How do you plot your choice games?

A sort of vague question, I know, but I’m curious as how various authors have gone about plotting their games (and haven’t been able to find a similar thread). I’m familiar with plotting for books, but I found once I tried to start writing choice games I ran into some trouble. For one, I personally have been unsure how to include choices and major branches into a larger narrative that still flows smoothly.

So how have you all tackled plotting? Have you just gone in for it and winged it, or do you have a strict outline?

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If you have experience with book plotting, start from there. Write one plot as you would with a book, then go back and look at where things can go a little different and plot another book from that point to another, and see what else it would change.

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For your first game vs book, you need to think about two things:

One, think short. It will end up longer than you think anyway.

Two, think of it like a pine, not an oak.

You can structure it much like a book, that is the trunk of the story. You need to have that there, and it need to be solid. It’s very easy to get lost in the narrative, especially at the start. One beginning, one end, one main character, all the important other characters.

It’s not that you need to have this written out in detail, but you need the broad strokes. I would say you need them even more than you do when you write a book, because you’re going to have to know where you’re going in order to control the choices. So nail that larger narrative first, be sure what you want to say!

Then, you can start adding the big choices. Since this is a first book, I recommend no big ones until you’re in the endgame. By big choices, I mean things that greatly change the narrative, and won’t cut back to the main trunk in the same chapter. Think of it like that pine splitting in two near the top.

The medium choices are the meat of the book. They will influence a lot of how things go, even if the scenes might be superficially similar. Quitting the police force to pursue the killer as a private detective still sticks to the main narrative, but changes many of the scenes and resources. These are things that you need to think about, because every medium choice the character makes will stack up. This is what makes a 300 000 word story turn into a 70 000 word read,. Think of them like options you want your character to be able to explore, be sparing with them, they are easier to add as you go than to remove.

The majority of your story will consists of little choices. Those I seldom plan in detail, they mostly appear when I write. Things like if you want to break into the building, or just knock on the door. Which characters you want to befriend, and which ones will hate you. How a dialog goes. Often they are born when I go “wouldn’t it be cool if” as I write, and as long as it doesn’t take things out of bounds, it’s fine.

Finally are the cosmetic choices, the ones that doesn’t need to have any effect other than letting the reader build their own person. Things like looks, name, gender and so on.

In my opinion, the first thing you should do is to decide what the story is that you want to tell, and then figure out how to set the boundaries within which the readers are allowed to deviate.

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It depends on what you’re comfortable with. As a snowflake writer, I prefer a more episodic approach like the ones you would find in TRPG modules where each “episode” has a defined goal and conflict, but still leads to an overarching plot.

One that comes to mind is the D&D Module “Hoard of the Dragon Queen” which has its players adventure from a burning city to a castle in the sky in order to save the world from the clutches of an evil god.

Each step of the way has a goal like “protecting the keep” or “infiltrate the cult” in a location the players can faff around in. Their decisions in those places can be helped or hindered by previous choices (i.e. rather hard to “infiltrate the cult” if you’ve made yourself known while “protecting the keep”), but still follows the main plot of stopping the evil god from rising and destroying the world.

For me, it’s having plot points along an overarching story then expanding on what can lead up and out of it. But, you might find something else more appropriate. :slight_smile:

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I don’t know what I read this kind of threads the only do is depressing me hard.

I don’t understand anything about trees oaks, pines, snowflakes…

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They are just bouncing ideas around for their games. I think?

Well, a tree-structured data looks something like this:

I’m not sure how pines or oaks change that analogy, or even if it was a reference to a tree-structured data at all.

As to “snowflake”, I suppose it is a reference to the Snowflake Method. Which is basically starting with a single sentence and building your novel structure little by little in ten steps. This is not the actual writing, mind you, just the prep. Or it could be a reference to the fact that snowflake fractals start with a simple shape and go branching until they are the complex and delicate things we know and love. Which is the same idea behind the Snowflake Method, I suppose.



What I do is:

  1. plot the story like a linear novel;
  2. identify the branching possibilities and pin down the merging points;
  3. write from there.

This is called branch-merge (or branch-bottleneck) structure. This is what it looks like:

The continuous branching without merging is called a Time-Cave and looks like this:

At a certain point, it becomes impossible to manage.

The idea of a branch-merge structure is to give players freedom inside each branching section but to make sure that no matter the direction they go, they’ll always hit the necessary plot points. The trick of the trade is to make that look seamless and not railroaded.

For example, in the story I’m writing, the player can choose between two different “side quests”, but no matter which path they take, they’ll always end up on a ship going to the next part of the story. So there’s some freedom in which path they take but they hit the same plot point later on.

You can alternate between that and a hub structure. It should look something like this:

Basically, you have a central scene (hub) that connects different scenes, that may or may not be interconnected. A great example I’ve recently come across was in The Golden Rose WIP. In Chapter 4 you have to explore three different places, the town’s market, the cathedral and the ruins of an aqueduct. Eventually, the player will go through all three places, but they can choose the order in which they go through them. At each one, the player will find a piece of information that altogether will lead the story forward. Everything was done organically with small variations depending on which place you visited first and the time of day (morning, afternoon and evening). In the end, the player will always end in the same place with the same amount of information. But the journey provided enough entertainment to mask this “rigidity”.

Besides all this, you can use different techniques like delayed branching, dynamic callbacks, having different plotlines happening at the same time not have merging points together, which gives the impression that there are multiple, dynamic elements at play at any given moment, etc.

I recommend reading this post and this post on the subject.

(I found all pictures through google.)

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oof, tell me about it. I get and even agree with what I’m seeing here so far but it just… isn’t how my writing process is going? and I see specifically that writers who have successfully finished their games did not go about writing their game like I am and it leaves me feeling very discouraged. i try not to take others’ advice as prescriptive but how I do it is basically the opposite of what people frequently say to do on this forum

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@cup_half_empty @poison_mara

I believe what Malin Ryden is trying to say more relates to the physical structure of the trees as a metaphor, more than anything related to data (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, however!)

For instance, an oak has one main trunk with branches that split off from that trunk and do not reconnect. In this instance, this would be a story that follows one path until you get to a choice, and then that story would never return to that main path. There are now two stories running simultaneously. A pine tree, however, has one main trunk with branches that radiate out from it, but the main trunk continues up the rest of the way instead of splitting into two trunks like an oak. This would be a story that contains choices, and even multiple paths within that same story, but ultimately the overarching tale remains the same.

Basically, some examples:

In the WIP cog God of the Red Mountain, the MC can choose to stay in the spirit world or leave it. There’s two entirely separate stories based on what path you choose. The main trunk splits- thus an oak. In Fallen Hero: Rebirth, regardless of what motivation you have, or what you decide to do to solve problems, the story ultimately follows a former hero on their rise in villainy. The consequences of your actions vary, but at the end of the day you are a villain seeking revenge regardless of circumstance. Thus the pine metaphor, where there’s only one main trunk.

Hope that helps? Again, I could be ENTIRELY mistaken, but this is just how I read it.

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That makes sense! :joy:

But then, in other words:
Oak Trees → Time-Cave Structure
Pine Trees → Branch-Merge Structure

So I said the same thing with different words. 🤦 Sorry about that :sweat_smile:.

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Nah I get what you’re saying! Everyone has different metaphors for everything. I only picked up on it because I’m a HUGE nerd for trees and ecology is what I hope to go to school for. :smiley:

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I Just write period. End the story I have in the mind and that’s it. For me, all of this sounds weird. Because is like people didn’t have the story in the mind and have to formulate it?
And decide how it goes.

When in my mind a story appears it appears as a whole. I suppose I can change the way a little bit when writing it but the story is done about half an hour after first thinking about it. The structure is something that for me goes with the story and with the world-building intertwined.
Still, It is really fascinating for me to read how others have other ways, that for me sounds really exotic.

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That’s great, it means you’re a pantser. Which is a totally valid way of writing. There are great pantsers out there like George R.R. Martin, Stephen King and Margret Atwood to name a few. I tried that style before but I ended up spending a lot of time staring at a blank page. So planning ahead actually helps me.

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Lol, for a second, I thought you were calling me something like a pants thief lol. I suppose that means write as it goes.

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For me, I come up with the endings first. Before I even started on my WIP, I had a handful of endings and have been setting my story up with easter eggs and pathways to get to those certain endings.

Of course, I have smaller endings and larger endings besides the ones I originally planned, but it always boils down to my main endings. If you start out with where you want to end, it makes writing so much easier. Not sure what this method is called :laughing: but I guess a mix of planning and improving.

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You described it comprehensively. You have great observatuon. I will learn alot from your points and plot my choice games accordingly.

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Sometimes I forget that not everyone is a tree nerd (did study ecology). But yeah, the pine is indeed branch-merge and the oak is the time-cave. I just have an easier time thinking of trees than those weird terms.

Pine:


Oak
träd-ek-syd-ängel-carolina-stock-foto_csp46117720

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Here is a link that might help. https://www.choiceofgames.com/2011/07/by-the-numbers-how-to-write-a-long-interactive-novel-that-doesnt-suck/ it basically explain how you can use the choicescript code to not die trying to write a if story that just have too much branches that never join, making the game exponentially longer.

As far as my way, I guess I started with a story, I think that is most important than knowing how you’ll make branching and anything else, once I have only one branch like if it were just a novel I started to write, and as I came with the problem of how to write the chapter I thought and found the way it could be done, but mostly I divide it on chapters, you could use the ¨goinng to sleep¨ time to close a chapter, or the end of the event that chapter was, so you can branch out every chapter more towards the end and start the next one on the same spot, that facilitates the process as you don’t loose control with too many branches.

Edit: there’s a lot more info all around here https://www.choiceofgames.com/category/blog/game-design/

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I can’t outline to save my life so I’ll occasionally jot down the idea in my notes. Most of the time though when I start writing it starts kicking in

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I think the idea of mapping out the game central storyline and then all the various branches that could emerge is a good one. I am doing something similar with my Star Wars game book at the moment, figuring out the acts and then the amount of freedom that the reader/player has at each point - am I going to let them explore the town like a hub, am I going to let them get a spaceship and basically have lots of smaller adventures in a whole sector before they return to a tighter narrative, am I going to let them have two entirely different finales based on their decisions and alliances? Stuff like that before I know how big the whole thing is… :sweat_smile:

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