Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 11, 2010
Time for another li’l update on Frayed Knights – that indie RPG that more than 6.5 BILLION PEOPLE have never heard of.
One of the dangers I face on this blog, where I occasionally criticize aspects of games that I feel were done poorly, is that I leave myself open to the same criticisms of my own work. And deservedly so. The pure critic has it easy – they can rip on other people’s stuff with relative impunity without ever having to produce anything in return other than the occasionally clever prose. But I not only realize that I have the potential to be savaged by the very standards I apply to others, I also recognize to my chagrin where my own deficiencies are occurring, and I doggedly continue down the same path of weakness and failure.
I’m finding myself making the same mistakes others have made (and I have criticized), and allowing myself to live with certain weaknesses and limitations of the engine and game system that I’m not particularly happy with. But the thing is – if we had to get it perfect, we’d never release a game. By “we” I mean pretty much everybody, indies and mainstream developers. But in the way of the alternative lay madness. And Duke Nukem Forever. The tough part is knowing where to draw the line – what battles to fight, and on which ones to yield the field.
So with that in mind, I read this article about choice and consequences in RPGs, and immediately began kicking myself for what could be yet another failure of Frayed Knights. I love those big, melodramatic decisions that have real long-term consequences. My immediate thought was, “Gah, that’s one more thing Frayed Knights isn’t doing right!”
A little reflection reminded me of two things:
#1 – Frayed Knights isn’t that kind of game. I want to make games like this, but Frayed Knights isn’t one. I’d probably wreck the game if I tried to force it to be that kind of game.
#2 – Actually, it does have some of this. Just … not at this kind of level.
Now, there are some decisions that may or may not come back to haunt you later in the game. Like the choice in the pilot on whether or not to rescue the girl. The party makes a very sensible case as to why that might not be such a good idea in the pilot. They aren’t wrong. It’s not a big deal, either way (or in similar situations later in the game) – it won’t radically change the game – but you won’t necessarily receive an immediate congratulations and acknowledgment of whether or not you made the “right” decision.
Most conversations in Frayed Knights do not have decision points. You don’t choose whether to be a good guy or a jerk in conversations. There are plenty of optional quests and locations to visit in the game, but the story and progression is at least somewhat linear.
But as I was inspired by “old-school” CRPG and pen-and-paper RPG design, I have ended up leaving a lot of the decisions not about what you do, but how you do it.
As an example: a theoretical plot. There’s a bad guy living in this castle across a lake who has been a real jerk.
As a player, the only “decision” I instinctively think of is whether to take a boat or march around the lake to go to the castle to kick the bad guy’s deserving keister.
Standard computer game design is to put a bunch of obstacles – either physical or plot-based – that you must linearly overcome in order to plant your boot in said bad guy’s armor-plated rump. And locked doors. Your character may be able to demolish entire cities with the force of their will, but one locked door baffles them.
Okay – now I’m not entirely getting away from that in Frayed Knights. I’m committing my fair share of this crime, too. But I’m still making some efforts to allow the player to act on his basic instinct, and make a beeline for the bad guy. It will probably end up with the player receiving the bootprint on his butt, but it’s possible. I’ve always admired the games that allowed this – Oblivion, Fallout, etc.
The pilot episode of Frayed Knights included an (inadvertent) example of this. You could make your way straight to the statue room, bypassing most of the dungeon. However, by taking the long way, you:
#1 – Pick up some better equipment and extra potions to help you on your way.
#2 – Don’t have to worry about attracting attention while you pick the lock of the portcullis.
#3 – Have an easier battle with the high priest, Kraltic Barg, as you don’t have to suffer waves of reinforcements from all the rooms you neglected on the way in.
Not all quests / adventures are like this, but I am trying to follow this as a general principle where it makes sense. They aren’t big, earth-shattering consequences that radically change the entire flow of the game. And the game world isn’t organic enough that I can simply set quest objectives and allow emergent behavior and gameplay to provide a bunch of alternate paths for me.
But I hope that players will feel the game does provide some interesting options and room for choice in how they go about accomplishing their objectives.
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