Alright New Leaf Journal reader friends, I have a question for you about the desirability of multiple paths in video games – and I promise I’m not just writing this because my co-writer Nicholas Austin Ferrell is an absolute dictator, and requires an article like the old pagan gods demand human sacrifices. If he is not appeased, I fear we’ll suffer a drought, or a swarm of locust.    Is it too soon to make a plague joke? Anyway, I digress.

A Refresher on my Game Design Project: Jingzi Jingzi

Screenshot of early version of Victor V. Gurbo's multi-path video game project, Jingzi Jingzi.
Screenshot from version of Jingzi Jingzi in early October. The psychic, and much of Jingzi Jingzi, remains a work in progress. Screenshot taken by N.A. Ferrell.

Just over a month ago, I wrote about my progress learning how to use the video game design tool. RPG Maker MV, and my progress on a new game project called Jingzi Jingzi.    After a few early drafts of Jingzi Jingz and some feedback from Nick, began readjusting my original plans.   

At the start, I was relying heavily on battle mechanics to support Jingzi Jingzi, which I didn’t have any real interest in programming, and, as Nick opined, didn’t really warrant being there. This forced me to step back, reevaluate what I was doing, and start over again in a number of ways. As a result, the game now has to be heavily plot, dialogue, and puzzle based, as well as longer. In effect, I gave myself a great deal more work.

This has also forced me to address a huge part of the original game – which I will now pose to you, reader, in the form of a question. 

How Much Freedom of Action to Choose a Path Do You Want in a Video Game?

In a video game, do you find it satisfying to be able to choose your path and how to spend your time? If so, do you enjoy the process of succeeding or failing depending on what you choose to do in addition to how well you execute your choice? How important is it to you, if at all, to be able to choose a path in a story-intensive video game?

My original idea was intended to be short; something you could play through rather quickly, and have multiple ways that you could fail and have to start over due to your choices. The game was to last the course of a week, with a finite amount of player actions existing in any one day. Depending on how you play and what you do, you could simply not make it to the end, and be forced to start over. In the context of a larger game, the concept translates into “bad” endings, like in visual novels, or at bare minimum, not having “true” endings. I also wanted to give the player the freedom to choose which plot or task to work on. This encompasses the possibility the player will miss things, mess around, play poorly from the moment the game begins. However, my dear friend felt it would be more satisfying to have a more structured plot and streamlined game play.

Tell Us What You Think Multiple Paths in Video Games

My current thinking is to create something somewhere in-between the freedom I planned in my early drafts of the game and a completely linear experience on the other extreme. But perhaps you the reader have a preference here: do you prefer games that hold your hand through the thick of it, or do you prefer games that allow you the freedom to pick your own route even at the risk of becoming lost or total failure? What would you like to see me try to do? Do you have any examples that you find particularly notable? If you have any feedback, do tell me in our New Leaf Journal Guestbook.