Limitations of ChoiceScript as a medium

“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.

I took his argument to be a more detailed and skillfully take on the "CoG stories are not games and should not be sold as such… especially with his continually reliance on the consumer’s PoV.

But for the sake of your argument, I’d like to address a particular segment of his:

*bold is my bolding.

Crusader Kings (2) is both one of my favorite games and one that I am more familiar with then others both from the engine being a direct descendant/relation of the one my own failed game project developed. I’m going to break this quote down in light of working with a version of Paradox’s engine and working with Choicescript.

Let me make clear up front - each engine has its limitations. One of the major limitations of the Clausewitz engine is the limitation of the amount of text allowed in decisions and narratives. I personally have spent hours rewording things to fit in the allocated space allowed both in modding such and in working the failed game.

This in turn is a strength of the Choicescript engine. In one decision I can have 100, 1,000, or even 10,000 words.

In Crusader Kings 2, this is mitigated by including simple graphics and animations. Yet, if what is provided does not match the gamer’s imagination, there is often conflict within the Crusader King 2 consumer community. An example of such a controversy are the character portraits. Crusader Kings 2 has a rich library of ethnic, cultural, religious and “other” modifiers such as injuries or sickness that change the portrait shown shown representing a character.

This is important with the discussion at hand because Wraith_Magus specifically states a limitation is the character/mc descriptions in CS as an issue. If we objectively look at the Crusader Kings 2 experience (through the consumer’s eyes) we see segments, some more populated then others) that object to the characterization of the characters via portraits. From Norse portraits looking like potato headed toys, to the skin color of Greeks vs Persians vs Turks, there is almost a continuous discussion of that limitation of the engine not to portray the character as imagined.

In CS, the characterization is limited by the author/developer of the game, but because it is text-based and not as specific in its presentation, we can get away with more before the suspension of disbelief is broken.

In either case, the limitation is either emphasized by the inexperience or low ability of the developer. This is something that is constant in both engines and not something that differentiates them.

This is why I don’t accept the validity of using imagination as a beat-down stick as Wraith_Magus has.

Edit: Thanks for the spelling help @Spire … I can never remember spelling that name even though I’ve worked with that engine for years.

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Clausewitz as in the guy who wrote that other basic book on warfare who isn’t Sun Tzu.

CK2 is still my favourite computer game out there.

That said, the Clausewitz Engine is about as complicated as a boardgame in its representation of the meat of its games. My wife who already finds Civ a drag basically falls asleep just looking at the screen when I play CK2 or EU3 (don’t like 4). To hear that people take any issue with the ruler portrait shocks me about as much as hearing people only do one run through Choicescript games.

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As a minor with no regular income… Yeah pretty much.
I mean it’s pertinent to understand that COG games can only be as good as the reader, and often those (specially children, under 18’s) don’t use the full extent of their imagination, with other games with dazzling graphics catching their eye more.

…God I feel like an old person here haha.

And to not sound like I suck up to COG (too much :wink:) some bad games can definitely be bad, but the errors are generally immersion breakers, like typos, continuity errors etc. That can be easily fixed, than big things like graphics or lag or unfair competition matchups.

And railroading stories suck too, because I realise I’m still not being completely objective. A COG game that just forced you into a select path is more a story that a game.

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You’re doing fine.

But this is actually where we have to apply a very fine yardstick. With their limited paths, all Choicescript games basically railroad you, the rails just fork. So do the stories of Bioware ‘Triple A’ games, mind you. Templars or Mages? Quarians or Geth?

And for the sake of continuing the story all games make assumptions about your character to an extent. I personally actually can’t tell you at which point I’d consider this railroading vs a narrative necessity.

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Sure. And I see a bit of that in Wraith_Magus, like when he says that all games should make as much use as possible of spatial simulation. But he’s also saying things like this:

which I take to be a different issue. You can arguably tell different stories with text than you can in, say, a graphical representation of space. Articulating what you can and can’t do well in a medium seems like a worthwhile exercise.

And maybe even more usefully – what does ChoiceScript as a medium nudge us towards doing? Not (pace Wraith) like a straightjacket we can’t escape, but a natural tendency that we’d have to lean against if it was clashing with the experience we wanted to create? I don’t think Wraith is wrong when he says:

or points out that most CoG games thus slip into a structure where you’re pressed to make choices consistently with stat-maxing in mind – whether or not the choices actually make sense with what you think your character would do at a given moment. Achievements, now a core part of CoG, further incentivize playing your stats rather than your character.

Stats and story are two core elements of ChoiceScript, and they clash with each other–not inevitably, not inescapably, but pretty often. Stats are both a key strategy allowing the story to develop through delayed branching, and also an ever-present distraction that risks pulling people out of the story.

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I’d say the moment the author mocks you (subtley) for straying from their vision, or has the game override your decision in some way or somesuch, the railroading is… puts on sunglasses off the rails.

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Do they have to, though, or is that more due to style of achievements commonly implemented?

I do think romance-path achievements are at least a little more character-driven (although of course they rely on stats too to some degree, because that’s how CS games ‘think’, so to speak).

But what about achievements for finding a rare story beat because you have that one character who always takes the weirdest option possible, even if it’s ‘play a serenade on a rubber chicken’, and assuming ‘weirdness’ isn’t a given game-driving stat? Or are there maybe other ways to use achievements to encourage role playing rather than (per se) stat consistency?

I wonder, too, about achievements for hidden stats—say a game tracked the number of jokes you make, even if it’s just for occasional flavour text and that one achievement. That’s not a stat-max achievement then, no?

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The above is worth thinking about critically.
How much is enough?
Here’s a thought experiment:

Imagine yourself to be a 6 foot tall individual in a swimming pool.
There is water in the pool, and the pool has various depths.

In the 1-foot area, most probably meant for people using a pool chair, you have no trouble standing up and can move around relatively easily.

In the 3-foot area, most probably meant for younger people, the water comes up to your mid section, and you are partially immersed in the swimming pool experience.

In the 5-foot area, most probably meant for normal pool use, the water comes up to your shoulders. You can have a normal pool experience here, going underwater when you need to, swimming around, and being able to stand up with your head above water when you need to.

In the 15-foot area, most probably meant for diving, you are quite obviously not able to stand up in that space because you are only a 6 foot tall person. You are forced to sink or swim; complete immersion, as it were.

How, then, is the 15-foot area different from calm waters that go hundreds of feet deep? You cannot stand. You are completely immersed. You are forced to sink or swim.

Even life itself is “limited” but, hopefully, we get to do enough and experience enough that our “limited” choices are enough to satisfy us; make us think it was all worthwhile.

A game, any game, with limited choices, is not inherently bad simply because it does not allow for infinite possibility. We are not immortal. We cannot experience truly infinite possibility. But we can experience an immersion which is deep enough as if to give the illusion of being in a world as deep as the ocean itself.

We are not gods. We cannot create oceans and the space to put them in. However, we are people. And we can make pools deep enough to swim in, with many degrees of freedom; enough to satisfy.

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