Tough choices

Gameplay design is all about choices – every day we make dozens or even hundreds of decisions. Will we take idea A or B? You can’t eat the cake and still have it. A game designer has to think how to improve existing mechanisms and figure out how to do it. A wrong choice can decrease the game’s stability, spoil the fun of playing it or will extend the time of the work and production process.

During previous projects our guides were just our intuition and subjective points of view. This worked out fine, but created small problems. Today I’m going to tell you about two such problems and how we manage to solve them now.

While working on the first instalment of The Witcher only the Gameplay Design team made the game’s blueprints. The other teams’ members felt they didn’t have much influence on the project. We knew they had ideas, but we didn’t exchange them too much – this would require long meetings and debates.

We changed that in our new project – When we come up with a new mechanism we gather all the studio’s opinions. We use the so-called Crawford method for every idea we have.

In the studio’s network we create a table with every idea listed and give people the opportunity to add their own. To choose the best ideas we use a “Like it” system – similar to Facebook.  Each team member can “like” an idea. The ones with the most votes are implemented. This is our first benchmark – after all, 120 people are less likely to be wrong than one.

The “Like It” method for one of our current projects

With the ‘new ideas’ problem solved, we had to think about improving what we already had designed.  Sometimes a great idea got general acclaim and we implemented it immediately. Suddenly the new feature caused some trouble for the other teams or spoiled the overall gameplay of the game. We always think about the consequences of each new feature, but sometimes we cannot predict everything.  We wondered how we could improve this.  We observed that when foreseeing consequences people tend to think only one step ahead e.g. “if I don’t set the alarm clock, I could be late for school”. But we don’t think about what being late implies.

Our first solution was a “consequence graph”. We used it while creating The Witcher 2. At one point we thought about Geralt dual-wielding his swords. Geralt would fight with both his steel and silver sword. The idea seemed spectacular, especially in the visual aspect. Then we drew the consequence graph. The starting point was called: “dual wielding combat”. Then we started thinking about the direct consequences e.g. “looks great”.

Then we went deeper.. and we realized that dual-wielding interferes with one of our main gameplay rules – our swords serve two different purposes. The silver one works against magical monsters and the iron one works best against humans. The idea was finally abandoned and Geralt’s image remained coherent.

Concequence graph for The Witcher 2 and dual sword wielding

A second method that allows us to maintain game stability is the so-called matrix of solutions. This square table comprises of all the game features and mechanics. For example how does the presence of NPCs influence the alchemy system and the other way round.

This is a map of the gameplay design. We see how one change will influence other aspects of the game.

The matrix of solutions for The Witcher 2

The methods I presented allow us to have a clear vision of the game and allow us to solve annoying problems we encounter during production phase.  Of course they are not the ultimate remedies,  as dealing with these issues also requires a lot of experience and following your instincts. The tools we have are just here to help and see what our games are all about – every choice has significant consequences.

  • SteelRose

    Thank you for sharing those ideas with us.

  • mać

    Polish readers might like to notice matrix image file name:D

  • Mariusmssj

    This is really cool! It’s quite nice that everyone who works gets to vote on the decisions

  • Lollkoo2

    Thanks, that´s interesting and useful, too :) )

  • Shibubu

    You could always make a game where multiple characters are involved into campaign (similar to how Warcraft 3 different campaigns revolved around one major character/hero).
    Advantages:
    +Being able to implement different “combat” mechanics (ranged/melee/magic/social) without breaking the lore of a character.
    +Quite impossible to make repetitive gameplay experience.
    Disadvantages:
    -Harder to create a meaningful and engaging story line.
    -More costly.

    A rather random comment, but hell, I wanted to post this quite a long time ago.

  • Anon

    “120 people are less likely to be wrong than one” is a logical fallacy called argumentum ad populum. If you always went with the most popular ideas, The Witcher would be a Call of Duty clone.

    • Goronmon

      That logical fallacy doesn’t make sense if the audience includes all the people working on the game. And in fact adds more opinions that might be important to the decision making process. An example being the animators mentioning that dual-wielding creates a lot of extra work for them.

    • Rudolf Klenovský

      Actually if you ask 120 random people on the street, then yes, you will get another CoD. But asking 120 developers focused at common goal, then I think you can get relevat data.

  • http://twitter.com/WarerGT Warer

    thanks for this, you and the creators of amnesia are my two main inspiration
    they also share their ideas, you should check their blog

  • Stas Simovski

    This is a very clever approach and I don’t understand why it isn’t used in many studios (probs because of publisher restrictions). But from what I saw these methods don’t help add depth to the game and, in fact, Witcher 2 does lack depth. Not enough combos, it’s hard to learn, easy to master combat is reasonably repetitive, but lacks the player control (i.e. advanced spell-spell or sword spell combos, special moves) that really makes me realise that I am good at the game. In Witcher 2 if you’re good you just win. Now it doesn’t make it bad, but it could certainly be better.

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