Limitations of ChoiceScript as a medium

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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


Achievements has had a gaming culture that has been built around them. For better or worse, the format, expectations and goals of achievements has their roots in Steam’s roll-out. From Completionists to those seeking signposts to more content, achievements serve specific and demanded (by the gaming industry as a whole, including consumers, platform-sellers and publishers)

As such, within the whole, there are different types of achievements but excluding one type or another is seen as a flaw in the finalized released games by the community as a whole. One such vocal and demanding achievement hunter segment is those that use them as measuring sticks to their optimized playing of the game.

Your example of telling jokes not only encourages role-play but it encourages min-maxing play too… as well as acting as a goal of itself for those who want to be completionists.

Achievements are part of today’s game culture, just as permanent deaths in games are not. Will this change? I hope so but the reality for the foreseeable future is I don’t think it will. I actually see it getting worse before getting better.


ChoiceScript compared to other cybertext platforms like Twine and Undum is very limited in its presentation. The format with the radio buttons is very plain. In Twine etc. text effects and screen layout can be a lot more modern or polished looking. I can understand why it keeps it simple, especially for large scale production considerations, but it is a clear artistic limitation.


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.