Sponsored By

Analysis: Curiosity Killed the Player

In his latest column examining gaming conventions and the pros and cons of breaking them, Gamasutra contributor Jeffrey Matulef analyzes games with unexpected consequences.

Jeffrey Matulef, Blogger

May 20, 2011

5 Min Read

[In his latest column examining gaming conventions and the pros and cons of breaking them, Gamasutra contributor Jeffrey Matulef analyzes games with unexpected consequences.] There's a moment in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker when I entered a rich man's house full of extravagant vases. After nearly two decades of smashing ceramics to collect whatever goodies lay inside them, I instantly did the same here. In the Zelda universe, these things respawn after a loading screen, so it's a victim-less crime, right? Wrong. Upon leaving the residence the owner came out and chastised me for my vandalization and forced me to reimburse him for the damages at a costly 20 rupees a vase. Rather than get angry, I smirked. You got me! Job well done. It was a harsh punishment (or rather it would have been if money wasn't so easy to come by in that game), but it was completely fair. I hadn't been thinking about my actions and this was a clever way to punish me as well as poke fun at the rest of the series. Few titles have replicated this cautionary design, but a game that took it one step further was Demon's Souls. In Demon's Souls there's a random NPC you can rescue who will proceed to kill off friendly NPCs in the game's hub, the Nexus, if you don't kill him first. This is especially unforgiving as they don't come back and some of them represent the only way to gain new spells or swap your equipped magic. In a 40+ hour game, it can be heartbreaking to come back to the Nexus only to discover that you can't re-equip that fire spell you liked so much. There are hints about this. If you're playing online, it's likely that people will leave warning messages scrawled next to him saying "bad" or "do not trust." This isn't fool proof though, as some players will try to trick you. I repeatedly saw warning messages about a different NPC, but couldn't bring myself to kill him because a.) death is permanent in the world of Demon's Souls, b.) my information wasn't reliable, and c.) I was curious to see what he'd do. To my knowledge, he didn't do anything sinister (though he was kind of a jerk), so I'm not sure what those messages were about. He didn't help me either, but if it's all the same I'd rather not murder someone if I don't have to. Another hint is that the treacherous NPC starts off killing unimportant characters before going after the more vital members of the Nexus. This is easy to miss though, as it's not uncommon to run from level to level without spending much time in the Nexus, so you won't realize this until it's too late. Or you could be like me and simply be too unobservant to find and rescue the guy in the first place. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose. The penalty here is far less forgiving than Zelda, which makes sense as Demon's Souls is a much harder game in general. This might be taking it a little too far if it makes it near impossible for some people to complete the game, but I admire it's gusto for making people stop and consider their actions rather than blindly pressing forward expecting to be showered with loot and benefits at every corner. A similarly harsh consequence caught up with me in Mass Effect 2. As Commander Shepard, I did everything I could to keep my team happy. I completed all their loyalty quests and every side mission. (Spoiler alert!) In the final act, my ship's crew still died. What did I do to deserve such a fate? I played the missions out of order. Tired of "loyalty missions", I hungered for some more substantive plot development, so I pressed on through the clearly labelled main quest, confident that I could go back and do all the other missions later. Unexpectedly, my crew ran into some trouble while I was away and got themselves kidnapped by an sinister race of insectoid aliens called the Collectors. No matter, I thought. I'll wrap up what I'm doing, do a bunch of good deeds for my squad mates and random strangers, then I'll get my crew. They'll be fine. By the time I reached them I was too late. When I got to where they were held, my ridiculously flirtatious XO, Kelly, was stuck in a green tube before she turned into soup before my eyes. I liked Kelly (way more than Jack or Miranda, despite sleeping with the latter), so this was quite shocking. Given my boy scout record, I'd just assumed that the fate of Kelly and the rest of the crew was an inevitable. Or so I thought. I later watched my girlfriend play through the same sequence and she had a different crew mate die before the rest were saved. I pinpointed the disparity being due to her playing through the missions in a different sequence, so she hurried to their rescue, whereas I dallied. This made some degree of sense, since rescuing people is a time sensitive matter. There was just no way of knowing that they'd get captured when they did. I actually respected this as I liked that there were casualties. If everyone made it out alive it would have come off too falsely happy. What kind of commander would I be if I didn't have some regrets? These games could be viewed as deceiving or unfair, but I respected their willingness to surprise a game veteran like me who usually knows how these things work and can use them towards his advantage. It may seem arbitrary, but sometimes sh*t happens. [Jeffrey Matulef is a freelance writer whose work can be found at G4TV.com, Eurogamer, Paste, Joystiq, GamePro, and Kill Screen among other places. He's also a regular on the Big Red Potion podcast. You can contact him at jmatulef at gmail dot com.]

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like