Idea for making choices less mechanical

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Idea for making choices less mechanical

#1 Post by tim_p » Wed Apr 19, 2017 11:44 am

One of the things I don't like about route-based VNs is how it basically reduces all the heroines to a simple machine. In the context of the story, you're understanding and healing their emotional problems. But in the context of the gameplay, they're just a mechanical box with a sign saying "Press Button, Receive Love." So, I've been thinking about systems that would better simulate developing a relationship with a real person.

My idea is having dialogue choices that unlock flags for characters, but the correct choice is randomly seeded each time you start a play through. And the hints for which choice are correct are buried in the dialogue/text, which will have slight differences each time you play the game.

And one could get really subtle with this. Say, even for some hypothetical "Choice A," a walkthrough couldn't just say "look out for scene 7," since there'd be multiple text hints that could occur in multiple places. Also, some dialogue or descriptive text would also be randomly seeded, even though it has nothing to do with choices. I also like the idea of a VN that's subtly and unpredictably different on each play through.

The skill required for unlocking routes would be close reading, and paying attention to the thoughts and desires of the characters. I feel like that would simulate a relationship-building much better than how most VNs work now. Also, it could also be used for mystery-based choices as well as relationship-based ones.

What do you think? Is this an interesting idea, or would it just be frustrating for you as a player?

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Re: Idea for making choices less mechanical

#2 Post by Evy » Wed Apr 19, 2017 11:54 am

I think it would be more frustrating from a programming standpoint than anything, but then I'm also still new to it so it may be more simple than I think.

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Re: Idea for making choices less mechanical

#3 Post by Caveat Lector » Wed Apr 19, 2017 12:31 pm

Not sure how I feel about the idea of an outcome being randomized no matter what choice you pick, but I do agree there needs to be a bit more creativity behind choices than just "Pick the obvious nice choice unless you're deliberately going for the Bad End for 100% completion's sake". Katawa Shoujo did something more clever with this on one route in particular--Hanako's. From what I recall, Hanako's route is set up fairly stereotypical from the beginning: The helpless heroine with a tragic backstory who needs the male hero to make her alright again!...right? (slight spoilers here)
As it turns out, treating Hanako as helpless and fragile is actually how you get the bad end for her route. She's completely self-aware of how she's pitied for her circumstances, and just wants to be treated as a mature human being who happens to have some emotional baggage, not as if her emotional baggage is all there is to her. You can only get her best end by giving Hanako space and letting her make her own decisions, instead of stepping in to make them for her and "protecting" her. This approach feels more realistic and self-aware of how this kind of route usually goes, and treats Hanako as her own character independent of being the MC's love interest, and has their relationship mature more believably.
That's how I'd go about it--seriously think about the implications of the route you set up, and make the choices a bit more nuanced and less obvious, make the player really think about how to go about it.
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Re: Idea for making choices less mechanical

#4 Post by fleet » Wed Apr 19, 2017 1:10 pm

Like Caveat Lector said, make the 'correct' choice less obvious.
In one of my free games, the choice of how a sandwich is prepared can prevent the player from getting the 'best' ending. I used this with several other choices to increase the value of a variable which determined what ending the player achieved.
In the commercial release "Vera Blanc:Full Moon" by Winterwolves Games, one of what appears to be an obvious correct choice leads to an almost immediate bad ending.
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Re: Idea for making choices less mechanical

#5 Post by Googaboga » Wed Apr 19, 2017 1:29 pm

If the game was really built around the concept of playing through one route multiple times and maybe even the plot tied into that somehow, it could come across as pretty cool. I also think it'd be neat for a mystery. But if it's a method to shake up a romance VN that'll be played the typical way, I'm not sure it's a feature that'd be appreciated.

From my experience, most VN players won't repeatedly play the same route even if there are some differences. And if you look at this system from a one-route-one-play perspective, it's not entirely ideal. Saying you like sports to a sporty person is a very simple version of knowing the character and using what you know to make the right choice to get the good ending. In this case there'd be the "know character and use that to choose right" system, but it'd have choices based on deeper/more subtle things you've learned. So from the player's perspective the choices could come across as a more difficult version of the normal method, rather than a less mechanical way of doing things. Plus it'd be a more challenging set of choices with no walkthrough to fall back on for those who aren't confident in their decision making skills.

So, yeah, I think it could work in some types of games but it does seem like it could frustrate players if used in a more standard type of romance game.
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Re: Idea for making choices less mechanical

#6 Post by puffinlady » Wed Apr 19, 2017 1:33 pm

To me, it seems like you're interpreting why it feels mechanical all backwards!

The mechanics for a VN are a vehicle for the story, not the other way around. That's why adventure games are called adventure games, because you're "adventuring" through the story. As such, you must change the story and not the gameplay. The reason why it feels like "press button get love" is because, in bad eroge or even some great VNs, the main character, the player, you, never seems to change. All of the girls like him even though they should have varied interests. Some of these girls don't even feel like they could've built a good relationship with him at all, so it feels shoehorned in.

I've seen plenty of VNs include silly choices (that give you flags!) that aren't really impactful unless you reach for an excuse. There's also the problem with many eroge making the flagged events inconsistent with the rest of the story, like nobody remembers what happened yesterday. If you're not gunning for any girl in particular, you get a very weird looking common route with disconnected events and suddenly route. It doesn't feel like you're building an actual relationship. You're just hanging out with her more; therefore, she has to like you back. It's a cheap and easy way for an inexperienced writer to "build" something, when really you're just going through the movements and listening to what she says without really changing yourself or impacting the world around you.

Your solution just makes the flagging system slightly more complicated, but doesn't change the problem at hand. If you want to still go through with this, then you're either not allowed to give your MC a voice and make it purely player input, or make absolutely sure the MC develops somehow with each decision you make. It would make for a very interesting game if done right.

I suggest you make a prototype of this with a very very short story and micro-routes/endings. This way, you can figure out how to implement it. You'll have to be careful to make the hints and flags consistent with each character's personality, or else you will create a bunch of Frankenstein characters. I will warn you that this sounds like it'll wander into algorithm territory if you go all out.

If you try the prototype thing and decide it's too much of a headache to bother, there's a few other ways to make your choices feel more real.

The first way is only including choices that will impact the story and change the MC and the world around him as he chooses them. It will not only trigger flags to get on to routes, but maybe also trigger smaller events and change things either subtly (slightly different lines, new lines added) or drastically (completely change how characters develop, split one heroine's route into two different types of routes).

This is a bit of an abnormal example because it doesn't have a routes system (rather, the story is broken up into each major character's point of view), but Subarashiki Hibi has rather impactful choices. In one view, Looking-Glass Insects, making the simple (and only) choice to hesitate and remember how much your best friend has helped you through your bullying rather than dilly-dally and ignore the pain you feel like always completely changes the tide of the story and gives you the good ending, without any additional choices necessary. It gave the MC a different perspective on the best friend and drove her to help both the best friend and the MC get out of their awful situation.

The second way is trying the old "text adventure" method, which is basically the last method, but with even more branching. Back in the day, MS-DOS text adventures had lots and lots of endings to end up at simply because you made frequent decisions that made tons and tons of branches on the proverbial tree, slowly changing you as things went on and giving that subtle building effect you're looking for. Any of the adventure games from Telltale Games (TWD, Wolf Among Us) are a lot like this, as well as Life is Strange. Every single decision you make whether small or big changes the story somehow on a very large scale. This is going to require a lot of writing and graph-making.

A third way is making a choice system that doesn't directly address the situation at hand and instead changes something else, most notably perception. You've probably heard of Chaos;Head and its sequel Chaos;Child. Both have an abnormal flagging system called the "delusion trigger", and depending on whether you decide to view a "positive delusion", a "negative delusion", or stay neutral and don't trigger any delusions, the main character's development and reactions to events ends up completely different, which will give different endings depending on his experiences.

Whatever you decide to do, I wish you the best of luck. And always remember: relationships are a two-way street.
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Re: Idea for making choices less mechanical

#7 Post by Mammon » Wed Apr 19, 2017 1:55 pm

Evy wrote:I think it would be more frustrating from a programming standpoint than anything, but then I'm also still new to it so it may be more simple than I think.
I can actually see it working in a programming aspect quite easily, it's just persistents.

Code: Select all

Girl A: Here's a hint to my tragic backstory.
<Randomise command, don't know the code for that from the top of my head.>
option 1: It involves trust issues, I need to know you'll be there for me.
             $ option = 1
option 2: It involves daddy issues, I don't want to be pampered and shielded from the world forever, I'm grown up!
             $ option = 2
option 3: It involves me not being able to make important decisions on the spot after a split decision went terribly wrong.
             $ option = 3

...
Much later in the story.
Girl A: I'm in a lot of stress because [plot]
menu:
'Tell her you've got her back':
            if option == 1:
                       $ love =+1
            if option == 2:
                       $ love =-1
'Tell her she can do it.'
            if option == 2:
                       $ love =+1
            if option == 3:
                       $ love =-1
'Tell her take a deep breath and relax.'
            if option == 3:
                       $ love =+1
            if option == 1:
                       $ love =-1
Not sure if everything there is correct, but I can see it work. However, I doubt it'll really be worth the effort. When you're playing the game for the second time it'll be with auto-skip. You'll see that other text easily or it'll be hell because you'll skip over it as well. So I doubt that people will actually enjoy the feature in real life as we envision it here. Also, writing a character to have multiple different traits etc. at specific moments without having those have an effect of the writing of other parts might be either really difficult for you as the writer, really jarring for all but one combo of girl, or way too subtle for the audience to get.
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Re: Idea for making choices less mechanical

#8 Post by gekiganwing » Wed Apr 19, 2017 10:33 pm

tim_p wrote:One of the things I don't like about route-based VNs is how it basically reduces all the heroines to a simple machine. In the context of the story, you're understanding and healing their emotional problems. But in the context of the gameplay, they're just a mechanical box with a sign saying "Press Button, Receive Love." So, I've been thinking about systems that would better simulate developing a relationship with a real person.
Push a button. Things happen. A scientist becomes a beast. :lol: Anyway, let me think of a few examples of visual novels which I've read, and how they've presented choices in interesting ways...

* Toradora Portable sometimes asks the reader to clean one of several places in the fictional world. (This is justified in-story through the protagonist Ryuuji's characterization.) This action sometimes results in picking up items. Unfortunately, some of the items are crucial for unlocking events and dialogue choices. It's not always clear which items are plot-relevant, and which ones don't matter. I found this to be the most frustrating aspect of the visual novel. The second most frustrating aspect is that a few choices lead directly to an ending. Not necessarily a bad one -- but the reader can't make any decisions after then to affect the story.

* Oreimo Portable features "two-shot events" and the "O.R.E. system." The former is a series of questions between the protagonist and another character with just a second or two in between each one. If the character is angry afterwards as a result of the cohices, the reader will get an opportunity to calm them down. The O.R.E. system is items which the protag can discuss in a conversation. If the reader chooses to use one of these items while the protagonist talks to someone, it will affect how the conversation goes. All things considered, I think these are interesting ideas. However, I found that two-shot events seemed to boil down to a handful of "guess whether to speak or not" questions.

* Hakuouki has two variables which affect its story. The first is the level of affection between the protagonist and each guy. The second is the guys' level of corruption. This is a fantasy love story, but it's also a war tale in which major characters are at risk of losing their humanity. Most choices are somewhat vague. However, there are some choices in which the protag's actions clearly affect whether her love interest will go one step closer toward becoming a demon. Since major characters can die during combat, most of the decisions matter.

* Sakura Wars 5 includes visual novel / adventure game segments as well as strategy RPG battles. The protagonist's actions during conversations gradually improve or sour his relationships with the other characters. This includes timed choices, many of which ask the player to press buttons in a rapid, accurate way. Most of these actions make a difference in how effective they fight in combat. Also, if any two characters fight side by side, this helps them get along better. Even though my overall thought on the game was just "it was above average," I think that its ideas could be implemented well in another game or VN.

* I'm not sure what you can learn by looking at VNs which feature stats and time management. I thoroughly enjoyed Heartache 101, and I consider the first Tokimeki Memorial Girl's Side among my top five all-time favorite video games. That said, neither of those two has much emphasis on story or characterization. They're slice of life comedies, and the characters don't change much as events transpire. Hatoful Boyfriend is an interesting example, since the stats are practically a joke, and they don't affect the story much. It's a ridiculous comedy story which has the potential to turn into a genuine drama. The last example that comes to mind is Persona 4, which I consider to be a story-driven RPG. It has a lot of combat, and it lets the protagonist improve his stats in order to get new abilities. However, the thing which I remember most about P4 was how it story showed that its characters had serious flaws as well as great potential. There were a few actions which the protag of P4 could take which lead to a middling or even negative ending.
tim_p wrote:My idea is having dialogue choices that unlock flags for characters, but the correct choice is randomly seeded each time you start a play through. And the hints for which choice are correct are buried in the dialogue/text, which will have slight differences each time you play the game... Is this an interesting idea, or would it just be frustrating for you as a player?
It could be interesting. Then again, it could be about as frustrating as fighting the same monster over and over just to get a random drop item. The last time I attempted to do this in a video game was when I played Final Fantasy 4 over twenty years ago.

Having built-in hints might help. In the context of a relationship story, it could be a good idea to let the reader know what the character likes or dislikes. In the context of a mystery story, it could be wise to give the player some clues regarding culprits, motives, how they did the crime, etc. Let the reader choose if they want hints, and how often / obvious they should be.

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Re: Idea for making choices less mechanical

#9 Post by Imperf3kt » Wed Apr 19, 2017 11:14 pm

Having game critical items or other things even flags, given to a player via RNGesus is a good way to kill your game experience.

As an example, No Man's Sky.
Your success rate at the aim of the game (reaching the center of a universe with 18 quintillion 'planets' - which you can visit each and every one of with no loading screens(hypothetically, the real sun will burn out before you can)) - depends entirely on randomised drops.
Get lucky, and you can do it in a week or so, a few hours a day.
Don't get lucky, and it could take you months, at which point a player gets annoyed and drops the game.
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Re: Idea for making choices less mechanical

#10 Post by Sonomi » Fri Apr 21, 2017 12:51 am

tim_p wrote:One of the things I don't like about route-based VNs is how it basically reduces all the heroines to a simple machine. In the context of the story, you're understanding and healing their emotional problems. But in the context of the gameplay, they're just a mechanical box with a sign saying "Press Button, Receive Love."
I like Caveat Lector's Katawa Shoujo example. Every choice was specifically designed for each character. If you understood their personality and paid attention to them, you would know how to get the best results.

To emulate real life, choices should be based upon what the player learns about the character during the relationship. I had a friend who mentioned that he was lactose intolerant once, so whenever I would get food for him I kept this in mind. Little things like choosing chips over chocolate.

The best part about visual novel gameplay to me is remembering little details about characters just like I would with actual people. That is often how it can feel more meaningful in the long run...when choices are about little quirks or details that you discover along the way. You mentioned having players pay attention to the thoughts and desires of the characters, and I really like that idea.

But randomizing things might frustrate me a little. The reason being, I do like to replay routes sometimes and I would rather not see different content from my first playthrough. I just want to read the same story over. Haha
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