There are two morality-themed video games coming your way this month, "Fallout 3" and "Fable II," and each approaches the idea differently. There's good, evil and shades of gray. Perceiving those variations is where they differ.
In "Fallout 3," there is good karma and bad karma. It goes up and down, but you're never told that in any numerical sense. "Fable II" takes the opposite approach. Each good and bad action has a number attached to it -- +40 evil, +50 good, etc. While it's not that simple in either game, that is the basic idea.
While reading through Crispy Gamer's write-up of the same "Fallout 3" session I attended in San Francisco, "Fallout 3" product manager Pete Hines explained why Bethesda Softworks didn't give a numerical association to the karma system.
Coincidentally enough, I had asked "Fable II" creator Peter Molyneux about whether he'd considered ditching numbers for his game, too, just a few weeks ago. I just never ran the quote. But today, you can check out both views!
Pete Hines explains their reasoning for "Fallout 3":
"We could have been very obvious. The game has numbers all over the place for everything else; it wouldn't have been a big deal to just say "karma" and a number. But it's not really what karma is. Karma is more of an ambiguous thing; it's much easier for us to do without a number, but still have it feel right for the player."
Peter Molyneux defends the use of numbers in "Fable II":
"The useful thing about numbers is they give you scale. When you do something evil at the start of the game, you've got one evil point. That gives you a great foundation so when you start [getting] 100 evil points you understand just how evil 100 points is. And when you don't have those numbers there, that ends up being really frustrating. Is [what I did] a bad thing or a good thing? You don't want people to get confused."
Which approach do you prefer, readers?