Game Development Reference
For example, Mario always jumps the same way. His maximum jump
height is always exactly the same. His control characteristics and falling
speed never change. And these systems aren't complicated; there are only
a few rules and numbers. This means that Mario's jumps are driven by a
consistent, comprehensible system. So a player can, with practice, look at
an obstacle course and know exactly which jumps will get him to the exit,
what dangers he will face, and how he might defeat them. He can envision
various paths, possibilities, and opportunities, and feel each one.
If Mario's jumping systems changed randomly, or were incompre-
hensibly complicated, that predictability would vanish. The player couldn't
plan a jump path. Without those mental images of the future, he couldn't
feel good about an opportunity or scared about a future danger. All he
could do is react.
PReDiCtaBility anD PReDefineD DeCisions
Before we go on, I'd like to clarify something. When people talk about deci-
sion making in games, they're often referring to predefined plot branches,
like those in an old Choose Your Own Adventure novel. In this kind of deci-
sion, the game designer explicitly defines each of the player's options and
every outcome that those options lead to.
For example, a designer might script a character to approach the player
and offer heroin. If the player accepts the heroin, a scripted sequence plays
out where cops chase the player. If the player rejects the heroin, the crimi-
nal attacks the player. The choice, along with every possible result of the
player's decision, all play out the same way every time because they're
authored that way by a designer.
Such predefined decisions are different from the decisions I'm dis-
cussing in this chapter because their outcomes aren't determined by game
systems the player can learn and predict. They're determined by the de-
signer's arbitrary choice of what should happen. This means the thought
process of making such decisions is completely different from that which
drives mechanics decisions.
In the best predefined decisions, the player chooses for fictional rea-
sons. He might turn down the heroin because he wants to be a good guy.
Or he might accept it because he wants to be evil. In the worst cases, the
player second-guesses the designer to try to get some optimal result. He'll
look at the designer's habits in the past and choose to accept or reject the
heroin based on his guess of which path will get him more money. Either
way, the thought process isn't the same as a mechanics-driven choice like
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