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Worsas
Developer
10 Sep 2005



With the master plan and the main principles of gameplay being discussed, I want to suggest one main principle that seems to me like it was very important for Morrowind and later TES sequels too: Freedom.

In Morrowind you can drop your stuff everywhere and pick it up anytime later. You can go anywhere you want and enter any house. You can jump, fly or even teleport yourself out of trouble whenever you want. you can fully customize your own character from the beginning. You can customize your own spells and enchantments. While many of these gameplay elements have become commonplace in rpgs, some of them are still unique or rarely encountered at least.

I'm not good at describing my thoughts in an appealling way, so I will just make a small, quick listing of what I think the implications of the principle of player freedom could be for TR (assuming that you wanted to treat this as a main principle of your work) Much of what I write here, may not be entirely new and I think that a good questwriter will have some of these principles in the back of his/her mind. But anyway:

1. Design quests and general storylines with a certain flexibility in order to account for the incalculable player. Keep in mind that almost each situation can be circumvented by the player in some way or that involved npc characters can get killed or pacified anytime.

2. Design quests and general storylines in a way that players usually have several meaningful choices with an impact on the outcome.

3. Design quests and dungeons with the various possible player character types in mind. Create opportunities for the exercising of each character skill and in extension the respective spells of the magic schools. This will ideally mean that a player will have opportunities of useful application for each skill in roughly similar amounts, which in turn means that there is freedom to use and train each skill or buying special spells like sound or light without feeling stupid for doing so. Here I have several examples in mind:

Example1: An important quest item in a dungeon that can be retrieved by Telekinesis much quicker and without having to deal with a number of nasty enemies on the further way.
Example2: A quest in which you can get a favourable result of the problem by pacifying an involved hostile npc with illusion spells. Such a possibility should be specifically hinted at in dialogue, though in order to avoid dead content.
Example3: Add an obstacle that you can only pass with a certain amount of magical resistance to be achieved with the respective resistance spells. A lava sea with low ceiling (so you cannot circumvent this with levitation again) would be typical example.
Example4: Making use of darkness in dungeons to make light or infravision more useful.

4. Design shops aswell as teaching offers and high end rewards in a way that each character type gets a similar amount of interesting things. Not each smith needs to support each single armor and weapon type, but you could aim for a roughly equal distribution of armor- and weapon-types over the blacksmiths of several towns, to name an example.

5. Don't assume that the playercharacter is automatically good and wants the common good and save the world and all that stuff. Don't force the player into being the nice saviour of all, if he doesn't want to.

6. There are quite a number of interesting character profiles in the class list (pilgrim, witchhunter, monk, etc. etc.). It might be an interesting idea to mentally take the perspective of all these different character types and see what our content can offer to them, not just in terms of skill usage but also with regards to choice of acting in a situation, specifically for player that like to do roleplaying.
Post Thu Aug 20, 2015 3:58 pm Send private message             Reply with quote                   up  
Theminimanx
Lead Developer
26 Jan 2014

Location: GMT +1

While I agree that many of these things would make many a game better, I personally don't think it fits into the gameplay style of Elder Scrolls games. TES games have always given the player complete freedom in what they do. You want to save the world? You can. You want to become a thief? You can. You want to go and murder some important people? You can.

This should not be confused with giving the player completele freedom in how they do those things. If you join the Thieves' Guild, you're expected to act like a thief. You can't, say, persuade your target to give you the item you're meant to steal. That's more the territory of Fallout.

Similarly, I don't think there are any quests in Morrowind where you make choices during the quest that affect the outcome. Your choice is always limited to doing the quest or not doing the quest.

The big exception to this is of course your ability to go murderhobo on the entire population. But notice how the game never actually reacts to this, outside of locking you out of questlines. The contents of say, a Great House questline don't change if you kill their leader. You're just unable to complete it.

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Post Thu Aug 20, 2015 5:23 pm Send private message             Reply with quote                   up  
EJRS
Developer
14 Aug 2013



I stand with Worsas on this. What Theminimanx wrote about how quests in the original game are written is true, but I don't think this is a set-in-stone formula that needs to be followed. Of course, it would stick out like a sore thumb if quests were designed in an entirely different way, but I think the format of TES3 quests could do to be expanded upon.

A few more ideas that I feel should be kept in mind when writing quests:

- In the original game, the player is more often than not played the fool, used for someone elses purposes, or kept somewhat in the dark about the purpose behind quests (the MQ is a grand example). It's always "Oh, you think you're a bigshot with your cool armour and your cool spells? Well, think again". I think this is a very nice way to continue down: it gives the world the illusion of more depth, that there is always more going on behind the scenes than the player is made explicitly aware of.

- Write quests in a way that makes the player explore specific areas, geographical as well as story- and lore-wise. Send the player all over town, exploring different shops or local establishments, write the quest to provide a small expose of a certain religious theme or a certain social issue (differences in economic class, issues of racism, the yoke/benefit of imperial bureaucracy etc.). Quests should not simply be designed to keep the player occupied, that's pretty meaningless. They should tell a story about the world of Tamriel beyond the limited scope of the story of the specific quest.
Post Thu Aug 20, 2015 6:29 pm Send private message             Reply with quote                   up  
Gnomey
Lead Developer
19 May 2006

Location: In your garden.

There are Thieves Guild quests in which you can ask for the item from the NPC who owns it. There are also quests where you can just buy the item and not have to steal a thing. The Thieves Guild is perhaps the worst example to pick, actually, but even the other questlines allow you to spare NPCs you are supposed to kill, etc. It's half the point behind the existence of Percius Mercius.

My own thoughts on this subject:

Morrowind is fundamentally a roleplaying game. The story is there to allow the player to develop their character; the character is not there to help develop the story. Above all, we should not develop the player character ourselves to suit a story without providing the player with alternatives.
I think a good attitude is that we are creating a world rather than a story; the player is the one who creates the story, we just provide the pieces. If we provide good pieces, the player can create a good story.
A player diverging from the storyline, say by levitating out of a sticky situation, isn't diverging from the plot. The player is the one writing the plot. It is not the job of the player to stick to a script, nor is it our job to write out a script for the player to follow. If the player kills a quest-related character, the plot becomes more complex. If the player kills so many NPCs related to the quest or questline that it can't continue, then the player has simply 'solved' the storyline by a different means. If the player wipes out the Morag Tong rather than becoming the grandmaster, that becomes the player's story in our world, and each player's story will be unique and -- hopefully -- interesting, and will thereby deepen our world.
The player is not the Nerevarine, necessarily. Not an Imperial spy necessarily. Does not go native necessarily. Is not good necessarily, is not bad necessarily, is not merciful necessarily, is not patient necessarily, is not violent necessarily. Is not a fool necessarily nor necessarily intelligent. We do necessarily trap the player at the start; we do give the player some context to start with. The player is a prisoner to our plot at the very beginning, but we promptly set the player free, and all that comes before and after is for the player to decide, not just the intervals between the major questlines.

If you're reading this as a series of jabs against Oblivion and Skyrim, you're reading it correctly. These are exactly the things I feel those games do not do, which I would have preferred they did, though it's not as though they're automatically bad for not doing them. Just not what I wanted out of a TES game.
In the lead-up to Oblivion, one of the stated reasons (by, I think, Todd Howard) for removing levitation was that it was too troublesome and limiting to have to build a storyline around such a mechanic, which explains some limitations very loosely present in vanilla Morrowind and far more apparent in the expansions. I think we should avoid that attitude. When my brother first completed the mainquest, given that the heart chamber was supposedly falling apart, he quickly used an Almsivi intervention to teleport out of the place, which means he didn't run into Azura on the way out and missed the ending cutscene. And I actually think that was silly on Bethesda's part; they gave the player a message that the place was falling apart, and teleportation provides an ideal means of evacuation. What would Azura do in that situation? Would she just stand around in that cave waiting for the player for eternity? Maybe the ending cutscene could play as the player is teleporting. Maybe the player could be redirected to a certain location, as at the end of Tribunal, and end up face-to-face with Azura. Maybe Azura could just appear in front of the player wherever the player ends up.

Another example is with pacifying NPCs (and creatures). There is no character the player has to kill. Certainly, there are quests like Morag Tong quests where the objective is to kill an NPC, (though a lot of non-Morag Tong assassination quests even have workarounds as mentioned above), but there is no way we can -- and no way we should -- force the player to actually kill someone. If we have a bunch of thugs ambush the player, we cannot and shouldn't assume they will all be killed. The player might calm them, might command them, might run, etc. If we expect the player to do something, we're quickly going to be running into brick walls. If, however, we create scenarios for the eventuality that the player does something, then we're giving the player possibilities and avoid writing ourselves into a wall.
This doesn't need to be as complex as it may sound. If the player kills an NPC, certain other NPCs might resent the player for it, some might even attack the player or refuse to speak to the player, others might however even like the player better for it. Sometimes the questgiver will snap at you, give you a warning but then move on to the next quest. Sometimes the questgiver will tell the player to get out. These are things Morrowind already does. Given the wealth of faction quests we'll probably end up with, due to shear scale, we'll be able to provide the player with a lot more freedom than vanilla Morrowind could in picking, choosing and failing faction quests. The player will have far more misc quests to pick and choose from. Which all means more freedom for us and the player.
Post Thu Aug 20, 2015 7:45 pm Send private message             Reply with quote                   up  
Worsas
Developer
10 Sep 2005



There are indeed not many quests with several possible outcomes, but I agree with Gnomey and remember from my own playing that there are a number of quests that allow for their objectives to be reached via differing means. In Skyrim you have many quests with diverging outcome depending on dialogue choices, so there are examples that could be adapted for us, if we figure that it will make the game better and give more feeling of freedom. Here I must say that the dialogue options given in skyrim rarely suited my player character. This is one reason for the class-list idea. You could just look at each type of adventurer for 15 seconds and wonder if there is already a suitable choice for this one. You might even look through the list of races additionally. what would a stubborn nord character possibly do? Granted this may result in an overkill of choices and not fit into the tone of the game anymore.

But: Morrowind stood against other games of the same time with a previously unseen amount of freedom. I thought TR might want to think about means to retain and fortify this aspect, by introducing elements not seen in the vanilla game.

Quote:
I think a good attitude is that we are creating a world rather than a story; the player is the one who creates the story, we just provide the pieces.

if you took this route the hard way, it could make creation of quests both harder and easier. Harder because you needed to take many possible paths into account, thus writing a multitude of short storylines and foresee countless possible exceptions. Easier because you would, in theory, not be writing a big concatenated story anymore, but many little, loose story bricks which in and on themselves are quickly written up. They only need to be made waterproof, unlike your example of the final fight with dagoth ur in the heartchamber. Smile

If you would take this effort of concentrating a lot of versatility and quality in single story steps, you could make these courses of action and the characters in it extremely responsive to the individual player and his properties or his deeds in other places at the same time, up to a silly degree. That could make each playthrough a unique experience.

But this is only a play of thoughts so far. The story bricks would need to add up to something reasonable, too. If each storybrick could have a multitude of radically different outcomes, very few assumptions could be made in the storybricks building on top of those.
Post Thu Aug 20, 2015 11:46 pm Send private message             Reply with quote                   up  
Gnomey
Lead Developer
19 May 2006

Location: In your garden.

Yeah, a sort of story-brick system is indeed the logical conclusion of what I suggest, and I have considered the approach for other projects and rather like it, but I'm not sure if it would work for TR in that extreme form.

As far as Morrowind is concerned, the alternate paths tend to be just not completing the quest. If an NPC is trying to dupe you and you recognize it, you just withdraw. Maybe kill the NPC if you like. If you try to finish the quest, the assumption is that you were either duped or pretended to be duped. I think for the most part, that works. While the options don't cater to specific characters, they do support most characters to some degree. In doing -- or not doing -- a series of quests, the player can then more deeply develop the specific character of the pc.

The mention of dialogue options is an interesting one: in Morrowind, the options tend to avoid characterizing the player. They are either 'actions', like "continue", or very short and to the point, for example in the conversation with Dagoth Ur at the end of the game, which is naturally a defining moment: "What is your plan for the Heart?" "What is your plan for the Sixth House?" "What is your plan for the Dunmer?" "How do you justify your crimes?" "What happened to the Dwemer?" "Why are you building Akulakhan?" "I'm finished talking, Defend yourself." Very dry stuff, except perhaps for the last line. Now compare that to the player's responses in Skyrim, for example when talking to Paarthurnax. One of my smaller complaints about Skyrim is that I felt like the vast majority of player responses as well as the attitudes and replies of NPCs seemed to shoe-horn my character into an adventurous, impatient green-horn warrior type who lacks knowledge or interest in Elderscrolls lore and always blindly follows the lead of NPCs. Morrowind's choices utterly -- and at times frustratingly -- refused to provide my character with a scrap of character. Unless my character was supposed to be blank and stoic, of course. I had to figure out what my character actually said myself.
Post Fri Aug 21, 2015 5:09 am Send private message             Reply with quote                   up  
Worsas
Developer
10 Sep 2005



The way little personality is given to player responses in MW is probably just the way they allow you to be who you are without being forced into a role of some kind. So the player responses with a lot of personality to them are probably not a great idea. Skyrims dialogue options do this and it is not ideal, we both figured.

I think that regarding player character types it is not a good idea to cobble together detailled solutions that would only force the player into a certain characteristic again and this is not what my initial thought with this proposal was, anyway.

That story brick and dialogue option idea aside, I thought it would just be an interesting perspective to see if there are really opportunities for the different player character types to make usage of their skills and take actions a character with their profile would take, granted, this already starts with the choice of the factions you join. If you are a pacifist character you will probably not join the fighters guild in the first place.

Basically this is all about consciously taking the perspective of the player and the character he/she wants to play and see if the game can be improved for him/her, maybe by just adding opportunities (closed doors and chests for thieves, to name a bad example), as long as it doesn't interfer with the story you want to tell in a location. If you do this too much, it can become very repetitive, too, so it is something to keep in mind for the broad context across several towns maybe rather than each single town or dungeon.

Edit: To come back to the example of the pacifist character, you could consider a certain percentage of quests that don't force you into killing something, only as an example again.
Post Fri Aug 21, 2015 8:48 am Send private message             Reply with quote                   up  
Theo
Developer Emeritus
16 Dec 2004

Location: PRAGUE

That is a fundamental question you raise worsas.

I recall reading an article on the web (if only I was able to find it), in which various subgenres of RPG videogames are identified. I recall there are at least three of them: sandbox RPGs (elder scroll series), story-driven RPGs (witcher series), dungeon crawls (diablo series).

Each of these three subgenres accentuates a certain gamne mechanic and reward for progressing in the game.

In dungeon crawls you explore and kill monsters to loot new gear and level up, which opens up new skills and entertaining possibilities in which you can kill even more monsters and loot more dungeons. Developing your character stats and inventory is the main incentive of this game.

In story-driven game you are usually playing as a certain character in more or less linear storyline. Your reward is being part of the tale and learning how it ends. Of course if there are multiple solutions depending on your decisions the better, because the feeling that it was really you who made a difference is the intended reward. The theme is consequence: if you have a liberty to do thing A or B and in the end (or at least on the road) your decision does not matter at all the inclusion of such choice is almost nullified.

And then there are sandboxes, which offer large world to explore and offer the biggest characterization. A player is there to decide who he will be and what he will do. In quests and emphasis is rather in multiple solutions to solve a current quest (a brick as you call it) depending on your character traits (violence, stealth, diplomacy) to reach the very same outcome (obtaining the item), rather than choosing between two different outcomes (this can work in misc. quests with local impact, but would lead to exponential branching of scenarios in longer questlines.)

Of course all three elements are always present even in all the subgenres to a certain degree.

Now which way can TR go with a TES 3 engine?

It is clear that the way of a dungeon crawl cannot be dominant one simply because the combat simply is not the meat and bones of Morrowind gameplay and it is not that rewarding either. However having well-balanced enemies and interesting loot and zones with various difficulties will always be more fun than using bland leveled-lists eveywhere.

Than there is a story-telling aspect. The original Morrowind did not shine here too much. In such a complex and large world it is quite difficult to show consequences of players decisions on a large scale. Having everyone called me Nerrevarine really did not make me feel like one.

Morrowind is mainly a sandbox game and in sandbox games the story serves a tool to further develop players character to his will encouraging variety in the gameplay (not only variety in the ways yo can hack your enemies as in diablo, but also in what enemies you want to hack, if any). Will you join a Thieves, Mages or Fighters guild to further your proficiency? Will you embrace the local culture, or side with the Imperials? etc.

However Witcher 3 shows you can combine sandbox gameplay with central and strong narrative succesfuly. You can do this by introducing strong characters with rivalring visions of the world and than have player decide on their fates.

I would not throw strong storytelling out of the window, just because Morrowind is dominantly a sandbox game.

Imagine for example there was some guerilla faction, which would aim to unite great houses against Imperial opression. Blades would ask you to infiltrate it. Then you would cross your path with a powerful Telvanni mage, who would want to use this organization to further his crazy agenda, like turning himself into a god and filling the vacuum caused by downfall of the Tribunal and Dagoth Ur. Hlaalu would have their own agenda etc. You could remain loyal to Imperials, or work with the mage, or with the organization. You would make about 3 major decisions on each questlines (there can be minor ones deciding fates of certain minor characters and ways how a single linear quest will play out) and in the end there would be like 7-8 different scenarios. It would be fullfiling enough if fates of those characters were wrapped and some minor signs of upcoming change were shown in the game (Imperials leaving old Ebonheart, the Imperials forts being abandoned and taken over by bandits etc.)

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Post Fri Aug 21, 2015 10:14 am Send private message             Reply with quote                   up  
Theo
Developer Emeritus
16 Dec 2004

Location: PRAGUE

Here...

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/185353/focusing_creativity_rpg_genres.php

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THEO
Post Fri Aug 21, 2015 12:34 pm Send private message             Reply with quote                   up  
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