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  1. WARNING. WoT™ ( Wall of Text - n., Infinity Engine modder and forum slang, meaning long expository writing in a forum post that makes the reader's eyes glaze over and may result in said player loading up Oblivion, because bad eye-candy is better than semi-literate expository grandstanding by pseudo-intellectual wannabe posers. For examples visit any form and look at anything dealing with inter-community flamewars. ) I like to think about stuff like this, but just in case the WoT™ looks like I am taking this all a little too seriously, don't worry - I have not gone any farther off of the deep end than I usually do - just thinking about stuff and playing with ideas, just this time sparked by other folk's analysis and suggestions on what works and doesn't work for them in this mod. SYNOPSIS: Mods might be like FanFics, but they have significantly more flexibility, allowing interactivity. So far, Aran has been built with a "reply net", focusing more on player voice than on his own. range = "author-constructed fanfic unraveled by players" to "player-constructed fanfic with author-developed-and-given possibilities" Leaning so far to "player-constructed fanfic" can break down, resulting in characterization loopholes and inconsistencies. One suggested way out of this is to build parallel storylines through use of defined player psychologies. Examples given from existing mods and schematics and potential implementation in Aran given. To cut to the chase and skip all the talk, just getting to the new content, skip forward to <<this post>>. Fanfic construction vs. Mod construction A mod as an interactive fanfic. As a global idea, this seems sound - both are playing with other people's created worlds, and injecting the author's ideas and point of view into that already created world. I think that most mods follow varying degrees of this, from the point of view of the NPC and his or her story. On the other hand, mods allow something a fanfic cannot. Instead of the constrained story, I think a game 'story' can be built out of the freedoms given to a player. The question is, can I do it without losing focus and a sense of the NPC's personality? Can a mod allow the player to construct the story (whether intentionally or unintentionally) through direct interaction and choice, with minimal pre-scribing of player intent? Basically, if we give the player enough of a "net" of interactive possibilities that remain true to an NPC's personality, can the player construct the level of hijack/secondary plot-line they want? The range I am thinking about is "author-constructed fanfic unraveled by players" to "player-constructed fanfic with author-developed-and-given possibilities". Aran started out as a fun little experiment as a 'Companion' mod, with a single immutable plot-point - PC and Aran will be together for the entire game, if PC wants, regardless of choices (OK, except when PC has a reputation of 1, or sends him away specifically saying "never return", and/or kills him outright). This means the challenge is to allow players enough options to be able to explore why a character so obviously fascinated with PC will do this, regardless of player actions. Can he keep his personality, and tell a great side-story, and enrich the main storyline, while pretty much existing as window dressing and exploration of background material? He is a sidekick, not a hero, so his "story" is supposed to be the interaction between him and PC and the relationship they develop.Here, the player and player's motives/personality is unknown. That, by its very nature, has an opposite focus from a traditional fanfic. So What? Big deal. Who cares - a mod is a mod, and people want to play the game with some fun new content. Except... in this case, the materials I am working on have an odd point of view. When most modders write, they think in terms of the character they are writing (duh). So, an action comes up, and NPC talks about how they see the thing happening. But Aran has been written from the opposite point of view - what would PC say? What would he do? Coming up with Aran's stuff has been very easy. Coming up with what PCs reactions are and what a player would really like to be able to say has been very, very difficult. In essence, writing a construction set of possibilities and handing them to a player is an inside-out mod. Applying This To Aran: Strengths and Weaknesses As the mod has moved along, my focus has been on reply states that allow multiple types of PCs to have something interesting to have as a response. Game limitations and writing time limitations restrict what is possible; having 100 separate replies for each line is obviously a bad way to go (just imagining reading each one would be an instant "uninstall this POS and fire up Tashia and play again" for me). Early on, constraints were reputation-driven or good/evil/neutral driven, then loosened up to a blanket of no more than 6 undefined (malleable) replies that often branched out the way RL dialogs do (not always really returning to the topic). In PID's, we explored a bunch of ways of customizing to the player; in most materials, we have side branches in talks for specific kits, classes, and even ones for folks who have changed Aran into other class/kit types. Berelinde's 'Bennet Rubric' came into play in later stages, as she explored some great and intricate possibilities for dialog construction in Gavin (and we often trade ideas and work on implementations and recheck with each other, as two sets of modder eyes on the same code can sometimes catch things better than just one). But my focus, frankly, has been less about PC and Aran and more about Player Choices. And it has brought up an interesting point - how does this reconcile with storytelling, where we expect PC to have a consistent voice (because we wrote all her lines and fed them to him or her)? More importantly, are we (am I) making the Aran a player creates internally consistent enough that he doesn't sound insane? At first glance, way way back in the initial brainstorming for the mod, I passed on the idea of determining one single set of PC assumptions to respond to. I felt that CODE A [ARAN] I want to be talkin' about th' weather, now. [PC - EVIL] [PC - NEUTRAL] [PC - GOOD] [PC - EXIT] is very BioWare™. Not bad - just not where I wanted to play about. In one respect, I now understand why BioWare™ limits their dialog to this king of pathing - and why DA2 will have less possibilities even than DA:O (they have chosen 6 maximum possible, too, which makes me feel kind of good to have figured out a good boundary). This kind of dialog structure means they can use things very cleanly: CODE A [ARAN] I want to be talkin' about th' weather, now. [PC - EVIL] + B [PC - NEUTRAL] + B [PC - GOOD] + B [PC - EXIT] EXIT B [ARAN] I want to be talkin' about your response th' weather in a general way. [PC - EVIL] EXIT [PC - NETUTRAL] EXIT [PC - GOOD] EXIT This is incredibly simplified, and of course there are plenty of examples of where they went further, but the basic schematic is JCompton's "Looping Lovetalk Branch" technique. To be blunt, I figured that having a "net" or "cloud" of PC replies would be enough to cover all bases, especially as I wanted to allow players to roleplay chaotic as well as lawful characters. So, the inherent silliness that could result by purposefully choosing contracting and opposite reactions would be covered by a chaotic PC getting chaos in return - a talk where things didn't work out the way you would expect could be ignored, because it fit not choosing the expected pathway for the roleplayer. To put this more clearly, I figured without face-to-face human contact and all of the visual, auditory, etc. cues and social mannerisms, I can write CODE [ARAN] Now, what be th' idea, here... do I have naught in th' way o' counsel on this? and then I as a modder am free to re-purpose this statement based on where the player comes from and to: CODE [PC] I think you need a bath. You smell like a... well, you stink. [ARAN] Now, what be th' idea, here... do I have naught in th' way o' counsel on this? [PC] No. Get in there, and Korgan will be in with you in a minute with a stiff scrub brush. I'll heal you when you get out, if you have any skin left. [PC] I think I love you... I know Kivan is getting very fond of me, but... do you want to kiss me? [ARAN] Now, what be th' idea, here... do I have naught in th' way o' counsel on this? [PC] Of course you do. I just thought you might... you might want to kiss me. [ARAN] Now, what be th' idea, here... do I have naught in th' way o' counsel on this? [PC] No. I told you I would prefer to resolve things peaceably, but imprisoning a nymph is just wrong. Razzefelow needs to die. Stop thinking like a tactician, and start using your heart. In some respects, this works well. I can cross over between states in certain places, making content play out in many different ways, and avoid some state duplication. And having not specifically set out to create individual streams of thought (trying to make sure most if not all dialog states have responses that deal with as many possible player personalities as can be written for/imagined), many times the resulting play-through creates fun byplay more similar to RL conversation, where the results are sometimes not the way the player intended, because when PC says X, Aran can hear Y. Most of the feedback on allowing interesting and more involved player choices has been very positive; giving a player more potential options (even if they end up all leading back to the same end state) definitely works. What I didn't think all the way through is while many different ways a single statement may be taken can be a powerful weapon when crafting code, it can be a mess when it comes to storytelling - and it is a very sharp two-edged sword indeed. CODE [PC] (Kiss him gently under the chin) + [ARAN_RESPONDS] Did PC just ask him to sleep with her? Did PC just back him down from trying to make out with her by reducing the pace of the action? Did PC just nonverbally say "Hey, I like you a lot, but let's slow down" or was it "I like you a lot - you can go further" or "Hey, you like all this physical stuff, but I am ambivalent... why don't we play cards instead" or was it "Hmmm... I think if he lifts that jugular vein a little, I am going to get a good fresh meal out of this. Boy am I glad Valen made me into a vampire..." ? When I wrote it, I intended only one outcome - an escalation of physical contact by PC = "I want more action". It turns out that the flexibility given has some serous drawbacks. So now I have to figure out how to address this possible disconnect. I have plenty of options - I can ignore it completely, I can institute an "Aran Likes This" counter as several other mods do and use that to constrain possible outcomes,etc. But to explore the concept, let's take the complete opposite tack from what Aran started out with. Let's see what creating a follow-through between dialogs for player intent might look like.
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