Can We Handle Permanency in Games?
At GDC last Friday, Garnet Lee had a whole slew of all-star pundits including N’Gai Croal, Stephen Totilo, and John Davison. As part of their round table discussion, they brought up something that got me thinking, and I’d like to bring it to you.
Basically, it’s this–can we as gamers handle consequence? What I mean is, can we handle the idea of our in game actions having permanent consequences for our characters?
Peter Molyneux would like to attempt to give you just that scenario. Last week he showed footage of Fable 2, and while he was demonstrating the ability to invite someone else to join your game world, he also demonstrated that any player character can exact permanent change on the world they’re in. He did this by having his companion’s character kill his character’s husband. As Peter said during the demonstration, be careful who you invite into your world.
That might be scary enough, but Molyneux also revealed that he wants to try and push the boundaries of gamers’ expectations in this area further than ever, but that it’s gamers themselves who are rejecting it. In focus testing, there was a game mechanic in Fable 2 where if you were defeated you could spend experience points to revive yourself.
But say you didn’t have any free XP left. In that scenario, your enemies would come and beat on your character, and when they finally awoke, their appearance would be disfigured in some way. If you allowed this to happen often enough (or failed often enough), your character would become so disfigured that NPC’s would begin to react to your unattractive appearance in different ways, possibly becoming less friendly, etc.
The focus testers hated it so much (save for those who went out of their way to disfigure their character), that at present that mechanic has been pulled from the game. Molynuex revealed that players were literally shutting off their consoles to force the system to reset.
On 1up yours, Garnett and crew brought these two examples up, and argued that we’ve been conditioned to expect no consequences for failure–to expect that a fail state will result in a reset of game conditions and we can just try again. They also observed that this is something that was necessary because of hardware limitations in prior years, but we’re so used to it that when a developer tries to change that paradigm, we reject it.
So my questions to you is this? Do you like the idea of consequence in your games, or does the idea of permanency on your character and game world make you queasy?
Personally, I have those same thoughts about games. I want to get the best ending, the perfect result–especially in RPG’s. I hate to miss secrets or story bits that can only be revealed by accomplishing certain tasks in the right way. I’ll admit it, I’ve reset my PC or console from time to time to go back and get a more pleasing outcome.
But at the same time, Fable 2’s ideas of consequence intrigue me to no end. I would be willing to give up some freedom from consequence in order to experience a world so dynamic that my actions had a real effect on it. Why? Because it would make it feel as if those actions mattered, and it would make those choices more interesting, more emotionally charged, and more engaging. And in the end, that’s what I want in my games, especially in an RPG.
I’m not saying that all failure states should lead to permanent failure. Consequences that force the player to cease playing the game should be avoided, as they are anathema to the whole point of playing the game. So, perma-death would be no fun, because it means that you literally are stopped from playing the game once you make your first mistake. Likewise, the final boss should be a repeatable endeavor (although if one failed, I could see there being permanent consequences other than death).
But I want to believe that there’s room for a game like this in our universe, and unfortunately some of the evidence seems to suggest that we can’t handle it. At least not in the full way that the Lionhead team intend.