The Choice Oriented Design

Continuing from the last post on the subject, I will now explain the individual rules. Starting with the first one:

  1. The choices made by the player are the atoms of the gameplay. There is no gameplay without choices. The goal of game design is to make these choices interesting.

I mean this in a very atomic sense. If there is one thing that is common to every single game ever is that they all require that the player makes some choices when playing them. At the basic level this might be as simple as a choice between pressing and not pressing button A. Or the choice might be more complicated, like pressing the button now, or 190 ms later. Or the choice might be between pressing button A or button B. These are very primitive choices and few games state them that crudely – but such choices are the common element of all the existing games and of all the games that are yet to be created. Without these elemental choices available to the player there can be no game.

Now, of course almost all games, save for a few that are complete quick time events fests, do not state their choices in such a primitive manner and do not offer only such primitive choices. The button presses have meanings, like moving the character, or using an item, or firing a gun. So the choice to press the button A becomes a choice to shoot an enemy or not. The choice to press the button now or 190 ms later becomes a choice when to dodge an incoming attack. The choice whether to press button A or button B becomes a choice between firing your gun at an enemy, or raising your shield. Combined these three choices form a higher level choice between firing at the enemy, dodging his attack or blocking it with your shield. On even higher level, there might have been a choice between fighting this enemy or bribing him with money. In some games, on a yet higher level the player could have chosen to walk a completely different corridor, therefore not having to meet this enemy at all – but maybe meeting another one. In some other games, on some sort of a top level, the player could have joined the same faction as the enemy, so he would just let him in. There are choices all the way up and all the way down. That is why I call the player’s choices the atoms of the gameplay.

This is a very powerful observation. If the gameplay is built out of player choices, or as Side Meier said „A game is a series of interesting choices”, then we can reason about the gameplay by asking questions about those choices. The basic questions are:

  • What is the choice that the player is making at the moment?
  • What are the factors influencing that choice?
  • Is this a choice you want the player to make?
  • Is this choice interesting?
  • If not, why? Is it meaningless, trivial, too hard… ?

Answering those questions, although sometimes difficult, usually yields very good insights about problems with the game design. And as every programmer will tell you, finding the problem is 80% of solving it. The other rules on my list are largely supportive to this first one, supposed either to help you identify, or to help you solve problems with the choices in your game. Due to this focus on choices, I sometimes call my design methods the „choice oriented design”.


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