BioWare: Consequence Has Left Gaming, ‘Star Wars’ MMO Will Fix That

You had to make some tough decision in “Mass Effect” sometimes. Should a character live or die? The choice was often left in your hands.

But even if you didn’t like your first choice, you could always boot up an old save and pick a different path. That character never really had to die.

BioWare admits that’s a struggle with even their own games. Because “Star Wars: The Old Republic” is a persistent online experience, they see an opportunity to solve that.

“As an attempt to appeal to a broader and broader audience, consequence has left gaming,” said BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk to me after unveiling his MMO this week. “Everything is very low impact and there’s no real negative result that can occur. We’re going to start bringing that back but in a rational way, a way that doesn’t punish the player — but puts them on the spot.”

The issue of inconsequential decision-making isn’t just something limited to offline experiences, however, argued Zeschuk. Online games are guilty of it, too.

“You have some level of choice in who you hang out with and what quests you go on,” said Zeschuk, discussing current MMOs. “But once you go on a quest, you don’t have a sense of a choice. Your job is to get me some of these, get me five of these and bring it back. They’re often very unabashed in their mundane [approach to player choice].”

“In this [game], once you make a choice, you’re done.”

One way games can counter a player from going back on a decision is by auto-saving the moment their choice is made. “Grand Theft Auto IV” did that — though you could turn it off — and resulted in me feeling something powerful.

“Unlike a regular offline game, there’s no save,” said Zeschuk. “When you’re sitting and waiting to make that hard decision, you can’t just save it and retry it. Once you’ve made it, you’re done. You’re going with whatever you did and it can come back to bite you or not. It’s actually a neat concept compared to what typically you see in story-based games where people can explore all the choices. In this one, once you make a choice, you’re done.”

That said, Zeschuk isn’t suggesting that someone playing “The Old Republic” is going to make the “wrong” choice and find themselves stripped of their equipment. Like their approach to combat, they want gamers to feel a part of the action. BioWare seems to be employing lessons learned from single-player experiences and bringing them to MMOs.

But all that said, even he can admit that it’s fun to sit and play “what if?”

“It’s kind of neat to be able to cheat like that, too,” he chuckled.

You won’t be able to do that in “The Old Republic,” though. We haven’t seen how that will actually work in the game, but the implications are certainly exciting.

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