A game by Heather Logas and her friends

Re-thinking character growth

I had a really terrific meeting this week with a member of my cohort*. Duncan Bowsman, an IF creator of some prolificity (that’s a word — really) had played the existing BYCYE demo and sat down to chat with me about it, and talking through one aspect of the game with him opened up an intriguing new idea.

The most common question of people when I describe BYCYE to them is “Can characters change over time?” The ability for characters to change and develop is what makes for good stories, after all.

I do have a scheme designed to allow for character growth. While I want characters to be able to change over time, I don’t want their stats to ping-pong around. If a character’s personality stats are constantly changing, my concern is that there will be no consistency and a coherent sense of playing another self will be lost. So the way I have it designed currently, character stats do have the opportunity to change — but only occasionally, at certain dramatic moments. Much like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz suddenly finds the courage within himself to help save his friends, certain moments in BYCYE give players the opportunity to select a character choice which is divergent from the character’s expected behavior. If the player selects that option, the character takes that action and the character’s stats shift.

I still like how this sounds on paper. But here’s the issue — in the game right now, this almost never happens. These types of moments should be momentous and dramatic — but the meat of the game is smaller, less tense choices. If I continued with this design, there might be three or four of these moments in the whole game. I don’t think this would fulfill players’ desires for character growth.

But speaking with Duncan may have suggested another way to tackle this problem. So currently the player only gets to see a subset of the possible spectrum of choices available based on his/her character’s stats. What if, sometimes (I don’t know when yet), the player sees their possible choices and then sees an option like this:

*I’d prefer to do something else.

Now, possibly the player gets to see some of the choices that don’t go with the way their character is currently set up. After they pick one of those (of course, they can go back to the first set of choices) but before the action is taken, the game might ask them something like this:

“That seems more selfish (or courageous, or compassionate or what have you) then you tend to be. Are you sure that’s what you want to do?

So if the player selects yes, they want to be selfish, the action they have selected activates and their stat changes. Players can therefore shape their characters more actively as they go along, but are also given an “out” to keep from changing in a way they don’t want.

Of course, I could do the original plan as well. These ideas could work together.

I’m still mulling this over. It will take some work to implement so I want to think it through before deciding to dive in with it. But it is encouraging that, even this far along in the process, I can improve on the game system to make a more satisfying experience.

*I know this sounds like we’re minions of evil masterminds, but actually we are just in the same year of the same Master’s Program.