Beating the Four-Point-Trap

Hello!
I’ve been poking around the forums and seeing a lot of suggestions of tapping around the “four point trap.” For those that don’t know what the four point trap is, I think that JimD sums it up nicely.

I’ve combed through the forums and compiled different ways that people have suggested or implemented for Choicescript Games. Some of these might not work as they don’t take into account thematic choices for stats, or even if the points are based on fairmath, opposing values, or flat numbers. Below are possible methods to help with making sure players don’t always just pick the biggest number:

Combination Method

Have two requirements instead of one. Doesn’t have to be strictly stats either, could be story choices as well.

Spacing Method

Space out increases to stats so that inflation of points and challenges don’t scale as quickly.

Narrative Method

Have different points lead to different consequences, or have previous decisions affect how easy or hard the challenges ahead will be.

Triangle Method

Of the four points, pick three. One will be supremely effective, one less ideal but still doable, and one is a poor choice unless you’ve invested in that particular point. Be careful with this one, as it can lead back into the four point trap.

Degrees Method

Instead of plain “pass or fail” situations, allow for certain degrees of success or failure. This can be effectively combined with other methods.

Varying Method

Instead of four points, have three, five, or some other amount of stats. As suggested by @Szaal. Be cautious with this method, as it can still lead to the four point trap of choosing only the highest number.

You can also opt for having no “points” whatsoever and be more like a gamebook. See “Sorcery! and No Points” for more elaboration.

Alternating Method

Personal examples:

Fallen London's Four Points

Fallen London is a online, browser choose your own text adventure that uses the stats Dangerous, Persuasive, Shadowy, and Watchful. The game balances their four point system by having multiple ways to deal with issues with varying consequences and difficulty based on the method taken. (i.e. it’s easier to case a heist from afar with Watchful, but you’ll get more details and risk if you go inside and use your Shadowy)

P.S. Fallen London levels up those four skills based on how tough a challenge is. So, if you use a high-level skill on a low level challenge, that skill doesn’t become as developed.

Tabletop Failure

Making failing interesting, so the player isn’t dead outright. That way we don’t have to choose between die and die if we don’t invest in the correct points. Open Legend RPG encourages something akin to “failures with a twist,” where failures can lead to new developments in the story like hitting a pipe instead of the intended target, flooding the room with water.

Fallout Intelligence

A bit of an outlier, but including the apocalyptic CRPG Fallout because it’s still lingering in my head. Basically, Fallout changes the player’s interaction with characters based on intelligence. Having abysmally low intelligence unlocks “caveman speak” and options such as being able to talk to the town “idiot” with eloquence unseen by higher intelligence players.

Like I said, this one is a bit of an outlier since Fallout has the player build their essentially permanent stats upfront. But, what Fallout does is allow low stats actually give way to different options.

Sorcery! and No Points

Sorcery! is a gamebook turned choose your own text adventure game that doesn’t have a stat system that fits the four-point system. Instead it has Stamina, Gold, Equipment, and Spells, which act as expendable resources throughout the story. Combat relies on reading the enemy’s action then defending (turning all received damage into one) or attacking (dealing the difference of attack value in damage).

No need to deal with a four-point trap if there aren’t any points in the first place!

Will add on if I find some more.

33 Likes

Obviously, to add to the list, create only three stats. You effectively beat the four point trap if you can’t even create one in the first place.

7 Likes

The “four point trap” is a major reason I play demo’s first before buying any official CoG games. Far worse than an obvious four point trap (or three point trap, sorry @Szaal) however, is a non-obvious one. I might grudgingly put up with it when the high stat required for each stat-dependent choice is obvious, but I won’t put up with a game where the stats needed for stat dependent choices to be successful have to be guessed, not when there is no back button. That’s an instant fail for me instead of just a big demerit that can be overcome by writing an otherwise wonderful game.

10 Likes

Just wanna say that I am often a fan of combination method as it rewards players who don’t just spike certain attributes.

In addition, I always recommend modifiers, as some paths will be easier than others based on the situation, so sometimes a lower attribute may still be the highest odds of success.

2 Likes

Mechanics design and its testing is one of the most negligent (intentionally or not) elements of game design in Choice Script games.

Historically, there has been a huge bias against game designers in this community and even today, the excuse that “I am an author, not a game designer” is used to justify slapping sub-par and often flawed mechanics together …

In the last few years, there has been growth within the community, and many author-designers have seen wonderful personal growth. With that said, this community has a very long path ahead of itself when it comes to mechanics and their design.

@StorybookParagon – thank you for the work compiling the solutions together; I am still considering stickying this thread, but this is just one aspect of a much bigger issue and a sticky focusing on mechanics and their design in general might be a better option at this point.

5 Likes

Having a sticky dedicated to helping people with creating mechanics that can seamlessly merge with the narrative sounds amazing. But, I feel like a lot of that would be reiterating on the CoG Design Document.

Are there ChoiceScript games that you think are particularly good examples of mechanics usage? My goal is to do narrative design in a way that feels intuitive to people who prefer to focus on story, while also being satisfying to people who want to be challenged or who want to optimise their stats. I haven’t achieved a perfect recipe yet - and obviously perfection doesn’t really exist - but hope to improve as I work on further projects!

4 Likes

The three veteran masters of this mechanic design would be: @JimD, @Cataphrak and @AllenGies.

All three of them take a different approach and with both Jim and Paul, they have successfully tweaked their stat-structures over time to be more successful.

I’d focus on Allen’s approach if you want to be on the story-intuitive side of the spectrum, on Paul’s latest approach for a middle-of-the-spectrum look at stat structures and Jim’s for flexibility at its greatest when presenting a stat-focused approach.

@Gower’s wonderful games have a beauty of their own in that he creates momentum within the mechanics that reinforces his concepts; by the end of his games, his readers usually end up in tune with him, grasping what he is trying to accomplish. There are some hiccups, such as the boat race, but overall he does a wonderful job at signalling what he desires the reader to know and grasp throughout his works.

If I had to try to teach people, I’d ask that they look at @Lucid’s mechanic structures in his Daria games to understand an optimizer’s approach and then to compare and contrast that with @Havenstone’s; which is as story-orientated a stats-heavy system could play out.

The reason I’d do all of this is because by looking at these latter two authors’ mechanics, you will see a beauty in execution which in general has allowed many “anti-stat” readers to enjoy a more stat-based approach.

Before writing a ChoiceScript game, I’d make it a requirement that people study @jasonstevanhill’s vampire series. His work is the perfect primer in how to successfully implement the CoG design doc principles; which should be the first thing a budding author gets into.

Also, honorable mention goes to three others for their specific work in relationship related mechanics:

@Seraphinite has been the first in this community to successfully translate the Visual Novel experience into ChoiceScript – she has set the bar high and others that follow her are often held up to her standard.

@Carawen’s Shadow Society has an original take on this same translation

@Morgan_V’s recently released Soulstone war also has a unique approach to establishing relationship mechanics … one which I am using myself to help advance my own systems.

Also, with the recent CoG wip’s being made, I feel everyone doing those have listened to feedback well and were able to make changes before the development process went too far … I think these efforts show in the final releases.

I purposefully left out you and your spouse and will be happy to talk specifics in PM.

:two_hearts:

11 Likes

While I’m certainly no expert, I’ve considered this topic several times before, and I believe I’ve come up with something that may be worth exploring in more depth.

Let’s call it the “Alternating Method,” to keep theme: Offering a number of low-stakes choices, where each choice only allows a selection of some (not all!) the problem-solving stats. Thus, by the time the player is facing the high-stakes choices, they will have more than one high-ranked stat.

For example, maybe something like:

  1. Minor choice, between A, B, and C
  2. Minor choice, between D, E, and F
  3. Minor choice, between A, C, and E
  4. Minor choice, between B, D, and F
  5. Minor choice, between three highest stats
  6. Minor choice, between three lowest stats
  7. Important choice! All stats allowed

And even if you tried this, you likely wouldn’t need to use it in isolation. I can see this method combining especially well with the Degrees Method, and it kind of fundamentally requires the Varying Method. I’d expect it to work okay with the Triangle Method, too.

However, I also feel that with so many stats in play, it would over-complicate the Narrative Method. Combined with the Spacing Method, and you’d need a pretty long game with a lot of choices before you’d worked your way through far enough to establish a baseline.

Even worse, the Combination Method could outright nullify any benefit this “Alternating Method” could bring, if the player were ever allowed to choose both their high stats at the same time! Although I suppose the Combination Method could work if you did something complex, like:

  1. Minor choice, highest stat (default) combined with one of three lowest stats (player choice)

It’s certainly not a perfect idea! However, I feel that by deliberately setting up multiple three-point or four-point traps, the player can be forced to possess at least two “good” stats when the important decisions roll around. And I feel that should prevent them from feeling trapped into playing a certain way.

2 Likes

I agree with your brief analysis – the danger for many would be that whatever “system” they devise or methodology they use can become gimmicky.

I agree with you In the mechanical system and all that. Simply I don’t care about them. And I am starting to thing stats as a formula is more a binding rope impose and impeding writing to breathe that other thing.

1 Like

That is how many authors view mechanics. That is exactly the essence you must overcome though, because you are developing a game and not a book.

This, at the core, is like those Star Wars Scenes, where the protagonist is fighting themselves … because to be successful, authors will need to defeat themselves and triumph over their inner anger and resentment.

Many will willfully give up at this point; this is where authors differentiate themselves.

2 Likes

Or you can do Interactive fiction without stats. Stats are great on RPG and sandbox but in most of the games they are there because they are a forced mechanism, that makes many scenes bad because of those scenes have to be adapted for stats destroying the real intent of many plots that are clearly built with certain stats in mind and any other way is barely an adding to justify stats.

It is a fault on the writing planning, yes. But probably without the impose stats a choice game could be deeper into the character personalities that have stats

This is getting away from the original topic, so I will just say: using non-stat-based mechanics is possible, but often is something only a very skilled author can pull off in a text-based game format. This is why ChoiceScript games rarely do this.

Creatures Such as We is the exception that makes the rule in my opinion. Someday I would like to write a game like this one, but I’ll need to improve my writing skills more before I can do this.

4 Likes

One thing that contributes to the “4 point problem” is linearity in the “game flow” of many games made in choicescript. This doesn’t mean linearity of narrative (there’s lots of games with branching storylines) but linearity of “player action” or “flow” through the narrative.

Exxample of play with linear flow:
Choiceblock 1 -> choiceblock 2 -> choiceblock 3 -> choiceblock 4 and so on through the game. These involve stats tests, setting stats and so on and encourage players to only pick one of the (four) options as the player is pushed forward.

Some few games offer less linear structures to their choices with a more “hub” like approach:
Hub -> make choice -> choice result -> return to hub -> make new choice -> choice result -> return to hub

where a player can preform a certain number of actions at a particular hub before they are out of time/actions and are pushed forward. - this can be interspersed with the above type of linear push then a return to a hub-like phase.

This often seems to get around the trap -they certainly feel more “game-like”. Examples i can think of would be parts of zombie exodus and choice of rebels.

It creates work for the game designer because they have no real control over which order the player will make choices in, whereas the first example the designer has perfect control over choice order. I think there’s lots of potential for use of choicescript to make some vary varied and different games, but the standard game made in choicescript follows the first example which comes into what Eiwynn says above that most choicescript game designers see themselves as writers first and programmers/designers second, while the real auteurship with games comes from design, not from writing.

4 Likes

I disagree with your statement of Designers are the best. There are so many games with ATROCIOUS writing because the designer has zero ideas of how making characters and plots going. and their games are structures without soul and mere mechanics.

Sincerely, I prefer the bad design to a soulless game. And I am very worried about the new trend of Only focus on mechanics and hundreds of stats that doesn’t add anything else that looks cool on the stats.

The first question should be:
-Do all the stats add something important that serves to the plot?
-Do this stat will be really used in a satisfying way to the player or is just a minor thing that looks cool?
-Does that plot check make sense in that current scene?

Sincerely, It is okay not to give choices to all stats always the player has a satisfying fail scene and a well-connected connection to the next plot scene at the same level of other choices
@Cataphrak Swords of infinity ending is a clear example, you can choose run away to not die and that choice has the same caring in the crafting that be a hero. That is good design

I’m talking about making games in general, rather than specifically text-based story games - most writing is bad, that’s just how it is. In video games most writing is bad, yet we still have lots of great games - Just to give a recent example of a game people have been very positive about: Disco Elysium. Disco Elysium does not have great writing - if it was a book it would be a middling pulp detective novel, it has passable writing, what it does have is great design, implementation, art, structure, mechanics and gameplay which works with its passable writing to make a great story game. If the writing was much better but the implementation was worse it would be a worse game.

Here, this is a design point - hundreds of stats with no picture of what they are going to do in game is bad design - complexity for the sake of it is bad design - it shows a lack of thought of how the game is actually going to play.

Secondly, and this is a games in general point: I disagree that stats are about the plot, they are about the gameplay - do the stats add positively to the gameplay and not detract from the gameplay should be forefront in peoples minds when they are making a game. Simple is very often better - that’s a design issue.

I think we are on the same line here except I see the above as a design issue not a writing issue.

1 Like

It is both. A game mechanic that doesn’t add anything to game play normally doesn’t add anything to the plot. There is not text based story without text, and there is no text without plot. I see the plot as anotner game mechanic it has to serve the pace and proposed of the game and vice-versa. An action pack game gains for a simple interface with fewer stats and basically about doing like fighting or basic triad Cunning strength Intelligence +a health meter.

You both are on the same page; one of you is using design-level language and the other is using writer-level language.

In a well-designed game, the plot dove-tails and fits seamlessly with the mechanics.

There are a few “puzzle-orientated” Hosted games, and these are at the heart of why @Alice-chan is couching their position in design and not writing.

They are not arguing quantity = quality; the opposite is true … they are emphasizing that quality design dictates the mechanics needed.

High quality writing can mask over issues with mechanics, but high level mechanics stand alone, outside the writing in game development.

No-one in this thread is advocating taking as many mechanics as you can and throw them at the wall to see what fits.

Right now, I feel your perceptions are being tainted by your writing frustrations.

As usual, you’ve made an eloquent post. Let me see if I can add anything to it.

When I write a choice, the question that inevitably comes up is ‘How does this serve the story’? Specifically the story that the player has decided to pursue.

  1. Does it develop character? Either the PC’s or a character within the story.
  2. Does it develop the world? Either by revealing details or simply how others react.
  3. Is it memorable? Example: Will people remember taking or leaving the diary of a dead soldier?
  4. Will it matter later? Players should impact their world, and know their choices mattered.
  5. Are traits or stats altered? This helps the writer adjust the game to the player’s style.
  6. Is there an element of risk to make it exciting? Choices shouldn’t just be a fancy page_break.
  7. Is victory preferable? Can defeat be just as interesting?

Ideally, a choice answers multiple questions. A lot of people killed their potential companions in Tin Star. This certainly developed their own character, as well as that of an NPC (1). It showed what the Old West could be like (2). Depending on the method, it could certainly be memorable (3). Later on, those acts could come back to haunt a player (4), Usually there was a stat bonus, and possibly the heartless trait enabled (5). Usually this is a life or death situation, do or die (6). Unfortunately, that means that failing means starting over instead of putting the character onto a different track (7).

However, concerning the four-point trap, you have to allow that the player is going to game the system. By getting enough points in gun fighting, a player can often just gun his way through most problems. For that you might put an emotional or character block in the way. Shoot enough people in the back and no one trusts that PC… except like-minded villains. Make them hate the villain, and then have the villain praise them for their prior actions. Or just have local stores be closed up, their owners having fled the region and thus their services or goods are no longer available even if there are six rounds in the PC’s revolver.

The key likely lies in finding what works for you as you write that particular scene and story. Elwynn lists other authors and ably breaks down their styles. Poison Mara points out why stats alone can be soulless. The stats need to serve the story somehow. Hmm. Perhaps an example is better.

11 Likes