Choice Impact - Quality vs Quantity - What is More Important?

I was writing a post in the Disliked Elements thread and decided that perhaps having a discussion on this would be valuable, so I am making a new thread for discussions and am adding a poll so that I can gauge some things.

I was wondering about how important branching really is in these stories. If a player knows going in that a lot is predefined, would it still put them off to have choices limited to more key aspects rather than being able to choose a lot of reactions or the like? I know I myself would prefer to be able to, but what if it was something more linear but with a lot more meaning behind limited choices given. [While it is possible to do both, usually if you want to give equal depth but more choices, it increases the amount of writing you need to do to finish something. This can be at times exponential when choices build on one another. Hence how a story grows from being only 200k in first draft to over doubling in size for the finished project.]

For Example: In most IF, character creation ends up having very little impact on the game. If there is 12 choices for hair colour including a custom one, expecting the author to write customized descriptions or notes for each of them would be a tall order and perhaps unreasonable if it is not a primary focus of the story. However, with perhaps 3-5 hair colours, it would be a lot easier to integrate the hair colour you chose back into the story in terms of reactions or the like. This is just one example, but it would have meaning everywhere [not just in customization].

In my current WIP, the story remembers many of your choices, but there is so many that a lot of them might only have a casual mention once or twice later on. It is more particular than just having it contribute to a stat, but it also means a lot more work. I’m wondering if limiting character choices in other projects in order to more readily integrate them back in the story is worth the cost of more variation in how the player can present their character.

  • Meaningful Choices are far more important than Quantity - Few Options is better if it means more time to each choice.
  • I prefer a balance - Even if there is some cost to depth, if it means there is more variety in options I think it’s worth it.
  • Quantity of Choices is more important than their Impact - Having a vast amount of options is often times more important than anything else.

0 voters

Thoughts on the topic overall would be helpful, also I wish I could add more polls but honestly not even sure what polls to add so if anyone has ideas just let me know how to name a poll and I’ll add more haha!

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I like flavor text based on not so important choices. But I like impactful choices more (of course).

I would prefer a couple minor choices that WILL show up again than a bunch of minor choices that go nowhere.

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Why does it have to be the focus?

You are looking at it the wrong way.

For example in Fernewh Saga, Luna the author does stuff for those things and they aren’t the focus. It’s called ‘Adding small details to enhance what is already there’. The focus is and always will be the main Plot, and the characters and the World around said character.

Have you ever read a book or played a game, where the focus was on someone’s HAIR? What was it? WIGS WILL SPLIT HAIR 2? No never.

And a cc has much more use than ‘Being a focus’, it’s both for the writer to add little things for fun for their players, but also for some people who need it to create their own characters in their mind.

And believe me, those ‘Tiny details’ that many think of them as ‘Fluff’ mean a lot to peoples and they notice when they go missing. Aka removed.

Like for example: In Mass effect 1, you get emails. Or you hear your shepard mention being a Biotic? Once they removed those from MEA? Peoples asked after them…does cora react to my mc being a biotic? Why not? This suck.

The branching is part of the medium. No matter how you slice it, there will be branching. It all depends on how far you want those branches to go.

They are games. In stories, you don’t have branching. Well, you can have some, but they are in your head and don’t show up in the same form as an IF.

Up to the writer really.

Would it put me off? In what sense? if a game is pre-defined in gender choice and everything I do, doesn’t matter…why would I waste my time playing it?

I already skip Gender-locked games and pre-defined MC games. (Example: You can’t change MC’s name, he will be forever called Mario, a set MC).

I think it depends again on the game. And the story. Some don’t require that much and you can get away with cutting off stuff. But for others, it’s like you are cutting off an important part of said game.

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Personally I never particularly cared for appearance customisation. My character could be described with several adjectives: tall, dark-haired, cold, utterly unfeeling murder-happy husk in most cases and I dislike when the choice to get the usual is ripped away from me.

I would much rather prefer personality customisation that appeals to my sensibilities and desires, allowing me to play the character I usually play without lurching and immersion-breaking moments. I, the Forgotten One come to mind with self-harming suicidal breakdowns for my deeply religious and stoic Marshal who tried to adapt as much as he could, same could be said about nightmare sequences for one of my Sidesteps, the man who sacrificed his feelings to Heartbreak and ended up with Puppetmaster scar.

I tend to be a fairly avid roleplayer, but I also hold the belief that every stat must matter equally, preferably in a form better than remarks here and there. This especially can be said about personality stats, which i see as a great tool for interpersonal relationships, something that Mecha Ace, in my opinion, did incredibly well. If a stat exists, it must matter deeply and it must be integrated into the system.

And if a character player can create does not feel like their own person, Ronin from Samurai of Hyuga being the biggest example, it is best to make the personality traits matter and limit writer-mandated plot pushes. I, for example, utterly hate it when my stoical husks end up crying on kitchen floors. If we have customisation of our personality and MC can be partially defined by player, it should matter.

I also hate angst, so I might come from this perspective also. It is simply boring for me to read MC’s tirades about their endless woes. Get up, dude! Stop crying on the kitchen floor, let’s get over our problems through blasé application of violence!

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it all depends , games with defined genres and names already take me out of immersion , but also if the choices are there just to decorate and not change anything , it 's not cool , but it 's just my opinion.

This is a tough one, especially when it comes to customisation. In the case of customisation, many choices are rarely even mentioned, and you only get to see them on the customisation screen itself. Speaking for myself, I’d say just allow me to select my name, my gender, my strengths and weaknesses and I’m all ready to go. Other things will probably never get mentioned anyway. As for other choices, I’d like to see at least some changes here and there, like who I get to spend time with, who I get to romance, who loves or hates me because of my interactions with others, or lack thereof. Other than that, it’s important to realise that you can’t please everyone. Do your thing, and your game will earn its rightful spot regardless of what you do or how you did it.

There’s a tiny part of my brain that kind of likes “pick the right stat options” as sort of a satisfying “yeah, I accomplished a task” dopamine rush.

I think its only feels like a choice though, if there are actual narrative consequences for the choice related to what stat you use that aren’t just “you failed the stat check so bad thing happens”. Like in Fallen Hero, Argent thinks of you differently depending on how you choose to fight her. Same with the enemy pilot from Mecha Ace who is only romancable under certain stat and mid combat choices.

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A little of column A, a little of column B. Do I know that character appearance customization choices in CSGs often are purely for flavor? Yes. Do I enjoy and appreciate them? Yes.
But in story, I believe that every choice should have some level of narrative consequence (even if it’s a simple small stat shift that affects later text rather than a direct branch shift), and that if an action is necessary to advance the story, it shouldn’t be a choice (ex: Fallen Hero MC must be a supervillain to advance the story–they always have some driving goal that overrides their very rational fears of their past demons coming for them if they stand out too much that only villainy can fulfill, in their minds), or it should lead to a bad end (Tin Star MC needs to be marshal of Lander County–MC can die at the very beginning of the game if they repeatedly refuse Marshal James’ offer).

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For me, it is all about flow. What amount of choices will make the text and the reading experience feel interactive? I often add lots of minor choices just to break up texts, and solicit more input from the reader. Choices doesn’t have to branch to still feel important and valid.

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First off, thanks everyone for taking the time to give some thoughts! I appreciate having your input!

Maybe what I originally wrote was a touch confusing. I was wondering if less variety in choices to allow for more depth in them might be worth the cost that comes with it, if it means that there is more reintegration of those choices back into the main story. Or whether the variety supersedes the necessity for depth. I’ve noticed a lot of people complain in the past about choices not mattering, I think this is in part due to authors having to decide what balance to strike between variety and depth, because having both means considerably more work and you have to be reasonable with yourself if you want to complete a work.

Now, some replies.

Response to @E_RedMark :

Redmark - As if hair *really* matters?

Have you ever read a book or played a game, where the focus was on someone’s HAIR? What was it? WIGS WILL SPLIT HAIR 2? No never.

Not yet, but what if there was an IF made from the perspective of a hairdresser, a series of short stories talking about the significance might make sense. Even seemingly meaningless things relative to the whole can still tell someone something or draw interest.

Would it put me off? In what sense? if a game is pre-defined in gender choice and everything I do, doesn’t matter…why would I waste my time playing it?
I already skip Gender-locked games and pre-defined MC games. (Example: You can’t change MC’s name, he will be forever called Mario, a set MC).

I also would draw a line at gender locking an MC, because to me it’s pretty important for the choice to be there. I prefer changeable name too, though if they are using a non-gendered alias it doesn’t bug me nearly as much.

Response to @vera :

vera - Personality over appearance

I tend to be a fairly avid roleplayer, but I also hold the belief that every stat must matter equally, preferably in a form better than remarks here and there.

I am also very much a roleplayer. I personally like being able to make my character’s appearance because I think it often times lends to allowing me to visually distinguish them from other variations I might make for an MC in the future [I often do more than one playthrough of a game].

I also hate angst, so I might come from this perspective also. It is simply boring for me to read MC’s tirades about their endless woes. Get up, dude! Stop crying on the kitchen floor, let’s get over our problems through blasé application of violence!

Does angst constitute moping? I hadn’t thought about what it means in particular.

Response to @malinryden :

For me, it is all about flow. What amount of choices will make the text and the reading experience feel interactive? I often add lots of minor choices just to break up texts, and solicit more input from the reader. Choices doesn’t have to branch to still feel important and valid.

I noticed so far that a lot of times there are places where integrating more choice feels appropriate, it’s weird how when you sit on something you see more opportunities to fit options for a reader. Though I think I set myself up for pain by having too many, perhaps, hence why I felt the need to write up a thread in the first place. :joy:

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Hence why I said it depends on the story.

It often does. It’s hard to distinguish angst from moping for me and honestly, after so much angsty books I’ve forced myself to read through I don’t even want to explore the distinction. All such breaks serve and give me is never-ending annoyance of my character getting put on the rails of emotion, angst is just the most common offender.

And it’s something I utterly hate if I’m given hand in setting the character, if I can pick out his hair colour, but not his character. It is even worse if personality stats are involved - apparently, Stoic is not as Stoic as we would like him to be during plot-mandated breakdowns.

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The idea of fewer, more meaningful choices can work…in something like a visual novel, maybe. But this is a matter of reader expectation: readers of choicegames are accustomed to a choice at the end of every page, and you can bet your last dollar they’re not going to be happy if that choice dopamine is 12+ paragraphs away.

If you compare choicegames to other forms of interactive fiction, there are a ton of choices made throughout a playthrough. That’s not to say you can’t have meaningful choices, but that most of your choices won’t impact the narrative in any significant way.

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I’d say do whatever makes you feel comfortable, for me personally I’d opt to a quality script but nothing automated… I mean it’s a RPG otherwise I’d be reading a book… that’s why I hate books…
Anyways E_R. Had a valid point it’s the little things that set the tone… you don’t have to be descriptive all the time, just about the little things think ’ thriller ’ just enough to give us a layout, nothing out of sorts… keep it simple…
That being said I’d hate to encounter a scenario that limits a players’ movement cuz it didn’t fit with they’re persona… then a gain I love a challenge, nothing impossible hopefully :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:.

Far as story choices go I personally consider it a better idea to instead of giving a ton of false choices to have fewer in total, but more deeply explore where those story affecting choices could lead you while using personality affecting choices sprinkle the flavor.

For character creation having fewer more general choices that are mentioned more often in a vague description allows readers to headcanon things more. Why state what shade of blond their hair is and stuff like that when readers can perfectly imagine it on their own.

Response to @MultipleChoice :

Then does it not fall back to the usual complaint of readers that choices ‘don’t matter’ when in reality that is a concession needed to be made for a story not to become needlessly work intensive for a writer who is uninterested in that aspect of things? Some choices will matter a whole lot, but if you limit user choice to those options than they will complain not enough choice, if you want to minimize work by not overly committing to the smaller choices than your choices ‘don’t matter.’ Feels like quite the pickle to find yourself in.

Response to @CavusRex :

Far as story choices go I personally consider it a better idea to instead of giving a ton of false choices to have fewer in total, but more deeply explore where those story affecting choices could lead you while using personality affecting choices sprinkle the flavor.

Part of me wonders if choosing a preset general personality for dialogue outside of choices then allowing for freedom when choices do arise would be a good concession. That way you don’t need a laborious amount of *if statements. SImilar to how it was done in Freak if I recall correctly.

For character creation having fewer more general choices that are mentioned more often in a vague description allows readers to headcanon things more. Why state what shade of blond their hair is and stuff like that when readers can perfectly imagine it on their own.

Instead of describing particulars, maybe using less direct description? Like, for example, an option to choose the impression your face gives instead of the direct look. [“A hallowed face that gives an impression of unapproachability” vs “you have a sharp nose, small ears, etc”] It leaves more open to interpretation to the reader while also giving a stronger impression, perhaps?

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The way I am trying to handle personality elements right now is that I will give the player choices early, especially as they meet characters and establish relationships while as the main story goes on and the player defines their MC more that job is slowly taken over by their previous choices, while still leaving some wiggle room with how approach conversations when there is time to think without pressure.

Precisely. Don’t bother describing how exactly the character looks, but rather give more vague references (a tall MC dwarfing a shorter character instead of saying MC is 6’2) which will allow readers to build a character closer to their ideal than if you gave them a ready made one down to the shade of brown their hair is.

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Nobody does their best writing three branches into a conversation sequence where an optional character introduces you to their boyfriend/girlfriend/flatmate inside their penthouse/cottage/mother’s basement. “Work intensity” is part of it, but this kind of stuff really just results in “mad libs” type copypasta.

Great for wordcounts, not so much for reading.

In my experience, the best approach is to have a constant stream of choices that don’t matter much beyond the next page, intermixed with a handful of ones that are much more significant. A good author will remind the player of those choices throughout the rest of the story/series.

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Expressive choices:

I think it’s really important to include a variety of MC responses to events, whether or not they majorly branch the narrative. Self-expression and nuance in MC opinions is something that interactive fiction is very good at, especially compared to games where art or voicing is a consideration. And it really helps (though it’s not a panacea) if there are core static plot events.

Character customisation:

I don’t personally find super detailed choices about this very interesting (eye colour is one that I think about so rarely in life that I don’t tend to find it very satisfying; I also don’t love seeing a huge list of very similar hair colours because it bogs me down a bit) but although I didn’t use to include much customisation, I’ve incorporated more as I’ve done more games. I think it can slow things down, but there are ways of staggering it or embedding it in the story. (I’ve cashed in “looking in a mirror” once and my goal is to avoid using it again, though who knows).

I like character backgrounds a lot where relevant. I think they can add a lot of texture to the MC and flesh them out.

Major branching isn’t the only way to make a choice matter most players understand that games can’t be a total free for all sandbox. (Trying to make the equivalent of Skyrim is a good way to never finish a project.) Changing a stat, having a character respond differently, or recording a variable to reference later, are all valid ways of making the choice feel meaningful and are useful for creating the branch-and-bottleneck long IF structure and making the bottleneck moments feel more tailored to what the player has done previously.

Although there’s totally room for styles where a player doesn’t make a choice for several pages in a row, I prefer playing when I have more frequent choices, whether or not it results in big branches. When I’m playing through my games to test, I often spot points where flow can be improved by adding choices. In terms of reduced workload, I would rather see less significant branching than fewer choices overall.

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One of the things that I loved about Dragon Age: Origins that I have yet to find used well in an IF (maybe it exists, but not in what I’ve played thus far), is how there are different backgrounds for the Warden and they are included in the prologue of the game. All Wardens basically go the same route, but where they come from is different. And, on various occasions, those backgrounds come into play in-game.

To me, something like that enriches a game far more than whether my MC is tall, short, blond, red-haired, etc. The MC’s background is woven into the story without causing too much disruption. A prologue to set that up in an IF wouldn’t even need to be added, but rather, the history could be sprinkled throughout the game, using the sharing of it as a way to get closer to the NPCs surrounding the MC (mutual sharing, so it gets the NPCs to open up some, too) and a way to use the MC’s past within the story’s framework to spice things up a bit.

I’m like you, preferring to have more frequent choices. I don’t care if it results in a huge branch, but I like having more control of what my character is feeling, saying, and thinking, rather than rely on the author to get a generic text that fits. And not every choice has to alter the MC’s personality stats, either. Sometimes the choices can just result in a couple of sentences changing in the next scene. Or, maybe, none, save for the choice itself.

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