every time you progress the main quest by another mission in Hong Kong, each NPC in the hub area gets a new conversation you can have with them. However, since each NPC also has their own little character arc, you need to read all the conversations to understand all what's going on with each of them, so if you skip a conversation, go and do another main quest, and come back, any conversation(s) you didn't have yet will be backlogged, and you can have all the conversations you haven't yet had with a given NPC in the correct order at any time- even though the conversations are written as if a span of days or weeks is passing between them, and you're catching up with the characters each time you talk to them. The problem I had was that I skipped out on talking to several characters (a troll family running a nightclub) for most of the game, because they're irrelevant side characters who never give you quests, and their own stories aren't particularly interesting. So, near the end of the game, I went to talk to them before I entered the endgame, and I hadn't found out about the conversation backlog thing yet because I'd been talking to everyone else in the hub regularly, and I had the horrible experience of watching this troll family's (dull, melodramatic, and sort of racist) family drama story arc play out in a twisted way where I'd talk to one character repeatedly, and get a month or more's worth of conversations and story development out of them, then talk to another and get all that from them, etc. When this happened, it was unsettling to me in the way that it exposed how baldly formulaic and mechanistic the game and characters were, and how it exposed this queasy gap between my experience of the game and how the game was "meant" or expected to be experienced, and of course how it exposed how dull and shallow the writing was and how little I had been enjoying it.

I've never had anything quite so unpleasant happen in any Spiderweb games, but the Avadons have an unfortunate tendency to edge into territory adjacent to this- where, perversely, the writer/designer's desire to have more plot- and more characters and more quests and more character arcs to flesh out the worldbuilding- results in a less-engaging experience which is more baldly mechanistic, an experience where you eventually come to the realization that you're not talking to these characters (or doing these sidequests, or reading these in-game encyclopedia entries) because you care about them or their stories or the world they live in, but because you're acting compulsively because you want to see all the dialogue and get all the quest rewards and so on.

Conversely, although the other Spiderweb series are maybe "shallower" in the execution of the writing or design, with less-developed characters and less in-depth worldbuilding and less dialogue, this actually works better at creating the feeling of a living, breathing world, which you the player feels interested in exploring and learning about; not just in the obvious "show don't tell" sense of having the player learn something about the world by seeing it in the wild instead of reading about it, but in the way it results in a greater diversity of experience and gives the player a greater feeling of agency.

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What would you all think about a game that decoupled a quest hub from its physical location? Say a modern setting game that still locked locations/content based on quest progression, but all you had to do was check in via texting with NPCs?

 

@Goo: I see stuff like that as an inevitable concession to the medium. That example could be done more organically; for example, dialogue would be as above if the player missed only one or two updates, but after missing n updates, you get an abbreviated synopsis. But that's a lot of extra writing overhead, when writing is already one of the more time-consuming parts of creating a game.

 

(The other option is to simply allow the player to miss content if they don't talk to the right person at the right time. Some players like that, most don't.)

 

Every once in a while you see someone complaining about the standard dialogue tree model. How silly, how inorganic, how immersion-breaking it is that you can ask the same question to an NPC one hundred times and it will give the same response a hundred times. And yeah, that would never happen with a tabletop game, or in reality for that matter. But with CRPGs there are time constraints. And sometimes you as the player miss something and need to reread it, or you return to an old save after a months-long hiatus and need to reacquaint yourself.

 

(It would be neat to have a bespoke game master chained to my screen, but so far no one is offering.)

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(I wrote a long essay thing here explaining what I meant but then realized most of it was totally irrelevant to the issue at hand so I dumped it all. It is still very tangential to the topic.)

 

I think it's more than just a medium constraints thing. I have no problem with dialogue trees or unrealistically repetitive conversations, any more than I have with the idea of a party of a few adventurers being able to take on and defeat a thousand enemies in a row without lasting injury. The issue I have is with the writing, and the mismatch between the writing, the writers' expectations (that is, that the player will read and want to read all the text they can get).

 

Basically, I think the problem I described, which Avadon also suffers from, although less acutely, is the result of a) the game designers and writers wanting to pump ever-more character and lore stuff into their CRPGs, because players respond positively to that stuff (and the game is written in such a way that it's clear that all the dialogue is MEANT to be read); b) the writers' inspiration and time being finite, meaning more text cannot generally be sustained at a high level of quality and interest to the player; leading to c) poor writing doing a poor job of cloaking the narratological gears turning "under the hood" of the game, making what should come across as an exciting, flowing story come across instead as the result of tired, overworked writers simply going down a checklist of things they have to put in the game- characters whose arcs need resolved, sidequests that have to be completed. It becomes overly-apparent to the player that every character's arc starts and ends when the game starts and ends. Each arc advances in lockstep, moving to the next plot beat at the exact same time. Every companion has a dark problem looming over them from their past, which can conveniently be resolved in a single sidequest, completing which also conveniently makes said companion better at killing people for you.

 

Even the very best CRPGs are, of course, totally mechanistic in this sense, and the illusion that you're interacting with living characters in a living world is an elaborate smoke-and-mirrors trick, but the best CRPGs are written in such a way that you can suspend your disbelief totally and really live in the world of the game.

 

In Avernum 1, the breadth of the game's vision more than makes up for its shallowness, and you only rarely see the gears turning. In Avadon 1, the game is theoretically much deeper, with your companions getting substantial amounts of development, and characters like Redbeard, Miranda, Zhethron, Gryfyn, et al getting more development than almost anyone in the Avernum series does; but it's deeper in an overtly formulaic way that doesn't quite work, with the development coming in regular intervals.

 

Anyway all the point of all this originally was to say that I think the idea of quest hubs aren't necessarily bad, but they inevitably lean towards a more rigid, linear type of design which can too-easily become stifling and unfun. I think that was my point, anyway.

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I guess the reason that kind of stuff doesn't bother me much is that I've done enough work on the design and writing side of games that I can't ever really not see under the hood any more. Plus, I get frustrated enough by missing out on content that compromising believability for the sake of player convenience feels like a good tradeoff for me personally. So for what it's worth, there are players who actively prefer the design choices you dislike.

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Yeah, I think it's worth emphasizing that Exile/Avernum 1, Exile/Avernum 2, and Nethergate are all shining examples of how goog's ideals can be realized in a positive way.

 

And that includes for non-open-world, more linear games.  Exile/Avernum 2 has a long, linear, non-repeatable part to it early on that has generally been quite well received.

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