SM5303 Digital Audiovisual Culture

Research object

Non-linear Narrative Game System of Role Play Game

Wing Ka Celeste Leung

MFA Yr I 50269802


Since the age of playing tabletop game Dungeons & Dragons, role play game is the game of heroism. The gamer generally directs a group of heroes on a series of quests, defeating the bad guy for peace and glory. At the early time, the story was simply a hero given some hints of the existence of evil and then went straightly to the bad guy, beating his suite and finally facing the big boss. When time goes on and higher technology is available, also our dreams extend, the story of RPG become more complicate and dramatic, and same as the system of the game. Beside, because of considering lengthening a game time life, around 1990's, multilinear story line concept that plots would end in different ways depending on the choices the player made during was introduced to make the RPG replayable. These gives choices to players to decide and be suffered their own fade in the gameworld, deepens the original concept of role-playing, and shows a closer immersion between player and gameworld.


Before looking at the storytelling structure, let's have a glance the basic unit of the game structure: quests. A quest is simply a task the player may or may not have to complete before finishing the game. Traditionally a quest has there three stages: Notification, Process, and Reward. Firstly the heroes are informed that something needs to do in order fix the problem or get some benefits. Then they will go to have some action to complete the task and finally get some return depend on the task or degree of completeness, etc. When several suitable quests are finished successfully then it leads to an ending.

Quests are constructed to form a chain of plot and then be the story line of the game. There are there three primary storytelling structures common used: The linear game structure, the multilinear game structure and the nontermianl game structure.

Linear Game Structure

The linear game structure is the simplest one. After beginning the heroes enter a zone that allows having some free exploration within the zone. There only two transition point of in the zone, one is entrance and one is exit which connects to another zone's entrance. There is only one main spine from start to the end pass through and chain all the zones.

Multilinear Game Structure

The multilinear game structure is more complicate. There may be one beginning and one end only but there are different routine between them. One beginning but multi end depended on decision made through the game. Or may be multi beginning and it goes to several similar end or actually one end. Or really multi beginning multi end that just like several independent stories but sharing the same game system and gameworld. Each zone may have more then one entrance and more then one exit. The zones are connected by several main spines that finishing the game may not need to go through all the zones.

Nontermianl Game Structure

The nontermianl game structure usually is the structure of massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs). The heroes enter a big zone with many transition points, which they go to find their interesting quest, complete it and return to the big zone, and then find an another quest. The game seems to never end as the game company will put new quests new skill and new items regularly.

What I want to focus on is the second one, the multilinear game structure. What makes the structure can be run fluently and be sensible to player depend on the setting of main spines. Choices of transition points are given to player and may present in following ways.

Dialog/Action Multiple Choices

When some specific event activated or it is the time talking with important NPC (non-player character), dialog pops up and gives some choices force player to response. Each choice will lead to a different plot development.

Multiple Main Characters

When the player first enters the game, he should choose one of preset characters as his avatar. Some games just give player two genders' or few vary style of heroes for player's own preference, while the preset characters in some games may have vary background and different skill that alter the route that the player will encounter.

Order of Assessing New location

After finishing the early part of some games, the zones that can be accessed will suddenly increase a lot to let player choose his own route. Some of them may not be different at the end of the game if some part of order of assessing different, while some of them may different as a parameter of time built in the game.

Multi Solutions of Completing Quest

Linear game structure quest always have one solution, in other word said, it should success or continue to try until find the way to success. It is different when in multilinear game that some quest may have multi solution as being choices to determine what the fade the heroes will have.

NPC Relationship

Some games may have lots allies can join the party by just contact them or satisfy specific requirement. That the new ally may activate specific story line which the quest may need the new ally's skill or ability to solve it. The other way to make use of NPC for alter story line is that killing some of them or not may have different development when come to later part.

Usually a video/computer RPG may devote into a strong story base or a strong system base one. They will have different difficulty to be a nonlinear RPG but also can give beautiful play by their unique advantage.

Strong Story Base RPG

A strong story base RPG has a solid story line and well-written dialog between characters. The gameworld may construct by detail history and culture. Characters are designed in a deeper taste with a relative realistic complete personality. The quests run closely with the main spine story line. To transform this style's to a nonlinear structure; the solid story line may have a tree development and make some option that hard to make decision when consider human nature emotion. Well designed NPC is also a resource to increase the tension of atmosphere when choosing dialog multiple choices. A gameworld may be a large exportable that there's certain freedom to let player go around as his.

At this type of RPG the most difficult task is the offer dialog multiple choices that suit most player personality but remain less number of choices to reduce the complication when gamer program, also save time for the writer to consider varied cases.

Strong System Base RPG

For a strong system base RPG it may have a playful allrounded character growth system that can customize the avatars from diverse abilities, classes, skills, magic and combat styles. There may be a brilliant combat mode that allows not only simple slap and fireball but also interesting tactics about position and time handling. There may plentiful items or an item invention system is introduced to the game. To become a nonlinear structure, the quest solution should be relative to the abilities that the avatars acquired closely. Suitable amount information and hint should be given to let player know which skill may be the key.

At this type of RPG the most difficult task is to link up most characteristics and skills to the gameworld that all the skills should have the unique effects.

Actually the nonlinear RPG is to given choice to player. However, is it really a choice for player although different routines are set up?

Balance all the things

The difficulties of different routines should be similar, although they can be compensated by not only calculate the tasks and monsters levels, but also the styles, the glory, and the final rewards. The strength among classes should be similar that there may not be very weak or very strong classes that the player will lose the patient. A bad ending actually is not a choice for the player who spends hours and hours to the game. All choices should at least have one positive reason to be chosen. Forced players' avatars to suffer will just make players leave the game.

Though the technology is improving time by time, when beautiful 3D animation was introduced to game, most of the companies pay a lot to make impressing clips at the opening and the ending, and even when passing the transition point. That situation narrows down the number of routine in the game because the game companies cannot afford to make some clips that some players may not have a glance on them even finishing the whole game. However at this state the hardware still cannot support high quality real time rendering. Non-linear narrative game is discouraging in this trend. Some start to become a interact VCD/DVD like stuff that player is just doing something instead of press the “play” key but they have the same function. I wish the companies will not follow the trend blindly and return to age several years age making interesting nonlinear story game to those who love it.


Bob Bates, Game design: the art & business of creating games , Roseville , Calif. : Prima Tech, c2001.

Neal Halford, Jana Halford, Swords & circuitry: a designer's guide to computer role playing games , Roseville , CA : Prima Tech, c2001.