Instituting limits to provide options
March 30, 2011 Leave a comment
Yes, this post is here just a day after I talked about the virtues of options, and how ‘more is merrier’. In a sense, that is true, but there is also a caveat, and a pretty important one at that. If everything is equally viable in all situations, nothing is different. The important part of that phrase is “in all situations”. I wanted to make this topic today because I didn’t want any readers (or my future self) to think that I was in favor of options for option’s sake. The only options that matter, as far as I’m concerned, are meaningful ones. If the choice a player makes has no impact upon them, then the end result is a useless option, which degrades the product as a whole, and is wasted development time.
I remember when I was in high-school, I would watch the cartoon Daria, often with my mother actually. In one episode, Daria was required to write a story, and she was, literary speaking, flailing about madly. Her work was all over the place, and not ending up with something she was happy about. Eventually, her eccentric and mostly dim-witted teacher put a stipulation to help narrow the project – the story must include a card-game, which Daria of course scoffed at. What was then portrayed as a flimsy inclusion to her previously attempts, ended up with a poignant story about her family envisioned in the years ahead. What had been a seemingly innocuous inclusion had helped drive her in the direction she needed to go to craft a paper worth reading.
In much the same way as Daria needed something to narrow her options down from the great vastness of “anything”, game options frequently needed to have a limit associated with them to make the decisions we make fun and interesting. When I spoke yesterday about BioShock, and it’s limits on power choices, I touched on the concept. In the game, I had a slew of options, but was limited at the quantity that I could take – creating impactful choice. It wasn’t JUST the limit that made the choice meaningful, but it was integral to it. If I could do anything at any time, then there would be no forethought to the process. The combination of equally viable power choices, coupled with the limiting reality of the system made my encounter with the big daddy an entertaining, and challenging one.
So, at first glance, you would think I’m a fan of the talent systems in games like WoW, and on some base level I am, but I see the potential for so much MORE. In WoW (and WAR) you have three trees of talents, and in most cases, each tree is useful. However, each tree has almost only one truly viable option. Shadow Warriors can easily play as skirmish, scout, or assault – the performance of each as they relate to each other can be debated endlessly, but all three can be played to success. However, if you wanted to play as one of those specs primarily, there is a very necessary and typical route to take. Similarly for the Disciple of Khaine, if you wanted to heal, you went up one side, and if you wanted to melee, you went up the other. The options, once you decided what you wanted to do, where limited.
Both games are examples of choice limiting options, as it relates to character/role design. My choice to be a mobile fighter on my SW meant (for the majority of my career) that my range advantage was non-existent. In WoW (when I played way-back-when), my choice to play my paladin as a tank, meant I was useless outside of a dungeon or raid. Battlegrounds and Arenas were out of the option competitively, and fulfilling the role in a different manner was not a reality. In both cases, it was clear what I was meant to do after my choice was made, and my options on how to do that were very few to none.
I like to see what I call “soft” limits, but what that often means, is that I as a player, have the freedom to totally screw myself over into a heaping mess of uselessness. For instance, in D&D, a wizard CAN wear plate armor. If they so choose, they are well within their capabilities to do so. Nothing will arbitrarily stop them from strapping that armor on their body. However, when they go to cast a spell that contains a somatic component, they’re going to be in for a world of fizzles. The limit leaves options available, but provides guidance towards what may be a more suitable option, but the freedom of choice is still upon the player.
I’m for options. I’m also for limits, and I see nothing contradictory about that in the slightest.