I played Hero raise 1 and 2 a few years back. First game was ok, didn’t feel too good about the second. Played Choice of Robots (CoR) recently and really love it. Played a few more CYOA games and felt they are meh. Have some thoughts on why Choice of Robots is so good compared to the rest and wanted to share it.
- Choice matters. Every CYOA game try to claim that choice matter but in most of them, the text is nearly identical no matter what choices you pick. There are broad difference in story flow base on dialog choice and success or fail of events base on stats but that is it. CoR is different, at least for the first part up to the end of the war. I see attention to details everywhere, text and event flow subtlety different based not only on different dialog choices but also on the stats of your robot.
For example, a broad story decision of getting funded or not and by which department depend on whether you are willing to compromise on meeting the military’s requirement (dialog choice) and 20 pts in a single stats (stats). It is not the result of just selecting a dialog option, but the accumulation of all the decisions you made previously. It not only make the result feel natural, but also make the choices affecting the stats feel relevant. Choice mattered indeed.
Subtle changes in text that show the attention in details the author put in. For example, the night after your robot is activated, if the autonomy is high, the robot will explore on its own, otherwise (if empathy is high?) it will stay and watch you sleep. There are many more examples like this and whenever I notice them, I really appreciate the effort the author put in. It is what make the robot come alive for me. I do not see the same level of details for other CYOA games and unfortunately, only the first few chapters of CoR have this level of detail.
Small decisions at the start have large impact much later down the road. For example using the cellphone battery will screw you up when war with China start and it is the straw on camel back that bankrupt me on my first play through. This is a really brilliant cascading mechanics that make CoR much better than other CYOA games.
Feedback. The one thing I hate about CYOA games is when the game present me with bland choice A, B and C. I look at them and wonder why I should choose one over another and suspect that none of the choice have any impact. One factor that make the first part of CoR so amazing is that nearly every decision I make at the first part of the game, I can see how it affect the stats of my robot. I get feedback that let me know I am indeed making a difference.
List possible endings/Set a goal at the start. If your game have multiple different endings, you better let me know so I have incentives to replay the game. I also need some hints on which decisions I should make differently to get those endings because I am sure as heck not going to have the time to try every permutation of dialog choice in the hope that you have hidden an ending there. A few hidden endings are fine, but don’t leave me in the dark completely. The starting dream of CoR is an excellent mechanics although the singularity hint is perhaps a bit too explicit.
CoR is of course not perfect. The story start to fall flat after the war. The attention to details is gone and I hardly feel any attachment to the companion bot I built. The most memorable part is when I taught my robot about death and even that part could have been stronger if it have connection to the first lesson on death when the father dies.
Lastly I want to add a general criticism I have for CYOA games in general. Language is imprecise. It is impossible for an author to communicate his/her intention via description and dialog options to the reader perfectly. And indeed, sometimes it is better for the communication to be intentionally vague as it allow the reader space for his/her own imagination.
However, I personally hate it when dialog options are vague on its consequences or which skill check it is trying to make. I dislike having to deduce or guess the intention of the author behind each of the dialog choice to make a decision. It is inevitable that misunderstanding occurs, or that the author’s interpretation of event/choice does not match with the mine and when it happens it ruins the play through. This is especially frustrating towards the end of the game because there is no save option.
Apologies for the huge wall of text, but I hope such feedback will help to make more games that are as good as CoR in quality.