The Good, The Bad and The Empire
(Features spoilers for Augmented Empire. Obviously.)
Fun fact. Coatsink’s 2017 tactical RPG Augmented Empire has two completely different endings…
In one, the player-character Craven consolidates their power by denying the world a valuable resource then ‘ascends’ to a nicer apartment, apparently having missed the whole point of the story.
In the other, the player-character gives this resource away – for the benefit of all mankind – and Willa and Craven part as friends. Finally Craven sacrifices themselves, having understood their puppet-mastery is the final form of social control that needs to end.
Which ending you receive is based entirely on the conversation selections you make with Willa throughout the game – a choice between a compassionate or an honest response. (You may also be given the option to choose the ending, also based on these decisions.)
Player’s Apartment – End Game
“Wait, wait, n-no, hold on. I played Augmented Empire through twice, making all the opposite choices the second time, and I got the same ending both times. You lie!”
Yeah. Because Augmented Empire’s system doesn’t operate the way you might expect: the end isn’t based on being either friendly or honest throughout the whole game, but rather by changing behavior through key sections. Specifically, when Willa asks you to.
“What? Why? That doesn’t make sense! If I’m good, I want
But that’s the problem, isn’t it? What’s ‘good’ – being friendly or being honest? Or perhaps – just perhaps – it’s a subjective moral choice, more about the wishes of someone else? Someone you’re putting in danger and constantly manipulating?
Okay, wipe that confused look off your face. Let’s delve deeper.
Underclocks’ HQ – Arbiters of Justice in New Savannah
In many games that feature some kind of moral alignment, the player is presented opportunities to perform good or evil deeds and their decisions are rewarded with gameplay bonuses or different content. Usually, to get the ‘best’ ending, the player must perform generally good deeds, or to get the ‘bad’ ending, perform generally bad deeds.
Unfortunately, this ruins any sense of character development. Because in a story, a protagonist’s success is not determined by their continued benevolence, but by their ability to change. When our heroes fail or die, we call this tragedy. And it’s not simply due to some moral failing, but because of their inability to change or develop beyond it.
Not only does forcing a player to stick to one moral alignment mean making the same decision over and over, but it contradicts the purpose of storytelling: to provide a meaningful emotional experience by watching a character develop.
Character development is the emotional heart storytelling, and this final moment of change forms the emotional lift at the climax. Vogler termed this the ‘Resurrection’, the moment the hero is reborn having accepted and absorbed the lessons of the journey, either through – or enabling them to resolve – the wider conflict:
The higher dramatic purpose of Resurrection is to give an outward sign the hero has really changed. The old Self must be proven to be completely dead, and the new Self immune to temptations and addictions that trapped the old form.Vogler
The ability to transform – to overcome a character trait or flaw – is what resonates. While we may never fly a spaceship or battle demons, internal conflicts are universal, we face them every day. Seeing our heroes overcome this part of themselves shows us we’re also capable of overcoming adversity.
Incidentally, this moment of ‘Resurrection’ for Willa occurs with the line, ‘I could really use a friend.’ Contrast that to some of the phrases she says at the beginning: ‘You don’t make ten with friends,’ or ‘I’m fine on my own.’
“Fine, story theory, whatever. Just tell me how I get the good ending.”
In the first two missions, we ask the player what they’d rather be: compassionate or honest:
Being compassionate demonstrates greater empathy, as we attempt to protect Willa’s feelings. However, it also erodes trust (Craven often outright lies) and demonstrates a lack of faith in her.
Being honest establishes a level of trust and demonstrates respect. However, it’s often the colder option, implying we do not care enough to ‘soften the blow’ of bad news.
Next, the game’s divided into three Acts. At the Act Turning Points (two key moments in the story, at the end of missions ‘Detritum’ and ‘Rotgut’) Willa explicitly asks Craven to stop doing what they’ve been doing.
So if the player has chosen mostly compassionate responses for the first two missions (the top option, let’s call it A), Willa will recognize this and ask the player to be more honest with her. Hartman will also treat Willa differently at the start of this exchange, then explain what’s required of the player going forward:
Back there… I’m sure Archi didn’t mean it.
Of course he did. And I don’t need your pity, Craven.
If we’re gonna be working together, just be straight with me. I need facts, not sympathy.
Okay, Craven. From now on, Willa wants us to be honest. No half-truths or euphemisms. Just the facts.
However, if they’ve been mostly honest (the bottom option, B), Willa will ask the player to be more sympathetic:
Was that true – what Archi said? We have a right to know.
Craven… Please. This is hard enough, all right? I don’t need you berating me too.
If we’re gonna be working together, stop being so hard on me.
Okay, Craven. From now on, Willa needs us to be kind. No more brutal honesty. To spare her some thought.
Then the same thing happens again after the mission ‘Rotgut,’ based on every decision made since ‘Detritum.’
You can’t force us to be friends. But perhaps you could try being honest?
Honesty has its place. But could you try showing a shred of compassion?
So to get only the ‘happy’ ending, the player must be either friendly (A) or honest (B) during Act 1, then the opposite for Act 2, then back to the first for Act 3. ABA or BAB.
To be offered both endings, the player must change alignment at least once between acts. So, AAB, ABB, BBA, or BAA. They’re then able to pick which ending to go for in the closing moments.
To receive only the ‘evil’ ending, the player must choose only friendly or only honest responses through the whole game – AAA, BBB – explicitly contradicting what Willa asks of them. Twice.
As a final note – and a massive spoiler – if the player changes behavior between the second and third acts regardless of the first (ABA, BAB, AAB, BBA) then before the curtain falls on the final mission, Ashley will return.
TL;DR? Fine! Here are the cheat codes.
First two missions, select only top options. After that, select only bottom options. Then after Willa escapes from prison, select only top options again.
Now say it with me: “And they all lived happily ever after.”
Jon Davies - Narrative Designer
A writer from Leamington Spa. Jon’s worked in video games for over twelve years on titles including Guitar Hero Live, DJ Hero and, after joining Coatsink in 2016, the critically acclaimed Augmented Empire.
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