Last time, I mused a bit on the concept of linearity versus openness in gaming. Today, I'd like to continue that line of thought, with a look at narrative paths in game design. See, I was reading an article the other day - an interview with TellTale Games - where it was revealed that they almost cut Clementine from The Walking Dead. If you're among those who've played the game, I'm sure you'll agree that it would have been a catastrophic choice which would have resulted in one of the best features of the game - one of the game's sole driving factors - being absent.
It's actually not going too far to say that The Walking Dead wouldn't have been anywhere near as good without her. It simply wouldn't have been the same - there really would have been no emotional investiture. None of the choices would have carried the same weight, none of the consequences would have had the same impact. Without Clementine there to rely on Lee - on the player - for safety and protection,without her to look up to him; his choices would have seemed more about self-interest than anything.
For a game that carries with it such heavy undertones of redemption, that would have been tragic.
But we're getting a bit off track. One of the main topics of this interview was the inherent danger in giving a player too many choices - in becoming obsessed with having an 'open' narrative. As I discussed last time, a truly open and free-choice game is virtually impossible. The medium simply doesn't allow for it. As a result, there needs to be a limit. There needs to be a narrative guardrail, of sorts. If you don't limit things, you eventually reach a point where you've become so obsessed with branches - so consumed with the idea of player agency - that you've diluted and sacrificed the integrity of your story.