Last post I mentioned that boolean choices are bad. I also mentioned that all the drama engines I'd seen were doomed - they all use boolean choices. Patrick came around and said, "hey, they all use floats and stuff!"
The choices are boolean.
The most obvious example would be in a game like Knights of the Old Republic, where your choices are universally "do good", "be a spaz", and "walk away". These are not choices which give you any kind of expressive freedom.
More complex systems are growing more common. Patrick's full of examples: Storytron and Facade are two big ones. "They use floats!"
They represent an internal state with floats. But the choices the player can make are, in fact, brutally binary. This is a result of that plague on recent drama thinking: "verb thinking". Verb thinking is better than "noun thinking". Of course, getting stabbed in the shoulder is better than being shot in the face, too. It's like the difference between having the flu and having rabies. It was a good idea when it came out, but it's a dead end: it doesn't go anywhere. Now it just wastes time.
"Punch" is a verb. You punch someone and, like magic, the game runs a quick simulation. Relationship - 40 and anger + 10 or some such. It's boolean: a punch either happens, or it doesn't. "Punch" is either true or false.
Yah, have any of you ever been in a fight? There's about a million different kinds of punch, and they carry different meanings. If I punch you as hard as I can in the face, that means I'm so angry I'm willing to break my knuckles so long as you suffer. If I stick to body blows, it means I'm not willing to let this degenerate. If I throw some elbows or knees in, it means something else, and so on and so forth.
Every verb is like this. Kiss. Touch. Yell. Barter. Blackmail. Give gift. Play parcheesi. Dance in the rain. They are not true or false. It is not a question of whether you dance in the rain, but rather how you dance in the rain.
Crawford would have you use modifiers on your verbs in order to give them some kind of spin. "Punch very hard" or "punch calmly" or some such crap. Booleans stacked on booleans. Relationship - 10 * modifier. Useless. Bandaids on gunshot wounds.
Games are intricate beasts because they allow you to determine exactly how, between thousands of nearly identical choices, you want to play. In a manner so fluid you don't even realize you're doing it. These are skill challenges.
In an FPS: strafe left? Strafe right? Go straight for the health? Jump for the high ground? Here or a foot to the left? Can you dodge the rocket? Nothing's preventing you except your own lack of skill.
An RPG is shiftier, because an RPG really does boil down to hundreds of booleans: buy a sword or armor? Equip your healer or your mage? Go back to town to rest, or push on? Get that fireball spell when you level up, or that damage bonus? But these stack - a hundred boolean decisions stacked and all simultaneously in play, all the time.
Who is equipped with what. Who is at what levels. Whose stats are what. Whose condition is what. There are three or four viable strategies for each person every round, for a total of maybe a dozen viable options, all affected by the hundreds of choices you've made so far - and that's round to round. Outside of combat, there are hundreds of possible options for combat-affecting decisions. And, of course, you have to balance offense, defense, magic, healing, items, pathfinding through dungeons, lock-picking, whatever else is in the game: it's not just all frontal assault. Your equipment, stats, and other choices "communicate" on many axes, many levels.
And me? I still think the standard RPG has a pretty weak gameplay model. The choices are too transparently clumsy - hey look, a sword of kill shit + 5! That nobody bothers to export to the other town that only has pointy sticks! Like that's not made to layer on top of the hundreds of other long-term boolean choices I've made.
A drama engine? Bah-ha-ha! You get your choice between maybe two viable strategies any given round, and you have maybe three or four things that affect the outcome, tops.
Booleans. If we're talking in terms of bits, a drama engine's "complexity" isn't even one byte. An RPG? Maybe 32-bit? Depending on the RPG? A game like Quake or Valkyrie Profile or Final Fantasy Tactics, where timing, exact position, and complex recombination matter? Maybe 128-bit.
So, yeah, drama engines. Not enough expressive power using the methods they are using.
Forget your decision trees! Your choices communicate on more than one axis, so your choices should be able to move freely on those axes! Throw down the shackles of "verb thinking" and think with "sliding axis" thinking! Don't "dance"! Waltz! Shimmy! Do the twist! The robot! The hand jive! The tango. It takes more than two to tango, ha!