Friday, April 15, 2016

Gamebook Theory: Logical Conclusion Choices and applying the "Fog of War"

We already explained the basics of a Logical Conclusion Choice. For the purpose of learning how to efficiently apply the 'fog of war' principle, we should use the same example from the previous post to demonstrate how to hide the possible consequences of a choice, so it is not obvious what the outcome would be. After all, if there is no way to find hints in the text to help you correctly guess what could possibly happen, the choice will be random (trial and error choice) rather than logical.

The following example is a courtesy of the fantasy style epic hero gamebook "The Master of Darkness" published in Bulgaria by George M George (a nickname of George Mindizov). Here it is: So, our medieval hero is in the middle of a wide open field. To the east, he can see a big cliff with visible caves carved in it. He takes a quick look to the west and he can see a thunderstorm front coming in. A few feet away from our hero, a lonely tree stands tall with it's big branches forming a nice solid crown of green leaves. Do you want to hide under the tree to keep dry until the storm has passed? Alternatively, you could run for the cliff and take cover in one of the caves there, but you can't reach them before the storm hits.

What all that text distills down to is the sentence "there is a thunderstorm coming through and a tree is going to be hit by a lightning", but you can't write that, because it is going to be obvious that hiding under the tree is the wrong choice. Instead, the author took the real danger (the lightning) out of the text and he provided the reader the exact conditions under which a lightning occurs. Lets look at this process of applying hints step by step here:

1. Decide what the danger is going to be: a lightning

2. Take the exact wording of the danger out of the text: don't mention a lightning in the text

3. Provide a few clues that are well known to be associated with this specific danger: wide open field, thunderstorm, the tree is the only tall object around

Again, this is the most simple form of the Logical Conclusion Choice and the principle of 'fog of war' as the clues are presented in the same section as the choice and the outcome is simply either good or bad. I do not recommend using such simplified kind of choices in your adventure, so lets make it a little bit more complicated applying some historical clues to the already existing instant hints.

We can make the choice more difficult if we move the hints to one of the previous sections. May be you will notice dark thunder clouds moving very quickly from the west shortly after you left the village. In this case, there will be no mentioning of a storm front moving in at the very section when you feel pretty tired and have to choose between resting under the nearby tree or continuing to the tall rocky cliff in the distance. To make the right choice even more difficult for the reader, we can warn him that due to his exhaustion, it will actually cost him 10 points of health if he doesn't rest under the tree. Of course, it is better to partially lose health than to suffer an instant death. However, the choice now is even more interesting, because it is not a simple good or bad outcome, but is rather about choosing the lesser of two evils. Please note that we are now at the very fine line of almost tricking the reader into making the wrong decision, so if we make the choice any more difficult by applying even more 'fog of war', we will be crossing that line, which an author should never, ever, ever do. All that being said, step number four, five and six in the above process are: 

4. Move some of the clues to previous sections of the gamebook adventure: inform the reader of the conditions in a conversation with another character or while he is at a different location

5. Partially reveal what would happen if a certain choice is selected, but present only half of the outcome: tell the player that he is going to lose 10 points health if he doesn't rest (tricking him to make the wrong choice, so be careful with this one!)

6. Make the choice even more difficult by forcing the reader to choose between two bad outcomes: losing 10 points of health or getting hit by a lightning (the choice is obvious if he deciphered all the clues)

This is now a difficult enough choice for any gamebook. It is actually a little bit too complicated to be put in the very beginning of the adventure as the difficulty should grow from low to high as the reader makes his progress through the game.

We can once again adjust the difficulty level of this choice to make it a little bit easier by providing another clue in an earlier section. Lets just say that an elderly villager told you earlier about a legend of a hidden artifact in a cave somewhere in this land. If the reader remembers that, he should have another reason to choose going to the caves instead of resting under the tree, making the correct choice a little bit more obvious than before.

7. Apply a clue related to the choice with the positive outcome if you wish to make the decision easier for the reader: an artifact is hidden somewhere in the caves

 Mix and match positive and negative clues as much as needed to adjust the difficulty of this particular decision, but make sure that there are enough clues to support the better choice, so the outcome is the result of a logical conclusion instead of pure luck.

Of course, you can apply the 'fog of war' not only to dangers, but also to positive consequences. As a matter of fact, try to provide more of choose the greater good and choose the lesser evil encounters in your adventure, so the better choice is never too obvious!

At the end of this post, lets take a look at the different kinds of hints available to the authors:

Each hint is either instant or historical: An instant hint is a clue that is present at the very section of the choice it is related to, while a historical hint we call a clue that was given to the reader earlier in the adventure, but is related to a later choice he will eventually have to make.

Also, each hint is either a storyline hint or a general knowledge hint: A storyline hint is a fact that is revealed to the reader in the course of the adventure such as the information that there is a hidden artifact in the mountains while a general knowledge hint is constructed by conditions that suggest the occurrence of a well known event from the general knowledge of the average person such as the fact that during a thunderstorm, a lightning occurs and it hits the tallest object in the nearby vicinity.

There is also the separation of clues to real and false hints: Revealing possible consequences doesn't necessarily mean that they will happen for sure. Sometimes the application of a false clue is required to make the choice more difficult or to guide the decision of the reader in the opposite direction. However, it is unacceptable to cheat the player in the wrong direction by applying too many false clues. They should only be used to make the choice more difficult or simply not as obvious.

The more you mix and match hints of different kind along with clues about positive or negative consequences, the more interesting and involving the choice becomes. Don't forget that the forcing the player to choose the greater good or alternatively the lesser evil outcome, always makes the dilemma more difficult. It would be even better idea to include some moral or emotional consequences along with all the hints provided to the reader (see the post on Difficult Choice by Ashton Saylor). But whatever you do, don't ever make the reader feel that a negative outcome is the unjustified result of pure chance rather than good performance based on strong logical conclusions!

Peter Agapov
Game Designer at
President and Chief Executive Officer of American Limo Naperville
Former Road Captain of Marine One at Operation "Welcome You Home"

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