Consistent vs inconsistent world writing

In my journeys through various interactive narratives edited/hosted by CoG I’ve noticed that they tend to favor consistency in how they are written. For example, say that you have the option to enter a cave or take the path next to the cave; in a consistent world, taking the path would lead you into an encounter with a skeleton, while perhaps ducking into the cave would include a description of you watching as the skeleton on the path crossed by without spotting you. In an inconsistent world, you would encounter the skeleton on the path, but choosing the cave would have the path be empty afterall, or the skeleton may even be in the cave instead of the path.

Maybe not the best example, but hopefully you get what I’m saying. My question is: is one way of writing better than the other, at least in the world of interactive fiction? It seems like in the classic Choose Your Own Adventure books (that I’m a big fan of) the stories are mostly inconsistent, with the reader’s choices drastically changing the whole narrative, not just the protagonist’s progress.

Spoiler alert for a CYOA book written in 1982: For instance, in CYOA #6 House of Danger, one set of choices leads you to find that a group of chaotic chimpanzees are actually holographic projections used to fool outsiders, while another ending depicts the chimps as super-intelligent, able to communicate telepathically with aliens and even hold them hostage for blackmail.

I feel like this kind of inconsistent writing lends itself better to multiple read-throughs, but may not be the best way of telling a long, complex story with interweaving details. From the writer’s perspective, I think it’d be more difficult to account for and remember all the different continuities according to what the reader has chosen, and it’d be more challenging for choices made in the early game to make a big difference later on because all the choices would have to be written with all the upcoming continuities in mind.

Sorry if I’m a little confusing or all over the place with this, but it’s something I’d like to hear everyone’s thoughts on!


I think consistency in Choice games/books is easier but overall inconsistency is more interesting and offers more replayability.
Bbuuuuuttt in your example(skeleton) consistency works well because that would help you really be immersed and sucked into the story because of the real life (game) consequences.
This is a tough debate and you really have to play devil’s advocate.


That title made me think this was about bigger inconsistencies than you appear to be talking about.

As long as each timeline is consistent from end to end they can be as drastically different as they want to be. Just try not to break the established universe please.

I think the difference is twofold here. First, CYOA books lent themselves to lots of different ending points (which tends to get your game canned in the stores if you have comparatively short branching stories or sudden deaths/endings), the other is you could always put a bookmark in and go back to the last choice (aka cheat if you didn’t like the choice you made,) where as you can’t in most choicescript games.

Because the trend is for games to be more linear and a lot of readers don’t replay games many times, writing entirely different stories (in your example one where you’re trying to get away from super intelligent apes, and another where you discover the apes are just a projection and walk right by and go off on a completely different track, starts to get hard to justify unless it’s towards the end of the book. (Again, unfortunately your rating on the stores will dictate how likely most people are to pick it up, and if your book is considered “short” to read through because of the various stories which a lot of people won’t see, you’ll tend to get a lot of bad reviews.)

Although I agree, it’s good to have variation, if you’re in the same time and place, but one one occasion you get killed by a skeleton for going into the cave and on another you don’t because it’s on the path instead; it’ll tend to frustrate a lot of readers because it won’t make sense as being part of the same time line they’re expecting. You’ve also go to be careful with your sign posting. If everything so far has pointed towards that skeleton being in the cave (because they always are, or you can hear it etc) if on one choice it’s out on the path, you’ll need to explain why or have unhappy players. It’s even worse if you start playing around with more immovable objects like tunnel directions, road destinations, unstable paths, location of goals/towns/cities/enemy settlements etc.

(BTW Although I don’t think it’s exactly what you’re asking for, I do have a game I’ve been building for fun for a while (and I’ll play it even if no one else wants to if it doesn’t turn out right. (Although I hope that’s not the case)) That randomises a whole lot of events, just because I find it fun to do. (It’s kind resources game with a random events that the outcome doesn’t stay the same for depening on what the dice rolls and a little storyline thrown in.) It’ll make it up here eventually (probably, depending on what I think of it when done and if it all works) but I need to finish my other game first.)


@Jacic @chopper If i am not mistaken , majority of the complaints regarding CYOA games are that whether their choices in the game “matter” , matter in the sense that whether they can apply the most logical explanation in picking a choice to get the “correct” outcome …

In this case, it is important that the story line consist of a consistent story plot which can make logical explanation on why the reader’s choice matter in obtaining a certain outcome … else some readers will demand a logical explanation on the illogical continuity…

Perhaps i take one example from a famous PC games scenario…
Player is given a choice to help either the female doctor or the alien race

  1. To help the alien race, player’s special force find out that all the residents in a haven had been infected by the swarm virus , so killing all of them is the only way to contain the spread of swarm virus … and after the mission, player also find out the female doctor had long been infected as well…she turn into the swarm monster the moment player finish off the residents , so it indicates that the player make the “correct” choice by helping the alien race

  2. To help the female doctor, the player repel the alien race and it is later reveal that the female doctor manage to develop a cure, and everyone is safe… the doctor never infected by the swarm virus and she maintain a cosy farewell with the player. So it also indicate that the player had made a “correct” choice

Everyone should be happy right ? because no matter what the choice …player is “right” . But i had seen many gamers had criticised such inconsistent story writing , which they felt is illogical in the first place even though the game itself meant well…


The biggest issue is: Narrative Consistency is different than Game Consistency.

Narrative consistency is taking a story via all the literary writing techniques we are taught from a beginning to a believable ending. Game consistency is ensuring that the “end-states” (using CoG terms) all make sense and are achievable by utilizing the choice scripts.

When these two consistencies clash, most of us have issues of one nature or the other with the published game.

The challenge is to balance and align these two different and at times, conflicting types of consistency.


Yes and no. It seems to be a bigger “sin” to have a shorter highly branching game with choices that make a bigger difference to the story, than a linear one where choices don’t have as much impact. The “happy medium” so to speak, seems to generally be a branch and return to the main storyline type dealie (which can affect how impactful the choices can be without derailing the main story in many cases) with some more significant branching at the end. (Although I know a few games that don’t branch alot at the end, especially if they’re one in a series and largely don’t get criticized for it either.)

But yep, I have a soft spot for the old paperback cyoa’s and if it’s consistent within the individual storyline itself, I don’t mind if the world turns upsidedown between playthroughs to increase replayability, but I don’t know if it’d bother others. I’m not as big a fan of changes that are hard to pick up on, especially if it results in insta deaths. (Like in one one game if you check the cave first the path goes to a friendly town, but if you don’t check a cave it goes to a valley full of skeletons that kill you.)


I think there are two type of consistency. One is that the world you built makes sense and the story is actually something readers can follow, and the other is that the choices you make lead to the expected outcome.

The first would be like choosing to go into a cave, and then while in the cave, the sun is described as burning brightly. If you’re in a cave, you shouldn’t be able to see the sun unless there’s a hole or something. This type of inconsistency will usually just confuse readers in a negative way.

The second would be like choosing to take the treasure and leave the cave, and then the actual outcome is that the treasure was a trap. That kind of inconsistency can be exciting and add to the story.

The first is usually bad, while the second is usually good in moderation. No need to give readers an anxiety attack over whether or not choosing to walk down a regular old path will lead to a pitfall trap, or something like that.

Some great thoughts from everyone. The one annoying thing about CYOA books is that death, or at least a “The End” is very common and often abrupt because of the short length of the books and the necessity of having a lot of endings. I’m trying to think of a good middle ground between a predictable, linear narrative and complete nonsense where your choices either make no difference or drastically change the whole world. I think intelligently using Stats is the key for this, though I’m not exactly sure how yet.

I’ve read criticisms about CoG games before basically saying “you choose what kind of character you will be at the beginning, then choose every option that correlates with that character’s personality/abilities until you get to the end.” This kind of makes choices irrelevant, as it once you have your character in mind the game may as well play itself, with your character making the decisions for you. Of course, with good writing the reader is forced to think hard about their choices, but I think it still slightly applies.

Also, @Jacic, I’d love to see/play that project you’re working on with random elements. That’s the kind of stuff I generally like, though I guess it’s not for everyone.


Part of the reason is that the author tried to introduce a good flow of the story that is co-relate to the personality of the character you create, doing thing too random ( and without logic based) will result in the whole story merely based on a chaotic world , which in the end may seems pointless in therm of good story writing… something like the PC game "Grand Thief Auto: where you can do whatever you want in that chaotic world or some hack-and-slash online RPG in which whatever your choices there are pointless where your main goal is just hack-and-slash …

Some players (i won’t call them readers as their main goal is just for playing ) may like such fashion but for those who want a real dept of a good story , they will prefer a good sense of purpose for the universe created by the author… and the integral soul of Cog/HG (for my opinion) is still to develop a good story :slight_smile:

However, perhaps good implementation, may help to give more freedom to readers’ choice of action based on good stat…

example, for a “Good” character to kill an old lady mercilessly, perhaps the moral stat is on the brink of the “Evil” side , that is logical since this character do have a tendency towards an evil act… instead of the feeling , where a good paladin suddenly think that he wants to kill an old lady today (which feels illogical)

But i believes “Tin Star” gives quite an enormous freedom towards character’s action , you can simply kill your closest allies and lovers just like that … even betraying everyone that looks upon to you, i am not sure whether such action is control by hidden stats … maybe you can give Tin Star a try ? No matter how you play , it is the best classic HG title…

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I’m generally not a fan of randomisation, but I think it’s okay as long as there’s a way to minimise the random factor affecting your playthrough. Having a perfect run be stuffed up because the numbers aren’t on your side just doesn’t sit right with me

With your skeleton example, perhaps if one of paths has a hint in the text beforehand as to which one is occupied, you could even have it tied to a stat like perception or something

I hear you and mostly agree, but I feel the need to point out that not all games are supposed to have a “perfect run”. If the game does have a series of choices and conditions that are supposed to end in a canonical or ideal world state, then yes, too much randomization can tamper with that and affect the player’s experience. I definitely agree with that. But I think there’s room for games that don’t offer the same tightly controlled, almost arithmetic experience, where muddling your way from the beginning to the end is part of the game experience.


So I’m not sure the example is about randomization so much as authorial manipulation of the story so that the narrative has a certain feel. The hamfisted schematic of this is wanting the hero to meet the goblin sultan in city A, but the heroine goes to city B instead. But the player doesn’t know that the goblin sultan was in city A, so you now relocate him to city B.

A more interesting and less annoying version of that would be to authorially ensure that an NPC be in just the right place to overhear and tragically misunderstand a conversation if you decide to have that conversation, or to have an NPC only run down the hall heedlessly if you have left the roller skate there. In other words, I think it’s fine to bend the reality of the gameworld if you are doing it for the purpose of fulfilling a genre expectation. You might play a game a second time and say, "that’s weird that they don’t run down the hall when I don’t leave a roller skate there, but that’s the game has adapted to the fact that you put hot pepper in the custard pie and they are now eating that in the kitchen.

So the game is consistent in each playthrough, but then you can’t compare realities across playthroughs. I’m OK with that as long as it’s complex enough–I want, in exchange for the old switcheroo, new story and new stuff happening. If there’s a wholly new cave based skeleton story, in other words, I think I’m ok with it.


Josh Sawyer had a really great talk at GDC that I remember enjoying regarding choices and their effects: I think he sort of has the “every choice ‘wins’” mentality that has been mentioned here that I’m not sure I 100% agree with, but I greatly enjoy his writing and ideas.

I think it’s better for replayability if the world is consistent across choices. If the world’s consistent, there’s a world that the player can have curiosity about, and can learn cause-effect relationships in. “I’d like to learn more about character X.” “Oh no, that character died. I wonder if they would have stayed alive if I hadn’t…”

The moment the world is inconsistent across playthroughs, all those questions are meaningless. There’s no single character X to learn more about, because in one playthrough he’s a vampire, and in another, an alien. Your reasoning about how to save the character that died is worthless, because your reasoning hinged on the cure for his disease being in a certain place, and when you went there on the next playthrough, it’s not there and was never there. This seems frustrating to me. Sure, the author might mildly entertain you with the random zigzags gained as a result – your love interest is a vampire! I mean, she’s secretly the queen! I mean, you’re secretly the queen! No wait, you’re the vampire! – but without the basic rule of consistency, I think the reader starts to feel like they’re just the plaything of the narrator, without any real agency over the story, and with no version of the game’s reality having any importance.

And you don’t really need that inconsistency to get a variety of endings. Choice of Magics has a ton of endings, ranging from the world turning into a world of ghosts to the player turning into a dragon and starting a dragon kingdom, and I think they’re better for the fact that they’re all achieved in the same consistent reality.


That makes a lot of sense, but I think there’s a point well before vampire/queen switcheroos (which I agree is weird) were you can tinker with timing and placement of NPC movement in order to create interesting moments.

In other words, if a player wants to set up an elaborate grease trap on the stairs, I want to ensure that someone is walking down those stairs holding a wedding cake, and I’m willing to tinker with timing.

But this is really interesting, Kevin, because this suggests a spectrum of Choice Games that I’ve never thought of before–the extent to which a game values the overall consistency of the world as a whole across plays of the game versus those who value that less, instead treating each play of the game an instance of reality without reference to the other playthroughs. I feel like there’s an academic paper or an insight about the nature of reality lurking in here.


The multiverse vs the singularity-verse expressed by IF … :earth_americas:


Well, I think you can have your greasy wedding cake and eat it too, if your grease trap plan includes a way to summon the cake-bearer. Have the player also change their voice and demand cake right now, and voila, player agency and consistency restored.

I don’t think the logic of events necessarily needs to be strictly “simulationist” though. One factor influencing which climax you get in Choice of Magics is your humor score, which isn’t causal, but tone matters in deciding whether a goofy climax is appropriate. Everything has reasonable and consistent causal explanations, but if you have a surplus of these, you sometimes get to pick which one to run with. I noticed in beta, though, that this sort of thing can look like a bug, when factor A > factor B but there are narrative or thematic reasons to prefer B’s climax, so that’s what got picked but the beta tester complained it didn’t make sense; so now these extra-causal reasons for things happening are rather reduced in influence.

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The way the thread creator wrote it, I think consistent world writing is much better, since it adds a layer of replayability to the game. I’m going to be pretty wordy, I think, and this might get a bit abstract:

For instance, if I have a game where I am playing as a high school super detective, and my jock friend invites me to his birthday party, but my cousin (who is also a vampire) invites me to investigate the catacombs around school, I’d like them to be consistent and give me the chance to explore another path as I begin the game again. Who knows what secrets I’m losing if I never go to the school? And plus, it might even get more interesting if my choice now feeds later into the story. Say a skeleton army attacks, and I (as a reader) am left wondering if the vampire cousin had something to do with it.

Another layer to my theory here is that a consistent game world creates a place where time works outside of the MC. By that I mean that the supporting charaters, the spaces they inhabit are all factored into the game without having them revolve around the MC like planets do around the sun. That creates a more realistic (and I’d say, interesting) portrait of how people generally act, to boot. People rarely are at your beck and call, and often one has to balance relationships and make concessions.

I’m going to stop here, since this is getting too confusing even for my liking, but I think I made the general idea clear. Consistent world writing makes a game cooler by having it be the same world no matter which version you’re playing.

With long-winded names to boot! Something like this:

Pressure Points: a semiotician’s analysis of transregional identities in Tin Star and Absalom, Absalom!

On my first play of Magics now, and just got to the choice of the secret you’re keeping from Tal. I won’t know for sure until subsequent playthroughs, but this seems like a choice you make that will yield slightly inconsistent worlds, which goes a bit beyond a choice of past actions…you’re knowingly choosing the consequences of past actions and the impact you’ve had on a major NPC, which I’d count on the spectrum of “inconsistent (i.e. player-dependent) worldbuilding”. YMMV, of course.

Just wanted to note it here while it’s fresh in mind. I may have cause to revise judgment later. :slight_smile: