Choices and Sequels
If I could enact one game-related law, it would be this.
If the game you developed features one or more choices that majorly affect the story, you are not allowed to make a direct sequel to that game.
You can make a prequel. You can make a spiritual sequel. You can do what Knights of the Old Republic did and make a sequel that takes place years and years after the original game. I don’t care. Just don’t make a sequel that directly follows the story of the first game.
You see, when the developers decide to make a sequel to a game that involves big choices, they can either take the Mass Effect approach or the Deus Ex approach. Obviously neither of these games were the first to use these methods, but I’m going to use them as examples.
If they take the Mass Effect approach, they make it so that none the choices you make in the first game have any effect on the gameplay of the second game, and only change the dialogue and cutscenes. This means that they can make all the choices work, which means you can let players export their files or choose which choices they made in the first game when they start the second game.
If they take the Deus Ex approach, then they pick whichever choices they like the most and follow those. This means they get to focus entirely on one story arc.
The problem with the Mass Effect approach is that the choices you made in the first game end up being so trivial that you’ll be doing the same things in the second game no matter what. The problem with the Deus Ex approach is that if you happened to choose a different ending than the one the developers chose, your ending means nothing.
I think both of these methods are terrible, because they effectively ruin the impact of the first game’s choices, but I think the way Bioware did it with Mass Effect is the lesser of the two evils.
I don’t want to spoil anything about Deus Ex, but let me tell you, the choice you make at the end is huge. You’re essentially choosing the fate of the entire world, and no answer is the right answer. It makes you contemplate the nature of humanity, and I’m not aware of many games that have ever been able to pull that off. The ending I chose taught me something about myself, and that means a lot to me personally.
I noticed that Deus Ex: Invisible War was on sale for $5 on Steam recently. I’ve heard people say that the gameplay was not nearly as good as that of the first. I would be perfectly willing to buy it for $5 and see for myself whether or not it lives up to the standards left by the first game, but I’m not going to do that, because I know that they didn’t choose the ending I chose, and I don’t want to have my ending for Deus Ex ruined.
In my book, Deus Ex: Human Revolution will be the second game in the Deus Ex franchise. It’s going to be a prequel that takes place a long time before the first game, and that’s how it should be.
Knights of the Old Republic 2 is the only game I can think of that didn’t diminish the effect of the first game. It worked because it took place so long after the original game that the choice you made didn’t matter anymore. Either ending could fit into the timeline. I was actually happy with that. So if you absolutely must make a sequel to your game, at least do something like that.