Friday, May 17, 2013
Why Include Randomness: Part 2
This is a thematic continuation of last week's post. To catch up, go read Part One.
Last week, I described one specific case in which using randomness adds some unpredictability to the outcome of your choices. This unpredictability can be a good thing; it forces the player to weigh their priorities against the possible outcomes before making a choice. This is interesting because it's what we do every day. We constantly, in real life, make choices, every hour of every day, and those choices affect the future. We make those choices by weighing probabilities, predictions, and priorities, and to do that in a game is fun.
That said, using randomness the way I specifically described it that time isn't necessarily that common. The most common types of randomness we see in gamebooks have to do with testing skills, if those skills are recorded numerically, or in combat--which is effectively another version of testing character skills. In this mechanic, the additive element comes in the preparation--picking which skills your character will excel in--instead of in the event of the challenge. By the time you're testing to leap across a chasm, it's too late to make any choices that affect the outcome (other than perhaps finding another way to go...) But the existence of that chasm leap late in the game makes the choice meaningful which you made earlier about where to allocate your skills. Without the existence of the chasm leap scene, the number of points you put into Chasm Leaping becomes irrelevant.
Let's take a look at Destiny Quest, because it's a great example of this type of mechanic. In Destiny Quest, you run around, completing quests by testing (successfully) against your character's skills. As a reward, you acquire items which increase those skills, thus making you capable of completing the next quest.
In Destiny Quest, by the time you get to combat, you've already done all you can do. You've laid your bet, you've played your hand, and now all you can do is sit there and roll and hope.
Despite this, it is not a system without choice. It's simply a system where the choice is all front-loaded into the character development stage of the game. In Destiny Quest, the game remains fun because character development is an ongoing process. Every time you complete a quest, you get a reward. Often, this forces you to choose between two items which modify your character's abilities in different ways. Right there--that is the moment of player interaction. Which item do you keep, and which do you destroy?
The scenes of combat themselves are essentially very boring. For those of us who don't find rolling dice to be inherently exciting, there is nothing to do. You simply must carry through the busywork to find out whether the character build choices you made earlier will pay off or not.
But without that interaction-less moment later (combat) which tests your character build, then the choices you made during the build phase would be meaningless.
All that said, there still remains two possibilities, a skill test that involves randomness vs. a skill test that doesn't. Instead of having a Chasm Leaping skill rated 1-10 and a Killing Goblins skill rated 1-10, you could simply have each of those be a binary trait. You either have it or you don't.
In that model, when presenting the reader with a chasm, the game would ask, "Do you have the Chasm Leaping skill? y/n" and the player would either be able to jump it or not. None of this, "roll and add your skill and try to be difficuly number x, y or z."
This model has the advantage of being simpler, and in a gamebook, that often makes it worth it to go that route. But it doesn't allow for as much real choice. If you know for a fact you will be able to jump any chasm, there's no reason not to go for it every time. If you've got about a 20% chance of horrible painful death if you jump a chasm, there's now an interesting choice. Is it worth the risk? If you're running for your life, probably. But if you're out for your morning constitutional, then probably not. Each time you run into a chasm, your mind will instantly start evaluating whether it's worth it or not. Sometimes it'll be easy, but there's still a real choice, and when it's not easy, it becomes a good game experience. And as with last week's example, this choice retains its replay value compared to a situation where there's no luck involved.