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Microsoft game designer explores morality, choice and character conflict in gaming

Creating a moral game relies on several different techniques, including choice repercussions and placing beloved characters in conflict, Microsoft senior game designer Richard Rouse III said today during a GDC panel.

Stories typically have conflict between the game's protagonist and antagonist, but creating natural dissent among characters has different advantages, Rouse said.

"Creating a cast of characters that you want to explore themes, having those characters explore them along with you is a great way to do that," Rouse said.

He compared it to rolling character stats, but with a moral take. Naturally this leads to conflict, but that's more a sign of success than failure.

"If everybody's stats are lining up the same, you've probably got a problem," Rouse said.

Depending on the game genre, developers should change up their methods, Rouse said. Different games require a different touch, depending on what the designer hopes to get across. Rouse cited his work on Homefront, where companion characters would disagree about different conflicts.

"We really wanted the player to bring themselves to the experience, to not put a strong moral opinion in the player character," Rouse said.

Although choice isn't required to make a moral game, there are certain guidelines creators should keep in mind, Rouse said. If there are choices, there must be repercussions that result in more than a different ending. Player decisions should be difficult, but not impossible, and the game's story and gameplay should have the same moral mark.

"Even when people aren't expecting it, a good storyteller will work a moral into any story," Rouse said.

"I don't think you need to make your moral story so overt that it beats people over the head with it. But at the same time, there is a moral to your story, whether you know it's there or not."