Limitations of ChoiceScript as a medium

I actually like that example because in a game I’m making now I want to add a difficulty option, a hard-core option with achievements and many deaths for those who want it, and a more story focused (both have the same story, but easy might be more lenient on deaths and failed checks (and easier/ less checks in general) as opposed to just achievement hunting.

And does anyone else like achievements? Maybe not as a target but like a side note to the reader?
For example, the lump the mule achievement, or fun notes to the reader.

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About the only use of Achievements I care for (I don’t dislike them otherwise they just plain do nothing for me) is the Echelon Protocol in Versus: The Elite Trials. As a game within the game to actively encourage different and varied playthroughs.


Achievements can easily encourage someone to poke their head out of their comfort zone and play differently, which can easily be a good thing.
Take Hero Unmasked for example. There’s an achievement for allowing the murder of one of the characters. That was bloody hard for me to do, as I’d usually never play like that.
The downside is, it can also stress someone out.

In general well-written achievements can encourage more playthroughs.
For exactly that reason I’d personally advice against a ‘difficulty’ option in a CYOA like these. Might end in frustration too quickly.


Players love when their choices are acknowledged by the game, and achievements are the easiest way to do that nowadays. They also(as stated already in the thread) attract the attention of completionists and promote replayability. So they are, overall, a good thing for most games.

About ChoiceScript as a medium, has anyone wondered about the “RPG Maker Effect” and how it could be applied to text games on CS? A recent article on PC Gamer explained why so many people are “disgusted” with RPG Maker games or have some prejudice against it.

Basically, it’s so easy to make games with it and so many people did so using the basic assets that the overall public perception of the thing went bad, at least in the western territory. Even so, great games were done inside RPG Maker, Undertale being the most successful one I believe.

Someone from the CoG staff said on the forum once that they don’t want to be accused of having elitist publishing parameters for Hosted Games(or something of the sort), and I can’t agree enough with it. Still, the whole notion that “anyone can make a game” and the similarities shared by the medium still can be perceived as something bad by some people. Even so, I wouldn’t have been able to make a game if it wasn’t for that.

I really like the idea of Hosted Games, mainly because it seems like a good place to experiment some new and weird ideas with ChoiceScript. Not necessarily on story concepts, because I think the main label is already doing a great job at that, but in playability, systems, interactivity, etc. Seems like excellent proving grounds for those things, and ChoiceScript, with all its “limitations”, it’s a damn good game “engine” for text games. The whole package of automated tests, community to provide feedback to WIPs, friendly scripting language and easy publishing process are really good things.

And yes, the medium has its limitations, but we as developers can try to test its boundaries and help push the whole format into different directions. There are plenty of people trying(and succeeding) to do things like that, as hard as they might be.


Specifically regarding games with an actual story, don’t you think it would be preferable to have the narrative acknowledge the player /character’s action? Like Civ or the aforementioned CK2 giving your ruler an honorific. Founding a religion and becoming ‘Bob the Pious’ in game rather than a brief achievement popup ‘Pious - You founded your own religion’ feels far more rewarding to me. Never mind all the callbacks in your average Bioware game. Also furniture though that’s kinda silly.


Yes. That is precisely why I mentioned it as being the “easiest” way, not the “best” one. It’s easier to implement and to show the player, but the best kind of “acknowledgements” to the player actions are always made through branching, descriptions and ingame consequences, in my opinion. Still, I view Achievements as a good complementary asset.

Never underestimate the power of furniture, they can be surprisingly efficient in combat late game. :sushing_face:

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@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.


Never underestimate the power of mules!


Well, with Wraith_Magus on a forum hiatus again, my hopes of avoiding mega-textwall by going through his points one or two at a time are dwindling. I’m giving him a lot to respond to as and when he gets back. :slight_smile: So it goes.

Another limitation Wraith wrote about was the difficulty of representing meaningful conversations in ChoiceScript:

It seems to me this is mixing up a couple of things – the current habits of ChoiceScript writers, and the limitations of computers at simulating meaningful conversation. There’s no reason inherent to CS that “it’s never a good idea to say anything angry.” Relationship bars aren’t part of the engine. It’s easy in theory to write negative consequences for being a doormat or good consequences for an angry response. It’s rarely done… but that’s grist for a thread on “cliches of CS writing/coding” rather than one on limitations of the medium.

On the other hand, the fact that conversations can’t really range beyond the options that writer has envisioned and programmed is basically a consequence of computers’ inability to semantically understand the world. Wraith recognizes this throughout the thread, but he thinks there’d be a better way out if instead of presenting multiple choices we could use the “meaningful abstraction” of a graphical puzzle:

I’ve got nothing against puzzle games; I write as someone who quite enjoyed the hacking pipe minigame in Bioshock. (And huh, the guy responsible for it also wrote one of my favorite COGs!) But applied to the problem of simulating a meaningful conversation, graphic minigames seem to me every bit as much of a hammer seeking a nail as anything ChoiceScript writers try with stats, if not even more so.

It’s not as if we haven’t seen it tried. Anyone who played Oblivion will remember the use of a graphic puzzle minigame to simulate conversation, and, well, yeah. The abstraction was pretty far from being meaningful. To each their own, but I think a passage of ChoiceScript written with a bit less stat-reliance would be much better than a minigame at producing the illusion of a truly meaningful conversation.

Of course, that would require more detailed coding, where the author anticipates and writes out a different range of human reactions… and that brings me to one last, slightly odd point of Wraith’s. He argues that ChoiceScript is inefficient because “trying to recreate everything over and over again when you can just reuse existing code is simply a waste of time and effort better spent advancing the project in new directions.”

And I guess this is where game designers of a certain mindset simply part ways with authors. What has been “recreated” between Choice of Robots, Choice of the Deathless, and Choice of the Star Captain isn’t a bunch of coding inefficiencies: it’s the story. It’s the whole point. It’s worth the time spent coding it because – to come back to the point I made about Minecraft up top – a strong narrative and good characters are pleasures that only human authors can (so far) create. They don’t emerge from any open-world spatial simulation that I’ve ever encountered. True, an open world can include various narrative mini-hooks, and I can enhance my experience as I explore by filling in the gaps with my own imagination. But it’s a different kind of pleasure to the pleasure of a well-realized novel.

I understand that Wraith is interested in a different kind of project, using “spacial simulation in new and different ways [rather] than just writing a new narrative.” But that’s no reason to bash new narratives.

Personally, I’m interested in making a good fantasy novel, and one which is all the better for allowing you to explore alternate paths through it – to get to know the characters from different angles, to see different bits of the world, to allow the consequences of actions to play out differently. If I end up writing a crappy one, it’s because of my weaknesses as an author, not because ChoiceScript locks us into writing crap.

I do find the “story generator” project interesting; even a crappy fantasy story would take on a certain extra pleasure if I felt it had emerged almost entirely out of my choices rather than an author’s will. But it would be a different pleasure to exploring a well-written narrative like Stanley Parable or the best COGs.


As I basically said just that, I will note that I thought that even if you could make the system more manageable in its texty glory, it would be a net loss overall. Some CoG games explicitly focus on these areas (like the monster raising game) and while it’s interesting enough as a mechanism, I find it inheritly distancing in a way that is actively harmful to any narrative focused game. The mental effort required for calculations and strategy like that just leaves very little room for emotional investment, let alone ideology and morality.
The streamlined version of the management, where you make the choices for the approach and leave the numbers out of it, is much more faithful to the morally and ethically focused narrative of the game, so it’s an excellent compromise in my opinion.

Guenevere, another highly narrative and character focusing game, is planned to have a big strategic section of battle management. No matter how well executed that system would be, I can tell right now this section will hurt the story’s momentum and will trip up players focusing on RP, because of the necessary gamey thinking to pass it.

In other words, I think it is a natural creative aspiration to extend the limits of the medium. But I consider it a throughly selfish one, because it prioritizes the enjoyment of the creator in the process than the benefit of the final product. This is true for artsy incomprehensible films, books with overly clever twists endings or games with elaborate uncessary mechanics. It is of course the creators prerogative to use their creation however they see fit - but they should accept it was done for themselves and thus may not be satisfying for anyone else.

It’s tricky, with art made for consumption. I’m on the cynical end of the scale, so I think artists can often be blinded by their own joy of creation to realize sometimes innovation is not the answer. ChoiceScript has limitations, so work with them rather than against them for the best results and leave experiments in the lab.
But then again, I’m purely a consumer with no creative ambitions whatsoever, so it’s a rather one-sided opinion.


Unless I am reading you wrong, strategy and its associated mechanics are “gamey” in your opinion. Having dealt with such mechanics from an engine’s use of them for years, I agree but not in the sense that you mean it.

Regardless of RP, a person can design mechanics that match with the gamer’s personality as being exhibited in the game being played. The trouble is, in strategic simulations there is an eventual break from what can be accomplished within the simulation and what can be accomplished in reality. As such, it will fail, sooner or later to match outcomes within the simulation to those expected from reality.

Unless you are focused on a min-max approach that utilizes all flaws and limitations, a person can avoid “gamey” outcomes by buying into the simulation and its mechanics as presented. As an example, in Crusader Kings 2, the type of feudalism modeled may not match the reality in 90% of the world depicted. Yet, if you buy into the simulation and refuse to “game” the mechanics, your outcome will further the story’s momentum and RP will continue to be enjoyable for the hours you put into the game.

With the narrative-focused game such as Guinevere, the narrative aspects can be bought into by the reader and a strategy system can compliment their narrative. If the gamer follows true, their RP, the narrative and the strategy used will compliment and reinforce each other. The only way to break this association is to “game” the system in a min-max effort to “win”.


Bringing up Crusaders Kings is a good example, because that’s another excellent game with a strong narrative and other great mechanics that is utterly inaccessible to casual gamers. I think you are underestimating the amount of skill involved in any strategy mechanic - casual players can be immediately intimidated and turned off by what seems to an experienced player a natural progression. From my experience, it is extremely difficult to take any complicated decision making process that requires planning and calculation and make it truly accessible to everyone. And as I think narrative based games should be accessible first and foremost, I remain skeptical that any such system beneficial to the game as a whole. I didn’t even like the ME war assets mechanic, and it was easily accomplished by going about the game normally and never looking at it once.

Can a battle fit into the narrative of Guenevere? Of course. Does monitoring unit HP and damage output? No, in no way and form, no matter how well justified in game.


This is the crux of our disagreement. As a designer, my goal is to present a simplified and easily grasp mechanical structure that simulates the reality depicted. Strategy in a simulation, or story-game needs to be grasped by its readers/gamers and if it is complicated and hard to grasp, then the design as presented is at fault.

In a narrative game, as most CS games are, this means a very simple and easily presented mechanical structure for strategic situations. It should compliment the narrative and not try to outshine it. At least this is my goal when presenting strategic situations.

I bring up Crusader Kings because of the “strategy” genre, it is the most orientated to the narrative. As such, it has a very powerful mechanic in its decision structure to further that narrative it presents. It is so powerful that an entire expansion (Way of Life) was based on furthering narrative.

CS is even more powerful in presenting the narrative but that does not mean a designer can “mail in” their mechanics. It still needs to be able to present a situation in an understandable and complimentary way for the reader.

I don’t underestimate the skill needed by the gamer or reader but I do think it takes a designer skills to pull the narrative and mechanics together and have them working together instead of against each other.


Which intellectual property was killed off by EA, and how was the Frostbite engine responsible?

Mass Effect: Andromeda; all DLC and single-player updates are cancelled with multiplayer being minimally supported.

The series itself is officially on “ice” with no further follow-up even in the works - so there is still hope that the series will survive. The fear of many Bioware loyalists is that EA will morph the series into a pure multiplayer type of game or something closer to their recent Star Wars titles.

As to the Frostbite engine - There is an article that will explain this better then I can trying to restate everything from memory - here it is: Kotaku’s article

Here is a summarized quote from that same article:

“Frostbite,” the developer said, “is a sports car. Not even a sports car, a Formula 1. When it does something well, it does it extremely well. When it doesn’t do something, it really doesn’t do something.”

“Whenever you’re trying to do something that fits the engine—vehicles, for example—Frostbite handles that extremely well,” the developer said. “But when you’re building something that the engine is not made for, this is where it becomes difficult.”


A few thoughts on this, with benefit of XoR’s early sales figures and reviews. Happily for my coffee reimbursement budget, Rebels is doing very well on all platforms. But on Apple rather more of the reviews sound like @Jackrabbit’s, yielding the lowest score on any of the major platforms; while on Steam XoR is doing great, with nary a negative review in sight. And the Steam audience loves the winter specifically, with a grim and masochistic passion.

So I don’t think adding the number-wrangling to survive the winter was a thoroughly selfish indulgence on this author’s part. It was a choice to incorporate an element that made the game more satisfying to one audience, and less satisfying to others. I did want to evade the dilemma, and tried a storymode option for the winter. But it wasn’t entirely successful, so I did end up alienating some of the audience who came for a story rather than a game.

That’s a choice I own, and ultimately wouldn’t change. I’m glad I didn’t leave the experiment in the lab. It didn’t do everything I was hoping for, but most of the reviews reflect the experience I was trying to create. And I don’t think it ultimately reflects a prioritization of my enjoyment over others’, but a prioritization of some audiences’ enjoyment over others’.


I love this point. And I will reiterate. Do what is fun for you instead of worrying about who will like it and who will hate it. You might just be surprised at how well it does.

Also, great job @Havenstone :slight_smile:
To quote the Coldwraith (a card from Hearthstone): “Winter is here. And it’s cold!”

In this specific case, I thought the storymode option was a satisfying solution that indeed resolved the issue for me - as well as for other people who I know were interested in the story, so I’m surprised to hear it didn’t go well with some people. Is it because you cannot achieve optimal results in that mode?
And I’m not surprised it does well on Steam but not iOS, since the PC crowd is known to be more hardcore than the casual mobile gamers (and I say that as a proud casual). That said, CoG reviews on mobile platforms are often rather misdirected or overly vitriolic, so do take them with a grain of salt.

There will, of course, be exceptions to all blanket statements. And there will always be people who enjoy certain elements that are widely derided or unsuitable to the game (not referring to Rebels, necessarily). You could claim that adding a shooting element to your 4X game is simply prioritizing the action love fans among the strategy fans, over the main audience. And it might be a valid approach - perhaps this unusual combination allows people bored with strategy gameplay to be invested in it, because they look forward to the shooting part. But strategy fans would be understandably upset with having a barrier to the gameplay they were interested in, presented in a form they are neither interested in playing nor comfortable with, and might entirely stop their progress artificially.

But in my mind, even if it worked out well, it doesn’t mean it was the right choice and the way to go. Basically, I dislike the tendency because it’s high risk, and I’m a risk averse person by nature. So even when this method works, and works well (and I myself very much enjoy several games who use it), I am still reluctant to support it or even consider it really beneficial, because it comes from selfish or short-sighted motivation even if it worked out for the best.

I hope you don’t take this as a dismissive of your hard work! I consider the winter mechanism to be incredibly impressive, engaging and even rewarding for players who enjoy a challenge, and very pleased it draws in a wider audience than traditional CoG games. But I believe it succeeded not because it is a good approach, but because your skills managed to take it past the hurdles that would have made it fail. In other words, it could have very easily undermined the story and become actively harmful (and I believe the many, many, many changes done during the beta showed how easily it could have harmed players’ experiences). Possibly you, personally, would not have implemented it in that state - but you had every right to insist that this punishing difficulty is your vision for the game and how you want us to experience it, and in doing so prioritizing your vision for the game over the audience’s enjoyment. Perfectly valid for the creator to do, but you can see why I am unhappy to consider such a possibility, I’m sure (and it happened in other games, so it’s not me being pessimistic for the sake of it).

So yes, it’s a high risk course which I do not want to see become commonplace, because I am too cynical to believe most can pull it off. I may be too stubborn, but I’m afraid it will take more than one or two exceptionally well-done instances before this concern of mine would be entirely settled.


I think this highlights a major difference between playing games primarily or exclusively on mobile devices versus playing primarily or exclusively on a laptop or desktop computer. :thinking:
Comfortably sitting at a desk or table with a computer that has a better and larger screen is a rather different approach to gaming that, at least in myself, instills more desire for and patience with game elements (managing numbers, button mashing challenges, etc), that require my undivided attention, versus playing the same on a phone in a noisy environment that I need to keep at least half an eye on and occasionally engage with, when sitting down in say a waiting room or on a bus or train.

This is a very big reason I still have a big old bulky e-reader I bring with me on trips as I’m not really a mobile gamer and prefer traditional stories or browsing the news, or even making the occasional post on a forum such as this one when on the move or at random locations.
Lastly while I can’t speak for all pc gamers obviously my peeking at the code usually gets me out of things I can’t quite figure out myself or don’t want to engage with at that moment, as do cheat codes in AAA games.
Yeah, I’m a bad old modder/cheater when I can find the time. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Great news guess I need to start saving for my Himalayan vacation then, while I don’t exactly like drinking the stuff maybe a resort where I can bathe in it will be different. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Well, yeah, but that’s why beta testing and hopefully the author, developer or studio actually listening to and processing the feedback is very important and why I wish larger studio’s particularly in the AAA business did more of it, as well as hire actual gay lesbian and black, asian, etc people as consultants and hopefully listen to them too.

Sadly most major developers these days think like that too, whereas I think that is incredibly stifling, no risk no reward after all. Not taking risks is why we still have execs at places like Bioware apparently thinking including even token gay or “bi” guys in an rpg is forward thinking and edgy and that you can suffice with doing “research” on it by apparently just watching a bunch of bad 1990’s era gay sitcoms filled to the brim with thirteen in a dozen stereotypes. :unamused:


I don’t know if it’s kosher to comment on old threads like this. I just found this while stumbling around on the forums and wanted to chuck in my two cents into this dusty piece of html.

As to limitations in the production of a game. The main one is that it’s a lot of work and it’s not easy to divide that work across a large team of people. Some poor sod is stuck doing most of it. But the silver lining is that the poor sod can probably take bigger creative risks with their subject matter because they don’t have to compromise with a team.

I created a popular rpg (still in print 20 years later) over the course of a weekend. Nobody knocks out a Choicescript game out over a weekend.

So the main constraint is how much work you can get out of a single person over the life of the project. And how much complexity can this one person manage because you don’t have infinite monkeys to throw at the problem.

Another limitation which is also a High Class Problem is subtext. There’s so much potential subtext to consider as a writer that it becomes a constraint. But again this a high class problem because most games wish they could pack in more subtext. In Choicescript you can pack in so much subtext that you eventually hit complexity/single author limitation.

The only easier way to get more subtext in a game is to go multiplayer, where you essentially outsource the subtext to other players. But that multiplayer subtext isn’t always what people want. Sometimes they want a story well told. One charming and articulate monkey is sometimes more interesting than lots of monkeys.