"Pointless" choices

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Ezmar
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"Pointless" choices

#1 Post by Ezmar » Mon Jan 22, 2018 12:23 pm

What does everyone think of "useless" or "pointless" choices in an otherwise fairly linear narrative? I'm talking about dialog options that don't impact any kind of story divergence, and are just there for flavor. Does this frustrate the player who wants all their actions to have consequences, or is it a good way to allow the player to explore the main character's personality, and direct certain scenes in a subtle way, without necessarily impacting the narrative as a whole?

This can be in any context, from extra choices in a heavily branching story, to long kinetic stories with slight scene variations at certain points.

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Re: "Pointless" choices

#2 Post by FriendlySenpai » Mon Jan 22, 2018 12:42 pm

I honestly hate useless choices.
If what I pick isn't going to impact the story, then why am I being told to make a decision?
Sure, maybe it adds something for replay value, but the idea of going back to replay a VN just to make a couple of different decisions here and there to get a new scene doesn't really have the same appeal as being able to play a new branch to get a different ending.

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Re: "Pointless" choices

#3 Post by Imperf3kt » Mon Jan 22, 2018 4:03 pm

Useless choices aren't actually useless!
Consider; if every choice affected the narrative as a whole, it'd be too easy to know "saying this is gonna cause that" or "not doing this is gonna result in that".
By throwing a few meaningless choices in (I said a few, not dozens), the player must stop and think. 'Will this impact the narrative? It seems trivial. But what if its not?"
Suddenly the choice has a lot more substantiated use, if only to give the true choices more impact.
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Re: "Pointless" choices

#4 Post by Mammon » Mon Jan 22, 2018 5:24 pm

There are VN where the player only talks very little and when they speak they do so with choices. This can be a few options, or just one. That one choice you cannot actually choose because there's just one option, would be a pointless choice. However, by having to select it and delivering your MC's lines through a different way than teh NPC's, it does give some more immersion. I think those choices and that system is a good way to add upon the story, as long as there's no opposite effect that you can only choose something you don't want to say too often.

With choices that only affect the next few lines without impacting the plot, like telltale, I like them. Some people don't, at all, but then again you have to be reasonable with what is actually affordable and possible for a developer to do. So when the choices, albeit pointless, add to the personality development, I like them. Assuming I like the personality, that is. If you're still pretty bland or if the personality is done poorly or without subtlety, well, that's just poor writing.

Pointless choices in a game with relevant choices, especially if there's no indication as to when and for whom the relevant choices are triggered, can be very annoying. Especially when you're a completionist who has to see all the endings and who might feel like there are a few hidden ones in the combinations of what turn out to be pointless choices. Not to mention, they can make the story and routes more convoluted. But they can be done well, too. But only when done right. I know that sounds vague, but it's not really easy to give a distinction in a few sentences that isn't just 'it has to work'.
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Re: "Pointless" choices

#5 Post by Cindigo » Tue Jan 23, 2018 8:28 pm

I hate pointless choices. They are annoying and disheartening, often break the game (if the jump back to “common” path is awkward), sometimes break MC’s character and give no additional value to the product.

When I say pointless I mean:
  • a choice which simply inserts 1-2 lines of dialog ( there is no need for a different ending, but the branch needs to be at least an event long)
  • a choice which gives no choice (these are worse than the previous). Giving the choice which assumably let’s to do the opposite and then simply doing the same thing, but a bit differently or even punishing the player for the sake of just keeping the “common” path. Basically, blatantly not doing what player expects choice to do.
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Re: "Pointless" choices

#6 Post by arachni42 » Tue Jan 23, 2018 9:04 pm

I don't mind some pointless choices for flavor, but it should be some good flavor! If I feel like the dialog could have been in response to either choice I made, it's a fail. I want it to add something, even if it doesn't change the plot.

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Re: "Pointless" choices

#7 Post by PMscenarios » Thu Jan 25, 2018 2:15 am

This is an interesting discussion, I was questioning exactly this recently, so I'd actually like to ask this with an example:

My mysterious guy introduces himself with an intentionally vague job description - lets say he says "You could say I'm a people influencer. Some times people need a little push in the right direction."

Currently I have a menu choice after this where one of the options is to ask him more about this job - with the protag then trying to guess what he actually works as. Protag makes 2 guesses, both wrong. Mysterious guy finds this highly amusing.
But I was considering rewriting it to another choice menu - instead letting the player guess what his work could be, with a few lines for each option. Since they'd all be wrong guesses it wouldn't matter story-wise, just give a little flavour, but it lets the player pick the guess instead of just reading the protag guessing.
Like:
"Uh, you said you were a.. a "people-influencer". Is that like a.."
  • Lawyer
  • Producer
  • Host (I do not remember the name of those ppl in Las Vegas that ropes ppl in to gamble)
  • Politician
  • Don't guess. Would just get it wrong anyway
Would you prefer being able to guess like this, or would you rather see the written dialogue, which to be fair, does more to develop the protag's personality?
Does the fact that in this case there'd be 2 choice menus right after each other influence your preference?
If I took away the initial choice (which currently chooses between continuing the current line of conversation, changing gears to ask about his introduction (the one we're discussing here), or behaving off-character), and currently does affect the path - would that change your opinion on the flavour choice?
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Re: "Pointless" choices

#8 Post by Mammon » Thu Jan 25, 2018 7:23 am

@PMScenarios: That sounds like a nice way of fluff to the story, as long as that 'skip this part' option is also available. It sounds like one of those choices that people ought to know matter not in the slightest but could make for a bit of entertainment.
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Re: "Pointless" choices

#9 Post by furesshu » Mon Jan 29, 2018 7:18 pm

PMscenarios, using "pointless" choices like that to develop your protagonist's personality can be just as effective as writing out the guessing scene in a linear format. All you have to do is make sure that every option available is something that the character would say without the assistance of the player.

For example, Jenny woke up late and forgot her wallet at home before heading to work. She complains about how she's hungry but doesn't have the money to buy anything to her co-worker, Sarah, who later approaches Jenny's office with a brown bag. She grins and dangles it before Jenny while saying, "Here. Can't have you starving to death when the deadline's just around the corner." When Jenny reaches out to grab it, a dialogue prompt pops up, allowing the player to guess what Sarah got her:
  • A cupcake
  • A brownie
  • A cookie
Regardless of what you select, Sarah will flick Jenny's forehead and remind her that people don't normally eat cupcakes/brownies/cookies for lunch.

This exchange does not alter the story at all, and it hardly changes the following dialogue either, but what it does do is teach us that Jenny has a sweet tooth. You can use "pointless" choices like these to give the audience a quick peek into the protagonist's mind, and it can help shorten a scene that would otherwise be unnecessarily long.

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Re: "Pointless" choices

#10 Post by Antizaba » Sat Feb 03, 2018 11:03 am

I love pointless choices! It's something, that makes the story much more alive. Like in real life, some choices make change in your life, some don't. The feeling of being unsure if the choice is going to be important or not makes the story much more interesting for me. Mostly because usually, they are there for two reasons. Either they want to say more about characters, or they want to help to build the atmosphere. Which are my favorite aspects of every story :)

For the same reason i love "pointless" information, which does nothing to the plot but adds to the atmosphere or tells you something more about the world or characters. Like when people cough, even though they are not dying of some terminal illness. Just like in real world.

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Re: "Pointless" choices

#11 Post by Draziya » Sat Feb 03, 2018 7:59 pm

Generally I can't say whether pointless choices are something I like or not. I have to see each one on a case by case basis. However, the one type of pointless choice that I cannot stand is the kind where you choose an option, only for the character to follow another option anyway. Why even put that choice there?
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Re: "Pointless" choices

#12 Post by Inksword » Sun Feb 04, 2018 2:57 am

Draziya wrote:
Sat Feb 03, 2018 7:59 pm
Generally I can't say whether pointless choices are something I like or not. I have to see each one on a case by case basis. However, the one type of pointless choice that I cannot stand is the kind where you choose an option, only for the character to follow another option anyway. Why even put that choice there?
I can see this as a character building thing too if used right. It shows the player something that the character absolutely would/would not do under any circumstances. Even the little puppetmaster in the back of their mind can't make them act a certain way.

Like, if there was a sequence where you took your super drunk friend home to their bed. You get the choices "Tuck them in" and "kiss them while they're asleep." If you pick "kiss them while they sleep" and the character goes "I thought about kissing them but that would be super creepy and I couldn't look at myself afterwards. I pushed the thought out of my head and tucked them in." Well... that tells you where their very hard line is on that sort of thing, while also forcing the player to reflect on why they picked that option. I'm okay with the player being more of a temptress or the angel/devil on the character's shoulder that doesn't always have ultimate control over every action they do, it just like very compelling suggestions.

These can definitely be misused though. It should be reserved for revealing very important and inflexible character traits. If a VN used it on whether a character eats cake or pie, it'd feel pretty cheap.

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Re: "Pointless" choices

#13 Post by SundownKid » Sun Feb 04, 2018 3:21 am

Usually it's pretty obvious when pointless choices are there, because you don't see a major change in the narrative. I can understand the necessity for them to be there, because gamers generally don't like long drawn out sequences of talking, but that doesn't stop it from feeling lazy when it doesn't actually affect anything. So, I just get annoyed when I have to wonder whether this choice will actually change something or whether it doesn't.

I guess I feel like pointless choices are fine, but you should be informed if they are pointless or not.

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Re: "Pointless" choices

#14 Post by Draziya » Sun Feb 04, 2018 6:38 am

Inksword wrote:
Sun Feb 04, 2018 2:57 am
Draziya wrote:
Sat Feb 03, 2018 7:59 pm
Generally I can't say whether pointless choices are something I like or not. I have to see each one on a case by case basis. However, the one type of pointless choice that I cannot stand is the kind where you choose an option, only for the character to follow another option anyway. Why even put that choice there?
I can see this as a character building thing too if used right. It shows the player something that the character absolutely would/would not do under any circumstances. Even the little puppetmaster in the back of their mind can't make them act a certain way.

Like, if there was a sequence where you took your super drunk friend home to their bed. You get the choices "Tuck them in" and "kiss them while they're asleep." If you pick "kiss them while they sleep" and the character goes "I thought about kissing them but that would be super creepy and I couldn't look at myself afterwards. I pushed the thought out of my head and tucked them in." Well... that tells you where their very hard line is on that sort of thing, while also forcing the player to reflect on why they picked that option. I'm okay with the player being more of a temptress or the angel/devil on the character's shoulder that doesn't always have ultimate control over every action they do, it just like very compelling suggestions.

These can definitely be misused though. It should be reserved for revealing very important and inflexible character traits. If a VN used it on whether a character eats cake or pie, it'd feel pretty cheap.
I think that's a really good example of where something like that could be interesting. I do agree that, in cases where the narrator and the main character aren't necessarily one and the same, there can be more of a "struggle". Though that taken to its extreme would leave the realm of "pointless" choices.

I also feel that choices done in that manner have to be handled quite delicately though. In the example you gave, there's always the chance people who would never take that option would judge the game for even including that option. If they never pick that option, they're never going to learn that the game is subverting it.
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