What game design factors make a good piece of Interactive Fiction?

I don’t play the majority of WIPs a) because I don’t have time, b) because I don’t want to spoil them for myself and c) because, often, it feels more like an alpha than a beta (and I’m guilty of this as well, looooool, which is why I take longer to update, now)

Which, in my experience, there very rarely is. I don’t even necessarily mean *fake_choices - I mean fake choices, in general. There are choices that, unless you read the code, don’t seem to do anything or be any different than the other options. That makes the choice feel pointless for the player.

This is a big deal, too; I’ve noticed it in a few WIPs that I’ve read, but I tend to keep that kind of commentary/constructive criticism to myself, as it isn’t always taken well. It can also be incredibly jarring when someone’s speech sounds overly formal or stilted. Sometimes, there is a legitimate, story-based reason for it, but it oftentimes is just due to English not being the writer’s native language. Make use of the beta system, if English isn’t your native tongue. It’s invaluable! :slight_smile:

I think you’ll only get the bad reviews if you specifically promise ROs and don’t deliver/under-deliver. Some people may be upset that a particular interesting character isn’t a romance option, but that’s the case for most games, tbh (I’ve noticed that, oftentimes, ROs are these boring, bland characters that are just there to be pretty, whilst the sidekick types are fleshed out and interesting…and unshagable).

I agree that the audience will likely be smaller, especially because, at this point, the whole “play as male or female, gay/straight/bisexual/asexual!” is literally the first tagline for these games.


“Game design factors” are like keys on a piano. Trying to figure out “what game design factors make a good piece of interactive fiction” is like asking what combination of notes makes for good music.


Yeah, it can be hard to make all choices seem meaningful. I use a mixture of fake choices that range from a pacing/interest device with no long term changes and a sentence or two at most of different text, right through to a few pages of text with stat changes. Just as an example, this is a middle of the road one with a little flavor text and a variable set that changes text and choice options later in the chapter so it can be done and I do see them being used this way. So probably depends on the author and story :slight_smile:

Nope not true unfortunately. You’ll see games with poor reviews due no romance, that never promised RO’s (or even said in the description there weren’t any). Because so many games have it, it’s become expected and games that don’t have RO’s are frequently seen as 'lacking".

That’s true for COG’s, but not HG’s. Although many do, there’s a bit more variability there. TBH, not sure how many people actually really read the taglines though :slight_smile:

Aren’t we being philosophical today @Carlos.R :smile:


Nah. I don’t think that radical subjectivism applies here as strongly as you’re suggesting. An IF game where most of the choices are fake, all the characters are boring, all the writing is too long and painful to read, and all the stats create more of a spreadsheet than a narrative would be bad pretty much universally on all counts.

It’s easy to make the argument “but maybe it could be good with the right writer” or if that’s the intention of the piece, but

a) making something intentionally bad isn’t an excuse
b) most people don’t intentionally set out to make something bad
c) Occam’s Razor: most of the time it’s not following some grand metanarrative about bad interactive fiction, it’s just badly made.

I think we should always be vigilant about the quality of the media we consume!


Thank you for making this comment. I think it gets to the crux of the debate in the Historical CoG Games discussion, in that the thing about Interactive Fiction is that there is a sliding scale between story and game in each work. Most of the works on here lean towards the story-side of the spectrum, and the best ones tend to do what you recommend for those.

I’m curious, for Fallen Hero, were there ever any choices that would result in a bad end/fail state, or did you code the story to incorporate the reader making a “bad choice” (for lack of a better phrase) as part of the plot further down the line?

I’m conflicted about this. In terms of including Save Points, would it depend on how long it would take you to get back to that point of the story? I think back to games like Life of a Mobster where I didn’t mind restarting because I knew it wouldn’t take me that long to get back to the same point, but I know there are other stories where the word count was so high that I probably wouldn’t have even bothered restarting from the beginning had I reached a bad end.

Totally agree. This bullet point was somewhat redundant with the ‘Choices that noticeably matter’ one, but I when I thought back to ‘why do I replay certain stories,’ it was usually because I knew if I did X instead of Y, I would go down a completely different path (maybe not for the entire remainder of the story, but at least significant enough that I felt motivated to try it).

Obviously, pointing the branching out shouldn’t be immersion-breaking, but it could be as simple as a choice between going to Town A vs Town B. If I choose to go to Town A, and the story keeps going from there to the point that I never get to go to Town B, I’d probably replay the game just to see what I missed in Town B.

When I think back to why people got so cynical about Telltale games, part of it was that either there was no significant branching from choices, or it just didn’t feel like a certain choice caused any branching (even if it ultimately did) because the effects of that choice were so subtle.


Something that’s important to me is that failures or bad decisions are interesting/amusing/entertaining. Tally Ho is one of my favourites for this - I never regretted my decisions because no matter whether I succeeded or failed, I was in for a treat. Similarly, it’s not a CoG game but is excellent in this respect - 80 Days allows for a lot of recklessness and is full of fun and interest regardless of success.

Basically I enjoy being able to make unwise decisions without it resulting in straight-up punishment.

Related: including a variety of paths or problem-solving methods which can all work well, is what I expect from a CoG game. I would find it jarring for one stat to be far more useful than the others, or to work hard at increasing a persuasion skill only to discover that you are obliged to fight a final enemy.

As ever, I recommend having a look at the design guidelines which include a lot of what’s been mentioned here and more, with examples from released games! I always find it useful to revisit them every so often: COG Game Design Guidelines


Definitely this! It’s a reason Garrus was so beloved as a character in the Mass Effect trilogy because he was as engaging as a BFF for Male Shep as he was as a love interest for Female Shep. Same goes with Tali. Both interestingly were written as platonic allies in the first game and not considered as love interests until the second game as people responded well to them as characters.

@MrWolf101, Yes, I’m referring to how long it takes to get back. Dying in long games that I spent hours on (especially if I’m not even halfway through) is quite alarming and annoying. It would make me drop the game because I will not waste my time trying to make sure I have all my choices the same except the one that killed me. That stuff doesn’t fly with me, especially since there was no warning that I or anyone else would die because I chose to claim a power the author said I could. Which is then why I brought in the author bias thing. It was obvious they were pushing the light power, but I wanted the one for dark, so after me saying I want dark and getting the object, everyone is dead??? I don’t even know how that worked besides “oh you should’ve chosen light!!!”

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Oh, and before we forget:

Know the difference between author- character- and player knowledge.

Don’t spent a whole chapter alluding to something that the character (and the author) know, while leaving the player in the dark. (doing this for ~500 words tops is alright though).

It’s NOT an ‘awesome reveal’ when you finally spill the beans. It’s frustrating.
Because you spent pages telling the reader about how excited their character is about… something.
How amazing this… something… is gonna be.
But you never tell the player WHAT it is. Instead you’re all hint hint nudge nudge…

Likewise… If you think the player will know something, keep in mind to give the character a reason to know this too if you have them act accordingly.


I’d like to add an addendum to this: dramatic irony is a fantastic thing. If you’re one of those authors that likes to put cutaway scenes in (@Rohie comes to mind) : always remember that what the player knows, the character may not know. And, in the same vein, please don’t just suddenly make all the characters know something, if only the player knows. It gets really jarring and annoying.

EG: MC and Character A go have a conversation with NPC 1. A huge secret is revealed. They agree not to tell anyone, even in their party. 7 scenes later, somehow Charscters B, C, and D are chatting about the events with the NPC.

Continuity is very important.


Can someone develop some of these concepts a bit more for me? I have about 6,000 words in a story that I want to turn into an interactive game on here. I’d like to understand more about how to be successful in creating difficulty levels and creating power fantasy.

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The concepts in this thread are as abstract as a pile of text they’re now. Implementing it is not an easy thing, though also not a complicated thing, IMO.

For difficulty progression, this is more relevant to games with focus on its gamey aspect. Involves a lot of maths and graphs.

  • Early-game, statchecks should be fairly easy. The most difficult one can be created for players who specialize even at the start of the game. Punishment should be minimum.
  • Mid-game has more leeway, here. Depends on how difficult, how rewarding your checks will be. Also how often the skillchecks will be.
  • Late-game is when you start to lead players to their endings. Skillchecks would be more difficult, with equally meaningful failure states, but so is the reward.

For power fantasy, it’s about fulfilling the experience of you can be where you can’t IRL. It’s also having narrative that acknowledge players’ agency. Give them chance and opportunities to show off. I’d like to bring up the old point-and-click games like PuttPutt and Freddie Fish as one of the better example of this (nostalgic bias; idc).


Hey Riley :slight_smile:

I was/am in a similar situation …

… Having hung around here for a little while now - read a lot of stuff, chatted to experienced community members, taking part in a PRO Beta Test - I would say that having the idea/plot for a traditional novel might not be your best starting point to create the style of game that “the majority” turn out (or read)

From what I have seen, “linear-stories” are rarer than “games”. And if you were planning a traditional (2D) story, then you almost certainly have a linear-story.

I would very much encourage you to read the info and getting started threads on here. Play the “example” games. Read some of the WIP threads and try a couple of those out.

If/when you’re convinced, post your own Idea (in the Ideas thread) and see what folk think. The BETA process looks a brilliant way to make sure you are working hard at something someone will read.

This is linked up above (but I hadn’t seen it before and it does get lost in the midst of this long page … so here it is again!) Design Guide for PRO Games This does a very good job of showing you what COG think “most” people want to play.

All that said, I agreed with what I think @Carlos.R wrote up-a-ways … Write what you want. Everyone has their own likes and dislikes (as you can tell from this thread!) … as someone else put up above (and as was said by Denise Van Outen!), “If you like it, someone else will too”

… Oh, and I’ve not written off IF as a way to tell the story I wanted … But I am less sure that it is the best form to tell it in. I think that might be a way to look at your plan, Riley? Have a good read around here and look at the “examples”, are they the best way to tell the story you want to tell?

(if someone more experienced wants to contradict me etc, please don’t be shy :wink: )


I’m not the expert who should be saying how and why things should be a certain way…the guide gives some solid statements but doesn’t do much to say why someone SHOULD do the things it says. It’s a lot that comes off as “just take our word for it.”

The insistence on games being inclusive makes it a little jarring when the company spokespeople have went on the stance of defending genderlocking games before. Which are all fine.

I feel like for an actual reason to why you need diversity or about half the game genders to be male or female, it would be easier to just point out that it keeps things fresh and a roughly even number doesn’t favour any specific leaning.

This isn’t really a criticism about the guide. It’s just that I don’t think it clarifies why something actually matters and reads a little like “You must have this to have this” rather than giving real points to why those are needed.

The guide is for people who want to publish “with CoG” (paid / paid in advance)

As far as I know, Hosted Game authors (non-pro) are free to do pretty much anything they want? However, the audience for pro CoG games (and so, I would suggest, Hosted Games?) does seem to want particular things (or why be here?).

Like I (hope) I made clear in my post … Write what you want. But realise, you might spend a great deal of time, and put in a great deal of effort, to end up with something that “next to noone here” will read.

(If you read the thread that I linked - not just the document - you will see this exact discussion … And in many other threads too :slight_smile: )


Hi all,

First, thanks so much for your replies, and I look for more replies too. I looked at the document, which was an amazing read, but when I attempted to go to the two links, they sent me to pages that were no longer there. Does anyone have any links to them that work?

I also have some other ideas that I want to throw out there. I saw that there is a forum for ideas, but I don’t know the location of that forum. I see the forum for WIP: https://forum.choiceofgames.com/c/hosted-games/works-in-progress
Is this the place where I should post my idea?

Regarding the novel that I was initially discussing, I had started it on WattPad and thought I might be able to turn it into a Hosted Game with the idea that the way that the main characters will accomplish the goals can have multiple options and multiple paths. I initially wanted to create a CYOA for that novel, but I didn’t know a good program and platform to do that. I can post the idea for it in the ideas section. I can also provide a link there of the novel, which is in progress.



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@RileyRock-pen, this Interest Check Thread is the thread to post a description of your game idea, if you are moved to do so.

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I’d be very careful with this statement. What happens out on the wider storefront audience often, but does not always mirror the general tastes of the majority in this forum. TBH if you write when interests YOU as a first game, you’re more likely to get it completed and be happy with it regardless of the reception. You don’t need your first game to be a run away success (although it’s nice if it is), but chances are it won’t be anyway as these things do take practice to get right.

Unless you have previous successful writing experience, your chances of getting a contract with COG is slim anyway (see their prerequisites.) If you’re in that boat, start with HG instead, get a game written, then submit a proposal to COG if you want to.


Honestly, I think it’s kind of flawed logic for authors to expect their first attempts to be perfect. I’m essentially on my third attempt at completing something, and I still don’t really know what I’m doing. Expecting instant success is a little skewed. People need to be willing to accept that they are going to make a few mistakes.


I really enjoyed “Life of a Mercenary” and “Swamp Castle,” both of which are by Hosted Games, which is what got me to research into seeing if it was possible for me to create my IF or games through here.

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