- Apple II Bits - http://www.apl2bits.net -

Narrative choice in Law of the West

The console gaming world is in a tizzy over this past week's release of Rockstar Games' Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2), an open-world adventure game set in the Old West. To commemorate the occasion, Rhain Radford-Burns of OnlySP (Single Player) produced a historical chronicle, "The Origins of Virtual Gunslinging — History of Western Games (Part One: 1971–1994) [1]" (a timeline that would exclude Lawless Legends [2]). The hunting scenes in Oregon Trail [3] earned a mention, of course — but so did another game I'd never heard of: Accolade’s Law of the West.

Law of the West (which can be played online in the Internet Archive [4]) features four settings from a frontier town: the bank, the saloon, the Wells Fargo wagon, and the train depot, each populated by cowboys, teachers, deputies, desperadoes, and more. Each scene introduces a character who interacts with the sheriff and then departs. After eleven of these vignettes, the player is given a score based on community relations, crimes prevented, and romantic success.

Most notable is how the player engages with the townsfolk. While some gunslinging does occur, this action takes a backseat to dialogue. For each line a citizen delivers, the sheriff chooses from one of four responses, resulting in a branching dialogue tree. This plot device is common in modern adventure games — not only in indie titles developed in the Twine [5] game engine such as Depression Quest [6], but also mainstream games from BioWare's Mass Effect to Telltale's The Walking Dead to Dontnod's Life Is Strange [7].

But according to Wikipedia [8], this gameplay mechanic was unprecedented at the time (emphasis mine):

The actual gameplay mostly concerns the Sheriff discussing with the various characters via a selection menu similar to those in contemporary graphical adventures. For each line the other character says, the game offers a selection of four different responses, and the discussion progresses depending on the chosen response. Law of the West marks the first use of this now-common interaction style.

If true, then it's fascinating to discover that such a well-known narrative device debuted in 1985 on the Apple II from a company that went defunct in 2000. To this day, the choice to engage with non-player characters instead of blindly shooting them is something players yearn for. In Chris Plante's review of RDR2 for Polygon [9], he describes one scene:

A crowd watches a public hanging. After the execution, the crowd disperses, and I find the victim's mother weeping in the mud. I want to console her, but for whatever reason, the game won't let me "greet" or "antagonize" the distraught mother. The only option it gives me is to pull a gun on her.

Maybe someone at Rockstar should've studied their history and learned the Law of the West.