Pros and cons of different time frames in stories

I’m not sure I’ve seen this discussion here before.

I’ve been thinking about how different CoGs/HGs/HCs (we really need an inclusive name for all three companies!) cover different lengths of time, and how that affects the scope/depth/stats of the stories.

On one end, we have some of the epic/sprawling stories like @Lucid’s Life of a X games, that follow your character throughout their entire life.

On the other end of the spectrum, some games cover a very short period of time. For example, my upcoming Zip! game covers only a few days.

And then of course there are a ton of games in the middle, that might cover a few months, or a school semester, or something like that.

What are some of the pros and cons you see in these different approaches? How do they affect stats? How do they affect width and depth of the stories? Do you prefer one over the other?

The first thing that comes to mind are primary stats and end states, but then I’m also thinking about dialogue, character relationships, etc.

With ‘conventional’ primary stats like intelligence, strength, etc., epic/life stories seem to give more opportunities to build such stats. I mean, how much can your strength increase in a few days? It doesn’t make sense, unless you somehow account for it in your narrative.

Epic/life games also probably allow for a wider spread of end stats, since by the fact that they are “life” games, there probably won’t be a sequel. It’s probably also easier to introduce/drop/kill off side characters, since the MC might end up moving on, going to a different location entirely, etc.

But perhaps games with shorter periods allow a deeper drilling into specific moments, conflicts, conversations, etc? Do they more easily allow for tension/emotion/themes? How are primary stats best served?

For example, I’ve worked and reworked Talon City 2 or 3 times now. I love the core content, but I can’t figure out how to best structure it as a game. Now I’m leaning toward keeping it covering only a week of time (focused on one thing, preparing for a trial), but instead of “normal” traditional stats, which just wouldn’t change in a week, I’m thinking of using stats like Hunger, Stress, Weariness, Doubt, etc., that would mirror how hellish a week of trial prep is (I’ve been there, done that).

So again, I’m just spit-balling here. Has anyone thought about this, or is anyone considering this in a WiP they’re working on? Does anyone have favorite CoGs/HGs/HCs that land on different sides of the spectrum?


It’s a interesting conversation! I know I have actually toyed with a game where each chapter is a different generation of the same family, possibly telling a branching narrative over hundreds of years that could normally only happen with a more ageless MC. But equally a game which spans a short period of time could be interesting with the right concept.

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I propose CSG — ChoiceScript Games :blush:


Every day – I have projects that cover the spectrum, although I am finding I enjoy the micro-scoped games more than most macro-scoped. Unless it is a series. In which I can enjoy the macro as much or even more.

Yes - before I begin a project, the relationship between stats and scope have to be worked out.

Yes - too many to make a concise list of but I’d be willing to take a deep dive any any one that you wish to discuss.

This is my opinion based on the last sample I played:

I’ve always thought you should structure the scope around a “main case” … like a Perry Mason episode.

The trouble with the mechanics you are choosing is that they are all negative (drain) stats, designed to reduce the utility experienced by the gamer.

Instead, I’d suggest focusing on things that these negatives affect: Health, Sanity, Temper, Love/Friendship with signifigant others/family/colleagues.

You should add positive stats like: Pizza/Chinese delivery, power-naps, drugs(?) pep-talks, etc that will give what the negatives take into your pool of mechanical stats.

It depends - some topics are more tuned to an intense shorter scope while others may benefit from an examination over a long period of time. Some can be seen and examined from either or both scopes. (eg Abuse)

Most authors that make Choice Script games with a non-gaming background do not really understand mechanics. @HannahPS is making a concerted effort at expanding her use … perhaps her thread would be helpful to you as well

It depends. I’ve seen professional level athletes that can peak their performance at specific times, like a marathon runner or decathlon athlete … I’ve seen baseball players that can focus their strength in a swing and let it ebb during the next at-bat when being intentionally walked ///

My approach with my projects is to determine my time frame for the story before anything else.


I think about this a lot, because I am drawn to two different types of themes, each of which is a natural fit for an opposite end of this spectrum. Broadly, I’m talking about relationships and politics, specifically politics in a long historical view.

When writing about relationships, I most enjoy drilling down into the small moments of life, the mundane details, if you will. Single conversations or short encounters end up gaining tremendous significance, and a very deep story can be told in even a single day. True, it’s not the only way of writing about relationships, but it’s one that I find very rewarding. Especially as it allows me as a writer to zero in on “the moment when everything changes”.

Politics is a long game. It’s a story wherein things are accomplished over years or decades, not to say centuries. A historical view of politics, even more so. It’s quite difficult to write a story with meaningful political change that doesn’t take place over at least months or years. It runs the risk of feeling hollow.

For my first game, I compromised by settling on a time frame of about two months. I’m running into the limitations that set on me all the dang time. Everything I can’t do in TC will inform what decisions I make about the time frame of my next game. Given the above, though… it’s likely to also be a compromise.


The bold in the quote is my own edit.

You said it: Stats, and those Epics/Lifetime type of story narratives are where acknowledged passage of large spans of time shine best. Not much point in next to no changes happening to a character who was “training” for a three month gap, and there not to be at least a tiny change on the stat screen.

For those on a smaller stretch of time, like a week… It’s easy to feel like things are happening too fast, but that may well be the point of this style of story. There’s a crunch to the timing of things, and that makes the stats you’ve come up with very potent tools for driving flavor text based on what choices a player might make to plug the holes in a slowly sinking ship. It doesn’t have to be all that chaotic at all times, of course, with the use of counter-stats like being more ‘laid back’ than stressed about what’s going on in the day to day countdown.

All the same, passage of time is more of an incidental element in a story’s narrative, since it would take a few minutes to walk from one corner of a block to another in a city, but as many as several days to cross a fairly large real-world country by car. In both stories time passed, but neither need to be overtly mentioned to move things along.


Wow, great responses and thoughts. I want to dig into this a little more, be back later!

I tend to prefer a “save the world” timeframe, which is over the course of several months or a handful of years. The middle ground is generally the minimum and maximum time frame of stories that, bare-bones, sound something like this: “Big Bad has a plan that will culminate in a giant showdown at near-future X date which Hero and co must train for. There’s little incidents in between then which build/test skills and add to the tension, but ultimately, there is a ticking clock counting down to D-Day whether Hero and co are aware or not.”

I think some tiny part of the reason fantasy and particularly the epic, saving-the-world type of fantasies are so popular is because they so often have this straightforward format that is both digestible and big enough for thoughtful reflection, familiar yet easily crafted to writer preference, reasonable for large developments and pressing for increased drama/urgency, focused enough for small, character centered intimacy and sprawling enough for a sense of “journey”. That is wholly my own speculation, and I’m most definitely biased, but still. It is my sweet spot for sure.

You are right. It often strikes me as silly to expect the audience to buy a massive development within a single day or week; however, human beings can change A LOT within a number of months or a couple years. Particularly if there’s some driving force behind said change. The opposite problem can be said of entire lifetime or centuries’ long stories: they cover way too much and include dizzying amounts of plot points, characters, revelations and/or changes by necessity. How would one satisfyingly pull all of it together by the end? It’s ambitious and in my opinion, not as frequently achieved as written. The jack of all trades, master of none issue. With so much time dedicated towards scope, there’s far less time for the simple, everyday stories. That said, this point only applies as a negative if you even care about simplicity. And while it’s somewhat harder I think by nature to write compelling characters over a vast period of time, it’s still quite possible. Specifically in the case of IF, I also believe massive timelines can make for better “games” in the sense that yes, more stat options and possible branching life events would be available the longer a timeline is.

Cons of my preferred timeline? I don’t have an answer for that because I am once again, what one might call heavily biased. A combination of both scope and focus I always enjoy though is an anthology series ex: American Horror Story or (spiritual) sequels set in the same universe but with different characters and potentially different time periods ex: @Lucid’s Dariaverse. You can cover a wide space and multiple stories, but keep each one centered, at least ideally. A con of this is that A. It’s not common at all as far as I’m aware in Choice Script games so results may vary on commercial value vs. a traditional sequel and B. It requires you not utterly burn out on your universe’s offerings.

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