Roleplay basics question

I think a lot is in the language we use to talk about things and how we learn. For example, I learned grammar and language by reading, and that probably shows. Some people learn grammar in school and actually remembers the rules, and that’s good for them. Neither approach is wrong, it’s just a different mindset with slightly different results.

Talking about things like the four point trap, or how to formulate valid choices really comes down to one thing only: to make the reader feel like they are part of the story, and that their choices matter. It’s a way to try to make a language to talk about those moments that makes you go “wtf, this is stupid” or “I can’t play the game I want to” without just using value judgement.

A lot of people have problems expressing what the issue is, and if you point out things like “if you don’t always pick the choice that goes with your highest stat, the game punishes you” it’s easier for some to understand than a more vague “you must play a certain way to win”.

One of the biggest problems with interactive fiction, is to realize that people might want to play other things than the character you wrote in your head, and how much you can/should allow them to do so. Figuring out how to phrase/balance choices in a mechanical way is how some people approach this problem. Finding the frame to put around the artwork you’re making.

It’s just a different way to talk about the same problem: How to write a good and engaging story that makes people feel included and satisfied at the end.


I have found that having a good system can really help with the writing part of writing a game - I don’t know if you have this but the planning that goes into stats rewards me later by helping to guide what I actually write. Without this I don’t think I could have done as much as I have. I think what I am saying is it helps me with creative block when it comes to writing choices, allowing me to focus on the story rather than struggling to come up with player actions.


Wow, thanks to the OP and all of the commenters because this has definitely become one of the most thought-provoking and enjoyable threads I’ve read on this forum so far.

I spent the last two days digging into the deep history of IF, including watching “Get Lamp” (the documentary) and reading the IF Theory Reader, among other texts.

I guess what I find the most fascinating is that one could draw a Venn diagram where one circle was “Fiction/Literature elements” and the other was “Game Mechanics.” In terms of personal preferences, some players would have barely contiguous circles while others would have both circles perfectly overlapping.

In the “Old School” IF, the only real game mechanics available were

  1. Making it to the end without dying, and
  2. Solving puzzles to get a key so that you can keep moving forward to the end.

The rest was just purely navigational, such as mapping or successfully exiting out of the dreaded mazes.

Fast forward to today, and with something like CS, you’ve got the possibility of using literally thousands of variables to determine gameplay. But at the end of the day, these variables are just “keys” in disguise. Either it’s a single-use “key” that you must own to pass through a “door” or else it’s a stat of a sufficiently high level (the “key”) to activate a scene.

Therefore, while the game mechanics aspect is much more complex, it’s actually nothing new. And I think someone coming in from traditional RPGs would feel perfectly at home. What IS new to IF, however, is the level of customization available for the fiction element, and I think that’s what triggered the OP’s post.

I think that the biggest hurdle I had to overcome when getting used to CS games is the switch in narrative voice. For many CS games, the story starts by asking the player certain questions (such as gender preference, but it could be anything) and then switches to just telling the player what’s going on.

In other words, a story might ask me my name but then it tells me that I AM a pirate aboard a ship. I can choose my name, but I certainly didn’t get consulted about my preferences for job occupation, so it’s a bit disconcerting.

And with CS being limited to just two text formatting options (bold and italic), it’s pretty difficult to visually signify the switch between when I’m going to be consulted and when I’m going to be dictated to.

It’s even more confusing when I can sometimes input free text (i.e. no restrictions on choice) and then sometimes I’m limited to two or three options to click on at the bottom of the screen, none of which may correspond to what I’d ACTUALLY like to do.

In other words, in a parser game, there’s freeform input from the player throughout, so the game feels very interactive. Whereas a CYOA game could be purely “choose one of the pre-scripted answers” on every page, which feels less interactive and more like traditional “fiction.”

But if I’m being consulted sometimes and dictated to at other times, it’s really hard to get into the swing of the story and suspend my disbelief. I think that’s really what’s at the heart of my animus against customization. It’s not the user value being customized (i.e. gender, sex, hair color, etc) but that the process of customization itself disrupts the narrative flow.

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You know, it occurred to me that a properly customized (inclusive) game for CS would read something like an extended Mad Lib.

Which, if given enough variables and properly crafted, would be an extraordinarily fun experience :grinning:

The one thing I would add to that is that, for my money, a well-written CS game will have a special, different door, the lock of which is opened by not having the key you mentioned.


Exactly; mechanics are much more than stat variables. Structure and use are not always a binary check and not always pure numeric.


There are many games that do this, but there are others that allow variation to one degree or another as well.

@Havenstone’s game, XoR is an example. XoR is multifaceted in the way you are allowed the flexibility to shape your origins.

Yet, that is not the only game-changer.

You enter the game’s inciting incident as a loyalist, of one degree or another and end up becoming a rebel. Yet, here I am saying that XoR limits your “occupation” to that of being a rebel, so how can I make the claim that XoR is any different from your hypothetical pirate game?

In execution of the plot, Havenstone allows your protagonist to redefine themselves. In the rising action portion of the game, you as the rebel, get to define exactly what that means. Will you be a religious zealot? A political loyalist to your culture? Perhaps you (or @poison_mara) will attempt to be a rebel with only a mule for a trusted associate?

In @Gower’s games, the customization never distrupts the flow of the narration – perhaps that is because of his writing related background, but in my humble opinion it is because of more than that.

Gower takes the mechanics he uses, both the defined variable types you reference and also the structure of designing elements left undefined to execute a flowing story from the opening act until the resolution.

An example of this can be seen in Tally Ho!, where boat race is implemented. He did exactly what he references in his post… he provides both wins and defeats by not having the key to unlock doors.

I can point out other games that challenge your construction of game structure, but I will leave off by saying that I hope more author/designers will challenge this way of viewing IF in making their games.


Me and Mr Pumpkins Forever!!


Honestly this is one of the hardest things to do when writing Interactive Fiction.

For me, it shows mostly in the character creation steps, where it’s very varying whether the writers manage to weave it into the story or just have it feel weird and awkward. Some have everything in one spot, making it a massive, immersion-breaking chunk which is over and done with fast, others pace it, sometimes through the entire book, where, when it shows up later, it can really throw you off because at that point at least I have left character creation behind me.

I can’t say that I know of a game that has done it perfectly for me (certainly not my own), it has always been a swing between broken flow and no customization.

For me, I focused on trying to drag in people and get the story started before the first customization choices, and then pacing them out and trying to integrate them one by one in little chunks. Never having enough at one time to make people lose interest (as I am wont to do), but still giving people the opportunity to be their own person.

In other words, a story might ask me my name but then it tells me that I AM a pirate aboard a ship. I can choose my name, but I certainly didn’t get consulted about my preferences for job occupation, so it’s a bit disconcerting.

That’s generally not an issue for me, often the big things like that is advertised on the book. You buy it because you want to be a pirate, but whether you’re a peg-legged, bearded Scotsman or a raven haired spanish beauty might be up to you, the story remains much the same.

tldr: Immersion is hard, but when you pull it off, interactive fiction beats pretty much everything else.


I bow to your knowledge Malin. Thank you for a very well thought out answer. :slight_smile:

This thread has grown beyond my initial questions and now I will mostly lurk and read.

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That’s Tally HoCakes and Ale is the new game that isn’t out yet. :slight_smile:


Fabled Lands CYOA series of books.

How do people feel about these types of books where there is no real story, just short quests and short stories that become part of your character’s adventuring career? Not that much focus on role-playing, but more roll-playing and character improvement. In short, more game than book.

I saw a couple of posts about this, mentioning the Kickstarter and nostalgia. But are there other similar examples or is this too gamey and open world for the Choice of Games crowd?

Uh. I don’t think any of the published games I’ve read have followed that structure to a T, but the closest might be Unnatural? Hmm. I dunno.

It’s possible to write something like that, anything’s possible to be honest, but the question comes down to ‘do I want to make this?’ and anything else in mind.

I will look it up. My plan was to first get the hang of ChoiceScript, since I have a programming background it shouldn’t be too hard, by doing a gamey game. Since I come from the TTRPG side of things with many years of experience as a GM it will be easier to come up with plots and quests than good writing in a second language. So once I have the technical stuff down, I can start experimenting with a better narrative. I think it is better to keep the scope small and try a few different approaches before starting my magnus opus that will take forever to finish. :slight_smile:

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A tip(s), if you want to get a quick reference to how CS games commonly constructed, you can code-dive existing games or WIPs around this forum.


Here’s a thread that discusses the How-To of code diving, although the info is a bit everywhere depending on which game you’re code diving. But feel free to ask something in there.

How To See Other Games' Code (current info posted in OP and Post 146 on 6/18/19)


I agree that it’s difficult to integrate the two different aspects (story and customization).

To that end, I was pleasantly surprised when reading Aaron Reed’s doctoral dissertation this weekend to see him outline the four different mechanics of IF games (which he calls “storygames” here):


If we stipulate that CS doesn’t really do #3 (story dumps) and rarely does #2 (puzzle solving), then this really does a great job of delineating that, yes, there ARE two completely different mechanics at play for most CS games, especially the house style mandated by all official CofG games.

Can they be integrated well in a seamless way that doesn’t ruin mimesis (the “flow” or “suspension of disbelief”)? Yes. But I’ve rarely seen it happen, and it seems extraordinarily difficult to do.

That is exactly why I skipped doing it in my first CS story (albeit there are lots of invisible stats being set up and used behind the scenes).

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I agree with this 100000% :heart:

Is this really an escapable dilemma? If there’s no consultation, it’s not IF, but infinite choice is unwriteable. The game writer always has to “consult sometimes, dictate sometimes” (and as The Stanley Parable highlights, most games pretend there’s a lot more of the former while trying to cover over the reality of the latter).

It would be possible to have an IF story that tried not to consult the reader at all on the question of who you are, focusing only on what you do–you choose only the MC’s actions, not their identity. But that’s a blurry distinction.

When I’m playing the Witcher games, and I’m choosing whether Geralt of Rivia is a brusque murder hobo who haggles hard on every contract and steals from the huts of the poor, or a good-hearted friend to the oppressed who frequently works for free, am I only choosing his actions or his identity? And if the writer suddenly dictates that because of Geralt’s underlying personality/history/identity, he behaves in a way that is inconsistent with the actions I’ve been choosing, is that not going to break my immersion?


That could depend on the consequences of that inconsistency. Having a companion or bystander comment on this when the PC acts against type can cast events in a different light. “You’re not so cold-hearted after all, huh?” or “Guess everyone has their breaking point.”

Having someone comment on it in another chapter can also pay off. “You can do anything you want to the witnesses, just don’t leave them alive.” or “I want to trust you on this, and I will if you’re going to give your word”.

Lastly, you can craft a few reminders of their past actions into the background. How a cake practically bleeds red frosting, or find a solitary white rose amid a sea of red tulips. The player may not consciously correlate the two but unconsciously…

The above does require tracking player actions to some extent and that can be annoying. It would be up to the writer to figure out if that is worth attempting and when.


How will you manage this aspect of your game. Will you limit the choices to choices that character would make, or will give some sort of reward if the player stays true to the character’s established personality, or will you mostly focus on the narrative being based on the specific character so the story will read more like a novel with very personalized content, since you basically have only one background, personality and set of circumstances to take into account?

Occasionally I’ll use selectable if to limit the player’s options, but mostly it will be more like some of the Bioware games, where you have a host of different possible character options rather than 1 but each is very strongly defined.

I am working on ways to narratively and mechanically incentivize players to play to their character’s natures, yes.