Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Game Dev Quote of the Week: Interesting Decisions

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 14, 2014

This game design quote comes from Bruce Shelly, a designer of Civilization, Railroad Tycoon, and Age of Empires fame, from the way-back machine of 2001… and, as it is the season, it’s from GDC.

“Presenting the player with interesting and well-paced decisions is the rocket science of game design. Players have fun when they are interested in the decisions they are making, when they are kept absorbed by the pacing of the required decisions, and when they feel a sense of reward and accomplishment as good decisions are made. When the required decisions are too often trivial or random, fun sags. You risk boring the player and driving him/her out of the game. The Age of Empires games demonstrated that our customers consider automating trivial activities (queues, waypoints) a positive improvement.

“Good pacing can heighten interest in decision making. Real-time games have an inherent advantage vs. turn-based games because the continual ticking of the game clock adds a sense of desperation. If the player has many reasonable decisions to deal with but time to make only a few, everything being considered becomes much more interesting.

“When considering a new feature for a game, apply the interesting decision test. Is this new element or twist going to add an interesting decision to what the player is doing? If the answer is not a strong ‘yes,’ leave it out.”

Notice that he said “inherent advantage,” not “inherent superiority.”

He’s definitely channeling Sid Meier here (naturally), but while it is a fundamentally simple concept in theory, it can be very challenging to implement in practice.

Filed Under: Design, Quote of the Week - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • McTeddy said,

    The “rocket science of game design”…. I like that.

  • Maklak said,

    I think you wrote something like this a while back and it used Master of Orion 3 as an example of bogging things down with lots of trivial decisions.

    On the other hand, Dwarf Fortress buries people under all kinds of micro-management and it is still enjoyable.

  • Cuthalion said,

    The “interesting decision” advice makes sense. That’s my excuse for most of my tabletop RPG rules. 😛

    As much as I love AoE2, I have to say that if you give me too many interesting options and too little time to sort through them, I end up picking a couple defaults and using them until I’m bored stiff. This is why I have trouble enjoying Baldur’s Gate II.