Decisions, decisions, decisions. That’s supposedly the core of a great story-driven RPG: to give the player the necessary choices so that they can play their role and savor the outcomes. These decisions and their outcomes can be a clear-cut black and white or a murky grey. So this had me thinking recently, what is it that gamers prefer?
Perhaps preference comes down to what people expect from the game they’re playing. With D&D games, decisions are typically of the black and white variety, and at Ossian Studios we think that is what players are expecting, so that’s how we’ve designed both of our D&D games (Mysteries of Westgate and Darkness over Daggerford). It definitely fits very well with the D&D alignment system of good/neutral/evil.
In contrast, with a game world like The Witcher, everything comes in shades of grey. Fans of the books and game would expect those kinds of difficult situations, so an RPG developer would have to take great care to give players those kinds of tough choices.
Looking at older forms of non-interactive storytelling, like books and plays, there has always been the full spectrum of black, white, and grey outcomes. From the Grimm fairy tales where justice prevailed and evildoers were rolled down a hill in a barrel of nails (ouch), to the Epic of Gilgamesh, which shows us the futility of avoiding our own mortality, all of these works have become classics, showing that people throughout history can be entertained by all three outcomes.
Perhaps the black and white will always be more accessible to a wider audience because it’s a more palatable fantasy than real life. Yet, perhaps the grey also has value in its uncomfortability because it causes us to think harder and look deeper into ourselves. As games have matured to become an established form of storytelling, gamers have matured as well, and it would seem that they are now looking for a shot of reality with their fantasy.
Ossian Studios latest RPG triumph, Neverwinter Nights 2: Mysteries of Westgate is available now!
Alan Miranda started his career as an RTS game designer at Relic Entertainment but later moved to BioWare as a producer on RPGs, where he learned the production ropes in a “trial by fire” (as Ray and Greg put it) on BG2: Throne of Bhaal. His vision of future gaming is seeing the RPG genre spread across many other genres to create hybrid games, because giving players the chance to role-play, make meaningful choices, and be at the center of epic stories is key to a great gaming experience. Such were the dreams that prompted him to start the game company that is Ossian Studios.