Making Your Mind Up

Remember This?


Mass Effect prided itself on Moral Choices. It was BioWare's next step in their morality drive. It was the continuation of their efforts to really allow you to in a Role Playing Game, actually "Play the Role" of your character rather than simply view their journey, and control their skill trees. In fact, lets take a trip back to the beginning of the Moral Choice system, and how it developed, and why it even exists.

The cover says it all, really
Rewind quite a few years, and you have the first attempts at fitting Moral Choices into games. Its a very western staple of RPG's, and litters through all of Bioware's games (even the early ones, yes) and the first 2 Fallout Games. These early games are barely recognisable in their implementation of the way Moral Choices are handled in today's world. But they had them. They kept track of how good and evil you were, and made changes to the game appropriately.

Fast forward to 2001. Another man rises up who would soon become a strong player in the whole Moral Choice area. His name was Peter Molyneux, and his game was Black & White. You may have heard of it. Everything you do is supposed to have an effect. The landscape and UI will morph and change based on how good or evil your character happens to be.

2 Years later, KoToR had come out and so had Fable. Fable being Molyneux's next game, and KoToR being Bioware's. These games were completely different in Moral Systems and implementation, but were in essence extremely similar. The main difference is this, the choices and consequences came out in the form of Dialogue Trees. You couldn't kill people randomly. The game played exactly the same until you entered the dialouge tree and it started to split. Obviously, being a Star Wars game the split widened to combat with the Light/Dark thing that Star Wars has, but the choices were often simply made in these menus. And so were many of the goals. Being evil allowed you to shout at people and scare them and being good allowed you to comfort people and just be nice.

Also you could get Devil Horns eventually.
Fable, however, was a continuation of the Molyneux style that he started in black and white. Main difference to note between KoToR and Fable, is that Fable has 0 dialogue trees. None whatsoever. The choices were made in your actions, and most of the consequences were external, rather than internal. In KoToR, if you were evil, you could do evil spells and be more evil. But in Fable, if you were evil, people run away from you in the street, they slander you and shout. And you became more evil by, for example, murdering people in the street, stealing from shops. In KoToR, you became more evil by doing a mission, then deciding what to do midway though whether it be good or bad, and living with those consequences.

Both systems grew old very quickly, as there  were two inherent problems. One more inherent than the other. One, the characters were not very well developed, and this was partly of a fault of the graphics. The faces were simply not expressive enough, there was no real personal consequence. It was harder to make people believe that they were interacting with real people, not just fake NPCs. And two, they were, ironically, Black & White. No middle ground.

Little Girls or Sources of Energy?
Fast Forward again to 2007. Two games arrive, with Moral Decisions as a crux of the game. These games are Mass Effect and Bioshock. Both of these have amazingly believable locations and characters. Mass Effect is the continuation, or one could say the completion, of the BioWare view on Moral Choices. It is no longer good or evil, but Good Cop or Bad Cop. Do you ruthlessly fight to protect yourself, or help anyone and everyone, or just go in the middle. The decisions you made, and how you controlled situations really did have consequences. Virmire was one of the best emotional showpieces for what that system could achieve.

Bioshock, on the other hand, had one choice. Repeatedly. Do you go for the immidiate power or do you save a little girl's life. The believability of this shockingly impossible situation was enough to make you agonise over every one, ask yourself if that power is truly worth it. And for a game, this kind of level of immersion in decisions had never happened before.

This last Holiday, Fallout 3 and Fable II were released. Fable II simply extends what Fable started, and the dog provides an emotional attatchment not seen before in many games. In fact, the last choice was one that made even the most hardened "good" player stop and reconsider the choice for the good of that dog. And the consequences were felt among the world that you resided in. Fallout 3, similarly made you make real choices that actually had real consequences. Even in the little things such as pickpocketing. As RPGs, they work well, immersing you in the role of a character. Your character. But RPG's are no longer the only genre that use this, as Bioshock proved. Whatis the best way to implement this system without intruding on the experience, and ruling over your every move, as it does in Fallout and Fable?

Mr Sensitive
April 29, 2008. GTA IV was released. Pedigree, it had, especially in the story. And by god it delivered. It has the most grounded and beliveable characters in a surprisingly in depth and engaging story. And yes, it had choices. And made them work better than in any of the other games. Being a criminal, Niko has to sometimes decide who to kill or whether to kill at all. And thing about these choices is that they are not normal occurances. There are about 4 Major ones over the course of the entire game. And every single one relies on the amazing story telling to make you agonize over the decision you are making. You decide what character you "like" more, when these started out as NPCs who could give you certain bonuses.

And the consequences are not too great. These huge choices feel like they have consequences, and they do, but they don't force you to play a certain way for the rest of the game, there is no "good/evil meter." For example, when you get to finally meet with your "special someone," the choice doesnt matter in gameplay. But it effects you, simply because you care about the characters.

GTA IV shows how you can add Moral Choices in, make them impactful, without basing your game around them. And it works. The consequences are in your head, and really they don't need to be spelled out in front of you. When you kill an innocent taxi driver, who begs for his live, it takes all the humanity out to get a "-1" pop out on the screen, wheras GTA manages to make you feel slightly guilty for killing a...placeholder NPC. Without ruining the fun or spoiling the feel of the game.  And that is quite an achievement.

So Moral Choices. They've come a long way, and I love them in my games. Having to actually make decisions that make me think about the consequences is an achievement on the TV screen, and I really like it. The more games that actually make you care about the world around you and what you do to it, the better. Though as with all good things, imitators wil eventually bring it to another cliche that gets old before its really reached its pinacle.

However, I don't fear the future. I simply await it and hope that it is good.

In Other News...

  • I lost "The Game"
  • Street Fighter IV may have to stop soon, I will come to my own realisation that I'm not, not really very good.
  • They raised the price of Microsoft Points in HMV. Surely that's not possible. Surely.
  • Putting awesome double bass drumming over Evan Brass "My Heart Belongs..." song works damn well. I should make a video.

And that's it for today, I'll write something later this week to keep you guys with your "Tylea002 Fix"
 
See you guys later.
6 Comments
7 Comments
Posted by Tylea002

Remember This?


Mass Effect prided itself on Moral Choices. It was BioWare's next step in their morality drive. It was the continuation of their efforts to really allow you to in a Role Playing Game, actually "Play the Role" of your character rather than simply view their journey, and control their skill trees. In fact, lets take a trip back to the beginning of the Moral Choice system, and how it developed, and why it even exists.

The cover says it all, really
Rewind quite a few years, and you have the first attempts at fitting Moral Choices into games. Its a very western staple of RPG's, and litters through all of Bioware's games (even the early ones, yes) and the first 2 Fallout Games. These early games are barely recognisable in their implementation of the way Moral Choices are handled in today's world. But they had them. They kept track of how good and evil you were, and made changes to the game appropriately.

Fast forward to 2001. Another man rises up who would soon become a strong player in the whole Moral Choice area. His name was Peter Molyneux, and his game was Black & White. You may have heard of it. Everything you do is supposed to have an effect. The landscape and UI will morph and change based on how good or evil your character happens to be.

2 Years later, KoToR had come out and so had Fable. Fable being Molyneux's next game, and KoToR being Bioware's. These games were completely different in Moral Systems and implementation, but were in essence extremely similar. The main difference is this, the choices and consequences came out in the form of Dialogue Trees. You couldn't kill people randomly. The game played exactly the same until you entered the dialouge tree and it started to split. Obviously, being a Star Wars game the split widened to combat with the Light/Dark thing that Star Wars has, but the choices were often simply made in these menus. And so were many of the goals. Being evil allowed you to shout at people and scare them and being good allowed you to comfort people and just be nice.

Also you could get Devil Horns eventually.
Fable, however, was a continuation of the Molyneux style that he started in black and white. Main difference to note between KoToR and Fable, is that Fable has 0 dialogue trees. None whatsoever. The choices were made in your actions, and most of the consequences were external, rather than internal. In KoToR, if you were evil, you could do evil spells and be more evil. But in Fable, if you were evil, people run away from you in the street, they slander you and shout. And you became more evil by, for example, murdering people in the street, stealing from shops. In KoToR, you became more evil by doing a mission, then deciding what to do midway though whether it be good or bad, and living with those consequences.

Both systems grew old very quickly, as there  were two inherent problems. One more inherent than the other. One, the characters were not very well developed, and this was partly of a fault of the graphics. The faces were simply not expressive enough, there was no real personal consequence. It was harder to make people believe that they were interacting with real people, not just fake NPCs. And two, they were, ironically, Black & White. No middle ground.

Little Girls or Sources of Energy?
Fast Forward again to 2007. Two games arrive, with Moral Decisions as a crux of the game. These games are Mass Effect and Bioshock. Both of these have amazingly believable locations and characters. Mass Effect is the continuation, or one could say the completion, of the BioWare view on Moral Choices. It is no longer good or evil, but Good Cop or Bad Cop. Do you ruthlessly fight to protect yourself, or help anyone and everyone, or just go in the middle. The decisions you made, and how you controlled situations really did have consequences. Virmire was one of the best emotional showpieces for what that system could achieve.

Bioshock, on the other hand, had one choice. Repeatedly. Do you go for the immidiate power or do you save a little girl's life. The believability of this shockingly impossible situation was enough to make you agonise over every one, ask yourself if that power is truly worth it. And for a game, this kind of level of immersion in decisions had never happened before.

This last Holiday, Fallout 3 and Fable II were released. Fable II simply extends what Fable started, and the dog provides an emotional attatchment not seen before in many games. In fact, the last choice was one that made even the most hardened "good" player stop and reconsider the choice for the good of that dog. And the consequences were felt among the world that you resided in. Fallout 3, similarly made you make real choices that actually had real consequences. Even in the little things such as pickpocketing. As RPGs, they work well, immersing you in the role of a character. Your character. But RPG's are no longer the only genre that use this, as Bioshock proved. Whatis the best way to implement this system without intruding on the experience, and ruling over your every move, as it does in Fallout and Fable?

Mr Sensitive
April 29, 2008. GTA IV was released. Pedigree, it had, especially in the story. And by god it delivered. It has the most grounded and beliveable characters in a surprisingly in depth and engaging story. And yes, it had choices. And made them work better than in any of the other games. Being a criminal, Niko has to sometimes decide who to kill or whether to kill at all. And thing about these choices is that they are not normal occurances. There are about 4 Major ones over the course of the entire game. And every single one relies on the amazing story telling to make you agonize over the decision you are making. You decide what character you "like" more, when these started out as NPCs who could give you certain bonuses.

And the consequences are not too great. These huge choices feel like they have consequences, and they do, but they don't force you to play a certain way for the rest of the game, there is no "good/evil meter." For example, when you get to finally meet with your "special someone," the choice doesnt matter in gameplay. But it effects you, simply because you care about the characters.

GTA IV shows how you can add Moral Choices in, make them impactful, without basing your game around them. And it works. The consequences are in your head, and really they don't need to be spelled out in front of you. When you kill an innocent taxi driver, who begs for his live, it takes all the humanity out to get a "-1" pop out on the screen, wheras GTA manages to make you feel slightly guilty for killing a...placeholder NPC. Without ruining the fun or spoiling the feel of the game.  And that is quite an achievement.

So Moral Choices. They've come a long way, and I love them in my games. Having to actually make decisions that make me think about the consequences is an achievement on the TV screen, and I really like it. The more games that actually make you care about the world around you and what you do to it, the better. Though as with all good things, imitators wil eventually bring it to another cliche that gets old before its really reached its pinacle.

However, I don't fear the future. I simply await it and hope that it is good.

In Other News...

  • I lost "The Game"
  • Street Fighter IV may have to stop soon, I will come to my own realisation that I'm not, not really very good.
  • They raised the price of Microsoft Points in HMV. Surely that's not possible. Surely.
  • Putting awesome double bass drumming over Evan Brass "My Heart Belongs..." song works damn well. I should make a video.

And that's it for today, I'll write something later this week to keep you guys with your "Tylea002 Fix"
 
See you guys later.
Posted by Red

Awesome blog, Tylea. Mass Effect, in my opinion, has done choice better than any other game so far. There were 3 situations in that game where I had to think about what I did. I did not know what I did was right, or wrong. While the game flashed up "Paragon" or "Renegade" in two of these 3 cases, sometimes it would show both, giving an obvious middleground, and when it only showed one, you knew that what you were doing was wrong (or right) in some ways. 


The thing KotOR did that Mass Effect didn't, was make your alignment obvious. When I played through KotOR as an evil guy, I felt horrible. Near the end of the game, I looked at my character. He was pale, horrible eyes, and just creepy. The Force Power system was also cool. Nevertheless, in games that give you a choice, I'm always a saint, at least the first time through.


Posted by ishotmrburns

Great blog, but where's Deus Ex?

Posted by Johnny5

Something I'd like to bring up though.

Do you need to provide the players with the choice to emphasize morality? Im not sure why but when I think of a game that made me see the morales it was The Darkness and that had only a few obvious choices.

Posted by Tylea002
ishotmrburns said:
"Great blog, but where's Deus Ex?"
This is true, Deus Ex did use Moral Choices a great deal. I didn't feel I could comment on it however, as I have never ever played it.


Posted by Sweep

The concept of a moral choice within a computer game has always felt especially restrictive to me - People love to praise Mass Effect for the potential to be good or evil - but arguably the most interesting choices can only be made if you are already Evil or Good. The neutral grey middle character was boring and often prevented you from finding out information or progressing fluently through the story. You basically had to pick at the beginning whether to be good or evil and then stick to that path throughout the entire experience to reap the benefits that particular element of the game had to offer. It basically meant your choices were already predetermined, and removed the concept of making decisions relevant to each case you were presented.

Bioshock's moral choices were interesting but repetitive. If I killed the little girl before, why wouldn't I do it now? There was no individuality, again removing the concept of reacting to an individual scenario.

If you look back over the games you have played you will find that in most cases to fully take advantage of a morality system you either go Good or Evil. In many cases you have no choice but to pick an extreme anyway. If you are playing a good character in Fable 2, why would you leave a town corrupt? The element of choice is an illusion.

On the flip side you have GTA4 which manages to successfully involve moral choices, but the game only gives you bad choices to make. Often your decisions are punished with moral responsibility. For example passing on the opportunity to kill the Drug Dealer. The game is successful in that it removes the idea that the decision you make is wrong - but the consequences are still negative within the context of the game. No matter what decision you make the game will continue to progress regardless, but you will have to deal emotionally with the consequences as the player, via character empathy.

Then there is the train of thought - if your actions make no consequence to the world, what's the point of having them? Do you really want one action to change the entire future of a Town, as in Fable 2 - or do you want the super realism of GTA4 where your actions are only really meaningful to you, the player. I guess there is room for both, but I have yet to find an equilibrium in any game which feels fully satisfying.

Nice blog btw ;)

Moderator Online
Posted by Tylea002

Thanks dude.

I suppose, personally, I prefer a system that has you make choices that effect you, the player, rather than have a definate outcome in the game. For then you'll be simply making a choice for what you'll get out of it, and that works some times (see: Bioshock) but it is more poignant if you are left pondering about the choices you made (GTA IV)

But as you say, there will never be an equilibrium which feels satisfying, and any game that tries will fail. Either you do have to base the game around it (Fable) or use it for poignant moments (GTA)