Choosing between something and nothing: A pet peeve

So this is something that happens from time to time in some Choice games and it annoys me. The example that most shocked me was in Choice of Dragons…

I’m reading, a new chapter begins, there’s the big header telling me so. The game asks me: Do you want to find a mate? I think about it a bit and say No. The game then says ok, whatever and immediately goes to another big new-chapter header.

Effectively, I skipped a whole chapter. Even if I didn’t feel like finding a dragon-mate at that time, I would have preferred to do something over doing nothing… if I had known that was what my choice was, I don’t see how I could have chosen No unless I was in a hurry to finish the game. In fact, every time I re-play Choice of Dragons, I’ll always say Yes. I expected saying no would just mean I could do something else that chapter… since it was explicitly a chapter about finding a mate, I thought maybe instead I would have to deal with the advances of another dragon looking to make ME its mate. But nope, I just got to do nothing.

Now, Choice of Dragons was the first game this company published, it’s not necessarily as sophisticated as most of the ones that came later… but like I said, this is just the most glaring example of a thing that I have seen more subtly present elsewhere. I’m not saying every branch of a story needs to have exactly as much to do, but… kinda. It would be nice! I’d rather always have to choose between option A and option B, than between option A and not option A.

Does this annoy anyone else? Is it so infrequent that nobody else cares? Among those of you writing the games, is this something you think of? Is it much harder to avoid than I imagine?


I’ve been trying to be careful about this exact thing, making sure that for every A there is also an equal amount of B (or C or D or E . . . I sometimes get swept away, haha).

For one thing, if someone just so happens to always pick the non-existent B, then the story might seem quite short and disappointing. This happened to me with one of the newer Choice of Games - somehow I managed to miss almost anything of interest on my first play-through, and then I topped it off with dying. I’m sure the game is excellent, and the prose itself is fine, but I don’t particularly care for it now.

I’m not an experienced choicescript writer - no completed pieces yet - but I do find I have to be careful balancing the different paths. Sometimes it’s because I want a character to be able to say, “No, thanks,” but I haven’t thought of a viable alternative route quite yet.

Another instance that can be tricky for me is dialogue, and spending time with other characters. If the MC would rather be alone, then what do I write about? How do I drive the narration with an MC who always picks the fastest way to get through a conversation, just for the sake of finishing the ‘talky bits’?

I have no idea whether I’ll succeed or not, but my hope is that any set of choices will lead to a similar amount of text (well, except one joke choice that leads to an early dismissal), and I hope the major branches will be equally satisfying.

A game I thought did a very good job with balancing the A versus B storylines was @heather’s Study in Steampunk. There is quite a lot of very significant branching, and there are some really excellent scenes distributed fairly well between the branches. I played it about four times, and there was never a play-through that I felt was disappointing in any major way.


We’re actually advised not to do this by CoG in the feedback to our pitches. As far as I know, having a choice solely between doing a thing and doing nothing is an unacceptable one, especially for choices that define the climax of a chapter (having choices with only two options in itself, is discouraged).

Of course, I’d imagine there are exceptions: I don’t think anyone would object if your choices are to either walk blithely into a trap, or refuse to do so based on knowledge acquired earlier that you are, in fact, walking into a trap.

I do believe the utilization of these type of choices would determine their success.

I’ll give an example of my own. In the third scene of my introductory chapter, I present a choice to the reader.

#Ask what the consequences are before making a decision
#Ignore the consequences and make the decision

I actually believe that most people will make the first choice and get to explore said consequences. If this is a replay, or if the reader is roleplaying - then they can go directly to the main choice ahead without any of the background info.

The choices are not doing something or “nothing” only between getting more info and skipping that possibility. The actual choice of what to do comes after this.


This I do not agree with - the length and development of each branch should be dependent on the story/game itself. I do believe in having enough “content” for each branching but that is a different matter from doing nothing or something.

Maybe my view is the minority view.

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I’m with you – both on the usefulness of skipthrough choices and that “enough” doesn’t always mean “equal.”

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I don’t really know if I’m derailing the conversation, but while I would’ve preferred something, nothing is better than your choice not being followed through (i.e. - your cousin comes to you who needs help finding his own mate, and in that process you manage to get one too, even though you denied.)

Was that too confusing :blush:

In thinking over this, would it be suitable to say ‘equally interesting’ or ‘equally engaging’ rather than equal, then?

Skip-through choices are certainly useful.

As to other avoid-this-section sort of options, I’m curious. If it’s possible to miss major branches of a story (especially a shorter story), like in Dragon where as @Falingard mentions one can essentially skip an entire chapter, won’t that hurt the overall narrative somewhat?

I’m just working on a section where one can go investigate mysterious noises (and find an automaton) or stay in a room and do paperwork. I was initially planning for the paperwork people to do something of interest. Should I just let them skip about fifteen thousand words of content and not write significant additional content for that option?

@Havenstone and @Zolataya, would it be possible for you to elaborate on good ways to balance length in different branches? Or any thoughts as to when brevity is the soul of wit, and when additional content is needed?

One story where I felt missing out on content was done very well was @WayWalkerLeigh’s series. If you aren’t following the main Sem/red allegations/Illyan path, you miss a lot of content and eventually get a sort of game over. It made sense, though, as the theme of the game seemed to have a lot to do with fate, and finding or following your path. Destiny, so to speak.

I suppose I’m not really the best one to speak, either. I scrapped nearly 15,000 words this week, not because I thought the prose was terrible, but I think I didn’t plan the mechanics well enough. The poor planning was actually partly because I wanted to make sure that the scene wasn’t twenty seconds of reading for some MCs, and twenty minutes for others. So maybe there’s a better way?

[quote=“Fiogan, post:8, topic:15462, full:true”]
In thinking over this, would it be suitable to say ‘equally interesting’ or ‘equally engaging’ rather than equal, then?

Skip-through choices are certainly useful. [/quote]

Equally engaging is a good choice :smile_cat: Interesting is a bit more subjective - I always approach my story/game from two perspectives; the first play-through and the replay.

There is a CoG game called “Meta-Human” that handles this quandary quite well. The story has you focus on “science” or “magic” development to begin and it goes quite far down this development for a bit. The story then transports you/the reader back in the story timeline to deal with the other branch.

So this type “skipping” can be done.

There is a simple game called “Papers, Please” where all you ever do is paperwork. It is an independent game that a lot of people really like despite what seems to be monotonous and repetitive gaming. The reason it is popular is because it draws a narrative of a society and its people through the endless paperwork done.

If I were to give you feedback based on what I know of your story and what you just said above I would say: If you continually have weird (in a good way) interruptions during the filing out the paperwork as you did with the singing telegram and pixie interruption earlier, then it will be fine.

If this is a “skip ahead” junction then the way you phrase your choice would matter a lot. If you make it known that by concentrating on the paperwork the reader would be skipping out on a scene and that if this is a replay, the stuff at the automaton does not change stats or anything of consequence, then this skipping would be o.k. on the surface. I might have a different opinion after beta testing it but that depends on the story as written.

I let the story write itself. I plan a “equal” number of choices “with impact” for each branch but the actual word count I leave to the story.

The problem @Falingard is actually high-lighting with Choice of Dragon is that significant choices are skipped entirely by choosing “No”. If later in the story, a person saying “no” had a second (or even third) chance to find a mate and experience the content skipped early, I bet there would be no issue today.

I scrap so much work that I’d have a trilogy if I kept it all! It would be a trilogy of crud but it would be a trilogy all the same :smile_cat:. I also have a brevity problem. If you read my intro for “Helvetti Rising” I put forth you’d see my brief exploratory entry. It was justly criticized as brief but it served its purpose.

Once I finish the current introduction I hope everyone will see the potential blossom into reality. In my planning for this WiP I am planning out each trunk of the story ahead of writing the text by out-lining the significant choices to be made and making sure there are an equal amount. There are additional non-significant choices sprinkled throughout to help advance the plot but an equal number of impact choices.

This does mean I sometimes have to revise and expand earlier material because ultimately the story writes itself. I’m facing such a moment as we speak. One of my subscenes has grown larger then I dreamed it ever would so now I’m going to the separate branch that substitutes for the subscene to make sure the important decisions are equal again.

The length of this sub-scene is longer than a prior but because the balance of choices is equal in both, I don’t feel there will be a problem with people feeling angry or upset … the reader/gamer gets to explore both sub-scenes but there will be exclusive content based on their choice within each trunk. We’ll see once I get everything out and get everyone’s feedback :smile_cat:

I used @Havenstone 's “long-winded” trait there - this topic is a good discussion though so it is worth it.


Actually, the original intent of the game had been to allow the MC to continue all the way to the end of the game while still being rivals with Sem, and ultimately choosing to go against him at the climax-- with equal amounts of content on both sides. Unfortunately, it was simply just far, far more than i could handle doing, and after really polling the readers, i found only a very small percentage of them even wanted to continue that thread. So i chose to end it early, though not ‘too’ early.

I do, however, have a case in the later WWU sequels when dealing with dating-- while one can choose to opt out, the MC can still go to the dance, and even if they also choose to opt-out of that was well, there’s an aftermath which greatly hints that the MC should have gone (pushing them to want to do it on replay). I try very, very hard to always have content for the MC no matter what they choose, while also trying to keep the story from feeling ‘on the rails’-- though it can admittedly, be difficult XD


I agree with @Just_Because on this. Since it was effectively a yes or no question, then there’s not a whole lot of a wiggle room. If it had been approached differently, then the choices could have grown out more organically. It’s not like humans just wake up one day and decide, today I’m going to hunt for a mate. So it’s kind of hard to relate to that. With humans, it’s more a series of events that present opportunities that we can choose to pursue, or ignore. Or in some cases we don’t even get a choice because of certain circumstances.

If you pick no, then they have to make a sweeping generalization and just assume that you really did mean no. Maybe wasn’t on the table. If I recall, there was a lot of complaints about DA 2 regarding this, where a lot of your followers kept courting you even though you had turned them down. This is something highly individual. Some people like being pursued, others do not. And it’s one of those things that would be too clumpsy to just ask outright, so it would have to be a case of read between the lines. How forceful was the rejection, that kinda thing.

As for the general spirit of the question. I would say that it would anger me more if my input was ignored altogether, but yes, sometimes I too wish there was more middleground to be had. Like what if you’re asked to actively pursue a romance with someone, and at the time you don’t want to, but then a scene comes along that makes you change your mind. Usually it’s too late by then. Of course the same thing is true in reverse, but it’s usually more common to be given a chance to call off the romance, than a second chance at starting one in the first place.