Climaxes and Player Knowledge

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Climaxes and Player Knowledge

#1 Post by saetan » Tue Jan 23, 2018 1:20 pm

I kind of just realized this, and it may be obvious to some, but after thinking about Persona 5 and Katawa Shoujo, interactive mediums kind of have an advantage over movies or books: the player doesn't know what ending they're heading towards. Well, the players that are playing without a guide.

I mean, for books, in general, you can make an educated guess most of the time at how the story will end. But for VNs, the knowledge that bad endings exist, and something they may have inadvertently walked into, is something you can use to make your climax more dramatic with less effort than a non-interactive stories. Then you can focus that energy into making a tepid scene in a novel the most butt clenching climax ever.

Imagine if you will, a romcom story. Climax time: everything is going terribadly and you think, "Oh no! Will they get together?". Except that the thought doesn't pop up, but instead you go "Uwwww, how will they get through this???". It's a romcom, so its very likely they'll end up together.

But take instead a romcom VN! Climax time: everything is going terribadly. "Dammit! Damn You! Is this the bad ending? IS THIS THE BAD ENDING?" And they're hooked all the way until the very end!

What do you all think? I was researching how to make climaxes more exciting, and ended up watching some videos about climaxes. But they were all for books. Then I thought back to some VNs and games I played and realized it. Just wanted to share that in hopes that it may inspire someone to write more tense climaxes! Make it look like a bad ending :lol: and then punch them in the face with a super adorable heart melting ending!

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Re: Climaxes and Player Knowledge

#2 Post by NocturneLight » Tue Jan 23, 2018 4:25 pm

I’d make them think they’re on the bad route, make them think they’re on the good route for a bit, then throw a bad end in their face. That’s the kind of stuff I like.
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Re: Climaxes and Player Knowledge

#3 Post by Mammon » Tue Jan 23, 2018 5:07 pm

It really depends, because many people only consider the good ending canon and the rest not really true. That bad ending is almost just filler because you can go back and get the good ending once you watched it. That doesn't mean that a bad ending can't be good because of how terrible it is (Hush now Lena.), but just like with a movie there's no real question on whether the good guys will win in the end or whether the romance will bloom etc. etc. Rather, this becomes 'it will in another end' and depending on the story and the reader the bad ending doesn't even count.

This is mostly the case because so many VNs simply made the bad ends dead ends or bland 'game over' screens that made them feel that way. And I don't mean just the literal ones that are one or two lines after the route split before going to main menu, but also the many VNs where the bad ending feels short and cliche compared to the length of the story and good ending. Just like how the 'the good guys will always win in the end' carries over to all movies and books, this has carried over to all VNs.

Just like with good stories in other media, a good VN must give the reader the feeling that things can end terribly or must have the skill to really describe and immerse the bad ending in a way that makes the reader feel its weight. If you give the readers a story that this is not necessarily a fairy tale with a happy ending, those bad endings will gain in potential. If it feels just like a movie where the good guys are against insurmountable odds that they'll suddenly overcome, the bad endings will just be meh. If you make it feel like there's no simple good and evil, or no simple resolution, or etc. etc., the bad endings might be terrible.

And don't forget, in most VNs it will be painfully obvious what the good and bad choices are. You either do that, or get feedback that the choices are convoluted. Unfortunately, only the first playthrough will really count. If you see the bad ending right away it might be a significant event, but most of the time people will get the good ending right away and maybe look at the bad ending for completionist sake.

Anywa, just remember that just because it's interactive, a VN doesn't by default gain gravity in the bad endings.
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Re: Climaxes and Player Knowledge

#4 Post by SilentMonkey » Tue Jan 23, 2018 6:43 pm

I am glad that you brought this discussion up because I am only halfway through my project since I started it two years ago; wondering if I am wasting my time writing a bad arc that nobody ever accepts as the true ending. My final thoughts on the matter is this:
1) You have a good ending that one would almost always expect in most stories, especially in visual novels that is the 'best' outcome.
2) Then you have a bad ending that most know is punishment for not following the 'correct route'
3) You have a filler route that just serves as a 'what if' scenario

My answer that I came up with is to put 1 and 2 together so there is no 'True' route. Instead of having it be simply good and bad, stick them with a dose of reality. Sure you might be happy with the outcome but how about everyone else in the story? Perhaps you shouldn't have saved Person A because then Person B would still be alive...or Person C and D just aren't meant to be together. Maybe just screw everyone else at least they are happy together.

These outcomes are the most interesting to me because it plays into what the reader/player wants but with some consequence, a light always casts a shadow and it's you to decide where to put it.

However if you choose to write in this way then it limits any potential sequel in the future. If you choose to continue with a direct sequel then you are going to have to choose a 'True' route in which to continue from, disregarding some players choices in the past making it pointless. I suppose any studio with a lot of money and resources can pull off making it work but most of the users here are not in that position. This is the situation I expect the developers of Life Is Strange to be in, that or have a completely different cast entirely. Just don't take it to a completely different galaxy...(Mass Effect Andromeda)

In any case I think it is best to have at least two or so routes that have an equally interesting outcome instead of one that makes people feel good and the other make people mad/sad. Nobody would enjoy it unless they are a masochist or something then hey, no judgement here.

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Re: Climaxes and Player Knowledge

#5 Post by saetan » Wed Jan 24, 2018 1:25 pm

Thanks for all the input XD I was thinking of adding a sudden bad end mid-route in my story if certain points weren't accumulated, but to prevent it from being inconsequential, I'll try to give it more weight. Though, I think it shouldn't be so long as to make the player think there's more coming.

I'm not sure I agree with punishing the player for not following the 'correct route' though. Like, how are you supposed to know which choices are good as a reader? I think I'd like for the a bad end to come early enough that it can hint at how the player should act just before the bad end choice is made, and how to proceed from then on so they can get on the correct route.

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Re: Climaxes and Player Knowledge

#6 Post by SilentMonkey » Wed Jan 24, 2018 4:56 pm

saetan wrote:
Wed Jan 24, 2018 1:25 pm
Thanks for all the input XD I was thinking of adding a sudden bad end mid-route in my story if certain points weren't accumulated, but to prevent it from being inconsequential, I'll try to give it more weight. Though, I think it shouldn't be so long as to make the player think there's more coming.

I'm not sure I agree with punishing the player for not following the 'correct route' though. Like, how are you supposed to know which choices are good as a reader? I think I'd like for the a bad end to come early enough that it can hint at how the player should act just before the bad end choice is made, and how to proceed from then on so they can get on the correct route.
No problem. What I meant when I said the bad route punishes the player, Is that it can leave a bad taste in ones mouth if it turns out to be the first route they follow. Fruits of Grisaia being a good example. I don't know if you're familiar with it but those bad endings are really hard to forget once you become invested. (Especially Amane's route, I didn't want to play for a while because I felt really bad about it.) It was the case of happily ever after or nothing. Clear as day, black and white. So after the first love interest route I now know the remaining four are also going to be all or nothing and to watch out for the one decision at the end that truly matters; taking most if not all the suspense away. Why would I want to waste my time going through a ending that I know will only serve to leave me with a negative emotion. I'm missing a good portion of the game from that design. All the effort the artists and writers put into them and I don't even want to see it.

If the ending of all the routes were to be ambiguous or somewhat vague, then I wouldn't know what to expect when proceeding to the other ones. 'Is this the best decision for them?' 'Could it have gone better...or worse? Maybe there's more to gain if I went that way...or more to lose.' I would willingly and happily start the VN over to see what else I missed. It all also depends on what type of VN it is and the audience you are looking for. But I'm just throwing out an idea for those looking to have a different approach than the usual.

Your choice however to put the bad end towards the middle of the game sounds like a good idea. You will be spending most of your time working on the route that most will want to see. Saving time and resources along the way. Good luck on your project!

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Re: Climaxes and Player Knowledge

#7 Post by Draziya » Mon Jan 29, 2018 8:43 am

I agree with a lot of the things that have been said! A lot of the time good or bad choices feel obvious, especially if there's romance involved. It's not too hard to tell if something will make a character like the main character better or not. On the flip side, if choices aren't obvious it could lead to people feeling annoyed that the game didn't telegraph well enough to them.

This means that, depending on execution, you could either see a bad ending come from a mile away (and you're purposefully wanting to see it), or have it catch you by absolute surprise.

It's a tough balance.

As Mammon said, the writing might be able to alleviate this problem a lot. If you get your audience to have the right expectations, and you set the right tone, they can see bad endings as a reward. This is especially so when the bad endings give you an insight into the plot or the lore that the good endings don't.

Like SilentMonkey I like not having True endings, and having bittersweet outcomes. It means the player has to make a different kind of choice: Are they willing to make a sacrifice? Is it the right choice to make in this moment? Is it worth the risk? And it means that telegraphing what's the right and wrong choice isn't as important. They could both lead to equally "good" endings, but with different consequences.

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Re: Climaxes and Player Knowledge

#8 Post by ComputerArt.Club » Mon Jan 29, 2018 12:38 pm

There are some good ideas in this thread. I think it can often be a case of rather than there being one true ending, there are several endings that emerge based on the players personal preferences/choices. Theing is not necessarily a true ending, but it might be the one they wanted at that time. Bittersweet endings might also pique the players interest to play again and find the alternative endings. I also like the idea of having some sort of gallery/wall of achievement that contains an award or picture for each ending. Perhaps with locked content to encourage repeat playthroughs. It would also encourage you to spend the time writing the alternative endings. All this can mean a lot of extra work though, unless you reuse and adapt content.

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Re: Climaxes and Player Knowledge

#9 Post by TheJerminator15 » Mon Jan 29, 2018 1:51 pm

As said before, a lot of bad choices are usually as clear as day to the player, or if they aren't the game structure makes it obvious anyway (for example, a VN I played recently called Crescendo had all of the options which positively progressed the route be the bottom-most choice available at every juncture so after playing one route I just realised I needed to do that to get every single good ending). This means even in the most well-written of VNs, it generally becomes incredibly obvious how to progress once you've played a few VNs and to a lesser extent what is going to happen.

I think a choice that isn't used as much as I like is straight up just making a bad route or "neutral ending" the canon choice that has to be followed up afterwards. Good endings are always easy to telegraph because the point of the play-through is to reach the happiest ending. Having actual conflict and plot points left to be followed up with an imperfect ending is far more satisfying to me because it makes me feel as if my choices matter a lot more and that the main character is far more human because he canonically has to fuck up at points to progress. This is all through the lens of me being someone who plans to make a saga of VNs revolving around one story though, but I would also like if it was the case for standalone VNs as well.

In regard to climaxes, you have to juggle two things of equal importance; the build up and the actual climax itself. You could have the most well written build up to a climax in the world, but if the climax of all that build up isn't well written as well then all of that effort you've put in and all of that reader's investment is thrown out the window. Managing those expectations you yourself have set and dealing with them is paramount to a climax. This doesn't mean your climax has to be satisfying in the traditional "hero triumphs, evil is defeated and everyone lives happily" way though.

A good example is The Last Jedi (SPOILERS), whilst I have quite a few issues with that film's narrative, one thing I think was handled superbly in the context of the films was
Snoke. He's constantly hinted at and built up to be this massive force to be reckoned with, but the climax is that he's killed in the classic Sith way of his apprentice murdering him, but it's so anticlimactic in the traditional sense. It handles and hypes up those expectations of the audience and just as deftly throws them out, dunking a metaphorical bucket of cold water on the audience halfway through the film. That said, I think it only works in the context of the films only. In the context of the Star wars expanded universe I have a number of issues with it, but I digress.
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Re: Climaxes and Player Knowledge

#10 Post by LateWhiteRabbit » Mon Jan 29, 2018 2:07 pm

saetan wrote:
Tue Jan 23, 2018 1:20 pm
I mean, for books, in general, you can make an educated guess most of the time at how the story will end. But for VNs, the knowledge that bad endings exist, and something they may have inadvertently walked into, is something you can use to make your climax more dramatic with less effort than a non-interactive stories. Then you can focus that energy into making a tepid scene in a novel the most butt clenching climax ever.
I don't think what constitutes good writing changes just because the story is a visual novel.

"An ending should be surprising, but when the reader looks back on it, utterly inevitable."

Anyone can write an upredictable story - in fact, it can easily be the sign of a weak writer. A good writer actually lays in all the foundations so that a reader (or player in this case) could conceivably work out the ending before reaching it. A great writer does that too, but is able to surprise even genre-savvy readers with an ending that feels fair and telegraphed after-the-fact.

I'm not a fan of "good" or "bad" endings. I like the hybrid approach of having one ending modified by the player's choices. If it is a strong story, it should really only lend itself to one or two possible resolutions, but the flavor of those can be changed drastically by the choices the player makes. As someone else already stated - did all your allies survive, where friendships preserved? Was a sacrifice required? All these things can change the "seasoning" that contributes to the flavor of an ending.

I'm one of those people that tend to only play through games once - so I want whatever ending I get to be narratively satisfying. A player should feel excited about whatever ending they get if it feels deserved and is epic, even if things are left bittersweet. The same ending can be twisted into a tragedy or an epic triumph with the right writing.

Example:
I recently played a game where my character got caught by enemy forces, refused to surrender, got beat into a near coma, and then refused to answer questions during interrogation, resulting in torture and a permanent crippling of my character. I was doomed to never again pass any heroic fighting choices for the rest of the game. The ending of the game is always the same - an epic showdown against a traitor with massive stakes hanging in the balance. Your options are limited by choices that came before, and mine forced me to have to swallow my pride and game-long rivalry with another character to ask them for assistance, as I had no chance on my own. So I distract the traitor long enough for the other character to sweep in and save the day and be the Big Damn Hero. Not me. It actually created a GREAT story and character arc with the scenes involved, because I had sidelined that other character throughout the whole game by being a hotshot who won the day all on my own over and over gain and never worked with my teammates because I was so awesome by myself.

Now, no matter your choices, the traitor is always defeated, the day always saved - but HOW it happens changes everything. It was possible that I could have continued being an awesome hotshot throughout the whole game and beat the traitor one on one by myself, but I liked my "bad" or "bittersweet" ending way more for narrative strength. It created a moment where my character had to overcome a massive character flaw (pride) to win the day. If he had continued to embrace his "I am THE Hero" attitude, everyone would have been doomed.
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Re: Climaxes and Player Knowledge

#11 Post by saetan » Tue Jan 30, 2018 5:50 am

I am thinking now that if I cause uncertainty in the player about which ending his choices have driven him towards, it'll yank him out of any sort of immersion. So, then a player should know exactly which choices lead to which endings.

But, hold a moment. In order for the player to know which choice leads to their desired ending, wouldn't they have to know the "solution" to the "ultimate problem" the climax is presenting? If you reveal this to the player early on, your ending can be extrapolated. If you don't, the player will have to run through it blind, not knowing if they're heading for the right ending. Or are "side with best girl/guy" choices the only ones available in VNs??

For example, say your story is about an assassin beginning to feel guilt. The climax will be the choice to kill someone and accept that she is a killer, or let the target go and realize she's more than just a dog of the military. If a player wants to go on the "Changed Woman" route, the choices the player picks are the non-killer-y choices, and so you can figure in the end, she won't kill her target. Similarly, the "True Assassin" route's ending can be surmised. How can choices point to an ending without giving the ending away?

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Re: Climaxes and Player Knowledge

#12 Post by Draziya » Tue Jan 30, 2018 9:54 am

Honestly I wouldn’t make the assumption that uncertainty would break someone out of immersion. If anything, I’d think the opposite would be true. If choices are obvious black and white ones, it might make your reader aware that this is a video game causing them not to enjoy it as much. If it’s really clear what kind of ending they’re heading towards, an element of anticipation is lost.

Given how story based most VNs are, playing one blind (without knowledge of spoilers) should be expected. Players usually don’t know what endings there are, or how they’d reach them. Sure a VN with obvious choices will make it apparent as they play, but before they start they have no way of knowing.

If you reveal information relevant to the endings early on, the player might not even notice. If the writing is good, they’ll go along for the ride. If the writing is bad, they might get bored and speculate on what’s going to happen. At that stage they might not keep playing.


Applying what I’ve said, to your example.

Remember that the player doesn’t know what the endings will be at the start. You have an an assassin who is beginning to feel remorse for killing people. Sure they might guess that the assassin will either end up killing someone/not killing someone, but they don’t know that’s the climax. If you have other plot points running alongside this main one, it could potentially feel like just another part of the story.

On the other hand, maybe it’s really obvious and the writing is good enough to make it enjoyable to read regardless.

Going off the sacrifice thing a couple of us have mentioned in posts prior, you could also make the decision more morally complex. What if the assassin doesn’t want to kill people but has bills to pay? Or someone they love will get hurt? Maybe it’s not really about killing or not killing, but about conviction versus doubt? Sure choosing options where the assassin feels guilt seems better, but what if that leaves them the dead one?

There are definitely a lot of ways to make someone invested in your story without downright telling them what the outcome is. The journey is better than the destination and all that.

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Re: Climaxes and Player Knowledge

#13 Post by Kinjo » Tue Jan 30, 2018 10:26 am

saetan wrote:
Tue Jan 30, 2018 5:50 am
For example, say your story is about an assassin beginning to feel guilt. The climax will be the choice to kill someone and accept that she is a killer, or let the target go and realize she's more than just a dog of the military. If a player wants to go on the "Changed Woman" route, the choices the player picks are the non-killer-y choices, and so you can figure in the end, she won't kill her target. Similarly, the "True Assassin" route's ending can be surmised. How can choices point to an ending without giving the ending away?
Don't frame them as "pro-killer vs. anti-killer" choices. Frame it as "loyal to military vs. disloyal to military" choices. Did the player tend to pick choices that supported the military, or did the player tend to pick choices that went against the military?

Just as an example, you can slowly escalate what the military asks of her over time. Maybe simple things like running supplies, espionage, whether or not she trusts certain people, and then maybe some where she starts to commit small, but justifiable minor crimes. As the story goes on, they will ask more of her until she is ordered to kill, at which time she either carries it out or gets cold feet and leaves the target alive.

Now, it probably wouldn't be very shocking, but that's not really the point. If the player makes those choices then that's the ending they'd want to get, so let them have it. Just make each ending unique enough to be worth reading. Reveal some other information that is a direct result of the player's choices (i.e., because you didn't kill the target, they tell you X, or because you did kill the target, you learn Y).

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Re: Climaxes and Player Knowledge

#14 Post by TheJerminator15 » Tue Jan 30, 2018 11:52 am

saetan wrote:
Tue Jan 30, 2018 5:50 am
I am thinking now that if I cause uncertainty in the player about which ending his choices have driven him towards, it'll yank him out of any sort of immersion. So, then a player should know exactly which choices lead to which endings.

But, hold a moment. In order for the player to know which choice leads to their desired ending, wouldn't they have to know the "solution" to the "ultimate problem" the climax is presenting? If you reveal this to the player early on, your ending can be extrapolated. If you don't, the player will have to run through it blind, not knowing if they're heading for the right ending. Or are "side with best girl/guy" choices the only ones available in VNs??

For example, say your story is about an assassin beginning to feel guilt. The climax will be the choice to kill someone and accept that she is a killer, or let the target go and realize she's more than just a dog of the military. If a player wants to go on the "Changed Woman" route, the choices the player picks are the non-killer-y choices, and so you can figure in the end, she won't kill her target. Similarly, the "True Assassin" route's ending can be surmised. How can choices point to an ending without giving the ending away?
On the contrary, if the story and choices are well executed enough so that your audience is wholly uncertain on what counts as the "good" choice, that's great. It means you've managed to create a compelling story and balanced it so well that the choice is an actual dilemma for the player. The choice has impact and worth, it's great.

They wouldn't have to know the solution to the problem to know how to progress with the choices. Simply put, a lot of VNs simply telegraph what to choose very obviously in their choices, so you're made very aware on how to progress on the positive path and to thus solve the problem that the plot revolves around. For example, if I'm playing a murder mystery VN and a suspect is arrested who turns out to be someone the MC has beef with, the two choices may be Beat the Guy for whatever happened or Attempt to Interrogate. You know that the Beat option is the bad choice, because whilst you're still unravelling the mystery, it doesn't actually provide any possible advantage to progress, it's a selfish choice.
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Re: Climaxes and Player Knowledge

#15 Post by LateWhiteRabbit » Tue Jan 30, 2018 12:50 pm

Kinjo wrote:
Tue Jan 30, 2018 10:26 am
If the player makes those choices then that's the ending they'd want to get, so let them have it. Just make each ending unique enough to be worth reading.
This is great advice. If the player is playing a military story, they probably want to be a hero. If they are playing a romance, they probably want warm fuzzy feelings. No one has ever gone broke catering to what the audience wants.

I think everyone enjoys being surprised if it is done well. But I don't think anyone is going to be unhappy if they get what they expected out of a well-written story. No one goes into a James Bond film thinking he is going to lose at the end. It is a foregone conclusion, but people enjoy the stories anyway.

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