Monday, 30 May 2011

Plougher of Kings

In The Witcher 2, I’m playing as an arsehole. 

I demand rewards for work I would have offered for free in other games (hey, killing monsters is how I make a living!). I kill people who provoke me. I even fed two guys to a demented ghost they had provoked, justifying to myself their actions had brought their fate on themselves.

I mean, it helps that Geralt is already a bit of a prick to begin with: he’ll often haggle the price of a job without any input from the player, something that in other games would have been a dialogue choice left up to you. But this all works to let me get more inside his head. When confronted by the two guys and the angry ghost, I didn’t think about what I would do, I thought about what Geralt would do.

I’ve played a fair bit of TW2 over the past few days - including a ‘just ten minutes before bed’ session that ended up with me not getting to sleep until after 03:00 - and it’s made me think about roleplaying and consequences in video games. I know that sounds grandiose and pretentious, but bear with me here.

One of the things I didn’t initially click with in The Witcher The First was that you were forced to play as Geralt of Rivia. He's a genetically engineered and mutated monster hunter, covered in scars and with a slightly twisted sense of morality. In a way he’s the logical conclusion of the adventurer archetype, in the same way that the characters in Watchmen were a deconstruction of the superhero archetype. He literally exists only to solve problems in small villages by killing monsters.
Of course, as he is a defined character (he’s starred in books, graphic novels, even a TV series and film), all of the choices you make must be between the kind of things Geralt would do anyway. And as the morality is typically grey-on-grey in the Witcher world, the ‘right’ choice is hard to make.

The thing TW2 really does well is that the consequences for your actions are not immediately obvious. A choice you make might not have ramifications for another several hours of play, so if you don’t like the outcome of the action there’s not really much chance of reloading and picking something else. 

And it goes further than that. As a sweeping generalisation, games tend to be very predictable systems. I need enough information to make an informed choice about what to do. LA Noire is a good example of this: because it’s so vital to the gameplay, the facial tics and twitches to indicate lying have to be over the top. Unexpected consequences for actions the player has no information about is kind of a dick move for a developer.

Of course, real life is nothing like this. Getting up late for work one day might have all sorts of consequences for even the rest of your life. If you try and imagine every single thing that would have happened if you got up on time you’d go mad. TW2 exploits this to make your actions in the game world more real by making them less fair. Yeah, you couldn’t predict what the outcome of your action would be. You can’t go back and change it, you’re going to have to live with the consequences and think a bit harder the next time something like this crops up. 

So, as you can tell I’m enjoying The Witcher 2. I’ll try and post more thoughts up about it when I’m a bit further through; I’m still only in Chapter One, and I hear the second chapter is packed to the gills with awesomeness.

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