Limitations of ChoiceScript as a medium

Well, @Wraith_Magus didn’t take me up on it, but I was serious when I said it would be worth pulling out the critique of ChoiceScript into its own thread. Wraith made a number of interesting points on this general theme:

As an author who’s chosen to write in ChoiceScript for my main creative work, I take a less negative view of the limitations than Wraith does. Any medium has limitations; with all the creativity in the world, you can’t do all the same things in a novel as you can in a movie, and vice versa. But there definitely are limitations to CS, and I think it’s well worth acknowledging and discussing them.

In the interests of reining in the textwalls, I’m going to be selective in pulling out points from Wraith’s critique. We’ll get through them all eventually, but let’s try to take things one at a time, starting with:

This is an area where I mostly disagree with Wraith–not so much about the limited storylines but about what they mean for the potential to imaginatively engage with the game.

First, I’ve always read “vast unstoppable power etc.” as an implicit rebuke to people who think CoG games should have graphics. Wraith raises thoughtful points (some of which I agree with) around computers being especially good at spatial simulation, and graphics being the best way to take advantage of that. I’ll address those in a later post.

Here I just want to highlight the inherent advantages of text when it comes to imagination, advantages which are much discussed when it comes to the difference between novels and movies. Imagination and immersion work differently in an audiovisual medium than a purely written one. In a novel (including one written in ChoiceScript) my mind provides all voices, visuals, and backdrops.

That’s a limitation, but also a tremendous strength. Even, perhaps especially, when I don’t have a clear mental image of a scene, the blended fragments of images and emotions conjured in my mind by a descriptive passage of writing can be more evocative than any literal image. Peter Jackson’s Lothlorien (like much of his elf-stuff in general) is pretty, in some ways great… but inevitably a bit of a letdown from the unearthly glories Tolkien hints at in his mythopoeic prose. There are plenty of Iain Banks novels that I hope they never film because they’d reduce gloriously outsized concepts to the prosaic reality of what you can project onto a retina. Other examples would be easy to come by.

So yes, novels are fueled by the vast power of our imagination. And a CoG game isn’t a straight-up novel; it’s a novel you can explore, following various possibility trails into alternate versions of characters and events. That provides yet more imaginative scope… even if you’re reading a CoG on the Heroes Rise model where the events don’t vary all that much but you’re constantly being asked how you’re perceiving and emotionally responding to them. And there are several CoGs with less linear storylines–ones where the events vary a lot based on your choices, especially in the endgame. Like the one Wraith has written most about. :slight_smile:

At the end of the day, though, CoGs are not infinite novels. They offer a choice of pre-written narratives whose elements can only recombine in so many ways. Our imaginations are not literally unstoppable. Wraith suggests that this makes CoG authors like the narrator of Stanley Parable:

I’d say a good CoG author is more like the actual author of Stanley Parable than its narrator. There’s an Errant Signal video on this too, pointing out the meta-metanarrative at work here… in that Stanley Parable is itself a game with a limited menu of paths set by the game developers. You can’t escape the selection of endings they’ve offered you. And yet they clearly expect you to find it an enjoyable, satisfying, imaginatively provocative experience for which you’ll gladly shell out a few bucks. They didn’t make Minecraft, and I don’t think the message of Stanley Parable actually boils down to, “you’d have had more fun if you’d played Minecraft instead of this game.”

Because while Minecraft gives you full creative freedom to make and decorate your own space, it doesn’t actually offer anything resembling full freedom to make up satisfying narratives. For a truly satisfying narrative, you need other personalities to interact with… and you can’t craft those from the elements Minecraft gives you. By contrast, the personality of the Narrator in Stanley Parable is effing brilliant, and the range of stories the game designers came up with for you and the Narrator is terrific fun to explore even though it’s nothing like infinite.

If you want total freedom to make up a satisfying narrative, nothing beats roleplaying with other actual humans. Like I said on another thread, “tabletop gaming has an improvisational freedom and scope that computer games probably won’t have until I’m 90 years old and the AI is good enough.” (And Wraith is right that that’s on a wildly techno-optimistic timeline.) Compared to that, every other medium restricts your imagination. But I don’t think that makes the other media stifling.

That’s enough to be starting off with…

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This is a good topic but as you say, the category itself should be narrowed a bit - perhaps add “points one and two” to the title or state: 'Part One of a Series" … so we can keep the focus of each individual thread manageable?

Regardless, here I go, procrastinating writing myself to start the discussion off:

All games, from Chess to the latest AAA shooter (EA’s Battlefield, Bungie’s Destiny 2?) are limited by their medium. A game engine, no matter if it is Choice-Script or Frostbite is a human construct and has limitations. A scripting language will always have foibles that prevent a new created reality from existing within its confines.

I’m not sure why we have to acknowledge Choice Script’s limitations to validate our works? EA never acknowledges the limitations of its in-house Frostbite engine, even when those same limitations are a large part of why a successfully developed intellectual property of theirs that made 100’s of millions of dollars was killed off.

Choice Script, as an engine has made possible more properties being made and available to a consumer.

All text based games are fueled by imagination - to one extent or another. The classics like Zork, MuDs and other 1980’s and 1990’s gems like Planetfall, use imagination just as CS games do. The difference is Planetfall and others made by Infocom included a lot of paperwork props and companion material to aid the gamer while CS games use the Choice mechanic.

An author of a CS game may be more experienced or able to manipulate that base CS Choice mechanic. @JimD’s breadth in his Zombie Exodus stories is legendary … options available to use may not have immediate consequences in the currently published installment but because these stories are multi-part we see option chosen in part one having consequences later in part two or even later then that.

Imagination is the glue that holds the suspension of disbelief in force within the CS story-verse. Without imagination, the game mechanics and the story-plot will not keep the gamer engaged and they will put the game down.

All games are railroaded in one nature or another because they exist within an engine that has limitations. Skyrim, the Witcher, and even such classics like Wasteland or the original Fallout games have rails of one nature or another. I think I saw a game coming out early 2018, Kingdom Come: Deliverance has 35 kilometers worth of ground - that’s a current record amount but it still is a limitation to the open world it professes to be…

Marketing always overplays a company’s hand presenting to the gaming world its virtues, that is almost a character trait of capitalism - unless regulated by government, marketing will spin as much positive sunshine into their efforts as they can. This is true for all studios I have ever bought games from, worked with, or tested for.

I have yet read a story, in novel form, game-form, movie-form or television-form which did not leave something to the imagination. There are just too many details of the real world to be portrayed in story-telling.

Enough for now.

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Oh, I don’t know… does ChoiceScript have that many limitations? :slight_smile: Let’s see how the thread goes and we can split it if it gets too big.

Which is one answer to the question of “why should we acknowledge the limitations of CS?” Designers who have the limitations in mind may be less likely to make catastrophic errors. And in general, I think we’ll write better if we’re working with the strengths of our medium, mindful of its limitations.

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In all honesty, I believe that a little bit of railroading is almost necessary to make a compelling game. While there are many great sandbox games out there, even ones as open as minecraft have a set progression when you look at the game as a whole. Something like create a shelter, get a food source, create base level weapons and armor, etc etc. You can choose to go against that, but the game does railroad you to at least a small degree concerning the actions you can take. You can’t make iron armor without coal and a furnace, and so forth.

My best experiences to date in minecraft were when myself and a group of friends role-played as a clan of dwarves that broke away from the dwarven kingdom and worked for the humans on the Lord of the Craft server. With all the freedom provided by minecraft, it was a server with much more rigidly set rules and lore that was most entertaining.

It may just be the type of person I am, but I believe that a well crafted story beats absolute freedom in a game any day. When it comes down to it, I think a lot of people play CoG and similar games as a means of escapism. I know for myself, it’s a way to immerse myself in a different life for a bit, and forget about my own. I don’t want to experience something that is completely lifelike because that’s precisely what I’m trying to avoid. As such, I think a complete lack of railroading, or, giving the player freedom to do absolutely anything actually weakens choose your own adventure games as a medium.

(I just woke up and wrote this up, I’ll probably add more later today.)

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As a company CoG does acknowledge its limitations - one of the first things acknowledged is the lack of graphics but acknowledging the limitations to set expectations is much different then what @Wraith_Magus has continually implied: that we must acknowledge them to validate the games made with the CS engine …

I don’t feel, EA nor CoG should need to validate their published library by way of listing the limitations.

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Not having read the original exchange it strikes me as if Wraith seems mostly irked by the advertising /company blurb being a bit over the top.

Otherwise I’ll just quote myself, from my Immersion vs. Agency thread…

In this context though the CoG adblurb is no more or less over the top than the advertising for any piece of media.

Otherwise I fear I pretty much agree with everything else said in this thread. Words allow me to create my own vivid imagery in my mind and rails allow for tighter storytelling.

Edit: I fixed your quote. Each quote command needs its separate line to execute properly)

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I believe the idea is that we, as authors and game developers, are always restricted by the limitations of our chosen game engine whether we acknowledge them or not. However, if we explicitly rather than implicitly acknowledge our chosen restrictions, we can more easily plan our works within them.

I am absolutely confident that EA does acknowledge their limitations… internally, among their dev teams. Which, ultimately, this forum is vaguely equivalent to. Does EA acknowledge their limitations to the end consumer? Well, no. But I don’t think anyone’s asking that of us! I genuinely do not believe anyone is asking EA advertise their next shooter as something like:

"Our game provides acceptable, if exaggerated, simulations of human movement across flat or moderately uneven terrain, while failing to provide useful simulations of either human movement across rough terrain or human interpersonal relations. Additionally, while we have provided ‘health’ and ‘damage’ abstractions to represent wounds received by our players’ characters, we do not simulate internal organs, damage to said organs, blood loss, or the physical forces that may cause injuries.

As such, our players’ characters will occasionally survive incidents that would kill a person, while occasionally dying to incidents a person would survive. Further, no character will ever survive with a crippling injury. All characters will either survive intact or die outright."

However, it would be completely fair to ask EA’s dev teams to plan future games with those restrictions in mind!

All that said, I’m wondering if perhaps a significant portion of this apparent disagreement hangs on what “acknowledging the limitations” actually involves. I haven’t been interpreting it to mean “Text games should be held to a higher standard of truth in advertising than ‘spatial simulation’ games.” I’ve been interpreting rather differently, though I’m presently unhappy with any of my attempts to actually describe in words what I mean.

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Like Havenstone said, every medium has limitations. When I chose to write in CS, it had several key benefits; easy to learn, good testing tools, phenomenal community supporting writers, I can work 99% independently, a clear path to publication, and invested publishing company. I know of no one other company and language better.

Getting published is no easy feat. Prior to Hosted Games, I was rejected 30+ times for short story submissions. After writing a few titles for HG and CoG, I have had other traditional publishers approach me to discuss working with them (my plan is to write a novel and get an agent, though).

So maybe I have already derailed the thread, but the medium of CS may have limitations but I can still deliver a game that will be read and enjoyed. With RenPy, Twine, etc, I see no clear, proven way to do it with the potential given by CoG/HG…

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“I am absolutely confident that EA does acknowledge their limitations… internally, among their dev teams. Which, ultimately, this forum is vaguely equivalent to. Does EA acknowledge their limitations to the end consumer? Well, no. But I don’t think anyone’s asking that of us! I genuinely do not believe anyone is asking EA advertise their next shooter as something like:”

As a fledgling game developer, I can say that knowing your own limitations, whether that’s in terms of the game engine, the medium, the hardware of your users, or anything else, is extremely vital to the production of games. It may not be explicitly aknowledged by the game devs, but it is always implied that there are set limitations that have to be worked around.

There’s no difference in that matter between choice games and something like a pc RPG. They both have strong points and weak points, and they both have their own limitations. As a medium, both have been around for a good amount of time, but it’s only ‘relatively’ recently that CoG and online choose your own adventure stories have really sprung up. An RPG or a shooter or anything like that has a certain allowance for and blindness towards its own limitations due to how used to those limitations we are.

Online choose your own adventure games like CoG, on the other hand, are one of a few different styles that have been recently explored and utilized. In the early days of gaming, many different styles of games were experimented with, and people had things to say, both good and bad about all of them. Perhaps we’re still going through the ‘growing pains’ of a relatively new medium?

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I think this is the crux of what spawned the original exposition/rant and thus this thread. What you and @Havenstone are focusing on is one thing; as you say its a discussion the developers using the engine and the publisher making that engine available should be in a continuous discussion about.

What I believe what @Wraith_Magus was focusing on was the public, market-place claims made in the promotionals of CoG - the direct quote is a standard boiler-plate phrase used by CoG to promote their games on the various platforms and it seems to me he/she is attacking that market and saying CoG needs to acknowledge their limitations in their PR stuff.

The developer-publisher conversation here is usually done in the “help” sub-foras and you have to gleam knowledge as a developer from the helpful, more skilled/knowledgeable members of our community such as yourself. I have learned so much from you that I felt compelled to personally thank you - your efforts to help others see the CS limitations has helped me write a better game.

Up to this point CoG has been very informal about this discussion and a growing company, that is expanding both their library and their related brands it is very much a topic that perhaps they need to formalize more - a discussion area might be something that the mods might want to open as a new sub-forum either fully public so non-published authors can participate or more exclusive so that those who have published and proven their seriousness can discuss everything from improving the CS engine to work-arounds that were successfully deployed.

After I get done with this contest entry, I very much would like to discuss the *multiple choice optional mechanic - as is, it is very cumbersome to deploy within a project but with some improvements within the engine, I feel it will knock down some current inflexibility and limitations the currently deployed CS engine has. I am still learning and using this, so I’m not ready to open that discussion yet but one obvious limitation of that mechanic is its inefficient coding requirements.

Yet, as you say, this is something that should be discussed internally and not within the Steam community or among the industry media. I think CoG is growing to the point where this is a step needed to be taken.

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I like this video of Richard Bartle. It’s part of the “GET LAMP” documentary on interactive fiction, which was published the year Choice of Games got started.

Let’s have a little thought experiment here. You’re playing in a virtual world. It’s got these pictures, and they’re looking pretty good. And you think, “Oh, that’s pretty good, I like these pictures. They’re nice, right? Pretty?”

Well, yeah, but only—I mean, it’s a 3D world, but I’m only seeing in 2D on the screen. So maybe if I got like a little headset on and put that on. And now I can see in 3D, but if I move my head a bit too much—oh, well, maybe if I put little sensors on, so I can move my head and now I can see it properly. Ah, yes, it’s all here.

But…I’m still only seeing things, and maybe I could have some feeling as well. So, I put a little data glove on, oh yes, oh, it feels warm. Oh, that’s good. But still I’m not hearing things over the goggles. And I haven’t got the sense of being in a place, and maybe I want to be able to move. So, I’ll tell you what, let’s get these big coffin things and fill them full of these gels. I’ll take off all of my clothes and put on all these different devices and lay down in it, and then put these little electric currents through and make it feel hard or soft, so it gives me the impression that I’m actually walking through grass, because it’s generating it. And now, now I’m beginning to feel that I’m really in one of these places.

But of course, really all that’s happening here is that my senses are being fooled into this. What would happen if I was maybe to cut out the whole business with the fingers and just stick a little jack in the back of your head? It goes right into the spinal cord and you’re talking straight to the brain there. All of the senses that come into you’re brain, they’re all filtered in there, and they use it to create a world model inside your head, in your imagination. If you could talk straight to that imagination and cut out all of the senses, then it would be impossible to ignore it. You couldn’t say, “Oh, that’s just an image of a dragon.” That would be a dragon.

What if there was some kind of technology which would enable you to talk straight to the imagination?

Well, there is. It’s called text, and it’s been around for several thousand years. I have seen people leap out of their chairs when a line is said in front of them, “There is an immense, fire-breathing dragon here.” And when you’re typing, the output you’re typing is in words, the same as the input—there’s no shift. It’s not that you’re looking at a picture and typing in words, looking at a picture, moving a mouse around; it’s the same environment. It’s all words, it’s all thoughts, it’s all the magic, all the imagination.

So, when you’re dealing with text, it’s really for people who have got strong imaginations, and the tragedy is that many people have strong imaginations, it’s just they never get to play the text, because they went for the graphics first.

Will we always have text? We will always have text. Will they always be inferior to graphics? Well, in terms of player numbers, yes, in terms of player experience, no, because, no matter how far you take graphics, eventually, the farthest you can get is text.

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Ah, I didn’t read him that way. I read it in the context of Wraith explaining (feistily) why he wasn’t interesting in making games using ChoiceScript. One key reason was that he felt there were other ways of making games that gave freer rein to the player’s imagination–and he brought in the boilerplate because of the ironic contrast with how he perceives the reality of CoG. He can speak for himself when he next checks the forum, of course, but I don’t think he’s got much interest in CoG’s PR as such.

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Perspective from a kiddo here.

I can code in Python (schools teach it tons now) quote well, and stuff like HTML and CSS

I think JavaScript but barely, and some others but barely much about them/ I’ve forgotten their names.

Onto my point (:sweat_smile:) I like to use Choice Script.
It’s pretty good to use, and except for the whole only tabs or spaces thing which I fail at universally, I love it .
For the pros, it’s super easy to use. Maybe I’m influenced by prior knowledge or something, but it’s actually easy.
Also, it being easy to understand (high level language) means that the average user can mod it, look at the code, even send bug reports/ coding errors or code that’s wrong or shouldn’t be their, which I think is awesome.
The simplicity also makes editing easier and bug fixes can be super quick.

If the problem is merely with the tagline, “something something imagination” it’s because the games require a bit of imagination.
Thinking about it, it really present VS games in all their nuances, they are amazing, and depending on your imagination can allow you to imagine a whole world that you play in, but also accept the visuals, non specified information processing is relegated to the user.

If anything COG should not show it’s weaknesses / failings, because you read the comments of COG games and see “oh it costs money?” “£4.99 for just words?” People (and COG) already know it’s shortcomings, yet I believe it allows you to build worlds and stories effectively and efficiently, and the user having to input/ fill in some gaps (up to an extent) with customization allows for a personal, individual gameplay.


On the market side, COG has a strong fanbase (on the forum, people who follow tons of peeps on Social media) and also people who like to play the games occasionally, the main problem is the people who severely undervalued the games (and the effort out into making them) calling the developers greedy for “daring” to charge money for something they’ve made.
Choice Script itself has shortcomings, but I’d argue the massive differences in style, genre and type of games all under choice script means different C’S games have different short coming is and strengths, and I haven’t really noticed many universal problems in CS (but I need to decide on tabs or spaces pretty quick I guess!)

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The general idea of attacking or defending whole artistic media or genres seems kind of pointless to me. Either you like what’s on offer or you don’t – you won’t find me going to a cross-stitch meetup saying, “Don’t you see how linear and non-interactive this art form is?” Or showing up to a drum circle and saying, “This would be so much better with a melody!” Maybe this kind of critique can lead to innovative new art forms, but as a first pass, it’s just failing to understand and appreciate the art in question on its own terms.

I went to a wedding somewhat recently which was the most elaborate I’d ever been to…yet another guest said he’d give it just 9/10. Why? we asked. I dunno, he said – I just like reserving that last point. I mean, it didn’t have a rollercoaster.

My partner and I thought this was very funny. And so I point out that ChoiceScript games typically have no rollercoaster, and therefore get 9/10 in my book, tops.

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And that line of complaint is pretty much a crock. If they enjoyed it why wouldn’t they pay for it? I spend a good week on any given Choicescript offering, usually with a crappy first playthrough followed by an informed ‘canon’ run and then I try to play the system. Not counting the times I revisit each game. At about half the price of a movie ticket that’s more than my money’s worth I’d say. And unlike a movie I can return my purchase if the game I bought turns out to be bad despite CoG’s vetting process and the various beta stages.

But that’s far off the mark. We’ve already established that different people play differently for different reasons. All I’m trying to say is that this isn’t so much a shortcoming of the concept but a problem with public perception. If CoG wanted to figure out a way to nickel and dime the hell out of their games like offering the very basic game for free but make you pay a buck for each meaningful choice (which a lot of comparable games do, they just obfuscate it by making you buy in-game currency) these people would probably cheer the move, then pay twice as much as before.

If CoG has any failings it’s the love and passion and respect the people running the show have for their creations. Not that I consider that a failing but enlightened self interest would probably suit them well.

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That’s funny, because that’s how I grade essays. I require a roller coaster in order to get an essay from an A- to an A.

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My approach is to treat ChoiceScript as if it has no limitations; as if any limitations I encounter are within myself.

I believe this approach is best for the growth of the artist/author, because in figuring out what you can do if you really believe in yourself…

The sky is no longer the limit.

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Oh if my point came across as different then what I intended then my bad-- I completely agree with you.

As the guy above me (i think) stated, often the limitation is within ourself, and compared to other games (cough pay for coins and lives cough) (Which I also love to hack because IT’S LITERALLY A PAY TO WIN GAME) ) COG games are amazing, and allow for tons of customisation cheaply.

And on public perception, I’ve tried to get my friends interested but it’s mainly since the ‘kidz’ these days would prefer online gsmes, where I can get to round 100 or beat my friend Jim in PvP and where reading is often considered a chore.

I do think if you’re not a fan of reading, you won’t find the COG games value for money but for their target audience (hopefully me) it’s awesome.

I’m going to try to promote all the games to my friends, and advertising wise COG could do more stuff, have you guys heard of Imgur? It’s an image hosting site but allows promotes posts-- I think there’d be tons of people interested in COG games! Although I realise it’ll cost a bit of money; and you guys need to make sure company decisions result in net profit and whatnot.

“Space Mountain: Lear’s Alien Sense of Alienation”
“Superman or Bizarro? Coriolanus is Basically Like a Rollercoaster But, Like, Which One”
“Tomorrowland and Tomorrowland and Tomorrowland”

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It’s all good. I was just saying that while it’s sadly a fact people object to paying for things that took someone months to make never mind the development of Choicescript, Editing, Proofreading and Beta Testing… it’s also very near sighted. I honestly assume most of those posters are minors or otherwise without regular income.