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The Accidental Lesbian

Chris Gardiner | 22 Jul 2011 17:41
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The second, more common method is seen in Baldur's Gate, Fable, and Gothic: decide things about the protagonist on the player's behalf. You're a scion of the royal line, long thought lost. You're the Chosen One of prophecy. A loved one has been kidnapped/killed and must be rescued/avenged. You used to be the villain before your inconvenient memory loss and/or cloning. You're all of the above! And a vampire! Making these decisions for the player gives the writers a reliable foundation on which to build a story.

The game tells the player everything about their character. Who they are, where they've been, what their relationships are

Taken to its furthest extent, this becomes a third way to tackle the problem. The Final Fantasy Solution: the game tells the player everything about their character. Who they are, where they've been, what their relationships are. This changes the character of the game - the player's along for the ride, only rarely allowed to take the wheel.

Echo Bazaar takes the second approach. It makes assumptions, but tries to be polite about it. It assumes you're newly arrived in Fallen London from the surface. It assumes you've been thrown in prison (but not why, or whether you deserved it). It does, at one point, assume you have an aunt. The aim is to connect the protagonist to wider events, but to leave their identity and decisions to the player. That's what caused the bug report we started with: The game made assumptions about the hero's motives. It trespassed into the identity gap.

It happened like this: There was a side-quest. The hero has been approached by a dusty old man from the tomb-colonies. He wants them to ghost-write some poetry so he can woo a young lady. All was fine, except for the text the player got if they failed.

Failure in Echo Bazaar rarely means you just happened to suck that day. The game's protagonists are stylish, confident, deft. They don't suddenly stop being those things because some simulated dice decided to roll a 1. Instead, failure introduces a twist to the tale. Here's the text you got in this case:

"This is impossible. An artist reveals the truth - and the only truth here is a lusty old goat trying to get into the smallclothes of a charming, intelligent young woman! She is radiance and purity, and you'll have no part in this predator's campaign on her virtue! You throw his dirty gold back in his face, and take your leave. Now. What was the young lady's address?"

What we have here is a writer wanting to have their cake and eat it. That last line is written so you can read it in two ways: either you're going to find the lady and warn her about your patron, or you're going to make a play for her yourself. But everyone's going to read it one way or the other, not see both interpretations and pick the most suitable. Our player read it as the latter and, quite rightly, felt we'd made some significant life choices on behalf of her straight female avatar.

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