Cause and Effect

I took part in Deborah Todd’s fantastic workshop way back at GLS 5, buying Game Design: from Blue Sky to Green Light as it closed. I’m finding it a refreshingly unique and informative take on the subject.

Todd’s chapter on plot and narratives has me particularly thoughtful. In writing about what she calls the ‘”and then” syndrome’, she compares cause-and-effect plots with the disconnected structures of much weaker narratives. It seems obvious that a cause-and-effect plot will, on the whole, make for a much more interactive and exciting game plot.

“Because the player does this, the enemies respond thus…”

…and so the player is involved more in each decision.

Many games do express this in at least a simple fashion. A cut-scene may show us that because the player reached the bomb and disabled it in time, their character lives and the building remains in tact. The enemy plot has thus been foiled. I have, however, seen games in which the bomb disarmament (or similar objective) was taken out of the player’s control, and all they were asked to do was make it from ‘A’ to ‘B’ within a time limit. The climactic events from then on were in keeping with the overall pace of that mission, but the player was robbed of any part in them.

This plot device owes a lot to film and other, non-interactive media. On the face of it, the game narrative would be less fun if the player completed a white-knuckle dash to the bomb, only to be shown a mini-game or some other form of ‘quick-time event’ (see Shenmue, Fahrenheit) whose presence slows the game down. Worse still, failing this crucial event will likely mean them running the obstacle course again, robbing this climax of all thrill.

Still, I can’t help feeling that this is inappropriate design; it has certainly been implemented in some quite disappointing games.

"Doctor Who: the Adventure Games" main screen

One such game is City of the Daleks – first instalment of Doctor Who: the Adventure Games. Overall I was impressed with the game: it offers 2 hours of authentic adventure in the Doctor Who universe, with some drama to embarrass many a ‘AAA’ title. It’s let down by its ending, however.

Some spoilers for Doctor Who: the Adventure Games may follow:

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