On The Identity of Your Character

Post: #1
I think that Bungie did that very well in the Marathon series; your character's identity was one of the game's puzzles. That identity was not explained in advance, but instead was hinted at in various terminal texts. Thus, we learn in Marathon 1 that there had been ten Mjolnir military Mark IV cyborgs smuggled aboard the UESC Marathon, but only nine remaining on the Tau Ceti IV colony during the attack on the Marathon. Who is that unaccounted-for Mjolnir cyborg?

Any opinions on that sort of puzzle?
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Post: #2
The alternative to discovery is to generate it, I guess, although even in that case, there is always background that they usually provide for you up front.

What Bungie did was figure out how to make players read a lot (a hell of a lot) of text while playing. They did this by writing some astoundingly good material, thanks to terrific writers. I was more impressed by the writing in Marathon than the game-play, personally, but I came to the game about two years too late, and the restrictive camera/physics compared to Quake made it too cramped. I read the whole thing on story.bungie.org.

There is no reason not to imitate Bungie's approach of making discovery a part of every facet of the game, and requiring that the player work on many levels to make sense out of the world they inhabit. Players want to work! It makes the successes so much more sweet. I love the puzzle aspects, but I don't know how widespread this appreciation is. The game is as much one of logic and reading between the lines, which necessitates stopping the action in order to think -- the game has to support this switch in intensity from response-oriented input to exploration and back. It takes really good level design, too.

In a new game using character revelation as an element of the gameplay (or would you call it the game "experience"?), there are opportunities to use more than just text. In-game objects that the player owned can be revealing. Photographs and such. However those aren't available when the player is traipsing through alien landscapes. In which case you need language, either spoken or written, to provide clues about the past.

What I think about Marathon, however, was that it was really letting you play more than one game at the same time. It is a hybrid. Hybrids are good, unless you get bored of one of them and it becomes a hassle to put up with in between sessions of the game component that you like. I myself got pretty sick of Marathon combat. Again, I came to the game too late.

You might consider drawing comparisons between Marathon's story component and puzzle-adventure games like Myst and see what comes up. I think Marathon is on scale between action and adventure, closer to the action end, although the adventure component was head and shoulders above many pure adventure games.

All that said, the lost-identity puzzle is just one of many adventure puzzle types available to make use of. It was perfectly suited to the world and play of Marathon. Other puzzles are better suited to other worlds. The amnesia device (even if it's not really amnesia) has a time honoured place in narrative design, but it is not the only good device, and it isn't always appropriate.
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