Springing a surprise on players: Hidden Variables

I’d just like to get CoG Forum’s opinion on the use of hidden variables and statistics. Do you think it would be unfair to keep these variables completely hidden from players if they can have major effects on the game? Should there be some warning, either in-game or in some author’s note, that certain choices increase certain stats that could have a detrimental effect on a player’s character? Or is it enough to simply imply that this negative variable is being built through in-game scenes, like whispers behind a characters back?

I plan to use a hidden statistic in a game I’m working on that tracks a kind of negative reputation for players, which at various points in the game would be checked. If the value is too high, negative events occur and players are forced onto new routes. If the value is low, then the player will remain on the “main” route. As negative reputation accrues, the chance of negative events increases. Scenes would be inaccessible due to negative events, but at the same time new scenes would be available due to these negative events.

For example, the first negative choice I have is during a battle, where the player can choose to obey or disobey the orders of a commanding officer. If they choose to disobey the order and gain negative reputation, the players will save a minor NPC who could be useful later in some scenes, but they will also earn the enmity of a major NPC who will then become a rival character. Following the order will kill off the minor NPC and reduce the chances of gaining the major NPC as a rival.

As the game progresses, gaining negative reputation will adversely affect the player’s obvious goals, but open up the opportunity to reach alternate goals. Rather than aiming for, say, becoming a knight, negative reputation scenes would allow the player to enter a brigand route where they gain a reputation as a deadly and violent bandit that terrorizes the region, or a rebel route where the player decides to overthrow the ruling powers of the game’s setting. Thus, gaining a negative reputation might be something that players would want to aim for, but by keeping the existence of the variable hidden they would never really know why certain choices lead to certain routes and not others.

TL;DR: Should I keep a major game-affecting stat hidden or should I warn players about it in some way? I want to make the game more unpredictable than the CoGs I’ve played, so that each playthrough can lead to major differences.

Just about every game on the site has hidden statistics, and many of those stats have significant effects on the game. So: yes, go right ahead, IMO.


The problem is, the stat I’m planning could be considered aggravating by some players, because it forces them to ignore certain choices if they don’t want to deal with negative rep, even if they want to make that choice. So I’m just worried that it’ll be badly received when a player makes a series of choices, unknowingly accrues negative reputation, and then hates the fact that their path down a certain route is closed off because of something they didn’t know existed. At the same time, I want it to be something of a surprise when this happens, because that’s exactly what I want to happen.

Is it too selfish to spring something like that on players with little warning, or should I stick to my instincts and keep players in the dark?

@Rhodes It’s okay to do that. Choice of the Dragon has a hidden blasphemy stat. If it’s too high you end up angering the gods, but throughout the gamebook, it’s hinted that might happen when ever you do something blasphemous.

Having to deal with the negative consequences of a decision (even unknown consequences) is just a part of life. It doesn’t detract from a Choice game, it adds to it. It could in fact be argued that the opposite is true - shallow games are the ones generally not well received by experienced players. Most players like to be challenged, to be thwarted due to a poor decision, and to have to actually think about possible consequences when making decisions. If they don’t then they’re not really engaging with the story.

I think the fact that those choices, even if at first unknown to the player, has meaningful impact on the story then I personally would encourage you to do it more. If you were to make the player make hard choices and then act as if nothing happened, it would feel really hollow as a story.

With reputation I actually prefer not seeing the growth curve of it. If you can’t see it, there is that element of surprise that can really make a game. Just hint towards the existence of the hidden variable so the player knows what they did wrong/right.

Yep: stick to your instincts. It’ll be a better game for it. I prefer CoGs where there are stats I can’t “game” by figuring out the safe numeric threshold (without peeking at the code anyway) and have to proceed on judgment, like in real life.

I agree with hidden variables for the most part, I do like to be able to see my characters skills though…

a assume nobody is talking about hiding your skill stats i mean it doesnt really make sense to hide your personal stats because that is something you as a person should more or less know,i mean i know how fast i can run and how much i can lift

My WIP doesn’t have a stats screen full-stop (though it does have changing/tracked variables that affect the outcome), so yeah there’s definitely nothing wrong with or one or two (or more) hidden stats :slight_smile:

@Rhodes I consider using hidden stats like you say a way to oblige any player to be a good karma player, like Paladin destroy all replays or enjoy say you want to be evil? Well, forget the play the main route no you would have a lesser cheaper experience. And worse i would hide it to you never now why your play is different.

Thanks for all. I guess I’ll keep things surprising then.