Moral Puzzle Idea

8th May 2008

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

As I was writing something for the Learning Center project an idea popped into my head…

A player always feels that they are required to solve a problem. For example we see a group of rebels in a firefight with Metrocops, how many of us just continue on our way and leave them to it? Probably very few, especially if we have to pass by them. A few times I have just run past situations like this, mainly because I was low on health or ammo, but there could have been other reasons.

Now the reasons should be clear, level designers create situations to engage the player. Why have a situation that requires no involvement unless it’s purely for show or to help tell the story? Well, I’d like to challenge that idea.

I remember being on a management course where 10 people were blindfolded and given a long piece of rope. The tasks set was to form a square using all the rope. After what seemed like hours somebody told 4 people to remove their blindfolds and stand to one side out of the way. There were now 6 people, one for each corner plus 2 to measure and control.

The purpose of the exercise? To teach you that sometimes being part of a team means getting out of the way and letting other people do their jobs with no interference.

Now, imagine a level where the player encounters a town square. The player could easily bypass the square and continue on their way. However, just before the player arrives a minor firefight starts between Rebels and Combine Soldiers. As the player approaches a Rebel shouts “Hey Freeman, gives us a hand!”

As the player becomes involved in the firefight more Combine soldiers arrive and the fight becomes bigger. Perhaps even more rebels arrive and the whole situation turns into a major situation.

The player could turn and run but he now has incurred the wrath of the Combine and is hunted down and killed. Hopefully the player thinks the best option is to get involved in the fight sooner and kill all the Combine.

However, the player’s involvement triggers a response from the Combine that always causes the player to be killed. The solution to the puzzle or problem is to politely decline and continue on your way.

It could open up some interesting story telling options later in the game/mod. Perhaps Rebels don’t come to your help when you need them or they don’t give you ammo.

I would hope that on a superficial level it causes the player to do the opposite of their initial reaction, on a deeper level allows the mod maker to put the player in some difficult moral situations.

What do you think?


  1. Actually, has anybody ever done this and I missed it?

  2. Having environments that act this way, are always referred to as open ended worlds, which is great. The thing is, I’m the kind of gamer that likes to see the fire, and effects, and explosions. Aside that, players tend to feel, that if they pass something, they might miss an important event, or they might think that they need to finish this event to continue. It all depends on the player, but for me, I like to give them choices, and I try to incorporate that in any map I design. For instance, there’s a large explosion. However I design it so that the explosion can be triggered at any time, and can be created by any combine soldier in the Immediate area. By this I mean, is: Player’s love the option of replayability within maps, and the fact that when you play over again and again, you see things a different way. Most mod makers don’t go too far to make events like the one you depicted though Phil. And as a result, I’ve hardly seen one in mods themselves. Yet, they are nice too see, as it can give a world much more life. The player can feel more like there are actual things happening in an environment.

  3. I just noticed your post now, and coincidentally, I have made this same scenario for City17 Ep1. In a small case where the player can choose two different alternate paths, and as a result, they both change the final stages within the map. How the battle unfolds, and more importantly the angle from where you fight. Aside that, the logic can get flipped upside down, and the effect is always random. Random by being how many combine you can encounter, and how they react towards the arena. They can choose to rappel sometimes, or just jump rooftops to get to you.


    I’ve been in fact thinking about random consequences. In our everyday lives we encounter many situations were everything can change in an unpredictable way. What would happen if we transport this for the gaming world. Imagine walking down a corridor on a street and the suddenly a piano fall on your head. You load the game and next time you go past the same place the piano doesn’t fall. This could be achieved by giving 50-50 chances of an event to occur. transpose this to multiple events on a map and I thing the player would be on his toes never knowing what would come next.

  5. Speckman

    Ive been thinking of maps with lots of 50/50 chances like that, or perhaps even more chances for a huge variety of different scenarios in a map. Creating the logic is easy enough, its just a lot more work for something no one may ever see. The logic wouldn’t necessarily change the main path through the level, just the way the level progresses. That would really up the replay value. It would be very interesting to see puzzles that used chances in order to solve them, with a low probability of the player being able to solve them the same way twice. Maybe moral choices mixed in. Then the player would have to be able to recognize a problem when they walk in to one, and think about what they have to do dynamically.

    For example the player walks down a hallway with two pilers that can both blow up, and the detonations are triggered randomly. The player would know that something there is going to blow up, but not what or where, and that keeps them on there toes. If it hit the odds and didn’t even blow at all their first time through, then the second time it would take them by surprise. Then on top of it add a logic for a combine to charge in randomly from either side and suddenly a boring hallway just became very intriguing. But I’m sure it will be a while before that happens in any mod (or game for that matter).

  6. Bladesinger

    Hehe, I was right when I thought I recognized the picture. 🙂
    It’s and intresting concept, but I’m not sure if it would turn out great for a mod at least. As you said Phillip, it’s not often a casual mod player replays a mod, which makes them miss any alternate paths/choices and lose some of the experiance.

  7. Kasperg

    Unless of course, you make it clear that players have a choice so they’ll know where and how they should act when replaying. I know of a future mod release that will have something like that 😉

  8. Lars

    “However, the player’s involvement triggers a response from the Combine that always causes the player to be killed. The solution to the puzzle or problem is to politely decline and continue on your way.”

    If you’re saying you’d put the player in a position where they must make an immoral choice — e.g. leaving an ally to die… I would say, don’t force them to do that. You could make the moral choice have difficult consequences … e.g. they have to fight more Combine. But if I felt like a mod was trying to force me to do what I knew was wrong, I would quit playing. I don’t like being manipulated in that way, and it wouldn’t be worth my time to continue.

    (Not that not helping somebody is always wrong, e.g. if you have more critical orders to carry out. But I’m saying in principle… don’t try to force somebody to do wrong.)

    That doesn’t mean you couldn’t have difficult moral choices. E.g. save Alyx or save Eli; the other will (usually) be killed. That’s a tough choice, and doesn’t force the player to do something wrong. I say “usually” because in real life, it’s not very realistic to be able to guarantee that either person A or person B will die. Give the player at least a chance, albeit remote, to try and save both.

    My 2 cents.

  9. I should highlight that I am not talking about replayability, open-ended gameplay or randomness. I am aiming for something along the lines of “No Choice”. I accept what you say Lars but the point would be to make a player realize that whilst they have a choice, sometime they have to let people die for the greater cause.

    It would be important for the player to be given clear instructions prior to my scenario. Something like “Now listen Freeman, you MUST get to point A, don’t let anything distract you, if you fail, we all fail. Remember, no sidetracking under any circumstances.”

    The player has a choice of helping those rebels, but as they will see it’s impossible to win by doing that. I fully understand that we play the all-conquering hero and will can do anything we want. Getting players to change their perspective is perhaps an evolution of what we currently have.

    More realisitc situation that really do make a player question their choices. Sure, we play games to get away from the stress of the real world but that doesn’t mean everything has to be handed to them on a plate.

    With my scenario above, it could add a new element of story telling. Now you would be the good guy but considered the bad guy by some rebels.

    Ideally there would be some way for the player to help the rebels without compromising their own mission but it should be something that is not obvious and require some smart thinking on the part of the player and some very clever design by the mapper.

    Multiple paths, choices and freedom are great but I am just trying to see what we can achieve by thinking in the opposite direction.

  10. Sabre

    Sorry for commenting on an old post, but I think you would like to know that perfect dark on N64 did something similar.

    On the area 51 level, you are given a choice. One has to stay behind, and fight there way out on foot, while the other escapes in a UFO. Hoping in the ship is easier, but it can come back to bite you on hard mode. The reason being that, if your friend stayed behind, he didn’t manage to escape.

    On a much later level, where you HQ is attacked, if played on hard, you have to crack open a safe (or something like that) which takes time. If your friend survives, he gives you cover, if not, then your on your own. The result is making the “right” choice early on pays off later.

    There is also a crap PS2 game called Mitchigan: Report from Hell, where one of the games features is based on morals. Do you let a person die, but get the footage of your career, or put down the camera and help them out.

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