Thoughts on "Stat-less" Games? Semi-Defined MCs? And More

I have been thinking about it, one of if not my favorite IF game (I, the Forgotten One) completely lacks them. I have read dozens if not hundreds of people saying that having stats-based choices usually punishes people for playing dynamically… Why are there so few stat-less games? I don’t even mean truly stat-less, but rather percentage-less I guess?

This isn’t to say that you can’t have any character customization of course, but why are there not more games where instead of having to pick “Charismatic option” 100 times to be seen as charismatic, instead you can just select to be a charismatic character? Is it something other people also want to see more of too?

I ask this because that way, your character can act the way you want to and then you can select your choices freely without having to look up guides on ‘which stat does this raise again?’

What do you think of this extending beyond just personality/characteristic stats into romances? I had a few different ideas on romances. Like, The Soul Stone Wars and Wayhaven Chronicles both use a point system. I think that is pretty nice, but what are thoughts on just selecting attraction toward one another? I read a visual novel called Our Life: Beginning & Always (which I very much recommend) and they basically let you just select how the player feels, and the romantic interest reciprocates the MC’s feelings. I think one of my favorite things is that the Wayhaven Chronicles removes the relationship points once they are romantically interested so I can just freely interact with the RO without stressing about it.

Reason for my inquiry to the world:
I ask because I’m currently writing my prologue for my own story, and I’m debating dropping stats entirely in favor of given “traits” a player can select instead. Additionally, I am planning for a ‘trait tracking’ system so the player can at certain points be prompted, “You knew yourself previously to be Optimistic, but recent events have made your mood more dour. Would you like to swap to Pessimistic?” So if a player recognizes themselves to be making a lot of differing choices, they have the option to change but aren’t forced to.

The only problem I see is that for traits to matter, I’m going to have to do a lot of writing. Because it basically means wrtiing a variation for each version of the MC the player selects. I’d have to find a way to reel it in I guess, I’m mulling over it at the moment.

Note: Thanks for reading this bloody thing, I know it’s damn long. I just want some insight from others I suppose. Also, apologies if it is incorrectly tagged, just let me know!

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Personally, I’ve never minded personality stat heavy games in which choosing an option that “goes against my character’s build” punishes me. That being said, I do think personality is better implemented in flavor text than choices. After all, a jaded character won’t react to things the same way a ray of sunshine would, and I think it’s cool when you can read their thoughts about the same scene in text.

I say go ahead, this forum has always been about finding better ways to tell stories and frankenmeshing whatever we enjoyed about other authors’ stories into our own.

This sounds delightful :grin: I would love a mechanic like what you describe here.

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Personally, I’ve never minded personality stat heavy games in which choosing an option that “goes against my character’s build” punishes me.

I know some people don’t mind it, but for those it does bother it annoys them a lot because it turns a “choice” into something more akin to a punishment for the player if they don’t select the “right choice.” Especially when it can be at times unclear. I always just think “Why would you present a choice and spend time writing something that will just punish the player should they choose it?” At that point, you might as well just scrap that and make it a forced choice.

For me, I more dislike when a narrative has a stat check that is too difficult to solve without looking up a guide. I shouldn’t have to look up a guide to romance one of the interests. I feel if that is necessary, spending a little time to provide a small guide section for people who want it in your settings menu would be polite for people who want it but that is just my take :dotted_line_face: .

This sounds delightful :grin: I would love a mechanic like what you describe here.

I am beginning to feel more confident in the idea. It’ll be hard to do organically, but I think it’ll be more in introspective scenes for the MC. I just think it would be cool to allow it to change, without it being something forced on you (like how a traditional percentage system would make you pessimistic without prompting).

Reply to @DingDongBells :
I guess? Maybe? I think it gives the illusion of doing something more readily to players. Since you get to see a random number go up and down in response to what you are doing. I just want the inner monologue to fit better with the MC people imagine for themselves, since it’s been a pet peeve for me in stories where I have my MC act completely different in between choices lol.

I wasn’t intending on the traits making it so you can only pick specific options? The whole point is that what traditionally would be a “Charming” response is open to you, but now you don’t have to worry about managing the “Charming stat,” instead you can pick that one or any others.

Reply to @JBento :
I wouldn’t say it doesn’t matter, I think that the presence of them though is unobtrusive, really what I prefer is the replaced descriptors used for relationships in the second book on. Knowing how UB views the MC is really cool.

Reply to @dreamofeden :
What do you think of something like the “Important Choices” menu in Wayhaven for players to keep in mind what they did (if it’s significant enough to warrant mention).

Anyway, I think there might be a slight misunderstanding. When I was mentioning the trait tracking system I was referring to it merely tracking the type of personality choices you tended to make, basically a numerical track of your choices. If it reaches above a certain threshold, the reader can be prompted about if the MC has has felt a change in themselves over the course of the story.

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I’d argue that it’s because it’s just easier to incorporate numerically based stats into gameplay. Numerically based stats are usually all “Choose this, do that, get more points, and unlock these routes and scenes!” thus keeping the player involved with the game rather easily.

Now, the sort of stuff that you intend to go with for your story is harder to include. Why? Because it means you have to rely completely on writing and story-telling if you want more involvement for the MC within the story. You can’t just make half your choices ones playing around with numbers anymore. Instead, you now need to avoid a very stiffening and uninvolving sort of story-telling, one where each choice is practically done for you, as it is limited by your chosen trait.

That is, of course, if you treat it like a numerically based stat. Instead, the truly desired way you treat these traits is reserving them for certain things, and have it as a certain skill. Then, all the other choices would instead be personality choices, dialogue choices, branching choices, etc. Kinda like I, the forgotten one.

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Relationship points in Wayhaven don’t actually impact the realtionship, though. They’re only used to determine which member shows up in specific scenes before you pick out your path at the apartment. You can literally have 0 romance points with a Bravo and pick them as your romance, and nothing changes.

By which I mean, even BEFORE the points are removed, there’s absolutely no reason to truly care about them.

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I think there are multiple reasons there are few statless games.

For CoG, their mainline has a certain identity to it to make readers go “ah yes this is a Choice of Game”. I remember seeing a design document somewhere that had the requirements for CoG authors and one of those requirements were a certain number of stats that would affect gameplay.

For Hosted Games, I think its a case of, most of the games currently out and almost all of the popular ones use stats. Hosted Games authors, as far as I can tell, are almost always already fans of choicescript games before they start writing so it might be a case of “every work I like has x, y, z in it so my work should too”.

On the more technical side, its an easy way to incorporate branching and “challenge” without having to track every single decision as well as being easier to track than “has player done x and y or z” because I can imagine it would either get super restrictive (a player NEEDS to have made exactly x choice and y location) or result in extremely complicated if statements (if a and b or c and d etc).

From a reader perspective, especially for larger works, the stats are helpful because instead of trying to remember a choice you made (possibly days ago), you can just reference the stat sheet to get an idea of how you should proceed.

Additionally, its an easy way to provide minor customizations that people tend to enjoy. For instance, in Samurai of Hyuga, even though you take the same action with the same result, your stat leanings effect the flavor of the action (whether that sword strike that killed someone was all brute force or more of a skillful display).

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I like both variants, I can see the value regarding both, but stats (personality stats in particular) often stress me out a bit, I tend to check them almost compulsively to see if things changed in a way that I didn’t want, even if it was a small, personality-based thing. I really, really enjoy when personality stats give flavour text, and I really like your idea of the tracking system and prompting! I really don’t like it when I’ve decided on a personality for my character, and suddenly they’re acting completely different just because I clicked this instead of that a time or two.

When I wrote my game for this year’s Halloween jam I experimented a little. I wanted the player to be able to play as organically as possible without thinking about stats (they didn’t affect whether the player would succeed or fail, they just affected some endings and options,) so I simply hid them. Nobody needed to know what they were and that they were there, pick whatever you like and see what happens, pretty much. (It wasn’t personality stats, they were tracking some other things, though.) I’m not saying it was a good or bad idea, of course such things have downsides as well, but I liked doing it.

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Although I don’t really mind stats, I do mind personality stats when they punish you, or play a role in passing checks. I am of the belief that personality should have no role in passing checks. Forcing a character to play according to some personality will only restrict their freedom of exploration and ultimately make you question why you’re even making decisions for that idiot, making it feel like the decision wasn’t yours to begin with. Now that’s not to say I don’t like punishment at all, it’s just that I believe people should be punished for skill, not personality. After all, even the most diehard of optimistic people can have a serious off moment at any given time and have themselves A little outburst. That being said, I say go for your idea. I would even like to know the name of the game so I can play the demo, should there be one.

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I could see some edge cases where personality stats might actually reasonably have a role in passing a check (like, say, you’re trying to convince your loved one that you’re okay, but you’re acting… in a way that contradicts that), but generally, I agree.

I wouldn’t mind more games that don’t utilize stats. Actually, I might write one. I haven’t decided yet, but currently it doesn’t seem to have much use for them.

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With enough gyle, you should be able to convince your partner with no problem, or at the very least make them believe that there is another problem entirely.

I like these ideas. I personally love it when games have personality traits, because it helps me create interesting MCs to roleplay and also adds replay value. But I agree with what @Caronte said, it can get tedious to worry about making a choice in fear of ruining carefully built personality. So choosing traits in advance instead is a great idea, in my opinion.

Choosing romantic attraction manually also help with roleplaying. If you need to collect a certain amount of points for romance to trigger, sometimes you might have to break the character, because you need to choose flirt options to gather the points, but those flirts may sound out of character for the type of MC you try to play. It’s not really possible to include a dozen flirting options to fit all possible personality traits, so the best we can have is bold and shy variants, but those are too extreme for some personalities. And if the flirt options are not chosen, it can result in missing enough points to trigger romance or specific romantic scenes.

I think selecting attraction will also help make relationship more dynamic. Like maybe in a particular situation your character is not in the mood for flirting, so instead you choose different options. This can, for example, lead to funny situations if your character joking while RO is trying to be all suave; or if your character reacts negatively, it can lead to the conflict with RO, which also makes the relationship more realistic, it’s not always perfect after all. And the beautiful thing is that it will not stop your relationship from developing, because you’re already locked in with this RO, it will only make the relationship more nuanced.

Another reason why selecting attraction is a good idea is that it makes it easy to create “opposite attract” pairings, once again allowing disagreements to be a possible part of the relationship rather than hinder its development.

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While I do like both options, I think the stat-based choice of CoG is an iconic part of the “gameplay” of these games. It’s not a very in-depth kind of gameplay, but there is sometimes a sort of enjoyment I have found in trying to find out which of the options presented to me fits to my stats of “pulchritude”, “ennui”, “choleric” and “pithy”.

I exaggerate (a little - some CoG games have ludicrously confusing stats), but there’s some truth to the fact that I’ve sometimes felt compelled to re-play games to try different “builds” rather than necessarily to see different paths. However silly they are, they contribute to making these stories feel more like games than simply flicking through a traditional cyoa book.

Some games live and die entirely on the stat game over the story - I’m thinking of the Lost Heir and other games by that author, which turned the stat stuff into a sort of puzzle.

I think what I’d like to see now and then is a “statless” game where the the stats are still readable, but are entirely descriptive and optional, and don’t restrict my options. They won’t impact my choices, but I can still look up and see that from my choices the game has judged me “virtuous” and “allied with the orcs” or something.

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Like you, I love ItFO because of its lack of stats for the MC. Granted, the MC is more defined then in a lot of games, but I think it would work for somewhat less defined MCs as well.

Personally, I’ve always liked the idea of setting the personality in the beginning of the game. Whatever personality attributes are available should be available just to outright set in the beginning and should be used for flavor text. The constant up and down, back and forth with personality tends to drive me batty when I play a game–just because my stoic character gets emotional doesn’t mean she’s always emotional. It is likely situational or directed at a specific NPC/RO (something is triggered in her by an event or the RO that causes those walls to temporarily come down or brings about a burst of emotion). And that’s the kind of thing that should be noted by other NPCs or by the text itself. If your pacifist MC is suddenly willing to burn the world down, then it’s a noteworthy event that should be explored and questioned.

Personally, I love this idea. Given the MC a chance to be changed by events or allow them to state that their basic personality is the same, it’s just that particular events or people cause them to behave otherwise. This is very realistic, too, and makes for a richer story.

I would suggest limiting the number of traits you track, though. Having too many will either cause a lot of work for you that you may not want or it would result in ignoring some dissonance between traits and choices. If you aren’t going to acknowledge the dissonance, there’s no point in allowing the player to set the trait.

I don’t think it necessarily means a different variation for each version. Only where it’s important or where it has an obvious effect on the story/narrative/character thoughts. Not everything is a huge deal, after all (an optimist choosing a place to have dinner or which path to take won’t differ that much from a pessimist making the same choice if the choices are basically equal–however, if one path is dark and scary and the other is bright and innocuous, then the optimist and pessimist may argue about it!).

Anyway, as someone who loathes the constant back and forth of personality traits because a character makes a choice based on the situation rather than trying to keep to character, so to speak, I would definitely appreciate this. I’ve had to go back and restart games (even on series) from the beginning because my character is stuck on a path they would never traverse simply due to one choice they would’ve chosen in the moment. I’ve also been forced to code dive to keep my characters from suddenly becoming someone they aren’t because the author thinks a choice displays one personality trait and my MC (and I) disagree. It’s frustrating as hell.

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I want this game.

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It’s funny because I really don’t like ITFO (which is basically heresy on parts of this forum), but I do like its loosening of stats. As far as personality stats go, I’m not a big fan of setting personality at the beginning of the game because humans are functionally pretty dynamic when it comes to their personality. Sure, some people might have a crazy strong inner emotional compass, but it’s a normal thing for someone to wake up on the wrong side of the bed one day and then the right side the next.

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I think something like that definitely helps, especially with games that are multiple volumes (which could result in years of irl time in between books). Especially with things like Samurai of Hyuuga, keeping track of everything is exhausting.

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Reply to @EvilChani :
Would love some recommendations on what personality traits you think are important enough to justify the distinction. I know Optimism/Realism/Pessimism will be one (it changes how you respond to the world around you), and probably Introversion/Ambiversion/Extroversion. If there was only one other set of traits, what would you think they should be? If anyone else is reading and has ideas let me know.

Reply to @dreamofeden :
I honestly don’t know why more books don’t. Like, it isn’t that hard to implement, all you’d have to do was create like a dozen variables for important events for each book… It should take maybe an hour or two? But would provide a lot of value for players. Maybe just because it is not standard?

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My thoughts on this are that I prefer less stat heavy reads. Why? Well it takes away from the story for me. I get into this style of reading were I’m focusing on stat choices more than the story and I have no idea what I’m doing anymore. That could be a “me” problem because I have issues focusing but that is what affects me the most. To me stats limit me on my choices based upon how I think or act while I progress in the story.

Examples to me that focuses too much on stats is:

•Paranormal Preparatory School, I thoroughly enjoyed the story but the stat collection throughout the story drove me insane and I had to just put it down.

•Choice of Magics, I found story stats confusing and I had to look up a walk through in order to complete the story. Again this is just my opinion, I loved the story and I loved the charater interactions but going about the story with the stats just lost me a little.

I tend to read more stories like ‘Our life’, as mentioned above and ‘When the Night Comes’. It processes the story along without you being focused on stat collection. You the reader piece the story together with your own personality and thoughts rather than sticking to just stats. That is what originally got me into “Choose your own adventure books” because I get to decide what my story is rather than reading about a main character that I don’t necessarily agree with. It’s like the main character in a horror movie and they run into the burning barn, y’know?

Alright I babbled enough, thank you for reading this~

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Correct. Report to your nearest Inquisitor for mandatory reeducation.

In all seriousness, this is a topic I find really fascinating to discuss.

My general attitude toward writing Choicescript is that no “game” made with Choicescript will ever surpass a “regular” videogame. To be blunt, the engine simply isn’t made for it.

If I want to play an open world RPG, I’m going to play Skyrim or The Witcher. If I want to play a colony management simulator, I’d play Rimworld. If I want to play a strategy game, I’m going to play XCOM.

Where Choicescript (and IF in general) excels is in its ability to immerse the reader. It takes the storytelling potential of the written word and adds the interactive, immersive element of a videogame. It doesn’t take that much extra interactivity to greatly draw the reader in.

I find stats to be an unnecessary distraction. Simply put, I consume media to feel something. I don’t want to worry if my “deception” is too high or too low. I don’t want to manage each roll of toilet paper and bushel of food. There’s a reason that–in most stories–the nitty-gritty logistics are skipped over. It’s just boring.

It seriously doesn’t help that the stats themselves are often extremely subjective qualities.

Is it dishonest to lie to a child in order to protect their innocence? What does it mean to impulsive versus calculated? What does it mean to be stoic?

When done poorly, it feels as if it flattens the main character. People act differently when around different people. Being serious while on the job doesn’t necessarily make you a serious person. People can be largely stoic, but still deliver occasional sarcastic remarks. It feels unnatural to have a character who is always cynical or always impulsive.

They’re often my least favorite part of works I otherwise love.

One particular instance I can name comes from Guns of Infinity, which is probably my favorite IF book of all time. I found myself disliking the way Idealism vs Cynicism was handled. I had a very cynical MC who despised the war and found all the death unnecessary.

After the sack of Bolgia, I made sure to pick all the dialogue options that were against all the bloodshed. However, this increased my idealism, which kinda took me out of the experience. I was under the impression that the cynicism stat was reflective of the MC’s attitude toward the war, rather than just… in general. (Still loved the book, though)

Anyway, TLDR: me no like stats, especially personality stats

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I’m happy you responded to the thread! Honestly, the more I think about it the less interested I am in the concept. I think having true freedom to make the choices you want while still having attributes you can customize about yourself allows the most intermingling of characterization. You don’t ever need to make a decision purely so you can just pass a stat check later.

What particularly comes to mind for me is the Soul Stone Wars, I personally liked them, but the checks were pretty cutthroat and you basically didn’t really have actual combat choices because only one of your stats could ever be high enough to actually succeed in the fight. (You could deliberately lose, I suppose, but honestly I don’t like losing.)

I want your insight too, if you don’t mind me asking. If you had to pick 3 core characteristics for making a character? Like, I was thinking pessimism/realism/optimism, introversion/ambiversion/extroversion, and a third set I have yet to decide on. Wondering if you might have better ideas that I can pick from your brain.

EDIT:

I find stats to be an unnecessary distraction. Simply put, I consume media to feel something.

Also, editing to add that I 100 percent back this. I think a lot of the time I end up only building stats or looking up guides because I want to access story material otherwise impossible for me to get access to.

I was under the impression that the cynicism stat was reflective of the MC’s attitude toward the war, rather than just… in general.

I think this is something really valuable to keep in mind too. Honestly? I wish more games that have stats would actually explain the intent or their meaning (both so the author themself can fully process the intent of the stat and so the reader can understand what choices are likely to impact them.)

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