Author Hangout on Air

To those interested, Tof Ekland’s Writing for Games class will be having a Google Hangout on Air on 3/17 at 10pm EST.

Zachary Sergi, Cassandra Khaw, Jim Dattilo, and I will be there to talk about ChoiceScript and writing for Choice of Games.

While I’d love to see a lot of you there, please remember that this is for a university course, so you should defer to the professor and the questions the students are asking.


So, Cassandra won’t be able to make it. But Nissa Campbell and Bendi Barrett will be joining instead.

See you all tonight!

Ok! We’re live! Come and check it out.

And now the transcript!


Hey just to note that’s a video, not a transcript. Transcripts are written.

I usually have great difficulties following these sorts of videos, (I’ve never managed to get through the other round-table videos) but this one’s a great format, the sound’s extremely clear and is somehow working for me.

Tof Eklund’s done a brilliant job of this. Lots of great questions and this has been really insightful. I felt like I learned a lot and I’ve been hanging around here for years.

The authors have all given wonderful answers.

I think you’ve given so many fantastic answers here, Jason. I loved your answer to why choose choicescript as a language, and also the Choice of Games Origin story. The importance of money is one of the things I love about Choice of Games, that you’re telling people their work is worth paying for, that they don’t need to do it for free.

I did like the comparisons between Hosted Games and the official Choice of Games. And the differences between Zombie Exodus and Heroes Rise making the most of their words and booleans vs stats, and then that continuing on paths to sequels, and the different methods used to deal with it. It’s something that seems to come up a lot here on the forums, what with the Lost Heir vs Hero of Kendrickstone discussion we’ve been having on other threads.

And the importance of emotional choices.

“Failures should be as awesome as successes.” I love that. I love that Indiana Jones comparison.

I liked those tabletop vs interactive fiction comparisons too.

Hmm, that’s interesting that you recommend against puzzles. Puzzles seem such a huge aspect of other interactive fiction after all. What was that ipad game about the eyes you were speaking about? Do you have a link? (Not that I have an ipad).

Thanks for sharing that video. It’s been extremely insightful. Thanks to everyone who participated.

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Could someone please transcribe to me the question that’s at around 1:16:00 It sounds like “Do you see much room for ??? creative gameplay elements added to choicescript games or ??? stick to story?”

It’s actually something I’d love to discuss in more depth and I’ll likely spin off a discussion about it.

I found that RPGs being suggested as a creative gameplay element seemed strange, since RPG elements have rarely struck me as actually being innovative, and often I’ve found that they get in the way of the story. There’s so many RPGs I’ve started and then never finished because as interested as I was in the story, the gameplay got in the way.

I loved the mention of randomess vs choice.

@FairyGodfeather Took me a rewind or two but I heard: “Do you see much room for creative gameplay elements developing… added to choicescript games or will the ethos stick to story?”

Thanks for posting this; I found the different viewpoints very interesting, and especially the discussion about using basic stats more (and boolean checks less) to guide the story. I thought there would be more… opposing viewpoints on that particular subject as it’s surely hard to cover every aspect of a deeper design using only (or even, mainly) general stats as conditionals, but as a ‘guideline’ at least I can see its purpose.

The most fascinating question (for me) was actually the last one - the one FGF asked for clarification on above - so it’s a pity the session was drawing to a close and there wasn’t really time to hear more opinion on this. I’d really appreciate it if any of the participants would care to share / expand on their thoughts here, with the benefit of being able to ponder it a little more first? I doubt mine is the only game for which this particular question is actually quite crucial. Many thanks.

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Hey there, I was actually the listener who asked that question. It was centered around the fact that there is often debate in gaming as to which is more important, story or gameplay. Although many truly great games represent a synthesis and balance between the two, IF seems like the ultimate expression of story over gameplay. So I was asking if anyone saw any room for creative ways in which gameplay elements could be added to the Choicescript model. It tied into my earlier question regarding the future of IF and whether we’ll see great change in the WAY these stories and games are made or will change mainly centre on the TYPE of stories told.

@Vendetta Thanks very much.

I suspect you’d get a different response if you asked a handful of Hosted Games authors about stats vs booleans, and there may be a bit more discussion there. I do think using stats is a wonderful way of simplifying things. It may be another of those differences between Hosted Games and Choice of Games.

Ha! I’m going to have to rewrite the rest of my response since @Left4Bed has shown up and clarified. :slight_smile: It’ll take me a little bit.

Haha, take your time, it is a bit of a meaty topic. I’ve actually been thinking about it a lot since last night. If you consider gamplay to center around the relationship between the game and user input I.e. you press a button and your character jumps or swings their sword or runs a certain distance in a certain way etc…while story is generally more passive and has to do with the way the player consumes information from the game I.e. lines of text or a great Bioware cutscene; then my question was sort of flawed in a way. I think it could be argued that in IF story IS gameplay and vice versa, there is no separation between the two. Your input is the way you consume information and that information relies and is modified by your input. In a similar way that holding the B button might make your character sprint jump over a hole that takes you to the next level in a platformer, the choices you make shape and progress the narrative. So any gameplay inovation would simultaneously be a storytelling innovation.

Sorry for the wall of text, I hope I’m making sense? I can’t always be sure

Also, in response to the concerns of adding random elements toChoicescript games, I think if done well it could truly enrich the experience. In our real lives the choices we make only exert a certain amount of control in the way things play out, there is always a randomness and chaos, from an individual perspective, and things that happen regardless of what we decide and do so seemingly spontaneously. I think there is room for elements of random events or chaos which wrest control of the narrative away from the player, showing that that life doesn’t always adhere to cause and effect. Of course doing this is a meaningful way would be really difficult and require a lot off finesse and subtlety and I understand Jason’s point about preserving player agency, but I truly think it is a disservice to disregard it completely.

I will say, a lot of my thinking is really just around pushing the boundaries of the way these stories are told and made and just talking about game design and storytelling in general. Some of it might work, some might be abysmal failures but it’ll be interesting, which I think counts for something.

It’s great to see you here, @Left4Bed thanks for chiming in and clarifying. (And for asking such a great question in the first place.)

I’d argue, that instead Interactive Fiction, is actually the perfect blend of story vs gameplay. I think there’s a general tendency to dismiss interactive fiction as not real games. (You see similar sentiments directed towards casual games especially those played on phones and by women, but I won’t touch on that here.) Since interactive fiction is not real games, then similarly what might be considered innovative gameplay elements aren’t considered valid.

I think, it depends on how we’re defining gameplay.

Choicescript does actually have a command that allows for randomness. It’s one that Hosted Games authors tend to use more frequently than the official Choice of Games authors do.

The one example I can think of where randomness is used well is in Choice of Romance 2. One of the major plot points is that you want a life mage child, and there’s a lot of scheming you can do to achieve that end. If you don’t succeed in your scheming, or if you choose not to scheme, you still have a 1 in 100 chance to get the child you want. But at no point does your fate ever rely solely on a random dice roll, your choices always matter more, and I like that. (Of course I cheated the random generator.)

Other games use it to randomise the gender of characters. (I don’t like that either.) I’ve used the random generator to randomise pieces of a puzzle to make it replayable. Havenstone gets asked, every so often, to randomise the traitor in his game, which I’m mentioning just because it’s relevant. Curse of the Black Cat does it delightfully, there’s an ending where you fail, and the death ending is random. But for me, that fitted, and they’re all humourous, and it does play in with the whole curse theme.

I’m not fond of randomness, it can steal away the significance of choices. I remember back in my tabletop days how I’d carefully craft a character, only to have them killed off by a bad dice roll and an unsympathetic GM. I hated that. I also hated spending hours saying “I hit that” and rolling dice after dice.

I don’t think randomness is needed. I like being free of the curse of bad luck, and my characters actually being able to do what I intended for them to do. On a roleplaying game I’m currently playing (online not tabletop but similar) my character with high combat skills fails to win any fights, and yet strangely excels at dancing, despite not being at all skilled in it. If I’d wanted a character who was useless at fighting, and skilled at dancing, then those are the skills I’d have taken, you know? And I feel somewhat similarly about games that rely overly on randomness. The randomness renders my choices insignificant, it doesn’t matter if I’ve spent the entire game training to be the greatest swordsman in the known world, for the dice are fickle, and they’d have it that I’m far more successful if I challenge the big bad to a dance off.

It can be nice for flavour, for things that don’t matter, but I actually love that Choice of Games have removed the random element. It’s not like I ever played gamebooks with dice anyway, I’d always cheat.

There is interactive fiction with RPG elements. I don’t actually think that would add anything to what we’re doing here at Choice of Games. I don’t actually see that as innovative at all, treading where has already been tread before. Also, I love that Choice of Games removes the boring stuff. No more monster grinding, no more getting lost, no more wandering around maps, back and forth in the same areas, killing lots of pointless stuff. The things I kill, they can matter, or better yet I can be a pacifist and not kill anything at all.

I actually think casting aside the reliance on dice is something innovative that Choice of Games has done. That there is still a system of checks, a chance of success and failure, but one which provides greater reward to the player. I also think the lack of randomness makes future playthroughs far more satisfying since you can explore alternative paths without worrying that a bad dice roll will mean you have to restart all over again to get to the section you want.

I love Choice of Games. I do think that they have some creative gameplay, but it’s not really appreciated enough, because we expect ‘creative gameplay’ to be all sorts of flash and gimmicks. Story is game. Achievements have added an extra element of gamification. But, you know I actually love that they’ve stripped away everything down to its core. All the things you speak of adding on, I’m glad that they’re gone and not there to distract me from what matters. It makes things so much more accessible and enjoyable.

Take Choice of the Dragon, for instance, which I loved, and how your stats aren’t the traditional roleplaying game stats. They’re interesting, creative and they’re personality based, influenced by your actions. You don’t have strength and dexterity, you have Brutality and Finesse, and that’s a subtle but importance difference, especially when you’re telling a story. Not only that but they’re opposed stats, which I think is such a clever system and one that introduces something of a balancing act as opposed to a push to excel.

And I loved the whole gender-flip aspects of both Broadsides and Romance, and I will say that’s a creative and innovative gameplay mechanic too. And I will say it’s a gameplay mechanic, for all that it’s mostly playing with perception as opposed to concretely changing parts of the game.

I want to add something about Choice of Robots and all its complexities. It’s an amazing game, it’s filled with so much choice. I don’t think it needs anything added on to improve it. I think that’d be a distraction.

Sorry if this is a bit jumbled, I’ve been editing and rewriting what I’ve written and it’s something of a Frankenstein’s Monster of my two previous attempts to reply.

And now I have a face to put with the name for Jason Stevan Hill!

Really enjoyed the discussion, both on video and on the thread so far. Like @Vendetta, I think there’s more to say on tracking specific plot moments vs. relying on how your stats have accumulated over time. You shouldn’t do it all with Boolean checks, but it’s great for immersion when the story has a callback to some specific past event – I suspect authors can get away with more actual railroading as long as they make readers feel the game remembers their specific past choices.

And are the Scots on the forum going to let this go? “We have several [authors] in England – Scotland in particular.” :smile:

No one ever said I was well-spoken.

@Havenstone Are you trying to cause trouble? Tsk! Jason is clearly listing places. He just listed Scotland after England, that was all. He listed Canada after the US, and that doesn’t mean he thinks Canada’s part of the US, does he? :stuck_out_tongue: And the EU got listed after Scotland… :confused:

Well none of it matters since Choice of Games published the fantastic, and very Scottish, Eerie Estate Agent For Sale: Haunted House. And I don’t think there’s any other company, who’ve published a game about being an Estate Agent in Edinburgh.

@jasonstevanhill Well I think you were extremely well-spoken.

But enough sucking up from me. :slight_smile: (Even if it’s true).

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@FairyGodfeather I learned a lot and was on the panel.

I hoped I didn’t bring up Hosted Games vs. CoG too often. I did want to represent HG authors though. It’s not a competition of one label against the other, nor do I feel HG authors “graduate” to CoG, but writing styles differ. I plan to continue writing for both.

As for stats vs. boolean, it’s a large distinction between HG and CoG, and again it’s something I’ve struggled with even as I write an official title. Booleans aren’t bad, but when you rely on them, complexity goes up. Zachary Sergei’s games largley use fairmath and stat checks to branch the stories and keep things simple. He’s the most successful CS writer in terms of sales, so it’s worth considering his approach. He’s cranking out games, too. Cataphrak is a good example of an author who has embraced this philosophy more.

Allen Gies and Lucid write complex games with lots of booleans, and their games do well, too.

As for story vs. gameplay, if there was more time, I would have mentioned achievements and some of the coding advancements people like @Vendetta have contributed, like using random vignettes and the save system. My point in that Q&A segment would have been this – novel gameplay elements will generate a lot of interest and enthusiasm but those enhancements are much much harder to produce than story. With my next game, I am trying a very advanced character generation feature, and it’s bogging me down. However, I want to make it work, despite the time involved.

I also want to add I usually go to sleep by 10pm (the time the Hangout started), since I get up for work at 5:30am. Therefore, I babbled through some later questions.


You didn’t bring up HG too often at all; in fact, that’s part of why I wanted you on the panel!

(@Left4Bed) Separately, on the subject of “creative gameplay elements,” after some more thought last night, I had a (somewhat) better response. ChoiceScript, as we’re currently using it, is a publishing platform for authors. As with booleans adding complexity, adding more “features” only increases the complexity. The goal, for me, is to make publishing IF easier, not harder.

Now, if we were more of a “game studio,” with teams of people working on specific projects, developing new features might make sense. But our authors are working solo, on their own time and in their own homes.

Moreover, part of CS is that each game defines its own stats, right? Some games have Strength, others have Lockpicking. In the context of a combat system (as was inquired after), I don’t want to standardize that. Not only because randomness is something we eschew, but also because it potentially takes away from how the author may want to tell their story.

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Wait, wait!
I’m a little confused on the stats vs. booleans and randomness topics.

Why would booleans add complexity to a game while stats would add simplicity?

And for randomness, are we referring to randomness that is included to add dynamic elements to offset otherwise static text, or are we referring to randomness as the RNG that determines whether a player succeeds or fails in an event, or both?

Why does CoG eschew randomness? Is it because randomness potentially makes games much harder to test? Or is it like Fairyfeather’s example?
“High stats in combat, low stats in dancing. Character proceeds to get the snot beaten out of him/her but wins the grand dancing contest because the RNG said so.”
Player f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-frustation!

That said, I’m going back to watching the recorded conversation.
(Guess it would help if I watched the entire video before asking questions… :weary: )

Hey, does anyone know this game Jason was speaking about? The one that involved opening and closing of eyes and remembering things?

It’s called Pry. Works best on a tablet.

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