COG Game Design Guidelines

Fair enough! I certainly dont see it in every game by any means.

Thanks for the clarification!

Thanks for putting together such a useful resource as the outline doc. FWIW one of the links in the outline document is broken. It should be:


with the dashes. The link in the document doesn’t contain the dashes.
3 Likes

That sounds like a result of my penchant for centering most reactions in the 45-55% range when it comes to relationships, which works better for gating choices, but not so well when you’re fluctuating across the threshold between “I hate you” and “I want you to babysit my children”. More recently, I’ve been trying to include responses for middling character relationship values, so the disconnect isn’t quite so jarring.

I am in complete agreement here. Guns of Infinity has quite a few choices where you can simply refuse to do a thing, and I think they add to the story. Personally, I would say that “negative” choices are acceptable so long as they carry with them a consequence comparable to the positive choices. If your choice to “opt out” still has a tangible effect on either the MC or their surroundings, I would consider it a valid choice. If the antagonist is dangling off the side of a cliff, choosing to just sit there and watch them fall should be just as valid a course of action as saving them or kicking them off - after all, the consequences of such a choice would be just as profound.

6 Likes

Or you know. When they run off with you but hate you the whole time. O:-) also I was gonna see if I could find it again and PM you, since Hawkings is probably one of my favorite ROs.

Huh, that sounds like a genuine bug then, or it might be one of the older versions with the accidentally reversed relationship checks.

1 Like

Question to @MaryDuffy about the CoG style guide.

I’m an Oxford comma user myself (like my parents, Ayn Rand, and God), and if I recall correctly that’s also CoG’s preference – but I’ve been leaving it out for sheer coding convenience in situations like this:

You find yourself faced with
*if shaggy_here
  Shaggy,
*if scooby_here
  Scooby,
*if fred_here
  Fred,
Daphne and Velma.

Given the CoG style guidelines, I take it I now have to replace all such examples with clunkier code? e.g.

You find yourself faced with
*if shaggy_here
  Shaggy, 
*if scooby_here
  Scooby,
*if fred_here
  Fred,
*if (fred_here) or (shaggy_here) or (scooby_here)
  Daphne,
*if not(fred_here) and not(shaggy_here) and not(scooby_here)
  Daphne
and Velma.

Seems a lot of work for a comma’s difference.

4 Likes

Alternately:

*temp optional_comma ""
You find yourself faced with
*if shaggy_here
  Shaggy,
  *set optional_comma ","
*if scooby_here
  Scooby,
  *set optional_comma ","
*if fred_here
  Fred,
  *set optional_comma ","
Daphne${optional_comma} and Velma.
2 Likes

I very strongly disagree with this part:

“Inclusivity: The PC’s name, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and appearance must be determined by the player.”

This is wrong as an absolute requirement on several levels. One of the most enjoyable works of IF I’ve played is The Lost Pig, where you play the role of a dimwitted Orc who falls into a pit while chasing his escaped pig. A huge part of the enjoyment this cult work provides is exactly in that you get to experience a fictional world from a perspective different than your own. And that is the very point of “escapism” or literature as a whole if you will.

I have nothing in particular against games which do feature such choice, but I regard them more as “simulations” than works of actual interactive fiction, or to be more precise, as utilizing the form to its fullest. I’m always more interested in reading (and writing) IFs where you are given a defined character, and the more different from me in real life - the better!

This is a severely limiting requirement for authors, and for readers as well. I have several works in planning stages and they all feature strong protagonists. For example, one where you play an obviously sexless, yet quite raunchy robot (but who isn’t quite sure how these things actually function). Or one where you go through the story experiencing chapters from perspectives of different characters, which ones depending on your previous choices. A fantasy series in Howard’s style where each mid-to-short story is played with a different character as the protagonist, etc.

We are talking literature here, story rather than a simulation. You can’t have literature if the author cannot define the protagonist. That is just plain silly. We are not doing Skyrim with text here, and as a matter of fact, a parser based engine would be much better suited for that approach than a choose-your-path one. While some stories and authorial styles may accommodate this approach, requiring the protagonist to be a complete “tabula rasa” for the player is extremely limiting for the author not to mention patronizing to the player. It is akin to saying I won’t be able to enjoy a movie where the protagonist is heterosexual because I happen to be gay or won’t be really able to empathize with a 16th century japanese ninja character because we do not share race or gender. Ridiculous.

Those are the Guidelines for Choice of Games official games. They’re not saying that the rule makes a worse or better game. They’re just saying that the rule for inclusivity is a must for the official label.

I for one fully support, and truly appreciate that they have this requisite.

I don’t think anyone’s arguing that a game that doesn’t fit those requirements is not a good game. It’s just not a Choice of Game, that’s all.

There are official Choice of Games authors who publish to the Hosted Games labels when their games don’t fit those Guidelines. I know people love the Sabres series, and A Study in Steampunk.

You’re probably looking at publishing on the Hosted Games label anyway, unless you’re already a published author.

8 Likes

My criticism here is given from the perspective of an avid IF reader as well. In all works of fiction a huge part of the enjoyment comes from the character of the protagonist. Imagine Agatha Christie’s Poirot series where you are, as reader, required to choose the eponymous title character’s race, gender and sexual orientation at the outset of each novel. Or Conan stories with similar choice at the beginning…

As a matter of fact, in most choice-of games I’ve tried so far I always found “character creation” the most tedious and useless part. Frankly, for quite a few of them, I suspect I’d find them much more immersive and “escapist” if the protagonist, the character whom I “play” is an actually realized character, preferably as different from my own real life one as possible…

Obviously, that does not hold true for all of them, and in Choice of Dragon particularly character creation is perfect, and fits with the game perfectly. However in a sense CoD is more of a simulation, a “game” than interactive fiction as it is commonly understood to be. This model does not encompass all that interactive fiction can offer and I feel it is needlessly restrictive. Of course Choice Of label can have any requirements they choose to define their brand, but I feel that this is not really conductive to the future success of the label.

I hope you do not take this criticism as a “negative” one. I wouldn’t bother writing all this text if I didn’t love the IF genre so much and appreciate what CoG is doing for both the readers and the authors. Please, take it as an indication that you are doing things right, so much so that you are able to provoke an occasional heated response from a concerned fan.

1 Like

I’m not saying that you’re wrong. I also enjoy interactive fiction with set protagonists. In fact some of my favourite works of interactive fiction also have set protagonists.

The official Choice of Games all have a specific style. Part of that style’s the ability to play near blank slate self-insert protagonists. It’s their thing. It means that anyone can pick up an official CoG game and know that they can play male or female, gay or straight. That’s part of the appeal for many people.

I think we’ve had other discussions on these forums about set protagonists vs blank slate ones. More choices vs fewer. That sort of thing.

You can write the more defined sorts of protagonists for the Hosted Games label. And those are greatly welcomed too. It’s like, imagine you pick up Agatha Christie’s Poirot book and instead of getting the mystery detective novel, you’re expecting, you get a steamy bodice-ripping romance. It might be the most amazing romance there is, and Poirot might be a heart-throb, but it’s not the sort of book you intended to buy or read. If you’d wanted a romance novel, you wouldn’t have picked up Poirot.

We’d a discussion about character creation here and I think there’s been some others. Feel free to start another one. Especially if you’ve ideas on how to make things feel more natural. I tend to dislike it too. I’m all yawn, boring, I don’t care, particularly if it happens right at the start of the game. I’d much rather it’s just part of the story.

5 Likes

Not chiming in to defend our house style, but I’m curious what you think of our games, which do indeed all follow these kinds of inclusivity guidelines. You reference Dragon where yeah, gender doesn’t matter too much, for instance (and granted, it was our first game and doesn’t adhere to a lot of our design standards now) and then you mentioned other, non-COG IF …which is of course non-COG IF and this contest is the COG contest. So I’m curious if you’ve played a lot of our catalogue and if so, how you feel about the inclusivity standards in them.

One thing I’ll mention generally about the contest is that it’s really not a standard IF competition. It’s just not. It’s not a wide open “show us your IF.” In a way, it’s “show us our IF.” And here’s some of that reasoning (from me, at least, just one member of the team.) In the time I’ve been at COG, I’ve received a lot of emails from folks who don’t have a strong background in writing or are more on a hobbyist level (dabblers, even? :smile:) who will say something like “I’m not a writer, but could you consider me for a Choice of Games contract?” and in short, the answer is more often “no,” than anything else. I suggest they try writing a Hosted Game first, and that we may consider a pitch for a COG title from a Hosted Games author once they’ve written one.

The usual follow up to that or often, the initial email as well is something like “How about if I write a whole game for you and then you see if it’s good enough to be a COG game instead of a Hosted Game?” But our development process just doesn’t work that way. There’s always the exception that proves the rule, of course.

So this contest does a lot things. One, I hope it increases community interest in ChoiceScript as a tool for IF, in particular from folks who haven’t tried it and/or want to work with it and us. Two, I hope we get a lot of entries. Entries that are so good we have a hard time selecting 3 prize winners and then also have a slew of amazing Hosted Games to publish as well. And three: I hope this gives those folks who have written in to us an opportunity, encouragement, or just that extra $$$ incentive to try writing a COG from scratch. Because we’ve actually published our design docs, judging rubric, and all the tools you need to write a COG-style game. We’re also writing a series of blog posts that will help elucidate more about how that design works.

5 Likes

Cog is an important example as If hasn’t to be a closed genre with set characters. IF is not a nobel, it has to be interactive. Most of if has the interactivity of a potato. Understanding interactivity as the opportunity of change the storytelling with our choices. Mostly are choosing the right one or die. If only there are one choice there is not choice at all. I see most of them as great histories with a little of flavor choices.

Cog is a game, with rp elements. The immersion came from make your character and live your adventure. Genre, personality, etc are part immportant of it. is an hybrid of game and story.

5 Likes

How would, for example, a black lesbian version of Conan in any way mess with or diminish the quality of the story?

If gender, race, or orientation dynamics are a significant part of a story, that’s a different matter. But when they’re not, even if the protagonist has a predetermined personality, nature, storyline, etc., if the story is an interactive one, why limit it?

(Especially if the default keeps being nothing but white heterosexual men…)

7 Likes

It’s fine to make a point like this–but if @dabbler wants to reply on the same subject go ahead and link/start a new topic. I’d like to keep this thread focussed on the contest and logistics thereof, answering questions as people have them. I value hearing voices and views that differ from COG’s design standards but I pointedly did not defend them in my reply above because I wanted to explain why it’s this way in the context of the contest itself.

ETA, more housekeeping: Well, this thread is for the contest and explaining the game design standards. Debate about same can and should exists, just needs to live elsewhere.

3 Likes

Thank you for sharing this document. I notice some things within that aren’t covered in the ‘Writing Choice of Games games’ document (which for some reason is different), and the additional information is really quite pivotal. May I inquire… when it comes to the contest, why is this pdf not shared alongside the https://docs.google.com/document/d/17MxymBbcIal4vh_k2w7A1vbd-H6dAorQ9O-Q5zLjCsc/edit document on the https://www.choiceofgames.com/contest/ page? It is -very good- that it is being shared here, and I understand that the two are separate design states in official games. This is like the missing link in the puzzle I was having of what makes a CoG game ‘feel’ like a CoG game, and might be what people were trying to point out to me which I was understanding as the other document. Problem solved, but I think it may cause additional problems down the road with other participants to not refer to both documents in every instance either is mentioned as a guideline for the contest. IE, ‘But I followed the writing Choice of Games games document!’ - ‘Yes, but you don’t have any secondary stats.’ - ‘What are secondary stats? They aren’t covered in the guidelines at all!’ - ‘They’re covered in the CoG Game Design Guidelines.’ - ‘I followed the guideline!’ - ‘The Writing for Choice of Games Game Outline?’ - ‘What’s that? I never saw that!’ - ‘It’s posted on the forums.’ - ‘I never visited the forums!’ … … Or something like this. I understand why the two documents are separate- under ordinary circumstances, access to each would be handled at appropriate times. With the contest, the flow of information is different. This step of posting this document here is an incredible step in the right direction, but it’s incomplete in rectifying the necessity of providing this to all contest participants. I still need to say, though, making it available is completely right. And the provided information is incredibly helpful!

From a personal perspective, outlining (at all) is strange new ground to me. I suppose I do so mentally, but I’ve always more or less designed stories as I write them. I know major events I want to move to, but chapters beyond the next are usually fairly undefined, as I don’t know where the flow of the story is going to lead, and I like to be organized in a certain chronology in my mind to be able to accept surprises. Providing a chapter summary requires having a story planned before it gets written. Often, in my writing, I know things I want to have happen… but not -when- I want them to happen. The major events. I leave it a bit open, and they fall into place as more writing becomes clear. Like not being able to say if something happens in chapter five, or chapter six, until I get to that point. Only having the idea that I want it to happen. Thing is… I don’t think the CoG design structure is flawed- I just, think it’s like a school system. As different people learn in different ways, so do different people write in different ways, and standardizing is going to be more challenging for some than others not synonymous with writing ability. Adaptability, though, an entirely different trait, will see some able to provide within the system. A system cuts out everything below a certain standard, creating a minimum level of quality for a successful project… but it also does create a maximum level of quality found in creative genius. The mere fact that HG -exists- is reason enough for authors to give thanks, in that creative liberty being provided. Likewise, CoG, in providing incentive to work in a certain system. CoG games -do- have a similar feel, in the manner that Bethesda games all have a similar feel when compared with other games. There are certain design expectations, a number which provide a certain expectation of quality, while at the same time, being limitations on possibility. The Witcher III -could- have been a Bethesda game, but it is probably, to be honest, a better game because it is not. By the same train of thought, Fallout 4 and Skyrim are both excellent games that are in some ways vastly different, but both have certain similarities, both being Bethesda games… and both are just fine, just as they are. It’s not really debateable whether The Witcher III or Fallout 4 is a better game, because it comes down to individual preference and criteria. So too a CoG game and a HG game. CoG games by their nature, though, will have a certain feel to them which a HG can escape- and the HG may be better, or worse, for it.

Other things which occur to me to point out- I think @Rhodeworks has a very, very good point in regards to choices changing the gameworld. Not as @Havenstone points out- that’s completely valid but separate from the angle I see from this. An author must, for CoG, bend metaphysics. An MC is invulnerable. Nothing in the story, no decision, no law of physics, can be more powerful than the metaphysical law of MC success (even through failure). MC wants to jump from a plane without a parachute? Assuming the option is even provided, they can’t hit the ground and go splat unless the game is almost over. Regardless of stats. If such a game had stats like ‘Luck’ and ‘Awesomeness’ and ‘Survival’, and somehow the player had the lowest possible stats in each the game could provide at that state, they’d still need to not go splat. Whatever way of warping reality would work best- sprouting wings, being caught by a dragon midair, being teleported at that exact moment… there’s utterly no fear of a player making a choice to jump out of a plane without a parachute in a CoG if it’s a choice that’s provided; it can’t fail. If another choice would be to attempt to land the plane, which is perfectly logical and sensible by comparison, jumping out the door needs to provide the same amount of reward as landing the plane. Like increasing luck. (actual stat changed doesn’t matter) Or, alternately, if jumping out the door with no parachute is punishing, so too must landing the plane be.

It’s a different issue from internal vs external justification and risk/reward. It’s also different from the example Rhodeworks made, but stems from the same thought that provided it, I think.

One thing I’d point out is a matter of diplomacy. People… don’t like being told what to do. Not in absolutes, or opinion misstated as fact. There’s, for example, a difference to saying ‘You should never so-and-so’ and ‘We seek to keep so-and-so from our stories’. It’s not wrong for CoG to not want passive choices, for example… but not correct to insinuate that it creates bad writing. (a delicate matter) I don’t think there is any insinuation, it’s more a matter of delicate wording and perception. It applies both to stories, and writing guidelines. Writing style can influence the perception as much as actual words… for example, the difference between first and second person: “You choose to do the thing.” or “You choose to do the other thing.” or “You know what, you choose to do both!” as opposed to choosing if “I do the thing.” or “I choose to do the other thing.” or “You know what, I choose to do both!” assuming that ‘I’ am different from ‘you’, and not written ‘as’ you.

Inclusivity as determined by the player opposed to inclusivity as determined by the author is … another of those design choice matters. As @dabbler makes a discussion of. Neither is wrong. They’re just different. And it’s another matter of diplomacy and wording. Heroes Rise: Redemption Season, for example… doesn’t entirely follow this- the MC’s power shifts their appearance around day to day. And it is, to note, a CoG game. Versus specifically places the player in the shoes of a specific alien race- it would be ridiculous to make an option for race available. And it too, is indeed, a CoG game. To my understanding, inclusivity is trying to be suggested by CoG as ‘we don’t want an MC the player can’t relate to on these levels’. Perhaps another means of considering the desired effect is for ‘all possible choices of MC identity to avoid prejudice, intentional or unintentional.’ I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with creating a predefined MC for a story, even with regards to CS, but it’s a design philosophy for CoG to keep MCs something a player can ‘personalize’. There’s nothing prejudiced about a pre-designed MC, and most people understand that, but there’s also nothing wrong with CoG wanting to avoid the small percentage of people who would complain that they aren’t represented by the MC or that a certain aspect of hot-topic inclusivity isn’t included. Valid, as CoG does seek to provide itself as a neutral elysium for social minorities. It’s an irony, the policy is non-inclusive for non-inclusivity, but they provide an inclusive out for this, too, in HG.

I do like the way @Mary_Duffy phrases the contest: 'It’s not a wide open “show us your IF.” In a way, it’s “show us our IF.” - There’s nothing, nothing at all, wrong with contest guidelines, and restrictions. Limitations in CoG games are often not feasible to argue against because HG exist, and being upset about contest guidelines isn’t the same as presenting objection to CoG design philosophy. It’s opinion against opinion, and consequently, again because HG exists, largely invalid. CoG has the right to exist as they do, with opinions equal to opinions not sharing the design philosophy- they don’t invalidate different approaches, they just essentially say ‘Different approaches are for HG.’

The $$$ incentive provided by the contest is better than HG. Whereas, worse than the ordinary CoG process. The question is… is it in addition to the regular incentive of CoG, or can a game in the regular process not be submitted to the contest? If it is not in addition, there should be no financial incentive for a CoG or HG published author to spend time on the contest, unless publicity is a factor (and it well could be). They’d be better off hooking a pitched idea which provides more money overall. But compared to writing a HG, the contest is a better financial incentive. I see no problem with a previously published author taking a $$$ hit to skip the pitch process, or write for publicity, but if a published author can both pitch an idea and submit the finished product to the contest, that gets to somewhat shaky ground. When it comes to a level playing field for folks who haven’t tried CS and/or want to work with CoG.

Thing is, CoG is a business. There are some things CoG would be hard-pressed to explain from a business point of view because a business must make money. Both appeasing the consumers and at times denying individual whims. Sometimes, individual points of view just aren’t practical to the target market as a whole- but at times are not insignificant, business models aren’t generally flawless- just functional. Business efficiency can be a bit different from product efficiency (weird as that sounds). I think it’s important to realize that CoG provides a ton of amazing services that aren’t utterly required to function as a business, such as HG and the contest, although they are very likely to be wise business decisions. Like- how could CoG be expected to justify their business model choices except to explain them as personal choice from a business standpoint. Inevitably someone wouldn’t want to accept that as enough justification, even though in context, it is.

In regards to the Outline guidelines, most noteably, contest entries aren’t going to need to provide an outline. But the document still covers things that are expected from a design point of view not covered in the writing CoG games document which very much have to do with writing contest entries. Any thoughts on providing a comprehensive CoG guidelines document covering everything CoG expects in the CoG process?

5 Likes

I think just an oversight. I added it to the contest page.

Previous and current COG authors under contract are not eligible for the contest. See rules.

I’ve updated the contest page to include the outline guide. We don’t really have other docs besides that, the Game Design Guide and the Style Guide for copyediting. I think there’s a minimum expectation of understanding and interest in how our games work that most people entering this contest bring to the table. If you’re a writer entering the contest, you know what a stat is. You know what a choice looks like. You’ve played our games. We’ve also created a mailing list and series of blog posts for the contest. One upcoming one will be an elaboration on our Judging Rubric which will give more detail on the different judging categories. We do have a forum, it’s not hard to find or a secret. :shrug:

3 Likes

Thank you. These answers are wonderfully succinct.

And yes, absolutely there’s a basic level of understanding and interest. Part of my thought process involved that despite my own understanding and interest, I hadn’t come across this thread until yesterday (that I can remember). I considered other people may have missed it too.

1 Like