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Zubon comments on Justified Expectation of Pleasant Surprises - Less Wrong

10 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 January 2009 07:26AM

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Comment author: Zubon 15 January 2009 02:47:43PM 12 points [-]

Let me switch my link to the gaming blog... Okay: no, in most contexts like that, the game designer is right and Eliezer is wrong. If the game has a limited number of irreversible training and specialization decisions, requiring players to make those decisions based on hope and faith is bad game design. Do not forget the negative surprise of discovering what you failed to gain because of uninformed decisions early on.

It would be like going to college without being allowed to see the graduation requirements. You can see what classes are available this semester and maybe next semester. You have four years to graduate, although you can delete your existing class credits and start over at any time. Good luck!

Calling this a naive homo economicus view works only if you assume that the player will play through once and never look back, or even look around for information about unchosen options. Otherwise, the player will find the information at some point, and the agonizing will take place. If you find out at level 10 that you needed to have put at least two points into the agility tree by level 6 if you ever want to fly, you start feeling those opportunity costs all at once. The player feels betrayed, goes online to look up what else he is missing because the developers decided to hide information, and might throw away the existing game to start over, grumbling back to level 10.

Remember, you can always play the game more than once. You may intend to, to see how the different options work. Your big opportunity costs come from the wasted game where you never got to explore any option fully because you locked yourself into a path you did not like.

Example of bad design: Antbuster (flash game you can find on a dozen sites). At any given point, you have up to three options for upgrading your cannon. They are part of a broad tree, and from the base you can see only the bottom branches. Can you guess which of the first three options would lead to the lightning gun, flamethrower, or insecticide? You can backtrack, but it costs money and resources are tight, so learning is losing.

See also Trial and Error Gameplay.

The designer should not give the player a massive info dump, but it should be readily available, especially since it will be online a few days after the game comes out. You are not protecting the player; you are just inconveniencing him. A common option is to have a toggle for "show options not currently available." Most MMOs have figured this out.

If I am deciding whether to spec my wizard in ice, fire, or lightning, I want to know the implications of that. Does one of them get more area effect attacks? Utility powers? Debuff effects? What is the ultimate power at the end of each spec tree? Is the end boss completely immune to one of the three?

There are many designs in which limited information works, but they require other supporting decisions. This is not a case where, all things being equal, vaguer information is better. In most cases, the best option is to present limited information with an option for complete information, plus an option to re-do those decisions somewhere along the way after you see how they work in practice.

Comment author: Desrtopa 30 May 2014 02:16:56AM 0 points [-]

Okay, this is a reply to an old comment from a member who's probably never going to see it, but I've been discussing this recently on the RPGMaker Network forum, so this has been on my mind. In situations where online competition with other players isn't a major component, I would say that-

Offering the player no information from the beginning of the game, in a situation with branching skill trees or other major tradeoffs where the player can lock themselves into an unwanted gameplay situation due to poorly informed choices is bad game design.

Offering the player full information so they can inform their choices and decide in advance what tradeoffs to make and determine their playstyle in advance is... not terrible game design.

Offering the player limited information from the beginning, with more becoming available over time, through which to direct their growth, without giving them significant opportunity to screw themselves over, or making the game too easy given a total lack of attention to growth direction, that's good game design. It's definitely doable, but it takes finesse. That's what makes it good and not average; there isn't a cut-and-paste way to imitate it.