Ideas in Non-Linearity

in Tips and Tricks

I’ve always been fascinated by non-linear gameplay. I’m not talking about full on Skyrim go anywhere do anything. But even the smaller ideas. Things that are even achievable in a game that won’t take years of development.

So, I have a little challenge for you. Imagine a scenario from your game, and then find a way to make it less linear than it is. Then tell us how you think you would do it and still stay manageable. Now, you don’t actually have to DO it of course, because sometimes linear is the best way to tell the story you want to tell. But stretch your mind a bit, and see what comes out.

For an example, I’ll come up with one for a fictional scenario (As I do not have a current project).

Scenario: Defend the castle from an attack!

All your base are belong to us.

All your base are belong to us.

The evil lord is making a final push, and the castle you are in is under attack. So we fight him off. The end.

But what if there was more that we could do?

Let’s say we see him coming. Scouts tell us we have a week before his forces get here! How will we prepare!

Now let’s give the characters options. Non-Linearity is all about options. With a week to prepare, let’s give them 3 possible side quests to do.

  • Go to the Elves for help.
  • Go to the Dwarves for help
  • Try to regain contact with the missing troops on your northern border.

But there is only time to do one!

See, this is a more interesting decision. This is something the player can agonize over.

Option 4: Well... never really did like the people in this castle anyway...

Option 4: Well… never really did like the people in this castle anyway…

But… let’s go DEEPER. What about if you split up the party? Say you have 8 people in you party. You probably want a preset leader for each mission, that keeps things from getting TOO complicated, but you can assign the rest and then just give them conditional lines in the plot. Maybe you have an elf in your party that goes to meet the elves. Or someone knows the northern commander.

You can now do all three, but you have to split your forces. 3-3-2. Or you could do two fo them, and go 4-4 and have full parties.

And each one gives you a different bonus in the battle to come.

CHOICES. What does the player do?

But what if you give him yet ANOTHER choice. Instead of waiting on the enemy to arrive at the castle, strike out in the dead of night and ambush the enemy army in a mountain pass as they attempt to approach instead.

What you thought we'd just stand in a line and wait our turn? What is this, a JRPG?

What you thought we’d just stand in a line and wait our turn? What is this, a JRPG? (also, you expect our writer to take the time to make a good looking map?????)

And all of these changes don’t really create more work after this is resolved. Oh, maybe a different line of dialogue here or there, someone mentioning that daring ambush. Maybe the dwarves see you more favorably because you helped out. Or maybe the elves are angry, because a lot of their troops died to protect your castle.

But the main part of the story remains the same: You stopped the Dark Lord from taking that castle. So it has minimum impact on the long-term workload of the game, but for the player… he gets something that is a bit more HIS story.

So what ways could you make you game more non-linear. Has this example inspired you in any way? Tell us in the comments below.

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