Narrative Design and the Witcher

Working on the Witcher was a great experience, not the least of which was experiencing the story and capturing Sapkowski’s world. Even though the game was inspired by a linear medium, the game itself is a great example of how to offer branching narrative with non-trivial choice. Read on only if you’re willing to read spoilers of the game.

One of the major themes of the Witcher stories involves choosing “the lesser evil.” Indeed, Geralt earned the moniker “The Butcher of Blaviken” because he once chose the lesser evil and has never been able to live it down. As a result, the developers wanted to incorporate difficult moral choices with no clear answer into the game. For example, in the first act, you must decide how to deal with Abigail the witch. A bit rough around the edges, Abigail sells her magic and potions to the people in town. If you choose to save her, you have condoned her darker activities and alienated the village. If you choose to hang her, you have acted as a judge and jury of her and sided with equally guilty villagers. No matter what you choose, you will find yourself progressing in the game, but your choice will influence how you play Geralt and may have repercussions later in the game.

View one of the choices below: (click here for French version)

Unlike many other games with branching, the developers did not envision an “ideal path” for the player. In one game, Shadows of Destiny I believe it was called, I felt like I had to guess what the developers wanted me to do, and if I didn’t do it, I would get one of the lamer endings. In the Witcher, the developers don’t punish the player for not reading their minds. In fact, they much prefer the player struggle with each decision, because there is no right answer. It’s up to you to determine what the lesser evil is. You will fight the same Big Bad no matter what, but you may have had to step on different people along the way. You will have to face them in the end.

What are some other great examples of non-trivial choice in games? I’m always on the look-out for good ones!

Question Mark Guess that game dialog! Today’s line: “Sorry but your princess is in another castle.” Check back next week to see where it came from.

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Published in: on November 29, 2007 at 3:54 pm  Comments (7)  

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  1. […] Last week’s line of game dialog came from SUPER MARIO BROS. Did you guess it right? More Guess that Game Dialog to come this week! […]

  2. […] should give players challenges to work through and choices to make.  Could he be talking about the non-trivial moral choices that story-driven design can provide?  […]

  3. […] now hearing about it, here’s what you need to know… and if you want a spoiler, click here. With 80 hours of gameplay, it should take you well into […]

  4. […] Good story […]

  5. […] “Being a writer doesn’t automatically make one a game designer.” ”The work of the writer is inherently linear – the work of the designer is typically not.” Translation: “I’m frustrated that so many game writers don’t get games or don’t get interactivity.” Very true.  It’s important when hiring a writer to find one who gets the medium.  On top of that, do what you can to help the writer you hire “get” your game.  If you hire the right writer, you will hire someone who, as writer/designer, designs the story into the gameplay.  As writer, s/he will write a story that won’t hogtie the player by giving the player non-trivial choice.  […]

  6. […] according to Nicole Lazzaro. Games may have even more unexplored benefits. Could games like THE WITCHER help players explore and identify their own sense of ethics in a safe […]

  7. […] allowing players to choose an ending that is meaningful rather than forced upon them, like in THE WITCHER, can make them feel quite powerful, and may encourage replayability as […]

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