Reply to an email - writing advice

Someone just wrote to me asking for advice on writing choice-based games. I don’t remember ever posting such a thing in general on these forums, and so I thought I’d post my reply here. This is also a little bit of a farewell, at least for now, since I’ve decided my next game won’t actually be IF; I’ve been hitting these forums rather less frequently as a result.

Hope this is useful to somebody!

Dear [—],

First, if you poke around the Choice of Games website, there’s a variety of advice on their blog and in the forums. But, since you asked me, I’ll mention what I think is most important.

The first thing to do is to pick a subject matter that moves you. I’d say “hurts you” but that’s probably an overgeneralization; still, at least a little bit of hurt is probably good. Choice of Robots was about my bittersweet experience in AI. Choice of Alexandria was because I found the story of Hypatia so sad, and because I found the Alexandrian inventions so impressive. Choice of Magics was about trying to recover from an apocalypse, since I’d recently had a personal one; but it was also about “wizards are cool,” which seems fine as long as you’re the right level of obsessed (they had me wear a wizard hat and drink wizard-themed cocktails at my bachelor party, so…)

I think it’s good for this sort of game to imagine up front how the world could be very different for the player, and how the player’s character could be very different. For the world, you want to have a few different major endings in mind where the player will see it and say, “Yup, my choices did that.” For the player’s character, you want some things that you can remind the player of all along the way, to make them feel like the game was personalized. “Your part-rhinoceros, part parakeet familiar named Joe bounces with excitement!” The robot’s appearance in Robots and the player’s appearance in Magics were meant to do this sort of thing.

Then, maybe work backwards from your intended endings. What is a final decision that might tip the balance? What’s an early decision that could set a trajectory? I did whole different climax chapters for Choice of Robots, and different climaxes for Choice of Magics - if you have the time, I think whole chapters that set up different climactic scenes are nice.

You can also think about aspects of your world to explore that form the themes of chapters. For Robots, there’s the chapter where you probably have a company, and the chapter about media attention to AI. For Magics, there’s the chapter about what town life is like in that world, and a chapter where we explore what the Church is like.

Once you’ve got your chapters, come up with more choices and things they might influence in the long term. It’s easiest to have these feed back into stats or the numbers guiding the endings (in Robots these were the same), but it can also be interesting to just make decisions that have minor but permanent effects.

In parallel with the choice-plotting, think of characters who could express different opinions about the subject matter, and whom the player could reasonably please or alienate without doing anything too strange. Elly was anti-war in Choice of Robots, and that creates a tension if the player works for the military. Silas is obsessed with you, but whether that obsession is good or bad hinges on how you’ve been portrayed in the media. Think of people who could go either way, for or against the player, depending on your decisions. Then weave them into the choices you already had some idea about. Find reasons to have the people who are going to have strong opinions, present for the right decisions.

Two other process things. First, I think it’s important to have a very regular writing schedule. I do 6-7am on weekdays, a time unlikely to be scheduled over. Second, put your stuff in front of people early and often, so that you can throw things out that aren’t working before you get too invested. Your players will also give you an idea early on about what to double down on in the game; Noodles in Choice of Magics became much more prominent thanks to playtesting.

Best of luck, and one last thing: don’t try to please them all - if you just write something you know your younger self really would have loved, then someone out there is going to love it, too.




As a newcomer to the forums [vs. lurking] specifically because I’m looking to start writing my own, this has been incredibly helpful and gives great perspective. Thanks so much for taking the time to share, and best of luck with your future projects!


Thank you for this, it’s wonderfully thoughtful! I love seeing other people’s thought processes about their work, and this codifies some nebulous thoughts I’ve had when exploring ideas and figuring out just where a game is going to go. I especially like the idea of being very specific from the outset about how characters feel about the plot choices, and thinking clearly about how their wishes could pull the player in different directions.

Also if you’re in a position to talk about it, it would be awesome to hear about your future game development or general creativity plans!


Thank you so much for posting this! It’s helpful advice. Plus, Robots was one of the games that cemented my love for CoGs, and it’s interesting to hear a bit of the creative processes behind it (as well as your other games).