I love interactive fiction and ChoiceScript is an amazing tool to bring creativity to life. When I think of its possibilities, I can’t help but imagine a future that embraces this creative liberty even more. I’ve visualized and written down a few ideas for the future of Choice of Games. With a background in web development, I can safely say that the project scope is huge - possibly impossible - but maybe it can inspire something.
From label to platform
ChoiceScript is free for anyone to try, and I think this aspect could be greatly built upon. The popularity of user-generated content (see: dashingdon) really highlights the value of a platform specifically for user stories, similar to Webtoons Canvas. The whole web (and app) experience of CoG could be restructured into an app where officially released games (hosted and originals) and user games can both be enjoyed. It would be an omnibus not only for the CoG label, but for interactive fiction as a medium. User stories would be hosted in the cloud and accessible to everyone (like dashingdon).
Allowing user content on the platform has huge implications: it will require moderation, raise questions about monetization, and it will obfuscate the line between hosted and user WIPs. There’s no way to sugarcoat this. However, the success of platforms like webtoons and fanfiction sites showcase the merit of opening up the floodgates. I think CoG could fill the role as the future of CYOA fiction way better than apps like Choices or Maybe, which offer very basic interactive fanfiction/webtoons with some in-game choices requiring you to pay, even for things like outfits.
CoG ships standalone games to Steam, which is an important point: official releases still need to feel official, even in a shared omnibus. To separate originals from user-generated content, official works should be considered full games and all user content WIPs. This way, official releases can justify a better experience with more features: achievements, savestates (‘continue playing’), statistics (how many people have taken a route), cloud saves.
These are also ways to reestablish the ‘Games’ in CoG by making play more rewarding. Achievements could be greatly expanded, by adding global statistics and ways to flaunt them. Points gathered from achievements could be used for a global scoreboard, or perhaps to buy stickers/awards to give to interesting user-generated content (like Reddit). Tying achievements to artwork or additional lore that you can unlock - or any other way to tell the player what they’re missing out on - could be a great way to incentivize multiple playthroughs.
Still, the huge scope of a CYOA game means some user stories will never be finished. This can be accommodated in this new platform by allowing user stories to be published episodically (like what already happens on the forums). This will alleviate some of the work required to release a game and make even small releases feel fulfilling for aspiring writers, while keeping the readers engaged and constantly tickled with new chapters, similar to a webtoon release schedule but on a much larger scale.
From notepad to engine
ChoiceScript is perfect for interactive fiction, and highly intuitive once you get it. But getting it can be hard for newcomers and for writers with a painfully long script. If CoG is to be the hub for interactive fiction, its engine should be just as welcoming. I think a proper editor is the best way to modernize ChoiceScript - make it easier to understand, not necessarily easier to write (because the syntax is already so optimized).
- An editor that renders the story as you write and catches problems on the fly much like an IDE for any other coding language will make CS games much easier to make. Imagine a panel that visualizes your chapter as a tree view, where you can tag certain points for reference and see which parts are linked (see the screenshot above, the panel in the middle). It would be web-based and tied to your CoG account, so that your WIPs are stored in the cloud and can be edited anywhere, like Google Docs.
- If we can lower the entry barrier for writing a CS story, we can also give advanced users more complex features. For instance, allowing array and object manipulation and further text customization (such as tables, boxes and other ways to highlight content) could make games even more interactive and unique.
- Obviously, an editor like this is not easy to develop - and although new frameworks simplify the development of IDEs, it is still a huge headache. There’s an unofficial ChoiceScript IDE, which is extremely impressive, and close to what I’m imagining.
Bringing it together
If you’re not seeing what I see just yet, imagine this with me: you open choiceofgames.com, browse the new titles, continue playing a chapter of the game you bought yesterday, check if your favorite user stories have updated and work on your own story in the editor. Except for the editor, there’s nothing new here - but right now, these all feel like separate experiences: you launch the game somewhere, check WIPs on the forum and edit in notepad. I would want the future of CoG to unify this experience in one app, so that all aspects of interactive fiction - full games by seasoned writers, creative expressions by players like you and I and creating your own art - feel accessible, encouraged and satisfying.
A final disclaimer: these are just my personal opinions and although I might sound very passionate, some of the features I’m arguing for are simply impossible without a large team. I am in no way implying that CoG should do or should have done this. I’m perfectly fine with CoG not changing at all.
(The pictures in this topic were made by me)