Limited Choice in Games

Many games allow you to customise some aspects of your gameplay, such as gear and abilities in RPG’s, weapon loadouts and perks in FPS’s, and general character customisation. While these are generally good things, it is possible to make these systems poorly.

The idea of a customisable system requires some clarification however. If a system allows you to add as many elements as you want, is it really customisation, or is it simply aggregation? Take for example gear customisation in an RPG. A player can only equip one pair of boots, one pair of gloves, one top, one bottom, and one head piece. Since you cannot use two helmets at a time, this is considered customisation because you can choose between two things but cannot use them both at the same time. In another type of system, one might obtain cards instead of clothing and gear. If there is no limit to how many cards you can use at the same time, then you cannot really call this customisation, since it is optimal, and completely viable to use every card.

To avoid this issue, the system must limit the choices the player has. This sounds counterintuitive, but in reality having a choice requires you to be limited between two mutually exclusive options. Taking the last example, say that only ten cards can be equipped at a time. If the player has twenty cards, then the customisation system works better. This however shows another issue: say that there are ten cards that give weapon damage bonuses, and ten cards that give utility bonuses. The utility bonuses might include increased movement speed, the ability to double jump, improved radar, etc. If this were the case, a player might really want some of those utility cards, but might find that they need the damage cards because they are performing poorly at end game content. In such a situation, this system is not practical to customise, and so one must either do poorly in difficult content with some utility cards equipped, or accept the optimal build to be able to do the content properly.

A way to fix this is to look at the gear system in RPG’s. While it does limit you by not allowing you to use two of the same item type, such as helmets or gloves, it separates items by type. This means that instead of forcing people to equip the optimal items if they want to do well, items would be separated by their effect type (as opposed to arbitrary “gear” types that make sense as clothing in RPG’s). In the example above there would be a separate category for damage cards and utility cards. Instead of having ten slots to equip cards of any type, there could be five slots to choose five of the ten damage cards, and another five slots to choose utility cards. While this has the issue of not allowing a player to have all damage or all utility cards equipped, this can be alleviated by having more cards to choose from and more slots. Overall, this system appears to have more bearable issues compared to the previous system where there were optimal builds. This system could also have optimal builds, but it is much less of an issue and allows a variety of choices.

There might even be a better system, or these systems might even work better when used together.

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Posted in Game Philosophy
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