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AG Theme Of The Week 6 – Non-Linearity: To wee, or not to wee?

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One of the cool “buzz-words” not too long ago in games generally was “Non-Linear”. It was often attached to games to show how cool and innovative they were. After all, who wants to be constricted to play a game only one way? Why should the developers tell you what to do? Be your own person, make your own choices etc.

A game being linear was seen, amongst some people, as being second rate. Now if we’re talking about open world sandbox action games or huge sprawling Bethesda-like RPG’s then that’s probably fair enough, but what about Adventure Games? Is being non-linear an advantage? For me I think it’s something that sounds like a good thing but often (not always) isn’t.

The three main ways AG’s can be non-linear, in my view, are Alternate Endings, Alternate Puzzle Solutions/Paths and Player Choices in the game.

Alternate Endings

Almost always touted as a feature to be proud of, but so often un-satisfying in the game to my mind. To be clear, I’m not talking about slightly different endings here (like kill or don’t kill Malia at the end of GK1, or who you shoot in the Colonel’s Bequest, or resurrecting a teammate in The Dig) but games that have truly different endings, that affect the outcome of the game, usually by having a “best” ending and one or more “worse” ones.

This may just be me, but when I complete a game, I want the best ending. I like the idea that there are other endings I might see in theory but in reality when I’m playing the game through I want to see the best ending. Why on earth would I want to play through a game, solving all its puzzles and getting immersed in its story, to get a second rate ending? Bad ending choices can ruin a great game.

I think Resonance is a great, great game but is badly let down by the ending where you get a stark choice between two possibilities, neither of which are good and both of which end up feeling massively unsatisfying.

Not all games with more than 1 ending are bad of course. One of my favourite games from recent times, Life is Strange is case in point.

Two pretty emotional endings, but this leads me to the main thrust of what it is I have against multiple endings. In a well told story - and Life is Strange is a very well told story - I want to see what the storyteller has chosen for an ending. Player choice is cool in a lot of ways, but when I’m reading a book by a great author I don’t want to see his/her 2nd or 3rd choice ending. I want to read the “real” or “proper” one. Same for games – YES INCLUDING games like Life is Strange where player choice is so important. Why? Because it takes me out of the game. I am enjoying a story and then at the very end I get told I need to finish it? Way to ruin the immersion.

Alternate Puzzle Solutions/paths

In terms of alternate paths/puzzles the first example that comes to mind is KQ6.

In this there are two paths to the ending and the difference is huge. The easier involves missing out a fair old chunk of the game including the whole land of the dead and use of the spellbook etc. Also missing my favourite dance sequence in the whole of Adventure Gaming! Wink (BS5 close second!)

The puzzles for one path are different from the puzzles in the other and even when the two paths join again, the available puzzles will depend on which path you took.
I like the idea of this to an extent, but again I am at a loss as to why you would want to play the quicker/worse version? I know it was put in to make it easier for some gamers but really, if you’re going to play the game then do it properly! Read the whole book or watch the whole film!

There are games like Loom, Resonance and Return to Mysterious Island (among others) where, in small ways, you can complete individual puzzles or “situations” in slightly different ways. I’m much more keen on this, but I don’t know if I have seen a game where the use has massively improved the game, other than an “easy” option for one or two puzzles.


Uh… do what now?

Player choice

First, the illusion of choice


No she won’t.

Then the choices that do have some effect.

So I am definitely a life is strange fanboy for all sorts of reasons. Mostly because it is an excellent game. Partly because it lets me make choices that change enough of my experience of the game without completely changing the story to make it worse. Sorry, “Alternate”.

Thoughts?

This has got far too long already. Lots more games could have been mentioned SO:

I look forward to reading all your views EXCEPT anyone who just wants to say how much they hate Telltale Games, seeing as I mentioned them and all. If you really feel you can’t hold in the vitriol then why not put it in a PM to me so everyone else doesn’t have to read it! Wink

Finally - all of the above is subjective opinion (except Resonance’s endings - they really are unsatisfying! Wink) so please do tell me why I’m wrong and alternate endings and David Cage style choice (to shower/wee or not to shower/wee – that is the question) are the best thing evar! Cool

     

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I didn’t know that you could skip the land of the dead in KQ6.  How do you do that?

I always think that non-linear games are harder. I am easily confused too and always wonder if I am doing the right thing or going to the right place.

     
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I agree with you on pretty much every point. Especially alternate endings.

I finished Obduction and was hugely disappointed at what I later discovered was the “worse” ending. They didn’t even tell you!

     

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mbday630 - 19 June 2017 07:50 AM

I didn’t know that you could skip the land of the dead in KQ6.  How do you do that?

Well… after uniting beauty and the beast and before going to see the druids…

You can use the clothes that beauty gives you to sneak into the palace through the front door! Head to outside the castle and you’ll see some hand-maiden type ladies being let in by the guard. One quick change of costume later in that weird little hut in front of the castle and you are in on the ground floor without having made it rain, calling a creature of the night, visiting the land of the dead or painting magic doors. Of course, you also haven’t got cassima’s parents or any of that other stuff and you’ve missed about 1/4 of the game…

Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3p5mIt6rnc from about 1:30 to see it in action!

     

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ah, Thanks for letting me know. I didn’t know that!

     
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Thank you Intense Degree for a thought-provoking theme!
Those ‘second rate’ linear games do include a few classics: Broken Sword, Syberia & The Longest Journey to name a few - their ‘streamlined’ formula representative of many AGs which in my mind works well enough due to engaging stories, characters & puzzles!

Intense Degree - 19 June 2017 05:00 AM


Alternate Endings
.......Why on earth would I want to play through a game, solving all its puzzles and getting immersed in its story, to get a second rate ending? Bad ending choices can ruin a great game….....

Exactly! So I’m not a big fan of a developer not making the decision for me but there are exceptions that either worked or should’ve done.  I’m not disputing that either choice in Resonance was satisfactory but I did appreciate that it did come towards the end of the game & more acceptable as far as presenting an end game choice than events that happened to the unaware player earlier in the game that may dictate the ending. I don’t know whether this applies to Secret Files 3 or not but I had absolutely no idea that there was at least one alternative ending until I’d finished the game!  Thumbs Up
Another game that worked for me re multiple endings that dictate the conclusion was The Cat Lady as again the choices appear later in the game although albeit that there is one ending that does depend on how you deal with events earlier in the game which I consider more as an Easter Egg!

Intense Degree - 19 June 2017 05:00 AM


Alternate Puzzle Solutions/paths
.......There are games like Loom, Resonance and Return to Mysterious Island (among others) where, in small ways, you can complete individual puzzles or “situations” in slightly different ways. I’m much more keen on this, but I don’t know if I have seen a game where the use has massively improved the game, other than an “easy” option for one or two puzzles.

Yes, I think the option to approach puzzles/gameplay path in slightly different ways is a welcome addition to AGs! I really can’t think of any examples where puzzle options have been easier but certainly variables have contributed to a game being more interesting (particularly on replaying) such as Resonance & e.g. Secrets of Da Vinci which also offers alternate endings. 

Intense Degree - 19 June 2017 05:00 AM


Player choice

I haven’t played too many games which have offered the player a choice - more often than not when choices have been available they have been tokenistic so that if you make the wrong one you can’t progress!
I think my preference for non-linearity in a game is Alternate Puzzle Solutions/Paths!
Smile

     
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I think the “player choice” option might be a nice feature in modern adventure games if done properly. I’m excluding the illusion of choice, of course (not trying to start a Telltale debate here Smile ) Still, the games i’ve played where this feature is implemented right are very few, so I don’t judge people who feel skeptic about it. I haven’t played Life Is Strange yet (scared of too much teen drama) but I should definitely try it cause I hear only good things about it and the fact that there actually is a player choice helps a lot.

What do you think about Pandora Directive? I played it only once so I don’t know how non-linear it is but my guess is that it has a good flow and handles alternative paths ok. The previous theme about Blade Runner also implied that it might be a good example of non-linearity done ok. And I’m still eager to see if Detroit’s gonna show something extraordinary in terms of branching stories or you’re gonna have to wee yourself through the game Smile

Yet I’m still waiting for the AG that takes the non-linearity to an RPG level. Everyone’s ok (me included) if an AG is linear but when it comes to a complex RPG I find it boring if it is too linear. Games like Fallout (1,2) and Planescape Torment have showed me the importance of every decision I make. Having in mind that the most successful AGs nowadays are interactive movies+moral choices, i’m thinking that a complex system that calculates every move of yours is right in the alley for an AG that tries to be modern. I would love to hear examples of such AGs, but, alas, the scenario in most of the cases is
Option 1: A is gonna like you, B is gonna hate you.
Option 2: A is goona hate you, B is gonna like you.
And both options don’t change the overall story.

P.S. Play Stanley’s Parable if you haven’t. It mocks up the idea about the illusion of choice that every game offers in the most genius way I can imagine.

     
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Great theme Intense Degree! I’ve always enjoyed linear adventures more because I can see everything the game has to offer in one play through, which makes me a happy camper! When games offer multiple/alternate solutions/endings I tend to get overwhelmed thinking I won’t have the time or the patience to see every possible thing in the game and the thought of playing through it multiple times is annoying and boring in my opinion, especially this day in time where most games only autosave. Where as in the old days you could save and reload at will and be able to try and see different things without having to play through the whole game or large segments all over again. So I avoid a lot of games due to the fact. King’s Quest 6 nailed it though. You could reload a save near that significant point and see and do all new things without redoing everything else before hand.

     

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Ah… There goes the theme I wanted to talk about for my slot Smile Ah well, time to find a new idea…

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis took the concept of multiple paths to an extreme. You get three very different paths depending on the choice you make after the first part. It’s the only game I know that takes things to such an extreme and I loved it at the time. Even now when I replay it, I tend to replay the path with Indy and Sofia more often but the other paths are a nice change of pace.


I tend to like having multiple endings, I feel that it increases my immersion because my choices actually matter. In the case of resonance, it doesn’t work but then I don’t like that game anyway…

So, for example, I love The Last Express. It has multiple endings depending on your actions and depending on you being there at the right time. The entire game is based around going back in time to see what would happen if you decided to visit another car and heard a different conversation.

Blade runner which we discussed last week is also very good at this. It has multiple endings and some part of the game are randomly generated (if the different characters are replicant or humans vary from game to game which also affects the possibility of some of the ending). This makes replaying the game after a year quite fun since you can’t be sure of the story that will develop.

One pet peeve I have though is for games that have multiple choices that actually affect the story but have an awful save system with slots (like the King’s Quest). It makes it that much harder to go back and explore the different choices.

     
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Nice theme intense.. but imkinda lost here now.. as I thought non linearity is something completely different..

     

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I stand by the view that game or part of game where you can do things in different order, is mostly nonlinear. Linearity means that y comes after x and z after y, and while outcome of whole game or part of game is the same, puzzle that can be solved both before and after other puzzles is not part of completely linear series of puzzles. On topic of choices, i guess games could have optional goals. Imagine if Monkey Island was designed differently, so Marley would have been kidnapped after completing any of three trials (truth to be told, i feel so much effort by player goes into all three trials in real MI, so it is anti-climatic that instead of reward for completing them trials are forgotten about and Marley gets kidnapped).

     
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badlemon - 19 June 2017 07:00 PM

I think the “player choice” option might be a nice feature in modern adventure games if done properly. I’m excluding the illusion of choice, of course (not trying to start a Telltale debate here Smile ) Still, the games i’ve played where this feature is implemented right are very few, so I don’t judge people who feel skeptic about it. I haven’t played Life Is Strange yet (scared of too much teen drama) but I should definitely try it cause I hear only good things about it and the fact that there actually is a player choice helps a lot.

What do you think about Pandora Directive? I played it only once so I don’t know how non-linear it is but my guess is that it has a good flow and handles alternative paths ok. The previous theme about Blade Runner also implied that it might be a good example of non-linearity done ok. And I’m still eager to see if Detroit’s gonna show something extraordinary in terms of branching stories or you’re gonna have to wee yourself through the game Smile

Yet I’m still waiting for the AG that takes the non-linearity to an RPG level. Everyone’s ok (me included) if an AG is linear but when it comes to a complex RPG I find it boring if it is too linear. Games like Fallout (1,2) and Planescape Torment have showed me the importance of every decision I make. Having in mind that the most successful AGs nowadays are interactive movies+moral choices, i’m thinking that a complex system that calculates every move of yours is right in the alley for an AG that tries to be modern. I would love to hear examples of such AGs, but, alas, the scenario in most of the cases is
Option 1: A is gonna like you, B is gonna hate you.
Option 2: A is goona hate you, B is gonna like you.
And both options don’t change the overall story.

P.S. Play Stanley’s Parable if you haven’t. It mocks up the idea about the illusion of choice that every game offers in the most genius way I can imagine.

I see that most people have the opinion that choices are only good if they “affect the story”. I actually prefer choice that doesn’t affect the story. I don’t really enjoy playing games more than once - I consider it a waste of time if I have to play bits that I’ve already played. So it annoys me that I didn’t see all of Pandora Directive or Blade Runner on a single playthrough.

I like the way Kentucky Route Zero approaches choice. It has lots of choices, but none of them affects the story - in the sense of changing the narrative. But at the same time, all of your choices affect the story. You choose who the characters are, their backgrounds and their inner lives. It’s kind of the opposite approach to Telltale. Choices matter because you have a hand in how characters are written - not because they play a part in some calculation the game makes about how the game ends.

     

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This thread makes me feel old… I remember the days when the debate around non-linearity was about puzzle design, i.e. whether puzzles should be a chain solved in a set order (KQ4, KQ5, Indy & TLC…) or if the player should be able to make progress on several puzzles at the same time (KQ3, Maniac Mansion, MI1…). That’s actually still an interesting topic, and one I wanted to discuss after playing Thimbleweed Park. Maybe I’ll try to tackle it in my next Theme of the Week thread…

As for non-linearity in terms of story, I wrote far too many words on the subject over a decade ago, and old-timers are probably sick of me referencing that post, so I’ll just shut up about it. Tongue

     

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badlemon - 19 June 2017 07:00 PM

Pandora Directive? ... Blade Runner ...
Detroit ... Stanley’s Parable

To my shame I’ve never played Blade Runner. I don’t remember Pandora Detective that clearly but I agree it is a good example of branching paths/story done well from what I do remember!

I certainly hope Detroit is going to be good. Despite what I said above I have enjoyed much of what David Cage has done and I hope he can keep the good bits and cut the bad for this. To be honest, i’m still expecting to wee my way through it though! Wink Also I have played The Stanley Parable and it’s great. Not sure how much of that could be integrated into a traditional adventure but it is really interesting and fun.

giom - 19 June 2017 11:27 PM

Ah… There goes the theme I wanted to talk about for my slot Smile Ah well, time to find a new idea…

Ah no, sorry about that! I’m sure you’ll be brilliant anyway, or just like Kuru below, do it again but better than me! Wink

giom - 19 June 2017 11:27 PM

Even now when I replay it, I tend to replay the path with Indy and Sofia more often but the other paths are a nice change of pace.

That’s the point for me I think, it’s nice to have alternatives but realistically I want the best one! Smile

Advie - 20 June 2017 01:27 AM

imkinda ... non linearity is something completely different..

garbo - 20 June 2017 02:01 AM

I stand by the view that game or part of game where you can do things in different order, is mostly nonlinear.

I think that “non-linear” in games is actually quite difficult to define. In Gabriel Knight after I’ve woken up I can choose to visit Grandma, or the park, or the police station etc. and I choose which one is first and whichever way I do it that’s fine. Does that make GK non-linear?

You could even argue it further. Before Gabriel leaves the shop I can look at/examine/talk to/push/pull various different things in the shop in any order I want. Or I can buzz off and come back and do them later or some not at all. Does that make GK a “non-linear” game?

For my personal opinion (and it is just that) it needs to be more than just doing a few things in a different order. Whole sections of the game maybe, or perhaps even choosing one particular path at the expense of another. So rather than X, Y and Z in any order, choosing X, Y and Z OR X, P and G.

Kurufinwe - 20 June 2017 08:36 AM

…We’ve all done this before in the old days and everything was better then…

Yay the old fashioned traditional adventurers mindset! Wink Tongue Tongue

     

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Intense Degree - 20 June 2017 11:17 AM

I think that “non-linear” in games is actually quite difficult to define. In Gabriel Knight after I’ve woken up I can choose to visit Grandma, or the park, or the police station etc. and I choose which one is first and whichever way I do it that’s fine. Does that make GK non-linear?

Someone noted in some earlier post that there is difference between story linearity and puzzle chain linearity. Then again in case of GK games, doing puzzles in different order means learning information in different order, which to me means -taking into account that in mystery stories plot is about gathering information -non linearity in story.

     
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All adventure games have to have some degree of linearity.  Whether the game makes you follow a very strict path to accomplish your goals or it allows you to branch out to explore and try out things in your own way, you still have to eventually arrive at the end.  I have enjoyed both kinds of games, but I really do like open worlds the best.

As far as multiple endings go, I don’t have a problem with them, especially when the choice comes near the end of the game and a save can be reloaded to see the alternatives, like the Myst games.  The only game I’ve played where choices mattered throughout the game was in Titanic: Adventure Out of Time.  The distribution of 4 key inventory items change the course of history for better or worse.  Since I do like to replay my games, it wasn’t a problem for me to try a different strategy to see where it led.

     

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