Monday, November 16, 2015

Storyline distances

Game storylines are quite complex things. You start at some point in the story and begin to move forward. One action takes you to the next and options seem to unfold in front of you. You take one path and then the next and the next. The result is something like the image to the right. A very complex and possibly n dimensional figure of interwoven paths moving away and towards each other.

Lets look at the following image. Imagine your main storyline going from the top center downward and slightly to the left. Each action you and your fellow players take moves the story a bit forward. This movement process is not automatic, it requires an effort and not all moves are possible. The white space around the path is space your story can't occupy. There are, so to speak, no "viable scenes" there. Let me make a parenthesis here to clarify that this is not railroading, I will get to that in another post, this is just marking a path through a set of options which are not all equally probable or 100% probable.

As you can see there are other clusters to the right, these are alternate storylines with interconnected moves. These storylines are separated from the main storyline by white space. A story can't simply move from the main story to these alternate storylines without the action being disruptive (that is tunneling from one storyline to the other).

Now how do I envision the concept of "rolling for impact" that +Brent Newhall brought up. Well that downward storyline I'm talking to you about could be a success or failure streak. In Brent's comment he mentioned failure being certain and we'd only be concerned with the degree of impact, but this could very well be turned around to success. Not all failure is automatic and equally impacting and not all success is automatic and equally impacting.

Lets revisit the diagram and start from the bottom center on our way up and work around degrees of success. I find that going upwards and talking about success is more inspiring that downward and failure, but the example can be very well examined in the opposite direction by yourself. That being said let me move ahead. If we assume we will succeed and the only important thing to determine is the degree of success we are then placing a mechanism at work to determine this. This mechanism is die based since we are after all "rolling for impact". Each roll adds a bit of information that is quite different from other rolls. That means we can NOT have binary outcomes. As you can see the path upwards is composed of small and large steps, and there is always a step. Some steps move you sideways and hardly forward and some steps are pure forward moves.

This is what I call the impact of the highly expected. We know we will succeed (or fail), success is expected, what is important now for the story is its degree. It is very hard to obtain a degree of success out of a binary die roll mechanism that signals success (1) - failure (0) as possible outcomes. Unless of course we keep rolling more dice to subdivide the success space into smaller "partial success" spaces, but this is tedious and time consuming.

A storyline with binary mechanics might look like this:

A storline space with very short and fragmented story segments. You either succeed and move on or fail and get stuck. Every so often you might end up with outstanding success or failure which jumps you to another fragmented storyline. It becomes easier to visualize player uncertainty and loss of narrative control. All those places you want to go as a player are now white space, unreachable, and that which is reachable seems so far out of reach.

Now let me talk a bit about move-roll and roll-move mechanics. In move-roll you call your move and then roll to see what happens. In roll-move you roll and then do what's best with that roll. Graphically this looks something like the following:

In move-roll I'm in Pi and say I want to move to Ps. If I make the roll I get to Ps if not I don't get to Ps. The green area is called the inclusion zone. It's where I can move to if the roll succeeds and the red area is the exclusion zone, places I can't reach. In move-roll my statements are defining the inclusion zone and then I roll to see if I can reach it. All the other P points on the diagram are outcomes that I didn't choose to reach. I will address them later.

In roll-move I'm in Pi and I roll, this in turn opens up an inclusion zone from which I can choose a set of possible Ps (portrayed in the image as {Ps1, Ps2, Ps3}). There are still exclusion zones to the left and right they're just defined "a priori" by the dice. I have deliberately selected the roll-move roll to be lower than the move-roll. This to portray the fact that the player is still bound by the die roll. None of the Ps outcomes in roll-move is better than the Ps  outcomes in the move-roll, they're just a lot more and the player has the impression of more outcomes to choose from.

This takes us to the very important question. If I "fail" in the move-roll shouldn't I be entitled to one of the multiple Ps in roll-move? That is, I strive for Ps and roll low, but still within the green inclusion zone of the roll-move diagram. Why do I get nothing instead of a choice between Ps1, Ps2 or Ps3? More so, if I get a way better roll than required to attain Ps, why am I stuck with Ps? Shouldn't I be entitled to P4 or P5?

Lets revisit move-roll from a roll for impact perspective. In this case all outcomes are within the inclusion zone. The player calls Ps as the goal outcome and then rolls. The roll will determine if Ps itself comes up or if any of the alternate {Ps1 to Ps6} outcomes occur. Some are less favorable than Ps and some are more favorable. 

We can now put these little steps together to build the original image and see how these small and sometimes larger steps move the story up the diagram. Sometimes we get a good roll and move upwards a lot, sometimes not so much and we seem to move sideways rather than forward, but we always move, and we do so coherently. No awkward moment when something that should be obviously possible does not happen. No wasting minutes coming up with an action that does not materialize itself due to a bad roll. 

That to me is rolling for impact.


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