I like the way A Crown of Sorcery and Steel does it! The first chapter feels very Dragon Age Origins to me. On a smaller scale, I also really like the varied backgrounds in Asteroid Run - Fay did a great job using stat combinations to inform the MC backstories.
That seems to be the complaint of a vocal minority, active on various fan forums but not representative of the market. A large share of the CoG readership will only read each game once, maybe twice. From that perspective, the illusion of choice is as good as the real thing; they’ll never know which of their choices mattered. They will know if they had to wait for pages and pages before they got a choice, though.
Most choices don’t need to matter for a game to sell well. Samurai of Hyuga and Zach Sergi’s work are ChoiceScript bestsellers in which the story is pretty linear and most choices don’t have consequence.
I write what I like to read, which is a story where more than the usual share of choices do “matter” and readers need to go through it at least four times to see a reasonable range of the story possibilities – but Rebels still has plenty of choices that don’t affect stats and thus are only remembered (if at all) by the player, not the game.
So do I think quantity is more important than quality? Definitely not when it comes to character customization; I don’t care about it, so I definitely don’t want to have to click through a dozen long lists of possible features. But yes when it comes to breaking up text and keeping choices frequent throughout the game.
linear-ish game with defined plot points but diverse set of choices > branchy game with lots of paths but little story engagement
For me the whole “choices don’t matter” debate hits weird. Like, meaningless choices aren’t a deal breaker because I don’t really mind reading a good book. Like, its a guilty pleasure, but sometimes I enjoy mediocre self-insert fanfiction. Samurai of Hyuuga never bothered me because if it was just a book, I’d probably still buy it. There are a lot of Choicescript games that I’d still play if they were just books.
I also don’t mind “pick your best of x, y, z stat, pass or fail” choices to either pad the number of choices or to break up the story, as long as its made clear (either in the choice itself or the text leading up to it) which stat is being tested. I get a rush of happy brain chemicals from being “right” and having accomplished something even if it ultimately is just a super easy check to continue the story.
My main hang-ups with choices are when they pretend there’s a choice when there’s not. Like if there’s a choice offered to do one of three actions but it goes “no actually you do [“correct” answer]”. Or if there’s clearly a “correct” route to take or stat/personality to have and if you don’t do that, the author makes it clear your playing “wrong”.
I don’t think every choice needs to have consequences or be super impactful beyond maybe a line or two of flavor. I just think theres a difference between a choice (which has consequences for later down), a “choice” which uses the select a choice coding but doesn’t really matter beyond a differing stat check/line and a not-choice (where it pretends to be the first but if you pick anything except the “canon” path, you’re wrong). If you’re an author trying to inflate the number of choices to break up the story, without adding work, I vastly prefer the second to the third.
Well it should be balanced. If i want just content, there are, I am sure, a ton of books which would cater to that need of mine, but the only reason that I’m as regular here as I am is because I love having the control over the character in the story, giving me an effect of essentially experiencing a story like harry potter, but instead of watching or reading it, I am in it. Its really the first person perspective that these games give that I enjoy so much and which keeps me tied to the amazing books and wips.
The issue for me is neither quality nor quantity of choices (as defined by branching vs. linear), but the quantity of well-written choices.
A choice that is written superbly adds a lot to the story. A choice that is sub-par will detract from the story.
It doesn’t matter if these are in-depth dives or if they are surface-level cosmetic choices. For me, a well executed choice will increase my enjoyment of the story, and a poorly executed choice will detract from the story.
Expectations are set by the choice itself, but how those choices play out will determine whether my expectations are met or not. This is why, offering a way to back out of the choice made is sometimes needed.
The impact of a choice, no matter the nature of the choice, will be amplified by well-written choices, just as the impact of poorly written choices will be lessened.
This is one thing that an author should get focused feedback on. Ask specifically: “Are there choices that need to be improved? If so, how would you improve them?”
Now for a slight sidebar:
I am attempting to do this in my Emigre game. If my final copy fills my vision, I believe it will be filling this void, at least for one game.
This is remarkable in theory, but executing this is not as simple as it seems on the face of it. I have three backgrounds of this nature, and without the multi-replace tool it is very cumbersome and awkward to execute. Even with multireplace, the coding and writing is daunting and harder to work with. Bug-finding and copy-editing are complicated enough as it is.
That talk about angst really made me want to see an existentialist IF. I mean, I have no idea what it would look like, but I’d want to.
I’m also playing with that idea for one of my projects; we’ll see how well that goes.
For me, it depends on what the choice is affecting. For dialogue I want as many options as possible, even if they only slightly change the NPC’s response and the story itself. It’s painful to have to pick between three things my character would really, really not say.
For stat related choices, I like a medium amount. Juggling too many stats is difficult and cumbersome, I prefer heavily flavored but limited stats compared to a barrage of 10 generic traits like “strength” “charisma” etc. etc. The whopping 17 stats in Sword of Rhivenia didn’t add a huge amount of flavor, but Nikola Tesla’s 8 felt weighty. Similarly, stat related choices don’t have to be super numerous to feel impactful, or to let you show off your character’s skills.
The choices I want to have very sparse options are quick combat ones. Feint left or right, tackle or flee. It meets the pace of the story realistically- when facing a split-second decision, nobody has the time to consider a big scrolling laundry list of all the ways the issue could be approached. Scarcity of options conveys the sense of urgency much better.
cough Shameless self promotion of my WIP cough My WIP has different career paths that have a mix of sprinkled in text and several whole chapters that change depending on it. While it is not quite a background I think it is on similar footing.
The Lawless Ones does something like this with six different origin stories to choose from before the main plot happens.
I agree with this so much! To me, I need a character creator to truly imagine characters. And preferably sooner rather than later, or I might start to fill in the blanks with things that will later either be non-canon or not quite as I tried to picture it.
And I adore such little details that refer back to my choices. It increases my immersion and enjoyment a lot!
I have a reason for why one might do this, though others might not feel it is important enough. But the more specificity we can give the MC that the writer can determine while writing—without ruining RPing—the more specific and creative the author can get with these types of things. If I know that the MC has straw-coloured hair, the RO could play on the piano the girl with the flaxen hair in their honour. Ok, that’s very specific… but it does easier allow for synonyms of colour, for example, rather than only using text replacement. If I know someone has blue eyes, I can’t assume they are bright or dark or vibrant–technically. But if I know it is bright vibrant blue, I could call it aquamarine, and I can reference it in more detail without making the reader go “that was just a text replacement, now the illusion is broken”.
I like “impression” based character creator choices—I don’t necessarily think one has to have only one of them though—but I do think they add fun things to IF games! It can add a lot of interesting flavour to interactions and reactions
That is a very good argument. If one is able to create a reference for each possible variation (or just the few that would be relevant at that time) it would definitely increase immersion. But when one isn’t confident in their skills it would require a lot of time and effort to be redirected from other aspects of the story or the writer’s time in general. And trying to appeal to include every possibility might just turn into a Sisyphean task. It is in the end a very subjective thing that should depend on what the writer thinks they’re more effective at rather than what the reader expects. In short include as much as you feel comfortable with writing rather than force it in and deliver a substandard result or hurt other elements you consider more important is what I think people should do. I just personally prefer the vague approach as someone with a rather good visual imagination.
As someone who’s weaned on visual novels, I am on the side of quality. Being drowned in choices means the narrative will most likely be messed up, not to mention being a nightmare to code. I want the player to experience the long-term results and consequences of their actions.