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Playing Cards with Destiny [Mar. 21st, 2008|02:01 am]
Orphaned Pixels


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*blows away the cobwebs* Been a while since I posted on this, but then it was never particularly my intention to post on here regularly - just whenever I had something to write about.

This post was actually inspired by tehexile, who mentioned to me at Fruitcake about one of the people in the story she was writing being the plotsmith, which is an idea I really liked. I said at the time that I thought it might make the basis of a really cool game as well, so here's a little exploration on that idea.

I'm going to skip my usual abstraction of an idea and jump straight into a specific implementation: Tarot Cards. The way I see it, a game in which you can either directly or indirectly "construct" a plot requires the player to have simple set of building blocks that can be used to produce different results and tarot cards are perfect for this.
Throughout the game the player would collect the 22 cards of the major arcana (okay maybe not all 22, but it would be cool if you could pull that off) and take them to the plotsmith, who exists outside time and space (and yet at the same time has a hut in the middle of the village). Using the cards involves selecting a some of the cards and arranging them in an order. When you leave the plotsmiths you will be in a version of your village that exists at the end of the plot you just crafted (the cards are reusable so you can change the plot as many times as you want).


Jack and Jill fall in love (LOVERS:relationship) and get married, (JUSTICE:responsibility) but then the village is attacked by raiders (THE TOWER:sudden change/downfall) and Jack dies saving Jill (HANGED MAN:sacrifice). A few months later, Jill finds out that she is pregnant with Jack's child(EMPRESS:motherhood).

Jack's mother has looked after him very closely, (EMPRESS:motherhood) but he convinces her to let him go out on his own(HANGED MAN:letting go). He gets a job and works hard to provide for his mother (JUSTICE:responsibility), but she suddenly dies (THE TOWER:sudden change). Jack is distraught, but finds comfort in Jill's arms(LOVERS:relationship).

I'm aware that my interpretation of the Tarot is a little dodgy at best, and the story would have to be on a slightly grander scale than two people to work in a game, but I think it illustrates the idea well enough.

It may seem like this would require a massive amount of planning to work out all the possible combinations, but because you only ever exist at the end of the story I think it would be quite possible to generate the history procedurally.

Now here's where I get really ambitious. Given that the history is would essentially be generated as a simple chain of events, I think it would be possible to do this with almost no scripted dialogue at all. Whenever you meet another character a list of up to five or so possible questions would appear (a la Monkey Island, etc.) based on your characters goals and knowledge, and the NPCs responses would likewise be based on their knowledge and their (current) history.

Giving the NPCs personalities might be a little more problematic, but given the limited domain I think just getting them talking shouldn't be unreasonably difficult. And of course, given that this is clearly not going to have voice acting, you could use the trick Chrono Cross did where instead of writing individual lines of dialog for each character, they wrote it once with special formatting and gave each character a way of speaking (list, stutter, etc.) which took the specially formatted text and outputted it as the character would say it.

Okay, so I've got a bit caught up in the concept and glossed over gameplay. Essentially it would work as an adventure-puzzle game where you explore the (various versions of the) village and talk to the villagers to gain insight into how to use the cards. Your actions wont have any lasting effect on the world, because obviously you'll erase anything you've done when you change the plot, but you will keep any items you acquire, which you can use in your pursuit of more tarot cards.

You need a sword for some reason. It's an example; don't ask questions.
Old Man Waterfall lives with his wife, but mentions that if it wasn't for her he would probably have become a blacksmith.
Introducing THE TOWER at an appropriate point in the plot causes his wife to pass away, but the village still has no blacksmith.
When you talk to his daughter she says that she wishes he could just [let go] so that he could get on and do something with his life.
Introducing HANGED MAN at an appropriate point in the plot (after THE TOWER) allows him to move on and become a blacksmith.

It kind of feels to me like the theatre world in Psychonauts, but I can't seem to put the comparison into words.

I don't seem to have a natural end here, but it's 2am and I didn't want to be writing past this point. I may continue tomorrow in the comments or something, or I may not. The basic idea is there and I'm happy with that much.

[User Picture]From: tehexile
2008-03-21 03:22 am (UTC)
*remembers being called 'Doaneypooh' by Poshul in Chrono Cross.*
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