GTA: Re-Alignment

By Shamus
on Mar 11, 2006
Filed under:
Game Reviews

Foobario made some comments on my last post regarding Grand Theft Auto. You should really read the original post and comment, but for the impatient here is the short version:

The comment about “Black and White” is right on… and not just in reference to that game, but also in reference to a way of looking at the world. The ‘better idea’ game you describe still seems one-dimensional to me: there’s a line from ‘good’ to ‘evil’ and you decide which way you are moving on that line.

[…]

Think ‘Vegas’ back in the days of organized crime (err… back in the days of the *old fashioned* organized crime, the kind that created the city). It had clean streets and little ‘crime’, since there were acceptable outlets for most of the impulses that lead to crime in a ‘good’ city. The mob realized that a smart parasite doesn’t kill the host, and it kept everything running smoothly, because it made good business sense.

It seems to me that the point of view that ‘bad guys’ inevitably self-implode doesn’t make for a more open-ended game, it just makes for a morality tale. Your ‘better idea’ sounds, to me, like a world of surfaces where you *can* judge a book by its cover, and in such a world what incentive would there be to delve deeper? What would motivate a player to forge their own path, if the system was set up to only reward those who chose a specific path?

I can see what he’s saying here. Evil isn’t always self-destructive. It was said of Benito Mussolini’s rule that, “At least the trains ran on time”. Within the Fascist Axis countries of WW II, things were neat, orderly, and opressive. At least until the good guys came along and destroyed everything. The Galactic Empire of Star Wars seemed to run fairly smooth until those idealistic rebels showed up and started trying to tear down the empire. Orderly bad guys. Good guys causing destruction. Looks like we’re missing something.

So let’s assume we’re mixing a Will Wright style open-ended game with the Grand Theft Auto gameplay mechanics. I think that to solve the problem Foobario describes we need at least a two-dimensional system, similar to the D&D alignment system. One axis is the line between Good and Evil and the other is the line between Law and Chaos. The first axis is controlled by which forces you align with, and the second is a measure of how you pursue your goals within the game.

A Lawful Good character is going to work to expose corruption via the press and have the bad guys put in jail.

A Chaotic Good character is going to take the faster and more direct approach of simply killing the bad guys and destroying their stuff.

A Lawful Evil character would work to support (say) the Mob. They would follow the rules of the Mob, killing snitches and carefully punishing people who don’t pay up in a timely manner, but being careful not to cause too much destruction. As Foobario said, “a smart parasite doesn’t kill the host”.

A Chaotic Evil character is just going to kill and destroy for their own entertainment. Sort of like “rampages” in GTA, where you cause as much damage as you can and then flee to escape the wrath of law enforcement.

My suggestion for turning this into gameplay mechanics:

There would be two major powers in the game: The Mob and the Government. They two fight for control of the city. On one side, the Mob has many government officials paid off. On the other, the city has many undercover cops that have infiltrated the Mob. There is a power stuggle within the Mob which is making waves and causing violence. The player may choose either side, but they may also choose HOW to serve their chosen side. They may also choose NO side. (The only limitation here is that you can’t serve BOTH, since that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.)

Lawful Good: Weed out corruption and guys on the take. Gather evidence, expose it to the media, and have the bad guys arrested.

Lawful Evil: Bring order to the Mob by ending the power struggle. Eliminate the undercover cops. The killing must be focused and neat. You just kill the target, and minimize damage to the city. Usually this might mean taking our your foes according to some rules, hitman-style.

Chaotic Good: Refuse to align yourself with either the Government or the Mob. Instead you kill the bad guys on both sides. You’ll be killing currupt officials as well as burning down drug factories and destroying other Mob-owned “businesses”.

Chaotic Evil: Unfocused destruction. Don’t align yourself with either side, just rampage through the city causing as much damage as you can. This isn’t so much a “game” or a set of missions. It’s just the player goofing off in freeform mode instead of playing the game.

In my original post I described how the city and its inhabitants would be affected by player actions. I’m having trouble mapping that to this two-dimensional system. The best that I can come up with is that the physical city itself will change according to your Law / Chaos approach. If you spend a lot of time slaughtering people and blowing stuff up (for either good or evil), then property values will drop and the city will look more ghetto. If you support law (either side) then the city will be more neat and clean. At the same time, the people themselves will change according to your Good / Evil choices. People living in a good city will tend to be more kind and upbeat, even if they are poor. People living in a bad city will be hard and mean. They will have a “New York” attitude. They will walk with their heads down and dress in drab colors.

I’m not entirely happy with this. It’s hard to imagine a city with widespread unemployment and poverty (because you destroyed so much of the city that businesses have fled) where the people are still upbeat and happy.

I think we’re pretty far from the GTA template at this point, and we’re into a more open-ended Sim Hero/Villian type game. But I doubt the average sim player has a taste for gunplay, and I think the game might be a bit cerebral for the average GTA player. Perhaps not.

Still, I love to come up with gameplay mechanics like this. It’s fun to try and devise a system that makes sense, is intuitive, and still offers engaging gameplay. I’m not sure I pulled it off here, but it’s always fun to try.

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7A few comments. Call it seven-ish.

From the Archives:

  1. HC says:

    Have you tried Planescape:Torment or Fallout? They both dealt with this sort of issue quite well – you had your overall plotline – which you had adequate motivation to resolve, whatever your outlook on life – but you also left a visible impact on the communities you passed through, depending on how you had dealt with matters.

    Of course they both did it with good writing and scripting, and not some sort of adaptive algorithm.

  2. Big McLargehuge says:

    I was thinking about your earlier post about this proposal while reading your review on XIII, and thought (if done properly) how well a cell shading world would look with this theme. Just a thought.

  3. Lysander says:

    You could also take the “Yojimbo” approach and join both sides, and influence them to destroy each other, and you mop up the survivors. This could be complete chaos without good or evil. While this is going on you can help set up a new governing body, or begin building your own empire under the radar of the two factions. Or you can take neither side, and bring down both sides in the “lawful” ways described above — a surgical-strike anarchy, I suppose.

    Or, for added complexity and therefore more entertainment/re-playabilty, you could try to influence either side to change their alignment. For instance, have the Mob become humanitarians and law-enforcers (Guardian Angels), or cause the Government to turn completely corrupt.

  4. Tacoma says:

    My D&D group uses the Yojimbo approach to everything. Even when someone doesn’t have an adversary they will go to great lengths to set something up. It gets a little irritating sometimes. About half the time I have the two join forces. I’m not above occasional petty punishment for trope abuse.

    So maybe if the player was hitting both the mob and the government they would join forces or at least both work against him.

    Perhaps you should include groups that have each of the four alignments.

    Part of the problem is that law and good are often the same thing. Order and law are easily defined but in a Venn diagram law sometimes occurs within the scope of good. Maybe this is why you have a problem envisioning someone working towards good by destroying everything: such a method isn’t actually good because everyone ends up unemployed and sad even if the bad guys all get torn up.

    So maybe each NPC faction should have things that they value and based on the quality of those things they are happy or sad.

    So the mob that likes to control businesses will be unhappy if you free the businesses. But the average citizen will be happier if you do. There may be a way to optimize happiness for many groups by figuring out which groups you want to succeed and supporting the values that they all love and that none of them hate. Of course many factions would end up hating such a city.

    This would require something much more complex in the background than a four-option alignment system. You know how in the Sims everyone has all these background likes and dislikes? Well each NPC doesn’t need that but he needs a faction that does and to be attached to that faction. Heck, he could have a faction loyalty percentage, loyal to up to three factions, and each faction’s happiness affects him based on their percentage makeup of his allegiance.

  5. Noggy says:

    If you were looking for a behavioral change you could substitute ‘fear’ for ‘happiness’ or even have npcs with both values. The way people act would be more tied to how worried they were about getting oppressed/extorted/blown away on the street. If I suddenly found my neighbors and families were safer and didn’t have to be afraid of getting attacked by gangs if I went out at night, I imagine I would be happier, even if it meant getting a worse job. Or at least I would be less likely to carry a gun.

    And if you want to make the mechanic even deeper, you could always assume that decreased corruption in the government would make things easier for ‘the little guy’ vs ‘bug business’. And you could choose which kinds of crime you pursue, like drug crime, gang crime, white collar crime, which would all have different affects on different parts of the city. And then… I could go on.

    In the end, the kind of game you’re describing could be very clear cut or very morally ambiguous depending on how well researched it is and how much the designer wants to map their own views onto the game. (A small example: Increased enforcement of drug laws means drug use is down but the number of incarcerated drug users is up. Does having a large increase in arrested users lead to an increase or a decrease in the happiness of the public? Do you do nothing? Or do you pay for treatment programs from government funds lowering the drug trade and decreasing users making the former drug users and their families happy but decreasing the overall ‘economic happiness’ of the rest of the city? (Because according to your idea of the game so far money==happiness which would take a whole new blog post to address)

    This is a very though provoking game design idea for me.

  6. Steve says:

    Fable 2 pulled off one part of your ‘decisions’ matter in the beginning with the arrest warrents quest thing. Shame the sidequests were awesome and the main storyline was so painful …

  7. River says:

    Maybe instead of good and evil the peoples attitudes could be based on law and chaos. The more chaotic a player is the more depressed the people would become. Good and evil shouldnt really affect things because if the Lawful Evil way of playing the game is along the lines of how the mob acts then the crime wouldn’t be as obvious to the everyday citizens.

    One thing that occurred to me while typing this is that you could have the city start out how in between law and chaos and if you choose to be lawful, regardless of which side you choose, it would start to clean up and get better and if you choose chaos it would get worse and worse.

    The reason the city would still get better, even if you sided with the mob, would be that you would be removing the various other members of the mob that are causing all the waves and leading to the violence in the city.

    You could also do a law/chaos meter that would indicate the current state of the city.

    Reading all this over makes me want to make a game that uses all this.

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