Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Chokepoint Hell: A Strategy Game Staple

Everyone loves chokepoints! They vastly simplify the decision-making in an RTS and often lead to epic-looking battles. The average player who does not want to micro and does not want to think gobbles up chokepoint maps. Most players want to expend no more than this meager amount of effort so every strategy game that makes any mainstream attempt will include a chokepoint-hell map.

These are not good maps. They severely limit strategic possibilities with ground units. This is worse in Company of Heroes than in RUSE, and matters even less in Supreme Commander games, because of the availability of air transport for ground units. The more units you can transport with ease, the less the layout of the terrain matters, so the restriction of available land routes has less of a constricting effect on the shape of the strategic space on the map.

To some extent, simplicity is preferable over complexity—but only if the complexity provides false difficulty. It’s preferable to have 10 units per faction and have 8 be viable than to have 50 per faction and have 9 viable. In the former case, the number of viable combinations of units is only slightly smaller than in the latter case, but the player is forced to trudge through a lot more information to decide which of the fifty unit types he wants to build, whereas when most of the units are viable the player has to wade through much less noise to develop sound strategies.

Chokepoint-hell maps do not simplify to eliminate false difficulty; they dumb-down gameplay and limit depth. This is fine if you’re designing maps for the early stages of a campaign, but in competitive play these maps are simply inferior.


On the left: “Vire River” from Company of Heroes.

On the right: “Above the River” from RUSE. (h/t BattleStrats)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An interesting topic.

Somewhat unrelated, having played Eve online I eventually come to think of the stargates found ingame in every star system, as being effective bottlenecks or chokepoints if you will, pitting players against eachother in a more forced way.

And I think this form of bottlenecks in a game easily becomes a dumb and a lacking game design, in games that otherwise could be understood as offering tactical options to the player.

So I imagine "bottlenecks" in a game, are imo an easy way to pace the game, promoting meaningful player interaction, as opposed to meaningful player interaction that would otherwise require more time, effort, concentration or patience with each player.

Still, I would happily try to design a very convoluted tactical game. Preferably a Cyberpunk 2020 game, I think that would have been fun if I could ever work with game design. I imagine that it would be sort of necessary for making sure, that any convoluted player options can function repeatedly without becoming particulary boring or meaningless.