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Why do game-developers bother adding moral-choices in their games?

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  • King RiptorKing Riptor Registered User regular
    Dues Ex human revolution was horrible with its moral choices.

    It pulled a bioshock and playing a "bad" character was ultimately less rewarding in terms of gameplay

    That's a gameplay integration problem or a ludic one, not a problem with the choice itself.

    This thread premise seems ridiculous to me, Manicheanism aside. Comparing "moral" and "tactical" choices is like saying why do people argue about philosophy when they could argue about where to eat for lunch.

    Well I'd like to say every action you take has an effect on the ending but that turned out to be woefully innaccurate. However there is definitely an aspect of forced morality where a non leathal hacker character is rewarded far more often than a direct assualt character.

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  • DunxcoDunxco Should get a suit Never skips breakfastRegistered User regular
    MY 2 cents:

    Baldurs Gate series

    I object, your honour! Well, ever so slightly.

    Go back and play through Baldurs' Gate again, and with the exception of Throne of Bhaal where the choice is much more immediate because of the circumstance and what you're trying to aspire to, especially consider the ending choice, and the outcome of the Watcher's Keep, Baldurs' Gate was still pretty binary. Generally the game gave you three options for handling situations: goody-goody, ne'er-do-well sometimes tinged with a touch of sarcasm or bloodthirstiness, or a neutral response.

    I'm a big fan of moral choices though. The few times the BG trilogy did do a moral choice, I'd sit there for a good while pondering the possible outcomes and "what would I do here?". Planescape (which you listed) did a fantastic job of this too. A moral choice gives depth to the character I'm playing as, and weight to my decisions in the game world. Just because so many haven't got it right yet (and I agree with Extra Credits here - tying a binary system to it kinda ruins the purpose of it but whatever, at the end of the day it's a mechanic right?) and so few have doesn't mean we should abandon it in favour of choices being a case of "do I burst in here with my shotgun or do I wait in the opposite building with a sniper rifle and pick people off one by one?". That's a fun choice too, and there's no reason they can't live side-by-side, even in the same game.

  • DarisDaris Registered User regular
    It's one thing to complain about so many morality decisions being black and white, and another entirely to suggest offering tactical choices instead. Mass Effect offers you both, and at the same time tries to expand on the morality using a paragon/renegade scale. Rather than default good and evil, it's focus is on how a person approaches situations. Further, in combat it expands your tactical choices offering you several variants of both sneaky assassin, technology/magic wizardry, and heavy assault.

    I would always prefer both. As it stands, I feel games are moving past the good and evil aspect of this trope.

  • Captain CarrotCaptain Carrot Alexandria, VARegistered User regular
    Taber wrote:
    I have no problem with moral choices in games in theory, but the execution is terrible. Instead of giving us choices like "Do you stop to save the little girl's life? if you do there's a chance the medicine you are taking to the village might spoil" they give us choices like "Do you stop to save the little girl's life, or do you burn down an orphanage." They don't make you make hard moral choices, they make you choose between the good guy path and the bad guy path. Even a good guy vs. bad guy thing could work out, if they reward the bad guy path with more rewards. Then it becomes an actual moral decision for the player instead of just getting rewarded in game for choosing the good guy path, which kind of eliminates the moral tension.

    The Rachni Queen decision in Mass Effect was one off the top of my head that had me stop to think for a while. I honestly had no idea which decision would be considered morally "right" at the time.

    Good examples do exist, just not in your hypothetical illustrative points. Rather, in some actual games.
    The genophage in Mass Effect 2 works even better like that - you can argue that the rachni had not been acting on their own free will in the earlier war, and that they had earned a chance for atonement. Neither one of those is really true for the krogan, so it becomes harder to judge.

  • Eternal NothingnessEternal Nothingness Registered User regular
    Dunxco wrote:
    Henroid wrote:
    Bad execution doesn't make it a bad idea. Game writing needs to catch up in quality is all.

    Edit - By the way, can someone dig up this episode of Extra Credits?

    I think this may be the one the person meant:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_KU3lUx3u0

    Actually, I meant something along the line of this: http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/choice-and-conflict

  • LuxLux Registered User regular
    Taber wrote:
    I have no problem with moral choices in games in theory, but the execution is terrible. Instead of giving us choices like "Do you stop to save the little girl's life? if you do there's a chance the medicine you are taking to the village might spoil" they give us choices like "Do you stop to save the little girl's life, or do you burn down an orphanage." They don't make you make hard moral choices, they make you choose between the good guy path and the bad guy path. Even a good guy vs. bad guy thing could work out, if they reward the bad guy path with more rewards. Then it becomes an actual moral decision for the player instead of just getting rewarded in game for choosing the good guy path, which kind of eliminates the moral tension.

    The Rachni Queen decision in Mass Effect was one off the top of my head that had me stop to think for a while. I honestly had no idea which decision would be considered morally "right" at the time.

    Good examples do exist, just not in your hypothetical illustrative points. Rather, in some actual games.
    The genophage in Mass Effect 2 works even better like that - you can argue that the rachni had not been acting on their own free will in the earlier war, and that they had earned a chance for atonement. Neither one of those is really true for the krogan, so it becomes harder to judge.

    The decisions are tough, but you're rewarded for steering hard in one direction, so the temptation to just stick to whether you're a paragon or renegade hurts it. Dragon Age's approval/influence system is a better concept, but I'd like to see it a little more ruthless.

  • C2BC2B SwitzerlandRegistered User regular
    Lawndart wrote:
    Also, Alpha Protocol

    Alpha Protocol especially (except from some very few instances and these are low points). Doesn't offer you black and white choices at all. Alpha Protocol is more like "Act how the fuck you want".

  • SoundsPlushSoundsPlush yup, back. Registered User regular
    chiasaur11 wrote:
    But in the neoclassical system, what is the meaning of "Carls Jr." as opposed to "Hardees"?

    In the Aquinine system, we can say with assurance our natural impulses have value, allowing us to consider In N Out as a better option than McDonalds, but then total depravity suggests we have no real concept of value. If true, would this not leave the statement "McDonalds kind of sucks" entirely without objective meaning?

    And who gives a shit when we're getting pizza anyway?

    As I understand it, Augustine taught that Eve's taste of the Chicago-style deep dish cursed us with the Fall but blessed us with the knowledge necessary to realize New York-style slices are superior, thereby simultaneously casting us down while imbuing us with the redemptive agency to choose to bring ourselves closer to divine Perfection through the rejection of tomato casserole. It's one of the few moral tenets I've been able to incorporate into my life successfully, praise be to pizza.
    Well I'd like to say every action you take has an effect on the ending but that turned out to be woefully innaccurate. However there is definitely an aspect of forced morality where a non leathal hacker character is rewarded far more often than a direct assualt character.

    That's still an integration question, though. It's not a question of the morality itself but the incentives (which I wouldn't call forced) built into the game structure rather than the universe's.

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  • OlivawOlivaw good name, isn't it? the foot of mt fujiRegistered User regular
    Dues Ex human revolution was horrible with its moral choices.

    It pulled a bioshock and playing a "bad" character was ultimately less rewarding in terms of gameplay

    That's a gameplay integration problem or a ludic one, not a problem with the choice itself.

    This thread premise seems ridiculous to me, Manicheanism aside. Comparing "moral" and "tactical" choices is like saying why do people argue about philosophy when they could argue about where to eat for lunch.

    Well I'd like to say every action you take has an effect on the ending but that turned out to be woefully innaccurate. However there is definitely an aspect of forced morality where a non leathal hacker character is rewarded far more often than a direct assualt character.

    The problem with this is the implementation, assuming that someone who hacked a bunch would spend a bunch of points on the four different hacking trees rather than take the rewards from the hacking they do and spend them on combat or something else. Hackers should be rewarded for hacking, but people who don't hack should be rewarded for finding more ways around the hacking

    The morality of Human Revolution was great, because it didn't judge you. It just gave you options and you could justify whatever choice you made however you wanted. It gave you consequences for your actions, but only for the actions, not for the morality of the action

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  • Psycho Internet HawkPsycho Internet Hawk Registered User regular
    Part of the problem with moral choices in games is that people expect equal rewards and outcomes regardless of the choices they make. From a realism perspective, this makes absolutely no sense. If I consistently make poor or mean choices, the logical conclusion is that people around me are going to dislike me or trust me less, or I'll have missed opportunities. But as gamers, we expect to be able to always be able to complete all game content and do everything regardless of our choices. So in Mass Effect I can pointlessly be a raging dick to every single person I meet and they'll give a roundabout response that usually leads to the same conclusion anyway, or in L.A. Noire I can goof up every question and run over people repeatedly and maybe I'll get a shitty rating, but my character will still be the star of the L.A.P.D. because that's what the game needs to keep the story moving. Realistic choices involve the possibility of failure, or making a bad choice, but video games avoid that possibility because they have to be fun, and failure isn't fun.

    The other problem is that when presented with a multi-path morality system, the expectation is that there will be an equal amount of options for each "path." This becomes problematic when the plot of 99% of games involve being a hero and saving the day in some way. The result is that most "bad" choices are reduced to different dialogue that don't really fit with the actions of your character. Mass Effect ends up having a "be a douche and yell at this guy" choice for every single conversation regardless of how menial it is, because the expectation is that for every Paragon response there will also be a Renegade one.

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  • VikingViking Registered User regular
    LA Noire could have been brilliant with it's conversation system, all that it really needed is to hide the "3/7 correct responses" style prompts that pop up after each interrogation (or the score system completely).
    Giving the player an immediate evaluation at the end of each conversation led to the game reminding the player that it is just a game and almost encouraged save exploiting. Had there been no feedback other than the direction the conversation takes, I feel the player would have been much more immersed.
    For me LA Noire worked best when you just let the game roll with the punches as it were. If you messed up an interrogation then you just continue on all the same, just with less information to go on.

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  • NightslyrNightslyr Registered User regular
    I haven't played either Witcher game, but they sound like they've implemented a good morality system.

    I hate systems that are merely a sliding scale between two extremes. It's a simple, lazy way to make it appear as though choice matters, and, at best, all you can hope for are three different outcomes (good, evil, neutral). There's no real nuance here, it's all just "You scored xxx on a scale of 1000 - here's how people react to you, and an ending cutscene based on where you fall on the scale."

    A sliding scale wouldn't be bad as a supplement to a flag-based system. Choices could set flags which could then be processed later. This would allow a player's actions to have long term consequences throughout the game. The sliding scale could then add nuance, affecting other character's base reactions, it could also add a different flavor to future dialogue options and perhaps even cutscenes.

    Finally, dialogue systems in some games bug me. Take Mass Effect. As effective as Mass Effect's dialogue system is, I have a real problem with it showing the Paragon/Renegade options when they're not available for the player to choose. I also don't like that they're clearly labeled as moral choices (blue or red) while the other dialogue is not (white). Ideally, any extra dialogue options would appear to be normal options (white, not blue or red), and not appearing if you don't have enough points one way or another (if you have enough Paragon points, the Paragon option would show up, but not a greyed out Renegade option). Make the dialogue itself seem to matter, not merely the red/blue options.

  • HenroidHenroid Mexican kicked from Immigration Thread Centrism is Racism :3Registered User regular
    Dues Ex human revolution was horrible with its moral choices.

    It pulled a bioshock and playing a "bad" character was ultimately less rewarding in terms of gameplay

    That's a gameplay integration problem or a ludic one, not a problem with the choice itself.

    This thread premise seems ridiculous to me, Manicheanism aside. Comparing "moral" and "tactical" choices is like saying why do people argue about philosophy when they could argue about where to eat for lunch.

    Well I'd like to say every action you take has an effect on the ending but that turned out to be woefully innaccurate. However there is definitely an aspect of forced morality where a non leathal hacker character is rewarded far more often than a direct assualt character.

    We also have to consider, however, what "reward" means. I haven't played Human Revolution, but in the first two Deus Ex games the impression I got was this:

    Non-lethal reward: Sense of accomplishment maybe, but literal reward was more ammo pickups / supplies.
    Lethal reward: Never really gain any literal rewards, BUT playing this way saves time.

    So in a sense, it's that "quick and easy" path. Y'know, Yoda type shit. Which wasn't the intent of the developers maybe, but let's consider this: Is time valuable and do immoral choices tend to allot more of it?

  • OlivawOlivaw good name, isn't it? the foot of mt fujiRegistered User regular
    Viking wrote:
    LA Noire could have been brilliant with it's conversation system, all that it really needed is to hide the "3/7 correct responses" style prompts that pop up after each interrogation (or the score system completely).
    Giving the player an immediate evaluation at the end of each conversation led to the game reminding the player that it is just a game and almost encouraged save exploiting. Had there been no feedback other than the direction the conversation takes, I feel the player would have been much more immersed.
    For me LA Noire worked best when you just let the game roll with the punches as it were. If you messed up an interrogation then you just continue on all the same, just with less information to go on.

    Yeah, I loved LA Noire and still do, but upon reflection, this and several other aspects of the game should have been removed or hidden so that the player was not aware of these things

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  • EmperorSethEmperorSeth Registered User regular
    Did anyone else enjoy how Iji handled moral choices? No moral scale or karma meter; you won't even know there is a morality system in place if you just kill off everything in sight. But if you try to spare people, you get results ranging from saving the girlfriend of one of the diary writers to full on truces or enemies killing their own leaders.

    You know what? Nanowrimo's cancelled on account of the world is stupid.
  • Eternal NothingnessEternal Nothingness Registered User regular
    edited September 2011
    Here's some more trivia.

    While it's bad enough that moral-choices aren't done so well, it's even worse when it's done (and badly-so) in Sega's Sonic spin-off, Shadow the Hedgehog. That game has you side with either Sonic and friends as usual, or side with Black Doom and his alien armies. The problems, however, include the following:

    1. Sonic and his friends have no storyline significance, and are all just included as cameo-characters, and awful cameo-characters at that.

    2. The GUN Commander will always be obsessed with killing Shadow, even when you side with Sonic and co. It's even less helpful that Sonic and his friends don't even protect Shadow from the GUN's wrath, or just be punished by that government-organization for merely being Shadow-sympathizers!

    3. Black Doom was one of the most generic villains ever conceived, and how he was implemented in Shadow's game was much worse. Seriously, he promised to give humanity some "salvation," which was a cheap rip-off of Seymour Guado's intentions in FFX, which also involve "saving people by killing them!"
    4. In the neutral-path, Eggman lies to Shadow, and in-turn the player, that he was just an Eggman-robot built to replace the original Shadow, even though the "fake" Shadow was actually the real-one, rescued by Eggman so that he could be used for any of his future schemes.

    5. The unlockable final-storyline still have Shadow save the Earth from Black Doom, even though he disrespects the memory of Gerald (his creator) and Maria (his friend) by tossing a photo of them over his shoulder. That ending scene implies that Shadow will always be an ass-hole who happened to save the world for selfish ass-hole reasons, even toward Sonic and his friends!

    Due to such facts, Shadow's game would be more than just one of the ultimate examples of how not to do a story-driven video-game. It would also be amongst the ultimate examples of how not to do moral-choices.

    If it were up to me to apply moral-choices in a Sonic game, I'd apply something along the lines of the following scenario:

    The soft-hearted Tails asks Sonic to rescue the various small-animals from Eggman, while the hardened Knuckles asks Sonic to collect the Chaos Emeralds instead. Sonic would then have to make a difficult decision between siding with one of his two friends, or creating a potential third-option that resolves both Tails and Knuckles' opposing viewpoints.

    By doing something like this, do I add a sense of moral-ambiguity Shadow's game lacked so damn much.

    Eternal Nothingness on
  • NightslyrNightslyr Registered User regular
    Henroid wrote:
    We also have to consider, however, what "reward" means. I haven't played Human Revolution, but in the first two Deus Ex games the impression I got was this:

    Non-lethal reward: Sense of accomplishment maybe, but literal reward was more ammo pickups / supplies.
    Lethal reward: Never really gain any literal rewards, BUT playing this way saves time.

    So in a sense, it's that "quick and easy" path. Y'know, Yoda type shit. Which wasn't the intent of the developers maybe, but let's consider this: Is time valuable and do immoral choices tend to allot more of it?

    From what I have played of DX:HR before my XBox died, non-lethal gives you an achievement if you're non-lethal through the entire game and some extra xp, which, in turn, unlocks augmentation upgrades (think RPG talent points). That said, good marksmanship (headshots) also nets extra hp. You get the most extra xp by not being detected at all during a level, but that's not really a moral choice... the award doesn't go away if you kill a mook when they don't see you. Hacking also nets bonus xp, but, again, isn't a moral choice.

    In HR, kill/no kill is really a matter of how much you want to challenge yourself during a level. Both options are treated as legitimate, and I haven't seen much difference in the way the game treats you, aside from some dialogue, which is the same as it was in the original DX when Sam Carter would be angry at you killing people in the first few missions.

  • OrcaOrca Also known as Espressosaurus WrexRegistered User regular
    Actually, if you go unarmed nonlethal takedowns (50 XP a pop!), that will usually net you far more experience than if you get Ghost (250 XP, just 5 unconscious guards)--and it's much easier besides.

    Smooth Operator you can generally get fairly readily, so long as you're careful and moderately stealthy.

  • NightslyrNightslyr Registered User regular
    How much xp do headshots give? Isn't it pretty similar to knockouts?

  • zepherinzepherin Russian warship, go fuck yourself Registered User regular
    By adding a moral choice system the developer can effectively multiply the content added at a lower cost. Different paths to different responses? Well you'll have to play the game twice. The levels will be the same, the bosses will be similar if not the same. New guys? New levels? not really. So by adding a moral choice system with multiple endings the amount of "content" a player gets out of the game is higher. The cost, extra lines of text, maybe extra voice work and rendering the model talking to the new text.

  • OrcaOrca Also known as Espressosaurus WrexRegistered User regular
    Headshots give an extra 10xp. So if you're headshotting knockouts, it's pretty close at 40xp per mans.

  • ZiggymonZiggymon Registered User regular
    I would love for a game to take morality choices and not have them to become a question with a straight list of choices to choose from but rather an event where you are not told a choice but due to the thinking of the player make the choice externally. Anyway a few games do sorta this but ends up revolving into the episode where the game tells you "you can do what you like as long as you do as we tell you." problem.

  • SoundsPlushSoundsPlush yup, back. Registered User regular
    You can get Ghost and non-lethal everyone easily if you're patient and careful, but like Smooth Operator and headshot bonuses, that's rewarding skill rather than morality.
    zepherin wrote:
    By adding a moral choice system the developer can effectively multiply the content added at a lower cost. Different paths to different responses? Well you'll have to play the game twice. The levels will be the same, the bosses will be similar if not the same. New guys? New levels? not really. So by adding a moral choice system with multiple endings the amount of "content" a player gets out of the game is higher. The cost, extra lines of text, maybe extra voice work and rendering the model talking to the new text.

    Provided the gameplay remains fun and the experience feels different from the slight changes propping up the consistent narrative built in the player's head, that's good. Games are about illusions.

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  • HamHamJHamHamJ Registered User regular
    Part of the problem with moral choices in games is that people expect equal rewards and outcomes regardless of the choices they make. From a realism perspective, this makes absolutely no sense. If I consistently make poor or mean choices, the logical conclusion is that people around me are going to dislike me or trust me less, or I'll have missed opportunities. But as gamers, we expect to be able to always be able to complete all game content and do everything regardless of our choices. So in Mass Effect I can pointlessly be a raging dick to every single person I meet and they'll give a roundabout response that usually leads to the same conclusion anyway, or in L.A. Noire I can goof up every question and run over people repeatedly and maybe I'll get a shitty rating, but my character will still be the star of the L.A.P.D. because that's what the game needs to keep the story moving. Realistic choices involve the possibility of failure, or making a bad choice, but video games avoid that possibility because they have to be fun, and failure isn't fun.

    The other problem is that when presented with a multi-path morality system, the expectation is that there will be an equal amount of options for each "path." This becomes problematic when the plot of 99% of games involve being a hero and saving the day in some way. The result is that most "bad" choices are reduced to different dialogue that don't really fit with the actions of your character. Mass Effect ends up having a "be a douche and yell at this guy" choice for every single conversation regardless of how menial it is, because the expectation is that for every Paragon response there will also be a Renegade one.

    This is an excellent point. I think I would actually prefer it if a morality system was used to tell a morality tale.

    As it is these systems just end up as giving me "be a dick" options that aren't interesting and also shoehorning doing really stupid things as "good".

    While racing light mechs, your Urbanmech comes in second place, but only because it ran out of ammo.
  • programjunkieprogramjunkie Registered User regular
    edited September 2011
    Orca wrote:
    Actually, if you go unarmed nonlethal takedowns (50 XP a pop!), that will usually net you far more experience than if you get Ghost (250 XP, just 5 unconscious guards)--and it's much easier besides.

    Smooth Operator you can generally get fairly readily, so long as you're careful and moderately stealthy.

    FWIW, I think you could reasonably argue that non-lethal takedowns are higher risk due to enemies being able to be woken back up. That said, with the level design, I would say they merit 30 vs. 25 instead of 50 vs. 25.

    As to the OP, I like interesting moral choices. "Incinerate puppy / save baby" doesn't make a game better, but the rachni queen is a good example of a decent one (I burned the bitch, and would in real life too).

    programjunkie on
  • TychoCelchuuuTychoCelchuuu PIGEON Registered User regular
    Here's a game that doesn't come up much in discussion of morality: Mount & Blade. I think it's one of the most interesting examples, because the only thing close to an in-game measure of your moral status is your reputation/honor. If you do mean stuff, your honor goes down, and if you do virtuous stuff, it goes up, but all that this means is that people with similar honor levels will like you more and people with opposite honor levels will like you less (scum are more amenable to scum, nice people to nice people). Moreover, no matter what happens, you're typically a fairly big jerk in some respect, because you go around sacking towns, cutting down enemies by the dozens when you're at war with them for some petty reason, etc. You can choose to be a really bad person and pray on townspeople, or to be a great dude who only beats up on bandits, but unless you feel like doing that, the game typically channels you down one path: the path of necessity. You end up basically doing whatever it takes to advance yourself (and your nation) in the world, whatever the consequences. It's sort of a natural outgrowth of the way the game works, but because the choices are clearly moralized and simultaneously free of any sort of reward or punishment purely for having some moral value in one direction or another, they resemble actual moral choices much closer than something stupid like KOTOR.

    Another game I'll just mention is STAVKA-OKH. It takes 5-10 minutes to download, install, and play, and in an interesting way it sort of nails morality in the same way that I argue that Mount & Blade, although in this case it's much more sophisticated. The game is also specifically built around not just the moral choices but the nature of the choices and the nature of morality itself, so it gets to the heart of it much faster and much more effectively than Mount & Blade, where the moral commentary is pretty much accidental.

    tl;dr: Obsidian games good, BioWare games lame.

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