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Killing a horse with text
by Benoit Prezeau on 07/23/14 11:28:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Every night when I go to sleep after a day of programming I review what I have done during the day and think about the next steps that I will be doing. This helps me get a more general view of my programming instead of focusing on the routines themselves. Last night I went to sleep but didn't think about my day or where I was going very much since I was rather sleepy. But when I woke up I realized that today was the day that I would have to kill a horse. Not an actual horse but a horse in the game I am currently programming.

Realms, Swords & Magic, the game I am creating, is a game with artificial intelligence and a more detailed gameplay (for example, it is possible for a character to look for tracks of other characters in the wild). In the previous months I have worked on having human characters solve problems like unlocking doors that would block a guard from patrolling a location. The guard can talk to other characters and inquire about the whereabouts of the key, find the character who has the key, find him and try to get the key to unlock the door. Recently I started working on the a.i. of the Troll character type. A troll can go out to the forest during the night to find a prey (a horse) and go back to his cave to sleep during the day.

Now that the troll a.i. can find a horse, I am ready to program his killing and eating of the horse. But my game, being a text-based game, makes the killing somewhat feel uncomfortable. In a regular game with graphics I would only have the troll hit the horse with a club or something, the horse would die and that would pretty much be it. But in a text game, I have to describe the action to create a vision in the mind of the player. I want the game to remain realistic but how realistic should I be with killing? Should the troll break the horse's neck? Should I give graphic descriptions of the action? How do I tell a player that his favorite horse (with a name) is now bleeding under the teeth of the troll? Should I keep the killing simple to try to keep the game fun or should I let the drama happen?

While thinking about the troll and the horse, I started thinking about when NPCs will be fighting and killing each other. Will I have to make my game the "Game of Thrones" of CRPGs? I will have to seriously think about this. I previously thought that the a.i. would be the hardest thing to think about while working on my game. Today I think that I was wrong.


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Shannon Rowe
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Even as a text game, your game still needs an "art style", to give it the consistency and flavour that best tells your narrative in your own personal style and to your target audience. So you most likely need to decide up front such matters as whether you are going for something light-hearted, or gritty, or ultra-violent, or G-rated, and keep that style consistent. Nothing is going to feel more jarring than throwing in a scene of gore with horse flesh dripping from the troll's teeth, when all the narrative up to that point has been in more of a jaunty humorous vein, for example. Similarly, starting out dark and gritty but then glossing over a violent scene with off-stage timidity would also spoil the mood.

So pick a writing style that suits your goals - a strong "voice" if you will - and keep it consistent throughout. As with most writing aspects, it's one of those mechanics you only notice when it's done poorly.

Benoit Prezeau
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Thanks for the tips! I'll try to find my voice and keep it consistent.

Joshua Darlington
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Your project looks cool. I like the layer of simulation you are adding to your world.

Re: killing off a horse.

Other parameters worth consideration are event pacing, event weight, dramatic trajectory, and dramatic velocity.

Tone can change like music, it can have a rhythm of dark and light, and it can build dramatically. Killing a clown can be an dramatic event.

Benoit Prezeau
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Most of the events won't be known to me before the player starts the game since most of the events will depend on what the player does so this will make it difficult to plan ahead for the story. Some events will probably be pre-scripted but the amount of pre-scripted events will depend on how good the a.i. will be. I will know for sure once I start testing the game when it is more advanced.

Thanks for the advice!

Nicholas Larimer
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I would argue that the larger the part that the horse has played in my story, the more info about the thing's death I would like to have. It would prevent the game's writing style from being too far removed from the emotional narrative of the game, even if it is largely unpredictable.

How you would monitor that, I'm not entirely certain. It could be a function of time, and the general manner in-which the player interact with and reacts to the horse.

Edit: I butchered the English language in the original post.

Benoit Prezeau
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Good point! The relationships between the characters will be monitored so it should not be too difficult to act upon it when required.

Jana Sloan van Geest
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How do you want the player to feel when the horse dies? I assume some variation on shock, horror, loss, etc. Try and find some examples of writing that evoke the feeling you'd like to transmit to the player, analyze why they were successful, and incorporate some of those techniques into your scene.

It sounds like the player has an emotional relationship with the horse, since it is named and is described as the player's "favourite". But there's a lot more detail you can go into beyond that. Is it a horse purchased for this adventure, or a horse that the player has owned for many years? The more choices you make and the more questions like this you can answer, the more meaning you can invest in this scene. Specificity is key for storytelling and creating mood. It'll also help you answer some of your questions about how to portray the horse's death.

Benoit Prezeau
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Thanks for the tips! I will have to create a few variations since the relationships will vary depending on the player's and NPCs actions.

Carsten Germer
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Unless necessary for storytelling, e.g. the horse being _very_ close to the PC, you can try the writers equivalent to "camera cut".
Along the line: The troll swings it's giant club and roars it's war cry. Before you can even grasp whats happening the (your) horse lies on the ground, not moving anymore.
This is very raw (english not being my native), but the idea is to leave as much as comfortably possible to the players imagination within the established context.

Benoit Prezeau
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Good idea! Thanks!