Should I make the romance and friendship routes obvious?

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Ammeh
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Re: Should I make the romance and friendship routes obvious?

#16 Post by Ammeh » Tue Feb 10, 2015 11:47 pm

I think there's an important distinction here between "making it clear which dialogue options are intended as flirtatious" and "making it clear which dialogue options will lead to successfully romancing this character." Even if the dialogue options are fully written out, tone of voice and body language can make a huge difference in how a sentence comes off, and if the writer's intention is that the PC say something in a flirty tone, it's very disorienting as a player if I didn't realize that when I clicked it. However, having only the type of flirt options that the majority of players will recognize as flirty from the dialogue prompt places limitations on the PC's flirting style that may not fit. In that case, I think flagging flirt options can be beneficial and useful.

Continuing the DA examples because they work really well for this--DA:O didn't flag the dialogue options that would initiate a romance, and some of them looked innocuous (e.g. asking Leliana if she and Marjolaine used to be in a relationship). That game really needed either an indication of which options it thought were flirty, or a "Wait, sorry, I think we had a misunderstanding" option to end the romance instead of just "LET'S BREAK UP." DA2 flagged the flirt options, but it's not a terribly good example of a game where flagging the flirt options is useful, because Hawke generally flirts with the subtlety of a brick wall to the face. One of the nice things with DA2 is that, as trooper6 mentioned, the heart doesn't necessarily mean "this option will start a romance with this character"--it just means "this option is flirty." In my limited experience with DA:I, it has more subtle flirt options than DA2 but it flags them and telegraphs heavily to prevent the player from being ninjamanced. I think it's got a good balance in that regard.

If your flirt options are innuendo-laden and in-your-face, flagging them is probably not necessary. If they're subtle--showing more concern than is considered friendly, or a semi-innocuous sentence that's flirty in the right tone of voice--I think flagging them is the right way to go.

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Re: Should I make the romance and friendship routes obvious?

#17 Post by trooper6 » Wed Feb 11, 2015 12:49 am

Ammeh wrote:I think there's an important distinction here between "making it clear which dialogue options are intended as flirtatious" and "making it clear which dialogue options will lead to successfully romancing this character."
This is, I think, a very important distinction. And it is a distinction that divides players, I think.

Using Robin Laws's player definitions, I am a "method actor" (the GNS model has three categories that apply more broadly, the Laws model has 7 player specific types).

Part of what this means is that I feel strongly about differences between In Character and Out Of Character Knowledge. I don't like OOC knowledge happening in my games for the most part (gamists often do). I mean, I almost never use walk-throughs...though I will if I'm totally stumped and the game hasn't given me enough IC info to solve the problem...but it's always a very last resort, and usually I don't.

So, I think it should always be clear what the player is saying. It was a problem in DA:O that it wasn't clear to the player that the character intended to flirt when asking Leliana about Marjoline. For me, this is bad writing and not okay.

On the other hand, I don't like being told OOC information in game about how to romance a character--or anything really. I don't want the game telling me as a player that this is the button to choose to get romance. For me, it feels artificial and cheat-y.

Flirt symbol means: your character intends to flirt, but you don't know how the NPC will react? Yes!
Flirt symbol means: say this and you get a romance with this character? No.

I'd be excited with, for example, me choosing romantic flirty options...but those options not actually being the right way to romance the cynical NPC. I'm also okay with me choosing non-flirty choices, but an NPC crushing on me anyway. I just want the experience to be organic and in character.

On the other hand, I know many players who prefer to play in an OOC way. They see a romanceable NPC, and they just want to know what choices will result in romancing that character. They play from the first moment with walkthroughs and guides.

It is differing approaches.
I want clarity of PC intention, but uncertainty in NPC reactions (though I prefer if I can learn about the NPCs personality in character so I have a good in character chance of judging consequences).
Some people want certainty of NPC reactions.

I remember being so completely obsessed with Kreia in Knights of the Old Republic 2 mainly because it wasn't obvious how she would react to things. She held her cards close to her chest and you had to really pay attention to the things she said.

I remember the critique of romance games as being just manipulation. I feel that way when it is me as a player manipulating things OOC. I'm fine with my character being a manipulator in character...or at least trying to...but maybe my character's attempts to manipulate aren't done the right way and they backfire!
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Re: Should I make the romance and friendship routes obvious?

#18 Post by Harliqueen » Wed Feb 11, 2015 8:16 am

Oh man, it's a toughie!

I agree with you, trooper6, I don't really like knowing OOC stuff either. I would like the reader of my VN to have an immersive (is this not a word, it seems like it should be a word?) experience, so I'm going to rely on the writing to guide the player. I have quite a few varying options on how to interact with the love interest, and as I said, I'm going to have a few check points where if the route the player is taking isn't the one they want, then they can opt out and go the other way.

I'm hoping that will help to solve if anything is ambiguous because the options probably won't be innunedo-y, and more likely to be more subtle.

I wanted the dialogue and reactions to feel realistic, so that's why the flirt options aren't going to be too in your face.

Though your comment, Ammeh, about Hawke's flirting tactics made me chuckle. It was somewhat of a surprise in DA2 to click the flirt option and have Hawke basically shout out that they fancy the companion on the first interaction :D

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Re: Should I make the romance and friendship routes obvious?

#19 Post by RotGtIE » Sat Feb 14, 2015 12:42 am

I am part of the "obvious" school when it comes to branching choices in VNs, and the reason has much to do with my reasoning on why VNs shouldn't have win/lose condition choices.

I'm very pro-narrative when it comes to the content of VNs, and don't consider them something that the typical reader wants to "game." When the reader makes a choice, I do not think "they are trying to determine which option will lead to victory or defeat," I think "they are choosing the option which most represents the story that they want to see." Typically, when making plot-branching choices, this kind of choice takes a reader down the route of a character they are most interested in. When making trivial choices which don't affect story branching, they are typically choosing the tone they want to see in a bit of dialogue even though it won't affect anything.

That, in my opinion, is the critical element. Choices represent an opportunity to allow the reader to tell you what kind of story they would like to see. The reader is not usually looking for a win/lose condition, they are blatantly telling you "I want to see these two characters get romantically involved" or "I want to see what happens if the hero actually kills the villain rather than arresting him." When the player tells you what they want to see, especially after they've been explicitly prompted to make such a decision by selectable choices, then it is reasonably going to irritate that player when they pick the option which most appeals to them when it turns out that the option they selected turned out to be a wrong one, or in the case of this subject, an ambiguous one which led to an uncertain result.

Letting the player know what kind of a ride they're in for is not tantamount to spoiling the story for them. Movies have trailers and books have summaries to let you know what kind of story they're going to tell and how they're going to tell it, so that they can draw in the correct target audience. Nobody thinks Harry Potter was spoiled for them because they knew going in that it was going to be about a boy who goes to a wizard school, nor did anyone think they already knew everything that would happen in Titanic just because they were aware of the historical event it was based on. These stories had twists that the audience did not expect, even though they knew what the stories were about before they dove in.

That's all choices mean to me in a VN. They just provide an opportunity for an author to write multiple stories with a single setting and cast of characters, and offer the reader the option to choose which story they are most interested in. You're not asking the reader if they want to win, lose, get this thing, or do that thing; you're asking the reader what kind of story they would like to see, and when they reply with clear answer, they are expecting you to deliver.

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