Sunday, January 11, 2009

They just don’t get it.

Fable 2 has a problem, and it's a problem is shares with its predecessor, Jade Empire, Knights of the Old Republic and 99.9% of all the other games that claim to allow you choose between playing the Noble and Virtuous Hero™ and the Evil and Black-Hearted Villain™:

They have absolutely no idea how to handle the 'evil' side, leaving you the choice of playing the Noble and Virtuous Hero…or a bit of a douchebag.

The main point they always seem to miss is that no-one is evil just for evil's sake.

The easiest way to understand good and evil is this: Good is Selfless, Evil is selfish. A good person will do what's morally right even if it makes life harder for them. An evil person will do what's best for themselves no matter how many people they screw over.

Let me give you an example from the game:

At the very beginning of the game, one of the town guards (who your character apparently knows and likes) asks you to look for five arrest warrants that blew away in a sudden gust of wind. He offers you a gold piece if you find all of them. Then, when you find them and are on your way to give them to the guard, a criminal steps around a corner and asks you to give him the arrest warrants instead. He also offers you a gold piece.

Obviously, the 'good' path is to give the warrants to the guard and the 'evil' path is to give the warrants to the criminal. However, it doesn't really test the player's morals much. There are no outside factors to consider. You either do the right thing because it's the right thing to do…or do the wrong thing because it's the wrong thing to do.

Basically, it's not really 'good' to give the warrants to the guard, because there's no selflessness involved…it's also not really 'evil' to give them to the criminal…because you're gaining nothing from it, making it just more of a dick move on your part.

However, when you understand the 'evil mindset' a little more, it becomes easy to turn this situation in to a real moral question.

When the criminal guy steps around the corner, instead of matching the guards offer of a single gold piece, have him offer the player two gold pieces instead. Suddenly we have a bit of a moral dilemma. This time, doing the right thing actually costs you something and there's a reward for doing the wrong thing.

In the real world, when the police are tracking down criminals, one of the first things they look for is motive. That's what's missing from Fable 2. I constantly have the option of doing something evil, but I'm very rarely given the motivation…and that's what I want. When I come to a decision, I want to be faced with a real moral dilemma. To quote Yoda, the dark side should be 'Quicker, easier and more seductive.'

Basically, when I'm given the choice between returning the King's heir to the castle or killing him for the King's evil brother, the choice should be between doing the right thing… and a reward that makes it hurt to do the right thing. IE, the King has offered me payment of a thousand gold pieces, but the King's brother has offered me five thousand and a magic sword.

This way, it means
something to do the right thing. I'm making a personal sacrifice for the sake of someone else…and if I choose to kill the King's heir, it's because I have definite, concrete motivation to do so.

Unfortunately, for the vast majority of Fable 2, there's absolutely no motivation to do anything evil, and playing as an evil character doesn't leave you feeling like Sauron or Lex Luthor, it leaves you feeling like an asshole.

In real world terms, an 'evil' option would be finding pictures of your boss on a gay porn site and using them to blackmail him to get a promotion and a better parking space. With Fable 2 rules applied, it would be more like going to your boss and telling him a coworker came in twenty minutes late, just so you could watch your coworker get in trouble.

Basically, an evil character can be just as deep and interesting as the hero character. You could play an absolutely ruthless character who believes the ends justify the means, you could play a sociopathic character who always puts himself first. Instead, Fable 2 shoehorns you into one evil role…a gigantic douche who screws people over for no other reason than the 'evilness' of it.

In conclusion…Good=Selfless, Evil=Selfish and the evil option should be easier and more seductive.

Take note, Lionhead.

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