Video Game Choices: Unintended Consequences.

Posted: May 26, 2011 in Games
Tags: , , , , , , ,

This is sort of an anecdotal story of my time playing Fallout: New Vegas that I thought was pretty interesting. I was at hoover dam talking to an important member of the NCR, one of the factions in the game, and I was given a quest to talk to someone about security, to protect the president. At the time I didn’t really feel like doing the quest so I left the base and suddenly all the NCR guys started attacking me. I spent the entire game doing quests for to try and increase the faction reputation and eventually get the ending where NCR wins, and it was all for nothing. They would all shoot me on sight, and I could never do another quest for them again.

Well this might sound pretty upsetting, and in a way it was, but looking back it is probably one of the best memories of playing the game. It was pretty much the only time the game surprised me. Looking back, maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising but at no other point in the game had people gotten upset because I didn’t immediately go do a quest. I had grown accustomed to talking to people, accumulating a whole bunch of quests at a time, and doing them at whatever time I want.

Usually when people think of making choices in games, you think of things like which faction to support, whether to kill or save innocents, thing like that. Choosing whether to immediately do a quest rather than put it off doesn’t really seem like an important decision because usually it makes no difference if they don’t immediately do a quest and come back to it later. This one time it made a huge difference, it literally changed the course of history. If I had done the quest I would have followed through by supporting NCR in defending hoover dam, but because my actions upset them, it led to me forcing them out of hoover dam.

I think having unexpected consequences to decisions is a good thing, too often the results of all your choices can easily be predicted making things boring. However an important thing about unexpected consequences is that they must be fair. If I had done a mission for the NCR and it caused them to become upset, that would have been unexpected, but it would also be really stupid. The actual situation where I didn’t do a quest for them and it caused them to hate me, well that’s unexpected, but it makes sense, it can be easily justified, its fair.

I suppose anyone who writes a good book will have a similar goal, to make the characters act unexpectedly, to keep the story interesting, but the characters have to act in a way that is consistent with the way the characters have been established, the unexpected actions must be fair. Balancing behavior that is unexpected and fair may be really difficult to balance in a game, but if a game can provide a few moments like that, or even only one, it will make the game more memorable.

Topics for discussion: As always say if you agree or disagree, and also mention any similar moments you had in a game.

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Comments
  1. JPH says:

    This reminds me of Mass Effect 2.

    MASS EFFECT 2 SPOILERS AND STUFF

    Right after your crew gets kidnapped by the Collectors you can either go into the Omega 4 Relay and start the final mission or go do other side quests until you think you’re ready. If you do spend time on other stuff though, your crew will get ground into a fine powder and fed to the reaper fetus by the time you show up.

    I didn’t realize this until I watched my brother play through the endgame sequence and Yeoman Chambers died. I happened to remember her surviving on my playthrough, so that made me pause for thought.

    I always love it when games do stuff like that. It really adds another dimension to gameplay, because you have to think about the ramifications for your actions in game as well as in dialogue.

    Incidentally, this is exactly what I was talking about in my post about Deus Ex.

  2. maxff says:

    Hmm, so it was exactly what you were talking about in Deus Ex. I guess I can understand it better after having a similar moment myself, the only difference being New Vegas and Mass Effect had one or two such moments, and Deus Ex would appear to be full of them. Really considering playing that game now.

    Unfortunately I never had a moment like that in any other play through of New Vegas.

    Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting, maybe someday I’ll get a decent sized community going here.

  3. Sleeping Dragon says:

    The problem is unintended consequences tend to piss a lot of players off and so developers fear them. The irony here is that they are open for accusations of railroading or making player choice unimportant: “So the bad guy got the thing anyway, how was I to know that teammember X would be a traitor? There was no indication!”

    This is a trend that I really dislike about games, there is too much leading the player by hand, unsubtle hints, giving player knowledge that is beyond character knowledge. Typically a game will handle stuff like this: you join up with a faction of good guys, you do quests and sidequests for them, if there is a traitor he/she will be blatantly obvious. The traitor probably won’t like you as a person and the quests will be very suspicious from the start (things like “Could you sneak into the general’s office and make me a copy of our patrol routes? What do I need them for? Umm… I… For… Oh! I need to give troops provisions, they give me those patrol routes normally but they forgot this time”).

    Mass Effect 2 SB Lair SPOILERS: I was suspicious of the Assari Spectre (whatshername) from the moment she mentioned the kinetic barrier thing, but I wasn’t entirely sure. But when we watched that recording Liara left they just had to make that close up of her face and giving you a glare, for me they could have just as well made her cackle evilly, have her try to kill you there and then and later on race to Liara rather than pretend to cooperate. Not that knowing she was a traitor actually allowed you to do anything, which for me was even more frustrating. Because i had to watch my Shepard work with her and wait for her to backstab me.

    I can understand that players want to be in control, but they should be in control of the character and not the world. Being an old time pen and paper roleplayer what I like most about it is that I am trying to do my best to achieve some goals and I have to adapt to the situation. Sometimes I can find out who is who, sometimes I have to risk it and trust an NPC of whom I am suspicious. And sometimes an insignificant thing I did three sessions back will turn out to be important and either bite me in the ass or save the day. And sometimes a good (as in morally good) choice may have bad consequences or the other way around. I’m not saying that game developers should do things like “oh, remember when at the start of the game, twelve hours ago, you let that guy live because he seemed harmless? Well he’s actually an assassin for the bad guys and he just blew your head off… and it’s unavoidable if you let him go so I guess you’ll have to restart”, but making that guy an assassin and suddenly adding a serious sniper to the enemy side for a given encounter making it more difficult would work for me.

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