Limitations of ChoiceScript as a medium

@Fiogan, I agree that achievements don’t have to push us toward stat-gaming–that’s an issue of writer habit and genre expectation, not purely game mechanics. Similarly, when Wraith_Magus wrote that ChoiceScript choices

that seems to me a rut we’ve got ourselves into rather than a necessary limitation of the engine. That said, in both case I think ChoiceScript nudges us in that direction. Even achievements that look narrative often involve maxing a hidden stat, as Eiwynn pointed out, and can thus have a similar impact (shifting the reader from thinking “what would my character do?” to thinking “what combination of choices will get me that achievement?”). Avoiding these ruts that CS nudges us into will take some creative effort.

Anyway, coming back to Wraith_Magus’ critique: the core of it was that he could do more of what he wanted with (at least some use of) graphics than text alone. In my first post, I suggested that he was underselling the advantages of text when it came to evoking imagination. But that was the same argument I could have made for novels v movies; it didn’t really address the distinctive functions of graphics in games. Wraith_Magus rightly points out that by limiting ourselves to text rather than graphics, we largely sacrifice a computer’s capacity for (a) simulating a space we can manipulate and explore and (b) turning complex rule sets into something players can winsomely engage with.

On point (a), of course exploration and manipulation is possible in a text only game – GO UP, GO SOUTH, GET LAMP – but I’ve yet to find a game where I really think that’s done better in text than it would have been graphically, or where my enjoyment of the game wasn’t negatively affected to some degree by the hassle of navigating a space without graphics. I’m happy that the Steam version of Hadean Lands includes a map.

On point (b)… well, my own Choice of Rebels comes out this week, and I’m holding my breath to see how the world at large receives the bit where I invite players into an extended, numbers-intensive management game (bringing 300-odd insurgents through a bad winter). It was alienating to many testers when I first rolled it out. One early response was basically, “I don’t want to play a text version of Civ.”

The winter in XoR would be a smoother, more immersive play experience if the interface incorporated some graphics – say, a mules dial and a rations dial – rather than relying on cycles of choices to juggle use of mules and rations. I’ve cut some elements that I would otherwise have liked to include because when played out in multiple-choice text they would have gone beyond the point of average reader tolerance. (And of course, we’ll see in the coming weeks whether what I’ve judged that point correctly…) I think I could have simulated the experience of leading a starving outlaw band better using a hybrid text-graphics interface.

Ultimately, Wraith is right that ChoiceScript is built for a “rules-light narrative-heavy” game; he’d probably chide me as one of the authors who’ve chosen to ignore this to varying degrees. While I think it’s worth experimenting as I have with the winter scene in XoR, I do recognize this as an area of genuine limitation where if we push too far, we’ll create an experience that’s much less fun than it would be if we were using a different system.