James Russell, lead designer at Creative Assembly, is a big fan of player choices and trade-offs in video games -- an obvious sentiment for those who have dabbled in his company's Total War franchise.
However, he noted during his GDC Europe session this week that these choices actually have to be interesting and cause the player to really think, otherwise they become meaningless and won't do anything to immerse the player in your game's universe.
"When a decision is put to the player which has an obvious right answer, it's not really a decision," he argued, calling these types of situations "false choices."
Through his work on Total War, Russell has seen first-hand how this can affect your game. In Rome: Total War, for instance, players could simply set the highest tax rate possible on settlements without townspeople rioting, and that was always the best solution to earning the most money. It was obvious that setting taxes low had very little upside to it, and hence this wasn't a real choice.
However, with Empire: Total War, Creative Assembly mixed things up a little, providing long-term benefits if you did decide to go with lower taxes. This meant that players now had a real choice and could really immerse themselves in the decision making process.
Russell also discussed the pros and cons of real-world simulation, providing examples from the Total War series that demonstrated how giving players accurate depictions of real-life war can lead to either great experiences, or poor balancing.
One particularly striking example involved cannonball trajectory -- the team realized that cannonballs fired from ships that were further away did more damage to enemy ships than those fired at point blank.
It quickly came to light that the trajectory of point blank shots would go straight through an enemy ship, while shots fired from far away would arc and then plough through into the base of the enemy ship, potentially sinking it from beneath.
Hence, it was necessary to alter the cannonball trajectory model such that it conformed with what players would believe is the best tactic -- getting close up to enemies -- rather than what was actually occuring via real-life based trajectory physics.
Gamasutra is in Cologne, Germany this week covering GDC Europe and Gamescom. For more coverage, visit our official event page. (UBM TechWeb is parent to both Gamasutra and GDC events.)