Monday, 25 October 2010

KOTOR: Part 2

I think I know the big problem I had with Knights of the Old Republic.

I’ve already gone over how Bioware is unable to do good evil dialogue, and how relying on a single plot twist can destroy the experience for anyone who has it spoiled. But even if they had kept these things, I now realise that it could still have been handled well…

To get to the heart of the issue you need to look at the core theme of Knights of the Old Republic. In a way it’s the core theme for many of Biowares games, wither they realise it themselves or not. You see Bioware is a firm believer in the after effect… I’m not using the right terminology here but you must have heard of the old argument, are you born the way you are? Or is it your experiences that shape you? Bioware is in the latter. Have a good long look at some of the evil characters in Biowares games, you’ll find most of their bad guys are bad for a reason.

From a writing point of view this is a very good route to take, for experiences mean backstory… and that means they become more developed… thus more relatable and therefore more believable. It’s this backstory which gets your audience interested in your characters growth.

It is this concept Bioware handles really badly in KOTOR.

Let me just set up the beginning for you… You wake up in an exploding ship and are very briefly informed that you are part of the republic and that there’s stuff to do so let’s go! Here you can choose to be nice, or bad.

I’ve already gone a little over how being bad pretty much destroys any immersion with the game, but Bioware makes a horrendous mistake here if you know the plot twist. The backstory of your character is given at most, one or two lines… it has no depth what so ever. In most cases it’s expected that the player use their imagination to fill in the holes here, but if you know the plot twist there are no holes…

At the end of the day KOTOR is a story about a second chance, it gives you the option of acting differently from that but as far as the game and the stories canon goes, this is what it’s all about. It’s about being born as a good person, living virtuously, discovering your dark past and choosing to abandon it in favour of your new life.

Most people (My friends are not included) will play the game as generally nice person, and in a way Bioware bets on this. It’s for this reason the games plot twist is highly praised, because most people played the game ‘correctly’.

There are two things Bioware should really have done to make their game much better, and friendlier to people playing during the buzz of spoilers.

The first is to just straight up take out the evil dialogue at the start of the game, not only would you have avoided a lot of awkward and badly written evil dialogue, but it would have given the player time to identify with their character and decide how this ‘second’ life was going to turn out. Even if you knew the plot twist you’d at least be sent through the right door, letting you break the game later.

The second is something Bioware is actually much better at these days, but was really needed in KOTOR. More in-depth backgrounds. A line or two doesn’t cut it, you need a much bigger background if you’re going to get involved in your character. Mass Effect actually does this really well, letting you choose your past career as a soldier.

I know why they would be tempted not to go for the second one, because it has the chance to create plot holes if done badly. Also it is outright tricking your player. I know the whole plot of KOTOR is about tricking the player into making him think he’s something he’s not, but it’s more of “Well, we never really said you ‘weren’t’ this thing…” it’s cheeky but I’d consider it a more socially forgivable trick. But they should have really gone all the way, the more in-depth the background the better the reveal. If you were however spoiled this background stuff would still push you towards making a character that fit the background rather than the ‘real’ one (You’d do this because you’re a story fan, there’s no resisting it).

Because they didn’t do either of these things I was allowed to send the game, the story, and it’s theme way off track.

Having choice in games is good, but when you’re trying to tell a story that only really connects well with one of those choices… it’s frankly a better idea to remove the choice and focus on the theme.

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