I’ve spent the last few years slowly educating myself on creative writing. Of course over 99% of what you read/watch/hear about creative writing from the masters relates to conventional fiction. For example, the Writing Excuses podcast is EXCELLENT. If you have a 20-minute commute to work/school/lair, I highly recommend getting addicted to it.
Anyway, I guess I still struggle with incorporating basic narrative tools like “Try/Fail” cycles into CCH (and to a lesser extent the other project I’m working on).
I’m guessing most folks know this already (I’m embarrassed so say that I did not, as of two years ago, or at least I didn’t fully grasp the idea), but anyway, “Try/Fail” cycles are the bread and butter of fiction. The protagonist has a goal. The protagonist takes steps towards reaching the goal. The protagonist cannot succeed quickly because then the story is over. So she tries and fails, and tries again and fails again. Over and over. The number of “Try/Fail” cycles depends on the length of your story and the genre, along with your personal preferences, obviously.
So basically when applied to interactive fiction, the author would prevent the player from “wining” too often along the way so that tension can be maintained, similar to the tension in a conventional novel.
Conversely, If the player is allowed to string together win after win after win, and then “wins” the game at the end because of high stats, the story may suffer from a complete lack of tension. No tension = no real story.
Now it’s possible to style your story as a “thriller” that allows the player to win showdowns along the way, but that would still be covered by the “Yes/But” tool where the protagonist wins but is then faced with a bigger challenge. Then she wins again, but again is faced with a bigger challenge. Sort of like a “save your mom, then save the city, then save the world” sort of story. So even though the character can “win” a lot, her goal keeps moving and she’s still chasing it. So there’s still tension.
However in many stories outside the “thriller” genre, the protagonist will simply fail and fail and fail, and sometimes the failure will be accompanied by even worse circumstances. “You failed to defeat the wizard, and now he locks you in a tower.”
Okay so enough rambling…I guess my questions is:
What tools have people used to incorporate these techniques in their interactive stories in a way that still allows or gives the illusion of allowing the player to still make meaningful choices?
In CCH 1, I forced the antagonist to fail…a LOT…and it was intentional on my part, but some readers complained about being too weak or being too useless. I would like to think that I could have avoided those complaints somewhat by writing a bigger payoff at the end. However, I felt I had written myself into a corner by having the MC facing off against someone 1,000 times more powerful than the MC, and so failure at the end was the only plausible option; I guess I felt just the MC surviving and (if passing a high skill check) getting one small shot in on the bad guy would be satisfying enough.
For CCH 2, I am writing (I think) clearer Try/Fail cycles. There are definitely a ton of set backs, yet again. But I have written a more decisive victory path for the MC at the climax, so hopefully that payoff will feel satisfying to the reader. Still, I struggle with offering meaningful choices throughout the story when the MC MUST lose Battle A. And Battle B. etc etc
I offer the MC choices about relationships, and motivations, and which path they want to take to better themselves, but no matter what, each path will involve a lot of failures, setbacks, dead ends, etc. Depending on some skills checks, your MC can do poorly or “okay” in some fights, so the scenes may read differently, but losses are assured either way.
Sorry for being so wordy, but I’d love to hear some thoughts on this.