October 12th, 2009


Games Without Choices

Thinking over my last entry, I’ve realized that – once again – I’ve lied to you.

Sorry. This will probably happen often.

I also plagiarized a little, but only a little.

“A good game is a series of interesting choices.” It’s attributed to Sid Meier, the genius behind Civilization. I am assuming you’ve heard of Civilization. If you haven’t, get the hell out of my journal (and then come back once you’ve read that page.)

Sid Meier has a very specific view of gaming. Sid Meier does strategy games – turn-based strategy games, at that, where there is always a button you can press labeled “stop, I want to think for an indefinite period of time.” In fact, in Sid Meier’s games, usually that button doesn’t exist. Instead, there’s usually a button labeled “I’m done thinking, you can do things now.”

In Sid Meier’s games, he’s completely right. Civilization without interesting choices is a terrible game.

What about Guitar Hero?

There aren’t choices in Guitar Hero. Guitar Hero is a flat-out test of skill. You are either good enough or you aren’t. (The actual definition of “good enough” depends strongly on the player.)

What about Braid?

There aren’t really choices in Braid either. You’re trying to learn how to solve the puzzles. There is no penalty for failure – you play the game inside a cheerful sandbox which is always willing to let you try again. In one sense, a random number generator could beat Braid, because it will eventually happen to solve all the puzzles . . . but it won’t understand them, and that is the interesting part of Braid. Which, it must be pointed out, can only be experienced once, because then you understand it and you’re done.

What about Samorost?

At first glance, Samorost may seem similar to Braid. I claim it is completely different. Samorost is not a puzzle game. There is no underlying logic to Samorost, there are no sets of rules to comprehend. Each screen is more of an experience than a level. In Samorost, the goal is the journey, not the individual puzzles – the puzzles are largely simple, but the journey is beautiful.

So I’m going to propose four rough categories.

* Strategy games, where your opponent fights you directly and must be defeated with skill and thought.
* Skill games, where your opponent is the game itself, which provides a series of increasing challenges to surpass.
* Puzzle games, where your opponent is your own limited understanding of the rules set in front of you.
* Journey games, where you have no opponent.

I’m going to have to mull on this one. Anyone got a counterexample to those four categories?