Thoughts about choices without path to success?

Thoughts on the scenario in first post?

  • I disapprove, and I wouldn't continue playing.

    Votes: 1 4.0%
  • It's okay, but I dislike it.

    Votes: 8 32.0%
  • I'd be fine with it.

    Votes: 14 56.0%
  • Failure is my way of life.

    Votes: 2 8.0%

  • Total voters
    25

Milennin

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To give a simple example of this, what if a game presents you with a scenario that has 2 characters (that the MC has an attachment to) attacked by monsters, but you are able to save only one of them. So, by the time you beat up the monster attacking one of them, the other would have been killed. Would you be okay with this, or do you prefer a game to give you the chance to rescue both of them? Do you think it's okay for a game to force you down a path of failure?
Looking for some personal thoughts on the matter, maybe some examples from games you've played, or if you made such a scenario in one of your games and how people playing it reacted to it.
 

snow91

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I think it depends. There are certain moments where a tragic event needs to happen to make a drastic change for the main character to help him progress somehow. I often hear ppl complain about not beeing able to have a possibility to change it though.

If you have a game which involves tons of choices, i think its fair enough to give a chance to let the player save a character he might fall in love with. But if its just a story, i think its unnecessary to give such an option^^
 

XIIIthHarbinger

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I would say that player choice without consequence is fundamentally meaningless, both as a mechanic, as well as a narrative element.

When you choose to divest the protagonist from the trope of the ubermensch who can always just punch his way to victory, & will always come out on top by virtue of being a hero, that is at the very least not a bad thing, & more often than not a good thing.

The player being invested in a choice by being granted power over the choice, & that choice manifesting consequences both intended & not, adds weight to the decisions. While the choice producing the same "happy ending" outcome, regardless of the decision made, robs the decision of meaning.

Understand I am not saying every decision should be a sacrifice, when the player is forced to make a sacrifice, the sacrifice should have meaning. In the original Mass Effect the choice between Kaidan Alenko & Ashley Williams is meaningful because you've spent hours journeying with them & getting to know these two characters. You've developed their abilities, equipped them with weapons & armor, & spoken with them on multiple occasions.

I think the majority of decisions should involve at least one option to get the "happy outcome" as it were, but also involve potential routes to undesired consequences. Choices where no matter what, they will sacrifice something should be a minority. Both to give such moments greater impact, as well as to overburden the player with the sense that they "always lose".

However, there are of course exceptions to that as well. For example if your player is intended to be in an "Alamo" type scenario, & the choices of the story are not in gaining victory, but how they face the inevitable defeat.
 

Henryetha

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Well, The Walking Dead (Telltale Game) has exactly what you're describing.

Me, as a player, don't like it in that moment.
On the other hand, it makes me feel closer to the character I "saved".

So.. if implemented well, it can be a pretty good mechanic.
 

megumi014

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I usually like those kind of moments in game, but I think it really depends on when it happens and for what reason.

The first game that came to my mind was Mass Effect, in which you have to do exactly what you described, but it happens fairly early in the game. I remember it didn't really affect me, because I hadn't had much time to get to know the characters. In the end I made the choice based on their combat class, rather than my attachment to them. Still, it made sense in the plot and I liked the development of the scene. On the other hand, in Mass Effect 3 you have to make way more decisions and, by that time, I was so invested in the characters that I suffered every time I had to make one lol

If it is a game like the Fire Emblem saga, where you can lose your units if they die because you make the wrong decision/strategy, I prefer to play in easy mode and don't lose them, because I see no point, no reason, in the story to lose all those characters. I think the reason of "one of this characters has to die because life is like that" or "because the game needed some drama" are the ones I dislike the most.

Even so I think my favourite outcome in these kind of situations is the one that lets you choose an option and keep it till the very end. For example: you said character A and B can't be both saved, you can only save one. What if I still decided that I want to try and save the 2 of them? The game could encourage you (by other npc, those same characters, etc...) that it is not a good idea, you can't save the 2 of them. But I still want to. The outcome could be either losing the 2 characters, or even the game getting a bad ending in which all of you die because of your actions. I don't mean a game over. A bad ending. Then you can go back and try to continue towards a good ending making the decision to save one character or the other, but at least I, as a player, could explore what would happen if I tried to save everyone, specially if I think that the main characters would do that in character. Something like that happened in one game of the Tales saga (not saying which one, it's kinda spoilerish xD) and I loved it.
 

snow91

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Well, The Walking Dead (Telltale Game) has exactly what you're describing.

Me, as a player, don't like it in that moment.
On the other hand, it makes me feel closer to the character I "saved".

So.. if implemented well, it can be a pretty good mechanic.

Oh, i kinda hated the game of thrones series for that. Espacially bc. all the choices that were given werent the once i kinda woul have picked. I played it completley but really had a hard time watching the story progress..
 

Wavelength

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I'm not crazy about any place in a video game (as opposed to non-interactive media) plot where important, likable characters must die - doubly so in this kind of "choice" situation where not only do you need to do a lot of extra work in all further scenes to achieve the same length of content, but it's as a result of something that feels very negative to the player.

If you do follow through with this, I'd recommend framing it in more of a narrative sense, rather than in a gameplay sense - in other words, the player shouldn't feel at any point like they had a possibility of rescuing both when they really didn't. Think cutscenes (with choices), rather than free-flowing gameplay. At least this way, you don't offer the player a sense of complete agency only to yank it away.
 

MushroomCake28

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There's nothing wrong with that. However, overdoing it might not be a good idea (as others pointed out). Also, I think you don't need to make as big of a failure every time. Instead of having someone die, you can make it like the player misses an item, or a quest.
 

Mystic_Enigma

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I despise games that sadistically force me to choose between two characters, especially if they begin to be more likable. (This won't be an issue if the choices are between something that's not alive, like two rare items (Take fossils in the pokemon games for example: When you pick one, you'll lose your chance of getting the other, but it's not as bad because the lost one can still be obtained by other means.) That said, I would still very much like to have the chance to obtain the one I didn't pick later on. With living creatures, i'd want to save them both!
 

TheoAllen

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I'm between second choice or third choice from the poll. I don't really despise the dev putting the choice that way if they do it the right way (or at least I accept the reasoning). But sometimes I just could not advance because I could not pick either of the choices, left me hanged and not finished / continued the game. Now you might think the first poll might be me, but I don't dislike it. I just couldn't advance if I liked both the characters. What I do is end the game, and browse the game wikia to read the spoiler for the rest of the story for both branches if available. I tried to pick one of the choices once, I couldn't feel satisfied with the conclusion. Of course that is if both (or all) the characters are likeable.
 
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Lisa is full of these moments. It depends on the game and the tone.
 

Aesica

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Personally, I'm not a fan of no-win scenarios, especially if it's involving the OP's example of "choose who lives and who (forever) dies." In fact, if I like the characters enough, that might be enough to make me lose interest in the game altogether. Even a lesser version of that choice (2 likeable characters refusing to be in the party together, so pick one forever) is going to make me feel bad about turning my back on the one I didn't pick.

I realize the whole "UR CHOISES SHUD MATTER" trope has begun to show up more and more, especially because it's a way to artificially inject replayability into a game, but I'm not a fan. I play RPGs to enjoy a story and (hopefully) some engaging gameplay along the way, not to feel bad about how the game's only options forced me to throw various characters under the bus.

Now don't get me wrong, death as part of the story gives it an extra emotional punch. Hell, I just finished assembling the first draft of a cutscene that George R R Martin would certainly approve of. But when the choice is given to the player, it leaves the feeling of "their death/loss/etc is on me, not the bad guy" (or whatever forced the choice) and that really doesn't feel very good.

That's just my take on it, though.
 

Wavelength

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I realize the whole "UR CHOISES SHUD MATTER" trope has begun to show up more and more, especially because it's a way to artificially inject replayability into a game, but I'm not a fan. I play RPGs to enjoy a story and (hopefully) some engaging gameplay along the way, not to feel bad about how the game's only options forced me to throw various characters under the bus.

I just want to expand on this thought a little bit, as it's a really interesting game design tangent.

I feel that the main purpose of giving choices significant, lasting repercussions is not for Replayability - but rather for Impact.

No longer are you simply doing what the video game asks you to do (and perhaps figuring out the best way to do it). No - now you are the author of your own story, a story unique to you and the choices you make, and a story you have to live with for better or worse.

People are hard-wired to care more about what they are doing when they feel like they have agency, and the best stories tend to be ones that feel like natural consequences of the choices that characters make. If a player wants to immerse themselves in the fantasy of a world, what better way than to give them agency over that world - sometimes unpredictable agency - through the choices the player makes? Minor spoilers ahead for a few popular games.
  • Undertale makes a point of reminding you that the good, bad, or crazy things happening around you are all a result of your actions and your desires. After a character's tragic death early in the story which feels mandatory (but actually isn't), another character literally tells you directly that it didn't have to be done - it was YOU who made the choice. By this point, most characters have already consigned themselves to the Neutral Path, meaning that most of their future choices won't matter much - but the game's mere implication of the impact my choices would have really went a long way toward making me feel emotionally connected (and very tense) during the game!
  • In Persona 4 Golden, multiple girls develop romantic feelings for the main character. On Valentine's Day, you have to choose which one to date, leaving the others feeling lonely and dejected - and while the game could simply show you enjoying your date with the girl you choose, it goes through the pains to show you how much you've hurt the girls whose love you weren't able to requite (you can try juggling dates, but that ends up even worse). This has almost zero impact on the rest of the plot, nor on any combat gameplay, but you can't take it back, and as anyone who has ever needed to make a choice between two people in real life can tell you, you really feel the impact of that choice in your heart.
  • Even a board game like Risk Legacy can drive home how much your choices matter! When you first open the game box, you're asked to sign your name on a "contract" acknowledging that you take responsibility for the choices you will make as you play the game. And throughout play, the choices you make affect not only the game you're playing, but all future games for all players who use this copy of the board game! Cities are permanently added to the map, factions permanently gain new powers, the instruction book expands via stickers added onto blank pages, and nukes can permanently destroy countries. The game literally instructs you take the card for a country that got nuked, tear the card up, and throw it away. A game that instructs you to throw away pieces probably isn't trying to promote replayability (although a cynic could point out that it sure encourages buying multiple copies!). Rather, it's reinforcing the notion that your choices matter - that what you've done doesn't disappear when someone fulfills a victory condition and you put the game away for the evening. It's an insanely cool feeling to experience with your friends and it's the very reason that the game was so beloved (despite its wonky Risk-inspired mechanics).
These are deliberate examples chosen where games deliver emotional and cognitive impact through it's choices even when the gameplay and outcome change very little.

A lot of choices in games will deliver only the gameplay - for example your choice between two factions' sidequests might yield either a White Gem that increases your DEF by 20 or a Black Insignia that increases your ATK by 20. This can be fine in certain games - Civilization IV's core gameplay clearly places tactical strategy over immersive adventure (even though it offers both), so it makes sense that the choices you make in its random events come down to which benefits or drawbacks will affect you the most.

But when you get the choices without the impact, in a game that otherwise feels immersive, it starts to feel hollow. Especially in an RPG, I feel like you can't go wrong by adding that feeling of impact to your choices and doing it well.

Replayability is better served by stuff like the direct choice between one of three skills, and less so by changes to the narrative or the way the player views the narrative, which feel like the creation of your story.

None of this is meant to defend the original idea of the player inevitably failing to save one of two characters, which I feel is a major framing issue in the context of a video game. I'm just trying to elucidate that "choices that matter" - that truly matter - aren't just a cheap trick to drive player behavior, but rather give the work a deeper level of meaning that is hard to duplicate using any other mechanic.
 

Aesica

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I just want to expand on this thought a little bit, as it's a really interesting game design tangent.
I'll admit that, if done right, those kinds of choices can make for a good game. My issue I suppose is more directed at games which fail to implement it properly or in an interesting way and the result is a hollow experience, as you said. If the game's designer can create a game where it really does feel like I'm affecting the world with choices, great. I'm all for that and might even give it a shot. Unfortunately, what I usually see is more along the lines of your black insignia vs white gem choice--you know, the kinds of things that make players just roll their eyes, reset, hunt down a guide, and try again to make sure they get what they want.
 

Wavelength

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I'll admit that, if done right, those kinds of choices can make for a good game. My issue I suppose is more directed at games which fail to implement it properly or in an interesting way and the result is a hollow experience, as you said. If the game's designer can create a game where it really does feel like I'm affecting the world with choices, great. I'm all for that and might even give it a shot. Unfortunately, what I usually see is more along the lines of your black insignia vs white gem choice--you know, the kinds of things that make players just roll their eyes, reset, hunt down a guide, and try again to make sure they get what they want.

Totally agreed :D For choices that aren't meant to be strategic decisions, it's all about the narrative and emotional weight that come from the consequences of the choice (and the little details like NPCs mentioning the player's decision an hour later) - and I have to agree that a lot of games fail this in practice. It's nice when games do it right.

Star Ocean 2 and 3 are very interesting examples to me. They went through a lot of effort to allow the player to recruit entirely different sets of characters, with many characters being mutually exclusive - but you never ever feel the impact (positive or negative) of deciding to ask these characters into your party or leave them behind. In both, you can infer that some of the characters left behind end up dying when the towns or planets they inhabit are destroyed, but the game never really mentions them again once you've chosen not to recruit them (or missed the ability to do so). In many cases, you won't even be aware you made a choice - you'll just sort of run across the characters based on arbitrary actions you've taken, without any knowledge that one thing led to the other. It's weird to me how very real this gameplay impact is, yet how silent its narrative impact feels. Feels flat, in what are otherwise really good games.
 

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