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  • Breaking The Gameplay Loop

    [06.21.18]
    - Gregory Pellechi

  • Keep it simple.

    I'll go into greater detail in a future episode on this very topic. But for now, it's a matter of keeping your story simple. That's not to say there shouldn't be any consequences to player choices, a complex narrative structure, or try/fail cycles. Rather it's a matter of taking a look at the arch the protagonist is meant to take. They needn't change drastically to break the loop, only grow in some way. That growth can be through experiencing new feelings, changing of opinion, relationships to others, or expectations of something else.

    If this idea seems hard, take a look at the show Rick and Morty. Dan Harmon's entire process for writing is about implementing change in his characters. It can be gradual but over the series there's growth. The same is true for his previous show Community. All of the characters evolved in some way every episode. Not everything about them has to evolve. But parts of them do. It's so we can accept that change as viewers or players. That change also allows for new any interesting scenarios to occur that can still make use of the gameplay loop.

    What is a sitcom other than a game where the characters are tasked with a new scenario every week. In the case of Community or Rick and Morty the cast just so happens to use the same techniques as always but in different ways and to different ends. Rick sciences his way out of problems and Jeff Winger talks his way out. But there's always a new problem around the corner.

    More on new problems and Dan Harmon's method of writing - the story circle - in a future episode. For now just think about the small things about your characters that could change, things that don't necessarily impact the gameplay loop. For example they may become less chatty as the game goes on and the reality of what they face and the choices they must make start to weigh on them.

    The choice at the end of Far Cry 5, spoilers, whether to betray your allies or take out the big bad is not one of those hefty, thought provoking times. But that's down to the execution and the ultimate consequences. The game doesn't earn those endings because it never seeks to question the players actions in any meaningful way beyond having the villain monologue at you.

    Breaking the loop can also be about making a character choose an option that previously has been against their moral code - be it torture, killing everyone unprovoked, etc. Of course it doesn't have to be so violent but it can be a line the player themselves may struggle with. What that is will always depend on the genre of your story and the game.

    The simplest thing you can do in writing is have the characters of the game analyze what they've done before - create an internal feedback loop to the story that takes into account what's happened before and the choices the player has made, however small they may be. Even linear, fully-authored content can have such a loop. It's just a matter of characters being cognizant of their actions.

    That can be done by doubting themselves, being called into questioned by other characters, having to pay a price they weren't prepared to in order to complete a task, or in any number of other ways. How it happens is really no different than what makes us change in life and get out of our own funk - things don't go the way we expect, or someone else remarks upon our situation. It's all up to you the writer.

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