What makes choices feel impactful?


#1

Apologies if there is already a wealth of knowledge on this topic, but I’m struggling to finalise some of the mechanics in my game idea.

I don’t want to rely on stats, where
a) you either can or can’t do it (with the game making it obvious or not). An example being, a player with high stealth being given the option to hide in the cupboard. It can also be that the option is greyed out for a player with insufficient stealth.
b) the way forward becomes either obvious or fixed, due to the stats that you have.

I’m trying to create a dynamic game which responds more to the type of choices you make to determine which content you see next. For example, an inquisitive player may discover an additional mystery whereas a passive player may have an interesting character come and visit them. Neither is wrong, but both are inherently different. But also that the inquisitive player will experience greater success by being inquisitive (but isn’t prohibited from being passive).

The challenge I can see is that the mechanisms that determine change are too hidden and the player feels unable to dictate their path. It can also fall victim to me trying to dictate how an inquisitive’ player should play. Also, what about a player who does not consistently (want to) stick to one play style.

I have some ideas for this, but wanted to gauge the general consensus on what people feel are meaningful choices.

  • Do you want/need to know the impact of all your choices?
  • is it practical to have hidden processes determine what happens next?
  • do players enjoy playing a role all the way through, or are they too erratic and stats function better to guide people as to what they can and can’t do
  • what is the best way for determining combat outcomes? Would a semi random outcome contingent on the choices made in the fight, plus did the player act according to their strengths work? Example, an aggressive player charges forward and attempts a massive blow would have a higher chance of success than if they tried an ambush? Or is it better to stick to raw stats?

Not sure I explained everything clearly. Essentially I want a game where choice affects everything but without making it linear in terms of which future choices are best.


#2

There’s been a thread on this (can’t find it for the life of me though. There’s the thread about if HeroesRise is a InteractiveFiction or not, which also covers a lot)

but iirc the general consensus was that choices should form the character and the world around them. The story should not progress the exact same (except for minor, irrelevant bits of flavor text) regardless of how one plays.

But more in the other threads.


#3

Oh, when it comes to this, I always remembered folks like @ParrotWatcher and @MeltingPenguins announce “Don’t make a quiz choice!” :laughing:

They’re right, though.

As for the impactful choice topic, I believe it’s all about give-and-take. Risk-and-reward. Gain-and-lose.

There got to be a stake on every choice, but not all stakes are necessarily high. The classic case of this is “save one and kill the other,” although I feel that’s a cheesy example. I might as well go for the extreme “save them all but fail miserably,” or “don’t save them at all.”

I’ll let you decide what your choices will be and what are the stakes. Be creative, and be crazy!


#4

No, not necessarily. Choices don’t necessarily have to impact stats or suchlike, but a reader needs a general idea of the purpose of a choice. If the reader picks from two seemingly identical choices to find themselves driven on wildly differing paths, that’s something they would want to know about.

I’m not exactly sure what you mean, but hidden processes form a good part (or maybe all) of the gameplay in Choicescript games. And many functions do determine the flow of the story.

It depends upon the player. Some players would change the role they play multiple times due to more information gained about the world or other reasons. Some players stick to a role. I wouldn’t recommend having everything be stat-based since as you mentioned, players can change how they play. For example, a player making conflicting choices may not be able to amass enough of a stat to pass or fail a challenge.

This depends on the type of game you want to write. Some games would benefit from the random element, some would favor stat min-maxing, some would use many different factors. Personally, I like the way combat is handled in @nauhziy’s The Gladiator: Road to Colosseum because even though a random element is involved, playing to your strengths and defending your weaknesses is encouraged, similar to a real fight.


#5

It’s really situation dependent. Sometimes it’s nice to know, sometimes you don’t need it. As with the example of the cupboard, I sometimes like to give the reader a idea of the pros and cons that might happen. For example you could have:

#Hide in the cupboard. It’s your best hope at remaining unseen, however you’ll be trapped if they realise you’re there.

is it practical to have hidden processes determine what happens next?

Sure, use *if commands in the background to control what the player is seeing without an obvious choice happening to change it. I sometimes use hidden stats that the player doesn’t know about via the stats screen as well that has been set by prior actions.

do players enjoy playing a role all the way through, or are they too erratic and stats function better to guide people as to what they can and can’t do

Depends on the player, but there can be a bit of a backlash against games that make you pick the same types of answers over and over in order to get through a game successfully. (ie if you start picking options to increase your strength, you have to continue to do so because if you generalise in your skills you’ll fail at the end.)

what is the best way for determining combat outcomes? Would a semi random outcome contingent on the choices made in the fight, plus did the player act according to their strengths work? Example, an aggressive player charges forward and attempts a massive blow would have a higher chance of success than if they tried an ambush? Or is it better to stick to raw stats?

Up to you on that one, but do look at the reviews for the recent baseball game that apparently leaned quite heavily on the RNG which can frustrate players. (I haven’t read it, just going by the reviews.) Got to be careful as although it’s game, it’s also a book and people don’t want to have to re-read the entire book over and over if the RNG isn’t co-operating.

Edit: Ninja’ed by EclecticEccentric :slight_smile:


#6

The “save one, kill the other” can be done horribly wrong, too, as (sorry) demonstrated by HeroesRise:

Not just at the infamous sidekick/reporter thing were only the reporter will die after the game doesnt allow you to even pick her if you played the game "right"
But also even more blatantly in the latest installments where the game punishes you for… trying to show common sense and human decency.
You are a ‘private’ person? You must blackmail your best friend. Not that it matter anyway, as the game railroads around to the same outcome, as always.

So… long of the short:
Don’t write choices like that.


#7

Impactful choices are choices that the player cares about and can see most of the options as acceptable choices, but can’t reasonably do all of the choices at once. You need a good backstory, so the player cares about the choices. If I have to choose which character to save, but I don’t care about any of those characters, that’s not an impactful choice. Make options have some pros and cons that appeal to different play styles (the hero, the villain, the chaotic player, etc.) and can accomplish different goals.

All choices don’t have to have a direct or immediate impact on the game. ‘why did you do that?’ character building choices are good even if they don’t really change anything.

You can use hidden stats or random die rolls to impact events, but some readers may assume the story is linear because there is no clear ‘go on story path A or B’ choice and they’d be less likely to replay and see all the work you did.

Play styles can differ. If the game suddenly reveals that the ‘good’ group I was working with were actually the bad guys, or the main enemy was just an innocent pawn, I’d probably like to change sides.However, It would be reasonable for the NPCs to know the MC’s reputation and be suspicious of dynamic NPCs.

A lot of randomness in combat is not good as it takes the choice from a choice game (unless you have a clear luck stat or something). There should always be multiple ways to win, or at least not instadeath. Combat could be based on a combination of skills, logic, maybe party member relationship (so, they could save you from complete failure or sabotage you), and shouldn’t be too RPG grinding ish, because that can get repetitive and not fun.


#8

Do you mean before or after? Before, it might make sense to let the MC think about what possible consequences may be (but without actually knowing what would happen). After, there may be consequences not immediately obvious which only arise later in the plot.

I’m not sure what you mean by this… :confused:

I enjoy playing a role, but I also enjoy being allowed to “deviate” from that role without being punished (as quite a few games seem to do…)

No random outcomes. This isn’t a good medium for an RPG, and the same set of choices should always have the same outcomes.

Also, as @Szaal said (:stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: ) don’t make it a quiz where every question is “what’s your highest stat?” If I’m playing a mage, there shouldn’t be only one “Use magic” choice; there should be several. Likewise, a fighter shouldn’t just have “Fight” or a bard, “Sing”.

I wouldn’t say that every choice needs stakes – some could just be for flavour – but some certainly do.


#9

I don’t necessarily mind games that are basically “what are you good at, now always make choices that align that way” but they’re kind of the least interesting to me. I mean, say I decide to go the science/technology route, it’s then pretty obvious that any time I need to figure out how to get out of a situation that the tech option is the one I should pick. I still have fun with them but it often feels fairly bland. I really like unexpected outcomes, like a route you can only get to by “failing” at something, and since I really enjoy roleplaying a character I have in mind all the way through, at least for a first playthrough, I don’t like it as much if you basically “fail” your character by not always picking the same types of options. I’d like to see more rewards/choices/fun stuff given for being decent at a bunch of things instead of amazing at one thing.


#10

Thanks for all the thoughts. I wrote the original post in a bit of a hurry while the thought was on my mind. I’m going to give a general overview of what I am thinking about doing/trying to do. It might explain the thrust of my questions better.

At the core, I want to design a choose your own adventure, not a choose your own adventure story. The focus is more on the choices and succeeding, rather than playing through a pre-set (albeit changeable) story. So that not only do you get a very different experience from different choices, but in replays, you also get a different experience from the same choices.

Without going into great length, my vision for this was to create a large number of ‘scenes’ (which themselves will branch off several times, but form their own contained scenario). Players move between the scenes in a semi random fashion - the premise of the story is a trial set in a wood, you simply have to reach the end. The default scene is you deciding which way to go, then a scene is selected at random.

Imagine 5 wheels inside each other, each wheel containing an array of scenes. The first wheel spins and if it scores a hit, it plays that scene. If it misses, the next wheel spins. All the way to the last wheel, if that misses, then a random default scene plays). The random element a) makes the game different every time and b) balances the occurence of scenes from each of the 5 wheels.

Crucially, the scenes that are available on some of the wheels, in any given play through, are dictated by the choices the player makes - this is where I am struggling on where to strike the balance. Some of the wheels contain scenes that must play (at some point), to give the game an overall structure.

I would like a player who takes an aggressive approach to the game (seeking conflict, not caring for pleasantries and eager to jump into combat) to a) be given an array of scenes that complement their play style b) be given some scenes that challenge their particular play style and c) for the best outcomes to arise out of them playing to that play style. I was thinking that at the end of character creation you are given a small profile that outlines your traits/preferred approaches?

Conversely, I don’t want there to be an optimum solution each time (aggressive player hits man with axe). I suppose this comes down to clever writing, ambiguous choices and plenty of choice. I was also thinking of implementing a semi random element to some choices (e.g. dice rolls 1-5, with 1 being terrible and 5 being amazing; if the player makes a good choice and/or is playing to their strengths, then the dice rolls are modified).

Plus, I don’t want it to be stat heavy - which may make it tricky as the player not be aware of the labels the game is assigning to them. The game may consider them ‘aggressive’, but halfway through they are low on hp and begin to play more passively. Or they may simply be playing moment to moment and have no particular strategy and then feel punished for hiding in a bush.

The game I have in mind is a simple survival (get to the end of the wood alive), so it may be that choices don’t have to be succeed/fail and instead sit on a small continuum where you are used to losing hp here and there and therefore losing hp does not feel like you were punished for a particular choice.

I know what I want to do, but it’s coming out as either too linear with the ‘right’ choice being obvious and no way to punish the player without a) doing it randomly or b) having pre set events that always punish - therefore a linear game which can be learned. Or it’s seeming too wishy washy, with too much going on behind the scenes which leaves the player a little bewildered and prone to be poked by sticks they can’t see

Or perhaps I’m overthinking it? Would my fluid ‘game presents scenes based on your previous choices and success lies in broadly sticking to your characters traits’ work?


#11

Hopefully this post is approved after my wall of text. If this post is first, then it appends to my second post.

These are the weapons I had in mind. Picking one would shape the traits of your character. The traits would be hidden (potentially an overview of your traits may be given at the end of character creation).

So the first section would be in the main text, and the second would be the option list (potentially without the actual traits afterwards - relying on the description in the text to guide the player).

There would then be several other choices as part of character creation that feed into these and some other traits.

A claymore (two-handed great sword) – Used by individuals to command the battlefield, attacking at every opportunity, with little regard for much else.
A rapier (long, slender sword) – Used by agile individuals who take the fight to their opponents, they seek to out maneuver their foe to deliver a crucial, fatal blow.
An arming sword and shield (long sword) – Used by individuals to balance offence with defence, they can fight for extended periods, awaiting the right time to strike.
A Glaive (polearm with edged blade) – Used by individuals who prefer their enemy at a distance, they find it hard to strike a killing blow, but can control the flow of battle.
Crossbow (powerful, slow bow) – Used by individuals who do not initiate fights, by know how to end one quickly, with deadly consequences.
Recurve bow (fast, regular bow) – Used by individuals who can maintain their distance and dominate a fight with a flurry of arrows; they are skilled at keeping melee fighters at bay.
Dagger and bolas (two weights connected by a chain) – Used by individuals who prefer to stack the odds in their favour, striking at time of their choosing.
Quarterstave (blunt wooden polearm) – Used by individuals who want to deliver crushing blows and can fight for extended periods.
Staff (magical) – Used by individuals who have a spark in their veins; tending towards rash action, but able to spot a good opening for their wild attacks.
Nothing – For individuals who want to be in the thick of a fight and feel an enemies skull between their hands. Experts at wrestling and controlling their foe.
Net and spear – Used by individuals who want to incapacitate their attacker before taking charge and dispatching them with ease
Poisoned darts and traps – Used by individuals who do not seek conflict but are well prepared to rapidly dispatch those who do come seeking it.

Claymore aggressive, dominant, impetuous
Rapier aggressive, dominant, nimble
Arming sword and shield (long sword): defensive, adaptive, stamina
Glaive (polearm with edged blade): defensive, passive, control
Crossbow (powerful but slow to reload): opportune, passive, assassin
Recurve bow (quick to reload): opportune, dominant, nimble
Dagger and bolas (weighted balls on a chain): opportune, adaptive, assassin
Quarterstave (blunt wood polearm): aggressive, dominant, stamina
Staff (magical): opportune, adaptive, impetuous
Nothing: aggressive, dominant, control
Net and spear defensive, opportune, control
Poisoned darts and traps: defensive, passive, assassin


#12

Have you started writing it? Maybe the wheel scenes could be seen as ‘mini-episodes’ within a set framework, e.g. all players have to come across the lake, but the quieter players have the chance of getting a fishing scene whereas an athletic player has the chance of getting a swimming fighting-off-fish scene or something. That way if a reader replays it, it doesn’t feel completely random.

Now as for the reader feeling that their choices have been impactful, I reckon that you should have a max limit on the number of scenes that challenge their play style to a point where it’s clear the game recognises the reader’s preferred style and the challenge is realistic. (Controlling the statistical probability of a reader having over a .5 rate of coming across these scenes, for example.)

Part c) is the worrying bit. By making it so that they have to play to that style you’re not allowing for change (yes, they have chosen a weapon, but it’s discrete, not dynamic, not necessarily allowing for the fact that personality is fluid and situation based) so some choices in which they deviate from their set ‘playing style’ might feel ignored. I guess this depends on how you do character creation - if they were mini scenes covering a variety of scenarios vaguely resembling the bigger scenes later on, then you’d have a more accurate gauge of type of response in each type of scenario, and tailor the scenes to that. That would make choices feel like they have more impact, both in character creation and later on should they choose to deviate form main playing style.

Hope that makes sense, and apologies if I’ve misunderstood something.


#13

Okay, I can see your problem now since you are going more for a game-game than a story-game.

If I were you, I would start inwards going out. Planning what structure you want around character/scenes/choices on a grand level is one thing, but you risk running into a brick wall when you try to implement it in a scene. This sounds like it will be heavily fight based, so I suggest you start there.

Make a single challenge. Make a single fight. Don’t worry about how it will connect yet, just what you need to make it an interesting and fun fight. Start with some assumptions (I am writing this for an aggressive MC with a rapier), and then slowly expand the scene. It’s usually really hard to know from the start what kind of stats and choices you need, a lot of the time things can/have to be merged, and new things you didn’t think about will pop up once you start writing.

SO do that. Make a single scene work and everything will be cast in a much clearer light.


#14

As @EclecticEccentric mentioned, I did implement an RNG stat check in my game for some scenes to just throw in an element of luck into the game. It was an experiment and as with all things, there were some people who liked it and some who didn’t.

What I learnt was that it has to be within the realm of reason. As in real life, it doesn’t make sense if you have max strength stats, but be unable to lift a hammer. (unless it’s thor’s hammer hahaha). On the other hand, even if you are highly skilled with javelins, you might not hit your target 100% of the time.

So I really think what’s important is giving the player the option to choose, but having RNG play a role in specific, realistic ways. I wouldn’t go with the full RNG approach unless it’s frivolous, or a bet/dice roll/gambling etc. Because this means that the player doesn’t get to influence the outcome in any way. Negative impacts from RNG decisions that significantly derail a player’s experience can def be off putting.

Imagine if you had max strength and a RNG causes you to lose an arm wrestling match with a scrawny kid! That kind of stuff could throw a reader off and really kills the immersiveness. It’s a bit exaggerated here but I hope you get what I mean!