Changing an Existing World

So, I’ve been reading the entries at the CRPG Addict for a while now, mostly while compiling or in a boring meeting or installing where I need to be around but don’t need to be paying that much attention where having something on the computer to read is really, really nice, and noting that I can only read Shamus Young’s Mass Effect Retrospectives so many times before it would be nice to have something new.  So that’s been working out pretty well, and some of the issues raised in some of the games are interesting as well.

Such was the case with “The Lord of the Rings, Vol 1”, an attempt by Interplay to make games out of the entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, unfortunately only managing to make two of them before the series was quietly dropped.  The game adds a lot more quests than existed in the books, but more importantly for this post also allowed the player to do things quite differently than what happened in the books.  Anyone could be made the Ring Bearer.  The player could refuse to add certain characters to the Fellowship, add other characters to the Fellowship, or even get certain characters killed that lived all the way through.  At one point, it was remarked that the relatively poor review scores for these games might have been because fans of the books were upset that the game let players do radically different things from what you could do in the books.

That didn’t make sense to me, because for me the idea that in an adaptation I could do things differently than what happened in the work is a huge bonus.  It was certainly not a negative for me in “Elsinore” that things could work out differently than in the play.  Moreover, one game that I really, really wanted to play but never managed to get was the game of “Nine Princes in Amber”, precisely because it was an adventure game set in a series that I loved that promised that you weren’t forced to follow the plot of the books and instead could try different things and do things differently, potentially for good or for ill.  So, for me, the ability to change an existing world in an adaptation was a huge plus, not a detriment.

Now, I am a bit eccentric, but in this matter I don’t think I’m all that much different from most people.  And when it comes to these sorts of games, what I really want is the ability to follow the original story and, if I do that, have it work out roughly the same, but also the ability to deviate from the story and have things work out in a sensible way if I do that.  So I don’t want the events to be random and so following the path set out in the original story leads to things happening differently, but I don’t want things to be so set that deviating at all from the path always leads to disaster, even if that disaster is made to make sense inside that world.  I want disaster to happen when it would happen, and to be able to do things better than the characters if I can foresee that the outcome would be better.  The reason is that if I’m playing a game in a set world I want to be in that world, and if I’m playing as the main character I want to be them.  So I don’t want to be just following them along — because I could always enjoy the original work instead — but do want to be able to follow them along and do what they did and have it work out, because what they did and how they did things was part of that world, and being able to do things as they did is a key component of that world, and I could never feel like I was really part of that world if I couldn’t do things like they did and have the results be the same.  To allow too much deviation breaks the world, and to allow too little doesn’t let me play in that world and instead forces me to observe it.

This is what is behind my fascination with the various Paradox strategy games, especially “Hearts of Iron”.  I’d love to play historical games where I can make things work out roughly the same as history but also could deviate from history if I put my mind to it.  The general mechanisms usually end up discouraging me from playing them, but in general that doesn’t dull my fascination, but only makes me regret that there just aren’t all that many games that really do that out there that I might find more accessible.  So I think that most fans of a world that is being adapted into a game would love the ability to do things differently, as long as they could do things the same, just like me.


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