Give your players decisions to make that matter…

One of the unfortunate parts of the current state of game design in our industry is that “decisions that matter” and “shades of moral gray” seem to be reserved exclusively for M-rated titles. (OK, maybe one or two Fables, etc, might be exceptions, but…)

Those players who experienced the game believing that their decisions mattered, who made ethical decisions with the long-term social structure of the game in mind, have unknowingly partaken in a grand experiment. Bioware is teaching ethics and civic education on a spaceship—intentionally or otherwise—and might be making the world a better place in the process.
Civic Education on a Spaceship < PopMatters

There are two benefits to designing great critical decisions for your players:

  1. The game is more fun, more meaning and more memorable.
  2. Playing the game will help make them better people by practicing the act of making good, moral decisions.

This does mean that you must provide them with the opportunity to choose “bad” option or options for any decision point – and the consequences must be more meaningful (but not necessarily immediate) than moving the character a few bars to the left on the evil-good HUD indicator. The key is tying the consequences back to the originating choice when the proverbial chickens come home to roost (without getting preachy).

Every. Single. Day.

This post has been percolating in the back of my head for the past week since my three-week “vacation” ended and went back to the day job fulltime… One of the big lessons that I learned that I [re]learned was that practice is crucial for every single skill from interview skills to skills that make the bread that needs buttering. Practice is even more crucial than talent, IMNSHO.

What prompted me to get off my virtual derriere and type the random thoughts that finally coalesced this afternoon was Steve’s maundering on practicing programming:

I doubt we or any company is likely to set up organized daily practice for their engineers. In fact I personally don’t think it should be necessary. The most important thing you learn in college is how to learn on your own. They teach you how to research, and how to apply the scientific method and question your own findings, and they give you the fundamentals of math/language/social sciences/etc., so that when you want to learn something, you know how to figure it out for yourself.
practicing-programming – steveyegge2

Unsurprisingly, I sort of agree and disagree, at the same time.

  1. I concur that practice is vital. Blogged that opinion a while back. It’s absolutely necessary to sharpen your tools and improve yourself as a professional (whether you are a programmer, modeler, writer, whatever). Practice is not just for professional athletes, SWAT team members and rocket surgeons.
  2. I believe that the successful, creative companies already create an environment where daily practice is the norm. My current day job @ Microsoft is like this already, and I will make certain that Glacier Peak will always be as well.

My premise for #2 there is that your daily work should be precisely this sort of challenging practice. I realize that somebody has to have the really boring jobs doing the same old-same old every day… but I refuse to work there! I’ve always tried to choose positions at each stage of my career that force me to learn new things, to challenge myself and in essence, force myself to practice. Every. Single. Day.

Which is what lead me to my personal learning and my new self-imposed mission: Create. Something. Every. Day. It may not be huge (still have that day job to do!), but whether it’s modeling a prop, painting some textures, sketching some concept art or drafting a level layout or a drawing a map… I need to create something every single day. Sometimes, it may just be contributing to a hobby project, but it needs to be something that stimulates the creativity and it needs to be something new.

The challenge for any professional is to avoid reaching a level of proficiency that allows you to begin phoning it in. Don’t. Fight that natural, human tendency with a vengeance. Make every like of code count. Make every word mean something. Make every polygon matter. To do otherwise is to just treat creating what could be your masterpiece like it’s just a job. Life’s too short to phone it in.