Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Stupid Plot Tricks

Hey, 100th post. Not bad. Naturally, it's about Oblivion.

One of my favorite little things about the Oblivion main quest is this structural switcheroo it pulls right at the beginning.

Traditionally, a story starts with some kind of setback. The protagonist starts out in some kind of minor trouble, so they can have some kind of minor achievement, which then makes you care when they experience a major setback, so then they can emerge victorious from the crushing doom. Down, up, double down, double up.

Most stories don't follow that pattern exactly, because it's a hideous oversimplification. But, generally speaking, the move out of status quo is a move downward. That lets the early part of the story be about the protagonist trying to restore the status quo, until they figure out what it is that they're actually supposed to be doing.

Following this principle, in Oblivion, things start to go bad quickly. Jauffre sends you to Kvatch to find Martin; when you arrive, Kvatch is a smoking ruin. (Which is how it will stay, nigh unto eternity. On fire. Forever.) You bring Martin safely to Jauffre; you find that Jauffre's lost the damn amulet.

Getting the amulet back drives most of the rest of the game. The funny thing is, though, is that it's not all gloom and doom. In a way, you're actually better off at that point, right after the enemy steals the amulet, than you were when you gave the amulet to Jauffre.

Because at that point, you've got Martin, and you're fairly sure that he's not going to get killed. Not without you getting killed first, anyway, and since you're a video game character (in a video game that's not Nethack) you're functionally immune to death. So you've still got one of the two dinguses you need to win the game. You have, essentially, traded the Amulet for Martin, and that means you've come out ahead.

(Assuming that the amulet is a proper artifact, in the D&D sense, and can't be destroyed. Mankar Camaron's behavior establishes this as more than idle fancy--he doesn't destroy it, even though it'd be really smart for him to do so. Thus: he can't destroy it. It does end up being destroyed, at the end, but I have a theory that it could only be destroyed in that specific way.)

For a video game, this is incredibly clever. There's an early setback to drive the rest of the action (find the dingus!) but you also have a sense of accomplishment. You've done something useful.

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