Friday catblogging – Excessive branching is not good

In the picture above, Othello sitting in a flower vase with a blossoming cherry tree in the background. Took it in my previous home, during spring.

Sometimes when I have a little time I play other games. Recently I bought Alpha Protocol, and was completely fascinated by it (no wonder, Obsidian is one of the best AAA developers around). It interested me a lot because of the RPG/FPS mix, but mostly because of the dialogue system and the multiple paths/branching typical of VNs.

Here is the problem. The game promises lots of different paths, every decision influences the story, and so on. And it’s TRUE. The point is – is useful? Who is going to replay the game from beginning to see what he has missed (and no guarantees that he will really see everything) ? Very FEW people, believe me. Also, in a FPS/RPG you can’t just skip the dialogues forward like in my Renpy games, so you can’t just do a “quick replay” to see what you have missed.

So I thought if wouldn’t have been a wiser choice to have still some branching, but not so many. Or that would lead to a different subplot completely, like I did with Bionic Heart. Such games should either be quickly replayable to let the player see what he missed, or tell the player “Hey, save now because there’s a big branch of the plot now, so you can reload this savegame later and pick a different direction to see what you have missed”.

I watched on youtube many videos of Alpha Protocol just to see what I had missed, because I really couldn’t afford to replay the whole thing from the beginning. It felt like a “waste of time and resources” to me. The devs could have done a longer game (is already long, but could be even longer) instead of making it so “free-play”. After all, in a story-based game, is more important to KNOW that you can have 50 different endings but that you probably will never replay it to see them all (especially if you can’t play fast-forward), or that the story is much longer?

I’m sure most players would pick the second option. That’s why in my upcoming RPG Planet Stronghold I haven’t opted to have lots of different paths: it will have a common main plot, but with missions/quest that let you have some freedom (do them in any order you want) and several romance subplots that are optional, but can be done anytime after chapter4, without the need to restart from beginning (except if you want to see the romance from another gender). In practice, save the game at beginning of chapter 4 and you can then reload it and see all possible endings/branches for your gender.

Speaking of Planet Stronghold, the next version 0.8 will be out hopefully next week, I don’t know the exact day yet because I had some eyesight problem recently, and with the Christmas busy schedule you can never know. Anyway, as I wrote several times, with version 0.8 the pre-order price will increase permanently to $19.99 so if you are interested in the game, be sure to buy it now 🙂

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9 Responses to Friday catblogging – Excessive branching is not good

  1. Igor Savin says:

    The basic flaw in your standpoint is that fun factor is calculated by formula “Gameplay Fun Quality x Game Time” and that’s it.

    Things are a bit more complicated than that.

    Truth is, most of the people don’t actually like long games. Most of us haven’t finished most of our games anyway. And we don’t play to have “20 hours of gameplay experience”, no. We play to have those ten or fifteen “OMG awesome” moments which are pretty scarce anyway.

    That’s where AP did it right. Your choices matter, and that bring satisfaction. Basically, you are allowed to shape your own gameplay experience, you are allowed to chhoose – and choice is one of the most pleasant experiences possible.

    Railroading does decrease the fun. A lot. Pseudo-freedom like “you can do A after B or B after A – you are FREE” is not a freedom at all. You are not the one in control, since sooner or later, you will HAVE to do what you would’ve preferred not to. You don’t have choice.

    “Completionist” complex is vastly overrated. Most people don’t care if they’ve seen all the ending or half of them or only one – as long as the gameplay itself was fun.

    • admin says:

      Igor: Well I agree with you completely about the game length! But as indie developer, I have hear/seen too many times the complaint “it’s short”!!! You have no idea how many people use that (maybe is an excuse?) to complain and either justify pirating the game or asking refunds.
      Druon: I believe it would have been better to use another system. Example, two parallels story with two different characters, and maybe the second characters could have been one of the girls you met in the game (like that russian girl, would have been fun to roleplay her :D). I think there could have been more interesting way to offer a longer gameplay but not using the same character (or by having flashbacks, or something else). What I mean is to find a gameplay/plot excuse to avoid replaying the same levels again to get to “the new content”.
      For example I hated the fight with the Russian drug addict (can’t remember the name, I think was Brayko) because was hard. If I knew that once I beat it, I could then on the next gameplay have the option to skip it, I would have played the game already to see the other branches. Maybe is just my personal point of view, but when I did my visual novel survey, more than half of people didn’t bother to see all the possible endings…

  2. Druon says:

    I don’t think that excessive branching in a game like Alpha Protocol is bad. Because you are not automatically supposed to do that second playthrough right away. Give the game a rest for a couple of weeks, maybe up to half a year of so, then start over. I relly think that it is a misconception to think your players by large will explore all the different branches in a game at once. Replaying value means I can pick up a game later on and still have fun, because I still got the chance to see something new and because the gameplay options may allow to express changes of my own expectations and playstyle.

    Of course there has to be a balance between the story at a whole and the number of branches/variations that a game offers. Still, I don’t agree with that waste of time and ressources line: It is only a waste if you want to show all of it at once. Now what if some feedback would get to the game designers after a year or two… from the same people that played the game right from the start, showing that the game is still going strong. 🙂

  3. Whiner says:

    For me, limited branching makes it LESS likely that I’ll see all the endings, because if the story is roughly the same anyway it’s probably not interesting enough for me to want to explore different facets through romance (and the romances are probably kinda tacked-on anyway). So I’ll just pick my favorite character and be done with it.

    But if there’s clearly big decisions to be made that change the course of the game, I’m more likely to go have a look and see what could have been, and then to pick up a different romance as well as part of my “exploring” the game.

    • admin says:

      Wel the post was more about the RPG games category, not VN/Dating Sims, since in those last two kind of games replaying it to get all the endings is part of the fun. But in a long RPG, I doubt many people start again the game several times. So my idea was that game designer should provide certain points where people know that by saving it they can then retry and see all the possible paths.

  4. Whiner says:

    I was thinking of Dragon Age, though – I wouldn’t have bothered starting over AGAIN just to get Morrigan’s path if it weren’t for all the other stupid evil options that I know I haven’t tried yet. 🙂

    • admin says:

      I admit I started again DA too, but only for the romance options. First play as female lesbian elf 😀 then discovered that couldn’t date morrigan so started as male human. Still, there are so many options I have missed, and I would have liked to play (well there’s always youtube anyway).

  5. Whiner says:

    That’s what mods are for!

    Mods + walkthrough = simultaneous Love relationship with both Leliana and Morrigan with a female character. It requires breaking up with L and then getting her back again later, after which both women mostly stop complaining about sharing. (Well, they still complain if you kiss one while the other’s looking, but they don’t complain about your tent activities.)

    • admin says:

      Haha I played the game when was just out, so probably that Mod wasn’t out yet. I still have it installed though, maybe should give it a try… 😀

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