Brian Howe: You’re Playing it Wrong
This Edge issue 239 article looks at how players take different approaches within games. Should we all start to realise that if the kingdom is in mortal threat, spending the hero’s times doing side quests isn’t actually helping anyone!
Howe gives a rather interesting article that outlines in plain sight the general set-up of an RPG’s questline:
You get sent by a highly regarded main sub-character to take on something of great importance, something that needs to be done sooner rather than later. But alas on your way to this matter of importance you run into some poor little girl whose family has been ravaged by bandits, so you end up taking her to some form of safety. This travel leads you to a town in which five new side-quests are started from NPC’s, and thus you have probably forgotten all about the great threat to the land.
Have no fear though!
This is a game so the actual ‘great matter of importance’ will surely only get triggered once you enter the quest zone!
It seems that over the course of the RPG/free roam games I have played this is the general approach, the designers give the player an option, in which they gain full control over where they go and which quests they undertake. The question is does this play a vital part in the overall concept of a game?
On one side it seems a very odd way to ‘pad it out’, instead of getting on with the main missions a player will undertake less important tasks. In terms of the concept there are two ways to look at this. The free-roam aspect will create a sense of a realistic world, where in the player is able to take control of an avatar or preset character. Side quests often, but not always, allow a much deeper understanding of the actual fiction to the environment. They allow the player to gain more information about how the world works in terms of the conceptual ideas and values as opposed to the mechanics seen through the in-game physics; this in theory will give a higher immersive level.
On the other side, the lack of actual time constraints hinders the concept, because in real life if there is an imminent threat it would need to be dealt with straight away. So, by giving the player the option to choose, combined with a lack of game mechanics that allow time constraints on quests, results in a disconnection between the fiction and the player; this is because it wouldn’t happen like that in real life.
Overall I think this is down to the media itself, video games are blessed because they can actually allow the player take up the power of choice. They are also cursed because this choice often means that they have to leave out valuable things that create a realistic sense of immersion within a world.
In terms of taking this knowledge into my current conceptual project, I think that I need to consider more how this will pan out into a site specific level. Thus allowing my to create a small version of the world and look into details how the player will interact. Another key thing is how much the player needs to know on the actual back story etc. When we look at Skyrim, the multitudes of books found within this game give the player so much information on how the concept works, it makes the game feel real to the player so they become more immersed. Saying this I should consider what types of information actually need to be revealed to the player at the key points for the narrative to flow.