Draw Your Sword

Way of the Samurai 3

The craven crew of criminals cowers before me. With heads hung low, they plead pathetically for me to spare their lives, that this was all just a misunderstanding. Sure, it looks like they're just robbing these innocent merchants of their rice stores, but it's not so simple as that! I sneer at such pitiful excuses, fingers tapping upon the hilt of my blade.

"What's going on?" a voice calls out. A young man with a boyish face and Flock Of Seagulls hair-do steps forward, looking between the previously posturing highway hooligans and myself. The merchants finally pipe up, expressing their intent to take the rice to the local village. The baby-faced warrior looks surprised.

"I see," he says calmly. "We were told this rice was intended for the Fujimori clan." I see his brow knitted in confusion, but it does him no favors. His words have already betrayed him, for I am a servant of Fujimori, and he has revealed himself to be of the rebellious Ouka clan.

I press L1 and unsheathe my blade.

In another playthrough, this very same situation played out amicably. He explained himself and invited me to join the Ouka clan, an invitation I gladly accepted. Yet the situation was different this time. I was Fujimori, and I had ambitions to get as close as I could to the Emperor. Not out of loyalty, but so at the opportune moment I could cut his throat and claim his throne as my own.

Player choice and freedom have been discussed quite frequently for the past generation. Perhaps it is a result of the Western legacy of PC games such as Planescape: Torment or Fallout 2 leaking into the rapid and rushing mainstream of console game design. Or it could be the emphasis on more complex environments, voice acting, and detailed character models, limiting resources for such freedoms in modern games. Players complained that games were being dumbed down and they weren't being given as much freedom and choice, and as a result developers and publishers started grabbing onto the player choice as a buzzword to help promote their games.

The trend in providing "choice" is to present players with a set of dialogue choices, each linked to a grade-school philosophy of good, bad, and neutral. While some games such as Alpha Protocol or the Dragon Age and Witcher series tried to move toward more nuanced, less obvious options, the general pattern is to modify the variables slightly to change how certain characters respond. However, the path is always the same. Even if the road forks, it comes together to lead to the same inevitable endings.

This is where Way of the Samurai 3, developed by Acquire and available for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, is different. Instead of having some great destiny already planned for the player, the game simply drops the player into a small confrontation between three different factions. Do they want to serve the Fujimori clan, overworking the peasants in some mad dream to overtake Oda Nobunaga and conquer Japan? Do you join the Ouka rebellion and try to reclaim the countryside in the name of the recently defeated Sakurai clan? Or perhaps you prefer to spend your days with the villagers, dreaming of a more simple, peaceful life in spite of interruptions by those who yearn to fight?

Emphasizing this level of freedom, any time a cut-scene begins, the player has a brief moment to bow, apologize, and turn away, completely skipping the interaction. The player can also, at any time in the conversation, choose to draw their sword.

Drawing your sword is not an action I would recommend to someone new to the game, partially because it takes a bit to get a handle on the combat. In addition, you'll probably find yourself taking on foes whose skills and equipment greatly outclass your own. However, knowing you could draw your sword gives a weird sense of freedom and power — to know that at any moment you could interrupt this other character and fight them. I find myself wondering "what if" at every turn.

It's an almost overwhelming sense of freedom, even if the end result may not be quite as drastic as the player expects. Killing a high-profile member (or even a mere grunt) of the Ouka clan simply means the player will be confronted for their actions on any map harboring the rebels. Good luck with the Fujimori soldiers if you start slaughtering them upon sight. If you're going to be a ruthless killer, you'd better be in it for the long haul.

No matter what side you choose, eventually you'll reach a point of no return. You can become a double agent, working with both Ouka and Fujimori for a time, but eventually you'll come upon a mission where you will be notorious. The other clan will hate you and kill you on sight. Some of the peasantry will praise your name, others will curse it. Contrast this to Mass Effect, where the choice to punch out a reporter merely changes the reporter's response and dialogue in future games. No one else in the universe cares or brings it up. I am also only given such options when the game deigns to make them available, rather than being able to pull my gun out at any time. Now I find myself wondering what would happen if I interrupted the Council by drawing my gun!

At the end of the day, my Way Of The Samurai 3 characters feel as if they are mine. Commander Shepard from Mass Effect always felt like I was playing some variant of BioWare's character. Alpha Protocol's Thorton was inconsistent as I tailored his attitude and responses to the personality of whomever he was speaking with. The closest I ever came to owning a character was the Grey Warden in Dragon Age, partially due to the lack of voice.

The ability to unsheathe my sword at any time, that the game provides me that much freedom of choice, gives me a sense of ownership of the character as well as of my actions. While the game certainly provides dialogue choices as well, Way of the Samurai 3 is more about action than words. You choose a side of the conflict to be on, or even dabble with them all. You can play hours of the game ignoring the conflict, instead accomplishing jobs, building relationships with partners, and forging new and powerful blades. The game can be as short or long as you want it to be, even if the story, no matter which path you take, is only a few hours long.

Way of the Samurai 3 did not need a large, open world with a half-dozen customizable character classes and branching skill trees to make me feel ownership of my own character. In the midst of its smaller-scale world with a smaller-scale conflict, the game adds one simple option: that I can kill any character I interact with if I so choose.

Comments

Yes! (That's my excitement for this article.)

Man, the PS3 versions of these games are on my list of things I would like to pick up at some point, but never do. The true open ended freedom that so many games purport to have is true here ... along with lots of weird humor.

Anyway, you sold me. Also, this is exactly the sort of article the world needs more of. We get tied into the release cycle and reviews that insightful and enjoyable articles about games that are a few years old are few and far between. More critique for the masses!

[size=0]Also, editor fail: "actoins"[/size]

One of the things that blew my mind the first time I played Starflight was that the full controls for the ship were always available, so you could scan the other ship or open fire in the middle of a conversation if you wanted...and the other ships would do the same. I think we're somewhat conditioned to see branching story choices as things that happen in obvious dialog prompts, but there are so many more possibilities.

garion333 wrote:

Anyway, you sold me. Also, this is exactly the sort of article the world needs more of. We get tied into the release cycle and reviews that insightful and enjoyable articles about games that are a few years old are few and far between. More critique for the masses!

Ditto on this. Gamers With Jobs has long been outside of the common review-and-score-last-week's-games paradigm, and it's been the better for it.

To the Death?

NO! To the pain!

garion333 wrote:

[size=0]Also, editor fail: "actoins"[/size]

Ha! This was an edit that I made which actually introduced an error. Hooray!

Gremlin wrote:
garion333 wrote:

Anyway, you sold me. Also, this is exactly the sort of article the world needs more of. We get tied into the release cycle and reviews that insightful and enjoyable articles about games that are a few years old are few and far between. More critique for the masses!

Ditto on this. Gamers With Jobs has long been outside of the common review-and-score-last-week's-games paradigm, and it's been the better for it.

Before posting I didn't read Wordy's article below this talking all about how GWJ doesn't do reviews, etc.

Heh, I think it worked out.

Glad you enjoyed it.

This being a Japanese game made for the Japanese audience, I have to ask the legacy effect of the large market of AVNs available for consoles and PCs there. Even though you choose actions instead of words, the broad narrative structure and world-changing choices appears to be the same. Once you choose a particular path in a classic AVN, you forgo other paths. You must replay the game in order to see that content. Or not.

Sounds like you should do some research and write an article, Larry.

Thanks, ccesarano. I'm adding it to my husband's Christmas pile.

LarryC wrote:

This being a Japanese game made for the Japanese audience, I have to ask the legacy effect of the large market of AVNs available for consoles and PCs there. Even though you choose actions instead of words, the broad narrative structure and world-changing choices appears to be the same. Once you choose a particular path in a classic AVN, you forgo other paths. You must replay the game in order to see that content. Or not.

Maybe there's some legacy going on, but this game doesn't have the same feel as a visual novel. Visual novels are typically all about building character relationships and watching them develop over time, and while you get to know different characters on each side here, it's not the same feeling you get as a visual novel. You can get a "good" ending without really knowing any of the characters, and it seems there are events not far into each branching story path that act as a sort of "point of no return", where the final phase of the game will be triggered.

MyLadyGrey wrote:

Thanks, ccesarano. I'm adding it to my husband's Christmas pile. :)

Let him know to read the instruction manual. I am not joking, this game does very little to help the player out, and my first couple times playing I wasn't really having a good time. Also tell him not to be afraid to set it to easy.

Otherwise he could play it for an hour, die, and think "man, what the Hell do they want me to do?" It literally drops you in and says "alright, get to it", which is fantastic for replayability, but not the best for a first time.

I have a more broad analysis on my blog, and while I say a lot of the same stuff, I also discuss matters outside of decision making and choice as well.

I played Way of the Samurai 2 for PS2 a lot back in the day. I remember having different mindsets for different playthroughs. Some playthroughs were simply to get to fight certain individuals to take their swords at the end. But after the collection phase was done, I remember winding through all the choices in dialogue trying to find the Golden Path to the true ending, not unlike the God Emperor of Dune. Never did find it. I think that may have been the point. Good article. Looks like I'm buying Way of the Samurai 3.

ccesarano:

I dug up a little something:

Visual Novel article on Giant Bomb

In this wiki article last edited by Jagged85 this October, Giant Bomb editors trace the evolution of the visual novel narrative structure from an unstructured format similar to Choose You Own Adventure novels in the 80s. Some of these Choose Your Own Adventures featured a lot of possible short stories, but many of them either reused pathways, used rejoining pathways, or else had simply one pathway with multiple fail states, similar to the infamous Dragon's Lair cabinet video game.

Apparently, the popular branching story structure was first popularized by Otogirismo made by legendary eroge company Chunsoft in 1992, and later expanded by Eve Burst Error and YU-NO; predating Planescape: Torment by 3 or 4 years.

The original Way of the Samurai was released 2002 in Japan, only 3 years after Planescape released in the US. It seems more likely that it draws its legacy from the more proximate influences of numerous PC VN releases along the same time period.

I must play this game first for a first-hand impression, though. As you say, most VNs bank on character development rather than plot development, but this is variable. A great deal of VN development culture is very character-based because eroticism in your basic VN storyline creation depends largely on character development rather than nudie shots. This focus bleeds into most VN projects, large and small.

Contrasted to Mass Effect 2, which is also largely a character-driven dating sim; it appears to me, from your take, that ME2 has more of a theme and characater-focus similarity with most eroge, while Way of the Samurai has more of a similarity with the gameplay and storyline structure of the typical eroge, which, as you say, can have ending-deciding choices within a few hours of the game start.

I respect your take on the feel of the game and it has interested me enough to schedule it on the pile. More when I finish multiple endings of the game (if I get that far!).

Nice article.

How deep or intricate do y'all think a story can be when it allows open-ended choice? It seems to me that the branching dialogue trees and isolated NPC reactions have something to do with the developers trying to maintain enough predictability to end up with (more or less) coherent narratives that are (more or less) still interesting and thought-provoking.

At the end of the day we are dealing with a medium (computers) that are procedurally and logically driven, and they can't write content themselves (before the dystopian future that will consume us all eventually, of course).

Multiple endings of the game can take as little as twelve hours, so it shouldn't be too bad.

I suppose it's more or less a cultural thing, then. To me, a visual novel has a distinct feel, right down to the music being used. However, I forgot in my blog (until rereading it, in fact) that I had compared it to Harvest Moon, which itself has Visual Novel tones and design choices.

So Way of the Samurai certainly could be drawing from that pool, or there could be other things at work.

Suddenly I am reminded of Inindo: Way of the Ninja, a Super Nintendo RPG by Koei entertainment. Very low budget, not very well designed in a lot of ways, but I recall the beginning of the game where how long you spent in the first dungeon determined the cut-scene when you stepped out. You either saw Oda Nobunaga marching to battle, or you saw him stepping out of a burning building following the fight.

Not necessarily related, but I'm wondering where some of this "branching path" stuff spawned from in Japanese culture, if there's any one source at all. In Western games, you can typically point to D&D and say "it started with that".

LudensCogitet wrote:

Nice article.

How deep or intricate do y'all think a story can be when it allows open-ended choice? It seems to me that the branching dialogue trees and isolated NPC reactions have something to do with the developers trying to maintain enough predictability to end up with (more or less) coherent narratives that are (more or less) still interesting and thought-provoking.

At the end of the day we are dealing with a medium (computers) that are procedurally and logically driven, and they can't write content themselves (before the dystopian future that will consume us all eventually, of course).

To me, what allows Way of the Samurai 3 to be so open-ended is that it is a smaller conflict in a smaller area. If we switch on over to Dragon Age, however, what happens when you allow the player the choice to back out of becoming a Gray Warden? To say "Hell no I won't drink none of that crap!" Suddenly how people refer to him/her is going to change. You must rerecord dialogue. You must change scenarios. In fact, could you even change the entire story, as the end of the game technically hinges on you being a Gray Warden?

I think the resources and development time required to provide the Way of the Samurai experience on an epic scale is, for the time being at least, impractical. You might be able to do it if you focus on a more low-tech approach, such as a 2-D world instead of a 3D one or other limited options of interaction, but to take a game like Mass Effect or Dragon Age and then tell the player "choose whichever path you want" is going to be problematic.

You can resolve a single storyline option in Way of the Samurai 3 in a couple of hours, maybe even a single hour. But it doesn't feel weaker for it. The thing is, though, again, it's a small, localized story. It's not about a grand war or conflict, it's about this small stepping stone in Oda Nobunaga's conquest of Japan. So it can afford to focus on the branching paths of this small, brief, moment in time.

The visual novel genre is a very strong and vibrant market in Japan. It's so prevalent these days that there are romantic VNs for the women as well as for the men. Hatoful Boyfriend, which Julian is hopefully still playing, is actually of the former type, an otome-game, or a romantic VN for women.

According to wikipedia, the first such game was released in 1994 in Japan for the Super Famicom in 1994, developed by an all-female development team. If you've read the seinen manga Genshiken, you'll note that in his depiction of otaku life, the mangaka Shimoku Kio carefully details the males' preooccupation with eroge. In fact, the main character buys a PC just to play eroge (and was teased about not having one by the other otaku until he did).

In the anime "The World God Only Knows," the protagonist is portrayed as a master of playing eroge (in the romantic sense, not the erotic sense). His device of choice was the PSP (spoofed as PFP), which is a reference to the incredible glut of VN titles released for that console in the later part of its lifecycle.

In the manga/anime Wamote ("No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys' Fault I’m Not Popular!"), the protagonist is kind of a loser girl who thought she had dating aced based on her mastery of otome games on the PC and DS.

This sort of influence is ubiquitous in Japanese gaming life, and it spills over into such disparate games as Shin Megami Tensei series, Harvest Moon, Persona, Suikoden, and Sakura Wars.

It seems a lot more likely, IMO, that Way of the Samurai is drawing its choice-structure and design philosophy from the proximate influence of a ubiquitous type of Japanese game rather than from a relatively obscure English game in the US.

Since it debuted in 2002, it is likely that it drew its influence from the VN gaming scene at large, but as a niche action/adventure sort of game catering to history otaku rather than romance otaku. You might call it the VN version of Europa Universalis.

LudensCogitet:

That is a question tackled in many VNs, to more or less successful outcomes. No prediction is required in a VN. In typical Japanese fashion, every outcome in a VN is examined and worked upon specifically. It may feel emergent, but you're still going down a path. The most outcomes in the wiki is the legendary 428: Fūsa Sareta Shibuya with an astounding 85 different endings, all individually worked upon and examined. Each story was purposefully written as its own story.

In Hatoful Boyfriend, each boyfriend path represents a different genre of story, but all "backstories" are used in an "ultimate ending" that draws all the element together into the penultimate storyline. This latter feature is common in post-2000 VNs.

I see what you're saying, ccesarano, about scale.
The smaller the bit of space and time you're portraying, the more production time can be spent elaborating possibilities.
I wonder what techniques will develop (or can develop) in the programming of games themselves to interweave narratives and produce something more than "attack this guy, and his friends don't like you" or "do something for this guy, and his friends do like you".
In Way of the Samurai, for instance, are the reactions produced more than a kind of faction system, scoring points with one side or the other?
The things you've been talking about (D&D, choose your own adventure books) are obvious steps toward "emergent narrative". And video games seem like the medium with the potential to take that to a new level, if it's possible.

It seems a lot more likely, IMO, that Way of the Samurai is drawing its choice-structure and design philosophy from the proximate influence of a ubiquitous type of Japanese game rather than from a relatively obscure English game in the US.

Oh I wasn't saying that Way of the Samurai 3 draws from a US game at all, just that maybe there's something visual novels also draw from culturally, such as a lot of Western games today drawing from Baldur's Gate, Fallout, and Planescape, which were all drawn from tabletop roleplaying games.

LudensCogitet wrote:

In Way of the Samurai, for instance, are the reactions produced more than a kind of faction system, scoring points with one side or the other?
The things you've been talking about (D&D, choose your own adventure books) are obvious steps toward "emergent narrative". And video games seem like the medium with the potential to take that to a new level, if it's possible.

It's more or less faction based in Way of the Samurai 3. Killing a member of Ouka clan at the start won't necessarily get Fujimori to be more responsive towards you. Completing quests for Fujimori, on the other hand, will make them like you better.

As for the emergent narrative thing, I think there's a limit to how far our procedural content generation and A.I. can go. Even then, how fun it is depends on execution and the player. I, for instance, am not so taken with Far Cry 3 or its emergent narrative, and particularly found it annoying when I was getting ready to attack an enemy base and was instead mauled by a tiger.

The new level of emergent narrative: Love Plus.

Love Plus is, in some ways, the ultimate dating sim. It's apparently so good that some Japanese men have arranged to marry their virtual girlfriends. There was at least one news-covered wedding where the wife ceremonially destroys her husband's DS - to get rid of the virtual girlfriend, of course.

Love Plus captures hearts in Japan

When the emergent narrative feels so immersive and real that it starts taking over your own living narrative, I get the feeling that we're starting to tread into dangerous territory.

Interesting stuff, LarryC.

I wonder what the difference is (maybe just the perception of the audience) between a VN the way you are describing them and just choosing to read one book or another.
Of course, when people start to marry books... we have entered a strange place.

Visual Novels are definitely one strain of the interactive-story world. I don't know enough about the origins of the earliest examples to say for sure what directly influenced their creation.

In some ways, even the most complex branching plots in games are understandable as hypertext. Hypertext was demonstrated in 1968 at "The Mother of All Demos", where Douglas Engelbart basically demonstrated the information revolution all at once. The literary influences go deeper, Jorge Luis Borges's "Garden of Forking Paths" in 1941 demonstrating a complete theory of branching, multilinear narrative.

There has been a rich strand of work in nearby areas, from Oulipo writers, Chose-Your-Own-Adventure novels, If On A Winter's Night A Traveller, and lots of early experiments with Hypercard and pre- and post-internet hypertext novels.

Where this all crossed over into Asian culture, leading to Visual Novels, Shenmue, Way of the Samurai, Boku no Natsuyasumi, et cetera, I'm not sure.

Boku no Natsuyasumi? Those sound fun! Doubt they'll ever make here though.

I've been asking around for a possible link from Gremlin's sourcing of multilinear narrative theory in 1941 and their appearance in Otogirismo in 1992. No luck yet. Perhaps we can ask some of our more Japan-bound GWJers to contribute research? There is a tenuous, possible link between 1986's Record of Lodoss War, which was an anime of the author's D&D campaign.

Prior to the early 1980's, eroge consisted of little more than erotic images on a screen, which quickly exhausted the interest of its fans. There's only so much green-lined erotic images you can look at before they start looking same-ish. This eroticism seems to be linked to the same traditions that created erotic ukiyo-e woodprints such as The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife.

LudensCogitet:

I don't think it's possible to explain it without a first-hand play. The sense of freedom as ccesarano describes it is incredible. In real life, we ourselves can't do just anything. In general, we're circumscribed in how we think and act. You only generally think about a few choices of what to do at work, and even given the greatest freedom to act, the number of outcomes is fairly limited.

For instance, both mooning your boss and violently breaking his prize Ming vase is likely going to end up with you being fired on the spot.

Thus, a realistic sense of freedom can be simulated even by a narrow group of choices, so long as they're matched to the situation presented, and exhaustive for the situation presented.

A bad VN is about the same thing as reading a book. A good VN is transcendental. This is why Love Plus is such a masterpiece, and simultaneously why it's so dangerous. As it begins to resemble real life, people begin to mistake and substitute it for real life.

To a limited extent, even something like Street Fighter 4 represents the basic formula for an emergent narrative. It is instructive to see it this way because its relative simplicity allows us to appreciate what's in a good emergent narrative and how to put it together in such a way as to allow freedom of choice, but a relatively narrow range of outcomes.

Gremlin:

I just read "A Garden of Forking Paths." I don't think it's a complete theory of branching multilinear narrative, so much as it is a nascent and basic one. Certainly, there are certain ways to implement his ideas differently, but its existence in CYOA books is only the most basic iteration of that idea.

For instance, it's possible to not only craft a narrative with many choices, but also with many perspectives. In some VNs, multiple personas go through the interactive narrative, and the choices of one protagonist affect the future choices of other protagonists. This narrative interaction - literally an interaction between storylines - goes beyond the idea of a simple branching narrative.

LarryC wrote:

I just read "A Garden of Forking Paths." I don't think it's a complete theory of branching multilinear narrative, so much as it is a nascent and basic one. Certainly, there are certain ways to implement his ideas differently, but its existence in CYOA books is only the most basic iteration of that idea.

For instance, it's possible to not only craft a narrative with many choices, but also with many perspectives. In some VNs, multiple personas go through the interactive narrative, and the choices of one protagonist affect the future choices of other protagonists. This narrative interaction - literally an interaction between storylines - goes beyond the idea of a simple branching narrative.

Perhaps "functional" theory is a better description than "complete"; the point I was trying to make was that Borges anticipated the modern interactive story to enough of a degree that later authors explicitly acknowledged the debt even if Borges never spelled anything out in detail. (Borges never spelled anything out in detail, really. All of his works are shorts.) "The Book of Sand" and "The Library of Babel" were also influences for different aspects of combinatorial approaches to text.

Borges is probably not the most direct influence. On the academic/theoretical side, Ted Nelson coined the term "hypertext" in the '60s; he, in turn was reacting to the earlier work of Vannevar Bush. On the literary side, the Oulipo writer writer Raymond Quenaeu's "Un conte à votre façon" is the prototypical "chose-your-own-adventure". Interestingly, it includes multiple perspectives, albeit rudimentary ones. Other Oulipo writers, including Italo Calvino, did some interesting work with combinatory text.

However, I'd guess that any link to Japanese culture probably came later. D&D was received differently, for example, and even today Japanese tabletop roleplaying has developed along different lines from its American counterparts (European roleplaying can be yet another thing again). Text adventures, computer roleplaying games, and the like are other possible vectors.

The western new media/fine art scene had quite a bit of activity in the 80s-90s. Michael Joyce's Afternoon, a story (1987), Stuart Moulthrop's Victory Garden (1992), and Shelly Jackson's Patchwork Girl (1995) have striking similarities to the visual novel form, as well as significant differences. This was fine art, not commercial art, though. There has been a fair bit of academic study of hypertext and interactive narrative since then.

No doubt there were Japanese equivalents for some of the above, but I'm not aware of them. Disentangling where the visual novel begins is likely to be a tricky task, given the many possible prior influences (JRPGs, adventure games, etc.). Visual novels have definitely become their own genre, though. The biggest barrier is that most of them are in Japanese and there aren't a lot of translations, at least in English.

There are a number of tools that allow for the creation of visual novels and hypertext fiction. Ren'Py and Twine have become fairly popular, to the extent that there are some small-scale english-language commercial visual novel authors (some of which are available on Steam).

By the way, Curveship is an interactive fiction system that explicitly allows for the same events to be fluidly presented from multiple perspectives.

LarryC wrote:

I don't think it's possible to explain it without a first-hand play. The sense of freedom as ccesarano describes it is incredible. In real life, we ourselves can't do just anything. In general, we're circumscribed in how we think and act. You only generally think about a few choices of what to do at work, and even given the greatest freedom to act, the number of outcomes is fairly limited.

For instance, both mooning your boss and violently breaking his prize Ming vase is likely going to end up with you being fired on the spot.

Thus, a realistic sense of freedom can be simulated even by a narrow group of choices, so long as they're matched to the situation presented, and exhaustive for the situation presented.

It's not something we usually notice, but our sense of agency works within our expectations. If we're playing Sid Meier's Pirates! we aren't complaining that it doesn't include a detailed gardening sim, for example. That's why a do-everything-sandbox-game can miss the mark; we don't want to be able to do everything, we just want to be able to do the thing we want which is a subtle distinction. Sometimes a more focused game has a better sense of agency because it focuses on the actions you care about.

The big caveat to this is that video game players like to push the limits and break things. Visual novels finesse this by not including the out-of-character options in the first place, keeping the player inside the boundaries that the game understands and can respond logically to.

LarryC wrote:

I don't think it's possible to explain it without a first-hand play. The sense of freedom as ccesarano describes it is incredible.

Oh goodness, that has me worried. The sense of freedom when compared to other games IS incredible, but we're not necessarily talking about ripples into waves here. However, it certainly feels like there's more freedom than most games provide.

But as Gremlin mentions, the game takes your options and focuses them, and in a sense simplifies them. You see someone, and you can either converse with them, attack them, or just turn away. These are very simple decisions, and chances are the only one that will not close off any other paths is to converse with them. If anything, turning away or outright killing them will cut content off from you.

So in a sense, what Way of the Samurai does is start with a network of possibilities, and as you progress it closes gateways off. This would be counter-intuitive to the typical notion, which is you find more branching paths as you continue through the game.

ccesarano wrote:

So in a sense, what Way of the Samurai does is start with a network of possibilities, and as you progress it closes gateways off. This would be counter-intuitive to the typical notion, which is you find more branching paths as you continue through the game.

And in some ways the denser fiction is what we're really imagining our games will be like. Wikipedia (with no cite) contrasts axiel hypertext fictions which branch from a central trunk with arborescent and networked fictions that are more spread out. Janet Murray has a category of rhizomic fiction, where there isn't a beginning or an end, just nodes linked nodes like in a wiki. Way of the Samurai is more rhizomic (as opposed to Mass Effect) while still being interconnected (as opposed to Skyrim).

The other important aspect, which you highlight quite well in the original article, is that all of the verbs are live for every encounter, so that there are several choices the player can make, vs. the more typical situation where NPCs only respond to "Talk (Dialog Tree)" and enemies only respond to "Fight".

So in a sense, what Way of the Samurai does is start with a network of possibilities, and as you progress it closes gateways off. This would be counter-intuitive to the typical notion, which is you find more branching paths as you continue through the game.

Actually, that makes perfect sense to me. Maybe it's because I've played VNs before.

By the by, for anyone interested in this sort of game, here's a list of otome games with English translations:

http://lofoge.blogspot.com/

My apologies. I don't play otome games in general, so this is what I came up with on short notice. In any event, Hatoful Boyfriend is available as a paid DL from its own site, so please support the author and DL the full game for retail price if you're interested. It's only $5 or so.

Here's another list:

http://visualnovelaer.fuwanovel.org/...

As these links show, a lot of these games are already available in English, and they represent only a small fraction of the VNs that Japan enjoys annually.

Anywho...

It makes perfect sense to me that far away from a point in time, the possibilities of what might occur are greater. If we liken time and actions to a road trip, then we have a greater number of possible destinations the greater the time period we have in which to act. As we proceed in time, the possibilities for what we can do diminish, until at 2 minutes before the designated time, we can only possibly be within a small radius of where we currently are.

I'd like to compare here the difference between DA2's ending, and the manner in which ME and DAO manage converging storylines.

I do not consider DAO a true multilinear narrative. In the first place, all events are more or less scripted exactly beyond the origin stories, and the narrative payoff for making different choices largely is just a static screen with text on it. Contrast this to DA2 where 2 different playthroughs can result in radically different stories and story events. In fact, in the CC where DA2 was discussed, our esteemed CC members were going "What? That can happen?!?" This is, sadly, the result of Western development in AAA RPGs where short, self-contained, rejoining branches are the norm. This latter method of managing multilinear narrative was exploited greatly in the ME series.

In DA2, the unifying points were events that were largely out of Hawke's control, which is precisely the point Varric was saying: that Hawke was largely a powerless spectator throughout the events of DA2. Regardless of what Hawke does, certain people will be successful at their plans, and this constitutes an event unification where no matter how Hawke decided before, the narrative is constrained. I feel that, used sparingly, this is a more realistic sort of action limitation that arbitrary ME-type branching unifiers where events simply end up the same for transparently game-design reasons.

If anyone really wants to go deep into theory on stuff like branching paths in stories, I think the best place to start is probably Espen Aarseth's Cybertext.

That's stuff's my jam, if anyone wants to nerd out on it with me.

I've been known to occasionally nerd out about such things.

After Cybertext, two more books to recommend are First Person and Expressive Processing, for the more video game side of things. For the hypertext side, I have a few books but I'm open to recommendations.

I do think there's a lot that game structure can learn from visual novels and hypertext fiction.

Gremlin wrote:

I've been known to occasionally nerd out about such things.

After Cybertext, two more books to recommend are First Person and Expressive Processing, for the more video game side of things. For the hypertext side, I have a few books but I'm open to recommendations.

I do think there's a lot that game structure can learn from visual novels and hypertext fiction.

Good additions, but let me fix that Expressive Processing link for you.

I do think there's a lot that game structure can learn from visual novels and hypertext fiction.

Absolutely. If you're just talking about the narrative structure element rather than the mechanics end of the spectrum, then hypertext and visual novels are sort of a stripped away version of that, without the stuff you aren't focusing on.

You guys are awesome. Before this article, "hypertext" was just a name for links in HTML to me (which itself is quite inaccurate).

Of course, this also means I feel grossly ignorant of these topics. I suppose I got some readin' to do.