Making challenging options

Gamebooks run on giving a player choices to take and then telling them what the consequences of

Unless its this which door choice,
where it’s best to change your mind.

those choices are and  there is a fine art to getting the choices and the consequences right.  If the consequences to your choices cannot be predicted (the which door choice), then it might get frustrating, especially if one or more of the choices leads to sudden death.  However, if all of the options have consequences that are logical and easy to predict, and one of the consequences is better than the other(s) then there is no real choice, as this essay states.  However, I get annoyed if something that should be done reasonably to me is not an option as it makes me think that the author has not thought the options through.

So there is a very fine line with making options that are not too obvious yet also provide enough information for you to make the best decision with some thought.  So how can we do that?

And you’ve just lost.  THE GAME!
There does not have to be a ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ paragraph in some gamebook choices – this would be more apparent in gameBOOKs where the main aim is to create an interesting story and if the story is interesting, even if your character dies, it might feel like a satisfying end.  This kind of gamebook would have a different feel to a lot of gamebooks, however, which would appeal to some people (people who want to create stories), but not people who want to win at something, or beat a challenge.
If you see this, you can’t learn magic.
Another way to make all choices equally valid is to have them mean different things to characters who have made different past choices.  For example, in a dungeon where you know you have to fight either a gang of orcs or a dragon, the character who picks up a sword of orc slaying is going to mind fighting the orcs less than the character who picks up the spear of dragon slaying.  This approach is done very well in Slaves of Rema where the first choice you make determines which path is best for you later on in the game.
Finally, there is an approach which I have found Dave Morris is very good at.  He sometimes presents you with options which seemingly make no sense, but when you choose them, you realise that the consequences fit into the logic of the world that Dave has set out.  Dave’s method involves 2 steps – the first one is to create and communicate the ‘rules’ of the world – for example, most of his books have a very medieval approach to fey, elves, etc., so you have to know that they are tricky to deal with.  He communicates this through how the world looks as well as how these creatures act.  Sometimes, he is just explicit about his rules (like in the Knightmare books).  The next stage involves having people do things that are consistent with those rules, but framing the options so that it is not entirely explicit as to what exactly the reasoning is.  The reasoning is left up to you as the reader.  This requires a deceptively large amount of work as the world has to be consistent.  If it is not, it will just devolve into a ‘which door’ choice or a ‘guess what the author was thinking’ choice.
For example, in Blood Sword book 1, you have the task of identifying a magi in a masked ball.  You can summon a fey like creature to do so.  It will ask you if you want it to find the magi.  The options you have are ‘yes’ and ‘no’.  The correct answer is ‘no’ because you have to be more explicit with your instructions to fey as they will exploit every loophole you give them.
Another good one is in Castle of Lost Souls, you have to get a crystal ball from a fortune teller.  The options are:  Ask her to read your fortune, ask her to read her fortune or take her to the fair.  The best choice is to take her to the fair as you will then dance with her, get her drunk and then sneak back to her tent to take the crystal ball easily.
A subset of this method is something I have seen in some gamebooks, which is when you have a list of actions that you could take to overcome a problem, one of them being to try ‘something else’.  You really don’t know what this something else could be so it is a bit of a gamble as to whether it will work or not, but it always intrigues me as to what this ‘something else’ could be.  It is not quite like what Dave Morris does because there is no insight afterwards as to how the action was logical (as you never knew what it was in the first place) but I find it good for a different reason as it provides me with a thrill of a gamble.
Of course, there’s nothing to stop all of these types of options being in a single gamebook.  Their effectiveness depends on the type of gamebook you want (and there’s nothing wrong with gamebooks that kill you off in a few paragraphs or arbitrary choices if they’re entertaining and that’s what the reader expects).
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