All’s fair in love and game.

Today we’re talking about logic in game progression.

Have you ever been in a game and found you just couldn’t proceed? You hadn’t found the secret code that told you in which order to ignite the thirteen pyres, or you didn’t know you had to use the ball of yarn to pacify the three headed lion, or maybe you just never bothered picking up a silver sword back at the market and now werewolves are eating your face? There’s very few situations more frustrating and less immersive than having to run through your entire inventory twice, before carefully re-exploring the entirety of the game looking for the single item capable of advancing the plot. This is not a situation that can ever be entirely planned for, but there are a few simple things that make it much less likely your player is going to end up running a fine tooth comb over the entirety of your carefully crafted world trying to find the last seal to defeat the god-king.

First, give your players a small toolbox. This is significantly easier in video games, where you can just not give players the option to talk to people, or pick up objects, or attack, or any other action that you never want to be the solution to a problem. An FPS generally doesn’t have to deal with players trying to solve their problems through peer mediation, just like a puzzle game tends not to have players attempting to kill all of the other denizens. Unless it’s Gyromancer or something similar, of course. This can be accomplished similarly in pen and paper games by limiting the player’s access to extraordinary items and abilities. If there are multiple Bid Bads, it is entirely feasible that one super weapon will work for all of them. Likewise, the Space Ranger doesn’t need a gun that shoots fourteen different types of laser, when the only ones he needs are laser and improbable stun laser. The player’s are always going to either fight, talk to, avoid, or some combination thereof every encounter they face, so it’s easier on everyone involved if they don’t have to choose between a hundred variations of each.

Second, remind them how the tools work. If you have a game about shooting people in the face, and inviting others to candlelit dinners to hold urbane conversations, those two mechanics need to be introduced in the beginning of the game, and repeatedly established. If you focus on the candlelit dinner aspect, and it turns out the end boss was susceptible only to bullets applied liberally to the face, it’s going to take your player a few tries to remember gun violence is a viable solution to his problem. It’s important to keep no more than a 70/30, and preferably more of a 60/40 split between the time your player should devote to each mechanic. This is not saying that your combination brawler/egg painting sim should have you kill two people for every egg you boil, but rather the time spent painting your eggs should not greatly outweigh the amount of time spent smashing faces into the ground.

Third, and most important, make sure the answer makes sense to people who aren’t you. Sure, you know the dread lich has always secretly wanted a puppy, and that makes him incredibly susceptible to lies told about the fluffiness of puppies, but how would your players be expected figure that out? A good solution is often just to ask someone from outside your sphere of influence if they will come in and read through what you have. Chances are, someone without your encyclopedic knowledge of your own characters will find at least a few things that don’t make sense, and that’s what you have to look out for.

Remember, give them the tools, make them shiny, and don’t over-complicate things.

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