Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Story Choices That Constrain the Future

This post contains spoilers for Imperial Taris in The Old Republic.

I like Thana Vesh. She's a Sith introduced in the Imperial Taris storyline, the apprentice to Darth Gravus. I find her very funny. She's like this angry Sith kitten, fluffing up her fur and pretending to be a great cat. She's terribly proud, terribly arrogant, and has a habit of getting in over her head.

She would have been an outstanding recurring character. Every couple of planets, she could pop up, engage in a battle of insults with your character, and then stride off.

However, that will never happen. At the end of Imperial Taris, the player is given the choice of killing Thana or letting her live. Because she dies in many storylines, she effectively cannot appear in future planets, even if she lives in others. At most she can send an email, or some other easy method which is easy to implement. In a lot of ways, it sort of ruins the choice of keeping Thana alive.

Essentially, it's too much work to add Thana in only some of the stories. It's much easier to introduce a new character that works for everyone.

Because budgets are limited, every time a game offers a choice, the future is constrained by the most restrictive option. This is especially true for life-or-death choices. If one choice leads to character dying, that character is effectively gone from the story, even for the players who choose to let that character live.

This isn't always true, of course, but it requires double the work to reuse a character that may have died. Thus it is something that will be used sparingly, if at all. I believe some of the class storylines reuse characters that were spared death.

I think storyline-based games would be better off to avoid such extreme choices, especially for notable characters. Offering players the option of killing important NPCs seems like it is empowering players, but only ends up constraining the future. It's not really much of choice to spare someone if they never appear again. They may as well have died.


  1. 3 choices here if they keep the model.

    1) have them come back with scars and vying for revenge. Shadow of Mordor's nemesis system does this well.

    2) use the Doombot approach. It was a clone!

    3) wibbly wobbley timey wimey stuff to go back in time, save your dad, and your race, kill some demons and then retcon 20 years of lore. Oh wait :). (mind you Star Trek did this too)

  2. Alternatively: Just have inserted segments where she shows up if still alive.

    Since most TOR conversations end up involving characters literally walking into and out of frame, even if they weren't around when the dialog started, AND they have dialog variations that reference choices made in the past, they had the tech to have her show up only for characters who let her live.

    Yes, leaving her would have required some additional story work, but since she was removed from being a major character anyway, writing in some extra quips or jabs would not have been much work and would have made the choice much more meaningful.

    There's a BUNCH of characters who could have been handled in this way, and the story would have improved for it.

  3. I don't really disagree with anything in particular in this post, except that I think it's really not that big of a problem.

    While replaying part of the bounty hunter story recently, I came across a point where you can kill a certain character. Previously I let her live, and a bit later she came back to try and kill me. This time I killed her... so someone else came to try and kill me at the exact same spot. Even though it felt like an important choice at the time, the consequences really weren't that significant.

    Having radically different branching paths in general is indeed a problem, but you can have those without life or death decisions - and you can have life or death decisions that still don't change the story very much.

    Speaking of Thana in particular, I was glad that she didn't show up again after I let her walk, as I thought she was super annoying. :P

  4. A better example, though more spoiler-heavy, might be Jaxo from the Trooper storyline. I would be quite surprised if Jaxo ever showed up again.

  5. I prefer Thana to Fez Burba any day.

    I'd love to have a chance to turn Thana to being my apprentice, but that's just me.

  6. @Rohan-- I actually expected Jaxo to show up at the end of the Trooper storyline, and was kind of disappointed when that didn't happen.