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‘Nasty, complicated’ choice design in Tales from the Borderlands

‘Nasty, complicated’ choice design in  Tales from the Borderlands
June 11, 2014 | By Kris Graft

June 11, 2014 | By Kris Graft
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More: Console/PC, Design, E3

The interactivity of video games inherently leads to many approaches when designing for player choice.

For Telltale Games and its upcoming choice-driven adventure game Tales from the Borderlands, the studio wants to convey the themes of the Gearbox-created Borderlands universe in the decisions players make.

“We called it a ‘tailored narrative’ — we don’t like doing ‘darkside/lightside,’ ‘good/evil’-like choices,” said Kevin Bruner, co-founder of Telltale. “We like really complicated, nasty choices that are really not black and white.”

In Tales from the Borderlands, for example, you won’t be seeing choices such as “do you loot, or do you not loot,” Bruner said. In the Borderlands universe, the answer is always loot.

The question instead is in what ways can the player choose to express greed. Even from the game’s E3 demo, it’s clear that greed is a theme in Tales from the Borderlands, just as it is in Gearbox's first-person shooter games.

“Everybody’s greedy in the Borderlands universe,” said Bruner. “… We didn’t want this to be a morality game. Choices that are really complicated, that don’t feel like there’s a [binary] choice are the kind of things that we gravitate to.”

Telltale’s recent games approach complicated choices differently. The Walking Dead often presents two choices, neither of which the player want to take. The Wolf Among Us is two choices that players aren’t sure about, keeping with the mystery theme of the game.

Tales from the Borderlands is about two choices that you do want, with narrative driven by greedy, lying (yet oddly charming) characters.

“You’re lying through the game, basically,” said Bruner. “Just like real life, sometimes if you lie your way through, it creates all kinds of interesting complications.”

“We spend a lot of time scrutinizing every single choice,” he said. “We labor over them at Telltale.”

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