A while back for my team’s developer blog, Sketch Quest, I wrote a few articles about the different aspects of player choice in video games (mainly ours) and how to properly make a player feel powerful.
This seems to have taken a bit of an estranged path as we’ve been handed a golden ticket – players don’t need to choose everything. This has (believe it or not) been quite a revelation for us, and has validated some original design opinions of mine. That being said, my opinion of the direction our game was different from the direction we ended up going, it’s only validated because it appears that the direction I wanted to head was actually the best way of making the game the rest of the team wanted.
Naturally, when a player is given a choice they take a little while to consider the options and make a decision. In the case of video games this decision is made only to give them the highest benefit, and is rarely a visual choice. Players are actually very intelligent when they’re given the time to think about a decision; I know, it caught me by surprise as well.
We’re often taught to treat the player like an idiot (I wrote an article about that as well) and that seems to be situational, and almost always only applicable to level design. When you give the player a choice you should always assume they’ll read through anything you throw at them, so taking shortcuts are a horrible idea when finishing a game.
Back to relating it to our own game – why would you give the player everything at the beginning? “We wanted them to be able to do anything they wanted” turns out to be a very unintelligent answer. If the player is given everything then there’s nothing to unlock, and no reason for the game to even exist except for as a sandbox. Players should only be given a limited amount of choice and they won’t know any better. You aren’t taking away anything from them, you’re just not giving them everything. It’s similar to when you use a cheat code in Pokemon to get your favorite creature at the beginning of the game – why the hell would you catch a Ratata?
We have lots of enemies, and we have a good number of levels, and we have a fair number of weapons. Issue – we don’t have any unlocks because “we wanted them to be able to do anything they wanted.”
Unlocks are now our key investment for the rest of the week – giving the player something to collect and use. They can still choose what the weapon looks like (they can draw them, all of them) and they have a choice of what ability to give it, but you just simply hide it’s existence from them.
Player choice and freedom is relative – if they know they have it, they want it to be theirs. Hide it from them however, and they’ll thank you for revealing it.