GDCE: Devs should avoid 'false choices'

Not all player decisions are meaningful or beneficial to immersion, says James Russell
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Not all player choices are created equal, says Creative Assembly lead designer James Russell.

Games like CA's Total War series make player decisions their bread and butter, allowing fans to rewrite history, conquering the world with Poland, or wiping out the Roman Empire with Carthage.

But Russell says that sometimes the choices designers offer their customers don't always turn out to have real meaning.

"When a decision is put to the player which has an obvious right answer, it's not really a decision," said Russell in a GDC Europe session reported by Gamasutra.

He calls these "false choices", and says he experienced the negative effect of this sort of game design while working on Rome: Total War.

Players were given the option of setting tax rates, but the risk of riots was not great enough to penalise players for squeezing their peasants dry. The option to raise and lower tax rates was, in effect, meaningless.

This was finally addressed in Empire: Total War, when long term benefits to low tax rates were introduced.