Game Development Reference
to be the protagonist they wish to be and giving them the choices and obstacles that
will make their impact on the game world undeniable.
2.3 Making Choices and Making them Matter
The entire RPG genre is about choice. Choice in character creation. Choice in
dialogue. Choice in story. Without important, frequent choices that impact either
the player's story or the state of the game world, the player may as well go watch a
movie. Below are some rules to live by when adding choices to an RPG.
Only Present a Choice When it Matters
At first glance, this may seem counter to the idea of the RPG story being choice-
centric, but players will quickly tire of pointless false choices and button pushing as
busy work. In story, choices should come at critical moments where the player really
has the option to change the course of the narrative. In dialogue, choices should
come after complete, interesting ideas have been presented by an NPC or when the
player is being asked a direct, meaningful question.
Make All Responses Specific
This rule primarily applies to dialogue and is broken constantly in the genre. The
sloppiest way to approximate interactive dialogue without actually having to go
through the trouble of writing for all the possibilities the player may want to choose
is simply to make all of the responses by the NPCs vague. Hand-craft the great ma-
jority of the responses to reflect the subtleties of a player's choice, and you'll complete
the illusion of living, breathing characters involved in conversation.
Every Choice Should Be a Valid Choice
Related to, but distinct from, the notion of only presenting choices when there is
something important happening, it is also vital that when choices are presented,
those choices are valid possibilities. Letting a player attempt to sneak past a dragon
is worthless if the game mechanics make it impossible. The same goes for asking a
player what he wants to do next when there is no choice, or which reward he would
like to choose when only one is available. False choice is often worse than no choice.
The same goes for bait and switch. Nothing good comes from allowing a player to
believe he's accomplished or earned the alternative choice when you're just going to
push him back to the rejected choice at the last minute.
Let Players Be Self-Destructive
Allowing players to do stupid things is perhaps the single most empowering decision
you can make during the design and writing of a story. It is also one of the most
dangerous. Players love to test limits and to act against any restrictions placed upon
them. It is this urge that makes the ability to be self-destructive in the relatively safe
confines of the game world so appealing. The most simple way to enable such a