Skip to content


Final Fantasy XII
(Image source: SCEA.)

We’ve certainly come a long way since the days of Pong when the only choices to be made were going up or, if it struck our fancy, going down. However, gamers are still restricted to far too few real choices these days. (Real choices are genuine alternatives and not simply choosing between killing something with a warhammer or a ninja sword.) It still feels like we’re only picking up breadcrumbs on pre-determined paths in order to find the next hoop we’re meant to jump through.

The exasperating thing about this is there’s generally only a few paths to be taken even in big-budget titles. Some games may boast of freedom of exploration and non-linear gameplay but often as not there’s only one method of solving a problem in those games: the method the designers’ thought of. As the joke goes, if said method doesn’t involve killing or sneaking, it’s an extraordinary game and should be given a Special Achievement Award.

Martin Cirulis railed against this in one of his classic Computer Gaming World columns. He wondered why he needed to find a key for the door in an FPS when he was toting a BFG. Shouldn’t he be able to blast the door to smithereens or blow a hole in the wall?

That was a decade ago yet the problem persists.

The Gamers With Jobs crew, in their most recent podcast, discussed The Bourne Identity, a game that straightjacketed players so tightly that it would actually remove weapons out of the player character’s hands when the designers insisted on a hand-to-hand fight.

The gap

I was in a similar situation recently while playing Final Fantasy XII. I found my way blocked by a chasm. It was a small gap, a trivial crack in the earth that looked easily traversed by the godlings I had at my disposal. My characters could heal deep wounds with a wave of the hand and even death was a minor inconvenience for them. Of course, they’d risk jumping it. But I wasn’t allowed to do that. I then tried jumping across the gap while astride a Chocobo. I got the beast to sprint then prepared to jump, fully expecting to soar majestically across the gap. But no, I wasn’t allowed to do that. I cast a spell that caused the entire party to float above the ground. But I was still not allowed to cross.

The intended solution proved ego-deflatingly simple. I had earlier teleported to save time and in doing so managed to deviate from the intended path. I missed an NPC dialogue, an item and a critical clue. Mea culpa. Or is it? Shouldn’t the designers be culpable for not anticipating the alternate options I considered?

There are certainly problems for designers when offering players a huge amount of choices. Take Guild Wars and its large pool of characters skills. It must be an absolute nightmare trying to factor the interplay between all those skills when balancing the game because there’s no anticipating how ingenious players will get when trying to exploit something or break the game.

Still, as a player, I love it when the game encourages players to think outside the box and it feels really good when I discover an offbeat solution that works.

It’s 2008. Give me more choices.

Posted in Games, PS2.