The importance of choices?

Well, of course they are important since this is choice of games but sitting here and designing one I stared to ponder a little and would like to ask some advice from you people since you are obviously more used to these things.

The way I see it, there are three kinds of choices.

1: Character choices. These don’t affect the story in a major way, at least not to the point of heading it off into entirely new pathways. Things like gender, skills and the like shape how you solve things, not what kind of paths you walk. Most of the time.

2: Minor choices. This is a bit like sidequests in other games, they send you off on a tangent, then eventually returns you to the main plot. Do you visit point A or go and see person X kind of things.

3: Major choices. These decide the major choices of the game, often opening a whole new fork to go down.

I guess my question is, how much choice is enough?

After all, the more of the major choices you add, the greater the replay value is and the more you will feel like this is your story to shape. On the other hand, the more work you have to do as a writer, and the more text you will never get to see in the game when you play it.

So, if we assume that there is a set number of words being typed and a set amount of time spent on a game, the more choice you have (type 2 and 3) the shorter it gets.

A lot of choices would make it more game like, I suppose, allowing for a lot of replay and trying to get new endings and min-maxing stats.

Fewer big choices would be more of an interactive novel, a bit like Telltale Games stories, where all the scenes are fixed, and the decoration is added/changed.

What are people’s opinions on these things? What kind of choices do you like? When are you starting to feel like everything is linear? Do you replay games a lot?

I’m just interested in starting a discussion about these things, since I am new to the genre and not exactly a typical customer in most things.

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This is only my opinion, but when I reread a scene and make different choices and get exactly the same outcome for that scene, I feel…I guess, cheated is the word. I expect at least a unique paragraph or some unique dialogue even if the ultimate result is the same.

For example, in my WiP, the combat/dialogue/strategy choices almost always give the reader at least a few unique lines. If you do Choice, A, character X might say something. If you pick Choice B, character Y might pipe in. It may not make a huge difference in the ultimate outcome, but I feel it gives the story a more organic feel.

And yes I replay most gamebooks I purchase, but generally only 2-3 times total. The exceptions are the gamebooks @Lucid writes, because his stories encourage lots of stat tweaking. I’m trying to think of the gamebook I most appreciate for the story itself. It was probably Heroes Rise, but that trilogy is so long and winding that it’s really difficult for me to get into “replay” mode.


I think the question doesn’t exactly have to be “How much choice?” but rather “What choices are the most compelling?” I have studied a ridiculous amount of theory on interactivity, and this is what I’ve found in the realm of choices: people generally fall into 3 categories when playing games.

CATEGORY ONE: Competency. People like to feel like they can do things well. This, obviously, translates to choices that rely on player stats or prior decisions. Can your hero stop the villain? You better hope you allocated your skills properly! To translate this into a choice would be easy. Is your character sneaking into the library after school? Put in a choice asking if they sneak in through a window, convince a guard to let them in, or if they pick the locked door. Even if your game doesn’t have skills, you can put a puzzle in, which involves finding a key or some such thing.

CATEGORY TWO: Autonomy. Some people like to feel in control of their own fate. Obviously, ALL choices can trigger this, but it is especially vital to have choices that clearly change things. If I have the option to save the princess instead of defending my soldiers, I want there to be a scene later on where the princess matters, and the same in reverse. These are the kinds of choices most people here tout as the most important, and that’s understandable. They can be BIG branching choices like “Should Geralt help the humans or the elves?” that take you to completely different places, or they can be subtler things, like whether to save Carly or Doug, that ultimately don’t change the plot’s trajectory, but do change the actors in it.

CATEGORY THREE: Sociability. Some folks like to feel connected to the games they’re playing. These are the people who play for the romances, or choose a personality and stick with it because they feel they can relate to the characters action. In more traditional games, these are also the folks who are playing multiplayer. To add these choices in is simple. Give the player a chance every so often to react to something with emotion without having to worry about stats or repercussions. You can also give them the option to flirt or build friendships/rivalries with other characters. These are, in my opinion, the most effective choices at drawing people into the game, as I know more people who say things like “I want to see if Heather ever gets out of her shell!” than “Will we ever solve this zombie problem?” People remember people.

OKAY so I talked too much, but hopefully my point is made! Having huge amounts of choices doesn’t always equal good choices, and having every branch is cumbersome not only to the writer, but the player as well. Telltale’s stuff, as you mentioned, does a good job of 2 and 3, with the “puzzles” you have to solve taking the place of 1. Mass Effect thrives on all three. Shooting for 1, Big decisions for 2, Conversation for 3. I’LL WRAP THIS UP: Replay value can be determined by more than just the endings/branches. If you focus on having realistic conversation, for example, even a linear plot can feel like a new experience when such and such who was your friend last time hates you this time. Even things like Borderlands, which have no true branches at all, have me replaying them just to hear the alternate dialogue for a different character class. You just have to make the choices you do include STRONG.

Yikes, I talk too much!


I’m going to say this now: I’m a completionist. I replay all the games I love just to get the achievements, and even the ones I don’t particularly. I like to not only enjoy everything I play but to know I’ve gotten everything out of it I can. In Portal 2, I sat there and listened to Wheatly try to convince me to jump in the pit for the Steam achievement, and then I did it just to see if that changed anything. (It didn’t, I died.) In the tiny, formarly browser-based games I’ve played, I very often looked up the walkthrough not just to get on to the next part of the story but to make sure I got every single one of the bonuses. In the Stanly Parable, I touched every single damn door the Narrator told me to for that achievement. And looked up the endings, just to make sure I’d gotten all of them.

I haven’t really played that many text based games; I’ve gone through Choice of Robots three times now but I didn’t have all the achievements, romances or dream-sequence dialogs, so of course I’m not done yet. I will say that it’s an excelent game. I love the choices it gives you. I never feel like I’m forced to choose something I would never do, which is how I often get frustrated with text-based adventures. Even when I do choose to do something I never do in a million years (ie. kill someone basically for fun) I enjoy it. I guess what’s so good about it is that every choice, even if it ends in “failure” is rewarded in some way. When I got arrested with Elly I learned about her family’s history. When I got arrested for hacking into the US database, I learned that you can’t look at more than two records and get away. When I brought my robot to the military summons, I learned the password.

But the main reason I’m commenting is this: has anyone else played/heard of Kentucky Route Zero?

@HornHeadFan Very good advice! I’ll go easy on fake_choices then.

@SpaceLesbian You are not talking too much, this is brilliant and helpful! The only games I have designed before have been wargames, where the trick was balancing everything and try to predict all the ways the player could break the system (because they will try to do that) and making sure they actually understands the intricacies of what they could do. I have never done this sort of interactivity before.

So I guess the trick is to have the RIGHT choices eve more than having branching ones. ponders. This is so interesting and complex…

@AutopsyBlue I am also a big fan of fun failures. A lot of the time more interesting stories results from failing.