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Principles of Game design: Basics - Choice and Consequences in Video Games.

Discussion in 'General Gaming' started by Captain Shrek, Feb 6, 2012.

  1. I suppose that this is the second part of the series I decided to bring into being after I wrote this: If it was not the original intention to write it as a series, it soon became one. Why was this topic chosen? Because I made a promise to someone that I would write about this. That's just a reason to appear noble of course. The real reason is that I wanted to write about this, and the promise thing reminded me to do so.

    The purpose of this post, as made obvious from the title, is to discuss what is the correct measure of Choices you can make and what kind of consequences are considered well implemented, as an element of game design.

    There is a formal warning here: Choice and Consequence as a feature is a literary device (although unique to interactive literature, a comparatively recent form of medium). Meaning that while implementing it, you have to respect the integrity of the plot. We will talk about this in detail (!) later. Just be advised.

    We will tackle this problem in three steps:
    0) Definitions
    1) What we want from this element of game design?
    2) What is actually plausible in Game design?


    0) Definitions

    What is a choice in a game? It is a point in the game where a particular decision results in a significant change in the plot. We are limiting ourselves in the article to to those decisions that introduce PLOT differences. Significant means that thePLOT is affected in its content in a manner that creates at least two independent parts of the PLOT at the point of the choice which may or may not converge. It is in fact possible but difficult to quantitate this idea: e.g.

    You encounter a guard at the main gate of the mansion. You choose to:
    a) Knock him out with a blackjack.
    b) Knock him out with a karate chop.

    As you can see that there is NO reasonable change in the overall PLOT due to the 'choice' (This particular brand will be hence forth called Biowarian variety). This is not what we are defining above as choice. If you decided to enter the above mentioned manor through:

    a) An invitation
    b) Via the sewers (??!!....)

    And it gives you two different clues to who murdered the prime-minister, then the decision is called a Choice in this framework because this choice gave you two separate results that had important implications for the narrative as a whole. If you were reading closely enough, you can already see that the way choice has been defined in this article, consequences are inherently tied to them. Consequences are thus defined as the Significant results of your choices e.g. the two different clues as to who/what killed the prime-minister.

    Please understand that these definitions are valid only within the framework created here. DO NOT BE A RETARD AND POST DICTIONARY MEANINGS OF THE WORDS.

    1) What we want from this element of game design?

    This section is about ideal games; Game development where there is no upper limit of resource (including human capital). This will put us in position to recognize what are some good reason why this feature should exist, particularly within a genre where you are acting within a set of parameters defined by your character creation rules ;). I will explain in a moment what that sentence is doing.

    So where are C&C necessary?

    Be warned : CHOICES ARE AN EXTRA ELEMENT. There is no real reason to give you a choice in a shooter game for example (Half life). This can be made possible by having just one path to finish the game. Thus the game can be LINEAR. Understand that this is a completely valid way of designing a game. There are two reasons why Choices will be implemented in game. In purely action games, Choices are an EXTRA. They are a design choice to give you more content. But in games that are supposedly focused on character creation and character traits, Choice is a heavily expected feature. Please notice again its not a necessary feature, because the Character related features could be purely game-play features (e.g. Blood Bowl, where character is the entire team). Choices are NECESSARY when the emphasis of the game is two-fold: Story (i.e. Narrative) and Character Creation/Development. Please take some time to mull over this issue and discuss if you see some obvious pitfalls.

    How is it to be handled?

    Since this is the idealistic section, we would want every Choice in the game to have persistent consequences. Note that this is a quality different than the Significant Consequence. The clue that you found to Prime minister's murder would have to change the plot so that you uncover independent plots to assassinate the president or bombing the airport. Persistent would mean that the branch created out of this consequence diverge from the other branch within the context of the plot in reasonable limits ( integrity of the plot) as much as possible and so on and so forth! The aim of this exercise in design is as previously mentioned, to give you maximum quality content possible. All important parts of the plot should have at least one choice associated to them to stress their importance and some Chekov's guns to boot.

    Also, if there is a sequel, all your final choices should be carried over and keep on diverging (mow I hope you begin to see the limitations of C&C implementation).

    2) What is actually plausible in Game design?

    Given realities of Game design (which I am utterly unfamiliar with but will still stubbornly choose to pretend expertise with) it is impossible to have ideal C&C in this framework. The resources required are simply too expensive and the profits probably not very high very when you are competing to target Biowarian audience.

    What can reasonably be expected from C&C though is follows:

    The branches can't be the same length as the story. The longest branches are best put at the SECOND HALF THE PLOT so as to maximize the impact (memorability and effects) of C&C.Even though its impossible to create true consequence in the very beginning of the game (according to definitions presented here) because they tremendously increase production costs, it is possible to create small branches at the start and insert Narrative-wise 'inconsequential' but emotionally AND gameplay-wise important details as the potential effects e.g. some character you saved appearing at the end to help, providing you with the location of hidden routes, making accessible the said hidden route and thus making a particularly tough level easier (vice-versa for evil characters), providing some solid lore that affects the end-game a bit etc. These small touches are exactly what make Deus Ex great.

    It is further possible to increase the C&C aspect of the game by putting many choices at the last tenth of the game. These could include changing the end boss or his difficulty, avoiding the battle entirely (but again respecting the plot : integrity of the plot, so only available if it makes sense lore-wise), killing the PC if he made some stupid choice etc.

    Please understand that it is IMPOSSIBLE for the sequel to honor ANY CHOICE significantly, however important it may be when made in the prequel. That would amount to making games equal to number of possible outcomes and selling all of them as one game. Not gonna happen buddy. What can AND SHOULD happen is some important aspect of the END GAME of the sequel to change due to the choice in the first game so as to increase its impact (Again while respecting the integrity of the plot).

    This is what I believe is necessary to start a meaningful discussion on the issue. I hope we actually manage to get something out of all this effort.

    - QWINN
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  2. shihonage You see: shelter. Patron

    Jan 10, 2008
    location, location
    Bubbles In Memoria
    I believe the ideal RPG to consist of all manners of choices, including Biowarian ones. These choices should be made by player based on which of his character stats/equipment work best with them, instead of being purely cosmetic.

    I also believe that thinking of C&C in terms of "branches" and "sub-branches", each of which has to be scrupolously foreseen and tested by the designer, is a dead end.

    The correct approach to C&C, IMO, is a primitive expert system.

    You have a gameworld.

    NPCs poll the status of parts of gameworld that are relevant to their existence (other NPCs' proximity, health, mental flags, faction hostility flags), and alter their needs accordingly.

    Player moves through gameworld, altering status of its various parts.


    For example, if you set up that blacksmith Griswold's world is tied to his daughter being nearby, then just by moving her away into a shed on another map will trigger his "My daughter's gone missing, please help me find her" quest.

    The designer can do this as the game's starting state, or they can give Griswold his daughter in the beginning, and allow her to be taken away through several other means later. Each individual need and action is pre-created, but their combination is a unique kaleidoscope of changes the player leaves in his wake.

    Each NPCs potential needs have to be sorted by importance, so that when Griswold loses his daughter and his toothpick, the player is presented with "My daughter is missing" BEFORE they're presented with "Help me find my toothpick".

    Expert systems. They're grrrrreat!
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  3. Cowboy Moment Arcane

    Cowboy Moment
    Feb 8, 2011
    Honestly, I don't think anyone is asking for huge plot-shattering consequences halfway through the game. Good RPGs whose focus isn't solely on combat should naturally lend themselves to problems being solved in different ways by different characters. It simply heightens immersion and improves replayability if these have some impact on gameplay and narrative, but I don't think anyone expects (or wants) for the game to split in two completely different paths before the end.

    Take MotB, widely praised for its cool and impactful C&C. There aren't any major set-pieces transformed or removed by choices in MotB (save for the Okku/One-of-Many split, if you count characters as set pieces), but there is a major difference, both narrative and gameplay-wise, between an evil and a good playthrough, for instance.

    Oftentimes it's quite easy to offer alternate paths with whatever assets are present, with at most an investment in some additional scripting and writing/VO. Developers simply don't do it, probably because it's not really expected or valued nowadays. To use another MotB example, the different solutions and consequences to the Uthraki quest required no additional assets whatsoever. Just a bit of dialogue, some simple scripting, and perhaps above all, a bit forward planning so that they can unlock new plot-relevant powers for an evil PC. Maybe that last part is why nobody does it, developers cannot into planning beyond completely linear narratives.
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  4. Which makes the Witcher 2 highly innovative in my opinion. There is a real hard branching there.
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  5. grotsnik Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    Jul 11, 2010
    'Set-piece' choice is a great way of putting the problem, I think. I was reading an old Black Hound interview recently, and this came up:

    Hardly earth-shattering stuff, but it just struck me how matter-of-fact-ly repercussions are treated there, as contrasted to Mike Laidlaw or whoever gushing about 'Choice 2.0' and 'deep, meaningful choices'. The player does something or behaves in a certain way, the game makes a quiet note of it and later responds accordingly. Great. That's all I want from C & C.

    Whereas what we increasingly see are this big contrived melodramatic false dilemma set-piece choices - the game stops at the end of a linear level and every character turns to the PC and says, 'Hero, you must choose between one of these two options NOW and these are the stakes and it's very very important'. (And then, of course, it's all the more irritating when the consequences turn out to be trivial.) It's fetishising choice to make it feel like it belongs only in the pivotal, pre-destined moments, rather than throughout the game and (as much as possible) at the player's whim.
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  6. CrustyBot Arcane Patron

    Dec 29, 2011
    Codex 2012

    A lot of the problem (imo) lies in the fact that C&C are framed as "Choice -> Consequence" as opposed to "reactivity" or "recognition". By labelling it as such, there's an expectation of an overt choice with pre-determined consequences rather than focusing on how a player's interaction with the PC, the gameworld, other characters, etc (guided of course by one's character build) can be recognised and reacted to by the game, either in the form of universal mechanics and systems or discrete story branching (or both).

    I mean, the overt choices paradigm works fine for games like Witcher 2, because it's overt choice actually make a huge fucking difference in how the game's story plays out (mututally exclusive narrative progression/content).

    But at the end of the day, most people aren't really looking for massive story branching to the degree of Witcher 2 (although it's certainly nice), they're looking for ways to feel as if the assortment of stats and numbers they've created actually matters. That if they did X instead of Y (in character building, in situational approach, in dialog choices, etc), the game will actually go "hey, you did X instead of Y, this is the logical consequence of doing so". The examples in the interview you quotes are pretty good for what I'm talking about.

    If you can tie such actions to a character system which rewards different playstyles, mechanics to simulate certain things (crime, economy/item system, disposition/reputation, etc) and encourage multiple ways to interact with such elements (and how they interact with each other), you don't have to create mututally exclusive narrative progression, but you can radically alter it's context and many of the details surrounding the plot (characters, factions) through the recognition of many smaller choices, to the point where it feels like a totally different experience.

    I think Alpha Protocol is a good example of what I'm talking about. I mean, there are probably better ones to talk about since it heavily relies on set-piece type choices and it's a shame that Obsidian forgot to pack a good game in the box when AP was released, but it's approach to C&C is probably the most thorough I've seen. WHICH MEANS I LIKED IT THIS MUCH.

    Almost everything you do has some sort of consequence that is tangible in some form or another. Yet the framework of the game's story is by and large the same, regardless of what you do. On an unrelated note, the honeycomb quest design is also something that's very promising and could be a way to help design C&C (variations in the satellite quests affecting the core one).

    So, despite the overarching narrative structure, you need to replay the game multiple (7) times to see all the options the game really gives you.

    Of course, that said, it sets the bar pretty low as to what qualifies as "C&C", since it's really just in-game recognition of the player's actions. Which I guess is kind of the point. Less about C&C being special or a unique/distinct concept, and more on focusing on providing recognition/reactivity for what goes in the game.

    Or, I don't know. Hope that made sense at least. Maybe I'll just go back to the Lol BioWare thread.
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  7. AP is actually NOT a good example of what you are talking about; at all. Simply because in AP, the 'Consequences' or reactions/recognitions as you deign to call them are not tied to attributes but rather 'choices'.

    The good example actually would be Fallout.
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  8. Enrymion Literate

    Apr 16, 2018
    What's the difference? Aren't attributes basically just choices.

    What if there's no real plot? Do more simulationy games like Kenshi and Adventure mode in Dwarf Fortress have no C&C? I guess you could replace plot with world to have it apply to less linear games.

    Anyway this is such an old thread that I thought I should start a new thread more focused on world simulation games instead of ones with a plot.
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  9. Cael Dumbfuck! Dumbfuck

    Nov 1, 2017
    I actually disagree that choice is necessary in any way. Nice to have? Possibly, if done well. Absolutely necessary? Hell no!

    Most, if not all, of the RPG of yesteryear did not have C&C.

    You want to complete Ultima 4? Guess what, buddy? You can't be what 99% of millenial shitheads want to be in every RPG they ever come across: the Chaotic Evil jerkass, which they believe to be the height of machoism.
    You want to kill notable NPCs in Dark Queen of Krynn? Haha! You're either dead or you just got cockblocked.
    You want to murder peaceful NPCs in Quest for Glory? Congrats! You've triggered a non-standard game over.

    C&C is a consequence of the post-modernist sick mindset of wanting to play the villian as some sort of validation of the millenials' pathetic lives. Not just the anti-hero, but a cackling murdering, raping megalomaniac who commits genocide for the lulz while fucking his dead gender bender lover up the ass. Fuck the story, fuck ethics, fuck what the game is about. I want to do what I want all over your game, damnit! And if you don't allow me to do that, you are a railroading racist intolerant homophobe.

    A game like Ultima 4 where you try to be a paragon of virtues wouldn't be made in today's climate as it would be panned and heavily criticised by the usual suspects.

    A strong story with engaging gameplay is far, far, far more important to a RPG than C&C. I'd rather have those two and a linear game, than a game with lots of C&C but shit story and crap gameplay.
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  10. J1M Arcane

    May 14, 2008
    I know choice & consequence is a bit of a meme here, and justifiably so given the state of modern game development, but it is a misnomer. Most players do not actually enjoy consequences. What they want, and respond very well to, is reactivity.

    Toy example in Deus Ex:
    Reactivity: when your brother and the quartermaster comment on your use of lethal force/non-lethal options in the first mission.
    Consequence: if your quartermaster took away your handgun (that you had upgraded) for the next mission because you shot more than X enemies.

    The same thing applies to the passage of time, people enjoy the reactivity of seeing the environment change. They respond poorly to a time limit that solidifies into a real consequence.
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018
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