Schroedinger's Revolving Earth, or The Importance Of Parallel Subplots

One dreadful stumbling stone in stories, be they interactive or not, is the off-screen stasis.
We might all know this phenomenon:
The PoV is at location A, moves to B, and when we later (!) come back to A, seemingly no time has passed over there.
The status quo is still what we left it like.

This is one of the things that can break an otherwise good story. And one easily to fall victim of.
An author wants to have the reader witness things unfolding, so you might easily see the world fall into some sort of stasis once the PoV turns elsewhere.

And it might be worse in interactive fiction:
It’s easy to forget that while the MC is helping out old Mr Hawkins with the portal to ancient Rome that suddenly appeared in his fridge, Lucy LaCroix should actually still be trying to summon the spirit of her late divorce attorney to learn about the whereabouts of the much and very urgently needed divorce documents.

So why would Lucy hold off on this important task till the MC helps her?
Or, worse, why would Lucy either not do it at all if the MC isn’t there? Not in the sense that she failed, but in the sense that she never even attempted it.

Now, there might be good reason why she didn’t do it, but in most cases there’d be no need for the MC to be present.
It’s a thing that should play out off-screen regardless.

It’s one of many things to stumble over (as said), so, hope this bit of rambling helped peeps here not fall on their nose.


One good way I conceptualise this is as the story as a series of counterfactuals, and hence a variety of possible worlds. For example:

World A
Player does f, hence x happens. As the player does not do g or h, not-y and not-z play out whilst x occurs.

World B
Player does g, hence y happens. As the player does not do f or h, not-x and not-z play out whilst y occurs.

World C

I think of the story as a sort of wind-up mechanism that you’ve thrown one agent with some free causal powers into. You need to anticipate how the player will play with the parts of the mechanism you’ve tossed them into whilst playing out the normal functioning of that mechanism had the player not intervened.

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It depends entirely on the kind of experience you’re trying to achieve. For most cases, the acknowledgement that the world doesn’t revolve around the MC is great for immersion

But for games where you’re specifically aiming for that hero-centric interaction such as in the Kendrickstone series, the stasis is a contributor to the novelty of the story

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First, sorry for reviving an old topic. But! This reminds me a lot of stuff I’ve learned through being a GM for tabletop games. All of my NPCs have plots and such and the assumption is that this is what happens if the PCs don’t step in. That’s a bit less helpful for IF, but there are two tools from Apocalypse World and the various games based on its engine that I think might be worth looking at.

The first are Doom Clocks. These are in base AW, but Urban Shadows does some cool stuff with them, too. Basically, you set up a clock for plots and player actions can slow, stop, or speed up the clock. You can’t go backwards, though. What’s especially great about these Doom Clocks is that they aren’t hourly intervals. It’s more like 3, 6, 9, 10, 11, Midnight/Doom.

While we can’t port doom clocks over into IF, I think having an idea of how the plot runs without a PC and where the breakpoints are–the moments the PC can change the clock–are. And making sure each breakpoint has at least one associated choice.

The other tool are fronts. These are also in base AW, but Dungeon World does them rather well.

What’s great about these is that they have you draft, outside of the story itself, the stakes, danger, portents, etc of the front. I think they could be a valuable planning tool and, like the clocks, will help ensure something is always happening in the background.