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Posts Tagged ‘choice’

It seems to me that games are built on choices.  I wrote at length about making mistakes a while back (still one of my favorite articles), and how that affects game design, but I wanted to run another tangent today.

Candyland is billed as a game, but the only choice you have is whether or not to play (barring metagame choices, of course).  Once that deck of movement cards is shuffled, the game is set in stone.  There are no choices to make in the actual gameplay.

So, what if we make some?

How about a simple one to start with?

Instead of taking the top movement card and obeying its prescription, you take the top two and choose which one to use, and the other is ignored and discarded.  (Alternate:  put the unused card on the top of the deck to add a layer of memory.)

This is still pretty rudimentary, but it does give the chance for players to look ahead and make an informed choice.  It’s a meaningful choice as game designers sometimes ask for, because you can only choose one of multiple options, and the choice is irrevocable, but it’s an informed choice.

So, how about removing some information?

Draw two cards and choose one without looking at either.  Move accordingly, then discard both cards.

Now it’s getting interesting.  It’s still a meaningful choice, but now it’s an uninformed one.  It’s still enough to make the game unpredictable because of player choice, and it gives a veneer of player autonomy… but it’s still largely random.  This isn’t much better than the core “game”, but the act of choosing at least starts to feel a bit more like the players have control.

So, maybe add a little Monty Hall flavor?

Let’s Make a Choice.  Draw three cards, reveal one, then choose one of the three cards as your move for the turn.  (Alternate:  Have the other player take Monty Hall’s position as arbiter of the cards and really play this parallel to the hilt.)

Well, well.  Now we’re digging into a classic game perception paradox, and really making choices matter.  This is a semi-informed choice, with a bit of “playing the odds” for spice.

Layering some complexity on top of the bare bones of the Candyland game gives a lot more potential for choices to be made.  Increasing the complexity doesn’t always help, of course, since giving players the choice of four or five cards with two rounds of choices is technically more complex, but in practice, it’s not really going to add much to the game.  The initial addition of choice to Candyland scheme has a much stronger effect on the game than simply pushing that implementation deeper for the sake of complexity.  The diminishing returns of that sort of increased complexity is something to be aware and beware of.

Alternatively, or in addition to any of these, one could splice in some chaos, and shuffle the deck after each turn.  This wouldn’t have a huge effect on the actual choices as individual events, but it would make the underlying game potential more chaotic.  The game state is no longer decided and set in stone at the game’s start, it’s in flux.  As far as any individual semi-informed choice is concerned, that flux is largely irrelevant (unless you start putting non-chosen cards back in the deck to be shuffled instead of discarding them), but the game on the whole has more going on “under the hood”.  That bit of churn adds ever so slightly to the game.  (Though probably not enough to justify actually taking the time and effort to shuffle that much.  The principle is more useful in digital games where “shuffling” is very low cost, relatively speaking.)

Such uncertainty imposed by randomization is a huge part of most card games, games that use dice, and even most computer games where there is a RNG under the hood fudging the predictability.  That’s usually a good thing, as randomness brings the potential for even more choices to a game, if harnessed properly.  When you have to constantly shift tactics and strategy in a game, it changes the choices you make.  Sometimes that’s desirable, sometimes it isn’t, but most games incorporate some sort of randomization.

Of course, randomness has to be bounded somewhat (another old favorite article), lest the design get completely out of hand.  Complete randomness makes choices all but useless, as a completely uninformed choice may as well not be a choice at all.  Without at least a vague sense of predictability and consequence, there’s not much to a choice, and not much to be learned.  Again, too much chaos pushes a game design into useless flailing.

Even too many choices can be paralyzing.  As useful as choice is to making a game a useful and fun tool of experimentation and learning, too many choices can paralyze or confuse players.  Too much intricacy and interconnectedness between choices can also cause trouble as players don’t really take the time to understand their own choices or don’t have sufficient feedback to understand what their choices mean.

Certainly there is room for complexity and chaos, but they must be wielded carefully.  Choice is, in my mind, a backbone of gaming, but it, too, can be used ineffectively or unhelpfully (and it may not even really be choice a lot of the time).  A little of all of these is perhaps necessary for a really great game, but finding the right mix is what makes game design an art… one that I appreciate and enjoy as both a gamer and a game designer.

It’s not an art that I’ve mastered, but I am learning to appreciate agency, psychology and creativity the more I dig into these things.  That’s part of why I believe games have a lot to offer… if they can manage to be more than exercises in foregone conclusions, railroading players or overly random gibberish.

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I can’t stand mustard or mayo on my sandwiches.  Almost every single catered party that I’ve had the misfortune to experience made the assumption that putting them on sandwiches is The Right Way.  It might be for somebody, but not for me, so more often than not, I simply don’t eat the sandwiches.  It’s not much of a loss to me (unless I paid for lunch as part of a package deal), but it is wasteful, and completely avoidable.  The caterer assumes that their way is the right way for everyone else, and winds up with a reality that doesn’t match their vision.

Similarly, I don’t like onions.  At all.  Almost every single homemade chili recipe uses onions, as do many, many other recipes.  Most “serious” cooks wouldn’t be caught dead cooking without onions.  I will not eat food with onions in it.

My sister and mother suffer from Celiac, a trouble with the intestines where wheat is damaging to eat.  Wheat.  “The Staff of Life” that almost every single recipe uses in one way or another.  Specifically, it’s gluten that is the problem, and that’s not just from wheat; gluten is nearly everywhere.  Celiac almost killed my sister, and it took many months to diagnose because doctors assumed she had “irritable bowel” or some such other handwaved and untreatable problem.  Luckily, she’s better now, but she has to be very careful about what she eats.

Many moons ago, a girl in my high school died because she ate a candy bar that had peanut oil in it, despite having no peanuts, and not advertising the oil.  The producers assumed it wouldn’t be a problem.

These days, food manufacturers are very careful to point out when peanuts are part of their product, or even part of the facility where their non-peanut products are produced.  Chex cereal recently reintroduced their Honey Nut Chex with a prominent label proclaiming that it’s “Gluten-Free”!  The assumptions are being challenged, and information is in a very real position to save lives.  The consumer is empowered, and can make intelligent decisions about where their money goes.

My utter contempt for onions and lesser disgust with mustard and mayo is far from life threatening.  It’s just a personal preference (albeit one with social ramifications, as gagging on a disguised onion can be a bit awkward).  Yet, it drives my consumer patterns just as my sister and mother are driven by their particular needs.  My concerns are mere quibbles compared to a potentially life threatening purchase.

And yet… consumer preferences do dictate the life and death of companies that cater to those preferences.  I do not patronize a restaurant that uses onions in all of their offerings.  I do not recommend caterers who assume that mustard and mayo must be used.  I go to Subway, Cafe Rio or Costa del Sol, where I can get food the way I want it, or I just forgo eating out entirely and spend my food money at the grocery store and do my own cooking.

Will my relatively paltry bankroll and less-than-highbrow tastes sink a company?  Not alone, no… but then, my consumption alone won’t keep a company afloat either.  Customer tastes usually need to be accounted for as a bit within a set of aggregated data.  Still, as a rule, there are plenty of companies that make a decent living by catering to variable tastes, like Subway or Blimpie.  There are also those that make a decent living with a one-size-fits-all, shut-up-and-give-me-your-$15 mentality.

There is room in a mature market for both types of company.  There is room for those who just want a vanilla product, whether it’s ice cream, clothing, a game or anything else.  There is room for those who want something a bit different.  Smart companies find ways to satisfy as many people as possible, to earn as much money as possible, presenting themselves in positive light to both sets of customers.  That’s the point of market segmentation, and giving the customer options.

Let the customer choose, and give them as many reasons as possible to choose your products.

This is why I am a big proponent of microtransaction models in the MMO genre.  I have no interest in a company-dictated grilled onion sandwich with mustard and mayo.  I do have interest in the game that makes no assumptions about what I want, and just gives me choices.  I’m a discerning customer.  It’s my money to spend, and I will do it how I please.

This is also why I don’t call for abolishing the sub model, since others have the right to their preferences.  I do call for a more mature market, though; one with clearer information, better clarity in what my dollar buys, and that offers me more choices than “take it or leave it”.  Such a binary choice does a disservice to the industry.

This is why I keep promoting ideas that offer players choices, and why I challenge assumptions about what “true MMOs” really are.  It’s why I’m tired of the DIKU model, and why I’m itching for something more than tired old mechanics and treadmills.  Yes, Blizzard and others can polish and make cosmetic alterations to tried and true systems, but it’s all just so much paint on a tired old foundation.  For those like me who have lost interest in the Way Things Are, more of the same isn’t going to drum up much interest, even if it’s polished to a high gloss.

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Some people remember the T-Rex or the lawyer from Jurassic Park.  What I remember most is the mention of Chaos Theory.  I understood the concept easily enough since I’d been tinkering with fractals since I was 12 or so, but before that film, I didn’t realize that there was a big “T” Theory behind it.  (Yes, that’s me, the art geek, figuring out how they did the effects and ruminating on science when any “normal” high school student would just be cheering the dinosaurs and wondering why Samuel L. Jackson was so quiet.)

Channeled Chaos

Channeled Chaos

What stuck with me the most was the notion of “bounded chaos”.  That’s more or less what fractals are, since they are recursive and iterative, generally staying within certain conceptual boundaries (most Mandelbrot “pieces” share similar structures, as do Julia sets, and so on).  They have bounds within which their recursion makes sense, so they aren’t completely irregular and chaotic (totally random), yet they have an element of randomness to them.  They are noisy (plenty of things going on, some that look random), but ultimately very patterned.  That dichotomy is fascinating to me, as a professional artist with deep interest in science.

To this day, Photoshop uses the Cloud and Difference Cloud filters, which bear a striking resemblance to some of the early 80s fractals that I experimented with.  Such semi-random (but repeating) visual effects are vital to making games, since we don’t have infinite texture storage space, but we don’t want things to look too patterned (since it would look too manufactured and obviously fake).  Repeating semi-random patterns are useful to add visual noise to a texture that repeats, breaking up the repetition and making for a more plausible final output.  The human eye is very good at discerning patterns, and it’s one of the game artist’s more interesting tasks to subvert that penchant.

Most computer generated art and “randomness” is actually very patterned (just by the nature of the medium; computers deal with bits with clear on/off states… true “randomness” isn’t a computer’s forte, though cryptographers make use of their computational power to fake it sometimes).  As it happens, so is a lot of nature, though it looks random on a macroscopic scale much of the time.

As visual beings, we’re used to this sort of “variable pattern” because we see it nearly everywhere.  From a distance, a brick wall may look very regular, but upon further inspection, each brick is different.  Our mind almost accepts this as a sort of visual shorthand, which is why we can cheat it often enough with repeating textures in games.  The mind is used to things looking regular sometimes, and assumes that there’s more detail than there really is.

One of the key derivatives of these notions is that variation does not require true randomness.  We’re actually OK with patterns, and in a lot of ways, they are how we survive.  (Witness the stress that comes when a daily routine is jarred, or big changes happen in life.)  We’re not actually built to handle a lot of randomness; it can paralyze us, and if life were completely random, we’d never really learn much, since cause and effect wouldn’t be predictable.

Short story long, as an artist and scientist, I’ve dealt with randomness and patterns for a long time now.  I see the strength in both (and the interplay between them), and am continually finding ways to use both for my projects.

This, of course, has ramifications for Game Theory.  The very nature of unpredictability is key to pretty much any game.

Mark Rosewater has a catalog of great articles, and a recent one caught my eye:

Kind Acts of Randomness

Mr. Rosewater argues that games require an element of randomness, but that too much randomness is detrimental.  Magic The Gathering is built on unpredictability, but many of the tools that players have are expressly designed to minimize or manipulate that unpredictability.  Some of the most powerful cards make things more predictable.  (Future Sight is one good example, as is Sensei’s Divining Top.  These are very powerful cards, and they deal with only a fraction of the unpredictability.)

Let me quote from the article:

Anyway, in the book, Jesse Schell defines numerous game design–related terms. His definition for fun was “pleasure with surprises.” His definition for play was “manipulation that satisfies curiosity.” And his definition for a game was “a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude.” Can you see the connector between these three definitions?

The answer is the unknown. Surprises are things that are unexpected. Curiosity is a desire to learn about things you don’t know about. Problem-solving is finding solutions that you are unaware of when you begin. At its crux, gaming is about discovery of the unknown.

I can’t recommend the article enough, and this is the heart of why.  This is why I keep coming back to the notion that players need to have the ability to make varied and significant choices in their games.  They need to be able to try different things, experiment a bit, and not be punished for it.  A good game gives players plenty of things to explore and ways to approach the content, and lets them loose within parameters.  Bounded chaos works for gamers as well as planetary rings.

Put another way, there’s the popular weaselspeak phrase “think outside the box”.  This is completely irrelevant if you don’t know where the box is.  You have to know where the boundaries are and what the parameters of a situation are before you can take significant action.  Complete chaos isn’t all that fun since there isn’t any measuring stick of progress, and no way to learn.  Players can derive their own meaning, but that can be onerous.

This is why even “sandbox” games still have a box around them.  There are rules and regulations, predictable functions within the game world.  Players are cut loose to go crazy within those parameters, but truly random chaos is not given free reign.

I tend to argue that too much constriction in game design can be stifling.  A game that is completely predictable isn’t fun for long.  That’s why I rail against class-based, level-heavy, gear-centric DIKU MMO design.  To me, the bounds they set for their chaos is too tight.  I’ll never advocate for a complete free-for-all mess of a game, though.  That would break things just as surely as a game on strict rails (a movie with a pause button?).

Players have fun with variety and experiencing the unknown… but they also want to be able to master it.  Setting clear bounds on the game design, even if it’s just internal (not given to the players), will go a long way to making the game work.

Another book I’ve read on game design reminds that changing player “verbs” is dangerous; if a Holy Hand Grenade +5 does 5D4 of Holy damage, it should always do that much damage. Changing how things work arbitrarily is the epitome of “gotcha” design, and it’s usually very poor practice because it takes away the player’s ability to predict things in a largely unpredictable world.  (Though, notably, horror games take advantage of just that.  It’s just annoying in most games, but “gotcha+mood=horror” in that genre, and the subtle psychological manipulation of player expectations is key to most successful scary games.)

While we’re at it, even the xDy notation of dice rolling implies bounded chaos.  You know that a 3D6 die roll (3 six-sided dice) will always give you a total value between 3 and 18.  You can plan around that.  A 4D4 roll will give values between 4 and 16, a narrower band, which might be more preferable than the wider variation of the 3D6.  Similarly, a 1D10 vs. a 1D4 + 6 will function very differently, despite the upper potential being identical.

This is the backbone of D&D, and countless derivatives and sister designs.  The ability to tune effects using this sort of bounded chaos is a great shorthand for the risk/reward notion that makes choices interesting.  Is a 1D30 spell better than a 3D10 spell?  Statistically, a 1D30 spell has an equal chance to do high damage as it does to do low damage.  On the other hand, a 3D10 spell’s statistical distribution follows a rough bell curve, with an aggregate higher chance to do decent (midrange) damage than either low damage or high damage.  (And it won’t even do less than 3 natively.)  The choice between the two is significant enough to be interesting, giving power to the player, but not chaotic enough to make game tuning and balancing a headache, or annoy the player with a string of unlucky and underwhelming “rolls”.

So when I call for a classless skill-based system in MMO design, I’m not calling for chaos, I’m calling for more choices for players within somewhat wider “bounds” than the mainstream DIKU strain.  Not coincidentally, more player choice in a multiplayer game means more interesting unpredictability (within bounds) for other players, for better or worse (I think it can be better, but it needs to be considered carefully to channel it properly).  Also, when I write about Autopilot Character Development, I’m talking about letting players take the reins a bit and control some of those bounds.  In a system that has a great deal of freedom, ACD would be a way for players who crave structure to impose it on themselves (and to shrug it off later, if they so choose).  MMOs in particular can take advantage of such a variable system, since players have different play styles, and even a single player might want to change their approach at different times.

It’s certainly a balancing act, finding a sweet spot of effective bounds to give freedom without invoking pure chaos, and every game will have its own set of bounds relevant to its game design, but it’s important to understand why you’re doing what you do as a designer, and to realize that both randomness and control have hugely important repercussions.  Players need variability (not true chaotic randomness), and they also need power to control it.

Other articles that I didn’t quite work in, but are relevant:

Randomness and Replayability

Replayability 1

Replayability 2

(Controlled randomness is important for initial play, but maybe even more so for replay value.  It’s also important for keeplayability, despite the generally higher level of player control that I think keeplayability needs.)

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Following up on a comment from Spinks over in the Dual Wield Healing comments, I’ve wondered for a while why “players LOVE classes”.  I suspect there are a handful of reasons, and I’d love to hear what some of you think.  I’m not really disputing that assertion, since I’ve seen plenty of evidence thereof, but I am always questioning why that might be, and if there’s an alternate way (or three) to scratch the underlying psychological itches.  While thinking a bit about those itches, I’ve been thinking of other ways to approach the scratching.

One game that I’ve looked to for good ideas is Final Fantasy Tactics.  FFT has character “Jobs” that function much like classes:  The characters have a core Job that defines their gear permissions (weapons and armor, anyway) and their primary combat abilities.  Soldiers are melee fighters, Black Mages are ranged magic cannons, etc.  Characters can learn abilities from their active “main” Job, eventually Mastering the Job.  They can also use skills they have learned from other Jobs to customize their approach.

Overall, I like FFT’s system, as it allows you to build up a character with a wide variety of abilities that cross-pollinate and synergize, but filters them through the ability to only use a handful at a time.  It’s a nice compromise between learning everything and making tactically relevant limited choices.  Players can make characters specialists or generalists, and anything in between.  This works largely because you tend to field a handful of units in any given skirmish, rather than just a single character.  You can build a team that works well as a whole, rather than just try to do everything yourself.

Battletech works in a similar fashion.  There are several different ‘Mech chassis designs, and several weapons to put in those ‘Mechs.  Players are encouraged to customize their machines by swapping weapons, armor, heat sinks and such, trying to optimize their machine (or team of ‘Mechs in some iterations of the IP) for how they play.  Certainly, there are “stock” configurations of the machines, but half of the fun of the Battletech universe is tinkering with the delicate balance of heat, ballistics, energy weapons, range, mobility, size, and half a dozen other aspects, trying to build the most powerful ‘Mech for its weight.  The stock designs are not usually optimized for greatest potential, which I suspect was intentionally done to give an impetus to tinker, and a reward for those who master the tuning system.

The rough analogue to MMO class design is the Battletech ‘Mech chassis, and the “spec” for a class (minor tweaks to how the class plays) are the loadout of the ‘Mech.  Of course, a MechWarrior need not be tied to a single Mech for his career, which is where the Battletech variability wins out over a class design; it’s like the ability to change your class (chassis) at a whim (or limited by experience/story permissions/bankroll, whatever), allowing for a much greater gameplay variety over the course of a single character’s “life”.  This is also where FFT shines; it allows a single character to change their class/spec/loadout often and completely.

I really like this sort of customizability, as I love the freedom it offers, and I can get more invested in my characters since they really are mine.  Their progress is dictated by my choice, and ultimately, those choices affect how I approach the game as a whole.

Still, that depth does put off some people.  I suspect that it would similarly put off people in MMOs who LOVE their class and can’t imagine playing anything different.  It’s a lot to keep track of, and some people don’t want to bother with learning that much.  There’s nothing wrong with that.

*Quick tangent… I also see class distinctions as yet another way to artificially extend playtime, since you can’t take an existing character and just change their class like you would a Job in FFT.  You must start a whole new character and grind through the levels.  The ability to change your class completely in an MMO doesn’t rob you of identity any more than the ability to change your spec or gear.  It’s your character, and you can always just stick with one class, even if there are options to change.  When there are no options, though, the player interested in exploration of game mechanics is unduly forced to jump through altitis and grind hoops.*

One of the game designs that I’ve toyed with in the last few years is a Tactics-esque game that has a FFT/BT level of depth for character customization, but has what I’m calling Autopilot Character Development.  For those who don’t want to make those choices of how to build a character, there would be “templates” that could be assigned to a unit, automating that progress, allowing the player to just focus on the tactics and strategy inherent in a larger campaign/storyline.

For example, a unit might be given the Scout Template, which would automatically assign them to the Scout class for a while, as it learns some Scouting abilities, then later, assign it to a Ninja class where it can learn some greater evasion and attack abilities.  At any point, the player can turn off the Template and take control of the progression, but if they just can’t be bothered with the minutae inherent in the system, the Autopilot lets them get on with playing the upper-level game.  (Here “upper-level” meaning higher concepts, like tactics and strategy, not high unit level.)

Put another way, this sort of Template system could be overlaid on an open skill system to create a loose sort of “streamlined” class-based system.  UO could become Diablo, as it were.  The key here is that you would always have the option to go back and take the reins, mixing and matching to make your Scout dabble in magic or your Barbarian toy with bows.  This, of course, means that you would also be able to change pretty much everything about the character, from the most basic stats (the prototypical SRT, DEX, whatever) to skill levels to combat skillset (a limited set of usable abilities, like the FFT system).

Is it a lot to keep track of?  Of course it is.  Is it a lot to dig into and potentially have fun with?  If done well, definitely.  Is it good design?  I think so, largely because of the experience I’ve had with games.  (Of course, this mostly applies to those games that require a huge investment of time and character building.  Team Fortress 2 and Smash Bros. work because each round of playing with a class only takes a few minutes.  When that play session extends to hours, weeks and months, it’s onerous to think of “replay” as “rolling another class”.)

I played Titan Quest through as a Sage, a Hunter/Storm ranged DPS machine.  I used Hunter as my “main” class because arrows are infinite, and I could attack at range without burning through mana reserves.  I used Storm to augment that plan, buffing my offense with elemental punch, making my basic ranged attacks sufficiently powerful to kill all but the hardiest enemies long before they got to melee range to bother me.  Ranged enemies went down even quicker since I had great range and high damage… and they were typically slow casters with little defense.  I had a blast, but once I finished the game, I wanted to try another class build.

I didn’t want to spend the time grinding through the lower levels of the game building up a new character, though, playing old content just to see how another class would approach it.  So I found a little program called the TQ Defiler.  It let me edit my character, changing his class to anything I felt like.  I would not have played the game as much as I did without that freedom.  In my younger, stupider days I might have jumped back in with another character from the very start, but with life constantly intruding on my gaming time, I don’t have that luxury any more.  Of course, the TQ Defiler also allows for other sorts of hacks which make the game much easier or harder, but the part that interested me was the class swapper.  There is a “respec” option in the game, but it only allows you to change the way you’ve allocated your skill points, not change your class or secondary, and the cost in game currency increases with each use of the service.

Why?  What does that add to the game?  “Replay value”?  In my time-constrained world, playing through the same content with a different approach is pretty low on the replay value scale.  Yes, it’s technically “replay”, but the bulk of that sort of replay is just repetition, which never sits well with me.  (Mostly because DIKU design is very repetitious to start with; repeating the repetition just gets too stupid too fast.)

“Class identity”?  Thing is, if you have the option to change, you don’t lose that identity; those classes and builds are still there, you just gain the ability to make more choices in the game.  Remember, I like choices.  Purist players in a freeform system will always have the choice to stick with their initial choice, but it doesn’t work the other way; those who want freedom can’t drag it out of a class system without a hex editor.  (Which is effectively making the game behave in ways it wasn’t built for, but arguably should have been.  That sort of hacking doesn’t work in MMOs, since the admins tend to frown on it, banhammer in hand… understandably so, if disappointingly so.)

In a freeform system with Autopilot, you could let the Templates handle the minutae of maintaining a “class identity”, and just go ahead and play your class.  Those who want to do something more freeform could use the Autopilot a bit, or just go all in and do their own thing.

Guild Wars already has something somewhat like this with their Build Templates that you can save and load when you do your “free respec” thing in any town.  They are shorthand precooked “builds” that can be used at any time you would respec, so you can quickly change from a “farming” build to a “questing” or PvP build.  You can also change around your “attribute” numbers willy nilly, to accent your particular build of the moment.

I’m just extending the concept to push that freedom into more aspects of the game, all the way down to the most basic of character customization, the “class” choice.  I’ll reiterate, though, I’m talking about adding choices, and adding an Autopilot for those who want the more constrained experience.  This system wouldn’t destroy the ability to make a killer Rogue or buffalicious Tank, it would augment the game as a whole to allow for more variety and player ownership of one of the few things they truly can control; their character or team.  And yes, this design ethos would apply equally well to a Tactics team-based game as to an MMO.  Any game that uses classes or jobs could benefit from this sort of freedom.

I know, some people wouldn’t like that sort of freedom.  Some want strict predictability and/or relatively simple decision making.  That’s the point of the Autopilot, to let those players just get on with playing the game.  For those who want to dig deeper, though, why not let them do so?

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Dangerous Toys

Shamus has another great article up, this time using GTAIV and Saints Row 2 to illustrate the difference between gaming on rails and games that allow the player to make choices and experiment.

GTAIV vs. SR2: Missions

I’ve written about choices in games before, and I suspect I’ll do it again, but it’s nice to see someone else doing so, and finding concrete examples to do so.  I’m decidedly not a fan of this sort of game, since my inner thug is plenty (over)satiated with the mayhem and murder in MMOs and JRPGs, but the “sandbox” nature of a “toolbox” game is appealing, at least in the abstract.

Perhaps that’s why The Incredible Machine is still among my most beloved games.  For me, the best games give you a goal, some tools, and allow for multiple solutions.  They get bonus points for allowing players to define their own goals, and create emergent gameplay.

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I loved Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords.  I’ve been looking forward to its “sequel”, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix.  Tobold wrote about it a bit ago, and I’ve been reading other reviews.  I’ve noticed a few interesting things that pop up pretty consistently regarding luck vs. skill, and the class system in PQ:Warlords vs. the lack of one in PQ:Galactrix.  Since I also write about MMOs, it’s probably not too hard to see how these might apply.  The post title might be a bit more obscure, but remember that I consider games to be all about choice, and MMOs to be perhaps the best genre to explore certain choices.  (This is a bit sprawling, weighing in at over 2400 words, so I’ve amputated it a bit here with a link.  I’m still toying with finding the sweet spot for doing that.) (more…)

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BBB wrote a great post that deftly touches on a number of aspects to the modern world of WoW, and how it has changed from the Burning Crusade days. I’d suggest a quick read over here:

Is WoW Stronger than Ever?

I love physics. Quantum physics are especially interesting, and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle drives a lot of weirdness. One of the most interesting thought experiments based on the theory is the plight of Schrodinger’s Cat. More than once, I’ve wondered what application this might have to games. Much of it comes back to the concept of predictability, and just how much of it we actually want. (more…)

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