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Tutorial - 'How to Manage Non-Linearity in Your RPGs' by SSJ4Gogeta

An item about RPGMaker 2000 posted on


Mr. Pootle's tutorial on how to make your games more non-linear.


Hey, I've been reading the articles on this website for a little while now, and thought I'd throw in my 2 cents with regards to the storyline of an RPG (can you feel the excitement?! @_@).

OK, first I'll say what this article IS about, and what it ISN'T. It is about organizing your story and plot elements in such a way as to help you implement in in code, i.e. to make the transition from design to implementation. It isn't about what makes a good plot, because personally I think that's down to personal taste.


Automata. No, they're not gonna hunt you down and assimilate you, they're a neat mathematical of describing a system in terms of what STATE it is in. You may have seen the word 'mathematical' there, but worry not! I'm only going to talk about it in terms of diagrams.

So now we know what finite state automata are, how do they relate to RPGs? Well, think about it a little. Games like Final Fantasy work in such a way that the player progresses by:
1) Being presented with some plot.
2) Being told (either directly or by clues) to solve problem X, be that a dungeon, a puzzle, or something as simple as travelling to another town.

Now, until the player has solved problem X, the plot of the game cannot
progress. These events, then, are critical to the game and you as the
game's creator have the task of keeping trackof all of these events. Once these 'plot progression' events take place, then the plot has moved forward and THE STATE OF THE WORLD HAS CHANGED!

Right. Time for an example, methinks...

*Fade in to a room with two people, Mr Pootle and his radiant wife Mrs Pootle*

Mrs P : Say honey, I wish we had some bacon to go with these eggs here.
Mr P : Here's $5, the shop's thattaway. Knock yourself out.
Mrs P : ...
Mrs P : Here's your goddamn bacon, SUGAR. Choke on it.

Right! So, did you see how the EVENT of Mrs Pootle affected the STATE of the WORLD? There is now bacon. The point here (don't worry, there is one ;)) is that any other actions would not have altered the state of the world, except for Mrs Pootle getting the bacon. The state of the world has changed.

In your games, whenever the hero defeats a dungeon boss for example, the state of the world will change, if only for the fact that the boss is no longer there (so if the hero revisits, all the monsters are gone).

If he has a conversation with a villager who remarks what a beautiful day it is, well, the world has not exactly been drastically altered.


Once you have got your story all written up nicely, scan through it and LOOK FOR EVENTS THAT PROGRESS THE PLOT. Every time you see one, STOP and think about the following:
* What was the state of the world BEFORE this event? (Lucy was alive and well).
* How has the world CHANGED after this event? (Lucy is dead. Her family blame you for risking her life, etc.)

Now you have these two 'before' and 'after' states, draw two big blobs, and label them as descriptively as you like (NUMBER THEM AS WELL! I'll explain later in DON'T FORGET THE NUMBERS!). So in the above case, we would have two world states ("Lucy has gone to the woods for a walk" and "Lucy's no longer in the party") and an ARC, a link if you will, that joins them ("You witness Evil Bad Guy Mr X kill Lucy to death!" XD).


For a whole story, you will have built up a large diagrammatic representation of your story! But because you have drawn a diagram, you can more easily interpret the structure of your story.
For example, if your diagram represents just a long chain of blobs with only one possible flow all the way through, then you have written an extremely LINEAR game, people!

One of the problems of introducing (serious) non-linearity is that it can be quite hard to keep track of all the different actions and consequences this requires. Here, at least for now, you need only worry about drawing arcs from one state to another, with the arcs represent a CHOICE that LEADS to a CONSEQUENCE (a new world-state). Simple as that!


Those world-states were numbered for a reason - cross referencing. Think of it like this: the numbers you gave to the world-state are keys that can be followed in order to see all the gory details. The finite state diagram is an OVERVIEW, but now you want the nuts and bolts so for every world-state you drew, you should:
* Take a blank piece of paper and number it the same as the state you are describing.
* Describe the state! What is happening in the world? What are the ways that the player can move forwards to the next state (i.e. what ARCS are there) ?


Diagrams are A Good Thing, and with the technique I've just talked about, you can use this fact to your advantage. These diagrams can help you with the structure of your story (is it too linear? Too MANY choices?) as well as forcing you to really sit down and THINK about the little details of your game world when you are ready.

I hope you find this useful...