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  • Emotional Context In Decision Design

    - Artur Ganszyniec

  • Case Study: One Night in Paris

    As an example, I chose a scene in Paris, one that is not spoilery and designed well enough to dissect in the public. Our hero steps off the train and has his first experience with the capital of France. What he sees and what options are available depends on his stress and fatigue.

    The way players approach the available options, depends on the context they were given, or at least that was the idea behind the design.

    When the character is peaceful, he sees Paris "as it is," just another European city near a train station. The main choice in this scene is how to proceed, whether to take a taxi or walk. Because Tomek is fatigued, an extra option appears "I was hungry." We can expect that most players will eat something (to regain some strength) and then decide whether to walk or call a taxi.

    The situation changes when the character is hopeless. High stress and high fatigue render the world hostile, and the character focus on possible dangers: drunks, shouting, a reeking dumpster. The main call-a-taxi-or-walk choice remains the same, and there are two extra options: "I was hungry," and "I needed a drink," the later triggered by high stress. Eating is still a valid option gameplay-wise, but in the presence of a smelly dumpster, many players lose their appetite and just call a taxi to get out of that awful place.

    When a character is calm the place looks normal and the choice boils down to picking the best way to proceed. Curious players will probably take a walk, while the "optimizers" would probably call a taxi to save their strength for the future.

    An optimistic character sees the city in its most glamorous form, full of light and excitement. It looks inviting, making the taxi seem like a less interesting choice.

    The graph of the scene looks like this:

    As far as the branching goes, the situation is quite simple-we make a decision, and at the end of the scene we either walk down one branch or sit in a taxi going down another branch of the story tree. Sometimes there are extra diversions available, in the form of short scenes in a bar and/or in a bistro, but they feed back to the main choice.

    But when we look at the mood-dependent contexts, the situation gets more interesting. Although the number of outcomes stays the same, the number of personal situations framing the decision multiply. Taking a taxi to escape a hostile environment is a different decision than giving up on an otherwise alluring walk to save strength for another day. A quick snack before a night stroll is something different than a forced meal in a dive near a smelly dumpster.

    We learned the nuances of this technique as we went, so not all instances you'll find in the game, work perfectly, but we found it a great production tool. It allowed us to save on extensive (and expensive) branching we were prone to, and to keep the story within our research-based limits, while allowing for extensive personalization of the events. We set most scenes in the mood-depending context, and as a result, the number of personal decision-making situations available to players became much higher than the actual scene count.


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