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Player Agency and Story Choices

Magus Gar Kan

Towns Guard
Ultimately speaking, most games are linear. Outside of Procedurally generated content, it's almost inevitable that a game will progress along specific storylines points, from beginning, to middle, to end.

On one extreme end of the spectrum, you have the most linear of visual novel games. Where dialogue progresses and all the player does is hit enter. The other end is bounded by games where the storyline is shallower, or more abstract and the events being dealt with are generated randomly until the player chooses to end things.

Player choice vs Strong Narrative. While they aren't mutually exclusive, they are difficult to fully reconcile. You would need to account for everything a player may wish to do and, in most cases, that requires a more abstract interaction system since the alternative, creating meaningful outcomes to everything, would involve far far more work to implement, to the point of creating rudimentary AI on the extreme end of things.

The happier medium is sometimes attempted by taking cues from old Choose your own Adventure stories, where the player can pick how specific events unfold in decision trees, or by choosing how their character reacts to such things, giving them control over aspects of their character's personality. Other times the choice is purely allowing the player to progress through the story in a particular order.

It used to be a hallmark of difference, and still is in some cases, between western style rpgs and JRPGS. Though even the latter sometimes toyed with choice. Though usually it was few and far between and usually led to something extra... such as an optional party member or maybe a powerful item.

I'm curious how much choice and player agency people are putting into their games and what form those choices take