Jade Empire: The Two Paths

By Shamus
on Apr 10, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

I’m going through the game again as an evil character. I’ve praised the game for strong writing, although I have to note here that the situations surrounding the “evil” path are the game’s weak spot. Sometimes characters bend or break to make room for an evil protagonist. I don’t fault the writers here so much as the approach used in the game.

The main character can follow one of two philosophies: The way of the Open Hand or the way of the Closed Fist. As you can probably imagine, Open Hand involves being nice and kind and generous to others. Closed Fist isn’t nearly as well defined, and its meaning seems to shift throughout the game. Sometimes following the way of the Closed Fist means following a sort of Darwinian philosophy where only the strong have a right to survive. It supports the idea that helping people makes them dependent and thus makes them weaker in the long run. A follower of this line of thinking would try to help people to help themselves, and would refuse to do things out of charity. This could be an interesting way to play the game, since it doesn’t necessarily mean being evil. However, the game doesn’t always stick with this concept. Sometimes Closed Fist just means being an evil jerk, being sadistic, or harming innocents and friends for trivial amounts of money.

The main problem for the “evil jerk” type options is that they don’t fit with what your character is doing within the context of the story. If I was really some cruel killbot that cared nothing for the troubles of other people and enjoyed hurting others, then I wouldn’t team up with all these nice people to go rescue my master. The game is trying to allow you to play a character that doesn’t fit within the gameworld.

Here is an example situation:


You stumble into a den of slavers. There is a brute of a man here who is in charge of “breaking” new slaves. He has some men with him. As soon as you enter they attack and you are obliged to make with the punching and kicking until you convert them into XP. Once the battle is over only two people remain: One is a slave owner, who was here in the hopes of buying himself new slaves. The other is a young woman who was about to be “broken”. You’ve already met her mother, who asked you to rescue her.

When the fight is over, a conversation begins. You have three choices:

  1. Free the woman. If you choose this, the slave buyer leaves while you stand by and do nothing. The girl is saved, but the slave owner lives on.
  2. Sell the girl and her mother. Having killed her previous “owners”, you can claim them for yourself and sell them to the slave buyer.
  3. Make the girl kill for her freedom. You can give her a knife, and tell her she can go free if she will stab the slave owner. She is horrified by this proposition, but you give her only two choices: Kill or be enslaved. She chooses to kill. Then this seemingly kind, timid girl turns sort of psycho afterwards, saying how it “felt good” to kill someone. The idea here is that you’ve turned this gentle young woman into some sort of stab-happy nutter. Personally, I think this outcome is a cop-out and rings false.

    This option is a lot more interesting to me than simply selling her into slavery. For a character that really believes in the Closed Fist philosophy, this was the proper thing to do: Make her more capable of defending herself. According to this way of thinking, just freeing her would be a disservice to her, because it would teach her to rely on others to survive. I don’t agree with this philosophy, but it is much more interesting to me as a character choice as opposed to just being a selfish jerk. It stems from an actual philosophy and not from naked greed and callousness. However, the game treats this option as the most “evil” of the three. The character Zu (an NPC companion) openly supports the idea of selling the girl and her mother into slavery, yet balks at having the woman kill the man who was trying to buy her.

There are several problems here with trying to let the player walk the “evil path”. One is that there is no option to just walk away from the slave owner and the woman, which is probably the most likely action for a self-serving person who is busy with other, larger concerns. There is no option to kill the slave owner and let the woman walk away, which is a reasonable thing to do, even for nominally good characters. It doesn’t make sense in the context of the overall plot that you should be able to sell them into slavery. If the main character was that callous, then he or she wouldn’t be on this quest to save Master Li. Even if the player comes up with their own rationale for this, the player’s in-game companions wouldn’t stand for it. Most of them are good, and should be so sickened and enraged by such behavior that they part company with the player. But they don’t. Everyone has to break character for the player to act this way.

The writing on the Closed Fist path of the game is often muddled like this. Someone really following Closed Fist (as a philosophy) would refuse most quests, (and perhaps the core quest as well) by suggesting that people should help themselves. But when it comes down to actual gameplay, being Closed Fist means accepting the quest and then screwing over everyone and anyone for your own amusement or gain.

Most other games that allow good / evil actions have this problem as well: They have to bend characters and situations to allow for an “evil hero”, a selfish bastard who somehow manages to fight evil and gather reasonable, good-hearted allies. There are countless possible player behaviors between Lawful Good and Chaotic Evil, and it just isn’t reasonable to attempt to allow for them all in a story-driven game with prerecorded voice acting and established plot. If the main character was really sadistic enough to sell a mother and daughter into slavery over modest sums of money, then he’s not going to waste time on this stupid quest. He would use his physical prowess to bully his way into one of the crime organizations in the game and then work his way to the top in short order. He would abandon the quest and the story would end.

I’m sure a player who wants to be evil would find the game frustrating, because in many cases the game just can’t let you take the evil path. Sometimes it can’t offer the evil option, and so an evil player will rightfully feel railroaded. There are many dialog options like this in the game, where someone proposes a trade, and you either don’t have the option to kill them for what you want, or the option is there but there is some excuse as to why you can’t. So, you end up following the same path as the good player, except you’re rude about it. I noticed an awful lot of dialog is wasted on these dead-end / cul-de-sac conversations where you can try to wiggle free of the restrictions of the plot and just start killing people. You usually can’t, or you can do so only in petty little ways, and I doubt it feels very satisfying to people trying to walk that particular path.

In these sort of games there is nothing governing choices except the whim of the player. There is no DM trying to enforce “in character” behavior, as it were. So for one quest you’ll climb the highest mountain to pick a flower to help cheer up someone’s depressed turtle, and the next minute you can shiv granny and steal her five bucks. This makes no sense at all, and there is no way to really have the other characters in the game react to you in any sort of sensible manner.

I think a better system would be to abandon the awkward, forced attempts at giving the player little evil detours on their highway to heroics. Assume the player is a hero from the outset, and then let them choose between idealistic mercy (sparing foes whenever possible) and brutal justice (as with the Punisher, who kills the bad guys by the busload but who is still doing good in his own way) at various points in the game. Instead of trying to accommodate the range of behaviors between Lawful Good and Chaotic Evil, narrow that down to Lawful Good / Chaotic Good. (Or perhaps both follow “Lawful” Good, but each would have different sets of internal “laws”.) It would be best if both paths were enticing to some degree, and forced the player to really think about their choices and the consequences. In the above example, freeing the slave would be a given. The player choices would revolve around how they treat the (non-violent but still evil) slave owner and if they will accept a reward from the rescued.

Instead of following “good” and “evil” the player could adhere to “mercy” or “justice”. Ideally, neither path would be “best”, in terms of player rewards. (In most RPGs, evil characters tend to fight more and steal more and thus can accumulate more XP and money.)

In some cases the path of mercy just allows an evil foe the chance to do more evil, and plot revenge. In other cases it allows an evil man the chance to reform. To keep things interesting, both paths should be tempting. In one case, you might meet a foe who does both good and evil deeds, like the mobster who is generous with his money. If he is destroyed his thuggery may end, but perhaps he’s acting as a bulwark against a greater evil. In another case, it may be interesting to have a foe who is a major annoyance to the player. He causes setbacks and is endlessly taunting, yet when he is at last cornered he begs for mercy. He’s caused a lot of trouble, but he hasn’t killed anyone. Do you kill him?

When you fight your way to the top of a criminal organization, breaking their power and destroying their assets, do you show mercy to people involved who never drew blood directly, but who kept the evil machinery running? Do you kill the mob’s accountants, as it were? And finally, when the organization is ruined and the leader surrenders and begs for mercy, do you let him go on his word that he’s going to reform? The possible permutations are endless.

This means the game world would still be reactive to the actions of the player, but those reactions would be more interesting because the player’s options would be limited to those that fit the established story. Right now you go through the game making all right turns, then go through again making all left turns to see the evil path. But those left turns just circle around and rejoin the right path after taking you past some ugly scenery.

I would like the Mercy vs. Justice choices much better than the Good vs. Confused vs. Neutal vs. Evil vs. Asinine Jerk choices we get now.

An additional curiosity: Anyone normally embrace the “evil path” the first time through a game? I imagine some do, but I’m curious how common this is.

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From the Archives:

  1. Denubis says:

    See, that’s the problem with evil in CRPGs: Evil isn’t evil, it’s just being a jerk/violent sociopath.

    Proper evil: “Hey, there’s a town. Can I kill or suborn the mayor and become ruler?”

    Game evil: “Hey. There’s a town. Let me go beat up kids.”

    And yes, Mercy v. Justice would make a much better choice spectrum.

    I generally tend to play good, but that’s also because the evil options aren’t actually evil.

  2. Corvus says:

    When it’s an option, I always go through as an evil character first and that’s probably why I wasn’t as taken with JE right from the git-go.

    As to why I always play evil first… well, that sounds like a blog post all of it’s own, doesn’t it?

  3. Shamus says:

    Corvus: Yes. I would love to read about that, without a doubt.

  4. Jeff says:

    I’d just like to point out that even a selfish jerk may have motivations to save the world/dude.

    For one, just because you’re a jerk doesn’t mean you don’t have some loyalty to your master, as that would be an extreme. Consider ‘jerks’ and their parents. First the other end: You have ‘nice guys’. We’d assume they treat their parents well. Yet we also have “momma’s boys”, such as Principal Skinner from the Simpsons. That’s an extreme. The average person we see on the street that most of us would label a ‘jerk’ isn’t going to entirely ignore their parents. Even if someone adheres to a “survival of the fittest” philosophy, they may still have a sense of fair play, or at the least pays his dues. Your parents/master taught and raised you – you owe them. Repaying your debts may well be a part of your philosophy as well, in that by doing so you free yourself from said debts and so become self reliant.

    I still like Ammon Jerro in NWN2 as the best characterization of Evil saving the world… just because he’s not a nice guy doesn’t mean he isn’t interested in the same things you (presumably a hero) are.

  5. Anders says:

    Oh, nice post about the “evil” path of Jade Empires. I’m a long time player of the game and am at the current time doing my fourth playthrough and this time I’m good.

    Of all the games that I’ve played that allows an evil path (probably KotoR 1 and 2, NWN 1 and 2) Jade Empire has the best take on it. I never really felt what you say about the forced break of character of one on the path of the Close Fist to follow the major plotline of the game. I always felt that the two basics of the Close Fists was “Strength is the one true Virtue” and “Grow stronger is the one Path”.

    The second part is reinfoced if you acutally go talk to the ghost of Sagacious Tien (who apparently was a real Closed Fist bastard) that you can find in the possessed forest. There you can do a quest for him and at the end betray him and fight him. The ghosts ask why you do that and one of the options is something on the line of “I want to challenge myself to grow stronger”. That response makes Tien happy, and he calls you an excellent pupil or something.

    For me the reason for the main character, that follows the Closed Fist, to do the main story would be to grow stronger. And to get a stranglehold of an Empire, which is pretty strong.

    But … I agree that Jade Empires does not deliver all the way. Many, many places really make the Closed Fist seem like nasty but not straight evil but most of them pretty much unfortunately is ‘pure standard vanilla evil’.

    And I’m one of those that starts with being evil most games for the first time.

  6. The Gneech says:

    I generally don’t do the “evil path” myself on any of the games that have one. The few times I’ve tried, I haven’t gotten any enjoyment out of it and found myself wondering what appeal it could have for anybody. *shrugs* I realize that it must, because I keep hearing people talk about it … but for the life of me I can’t imagine what it is.

    What annoys me most about the “alignment slider” mechanic in these games, starting with Baldur’s Gate (which was the first one I encountered the concept in) is that there seem to be an awful lot of instances set up as a “GOTCHA!” for would-be good players. Like the DM who mind-controls the paladin to slaughter all the children in the village, then has him fall from grace for doing so, the “You can choose: do evil, or do REALLY evil!” quests just make me toss up my hands and say “Why bother when I can just choose not to play the stupid game!”

    NWN 2 was particularly bad in this regard, although instead of the “alignment slider” it was the “favor with your NPCs” slider. Why am I choosing my actions in order to curry favor with those guys? Shouldn’t -they- be trying to curry favor with -me-?

    -The Gneech

  7. Deoxy says:

    You’ve touched on something, I think.

    In most games, you are the “good guy”, even if you are evil, because that’s the storyline. You can’t have the same story with opposite people doing them.

    If you want en “evil” option, you should really make an entirely new storyline. You could use the same game engine, the same locations, but you’d get different party members, have different objectives, etc.

    Basically, you’d need to make it a wholly separate game (or at least different campaign, or something).

    Usually, only one side works, and the other side gets squeezed in (poorly). I wish they would just accept that (something like what you said would be much better).

  8. Stephen says:

    I typically play through good/evil games as good, but for Jade Empire I went Closed Fist all the way. It’s been a while since I played it, but I don’t remember having very many problems with the “evil” responses being inappropriate. I remember having a huge breath of fresh air every time I got rewarded for going, “I’m not going to go on your pointless quest, do it yourself.” In previous good/evil games, every evil choice is, “I spit on you and kill at you for I am EVIL!” JE seemed to be a much more straightforward approach, that intriguingly ran counter to normal RPG expectations. I actually thought the slaver scenario was one of the better examples, but, again, I seem to recall mostly ignoring party members that disagreed strongly with Closed Fist.

    In general, though, I think the good/evil conversation options have been a blight on CRPGs since Baldur’s Gate. Given all the other necessary railroading we put up with due to the limits of the technology, I’ve never understood why the freedom to do essentially the same things while being a jerk is what we demand as players. It seems like there are a lot more interesting varieties of conversation options that game developers could include if all of them were at least in the same ballpark, instead of having to include two vastly different philosophies.

    Everything I’ve read about Mass Effect suggests that they’re moving away from good and evil, and just staying on a Nicer/Harder vibe; your Captain Shepherd will have the same basic goals as everyone else, but you’ll flesh out variations on how he goes about said goals. I’m hopeful that this will work out and, maybe, result in a move away from good/evil splits in conversation options.

  9. KingMob says:

    I’m with Anders here, and I’m one of those that starts with being good most games for the first time. In fact my usual style is to play through completely namby-pamby (“What’s that little girl? Cat stuck up a tree? Let me put the future of the universe on hold for a moment while I scale it and try to persuade little Nookums to come down). Because the ‘good’ person gets to do the most interesting options off the bat.

    Who gets to engage in interesting, developed negotiations? Who gets to see the deepest dialogue choices for 90 percent of the conversation trees? Who gets most of the unique rewards, like blessings in Arcanum, versus just getting a little extra cash? And the list goes on and on… most games are written towards good characters first.

    Who gets to come off as loud, obnoxious, and stupid? Who gets to stab the girl and get 10cents for it? Heck, who gets to make everybody angry and kill off entire groups of characters in lieu of plot?

    In game after game (Fallout 1&2, Baldur’s Gate, Arcanum, KOTOR) I’ve played good and then tried to play through evil. But I get stuck 1/3 or earlier as evil because the evil choices are just plain stupid.

    Then comes Jade Empire. Finally there’s a constant rationale for the anti-hero, and a set of dialogue choices and actions that are
    1) A believable choice
    2) Don’t make you feel stupid
    3) Actually make you feel good about yourself occasionally.
    I disagree with Shamus in that I believe there’s a good rationale for a Closed Fist character to get to the end – you want revenge and you want to see who’s stronger. You’ll use whatever tools come to hand, especially your weakling followers, to serve that end.
    What a good reason to fight evil as an evil character – you want to see who’s stronger! And Closed Fist is superior to traditional evil in that you don’t have to worry about monetary issues. If your character was traditional evil you might work with mobsters, slavers, etc. because they offer you a few extra dollars to let them pass. As Closed Fist you could care less about the money – beating them up might be good training. So you’ll take ‘evil’ missions in order to fight the strongest good characters and then beat up your evil masters in order to establish who is the big dog.

    Maybe as a closet min/maxer, powergamer, etc. Closed Fist reinforces my buried desire in any RPG – to triumph over challenges, to prove my kung-fu is the best, and at the end to have the game recognize my amazing badassedness. I seem to remember a point as a Closed Fist character where I was set upon by two groups and asked to make a choice who to fight – I chose to fight both at once to test myself… what other game makes this a realistic choice?

  10. Nathan says:

    Honestly, this was disappointing in my playthrough, the time I *attempted* to play as Closed Fist. There is little room to actually follow the philosophy of the Closed Fist. There’s plenty of opportunity to be a deranged maniac. I have no interest in playing a deranged maniac, but might be interested in, you know, actually playing the Closed Fist philosophy.

  11. The best game that I saw in this respect was Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. Your good compatriots would desert you if you did evil, and vice-versa for evil ones. And the evil story at least made sense.

  12. […] recently asked who played evil on their first run through a game (link) and it got me to thinking about why I enjoy playing the […]

  13. Shamus says:

    I thought of a better example of “Evil” vs. “Jerk” which breaks the characters:

    When you must stop the slave shipment to the Lotus Assasins, you have the option of convincing the slavemaster that this batch of slaves is substandard and must die. Dawn Star will protest, but will join in and help kill the hapless victims once the fighting starts.

    From a CF perspective, there is no gain in this. Certainly a true adherant of CF would fight the assasins, not the helpless old people. Certainly Dawn Star would leave, right then and there. Heck, she rebells when you acquire Death’s Hand. Certainly CONTINUING the enslavement of an evil entity is not as bas as BEGINNING the enslavement of a couple of innocents for pocket change, or slaghtering innocents just for laughs?

    The point is taken that JE does do this better than other games, though. I have indeed seen (much) worse.

  14. Anders says:

    Oh, I agree. Many places JE fails. And it fails by falling into CF = Evil Jerk. But at many many other places it actually is quite brilliant. Let’s hope for JE 2!

  15. Steve says:

    I started playing Neverwinter Nights as a Lawful Evil character, but got put off before I gained a few levels. A lot of the dialogue seemed to be a choice between “Pure Of Heart Hero” and “Complete Prick”, neither of which really suited my character.

  16. Ghafla says:

    Like KingMob, I’m usually Mr. Saves-Kittens-From-Trees in RPGs, because I feel bad being mean to “people.”

    Right now, I’m playing Oblivion a second time, but rather than running through the main quest and the Mages’ and Fighters’ guild quests like I did the first time, I’m running through the Dark Brotherhood and Thieves’ Guild lines. It feels very unnatural to me as a person (“But I don’t want to kill the nice lady and her family!”), but at least it doesn’t feel unnatural within the game world. I’m playing as a selfish bastard, and because the game lets you ignore the main plot if you so choose, I don’t have to save the Empire in defiance of my character. Plus, there are no companions in the game, so there’s no goody-two-shoes types who should hate my ass by now. Oblivion may be a flawed game in a number of ways, but it actually gives you the freedom to be a rotten SOB in ways that Jade Empire or NWN never managed.

  17. Allan says:

    Has anyone heard of Overlord? It’s a game where you can be evil, or COMPLETELY EVIL, it’s probably going for more comedy villainy than serious, Jon Irenicus type villainy though.

  18. Thad says:

    From the sounds of it, a more believable motivation for the Closed Fist side would be to find out what’s really going on from the start and then decide “That’s sounds like a good idea! Only, let’s just change the lead in that plan to me…”

  19. RHJunior says:

    the whole problem is that EITHER path is a railroad— one carefully disguised with artfully placed scenery and props, but the tracks are still there. And they both lead you to predestined, foregone conclusions: ones based off the moral perceptions and preconceptions of the people designing the game— which usually have gaping, self evident flaws.

    This is why I prefer sim-type games to “plot” games. Plot games are little more than a digitally animated storybook…. One where you have to jump through hoops to get from one chapter to the next. And no matter how much ‘flexibility’ you’re given in how you jump through those hoops, you’re still being frog-marched through the plot till you reach the preselected “moral of the story” at the end. Even with this “good or evil” choice, every heads-or-tails decision leads to a heads-or-tails outcome.

    Life is more chaotic than that.

    Anyone who’s read up on chaos theory, weather prediction, etc. knows that the same action, even made in the exact same environmental circumstances, won’t produce the same result twice. What would work better is if, at each of these “make a choice” points, there was a certain element of randomness included— let each choice increase the probability of certain outcomes.
    In the above example— where the protagonist is given the option between freeing the girl, selling her as a slave himself, or forcing her to kill– she herself could have responded in several ways. Killed the slaver, wounded him then balked, thrown the knife away, tried to run, even attacked the protagonist in fear and anger. And if she had killed, she could either gain strength and confidence in her ability to defend herself. Or become psycho. Or become traumatized from then on by the sight of blood. Or become helplessly dependent on the protagonist, or a venomous enemy.
    What if instead of an either-or outcome, the game made it a random roll… and the protagonist’s past actions increased the probability of some outcomes while decreasing the probability of others? (I’m talking something a little more complex than merely altering his charisma to the positive or negative, here.)
    If you really wanted to go for the big enchilada, you could make it so that your actions increase or decrease the likelihood that the major Big Bad will regard you as an enemy, contemplate you as an ally, that he’ll fear you and avoid you— or that he’ll decide to crush you early on as an obvious threat….

    It’s probably far too complex an idea for most programmers to encode… but it WOULD make for a more dynamic game. One with more than just two paths to the same destination, and potentially more than one destination, too.

  20. Patrick says:

    As for the Evil vs. Good thing and which I play first. It varies by game. Knights of the Old Republic: Evil, Knights of the Old Republic II: Good, Neverwinter Nights: Evil, Shadows of Underntide: Good, Hordes of the Underdark…well that was the same character as Shadows of Underntide so she was still good.

    But I have since become fond of Chaotic Neutral characters in Neverwinter Nights and the expansions because it lets me feel as though I can go either way with whatever decision without feeling bad about it.

    The Evil/Good thing never felt all that wrong to me in the first Knights of the Old Republic, but then my character was largely a selfish jerk whose only fondness was for Bastilla (which led my character to occasionaly make the good decisions until Bastilla went evil). On the other hand it never felt right in Neverwinter Nights. My character there was a Neutral Evil Rogue/Assassin/Blackguard. Sometimes in order to prove her evil (make sure she kept an evil alignment) she had to randomly kill people for no reason at all. She really wasn’t the type to randomly murder the people (Kill without getting paid? You must be joking!), but some of her decisions actually were getting her small amounts of good points so that brought on the random murders. It was very irritating.

  21. Eric J says:

    Has anyone done a game in a Mafia setting where you can play as either a gang member working his way up the ranks or as an undercover cop? That would be a pretty fascinating challenge to both create and play, I’d think.

  22. Vegedus says:

    I’ve played evil in a number of RPG’s the first time. Evil chars usually get the cooler spells (look at KOTOR. I mean, lightning, come on!), more freedom (hm, that guy is ugly, I’ll just kill him), more xp and gold as Shamus mentioned and maybe I’m a little psyko, but I like being a little selfish once in a while (yes, I did save your son, no, some bread isn’t “thanks” enough). There is, afterall, no unspoken rule that we play games to be the hero, and since most games without alignment puts you as the hero, I find it refreshing to be the villain. I think I simply have enough suspension of disbelief to not let situations such as those Shamus mention bother me. They do kinda suck, but I can live with them. Except, there was a situation in KOTOR II where I would lose influence with Bastila or whatever her name was, in turn making her less evil, by commiting an evil act, despite her already being rotten to the core. That was just too contradictorary.

  23. Robert says:

    The Closed Fist philosophy as presented is similar to my musings on how the Dark Side in Star Wars could have been handled better. I like the idea that the balance of the Force can be achieved by having Dark Jedi who work with the Light Jedi. They are both loyal to the Order, but they have drastically different methods. In essence, this boils down to a concept similar to the Mercy vs. Justice mentioned earlier. In this paradigm, the Sith are a malign influence that corrupt the Dark Side users by appealing to their natural inclinations in such a way that they can get them to betray the Order.

    A primary inspiration for this idea was Legend of the Five Rings. In this quasi-samurai setting, you have various Clans with absolute loyalty to the Empire (at least in theory) but completely incompatible worldviews. A Lion, valuing bushido more than his own life, has trouble dealing with a Scorpion, who sees bushido as a fool’s code that makes enemies easier to exploit. Yet, in the face of a threat to the Empire, they unhesitatingly cooperate and carefully ignore each other’s methods. Both Dark and Light Jedi would have strengths and talents that could protect the Republic, as long as they were careful not to interfere in the other’s methods.

    Anyway, I agree about the slaver/knife scene being the best in the game regarding Closed Fist. I never finished that playthrough, partly because I wasn’t satisfied with the character path. Although I did get into playing an asshole after a while because I didn’t have much choice. The only character I didn’t verbally abuse was the princess, since she was the object of my tender lesbian ministrations. Of course it was supposed to all be a plot to get in with the royal family, but as said I never finished, so I don’t know if I could have betrayed and enslaved her at the end.

    And as for various games and ethical choices…my complete JE run was goody two-shoes, as were KOTOR 2 and Arcanum. KOTOR 1 I went for the aforementioned Dark Jedi concept…I actually finished the game neutral, because I would always protect innocents and refuse financial exploitation, but I had no mercy for anyone I considered guilty. I was actually a bit blue until I got to Korriban. I figured anyone affiliated with the Sith Academy was fair game, so I did the nastiest things I could to everyone on the planet.

  24. Scott says:

    You know, Mass Effect (the next big Bioware RPG) IS going to use the mercy/justice approach…

  25. Andrew Cory says:

    I’m replaying KOTOR 2 (mostly to taunt Jaquandor, but partly because I’ve been jonesing for an RPG since reading you JE adventures). I’ve noticed that the Dark Side options are really incredibly dumb. Cartoonish, even…

    What might be interesting are options that are only a little bit more or less good or evil than your current alignment. We are all products of what has come before, after all. A character might be 100% good, but begin a long, slow slide into evil. Redemption would be difficult to gain…

  26. Peter says:

    SHamus, I agree with you about the poor writing for Closed Fist — I played through as a Closed Fist character the first time, which kind of put me off playing through again — , but I don’t agree with your identification of Closed Fist with Chaotic Evil, and Open Hand with Lawful Good. As *described* in the game, it seems to me that Open Hand is more Neutral Good (benevolence to the exclusion of anything else), and Closed Fist is Chaotic Neutral (essentially anarchist, personal identity is the only thing that counts). If I’m right, I wonder if those two alignments oppose one another quite as much as the game designers wanted. You’re right that a lot of the Closed Fist choices amount to Neutral Evil or Chaotic Evil, and I think that’s why it doesn’t hang together very well.

  27. 10Kan says:

    Like Stephen and Scott, I’ve heard the same news about Mass Effect’s take on the morality system. It’s going to be Mercy/Generosity vs. Justice/Expediency, all within the framework of the player’s mission to advance human interests and defeat the bad guys.

    I’m really hoping that Mass Effect’s morality system will be more external than the ones in KotOR and Jade Empire; that the rewards and handicaps for choosing a particular alignment will lean more towards cause/effect and unintneded consequences instead of mainly exercising an influence over your character’s powers and abilities. If I choose to play as a Space Conquistador, I want to see it in every being I’ve stepped on hating my guts and thereby changing the story, not just in being able to use some Biotic powers more easily than others.

  28. Luke says:

    Interesting… I’m playing open palm right now, so I haven’t really paid much attention to the evil choices. What I noticed though is this:

    If you are playing a good guy you can usually refuse to take a reward, score good points and then still have the character offer you half of the money or some recompensation.

    I think Fable had a good hang on the good/evil split. Since you were playing a hero for hire, it would usually make sense to do “good” quests just to get the monetary rewards. You could also walk into a store, kill the salesman and take all his loot.

    My brother really had fun with the evil path in that game. He would sneak into people’s houses at night, kill them in their sleep and then buy their houses when they went on sale in the morning. He owned half of the village at one time.

    JE seems to be much less flexible in this aspect. You can’t just walk around killing people and stealing stuff.

  29. Peter says:

    Addendum to my earlier comment: to boot, the Closed Fist ending is clearly *Lawful* Evil! That doesn’t feel all that well thought out.

  30. djtacoman says:

    I loved Fable for the reasons you listed. I owned every house in the entire known world before I got tired of the game. The best part was that you could just go and donate money to the good god in order to compensate for your killing of innocents to make money. The good god was accepting blood money! and even compensating you with a holy mace! I loved tricking the gods. It was harder with the evil god, because he didn’t give you much credit for bringing him an assasin, but loved you up and down for convincing a fetching young virgin to follow you into the chapel of doom to be sacrificed. This reminds me of Space Balls when Dark Helmet said ‘Now you see that Evil will always win, because Good is dumb.’ or something to that effect.

    Anyway, yes, I found JE hard to play through a second time as a CF character. Actually, I never made it out of the first town. I just about always play a game the first time through as a good character, mostly because writers tend to write for the good guy. At least it is that way in my experience.

    KOTOR I and II were just great, no matter which way I look at it. I rarely got my subordinates to show me everything that was rumored to be shown. At least I had all the characters turned into Jedi on KOTOR II when I went evil. That was fun.

  31. David V.S. says:

    To me, there is an even more fundamental problem.

    For most of us reading and commenting at Shamus’s blog, a big part of what defines “good” and “evil” in real life is the axiom that Death Is Bad. In contrast, within the setting of many fantasy games death is barely an inconvenience.

    This is especially true in Jade Empire, where the whole plot is about these Spirit Monks who seflessly help escort the spirits of the dead to a better place. In such a setting, why not set up a wretched slave and an evil slaver to fight? No matter if the slave lives or dies it becomes free and moves on to better things.

    In the setting of Jade Empire, the established existance of an afterlife changes the Closed Fist path from a rather sinister “strength is the only virtue” to the much more attractive “this is the world for the self-reliant: other people might as well move on to the next world where they will be well cared for”.

    Don’t tell it to the bonze…

  32. Chrystalline says:

    I think the biggest problem is that they’re overlooking one major point: no one ever thought his own actions were truly evil.

    Everyone is the protagonist of his own life, and in trying to set up an “evil” plotline, they have to come up with a philosophy that contradicts what they consider “good” and still have it seem good to the character who has to live it. They don’t seem to realize that, so they throw together the odds and ends that they consider evil – at least sort of evil – and call that an evil path. Everyone does what he thinks is right; if he didn’t think it was right (or at least okay) he wouldn’t do it. Cackling “I’m So EVIL!” badguys are a purely fictional phenomenon.

    RHJunior Says:
    This is why I prefer sim-type games to “plot” games. Plot games are little more than a digitally animated storybook…. One where you have to jump through hoops to get from one chapter to the next. And no matter how much ‘flexibility’ you’re given in how you jump through those hoops, you’re still being frog-marched through the plot till you reach the preselected “moral of the story” at the end. Even with this “good or evil” choice, every heads-or-tails decision leads to a heads-or-tails outcome.

    This is a good point, too, and happens to be the major difference between myself and my brother. He loves videogames, and the more random options the better. I prefer movies/novels, because I want either all control or none at all. I will sometimes play the more plot-driven ones, though; I did enjoy the FF series on SNES (and doesn’t THAT make me sound like a dinosaur) but haven’t really played any of the recent stuff.

    From my POV, I want you to tell me the story or I want to make it all up, but I don’t want someone giving me part of a story and making me “Choose Your Own Adventure” (Hated those books – read every single page to figure out the best (“right”) ending, and then got bored with it, because they had about as much depth as a teaspoon). Games are limited by what the designers can foresee (and code for) and are necessarily more limited than RL choices. For my brother, the more alternatives they include, the better it is. He wants his games to be more like RL; I want RL to be more like fiction. And now that I’ve rambled all over your blog, I think I’ll shut up and go back to lurking:)

  33. BMGCanuck says:

    I often play through as evil on my first attempt in games that let me do so. Most notably for me are the KOTORs and Jade Empire.
    The only frustrating thing about Jades evil path for me, was the sudden alignment change towards the end of the game. I struggled through the story trying to stay as closed fist as possible, and then in that one scene with the bloody dragon, my alignment switched all the way from complete evil to complete good..meh..i was disappointed.

  34. Elton says:

    Yes! Totally agree with Shamus’ post. A mercy/justice dynamic would really be much more realistic in a typical RPG where you can only advance the plot by being a hero.

    My only quibble is that I think (at least in Bioware RPGs) playing the “good” side often nets you much more XP from quest rewards. “Bad” choices SHOULD leave you with an equivalent value of extra loot, but my gut says they don’t, and that power-gaming leads me to pick the good choices. I play good characters anyway, partly out of strange sense of video-game morality and mainly because (as has been mentioned) the evil side is so often boring and jerky, instead of clever and conniving, or embodied by a sense of justice gone overboard into self-defeating brutality.

  35. Ace says:

    Personally, I always walk the good paths first and if I can be bothered, I’ll walk the evil paths afterwards. This happens to me all the time though. My D&D campaigns are usually good aligned when I’m the DM, or my characters are (usually) Lawful Good. Even if I play an evil character, he’d secretly be trying to atone himself for past crimes (and usually ends up converting the entire party).

    Thing is, I just don’t do very well as a bad guy. I’ve tried, but I just fail at it. I guess it’s the same for me in these games, where you make your choices between good and evil between often blatantly obvious choices in conversations. What I’m mostly annoyed about is how blatantly evil evil always is. EG. An evil warlord is always the strong dude in the black armor who has no trouble killing everyone and usually doesn’t mind slaughtering a village or butchering an orphanage for some spare change to buy a hotdog. That just makes me wonder, whatever happened to subtle evil? In earlier comments I read about Mafia games. Isn’t a mobster leader always some kind of business heavyweight who covertly uses his company just as a cover for his evil conducts? The Mobster bosses never shoot villagers themselves. They just have their minions/followers do it.

    Often, I think games lack at displaying this. Evil lords are usually cowards themselves who have their lackeys do their job for them. No need to get blood on your hands if you can have others bloody them for you, right?

    I’ll get to another point that annoys me. Personally, I hated Fable for this. Let’s say you play a good character. At some point in the game, you encounter this bandit king and you fight him. At the end of the fight, you get a choice: kill him, or walk away. Now I’m just wondering if it was just me but my choice was quite plain. This guy is a bandit. He killed loads of innocents. He torched towns. He might even have been involved with the killing of my own parents. This guy was jacked up, he might have a better chance in heaven. Realistically enough, when I attack to kill him, his minions charge me in mass. So far so good, but when I walk out the door, I get evil points for not letting him live. What’s the deal with that?

    I’ll just give another example (probably because I have the day off and nothing better to do). At some point in the game, you fight in an arena with Whisper at your side. However, as true badguys are supposed to do, at the end of the fight, Jack of Blades tells you that only one can take the (insert loads of money here) prize. So, in my mind, I jumped back and remembered all the times I’d pick up a quest card on the good side and whisper would annoy me by doing the bad side. I was once more supremely annoyed that when I judged her evil and killed her, I got evil points for doing so.

    This basically means that no matter what a person’s background is, every choice you make once more counts anew to your alignment score. So the aforementioned black armored dude could technically kill a village in front of you, face you, get his ass kicked by you, beg for mercy and you’d still be bad for killing him afterwards.

    Most of the time however, I just blatantly enjoy playing good more. Most of the time it’s because being good is so much harder than being evil. As someone mentioned in a comment, I’d take my time to get someone’s kitten out of a tree and put my world-saving plans on hold for that purpose. Why? Killing the kid (and probably the kitten, too) is too easy. I’d enjoy trying to find a villager who’s willing to lend me a ladder if I go kill some rats on his field first. When I encounter the rats, I’d find a letter saying “help, I’m in the forest in the big hole in the tree” and when I’d get there, I’d find the little girl’s brother hiding from a dire rat (a sort of sub-boss). I’d kill the dire rat, go to the man, get the ladder, save the kitten and get no reward for it but a good, warm fuzzy feeling inside.

    Back to Jade Empire though. I played the way of the Open Palm all through the game, just so I could rescue the aforementioned kittens. Playing the Closed Fist way seemed tempting to me at times, but hey, don’t all good guys doubt their paths at times? In the end, I don’t remember much about the choices I had to make, so I can’t rant about that. I guess I’ll just leave it at this.

    – Ace out.

  36. Vendrin says:

    While Kotor2 certainly wasn’t finished, and would have had a much greater evil path if influence and all that had worked out, it was the best game that allowed you to be the manipulative evil, not just an arrogant jerk. You could set yourself up to train all the force sensitives of one planet, manipulate handmaiden to betraying the chick in white robes, etc. It was all good

  37. Matt` says:

    They could justify the evil character wanting to go rescue his master because he’s pissed off by the “bad guys” and wants to go kick some ass. It’s not as deep as the good-guy justification but it kinda works

    /devil’s advocate

    Giving you two different ways to accomplish much the same thing (mercy/justice) would work better.

    I had a bad experience with a “choose good/evil” game in the form of the truly awful Shadow the Hedgehog – your good/evil-ness seems to be decided mainly by which enemies you attack, the “good” army dudes or the “evil” monster things, but the choice you made at the beginning of the level doesn’t seem to affect which set of enemies attacks you (so you end up fighting against whoever takes a shot at you and not really being either good or evil)

  38. Matt` says:

    Forget to write this before submitting, but Black and White manages to make things fun for either path.. if not more fun to follow the evil path – being evil is easy because it allows you to ignore the needs of your villagers and convert new villages by torching the place

    One legitimate strategy is to sacrifice someone to get some miracle power to create fireballs, which you then use to set the enemy village aflame, then gather up the enemy corpses and sacrifice them to gain more fireballs, repeat until the entire population of the village is dead, which causes the village to become neutral (since there’s no-one there to believe in either god) then drop in a missionary and the place is yours. It can then be populated using the hordes of homeless people that exist because you made too many disciple breeders and didn’t bother building enough houses

    However, that is closed off to the player who wants to be good, they have to win over villages non-violently, using their creature to impress them (instead of using their creature to kill and eat people) or by doing nice thine for them. Unfortunately its much easier to make people believe in you when you set their house on fire than when you made a flock of birds appear overhead.

    Conversely, the puzzles/challenges seem to reward a good solution (doing what you’ve been asked to do instead of killing the person for asking) Except in some cases where you can make a real choice and get different but approximately equal rewards

  39. Stranger says:

    I’ve played Bioware since the original Baldur’s Gate, and honestly I enjoy playing the good hero more than the bastard. Baldur’s Gate conversation trees usually had three replies, the good, the bad, and the crazy/”breaks the fourth wall”. The last one is the sort of thing you’d hear at a tabletop RPG more often than not. I dunno, but I didn’t see “evil” as a real viable option for the player character to follow. Too many potential roadblocks later on for those who burned bridges as opposed to crossing them.

    I enjoy Morrowind’s options, when they appear. There are opportunities to be an evil bastard, a good-good person, as well as to just be someone who looks out for #1. The Fighter’s Guild quest tree is a pretty good example of having two choices which are not “good vs sadist” or “good vs sociopath”. They’re what I would call “good vs company man”. Want a real challenge though? Be a member of BOTH the Thieves’ Guild and the Fighter’s Guild, as well as the Legion. There’s a lot of interesting nuances floating around at higher level quests, about tension between the various groups and faction. Being evil in Morrowind is less about being a sword-happy lunatic than behaving to look out for #1 or doing what you’re told and “simply following orders, sir”.

    Me, I play the “good because I want you people to like me” approach. The more people like me, the easier it becomes if I have to come ask you for a “favor” later on. The more willing an NPC is to give up something to me just because I’m their bestest buddy, the less hassle I have to go through to get it.

    Besides, Morrowind has enough sadistic lunatics wandering around, I don’t need to add to the number :)

  40. ?The player choices would revolve around how they treat the (non-violent but still evil) slave owner and if they will accept a reward from the rescued.?”

    What about Planescape? I only played part of it before the mechanics drove me to distraction, but it seemed to have that down.

  41. General Ghoul says:

    I really enjoyed The Temple of Elemental Evil. It gives you the choice at character creation of the 9 alignments to play. Not that you get 9 different option with everyone, but there are profound differences in the game depending on your alignment. LE played differently than CE did. The only downside of playing evil was he limited access to stores, but you find most of the stuff you use anyway.

  42. Mordaedil says:

    I generally always start on the good path and then do the evil path through a game. In Star Wars, this tends to give me a lot of pleasure, though the best one to do it, was maybe KotOR1 and KotOR2. KotOR2 even had a totally different ending for me.

  43. ngthagg says:

    The only game I can think of where I’ve played an evil character first was Ogre Battle on the SNES, and I did that because it seemed easier, not because I had an interest in an evil path. I’m not sure Ogre Battle really applies to the discussion here anyway.

    ngthagg

  44. Stephen says:

    The inherent problem with giving players both a good and an evil direction to follow, is that game developers are lazy. If they truly want to allow Good/Evil in the same game, they should (as Shamus suggests) give you two story lines that, while they may have some interconnectivity, are essentially two seperate games. Instead, game developers usually only give you either the extreme good option of Lawful Good, or the extreme bad of Chaotic Evil Sometimes throwing in the ultimately self serving third option of Chaotic Neutral.

    My argument here will make more sense if we take a quick look at different alignments:
    Lawful Good: Good will inherently come from following the laws, because the laws were set down by good people. If following the law results in the occurence of an evil act, it is the law that is at fault and needs to be changed. Here is where you see the “what-ho Evil doers!” paladins “Judge Dredd” and the like.
    Neutral Good: The important issue is that the MOST good is done. If the evil-dooer repents, or did not knowingly do evil, let him go. Here is where you see your benevolent goody-two-shoes types.
    Chaotic Good: The ultimate in the ends justify the means. If an evil act is committed to further the cause of good, then the evil act was still inherently “good”. Here lie characters such as Robin Hood or “The Punisher”
    Lawful Neutral: Go about your daily life attempting to follow the law and to keep order (even if keeping order requires something that some may find distasteful). Or conversely, follow a strict “personal” code of laws and ethics, that may not be the same as society’s. A Knight’s code of honor is a good example.
    True-Neutral: All forces must be kept in balance. Evil can not be allowed to run unchecked, but also good cannot be allowed to become so powerful of a force that it becomes absolute. Druids many times follow this belief as well as it being a generalized tennant of Taoism.
    Chaotic Neutral: Do what feels right or will further your own ambitions more. Many “rogueish” types fall under this heading usually with leanings towards good or evil. Han Solo would be a good example of a CN that has leanings towards good.
    Lawful Evil: Use the system (bending rules, finding loopholes, etc.) to place yourself in the greatest power. Your individual actions may be evil, but they work within the system to further your own goals. Microsoft would be a good example (Never blatantly breaking laws, but usually twisting them to serve their own purpose).
    Neutral Evil: Using reasoning, and finding an “excuse” for being evil. An assassin that kills purely for the money is a good example of this.
    Chaotic Evil: Evil for Evil’s sake. Doing wrong purely because you feel a malevolent urge to do wrong. Burning down an orphanage purely because you had the urge or, even more malevolently, because the orphanage was attempting to do good.

    Now, after saying all that, imagine how hard it would be for a developer to not only create options for all of those choices, but also program in the different responses that would result from all 9 choices. Some may have the same result but all would go about it in a different way. Lets look at the slave girl situation
    Lawful Good: Slavery is not illegal, so the slave owner is not at fault (even if it may be viewed as an “evil” act) so they would most likely free the slave, but allow the owner to go unmolested.
    Neutral Good: Free the slave, reunite her with her mother, attempt to convince the slave owner that owning slaves is immoral, that he should free his slaves, hire paid workers, and give any money that he got through ill gotten gains to a charity.
    Chaotic Good: Free the slave, kill the slave owner for the “evil” way he has lived his life.
    Lawful Neutral: This is where I believe CF would fall. Break the slave’s bonds and give her a weapon. Whoever has the strength will prevail now that you have leveled the playing field.
    True Neutral: Break the slave’s bonds and then walk off. Neither side now has any advantage and the slave can run (and possibly be recaptured), fight the owner, or simply stand there dumbfounded.
    Chaotic Neutral: Sell the mother and daughter. Not your fault they’re slaves, and hey, he’s a paying customer.
    Lawful Evil: Sell the mother and daughter, but charge twice as much for them.
    Neutral Evil: Charge three times as much for the mother & daughter, if the owner refuses to pay it, kill him and take ALL of his money.
    Chaotice Evil: Kill the owner and take his money, then rape and kill the daughter in front of the mother but leave the mother alive to wallow in misery.
    As you can see, that’s a LOT of programming for each choice and it becomes even greater if you add in things like voice acting or a divergent story-line. Because of this, programmers will usually cop out with the extremes even if those don’t really fit the story as well.

    And now, I believe I’ve rambled on too much :) and on my first ever comment to the site to boot, guess I just have a lot to say on the topic. I’ll finish up with the succinct comments of having a game with a divergent story where you truly could play it as any alignment would be awesome, but would pose insane problems with programming, game balance, and effort. Having a game that assumed you are going to be Good or Evil and simply changed the way that you went about it would be a nice middle ground, that also offered the replayability of a game where you could choose good vs evil.

    Thank you for allowing me to take up all of your time with my insane ramblings, and Shamus keep up the awesome comic and blogs!

  45. The Defenestrator says:

    I have some serious problems with that D&D approach. The two axes of the D&D alignment scale represent (basically) how much self-serving vs. altruistic they are and how much they value other people’s well being (good/evil) and how much they group-think and value community vs. valuing individuality and doing their own thing. Treating the alignments like “teams” is missing the point in my opinion, and saying that a Lawful Neutral or True Neutral person would “level the playing field” and then stand back to see what happens because they have no moral preference between keeping slaves and not keeping slaves makes me want to cry.
    If you want more choices in RPGs (I do too) just say so, without bringing the D&D alignment system into it and without treating it like a set of 9 different philosophies.

  46. The Defenestrator says:

    Hmm. After thinking about it some more, I’m not as sure what my point was. I guess you weren’t saying that games should have 9 positions based around D&D alignments, but I see a lot of “this is what each alignment would do” and it usually makes the mistake I wrote about last comment. It’s a pet peeve of mine.

  47. […] recent discussion of villainy in games (link, link, link) got me wanting to revisit my objections to the use of a Good-Evil metric in games and […]

  48. […] recent discussion of villainy in games (link, link, link) got me wanting to revisit my objections to the use of a Good-Evil metric in games and […]

  49. Ryan says:

    I thought that KOTOR handled the evil path fairly well, fighting the Sith to survive, then fighting to take over. Full evil on KOTOR 2 had some really cool powers.
    I frequently take the evil path first, but not always. I just started Jade Empire last night and was planning on playing good first, but if it’s somewhat disappointing to be evil, perhaps I should do that first, so the game improves with the second playing.

  50. Tola says:

    Certainly Dawn Star would leave, right then and there. Heck, she rebells when you acquire Death’s Hand.

    Minor point: That’s…not exactly the case. It’s certainly possible to ‘turn’ certain party members to the Closed Fist way of thinking.

    This can only be done during Act 3(The Imperial City). The choices are Sky, Silk Fox, and Dawn Star. Certain dialouge options with them will allow for this. They will then support you as your road, including supporting you with Death’s Hand, and with ‘The Choice’, should you take the evil route there. Their ‘evil’ epilogues are interesting.

  51. Christian Groff says:

    Man, I have to get a really crappy old X-Box and a copy of this game, it looks like fun! *lol*

  52. Nicklas H says:

    If you REALLY wish to play some really well made alignment RPG:s you should try some fan made mods to NWN. There are many tens of times BETTER than the original storyline.

    The mod called “Honor among Thieves” is great and includes several endings along with Radiant AI npc:s. Don’t ask me how the guy managed to push it all into the NWN engine, somehow he really did it.

    The HoTU version could be more stable but if you don’t own it there’s one for original NWN.
    http://www.nwvault.ign.com/View.php?view=Modules.Detail&id=2925
    http://www.nwvault.ign.com/View.php?view=Modules.Detail&id=3627

    While mentioning NWN, to old Baldur’s Gate fans you probably think disappointing thoughts. Fear not. An expansion pack module was supposed to be made which was released for free.

    Darkness over Daggerford. It even has a world map BG style.
    http://www.nwvault.ign.com/View.php?view=Modules.Detail&id=5122

    Enjoy! These two modules for NWN really made the game.
    And thanks for reading all the interesting posts here.

    Kind Regards
    Nicklas H, Sweden

  53. Felblood says:

    You know, you used to get the mercy/justice choice more often, than you do in this post Jedi Knight world.

    Ogre Battle, on the SNES, often gave you choices like that, and often they had plot/quest consequences instead of juking your all important alignment meter.

    I remember one optional level, were at the end you had to choose whether to kill the evil sorceress or not. Killing her earned the gratitude of the locals, who would later give you things, but sparing her gave you the sorceress herself as an officer in your army. Truth be told, the items were worth more, but the girl was so nuts it didn’t feel right to kill her, so I usually spared her.

    …much to the anger of the women whose husbands had been turned into pumpkins.

  54. JeffT says:

    I think if you’re going to railroad an “evil” character into the “good” storyline you have to give them appropriate motivations. For example, the world is going to end and that would be bad for them. Or one of the good NPCs has them on a leash, e.g. I can kill you with my mind / I have something you want / you can’t complete the mission without me. Or the character is lawful evil, so won’t kill people for a key. Or the mission is one thing the good and evil characters agree on, but genocide is still on the table for Mr Evil.

    In that sort of circumstance I can imagine the evil character lashing out in a petty but violent manner whenever the limited circumstances allows him. He gets separated from the good NPCs, cracks some skulls, eats some babies, and when they meet up again he just says “I went for a walk”.

  55. acabaca says:

    The best game morality I have seen was in the Ultima series from four on up: you are Avatar the epitome of good, but the games offer as many as eight different kinds of “Good”, usually mutually exclusive. Do you Justly beat up the man who stole from you or do you Compassionately let him get away? Do you Valiantly take part in the fighting tournament or do you Humbly decline potential personal glory? The system was philosophically very intriguing, especially when almost any action could be argued to be “good” in some way, and attempts to pervert its meaning were a common theme in the series. The games even explored the idea further by introducing _other_ entire virtue systems, presented as potentially valid.

    The second best game morality system I have seen was the simplest one: Interplay’s Wasteland, where you could do good for absolutely no reward, or evil for absolutely no punishment. This made it certain that any decisions you made were really based on morality instead of any sort of personal gain.

  56. Innsmouth says:

    I might play through my first time as an assinine hero, but my natural inclination is War Jesus. War Jesus being defined as invariably moral (when I’m roleplaying anyway) and merciful and he goes about spraying the wicked with bullets or magic as the situation demands.
    I find that a lot of the time when I start out with the intention of being the Great Satan I feel bad and quit. Which works out well (a hero who just got done ahnialating Megaton is more interesting that War Jesus).
    Ultimatly, however, by the time I get around to really being hard core evil I loose interest both because the game is drained of it’s suprises (which should be refilled when I play differently) plus there’s no real joy in playing Chaotic Evil since you then go save the world anyway.
    “Help, I’m rescuing people against my wishes!”

  57. guy says:

    I did like MotB playing as evil, although since I screwed up and got a certain quest too late to really be useful, the Bar Of Hate was a real problem for me, and I had to resort to cheat codes more often than I expected. Actually, I’ve yet to finish up that game, though I have hit a few of the completely unexpected twists. Anyone who claims to have seen certain of the specifics of the plot twists at the end of act 2 and in the first dungeon of act 3 coming is lying.

    A number of them were admittedly predictable, sadly.

  58. Steve says:

    I tried evil my first try on Fo3 then just went Good because the game rewards you more for being Good. Example: Talon Company give you regular weapons and really amazing starting armor. The Regulators suck ass and give energy weapons RARELY. Otherwise just steal and kill as much as you want, even sell people into slavery all you need to do is donate to the corrupt church indulgence fund and bam your good again. Or do some good deeding and ta daaaah! It’s kind’ve a flawed system. Too easy to break.

    Besides Game evil is nonrealistic sadism that serves no end to anyone except for fun…It’s just stupid. It would be a nice system if it was real evil.

  59. butay says:

    I really like this “choose your style of heroism” thing. One possible thing that could be added to it might be the inclusion of a generated “rival” character who’s introduced later in the second act. The player character is always a hero, but gets to choose their idea of what that means, so their rival is always created as a foil who opposes their ideal of good with specific evil acts. If the player is a Good Cop, then the rival is an amoral criminal. Conversely, if the player is a dashing rogue, then the rival is a domineering Lawful Evil dark knight. If the PC is merciful, then the rival is always trying to pull a Legato Bluesummers and force them to kill.

  60. Stygian Emperor says:

    I always play evil first, because evil is cooler – though if the evil choice is beyond my tolerance for how rediculous and nonsensical it is I’ll go with another option. Unfortunately many games actually punish you for not staying with one alignment 100% of the time (notably Mass Effect and KotOR), and most games only have 2 endings with no regard for the moral shades of gray. That’s what I hate the most.

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  1. […] recently asked who played evil on their first run through a game (link) and it got me to thinking about why I enjoy playing the […]

  2. […] recent discussion of villainy in games (link, link, link) got me wanting to revisit my objections to the use of a Good-Evil metric in games and […]

  3. […] recent discussion of villainy in games (link, link, link) got me wanting to revisit my objections to the use of a Good-Evil metric in games and […]

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