Good Game Design: Force player to do a certain action?

Hey, toying with a game idea and was wondering if forcing the player to do a reasonable action is a good idea (esp since on subsequent replays they would know the results of said action).

For example, player lands a spaceship on a planet. If they put on spacesuit then they can leave the ship, otherwise they step out and die from the atmosphere. However, if once they’re suited up and outside the ship they scan the atmosphere they learn that it’s a breathable mix and the suit is no longer needed.

Is this a good idea, to kill a player for a certain action and then later prove the action was unnecessary (but still reasonable)?

No, at least not as you describe it. Sample transcript:

Now, something that you could do is have an overanxious shipboard computer that prevents the player from going outside unless properly suited up – though Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has already been made into IF.

Just curious, why do you want to do this particular thing?

You need to make a difference between what the player knows and what the player character knows. You can always have the player character refuse to go out without a spacesuit because there’s a reasonable risk to them – the player character doesn’t have the same knowledge a replaying player has.

You could put the protagonist’s own voice in the role of the worrier, as well: “It’s dangerous to go outside naked! You should find a spacesuit first.”

This can work well for actions that are easy for the player. (If the suit is available and putting it on just takes one command.) If you construct a puzzle or an involved action-sequence around getting the spacesuit, you’re probably going to get some backlash when it turns out to be unnecessary.

A possible way around that: have a clear chapter break upon going outside. (The progress-reward for reaching a new chapter can stand in for the yanked-away puzzle achievement.)

But even if you make it palatable in that way, you’re sending a message that your story is “on rails” when it comes to personal danger and move-by-move goals. If I ran into this situation in a game, I would be less likely to experiment with possibly-dangerous actions in the future; I’d take any apparent restriction as a real plot restriction. Maybe that’s okay for your game, maybe not.

Contrariwise, if all you want is the story event of going outside and then finding the atmosphere breathable, you could make the putting-on of the spacesuit automatic. The protagonist does it as soon as he/she walks into the airlock. Then you could have a legitimate puzzle (or discoverable point) of noticing that the atmosphere is breathable, and then taking off the suit.

The nice thing about this plan is that auto-suiting-up provides a rebuttable presumption (as they say) that the air is unbreathable. Once that’s happened, it’s plausible for “REMOVE SUIT” to return “It’s dangerous to take off your suit in an unknown atmosphere!” When the player then scans the atmosphere, you put in a note of surprise (“Wow, look at that!”) and the player is much less likely to resent you for fooling them.

Agreed with matt: if you did this, the player would immediately suspect something fishy. They’d distrust the spacesuit scanner; then, if they took off the suit and survived, they’d suspect meta-fuckery (am I actually in a simulation, or a dream, or a magical illogic-world? Are the death-sequences ‘real’ or do they represent my fevered imagination?) They’d probably conclude that the author was being unfair.

If you want to make certain that the player doesn’t leave the ship unprotected, I agree that you should just put in an airlock fail-safe, or an involuntary PC behaviour, that makes it impossible. If you want to make it possible, but very unlikely, that the player does it, you might want something like this:

Well, I was playing Star Hunter over the weekend and I like the idea of a Sci-Fi IF where you visit an alien world. My idea was something like the planet Miranda from Serenity and your job is to figure out what happened. You receive a distress call and the first part is landing on the planet. Maybe there’s a good hint that this doesn’t happen often with you and you should review your standard operations for colony distress situations (which would state you need to make sure there’s no hostile craft, plague, atmosphere, etc). Then the real mystery of what happened to the colony takes place (and no hints or standard procedures there).

Also, perhaps the problem with the colony depends on what you “forget” to scan for. Didn’t scan for lifesigns? There’s monsters in the streets. Pathogens? Hope you can find a booster shot for whatever extreme disease is running loose. And if you do manage to remember to do all the proper steps, it’s something completely different.

This seems like a good idea to me; it’s nice to have guidance for my actions at the beginning of the game, and it’s especially nice if there’s some in-world justification for the guidance. (“Everyone knows this protocol, but Star Federation regulations require a copy to posted by the airlock anyway.”) As Juhana says, player and PC knowledge can diverge – the player could look at the checklist of things to do before you leave the ship even if the PC doesn’t need to.

On preview, I see the suggestion that the problem depends on what you forget to scan for – that seems like a bad idea to me (not to mention a lot of extra programming work). Having the world of the story change in order to screw the player over seems unfair; I think Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy did something like that but there the unfairness was part of the game’s aesthetic.

Okay, so the central thing is that you want the mystery to be different each time? That could be fun, but be warned that this will take a great deal of work. You might try taking a look at An Act of Murder, which randomises the murderer on each playthrough – but obviously, changing one murder suspect for another isn’t as big a deal as changing the disaster from ‘toxic volcanic gases’ to ‘mutant space iguanas’.

I do think that having this established by which checks the player remembers to do is probably a bad idea; you could get away with it in a CYOA, I think, but IF players tend to have fairly high expectations for the causal consistency of the game-world. (I think that many, if not most players would end up doing every check after the first playthrough, and never realising that there were other possibilities.) Randomising the disaster will probably make more sense.

What you’re after is, I think, essentially unfair to the player: you want to make it appear that the player could have forseen a disaster, while making that foresight actually impossible. In other words, you want to blame the player for a failure that they couldn’t have avoided. Player-hating is almost always bad design. If you want this kind of effect, you need to manage it in a more subtle way that doesn’t leave the player feeling jerked around.

Well, hoping that by doing that it opens the game up for better replay. You go through and forgot to do scan for x, then x is the problem. Then later you go through and remember to scan for x, but forget y, now there’s a new problem. And I don’t think it’d so much as screw them over as present new and interesting challenges. Deadly pathogen? Luckily the doctor managed to create a vaccine that has to be administered within an hour, so you have to find med bay and apply the vaccine before you can collect a sample and copy the base’s “black box”. Invaders? Now you have to find your way to the black box, copy and then escape before they find you. Most of it would involve the same general premise (i.e. the “black box”, sure I’ll get a better name later), but it’s a question of what stands in your way.

Actually, randomizing the disaster and then letting the player know what to expect would also be a good idea. You scan and find no atmosphere, no taking off the suit then. Invaders? Grab that laser rifle just in case. CYOA was a tad of what this idea did come from, but any player who takes good notes and remembers that checklist everytime won’t see the varient disasters then. Good point.

One might say that it usually leads to hating the game.

What you’re trying to do isn’t as important as what the players are going to feel about it, you know? Picture the following scenario:

From the GM’s perspective, it’s just a matter of trying to give the players a real surprise and a genuine challenge. But from the players’ perspective, they’re being screwed: it doesn’t matter how careful they are, because the GM will always find a way to make their caution irrelevant. This kind of thing leads to players being resentful of the GM; they’ll start trying to catch him out, and then nobody has a good time. In an IF game, this resentment might play out in different ways, but none of them are good for the author’s intent.

Perhaps the ship could put down in a different place each time the game is played. It’s not easy or possible to tell exactly what you landed in until you step outside. Sometimes the ship lands near a fumarole spewing toxic vapors. Maybe you land in a shallow pond that’s just noxious enough to kill you unless you’re wearing a spacesuit.

Or perhaps you could land on Monarch and the place gets vaporized one second later, no matter what you wear. Wouldn’t it be nice ? :slight_smile: