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Radiant Arin

How you deal with non-linearity

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We've probably run into this road block a couple of times before about what to do to not make our games so linear and along in a straight line. Just as life throws curve balls at us to dodge them, sometimes going down one single path in an RPG game will eventually hit you in the face at 80-90 mph. You're then stuck, as a developer. You don't know what to do. Your only choice is to make something like a Conditional Branch and hopefully everything plays out quite as you expected it to be.

 

How do you deal with problems that arise from linearity? For example, most RPG games are quite linear in their first few hours, and then open up dramatically afterwards. My project doesn't do this until quite after Chapter 5, which, by my estimations, is about 9-10 hours, in which you can re-explore a portion of a map you have already explored. This way, you can get additional Materials that you couldn't get before, and it only takes about 20 minutes of your time.

 

There's also a nice little endurance challenge that you can take where you can get very good gears that you normally couldn't get otherwise. Though it takes up a considerable amount of time, the trade-off for all of your hard work goes to bettering your characters.

 

There's also Emotion, which is not quite perfected at the moment, but it can lead to alternate endings with some of your characters and, in the future, some abilities will pop-up that may deal more damage according to a user's Emotion Level.

 

I actually don't know if this should be in the Developer's Category, so I apologize ahead of time, but I think this warrants enough discussion to be put in the General Forum.

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Well I feel with non-linear functions unless they're not a zero sum game its a bad idea to introduce them late into an otherwise-linear game. To use the example fo your emotion system- I don't know how you're going to implement it but many similar games have had the problem where you have to start the game over and redo the same quests etc just to get to the point where you can try and take another choice. So I'd say in that case its best to have a definate cutoff point where all the emotion-point-gaining begins, and make it obvious so people can backup their save and just restart from there if they wanna see the other routes.

Personally I think opening up the game very late in the story is hard to pull off in general, Final Fantasy 10 had 'walking down a giant corridor' gameplay for hours and hours and hours before you gain an airship and the ability to backtrack without wasting ages retracing your steps on foot. (Likely only to bump into one of the points of no return 'You can't ride the shoopuff now.. for some reason!' gah) Basically the game has to most definately NOT have any point where the player will go 'this could be so much easier if it wasn't a linear path', since then they'll find it frustrating that it actually DOES become non linear and wonder why the whole game couldnt be like this.

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Well if you look at something like Dark Souls, the world is all interconnected and seamless. I recommend interconnecting all of your different levels somehow and add one or more things to do (such as mini-games or side quests) in each area so that the player has a reason to go back.

 

What I do is make a list of all the locations in my game and draw lines to show how I want them all to connect.

 

Here's an example of how it would be done in Dark Souls:

 

 

DS_Area_map.png

 

 

Edited by kijiru

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For me personally, I would rather play a linear game that has some optional content thrown in now and then rather than a completely non linear game. I'm a huge fan of the SaGa series, but those games are very hit and miss and it's mainly due to the unique, oddball game structure.

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In my case, I've added optional bosses to fight that increase the relationship status between main characters. Also, optional sub-quests that do the same thing, also provides bonus items, enchants, crafting materials, etc.

 

See, my story itself starts out linear; if you ignore all of the mini-bosses and subquests, the default 'linear' storyline from start to finish is going to end up sad. Think of the 'bad ending' version of many JRPGs. But if you do some or all of the optional stuff, then you get to craft a better ending for all characters. Then, if you choose to play the game ever again, you can pick different relationships to support and end up with a slightly different outcome.

 

Seems complicated, but it's really just a lot of conditional branches and variable functions. I feel that people who like story driven experiences are happier with the ability to affect the storyline rather than adding a mini-game or 'bonus dungeons' for the simple pleasure of beating them and having a maxed out character. Still, I put in things like a crafting system and mini-games for those who want a change of pace.

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Honestly, I don't think it's a good idea to have the game go on that long and then say... "Hey, we're non-linear now." unless you are in the endgame. A game should mesh seamlessly, and any non-linearity you introduce should be in a way that complies with that requirement. It has to feel natural in the progression of the game, and I see a lot of people have a choice in the endgame to dictate how it ends, and that's alright in my opinion if not optimal. But you also have to make sure the choices work in the context of the game, and the results of those choices are not only meaningful... but make sense in terms of the overall story.

 

My entire game is based on the idea of player agency. They make choices that meaningfully affect the story every few hours to every few minutes (although minutes between choices in rare, and it's usually minor decisions) depending on what route they take, what they decide to do with their time, or what part of the game they are in. The ending will spin off into a crazy number of variations. What I mean is that that is pretty difficult. You have to make sure you examine all of the effects of the decisions you presented the player, you need to make sure every variation, every change, and every addition branching off of it makes sense in context. You also need to make sure that this non-linearity does not create plot-holes, and you have to try and spot them and correct.

 

Whether it be one choice or many though, just remember to have attention to detail. Remember to test all of the permutations of the decisions (if that ends up being a manageable number of course, otherwise... eh). Remember to pay attention so that you don't make a mistake you are going to need to come back and detect amidst all of the branching paths. Otherwise, things could get a bit complicated.

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That's what I meant by pretty complicated, earlier on. In your case, it sounds like the decisions made by a player affect the overall storyline and lead to various endings.

 

When decisions are made in my game's case, it's not a 'Okay, let's do this!' or 'No, we're going to do this instead.' set of options that unlocks a different direction of the story. The choices made by the player are simply which characters they take with them when they fight mini-bosses or complete subquests. If Character A and B have a relationship variable, then it gets increased by 1 when they A) are in the main party and B) they defeat a boss. Then, during certain linear cutscenes (happen no matter what), if that variable is high enough, then character B lives. If it's lower than the required number, then character B dies, and is omitted from the rest of the game. It's kind of cruel, but it's a giving the player the option to kill off or save a particular character. If that means character B isn't around to save Character D or E later on, and they die as a result, then that's how this particular playthough worked out. Making non-linear story events such as this is, in my opinion, a great replayability factor.

 

TL;DR version: Who the player puts in the party affects the fates of different characters.

 

Yes, this pretty much means that every cutscene I make has a ton of conditional branches going for it. If Character B died, then in all of the later cutscenes anything he/she has to say will be dependent on a Conditional Branch operation.

 

And to keep track of how far along each character relationship is, I've added a 'Fortune Teller' stall in many towns, so players can check all the available supports. Also, Fortune Tellers will give you a vague, cryptic impression of what might happen if they relationship isn't built upon.

 

Choices! Choices, everywhere!

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That sounds really awesome, but it also sounds like a hell of a lot more work. I'm debating adding something like this to the game I'm making, but the idea of doubling the workload puts me off. I'd imagine the things you could do would be awesome for replay value!

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It is a lot of work Alazais, but all game design is. It's what you get out of that work that matters. If you think you can handle the extra workload, go for it! Just be prepared to work longer and harder to get quality. Although, if you're new, I'd suggest putting this kind of thing off until you have a bit of experience. I've only implemented a single choice in my game so far, yet the permutations of that both on the story and in the game took me hours of extra work. I have to say though, it was worth it, and I can't wait for someone to experience it. But there is always more work to be done, :)

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Gosh yes it is a lot of work XD After a burst of thinking up a million ideas when I initially started RPGmaker I think I've decided my first 'project' will just be a one-dungeon short test game where I fool around a lot with non-linearity. And it'll probably be tougher than making a full linear story, if only because it takes a lot of sticking power to persevere with eventing out all the many many consequences...

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The best first projects Bunni really are test games. You can test your skills and learn about what you need to touch up on and what you're weak on in the first place. Then, we it comes to finally start on a real project, your ready for the challenges that come from that designation and not end up giving up on a project because you lose hope. I've had plenty of projects like that, believe me. But you learn from your mistakes, :)

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Haha, yup. I was just worried if it would actually be allowed to post that sort of stuff here since you need a lot of info for a completed project thread and i might be dissappointing people if they see I wrote up all that stuff and then the game is an hour long XD But if its allowed I'll totally go for it! (and I should probably change my avvie and sig cos these were for one of my Big Game ideas in le future..)

All this talk of non linearity has got me psyched :D haha, but I'm still stumped on designing the two party members so they'll be wearing RTP faces for a while XD

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Yea, all kinds of games are accepted here. After all, experience promotes qualities. So even shorter starter projects being posted so you can have feedback on what to do in the future is always a good thing in my opinion.

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Hooray! Thanks for the help, Obs :3

But anyway back on topic XD I'm a real huge fan of non-linear game elements and the inclusion of any of them will make me glomp a game XD Especially stuff that makes you feel like you have your own will and can roleplay the character a bit more, like choices or character customization even if it doesn't affect much. Just a game where I can pick between three choices that lead to the same result but are phrased differently lets me tweak the personality of that character in my head, like maybe they're a generic hero or a snarky guy or a jerkass only restrained by the rest of the party into doing good things. The story might all be the same but changed dialogue gives a new perspective :3

But I kinda like games that are low linearity or high linearity, cos when people try to mix it up too much they tend to have more failures. Like how FFXII had a totally linear story but a non-linear world map, that just made it so it was easy to fall into a sidequest or get completely stuck in an area that's way too high level and have no damn clue where you're MEANT to be XD That could've been pulled off better if there were multiple plot routes around the place or things were just organized better so the linear path was clear and the optional content was off to the side instead of it being so schizophrenic that you're constantly guessing whether going straight forward is a trap and the 'true path' is actually to the left through that meandering pathway. Also the areas were big but didn't have much to do in them, or even much variety of scenery. *sigh* OR they coulda just gone full sandbox in the first place and put all their effort into that scenery and content and not made the god-awful main plot. "Lets put the deified nethicite into the engine!" "The.. the stuff that drains power? that everyone knows exactly what it does?" "YES, THAT. Because it is shiny!" *airship predictably falls out of the sky and explodes*

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Having linearity or non-linearity does not make your game better or worse. It should be a design decision that fits the game. Each has its pros and cons. The fact is, development resources (notably time) are limited, so given a finite amount of time there's no way a non-linear game has each of its branching stories better than a linear one if they were made by people of equal skill. If you enjoy the element of choice and giving choice to players, that is great but don't add it because you think you have to or because you think it will make your game superior to ones without choice.

 

Use your resources wisely and be realistic.

Edited by Ocedic

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I just added a non linear advancement to my plot where you can visit any of 5 different areas and defeat the enemies in any order and the plot still plays out.  It requires a few more switches and variables but for my needs it seemed to work better than telling the player which place to go to first.

 

This way the player can visit any and return to the town to heal and purchase gear at will, and still advance the plot.  What I did was set a switch to turn on when the first area was cleared, then conditional branches set up for each time a new place was cleared that provided more plot details, until the last one was cleared and a cut scene was started.

 

Before this I added a quest in a town where you could pick one of 3 dates, and the following cut scene would include the correct choice (or no one if you didn't pick anyone) for the scene.

 

It did take a bunch of time to sort out all the switches and variables and conditional branching, but once I got it in I think it made my game's world feel more alive.

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