The fact is, most narrative game designers have given up on what should be their holy grail (preserving deep consequences of player choice), believing that either it is impossible or (like Jim, above) that it is not even a desirable goal.
Do you feel as though challenge is a legitimate subset of player choice? I ask because there are a number of somewhat prominent IF titles that present you with a scenario that grinds toward a particular unhappy ending, which can be altered by the player's decision to come to grips with the game logic and derive a workable set of choices.
Yes I agree with you Ben — that is a legitimate subset of player choice. However, so is 'find all the treasures and put them in the trophy case'. If you didn't pick up the treasures available in the early parts of the game, that can affect your endgame and make it less than optimal (or prevent it from happening altogether). The way you describe it strikes me as a variation on that although I haven't yet played Make It Good
; I have had it recommended several times and I have a system for checking out recommendations but I'm not very efficient at following my systems. I have at least moved Make It Good up on the list — thank you.
Your point brings up an important perspective though — it's not so much that there have been zero ways of incorporating past player choices. It's more that there is an overly simplistic, now very much played-out paradigm for doing so. Manipulate a list of physical objects to get the optimal ending. The other 'endings' are mostly failures.
I believe in allowing failure (big-time) but I don't really believe that holding out one or two win conditions and making the entire game a process of lining up the physical pins necessary to achieve that win condition is the future of narrative gaming. I believe that we can leave this territory but *without* dispensing with puzzles. (We have plenty of expeirments already that leave this territory *by* dispensing with puzzles — I am not in favour of those.) This is key to the idea of long-term narrative levers allowing players to tailor their experience. I am advocating using the principles of puzzle design to allow players to work out how to mould their characters in a direction that intrigues them personally, which may and probably should indirectly create a panoply of endings (but does not actually have to create multiple endings).
So instead of asking the player to work toward a specific ending, why not ask them to pick a goal to work towards, among a bunch, and then explore what those choices will do to the scenario and the ending? This is still goal-driven and leads the player forward (which is extremely important for a game) but doesn't put the player in a position of consciously trying to assemble a specific narrative as if it's a model kit. I want the player to be seduced into living in the narrative having chosen a non-compulsory manner in which to do it. I want the player to feel the way I did in A Mind Forever Voyaging when I stumbled into my own apartment in the virtual world and decided to try to just hang out there for a while with my virtual wife and see what would happen — in that moment, I chose my own goal for the game for a while and it was the best I've ever felt playing Infocom, despite the fact that the game didn't really make any hay out of my going to refrigerator repeatedly. Wouldn't it have been awesome if it had? Wouldn't it have been awesome if the whole progression of the game were mutated and altered based on my decision to avoid my duties and stay at home?
By learning where the rules lie, the player learns the shape of that situation and becomes more aware of the possible narratively extrapolated effects of their actions (beyond just the next turn). In order to have deep consequences you need to give the player the power to predict some of those consequences, even though they might happen ten turns down the road. Why? Because what is satisfying about deep consequences is having the power to manipulate them.
This is the core mechanic of Make It Good
. Another game laid out along these lines is All Things Devours
. Those are the first two that come to mind, but the essential kernel of the idea is present in many IF games. Spider and Web
pivots on a moment where narrative learning and player prediction fuse together and ignite in an unhinted but obvious solution.
Having seen it recommended elsewhere in this forum, I have now played All Things Devours and I am forced to say I found it tedious and just a ton of repetitive puzzle grunt-work necessary in order to attain a final ending configuration that I already knew everything important about in advance. The game was all, 'jump through these difficult hoops just to prove you can' with very little mystery about where the story was headed. I want my experiments to be pretty much the exact opposite of that. 8)
Spider and Web of course is a brilliant piece of work for reasons you mention. I don't think it is quite doing what I'm doing, either, however. I will try Make It Good at my earliest convenience. Thanks again!