Choices vs story

I’m writing a story, its one that has been in my head for many a year now. I’m not an accomplished writer, english being my second language, but I thought it’s been so many years now that I really need to start writing it.

Anyway, for some reason I’m writing it as a CYOA game. It’s called Paladins:Salvation.

The titular Paladins are avatars of the Gods themselves, though their purpose in the mortal world varies depending on the god they represent. Salvation is meant to be a story of war and turmoil, a story of adventure and unification, leading the people in the fight for a common goal; that being survival. It is meant to be a strict time-line based one because, well, the world is meant to be ending in it, because, a certain someone (the player) didn’t do their job. -ahem-.

Anyway, as I’m writing it I started noticing that perhaps I didn’t allow too many choices, especially in the early sessions (which at the moment is all of it!) and I was curious what people here thought about a storygame that has limited choices especially early on. And also what the opinion was on seeing their character do things/ask questions without having to be prompted through a choice.

I bring it up because I’ve heard some complaints about lack of choices or false choices in the past. Myself, I think I’ll be allowing the major story choices to be player-enforced but I personally don’t see minor things being an issue. Still I’d like to ask for further opinions? :smiley:

The way I look at it, why make a choice game if your choices don’t matter? Might as well just be a novel.

It’s an interactive choice story. Therefore, the story should serve the choices and the choices should serve the story. The choices should enhance the story being told. The player should never make choices just because. The two should work together. You can’t divorce them from each other. A choice should come as a natural extension of the story.

It depends. If you’re making something very long, giving lots of choice which does things is very difficult.

For me, I cope with that in several ways. Some are truly false choices which are meant only for roleplaying (letting the player set their tone in dialogue, that sort of thing). Some of them are rewarded by gaining access to backstory. Others are delayed effects or they work by accumlating a score in something, which would then open up a different solution or a small subplot.

How you want to do it is up to you. Just saying that not all choices have to be a story branching one.

I tend to look at choices from the perspective of the character, what does might one do here. Each Choice in turn may branch off into a whole 'nother story path. So while my method may take up a lot of words, I find it to be the most balanced method.

Take for example the very beginning of my story, you’ll have three different choices, each of which will be a completely different path.

I’m with @shoelip on this one.
By all means if you’ve opted for fewer but more substantial choices, that’s great, but they should make up a very big part of the “game”, else, yes, it may as well just be a novel.

@RVallant The main point is, a multiple choice game is supposed to be an interactive experience for the reader. To be truly compelling, the reader has to feel that their choices actually make a real difference, and this interaction also has to be prompted for regularly enough to feel like the story is about you (or rather, your character) – not give the impression that you’ve wandered into someone else’s story and should just be grateful that you’ve been allowed a glimpse, or to play a minor role in the greater scheme of things . . . It’s a matter of perception.

FWIW, it’s something I struggle with constantly, as it’s very easy to get too wrapped up in telling the story “my way” and almost forget the fact that a multiple choice game is supposed to be a partnership – a joint effort, almost – between you and reader, together guiding the protagonist through the world you’ve created.

I think story is important, but choices are more of what I want. In the end the author has to be writing at least 2 stories. With some different pages and minor branches. And this is a result of having choices. But if I feel from a game that the choices have no effect I lose interest and quit playing.

I certainly understand where you are coming from. I am so used to writing novels and short stories, so planning and writing interactive games is very different from my normal writing process. I am always questioning myself as to if my choices are creating enough of a difference in the game, if I am going too long without having a choice, etc.

Sometimes it is important though, in the interest of telling an in depth story in a world your player is a part of, to explain things without much choices (both of the games I am working on, there are usually 5 to 10 pages of introductory text before choices really start happening).

It is, in this medium, important to find a balance. I agree with @Vendetta, that when making a game/story in this format, it is no longer just your story, but also the story of anyone who plays it, and they should be able to make it mostly their own.

But that is tough. It really is.

@Shoelip - No, I mean for my effort there would be few choices but they would have a greater impact on the game. So is fewer choices acceptable if they have a bigger impact or is it vital to have more choices with less impact?

@Cjw - Point noted. =)

@Vendetta - Very true. I agree I suppose I’m struggling to balance my story and the story I want to tell with the player’s character and the directions the player may want to go in.

@Wolfwriter20 - hit the nail on the head there. My introduction for example is three ‘game’ pages long. There are no choices in any of them until the final page that provides the choice of the player gender. That was where I had the dilemma, because my setting is high fantasy in a unique world I crafted myself. The intro is long because its meant to set the scene, set in motion events that are plot dictated and perhaps player ‘excluded’ and is probably heavier on description and exposition than perhaps is normal. In fact the whole bit of my first chapter is very much a railroad of exposition and conversation, because to me it needs to establish rather broadly the settings, mythos and so on before I can let loose the leash and chain and allow the player the full freedom I’m intending.

The big thing is whether people would go through that to access the actual game itself, or whether they’d be turned off in an instant because they’re not getting straightforward choices in an instant. Hmm, I think perhaps I’ll need to release a preview or a demo of some sort and see what the feedback on that is…

@ everyone - thanks =)

Well how long are those three pages? If they don’t actually contain that much text, you could just put all of it on one page. (As a general rule I try to limit 1 game page to 4 pages on Word though its been known to go up to 6 very rarely)

Alternatively you could just focus on story stuff that’s of immediate importance to the main story and meaningful choices and then add a “Background choice” which links to extra story background/fluff and then links back to the main story. Cuts down on the really long stretches of text and eliminates the consecutive “one choice” pages from the main story.

I’m not exactly sure how strict your timeline is, so you might have more wiggle room than you think. If this world ending event can be avoided due to the character’s actions then you can certainly add more choices without worrying about the story being too constricting because you’re already essentially writing two different stories. (One where the world ends and one where the world is saved)

If the world is ending no matter what the character ultimately does, you can still make an entertaining story with a reasonable amount of choices, you just have to get a little creative with your choice placement. You can still have multiple endings as well. (Protagonist escapes to a new world via magic portal, the protagonist dies horribly along with the world, protagonist makes a pact with a deity to be saved, protagonist wakes up from the dream. Ha ha, no don’t do that last one.)

@EndMaster - In word 12 font, times new roman the intro setting is 2 and bit pages before the first choice relating to gender, though it continues for another 1.5 pages.

So that would be 4 pages with just the one choice in the middle, determining the player’s gender. (It’s no where near finished, much less started though…)

I’ve seen your use of background links in Eternal and it was something I was seriously considering, but I was hoping to keep the background within the frame of the story via use of a mentor type character to guide the player.

My actual timeline within the story hasn’t kicked off yet, I’m confident I’ll have plenty of choices and scenarios and routes to go through once the main plot kicks off. I’m just working on getting the introduction and its framework down at the moment. =D

Generally speaking, I prefer no choice to false choices, with some exceptions. (The dream sequence is Broadsides is fine, because the false choices are that way for a story-related reason).

I’m also fine with a lot of setting information, as long as choices are there once the main storyline kicks in.

Choices can be meaningful without leading to massive story branching though. I like Choice of Dragon, which is actually quite linear, in the sense of being a series of predetermined incidents. What’s important is that the choices I’ve made, even if their only real effect is on stats, have an impact on how those incidents play out.

It depends on what your going for. An interactive story, or are a more statistical, if this thing is chosen that thing happens type game story. Choices shouldn’t be implemented for no reason, like fake choices so many adamantly despise, but meaningful choices that make the reader/player feel more connected to the story are important. Take, oh I don’t know, mass effect for example. you think that at the end, your choices will have some effect, but then it’s just comes down to choice 1, 2, and 3 on the last page. That kind of takes away alot from the story. That’s the effect fake choices have. Choices like hair and eye color are ok, because those are appearance issues and don’t really matter anyway, but storyline choices… I would advise not adding in fake choices, and sticking to what you have now while trying to incorporate more storyline interaction later, or go back and try to add more to what you already have. I’m leaning more towards the first one. Even if the choices are small, thats ok, they do SOMETHING, but fake choices are just that, fake. It’s like your tricking your reader.

Personally, I like fake choices (if done properly). They add that extra element to the game. They reveal more about your character and the world.

The way I deal with this, especially because I tend to prefer the story part over the choices part in my own writing, is to try to craft a unique experience for fake choices, if I use them.

Let’s say that I have a choice and under three different options are fake choices which all lead back to a common branch. Well, even if don’t affect the story later on they can still drastically change the way that the reader understands the story. They can define characters and the world in different ways.

If you’re given the option to ask a character how they’re doing or tell them to f off, but the character dies regardless of the decision, you can still have what feels like a meaningful decision. Maybe if you’re nice to the character they reveal a secret or answer to a puzzle later on. That way you feel you’re interacting with the game even if there are no real consequences to the decision.

Sometimes it’s a lazy way to write, but I think it can be used effectively to craft a unique player experience.

To fake or not to fake that is the question. lol. I never use fake choices. I feel its a cheep way to write. But that is just me, not saying they can not be used.

I have a story where it satarts with small choices, but also i am new to coding so im learning and thats why mine will start iff less complicated

Fake choices have their place, I think. Most readers understand that sometimes the narrative just needs to be moved along. So long as most of their choices have some sort of impact or reward, then it’s fine.

Despite everything, you have to be realistic about choice games and their capabilities. Also, about the labor and time that goes into them.

Although, I’m not a big fan of choices just for the hell of it. If a writer is going to present fake choices, then they should consider just taking out the choices in that particular scene altogether, as the choices aren’t serving the story. Choices should grow from the story. Choices and the story should work in tandem. Choice for the sake of choice (like, say, choosing the color of your character’s belt when this will have no impact later) disconnects the reader IMO. You wouldn’t think it would do that, but if a player is making choices they have no emotional attachment to, then it feels like a chore.

I have written long narratives over 1,000 words or more in ZE with no choice and had no complaints. I do alter the narrative based on stats or earlier choices, though. Basically, my goal is to tell a story tailored to the reader and have her or him feel it is a personal story. Major events are altered by player choices and I try to interject a *choice whenever I feel a player should be given the chance to alter the story.

For Choicescript games these days, narrative sometimes takes a backseat to RPG mechanics. That is not necessarily a bad thing; Choicescript has the ability to handle many variables to track all sorts of player conditions. It seems like the stat-oriented games are becoming popular, and I feel the pressure to adjust a stat based on a choice or somehow alter the character’s stat page. That’s why fake choices are considered weak – they have no impact other than adding text. I tend to use them in two important situations:

  1. When I do present a wall of text to the reader, I find any choice (even fake_choice) is better than a next button.
  2. If the user really has no choice but is given the opportunity to interact, they still feel involved. For example, a prisoner being interrogated will still be beaten by a guard but is given one final choice to state how she feels about the interrogation.

Again, this is giving the player an opportunity to interact.


Those are good points, especially when you mention RPG mechanics being popular. I have a hard time writing a stat-based story, myself. I feel like choices and variables can accomplish the same thing, but I tend to prefer very story-heavy, narrative-driven pieces, so that explains my design philosophy, I suppose.

Readers will tolerate a wall-of-text if you make them feel connected to the narrative. If they have no connection, they’re going to skim or skip. A wall-of-text is fine after you’ve established that connection to the reader, but it’s best not to have it at the beginning of the story else you’re going to leave the reader going “Why do I care about this?”