What I learned from playing every Choicescript game (patterns in good/bad games)

what a fantastic essay! Thank you @Brian_Rushton for doing the work and compiling your thoughts in an excellent and readable way.

The first chapter really is vital. I agree with your friend’s guess that creators coming from a writing background, rather than a gaming background, are more likely to spend those first few pages on exposition. Literature-style exposition dump drives off players, but it’s such an easy trap to fall into.

More than anything, this thread is reminding me how important it is to bridge the gap between game designer and author. I think a lot of the themes you’re noticing occur when an author falls short on the game design or a game designer falls short on the writing.

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Oh, I definitely recognize some of these problems in my own writing, and also in COG/HG games that I played and was ambivalent about. In particular, one game that I never finished had an NPC that felt like it was doing the MC’s job, but better. I’m also aware that my writing skills are rather more polished than my game dev skills, and I think I’m not the only WIP writer who has felt this.

This is a tremendous job in scope and your analysis is incredibly useful, even (especially!) if it mainly confirms things that I suspected before.

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Thank you so much for sharing your analysis with us.
The detailed description about stats and how it can help with either gripping or losing the audience is point on.
For someone who is trying to write for the very first time, this did help me understand things better.

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Brian! Reading every CoG is something few have achieved, and it makes your analysis all the more worthwhile.

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Just wanted to say thanks for putting this together @Brian_Rushton, this is tremendously helpful stuff! I’m working on my next game now and this will have an immediate positive impact on how it’s going.

I’d also be interested in seeing more space devoted to this kind of theory development, as mentioned above by a few people. It seems like there’s lots of room to push some of the concepts here.

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Thank you so much for writing this!

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Yeah, this is definitely something I’ve noticed that seems to work well in fiction, and that has become somewhat of a trend to experiment with MC’s who aren’t the center of attention in the story…but at the end of the day, if it’s a game format, players still expect the MC to be the protagonist, have some sort of agency that they can influence, ability to improve their character, and achieve good endings/outcomes, at least some of the time (even if a “good” ending is not so easy to get).

I’m thinking of things like the infamous ending to Bioware’s Mass Effect 3 that caused a lot of fan backlash, for example. A lot of players don’t appear to like forced bad endings or character deaths, etc. It was an ending that probably would have worked great in a novel or film…but ultimately left a lot of gamers feeling as though they had “lost” the game, and couldn’t win, no matter what they did.

When I think of choice based games and IF I have enjoyed most over the years, they are ones that let the player have a hand in shaping the MC, and even in moments where the MC is in a powerless situation or can’t change an outcome, they are still keeping the perspective focused on the MC. How they are feeling about or reacting to the event. How the event changed them, or influenced their motive, etc.

I have played some visual novels that have worked using the MC in a sort of passive narrator role, which seems to break this mold. But those characters tend to be harder to personally identify with, because they tend to lack as much character development as the rest of the cast. You become invested in the other characters rather than the MC. Which seems fine, so long as that is clear from the start?

Anyways this thread discussion was fascinating to read! I’ve been toying with the idea of maybe starting my own project in the near future, and this definitely helps a lot to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t.

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This is beyond helpful, what even. I’m putting this up on my bedroom wall.

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First, I want to say I really enjoyed your analysis. A lot of I agree with, but even some of the disagreements is more hand-wavey stuff that depends more on a given a situation. A good example is something that @hustlertwo brought up about genres.

This can definitely have an impact, especially if someone is willing to give a game a chance or just overlook it. I’ve written a couple of games (Visual Novels) as well as stuff for pen and paper rpgs. Fantasy does tend to do better than sci-fi, though with things like Kickstarter, other genres do have a chance to find an audience.

What is funny is that I’ve played enough stuff, I’m one of those who are actually willing to give something a try that is different, but still may not be a big hit for other people…such as Nuclear Powered Toaster.

That is why in different threads I’ve suggested to authors to consider their desires as well as temper expectations. There isn’t anything wrong with going after a wide audience with a broad appeal…of course, it still helps to have a hook.

Heh, it is funny, having made a few things myself, I actually give a lot of credit to someone who completes something, even if it isn’t good, so as a result I’m quite forgiving of Type C games.

That said, I know I’ve actually gotten most vocal about official CoG titles that hit Type D in my opinion. I’m engaged, and then bam, over without any satisfaction. Of course, I know it can be chalked up to various reasons like companies do have to release stuff, etc. But as a reader, I’m like ‘couldn’t you have taken a little more time to add to this?’

A few other considerations people should take into account as well. Even though CoG/HG games are text games, the cover art and the blurb text are important as well.

The other thing as someone already pointed out, like with the werewolf game, also manage expectations, especially with the advertising. If people feel like they got burned…then they are less likely to give another game by that company a try.

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Literally not what I meant. There is a big difference between the “hero” or the story and the “protagonist” of the story. I have no objection to the player character not being the hero. I like it, in fact. I think it adds a lot of potential intrigue to the story. What I disliked about this one particular story was that the player character’s presence was obviated by one of the NPCs. Not because they were cooler or flashier or more powerful than the PC, but because they were the emotional center of the story.

It has absolutely nothing to do with being the hero. I can think of at least two games I loved where the PC was a sidekick or mentor character. I wish there were more of them.

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I apologize if I misinterpreted, that wasn’t my intention. I was more or less using your comment as a jumping point for my own thoughts as well…

But yes I definitely would agree that a protagonist doesn’t have to be the hero, or if they are a hero, the flashiest and most powerful one around. But I meant, more due to the gamification aspect… it helps and can be expected for an MC to have some sort of test of skill, or goal/objective they are working towards that the player can use a measuring stick for how well they are progressing in the game (achievements, etc). A player wants to “win” the game, so to speak, and so it can feel frustrating when an NPC is driving all the action. I suspect that may be what a lot of “railroading” complaints may be about too.

I agree the MC remaining as the emotional center is also very important to me.

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Very interesting reading thank you for sharing :smiley:

Do you have any data on what genres that are more popular than others?

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