Meaningful Decisions

Should I buy a bottle of water, or a bottle of water with a hint of lime? Does it matter?

Sometimes I spend too long in a shop, way too long, and come out with a cheese sandwich and a pack of salt and vinegar crisps. It always ends the same way. The sandwich is cheap, the crisps are fine and I have no regrets.

Why did I spend so long in the shop you ask? Because I was presented with choice, lots of it. So much choice I am almost angry as I leave with what I knew I was going to leave with. I will however go back to the same shop as it is close and I will get hungry again.

What does this have to do with games you hark? Well many games these days are filled with decisions such as what skill point to take, what to say to someone, whether to kill someone or what unit to pick. A game designer must consider whether there is a point to their decision, or enough of a point to justify stopping the player progressing temporarily. Some gamers will plough through decisions without a thought though I know many pause, google them or over think them. If the payoff is small for this player’s time investment… why did you give them a decision in the first place?

Not that small decisions are necessarily bad, a decision can have huge or tiny impact (is there a point in adding 0.5% chance to crit? Blizzard’s World of Warcraft no longer seems to think so) which is fine but a decision becomes meaningless when there is a wrong one.

Many original World of Warcraft talents were small changes, which is something Blizzard is now moving away from. These days talents are all interesting abilities, and there is little in the way of a correct choice.

Many original World of Warcraft talents were small changes, which is something Blizzard is now moving away from. These days talents are all interesting abilities, and there is little in the way of a correct choice. Have a look at some of the old talents yourself: http://www.wowprovider.com/Old.aspx

Remember the old adventure books where you would turn the page to see the result of your decision?

“You walk into the airlock, which has clearly not been used in years. In the corner you see a space suit.”
“To put on the space suit turn to page 6.”
“To open the airlock turn to page 98.”
And on page 98:
“You are flushed out into space. With no protection the air is ripped from your body and you begin to freeze. It goes red, then black. Your journey is at an end.”

How many people actually started again at this point? You keep your finger in the page where you made the decision, make a mental note that any time a decision tells you to turn to page 98 you are going to die in space and you go to page 6.

Decisions in games need to have impact, need to feel empowering and most importantly they need to be interesting. A dead end decision is a waste of a person’s time. A reversible decision is not a decision unless it has some punishment associated and one must question if they really want to punish their players. The best decisions change things, not for better or worse but they make them different.

The walking dead is basically a whole game comprised of decisions, none kill you (unless you decide not to click on the zombies head when you are holding an axe) but they all change the fate of your group in some way and they make things interesting.

The Walking Dead game series is all about making decisions, and all of them are meaningful.

The Walking Dead game series is all about making decisions, and all of them are meaningful.

As our yet unannounced game comes together and the world where our game is set comes to life, we find ourselves asking these final questions before we make an announcement. We are already very confident that our game has refreshing and enjoyable gameplay but we are also certain that empowering the player with a level of choice will add a thoroughly enjoyable dynamic to the game. We have to consider very carefully what choices we give the player; where they are given; how they are made; what level of persistence they have; and the long term effects for the player of making a choice.

There is a fine line between empowering a player, and creating a chore. We must walk it carefully and strive to end the favourable side.