Indicators on choice options

I’ve been thinking lately about indicators on choices, because of starting a new project and this being the time to do it. I’ve done some indicators on a small scale before, such as for background-type choices where you’re setting strengths and weaknesses, and information about whether a romance is starting or finishing. But this would be a bigger proposition. A Crown of Sorcery and Steel is the game I’ve played most recently that had a system like this, and I liked how Josh did it there.

Off the top of my head the main pros I see are:

  • more player clarity for those who want it yay!
  • immediately shows concrete ways in which choices affect the PC, why the mechanics matter, and how they work
  • makes it clearer why failure has happened
  • if I’m making a game that’s more on the narrative end of the spectrum than strategic, what’s the harm in making the strategy a bit easier?
  • as it’s optional, it gives players flexibility about how they want to play
  • encourages me as the writer to think even more carefully about stat changes and tests and whether they make sense - I have to ask myself, would I be happy for players to see this? If not, it needs changing (I have already encountered this and found it a really useful thought exercise)

And the main cons I see are:

  • devaluation of choices without an indicator - a choice might lead to a big branch divert, or set some important variables, but players may assume it doesn’t “matter” if it doesn’t have an indicator
  • encouraging players to skim for the option that matches or changes a stat they want, and not taking as much time to roleplay/consider the options
  • discouraging risk-taking for the same reason as above which means more people miss out on failure journeys which can be fun and satisfying
  • reduces surprise/mystery

The current setup I’m considering:

  • opt-in toggle which can be altered at any time
  • when visible, indicators tell players what stat is changing and a sense of how much (+, ++, +++)
  • indicators will also show which stat(s) each option is testing
  • separately, the stat page will have information about how high a score you need in order to succeed at things (this will be present regardless of indicators, but coordinates with the above to give more info to players when deciding what to do)
  • not including indicators about relationship score changes or challenge results - I want that to be more hidden and surprising. The indicators are there to represent the PC having a strong understanding of what’s at stake and where their strengths are - not being clairvoyant/telepathic about the consequences of their actions

What do you think and is there anything I’m forgetting? Do you love or hate indicators on options? Are there games in which you felt really good about them being there and that I should check out? Are there situations where stat indicators were on and you felt they reduced your enjoyment or changed your experience for the worse?


One big reason I don’t do them is because they could run the risk of being really long and clunky, e.g., (tests Bold + Skullduggery 85, unless you have the Theft Scandal in which case it tests Bold + Skullduggery + (Number of Successes * 2 at the bookstore theft); certain to fail if you went to the horse race without the deworming medicine).

You can’t do that, not only because it’s comically long, but also because I don’t necessarily want to signal all that in the choice. Quite a few of my *ifs look like that, so I don’t use them.


I’ve found them useful when I wanted to guarantee a particular outcome during beta testing, but when I’m just playing for fun I want to be able to toggle them off. I generally prefer IF that feels like a book with endless possibilities rather than a game with a plot, and indicators definitely feel gamelike to me.


Hi! I think it depends a lot on the type of game you’re going to write.
In RPG-like games (I’m thinking of A Crown of Sorcery and Steel and Breach) they feel extremely natural and, at least personally, they don’t break the reading but rather they help you creating a lot of characters and exploring easily many different paths, which is also one of the objectives of that games.

If found them in games like Tally Ho, I’d feel them quite out of place because they’d interrupt the flowing of the story. Besides, if the game isn’t very stat heavy the risk of a bad choice is quite fun - you can get very unexpected twists or endings. But if the story is long and it has a long quest, it can be quite frustrating failing right before the end.

I think your current setup is very good, that way you’d satisfy both readers who want to see them and who don’t.

Personally I like more Breach’s indicators than A Crown’s: always writing in uppercase which skill will be tested can be a bit tiring on the long run, so I’d go with more discreet indicators.

Edit: Upon further thought, I like the indicators in the Samurai of Hyuga series too. I know they’re used in a different way than what you intend to do. Regardless, I wanted to mention them because I think they indicate which stat was changed in quite a neat way!


At the beginning of the game, I’ve got:

  # [@{statview ON|OFF}] Turn @{statview off|on} in-line stat updates.
    *if (statview)
      *set statview false

And for choices, I have:

  *selectable_if (kind) # [KIND] "We can talk later if you don't feel up to it now."
    *set hel +5
    *if (statview)
      Mom +5

And I have a “character class” in the game that can see the chances of success of certain types of choices:

  # Say nothing. @{class=2 [LUCK BENDER]: 10% chance of success.|}
    *if (((class=2) and (success <= 10)) or ((class!=2) and (success <= 5)))
      *if (statview)

Which I’m also thinking about adding in relationship indicators:

  # Stay on the shore. @{class=2 [LUCK BENDER] Dandy -5, Pon -5|}
    *set in_pond false
    *set pon -5
    *set dandy -5
    *if (statview)
      Dandy -5
      [n/]Pon -5

Though I’m not so sure about the last one.


Personally I like indicators that hint the tone an choice has. As a foreign speaker I sometimes have problems to realize If a choice is funny or sarcastic or neutral or aggressive.
To see If a stat is influenced by the choice is not that relevant for me.


Ha, this reminds me a funny thing that happened to me as I played Choice of Alexandria. I was trying to say something nice to the recently widowed ptomelaic king and accidentally triggered a romantic relationship with him.

It was so sudden that took me time to process what just happened as the dialog choice appeared to be mostly harmless at the time…


@Gower that makes a lot of sense! And even when they’re not that complicated, something like “if you have high Virtue and high Popularity this is great, if you have just one of them it’ll be less great but still succeed” is clunky to indicate clearly.

@AletheiaKnights I know what you mean! On a first playthrough for fun I often don’t really look the stats much and intuit. That mostly doesn’t result in huge success but makes for an interesting story!

@Graviton yeah, genre feels like it plays a part in it - eg Night Road having the option to see what attribute+skill you’re using felt very appropriate for a World of Darkness based game.

@will that’s really interesting! I do like when greyed out choices give information about why they’re not selectable - it always makes the game feel larger beyond your current route.

@Nahim_Kerman I have sometimes had things where I thought the line was a joke but it was intended seriously and the character got annoyed :sweat_smile: oops

@Kaelyn I’ve been musing on this a lot. I don’t fully have an answer but in recent times I’ve been doing things like including a little bit of description to clarify tone. I definitely see why indicators in that context are useful though!


I’ve been thinking about that too.

I need a way for players to view their progress. For example in Maverick Hunter, giving them a sense of how much Life Energy, Weapon Energy, Relationship Energy and how exactly their actions affect the story at large. I want players to make decisions based on what information is accessible to them and what information is available to them.

Like using Crescent Shot on Duff McWhalen, since it is their weakness, compared to using, say Shining Laser, which deals regular damage. Or using a certain Special Weapon when you haven’t defeated the Maverick that gives you that special weapon.

Or saying something like “You’re something else.” for a character who has low Flair means that you get attacked first, which can lead to strange hilarious results, some even more so depending on your ally.

I’m all for indicators on choices, in an absence of save system indicators would greatly help making conscious decision instead of guessing and hoping that you understood what author meant.

As for the cons:

Just add more indicators, if the choice is important mark it so.

I already do that with the help of save manager, indicators would just make choice more transparent. It’s even more important in stat heavy games.

Depend of indicator, i guess. If it’s “This choice will lead to character X backstabbing you” yeah bit of a spoiler. But if it’s something “Try to climb the wall [Agility]” i doubt anyone great mystery would be spoiled.

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I think this is a really interesting topic. I haven’t got a game to my name, but I think if I do get around to writing one I’d definitely look to include indicators in some fashion. As has already been mentioned it can be very easy to misread the intent behind an option and for the player to therefore be disappointed with the outcome. I remember having many such experiences with video games (Mass Effect springs to mind). ChoiceScript feels like it could be even worse as there isn’t often much in the way of reloading or rewinding.

I do however think it’s smart to put such things behind an optional toggle. I imagine the people who want to see these things are the kind who don’t want to take risks/make mistakes, so that’s probably not too much of a concern.

In much the same way I believe that stat checks and increases aren’t going to be very controversial indicators, as long as they’re optional.

I am however very interested in, as you say, ruining the surprise or mystery of more nuanced choices. My default way of indicating these without spoilers would be just tag them with [Important], or perhaps weave the importance of the choice into the narrative (“You get the feeling you won’t have time to do both…”), though I wonder if the latter would get a bit repetitive for the reader and break immersion. I’d also be concerned that whilst tagging some options as important might be helpful and appreciated, it might also have the unintended side effect of illustrating far too clearly when a choice is not important (i.e. a fake choice)… Which is less than ideal for any number of reasons (lessens immersion/engagement or means readers grumble about the lack of “real” choices).

I often think about my favourite implementations of this sort of mechanic in video games (as opposed to IF), namely in Morrowind and Life is Strange (the original). Both allow you to “make a choice” (or perform an action) and only tell you it was stupid/important (respectively) after the action. Of course, this works better because of the ability to reload, or in the case of Life is Strange it even feels deliberate as it tempts you to rewind time and makes you doubt your choice. I’m not sure if there is a soft save system that could allow for this “after the fact” notification in ChoiceScript without denying the reader a chance to undo it… Or spoiling too much.


Returning to this subject, I’d be reluctant to tag something “important” because it feels like it implies other choices aren’t important, or that there’s hierarchy there. While the choice might not lead to a major branch at that point, it might be important for the PC’s internal motivations, or have bigger effects later on. The question of “does this choice matter” is so general, and there are so many answers about what that means, that it’d be hard to quantify in a simple way I think. So… I think I’d want to make the stakes clear in the narrative for that, rather than adding a note.

I feel confident about unidirectional stats: I’m pretty settled on putting @{showstats [+Flair]|} or @{showstats [--Appealing]|} at the end of the choice. And if it was a testing choice I’d have @{showstats [Tests Flair]|}, @{showstats [Tests High Flair]|}, @{showstats [Tests High Flair or High Appealing]|}, or @{showstats [Tests Flair or Appealing]|}. I prooobably wouldn’t bother with specifiying “high” because testing for a low stat like that really doesn’t come up much for me.

But opposed stats are a bit more complicated because they’re labelled with different names on the stats page, and are more likely to be tested in different directions. So there are a couple of things I’m not totally settled on:

  • If your Opposed Stat, Forceful/Subtle is changing in either direction, which is clearer?
    ** @{showstats [+Forceful]|} and @{showstats [-Forceful]|}
    ** @{showstats [+Forceful]|} and @{showstats [+Subtle]|}
    My initial thought was the first one, because then it’s only one word to recall. But: I see people saying things like “my character has high Subtle” because that’s the higher number on the stat page. And I also know that in general the framing of adding to rather than subtracting from a stat will be more appealing at a glance.

  • If your Opposed Stat, Forceful/Subtle, is being tested, which is clearer?
    ** @{showstats [Tests High Forceful]|} and @{showstats [Tests Low Forceful]|}
    ** @{showstats [Tests High Forceful]|} and @{showstats [Tests High Subtle]|}
    Again my instinct was the first one, because it’s only one word and I don’t want people getting confused and thinking Subtle is a totally different stat… But if people are thinking of their Low-Forceful character as a High-Subtle character (which is perfectly reasonable given the framing of opposed stats) maybe that would be jarring too.


Because the opposed stats are framed as forceful or subtle, I believe I would show the second.

Again, I would go with the second one because once again, the displayed stat would match the info given.


I agree with @Eiwynn – in this case, if I’m playing a very subtle character, I’m probably thinking in terms of them being understated and deft, rather than framing their personality by the traits they don’t have. (I’m not failing at being forceful, I’m succeeding at being subtle!)


I would want more clarity. So the second one is better. The first one gives an impression of reducing Forceful, which isn’t what I am expecting.

Again, for clarity, the second one. The first one is misleading for players. This is equivalent to going for a more diplomatic vs more aggressive approach. More aggressive doesn’t mean less diplomatic!

I have no problem with this, similar to how I put +Life_Energy, -Weapon_Energy when you are doing stuff, +Flair for dialogue or armor, etc.

Now I’m wondering, “important” tag is kinda vague, but would “major branching point” tag have the same problem? Generally speaking.

For me I think so, to be honest. I did like how Study in Steampunk telegraphed its biggest crossroads choice towards the end by having a checkpoint… but there were loads of important branching choices before that and it almost feels like marking some would devalue others.

For example: something like establishing a major PC backstory element, or how they feel about it, might not be considered a major branch point. It could also strongly inform the PC’s journey and affect text down the line, but if it didn’t have a “major branch” label, maybe players wouldn’t think it was an interesting/important choice. Of course narrative is important too, and will help frame the choice but… I don’t know, it doesn’t quite feel right (to me personally when writing; obviously others should do what feels right for them!)

@Eiwynn @Fiogan @RockmanX that’s very helpful feedback, thank you! I’d been thinking of the “-Forceful” option in terms of how the variable change is written, but you’re right that although you do technically “lose” Forceful if you pick that option, you’re also “gaining” Subtle which feels more relevant for thinking about who your character is.


Agreed, one hundred percent. But if you do happen to crack this particular nut (as opposed to the stat check nut), please do share :pray: I’m very keen to see a great way of indicating the impact of choices without adding overtly negative consequences.

Edit: maybe classifying choices?




I’ve been thinking about this on and off and at the moment I feel like a lot of an IF author’s work tends to be disguising repeated text, or smoothing out the rough edges so that “characterisation” or “relationship” feel as impactful as “branching”. There’s so much overlap too - if say you’re dealing with an emergency and deciding which character to help first, that could be branching and relationship, and could even end up having characterisation changes too, so then the labels become less meaningful.

I do, though, think it works in something very metafictional like Disco Elysium where the narrative description draws attention to itself a lot, and/or it’s a game that otherwise references itself. It would be making the player think more about the game as a structure, which can work for a lot of experiences.


This would come in handy when I am doing the boss rush segment of Creme. Which character you team up with determines the order in which you defeat the Mavericks. Maybe I’ll have to explain this in a bit more detail in next month’s support thread.

What do you mean by this?