We hope the following isn’t considered as a know it all expert blathering about how to make the best game ever. We hope it provides insight into why we make our games the way we do, and provides a starting point for discussion on this topic.
Choice in games is a big part of making a game a game. Super Mario Brothers wouldn’t be much of a game if all you had to do is click a button to get Mario to jump on the ax to beat Bowser.
On the micro level, you choose when to jump over Bowser to get to the ax, which gives you a choice. On the macro level, you don’t get a choice, you have to save the princess. You can’t change how the story will play out.
It seems to me that micro level choices affect how fun a game can be, and macro level choices affect how invested people are in your story. This post will be about choices on the macro level.
Personally, I’ve found Mario games very fun, but don’t really care about the story, and on the opposite side, “The Walking Dead” has very little ‘gameplay’, but the choices you make in the game are so good that this is one of the only games that other people are willing to watch like a TV show. One thing that “The Walking Dead ” really hit out of the park is the timer on conversations. That really adds an urgency to decision making.
While it’s great that people can be so excited about the story of a game, a quick look at any game review website on “The Walking Dead” will show players that didn’t feel like their choices made any difference, and a look at a wiki for the game will show that in most cases, your choices made very little difference. It’s kind of a trick to make you feel more involved.
While the second one is improving on this by having characters around for longer, it seems a better way to have choices in a game is to have the choice make an impact later, such as in “The Witcher”. “The Witcher” provides choices that really have no clear good or evil choice, much like real life choices, and their impact isn’t felt until much later in the game, do you can’t just reload a save from 5 minutes ago and make a different choice. You also can’t really use a help book or wiki to min-max your answer, as you might not know what would be useful to you that far in the future.
For instance, a choice comes up rather early where you can either let a gang of elves ( this game’s underprivileged race ) steal some supplies because you feel for their plight, or kill them all because you took on a job to protect the supplies.
So which do you choose?
If you let them take the supplies, a character you haven’t met yet will be killed by those supplies in the next chapter. If you kill them another different character you haven’t met will be taken to jail and you’ll need to bail them out if you want to speak with them.
Even knowing the outcome, how would you choose? You can’t avoid someone dying, either by your hand, or someone else’s. You can’t really tell which outcome will benefit you the most, since you haven’t met those characters yet.
Another reason why you don’t see meaningful choices in a game is because there’s so much that goes into games these days, with 3D models, voice actors, animations for those models, etc. There’s only really one way around this, really, and that’s to scale back the technology needed. That’s why games in the visual novel style had so many choices. In a visual novel, the macro choices are the game, so they need to be very, well, meaningful. This is also the main reason why our first game will be a visual novel, to really tackle the idea of choice in a game head on.
To summarize, I feel in order to have meaningful choices in a game, they must affect the player by changing an action available to the player later in the game, in such a way they can not google the best choice to make for their character.
Soon, I’ll write about one of the best ways to improve a choice. Having the choice affect the gameplay in some way.
Thanks for reading, hope to hear your thoughts.