Even Side Missions Should Provide Meaningful Choices
You’re exploring the shipyard of København Station when you bump into Kane, the distraught owner of Citizen Shipbuilders. He’s recently challenged his rival, Chamberlain, to a contest to prove who can build the fastest ship, but now the day of the race has come and he knows he’s going to lose. He doesn’t really care how you do it, but he needs you to get the race called off and will pay you a reward to make it happen.
As you navigate Tau Station, your character will be offered missions. There’s nothing really unusual there; missions are pretty common in MMOs. A non-player character (NPC) has a problem and hires you to solve it. You do the work, get your pay and experience points, and move on. But we see every mission, even the short ones, as a chance for the player to interact with the game world and make meaningful choices through their character.
A mission is a story, and Tau Station is a game built around stories. Some are fairly short and straightforward like the one described above, “Competitive Edge.” It’s just a side mission, a brief interaction with an NPC that gives you a little insight into their life and the background of the space station you’re on. Other story plots are longer and more involved, spreading out over several missions and stations. They may give you clues about what caused the Catastrophe, or delve into the differences between the game’s Consortium and Gaule governments. The missions in the game will take many forms, and with a setting as rich as Tau Station’s there’s no shortage of story ideas and themes to explore. What they all have in common, even the side missions, is that they involve player choice.
We think that stories in games are the most fun when you have agency as a player and can affect the course of the action. We also think those kinds of stories are the most fun to write, so it works out well for everyone. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the occasional “fetch” mission, such as when an NPC hires you to go to the next station over, pick up an item, and bring it back for them. Tau Station will offer some missions along those lines. But in most of the missions we write we’re striving to give you a more interesting, interactive, experience than that.
In some missions your goal is clear: the NPC needs you to do something fairly specific. But how you accomplish your task will be up to you, based on how you want to play your character. “Competitive Edge” asks you to decide how to go about getting the race canceled. If you like to be reasonable or have a high Social stat, you might appeal to Chamberlain’s better nature by reminding her of all the people who will lose their jobs if Kane’s shipyard goes under. Or maybe you’re feeling a bit more forceful and will use your Strength to convince her to call off the race through intimidation or combat. To keep things interesting, sometimes we throw in hidden options for your character that you’ll only find if you go looking. After all, Chamberlain can’t win the race if she doesn’t have a working ship . . .
At other times your choice will be less about how to do something and more about what you should do. You’ll be asked to make tough decisions, and the path that you take may lead to very different outcomes for you and the NPCs involved. Perhaps the NPC that you thought was the victim turns out to be the aggressor and you must decide whether or not to keep helping them, even at the expense of others. Or you could be hired for what looks like a totally legitimate job and discover that you’ve gotten mixed up in some criminal activity. Should you take the risk and finish the job? Turn the criminals over to station security? It will be your call. But be prepared to deal with the results — your actions in the missions can affect how much you get paid, your reputation with political factions, what information you learn, even who around you lives and dies.
And sometimes, as in life, you’re going to be presented with multiple options but with no clearly comfortable way forward or happy ending in sight. In a post-Catastrophe galaxy where most people are just trying to survive, it isn’t always possible to be the good guy and there may be no moral choice you can make. At these moments it really comes down to how you perceive your character and the game world around you. Your character will come to life through the choices and decisions you make.
What all this means for the game is that no two players are going to have the same exact experience. The actions you take and the choices you make in the missions can lead to very different outcomes, and those outcomes can affect your character elsewhere in the game and in other missions that you take in the future. You might find yourself in the game’s chat room discussing a mission with a friend and discover that you each got a different piece of information or reward out of it. Their ending to “Competitive Edge” might have been completely different than yours, and that’s part of what makes Tau Station so much fun.
Originally published at taustation.space on October 10, 2016.