Games are all about choices. The famous game designer Sid Meier is often quoted (or misquoted, depending on who you ask) as saying, “Good games are a series of interesting choices.” That’s great in the abstract, but I’ve recently been asking myself, “What’s an interesting choice?”
As often happens when I ask myself questions, I give myself answers. I would say that an interesting choice is meaningful, informed, and limited.
- Meaningful Choice: Some choices in games just don’t matter: whether you’re X or O in tic-tac-toe; or the color of your character’s eyes in a computer RPG. None of these choices move you a step closer to victory. Other choices do move you down the victory trail, but are so obviously the correct choice as to be no choice at all. (“Do you want to play the card that will score you 10 points, or give it to your opponent?”) These are two extremes, but neither are particularly meaningful.
- Informed Choice: The players should know what effect their choice will have on the game. Asking a player to blindly choose between Door #1 and Door #2 with no clue as to what’s behind those doors is unfair to the player, and unfun if the door she chooses has a hungry tiger behind it. (A real challenge with this issue is that new players will never be as informed as experienced players, and some choices that look blind to newbies actually have effects that become clear over the course of the game. You can address this by adding more tips and examples to the rulebook, but that adds to rules bloat, so that’s not always the right way to go. Like I said, it’s a real challenge.)
- Limited Choice: Ah, the classic problem of analysis paralysis — that phenomenon when a player is so overwhelmed with choices, his turn takes forever as he ponders the ramifications of every choice he could make. Now some players are just slow (*sheepishly raises hand*), so you can’t avoid this altogether, but it’s something to keep in mind. If possible, don’t front-load the choices, but let the player’s decision tree grow over time.
Obviously, I’m just scratching the surface here, mostly talking to myself as I try to turn vague game-design proverbs into somewhat practical advice. Have I succeeded? Try out the newly-repaired comment box below and let me know.