I ran across a gaming blog post (somewhere) that postulated that games should sometimes punish people for taking the good (or "good") option, instead of always rewarding them. While they were discussing standalone computer games (and I see some potential problems with punishing people for doing good things in game), I think they're on to something.
Then again, I could just have a sadistic streak.
Seriously, though, I do think game designers sacrifice story (and sometimes all logic) in their desire to not punish players for their choices. Especially if those choices are the good ones. Now, maybe they're right and players would feel punished if good choices had logical fall out. But I suspect that most players would prefer an awesome story, even if their character has a shitty time of it, and even if their good choices mean that sometimes bad things happen to their character or they miss out on a reward or whatever.
I support my theory with the fact that nearly everyone deems the Agent story the best in SW:TOR even though it has (regardless of moral choices) your character go through hell to do their job, not to mention get screwed over by their own government
. One actually has the sense that their could
be fall out from making Light Side decisions in that story, and there may be a time or two, minorly. (I can't always remember what choices were LS/DS and what were regular conversation.) I suspect that if they had included actual fall out from LS decisions, the story would've only been deemed more
memorable and awesome.
In contrast, the Sith Warrior story has, so far, lacked any sense of threat surrounding LS choices because your master just invents reasons for them. It takes a way part of the fun of playing a Light Side Imperial to feel that you could plant the Jedi flag in your master's chamber and dance around it singing "Go Republic!" and he'd just pat you on the head and complement your brilliant plan.
I just realized that, in a sense, making sure not to punish the character for non-faction-consistent actions kind of does
end up punishing the player. It damages the immersiveness of the game and damages the story of the game. To put it in tabletop roleplaying terms, it leaves you with a gamemaster who's afraid to let anything bad happen to the characters no matter what the players choose. This isn't a good thing.
The fall out should be in-genre, of course, but there should be fall out. It can be minor and mission specific (my favorite early moment of the game actually does this - the Agent story mission Dark Meeting proves that being Honor Before Reason with Sith is...not wise) or it could be alternate missions prompted by previous choices (a little like how the romance stories with companions work - you flirt, you get the romance stories, you don't, you don't) - and if you get sufficiently dark as a Jedi, say, you get a little intervention meeting with important Jedi who are worried about you or if you get sufficiently light as a Sith, you get a threatening meeting with important Sith who are suspicious of you.
Likewise, too many good deeds as an agent should get some sort of either "I know what you're doing, you may get yourself horribly killed" or "I suspect you of treason" meeting with Keeper (Depending on exactly what Keeper's moral leanings are supposed to be. I'm still not entirely sure... So perhaps a threatening ambiguous meeting would be best... is he hinting that what you're doing is dangerous or is he hinting that he'll be happy to put you in front of a firing squad, give you to the Sith, whatever they do to traitors).
Being too Dark Side as a Smuggler could trigger problems with Republic customs. (Though - and this is another story fail due to being afraid players would feel punished - the story only ONCE
notices that you are a frickin' criminal.
The story would be vastly improved by people, you know, noticing. More lines of dialogue indicating that people are suspicious of you, or surprised by your heroics, or... ANYTHING.)
I have no ideas for Trooper or Bounty Hunter because the Trooper reports to someone who wouldn't likely object to them being Dark Side and Light Side and Dark Side have no meaning for Bounty Hunters. If Troopers reported to someone who wasn't evil, then I'd say they should be brought in for discussion of how their risking a court martial if they're Dark Side. If the alignments had meaning on a Bounty Hunter, I'd say that they should be threatened for breaking the Creed or giving Bounty Hunters a bad name by being unreliable and sometimes not doing what you were hired to do. Or something.
I mean, I loooove the letter of face palm*, but I would love it ten times more if a bounty hunter hired by her aggrieved husband showed up later. Or, hell, even if you just got a second letter from the husband promising to hire a bounty hunter as soon as he could afford it. Sith should be a lot more peeved if you don't do as they tell you (logically this would go away as a Sith character got higher level and more powerful, but on Agents and Bounty Hunters? You should just get used to pain.) The Republic should be upset if someone acting in their name is committing evil acts (then again, they don't notice all the Republic NPCs doing so...).
Generally speaking, games should care more about the story and less about the immediate rewards. Have things play out the way they would in that genre, in that setting, with those people. If that means that sometimes being good sucks, then, well, sometimes being good sucks. You should get a reputation based on your actions and that should change how people react to you - for better or worse. (And, hell, there would be times when having a bad reputation might be advantageous. "Oh, god, it's the Slaughterer! She never leaves anyone alive!" *NPCs flee the area, abandoning their stations and letting you walk in and get/do what you came for* Conversely, a good deed might result in an NPC going "Wait, don't shoot him, he saved my brother!" and getting everyone to stand down and let you get/do what you came for.) Committing crimes - for good or ill - should come back to haunt you. Not behaving as your faction deems appropriate should bite you in the ass. I think most players would be too damn entertained to care if sometimes being good meant that their character got a beating instead of a reward. I also think that, the better the story you tell, the more the story itself becomes the reward.
I'm less comfortable with more serious versions of the idea, simply because I would rather fiction didn't say "doing good is pointless" or "being evil leads to success." I realize some measure of that is true in reality, but I want my fiction to be better
than reality. (Which is not to say that people shouldn't make games with those messages - I just want them to market them clearly so that only people who do
like grim fiction buy them. I would, for example, expect
a Song of Ice and Fire game to operate under those rules because that's how that fictional world works. Good fails. Evil succeeds. Or fails. Because it is a world of suck. And the people who like the books would want that.)
* As it's a minor spoiler for a mission on Imperial Balmorra, scroll to the bottom of this entry virtualvoyages.dreamwidth.org/9147.html