Games Where “Your Choices Matter”

How do you feel about the “mortality/dialogue” mechanics in games like Mass Effect and Star Wars Old Republic; games where your “choices matter?”

Your choices don’t matter. They matter less than a level select prompt.

Lemme break this down, I like to keep this image on hand, it’s a decision tree from a visual novel, school days. I googled some others and honestly all of them are roughly the same level of complexity.
Another good representation of the complexity of these choice types of games is A Duck Has an Adventure because at any time you can zoom out and see every pathway.

These decision trees are more or less the entire game’s structure represented visually. Do you think these decision trees look complex to you? To me they look exceedingly simple.

For comparison’s sake, here’s the tree of optimal decisions for 0 in Tic Tac Toe:
The above visual novel charts are mapping EVERY DECISION IN THE GAME, this tree of Tic Tac Toe, a game so simple that even children can figure out the optimal way to play rather easily, is many many times more complex. Tic Tac Toe is of such a low level of complexity that it’s not even NP hard, and yet from a simple graphic you can tell it has such a high level of complexity that it dwarfs even the most complex visual novels. Tic Tac Toe isn’t even a good game, it’s a terrible one by all accounts because of how easily it’s solved.

Beyond that, here’s a decision tree for an endgame scenario in chess:
Chess is so complex that drawing a complete decision tree is completely impossible. There are more possible board positions than atoms in the universe unless I’m mistaken. Then Go dwarfs Chess by several more orders of magnitude.

Now compare all this to a video game. Imagine every frame is a turn, and your move can consist of all the valid button combinations on your controller. There are already a number of mathematics papers proving that a generic version of Super Mario Bros and other classic 8 bit games are NP hard.

Mario is a game you can replay almost endlessly and still have trouble with. A VN is a “game” where you can write down the solution on the back of your hand with a large marker.

Compare a VN, a “game” when you make one choice between maybe 4 junctions at most at each node to a game where you realistically are choosing between maybe 8 different states every 60th of a second, and where prior states are remembered and cascade into future states and the environment can modulate these states to create more combined states.

People program brute force bots to try to beat these games and they get quickly lost, because it’s WAY too computationally expensive to seriously try every single path. Even TASers need to seriously limit bot use to extremely specific tasks, like optimizing movement across one small section of the game, because anything more complex and the bot just dies.

How much do these choices really influence? They sometimes lead to different quests, get you different bonuses, most of the time they don’t really do anything. They dress it up like it’s something big and important, but you know what I find more interesting? This: