Do Choice Games Need Stats?


#1

Do Choice games need to have stats?

I found a similar topic from 2 years ago but it only had 3 posts in it and I really didn’t want to bump it just to get the topic locked so I’m starting a new discussion.

Most of the Choose Your Own Adventure games I played as a child didn’t have stats. The Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf and Way of the Assassin (I think it was called) ones did and they were my favourite. Although I just ignored the stats bit and cheated my way through the game saying I had everything so whether those stats were of use or not I don’t know. I found that they got in the way of the story, they blocked off options that would have often been open and sometimes even lead to the story finishing prematurely (generally with death). Stats were my nemesis.

I’ll admit I often stare at greyed out options in Choice games and I want the choice to take them but I can’t which frustrates me even if I do see the sense in not allowing everyone to do everything.

However I also remember that one of the Choice of games frustrated me in that I’d select options and they wouldn’t do anything, my stats wouldn’t get bumped up, they were just there. I think I’d have found the game far more enjoyable without the stats at all, but then there’d be no risk of failure, no need to puzzle out what you needed to do in order to perform a certain course of action I guess, no challenge I guess.

Anyway I’m interested in other people’s thoughts, opinions etc.

Do Choice Games need to have stats?
Would not having typical stats spoil your enjoyment of games?
What about a non-traditional use of stats?


#2

In theory no game has to have stats, although without them there would be a hell of a lot of nested choices! I think stats are necessary in a game, although if you wanted to make more of a story you wouldn’t need them as much. So, in answer to question 2, yes- but it wouldn’t spoil a story.

I believe there was a blog post about non-traditional stats a while ago, although I may be wrong. Although they could easily be overused, I think that unorthodox stats can really help a game sometimes and give it that extra bit of uniqueness, and seperate it from the rest.

Just my two cents, I’m interested to see what others think!


#3

http://www.choiceofgames.com/2011/07/7-rules-for-designing-great-stats/ the blog post?


#4

No, Stats aren’t needed at all, but I feel people implement stats as a way to make it more replayable and give you a different feel to the story to make it seem as if there is more depth, and more affect on how stuff plays out.


#5

I’ve been thinking about that myself lately and I don’t think Stats are necessary.
I’ll point to EndMaster here with his “Eternal” and “Ground Zero”, my two most favorite IFs. They don’t contain a single Stat and are completely driven by the story alone, and I can’t even begin to estimate how many hours I’ve wasted over them. Though it’s definitely way more than with any single COG or Hosted Game (and probably a whole bunch of them combined).


#6

The main problem with Eternal and Ground Zero is that, if you step off the plotted line, you tend to die pretty quickly; while they aren’t railroaded per se, there’s a very limited number of “winnable” paths and a lot of seemingly-arbitrary failure modes. As much as I love EndMaster’s games, that’s not an aspect I’d like to emulate, and stats are one way that the CoG authors have used to avoid that particular pitfall. Another is that, through delayed branching and aggressive path merging, a failure can have consequences other than death, and stats are very useful for implementing the “delayed branching” aspect.


#7

I love stats personally because I feel like it helps me visualize my character more and give them a personality and style behind that.


#8

I love endmaster stories but are stories not games. Some type of stat is needed to customize properly your character even only one or two


#9

I don’t think that anyone should feel like a choice based game needs anything (other than choices, of course). The stats, or lack of them, should really be dependent on a game’s design. There are plenty of very popular games that rely only on branching paths, and it’s a perfectly acceptable format.

That being said, those types of games do end up with certain limitations that do tend to bother me.

The first of which is that you tend to end up with either a very generic main character, or a very specific main character. In interactive fiction, the author has to deal with the severe limitation of not knowing who their main character is. It’s kind of a crazy thing to work around, if you really think about it. The old CYOA books, as well as many gamebooks that I’ve checked out have solved this by making the player character a completely blank slate. Something like Endmaster’s stories tend to have a more defined main character, even if it isn’t one that’s specifically molded by the player. With a good use of stats, the player can better tell the author what kind of main character they’re putting in the story, and the author has the ability to actually incorporate that. It just adds a nice level of personalization that is really difficult to pull off without any stat tracking.

Another issue is, as @Ramidel pointed out, delayed branching. A choice-based game that doesn’t keep stats relies on the immediate consequences of that choice. It’s a pretty straightforward sort of gameplay and storyline. Something that uses stat tracking, however, forces the player to consider consequences beyond the immediately obvious ones. How will this choice affect you down the line? It adds another element to the game, and probably more investment in the story, than something that only has branching storylines.

Again, stats should really depend on what you want your game to convey. Some people want to aim for the stat-management game, some people don’t want to worry about stats at all. I’ve seen games with stats that didn’t make any sense and had no purpose for being there, and I’ve seen games that really irked me with how little they actually kept track of anything. The important thing is making sure the mechanics and design work with the story, not against it. If having no stats whatsoever is the best way to go about it, then I’m certainly not going to argue.


#10

There are a couple of senses in which a ChoiceScript game might not “have stats”.

You could emulate the Choose Your Own Adventure style and make a game that actually is statless - basically a ChoiceScript game with no variables. @CS_Closet explains the ups and downs of that pretty thoroughly above. I’d add, though, that even though this style of game isn’t as popular in the ChoiceScript community (although it’s alive and well in visual novels!), that shouldn’t dissuade you from going in that direction if it’s the game you want to make and you have an idea of how you’re going to make it fun.

If you’re interested in CYOA games you’ve likely seen this before, but in case not, I’d recommend this series of blog posts on CYOA structure as a good read on the subject.

Another way to “not have stats” would be to write a state-tracking game that makes use of stats and flags the way most ChoiceScript games do, but doesn’t expose any of them to the player. Visible stats can encourage RPG-like play, where players feel motivated to crunch numbers and optimize their stats. So making them invisible could give your game a more story-like feel while still allowing you to include the same degree of personalization and responsiveness to player choices.

Whether or not stats lock off certain paths to the player is also very much a design choice - you don’t necessarily have to use state-tracking to limit the player’s options. You could use them to adapt the text to reflect players’ choices without actually blocking paths.

For example, say you have a game with two scenes. In the first, the player picks whether his character is strong, smart or charismatic. In the second, he has to fight a goblin.

One approach, which would resemble the one you don’t like, would be to check whether the character is strong. If he is, he wins, and if he’s not, he loses.

Or, you could take away the first scene and just give the player a character who’s strong and who will always defeat the goblin.

But if you still want to give the player that choice to personalize their character, you could change the second scene so that the character always wins, but he wins in a way appropriate to what the player chose. So if he’s smart instead of strong, he rigs a trap to catch the goblin, or if he’s charismatic, he creates a diversion.


#11

Stats = delayed branching


#12

I’ve done delayed branching without stats a few times and I’ve seen others do it.

It can be done, it’s just really damn boring and a hassle to do so because it involves a lot of copy/pasta of similar text for several pages and sometimes looping. Stats are certainly more efficient for it since it cuts down on the need to create several pages.

Really though I haven’t seen a great difference between stat vs. non stat based things for it to really make a difference in how linear something is.

For the most part even with stats you’re ultimately still getting a linear story with a specific beginning and end for the character (Like your Dragon always going to sleep at the end of Choice of Dragon for example).

Going back to FairlyGodfeather’s post, the old school books like Fighting Fantasy had stats, but they were ultimately a set story with one winning ending. All other endings were either death or an instant kill paragraph (or sometimes a non-traditional losing ending) Sure you still had branching in-between, but ultimately they all linked back to the main story. You were still tied to the quest.

By the same token you can take some of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books and while there was usually one really good ending, you also had several other endings which could vary from good, neutral or terribad. Sometimes the books even had vastly different paths from each other.

But it’s really rare you’re going to get any CYOA type story (stats or no) that actually has several vastly different paths that lead to completely different “winning” endings. When they do, they usually take forever and a day to finish for the writer. (The good ones anyway)

Basically it comes down to taste, some people like stats, some don’t, some don’t care either way. I imagine the desire for stats is more of a desire to not have a pre-defined protagonist and have someone more personalized like CS mentioned.

Obviously due to my own preference to write purely story driven CYOAs, I enjoy the story aspect of such things so as long as something is written well and has a fair amount of choices, the rest doesn’t matter to me.


#13

I wanted to say thankyou to everyone who commented on this thread. I’d been wrestling with the decision of whether or not to implement stats in Julia Caesar, and if I did to what extent would I include them.

What helped me make a decision was Heather Albano’s excellent article http://www.heatheralbano.com/2011/03/28/designing-games-for-non-gamers

What finally made up my mind was a sheer lack of time to implement anything properly so the few stats that are there are unbalanced placeholders.

I’m a gamer and a roleplayer, so that may influence some of my views on stats. I see stats as being concrete things on your character sheet, generally, numbers representing how good (or bad) you are at things.

Variables, to me, keeping track of who you’ve met, etc, aren’t things I’d consider stats. Personality traits, well there’s a leap there sometimes. Actually I’m not that fond of personality traits as stats since they often dictate what actions you choose and can prevent you from well, say you’re a villain, but you love dogs. Every single action you have is villainous, you clock up points on your villainy scale and then there’s a dog. Being a villain you look at the greyed out “adopt the dog as your best friend” option with frustration. You may not like people, but you want to love dogs, only the remaining selectable option is “kick the dog.”

I think having stats like that would make sense if the world knows you’re a villain and treats you as such. They boo you when you go out in public, they suspect nefarious schemes from you whenever you do anything, they expect you to kick the dog. But personally I like the freedom to choose whatever options you like, and just to have a different reaction depending on how you’re perceived.

Sometimes I see stats as blocking me from doing the fun things I want to do.

Is succeeding all the time fun? Stats add risk and a chance of failure.
Without stats would you choose to fail?
What if failure just lead to an interesting path and not to the end?

Hmm I think that’d be an interesting thought exercise to create a statless game wherein there are options to fail, but with the understanding that failure will not lead to the end of the game. Hmm I wonder, if there was a game in which success lead to the short-ending and failure lead to the interesting path.

So, you’re a Hero, you go off to slay the dark wizard. Now, you can just take the boring path of being noble-born, getting the best gear, easily overcoming all of the obstacles in your way. That’s the straight way through. The easy way.

It’s not the interesting story though. The interesting story comes when you choose to be born the peasant. The dark wizard has kidnapped your dog, and you failed to protect your family from his wrath. Now, you’ve lost something and you’re out for revenge.

HMMM. Actually I may spin this off into its own thread. I’m not sure if I’d write the game or just keep it as a thought exercise.

Anyway I wanted to say thanks for the thoughts on stats. I may go back and reread everything and answer individual comments.


#14

I will now use copy/pasta in place of copy/paste forever! That is all.