Game Design 101: How to Make Choices that Matter | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios

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Our second installment of Game Design 101 is all about presenting your players with a series of interesting decisions. You may not even realize it, but even the most visibly simplistic games present serious choices that serve to captivate the gamer. Choice give the player more control over the outcome of their gaming experience. They can feel more deserving of a flawless victory, but must also accept responsibility for crushing defeat. When these choices allow for a personalized play-style, a great game can be born. So let us know your favorite video game choices in the comments!


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2:08 Sid Meier: The Father of Civilization

4:38 Arkane’s Harvey Smith on Dishonored and Empowering Players

5:35 Kasparov Chess Challenge

5:42 Principles of Corp Deckbuilding: Winning and Defending



“”Oh Damn!”” by CJVSO

“”Digital Sonar”” by Brink

“”Mindphuck”” by Known To Be Lethal

“”After Hours””

“”Lakes”” by Chooga

“”Beautiful Days”” by Extan

“”Spectrum Subdiffusion Mix”” by Foniqz

“”Good Way Song”” by Electronic Rescue

“”Alice y Bob”” by Javier Rubio and Parsec

“”Sleet”” by Kubbi

“”Toaster”” by Kubbi

“”Patriotic Songs of America”” by New York Military Band and the American Quartet

“”Lets Go Back To The Rock”” by Outsider

“”Run”” by Outsider

“”Fame”” by Statue of Diveo

“”Freedom Weekends”” by Statue of Diveo


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38 thoughts on “Game Design 101: How to Make Choices that Matter | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios

  1. i think class based rpgs like bravely second offer the utmost of choice. atleast the ones that allow class "mixing" do. any given person can be a ninja, but if everyone is a ninja, no one can heal, unless someone sub classes healing, but then they never gain xp in healing and can't unlock more potent healing magic.

    and thats leaving out the variety of gear choices one needs to make, not to mention the oftenness of item usage. very choice heavy.

  2. Relevant to my current project is a choice common in tower defense games, in which you can call an enemy wave early. If you call the wave early, you risk being overwhelmed, but you get a bit of bonus gold. If you don't call the wave early, you miss out on the bonus but play at a less frantic pace. Also, a more seldom seen mechanic is the "interest on start of wave" mechanic (which combines well with towers that don't build instantly for obvious reasons). The interest just gives you some percentage, say 5%, of your gold amount at the start of a wave, this is a major incentive to not overkill a wave and build "just enough", so you can amass more gold in the long run for the harder end waves. However, if you play too boldly and start letting enemies through you may lose out on bonuses for completing a level perfectly without leaking (relevant if completing perfectly awards you some sort of currency used in the metagame, i.e. buying upgrades in between levels, such as in Kingdom Rush or Gemcraft).

    Some choices are only really relevant if another part of the game is designed to support them however; interest at the beginning of a round is less interesting if your towers build in a second, as you can always just make up for lacking defense. There is no risk. If towers take 10-30 seconds to build depending on the pace of your game, the decision becomes rather major. It's fun to play with those variables.

  3. The Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X offer interesting choice.
    For example one of the character (Kimari) start in the middle of the grid.
    The obvious, easy, boring choice is to work your way to the beginning of another character path and follow it.
    But you can also just accumulate lot of levels until you can teleport halfway through Auron's path and start from there,
    putting stat up nodes as you go on to buff both Auron and Kimari,
    laughing like crazy as you now have two badass characters in the team. 😛

  4. First thing the came to mind was Fire Emblem with choices of which units to use, what classes to make them, what weapons to utilize, play defensively or offensively and so on.

  5. i really think that the best choice game is the soul series, this series makes you wonder… should i kill this guy thats really useless? or should i wait for him to help me?

  6. Fallout 3. First game where I really got the concept of weapon range and switched weapons based on the environment.

  7. I word say dark souls sense the game level and fools are made where they one way to bet and make your on play styer

  8. Dark Souls and the choice of killing NPCs for unique items but then losing access to those characters for trading etc.

  9. I think grow home has great examples of interesting choices. In particular, the glider vs the fall flower. Or whether you want to keep growing the plant upwards, or spend the time exploring around. (Though there is no mechanical consequence for taking your time, which I personally enjoy)

  10. Two words: Dark Souls. Everything you do in this game that's beneficial to you also has a downside. If it's "Do I keep going and risk dying and losing all my souls or do I go back, spend them but have to fight all these tough enemies again?", "Do I kill this merchant to get the Katana he drops or do I let him live so I can buy stuff from him in the future?" or if it's "Do I wear this armor with a higher Poise bonus to be able to tank damage but get slower because of it's weight or do I wear this light armor which allows me to dodge incoming attacks very fast, but makes me frail like a sheet of paper?". You're constantly making choices about everything. And since the game auto saves all the time and you don't have the ability to maintain multiple save states of the same character, making many choices permanent, and because making wrong choices gets you killed easily due to the high difficulty, all of these choices matter, which is an integral part of why these games are so engaging.

  11. Heroes of the Storm: which talents you take and how to play the level and adjust according to the team composition and play style of both your and your enemy's team and their choices of talents.

  12. Mad, mad kudos for referencing "The World Without Us" in your final thoughts; it is a great book. In a similar vein to Lorien's question, there has been some analysis done as well on the scientific and sociological level as to why the social interest in zombies has surged in recent years as well, which is obviously been incorporated in games in the past decade or so thanks to other mediums like tv and movies. Zombies are a big thing right now, and the sociological reasons are quite interesting.

  13. I would like to see you tackle this topic by not just giving one example of each type, but comparing a wide variety of the ways that type of choice has been manifested in games of all types. Because I love to see definitions as a whole bunch of data to see where it intersects and where it delineates.

    So like, give a couple dozen varieties of the trade-off in various kinds of genres. And maybe find some genres or specific games where it never happens (I'm thinking of certain puzzle games right now, where you have to do the moves in a specific order to progress, which minimizes the ability to make certain choices in the first place), and discuss how the game might differ if such choices were available, or how they might be added without substantially changing the gameplay.

    (For example, letting players show their personality through things outside the actual gameplay works in Rock Band when you make your avatar, and I could see it working in games where you couldn't really show personality through the gameplay but you get to choose the visuals of the game, turning it from pirate-themed to kitty-themed to candy-themed to robot-themed to neon-lights-themed or whatever — same gameplay, vastly different feel.)

  14. I think the most meaningfull descision which I had made in recent video games was to forfeit my genocide run in undertale. I deliberatly cut on content (which I had paid for) just so I could stay at my favourite ending.

  15. I'm gonna go with Dark Souls (as it is one of my favorite games of all) on choice. The amount of choice you make in gameplay is incredible, especially in 2 with the sheer variety of weapons and armor, combinations you can make, power stancing, etc. The choice of pressing on to gather more souls at risk of everything you've gathered, risking a mad dash to your souls or a methodical trek back to minimize the chance of losing them forever. Even the risk of trying to parry an attack that you might miss, causing you to get crushed by an enemy combo.

  16. Bit.Trip Void is one of the starkest examples of a simple risk vs. reward choice. The entire game's design is built around this single choice mechanic.

  17. I feel like Binding of Isaac fits into this really well: what items will you take? Which enemies need to be shut down first? Do you trade health for potential bonus items?

  18. I liked where this video went, but I dislike both the misleading thumbnail as well as the misleading opening.

  19. I am trying to see how to start out as a beginner of game designing. I like need tutorials and whatever application is needed to start out game designing because I have 1 more year left until I graduate and I don't want to be at a point where I don't know what to do. I am trying to do this before I apply for college so I can know what I want to do. Does anyone have any tips and advice?

  20. The Fire Emblem games have permadeath in them. Sometimes you make a choice to sacrifice one of them to allow you to win a match/level. The choice made here can be very difficult because some of the characters are unique and offer different strengths to your team

  21. Maybe I'm simpleminded, but arguably the best experience with choice and freedom I've had was in PayDay. The big drawback is that with four independent and often randomly-selected players, it can be hard to coordinate and really make a heist work. I've only done it a couple times. But the one time we worked together and planned out our strategy was brilliant. We pulled o a perfect heist, only fired three or four shots between the four of us, and spent probably a half hour cracking safes open… which sounds really boring but was the most rewarding experience I've ever had in a game because I felt like we accomplished it ourselves — nothing about the game did it for us.

  22. To bring up your "cheating in video games" episode, whether or not to cheat is always an important choice. Whether or not it is the "right" or "wrong" way to experience a game, cheating can alter that experience in all kinds of different ways. It also creates another decision, or set of decisions (if you do decide to cheat), in that you must decide if said cheating is going to have any boundaries or rules themselves (whether to cheat in some ways but not others, for example). And, perhaps most importantly, very often when you cheat it can become very hard or even impossible to play the game "normally" again.

  23. The original Halo's limit of 2 guns (and every Halo that followed) out of the total human+covenant arsenal can be see as a choice that could be categorized by all 4, if only weakly (or perhaps not at all) by 2 (persistence).

    The trade off of dropping one gun to pick up another when you cannot hold each one, as in Bioshock or Half Life where you may have them all for most of the game.

    The situation choice of knowing that picking up this gun instead of that gun serves the combat I am in at the moment, and will likely be in in near future (or may be better in the future if not now as, say, the rocket launcher or snipers rifle, which are available much less of the time, etc.)'

    The person choice of perhaps feeling that the covenant weapons are always better (not in an absolute sense, but a subject one). For ex, I loved using needler, but I saw plenty of players online at the time that thought it was somehow useless (you need to be out of cover with the cross hairs red while you shoot to make sure each needle or enough of them hit the target for your pink blast of death).

    I guess the persistence doesn't mean much, as each mission started you out with the default load-out for the mission and now what you had been carrying, and Bungie wanted players cycling through weapons somewhat frequently, making this choice pop up over and over again (some weapons were not even available for each mission, but generally most were).

    It seems like such a simple thing, and I know most elitists will claim it was dumbing down due to console player inferiority or fumblesticks – but plenty of other shooters on console have gotten by just far with 4 or more weapons. Actually, even some of that were true – their motives are immaterial – because it still created a personal, situation choice that was a trade-off.

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