Open Destiny

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The ability of agents to have different narrative arcs between game instances due to the events that took place in the game session.

Many games have characters in their game world. While the meeting of many of these many be ephemeral and their later fates are not considered (or they are sealed by being killed by the player), some are integral parts of the developing story with the prime example being players' own characters. While their stories may be compelling during a first play-through depending on writing and telling additional game instances may have problems have the same effect if their stories are fixed. This not only since the players know what will happen, but also since other parts of gameplay still requires players' attention and from a pure gameplay perspective better put to use there. To avoid this, games may provide Open Destinies so that the unfolding of characters' narrative arcs differs depending on what occurred during gameplay.

Open Destiny has strong connections to the idea of multiple endings, and many more examples can be found in Wikipedia article on the subject.


The main focus of the interactive drama Façade is to help Grace and Trip solve their marriage issues. However, the player can choose to make them overcome their difficulties or to actively work for them to separate.

Player characters in roleplaying games such as Dungeons & Dragons or GURPS typically have Open Destinies simply because there rarely is a planned end for campaigns. Smaller one-shot scenarios are the most common exception, probably because players have little problems with not being in control of their characters' destinies in return for a better story.

The main character in Fallout: New Vegas, the 'courier', can have a number of different endings depending on how a player chose to play the game. Besides this, there are small end scenes shown for all the 'permanent' companions (one does not have any for a full game session) in the game that a player has recruited during the game. These companions have up to 10 different personal endings, and which is told is affected both of the overall outcome of the game and if the player has completed their personal quests[1]. Similar game structures exist for non-player character in Dragon Age: Origins and Heavy Rain.

Using the pattern

Open Destiny consists of making it possible for diegetic people to have different story arcs throughout the game. This typically requires keeping track of their progress, so a first question when considering using Open Destiny is which Characters to apply it on. Player Characters is probably the most common and allows for Player-Planned Development but creating Open Destinies for Non-Player Characters can increase the number of possible total endings significantly, something that can be appropriate for games aiming at Replayability. Since Companions, if they exists at all in a game, are probably the Non-Player Characters that players have most interaction with, and therefore connections to, these may be the most appropriate to use the resources required to implement Open Destiny and Companion Quests are ways of packaging Open Destiny for individual Companions. NPCs that are Algorithmic Agents can be given an Open Destiny by providing them with Goal-Driven Personal Development. However, Open Destinies do not have to be limited to individual Characters, they can applied on Factions as well.

For different types of ending to be noticeable different there cannot be too many. For example, the exact fate of countries in Victoria 2 can vary in very many different minor ways (government, social reforms, colonies, technology, alliances, etc.) but these have to add up in certain ways for them to become a noticeable major differences in outcome. The rules regarding unifying countries (for Italy and Germany) are however easy to use to see what fate a country had in a particular game instance - either the many smaller countries became a nation state or they did not. This means that a Open Destiny is typically realized by creating a number of explicit possible endings as part of the game's Predetermined Story Structures or avoid having pre-made endings for the Narration Structures that emerge during gameplay. This include determining which specific actions and events decide with ending to use, which typically means using Character Defining Actions, and considering if players should be made aware of when this is determined. While creating the endings maintain control it is easily can run into problems of having to many combinations, especially when the pattern is applied on many Characters. An alternative, which the Victoria 2 example pointed out, is constructing Irreversible Events that players can try to make occur as a form of Optional Goals.

An easy way to provide clear options to players when using Open Destiny is to use several Quests that combined form a Selectable Set of Goals, where each goal is linked to a significantly high level to a game's Predetermined Story Structure. Each of these goals can then be seen as one destiny and players know that other destinies are possible than the one they are striving for.

It may not be clear to players that NPCs and Factions have pre-created Open Destinies. The use of Cutscenes that describe what happened after gameplay ended can solve this since the act of telling this can indicate that other endings were possible (this is especially clear if the Cutscenes relate to how players solved or failed to solve goals and Quests). Examples of games which use this for NPCs include BioShock, Dragon Age: Origins, Façade, Army of Two: The 40th Day, Heavy Rain, Jade Empire, while Final Fantasy 7 in the Final Fantasy series and Fallout: New Vegas in the Fallout series use Cutscenes both for the fate of NPCs and Factions. Producing all the possible Cutscenes for multiple Open Destinies add to the increased effort required for making Predetermined Story Structures support Open Destinies in the first place. However, games with Game Masters, for example tabletop roleplaying games and LARPs, do not have this problem since the Cutscenes can in these cases be improvised.

Each specific destiny in an Open Destiny can be associate with limitations of what the player can do. By thus providing a Limited Set of Actions of all those possible, games can provide Varied Gameplay in a sense similar to that of Handicap Achievements.

Scenes is one of the design options designers have to avoid Open Destiny in games while still letting players have local influence over events.

Diegetic Aspects

The use of Open Destiny may support Thematic Consistency simple because the different events taking place in a Game World will have consequences on the NPCs inhabiting that world.

Narrative Aspects

Most aspects of Open Destiny are related to narratives since the pattern is basically one option in how to create Narration Structures in a game.


In general, Open Destiny promotes Replayability as long as players are aware that other destinies exist, and may promote Varied Gameplay if the destinies require different ways of playing games. They suggest the game to be replayed by having Optional Goals that are typically also Incompatible Goals to the other ones that exist for the same Character). Open Destiny can also give rise to Meta Games based on the Collections goal of reaching all possible endings, and this can be mechanized through the use of Achievements.

Just as Selectable Set of Goals can be used to provide Open Destiny, the existence of Open Destiny with clear differences between the destinies can provide players with Selectable Set of Goals. When players are aware of the Open Destiny their Player Characters have, this provides Player-Planned Development.

One of the reasons for using Open Destiny is to prolong the illusion of Algorithmic Agents of having intentionality. Another, applicable for Single-Player Games is to make people have different experiences and thereby more reason to talk to each other about what happened during their game instances (similar to the movie Clue which indecently is based on the game Cluedo/Clue).

Together with Creative Control, Open Destiny can motivate players to engage in Playing to Lose.


Can Instantiate

Collections, Meta Games, Optional Goals, Player-Planned Development, Replayability, Selectable Set of Goals, Thematic Consistency,

Own Agenda in games with Replayability

with Creative Control

Playing to Lose

with Limited Set of Actions

Varied Gameplay

Can Modulate

Algorithmic Agents, Characters, Companions, Factions, Narration Structures, Non-Player Characters, Player Characters, Predetermined Story Structures, Single-Player Games

Can Be Instantiated By

Companion Quests, Game Masters, Selectable Set of Goals

Goal-Driven Personal Development together with Algorithmic Agents

Can Be Modulated By

Achievements, Character Defining Actions, Cutscenes, Limited Set of Actions, Irreversible Events, Quests, Selectable Set of Goals

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



A rewrite of a pattern that was part of the original collection in the paper Gameplay Design Patterns for Believable Non-Player Characters[2].


  1. Entry for Fallout: New Vegas companion on the Fallout wiki.
  2. Lankoski, P. & Björk, S. (2007) Gameplay Design Patterns for Believable Non-Player Characters. Proceedings of DiGRA 2007.


Jon Back, Jason Begy, Daniel Bernhoff, Sicheng Chen, Steve Dahlskog, Martin Dujmovic, Anders Elfgren, Erik Fagerholt, Arshad Fendi, Jan Humble, Kristine Jørgensen, Ben Kirman, Robin Kullberg, Dmitry Kurteanu, Jonas Linderoth, Mathias Nordvall, Jonathan Osborne, Gillian Smith, Jaakko Stenros, Anders Tryggvesson, Johan Weisz, Jose Zagal