What is your writing workflow for branching?


#1

Hi folks,

I wonder how you guys write your games in terms of branches and snippets. Do you write one main plot first and add branches afterwards, or do you write some bare-bones branches first and fill those with text? How do you manage ideas that are not yet fixed in the plot?

Thanks in advance!
Hugo


#2

I use “chapters.” So chapter1.txt, and so on.

Each chapter starts out the same, as all players who are able to reach the chapter experience the same beginning of the chapter. Each decision will go to a label within the chapter, branching, until the end of the chapter. Lots of gosub routines for conversations or other areas.

If the player does something that would significantly change the outcome of the next chapter, I would skip over that chapter by using *goto and make a different one, perhaps chapter3victory.txt or chapter3loss.txt something.


#3

Thanks for your reply!


#4

I generally write one small section and then write the options to go under them with a finish or a label at the end of the document (so testing won’t break) and a comment to finish the options later. I’ll see the list of one word labeles and finished at the bottom, so that will also remind me that I need to go back and ffinish. I can also search for a specific word (todo) and if I find that in the document then I need to finish. Color coded flow charts with a different color for each finished branch is also useful.

I then finish writing one branch along with unfinished options until I get bored with that branch and switch to a new one.

I generally work on the ‘main’ branch first. Most of the other branches flow into the main branch. This way, it doesn’t take that long to connect smaller side branches to the main branch and finish that chapter.


#5

You make a choice that warrants more than some extra dialogue, you go to a new label. I write the new section under that label and eventually when those sections are done, I send them all to the same label. I do the thing chronologically. If there are two scenes which could happen at the same time for the player, I will write them one after the other.
That said, my system is awful. My whole 130k game so far is contained in three documents. It’s mostly semi-linear before the halfway mark (e.g. there are no huge scenes you miss if you don’t make certain choices, other than the romance scenes). However one chapter is different and takes place within a location where you can do whatever you want and visit any room in any order (like a point n click). That one I wrote room by room. But I really wouldn’t recommend doing that. It caused undue suffering to me in keeping the puzzle order straight.
Basically I don’t know what my workflow is. Usually while writing choicescript I’m screaming internally and everything is a heaping mess.
The labels are all I have to help me.


#6

I’m a member of a team, Team SNK *insert opening Power Rangers theme.

I focus on the main plot. @Snowpanther Focuses on the branches. @NeoHeartless Focuses on the coding and making sure there are no plotholes.

And that is how Team SNK saves the world. Hahahah

*insert closing Power Rangers theme


#7

I actually have been using a similar workflow system to @Isabella_Welch but like them it involved a lot of internal screaming and messy code for me to deal with.

That said, before I even started writing I made a VERY over-arching flowchart that essentially broke down the major paths of the game (to give an idea, that flowchart has twelve boxes total on it, and a player will play through five of those boxes in any given playthrough).

The big flowchart is really helpful for a peace of mind thing, because I know no matter how on rails the individual chapters may feel (not that I want them to feel that way), I always know in the back of my head that there are already major choices that have great impact on a playthrough

But with THAT said, the writing of individual chapters gets incredibly messy. SO I’ve begun experimentation on a slightly different workflow. I write out the whole chapter out of the gate, but I only include choices, code, and the BRIEFEST of summaries of what happens. (A 500 word fight scene becomes “You fight.”). Then, once everything’s laid out, I go back and add in dialogue, and actual writing (“You fight” becomes a pair of dialogue choices followed by a 500 word fight scene).

It helps to have everything already laid out like a madlib sheet, where all I have to do is fill in my blanks.


#8

This is… an interesting topic, I think.

I think each story I’ve done any work on has its own style for the workflow.

I suppose I’ll talk about how it is for me with Monsters, being my main WIP. So, if there’s a major division- like a limb of a tree, which then has branches on it, which then has twigs… well, a big division would take the reader to several different sections depending on their choice. Choosing who to bunk with at camp would be an example of this. Each of those sections would be worked on one at a time until finished. But they would have divisions, too, which would tend to come out for me as indented threads of writing. Sometimes I’ve gotten myself in trouble by branching too much in this way and coming to a long section buried within a thread that I want to tie multiple sections to. So I either need to copy/paste a huge amount of text, or copy/paste the whole thing into a new label and adjust everything. It’s easier to do the latter in theory than in practice- usually because by the time I notice I want to tie things together I’ve already got my mental order for things temporarily sorted out and readjusting makes me think I could have just done better the first time. It’s… not so easy.

In a thread… I like to write through one choice at a time. But sometimes, if I putter out on one I’ll just go to another and recharge, and then come back to it. When choices are buried within choices, well- more or less the same principal. It just takes longer and leaves ‘loose ends’ that just feel like more work to fill in when filling them in results in -more- branching. Then there are the twigs, which are like, little additional things that don’t actually branch the story, but add something to it if certain conditions apply, like if you’re playing a certain character or have a stat a certain way. Although they -can- branch the story. Sometimes going down one branch chain is a full session of writing- sometimes filling out multiple branches.

I don’t have a flowchart. I don’t have an outline or anything written down I go by. I don’t know what the sentence after the one I’m in the process of writing will be. I do know what will ‘happen’ in each chapter of the story. And when I get to the chapter, I have a clearer idea what will happen in each section in that chapter- the closer to something I am, the more it goes from vague to distinct. Sometimes there are parts that I have in mind way in advance- I railroad myself to some degree, but they’re also often exciting to write. Other times I’m surprising myself with what the characters will say or do next. I know the characters ‘are’, I have a clear idea of their personalities in my mind- but because I don’t know what’s going to happen ahead of time, I don’t know how they’ll react ahead of time. I -do- know how to bend choices in subtle ways that would make a character respond differently than a slightly different word choice, as an example… Characters and ‘things’ in a story are always well-developed in my mind. But sometimes the pace completely throws me off. Like having something I thought was a side-track hard-to-reach possibility sprawl and sprawl into its own ‘optional’ section.

I’ve always personally found it easier to write if I’m writing than to write if I’m not. That both applies to if I’m writing consistently, and if I’m actually writing at a given moment, opposed to doing something else. It’s easier to -keep- writing than to -start- writing, at least for me.

Having a large amount of open-branches is a bit frustrating for me. Having a branched thread thousands of lines long and writing down one branch, then needing to track to a different train of thought because some large part of that conversation didn’t happen to write on another can be either jarring or a relief, depending.

When I write; as in, for a session of good writing, I like to get a couple thousand lines of work done. Whether that ends up being an entire section, a label’s worth, or just one track down a branch that splits several times is impossible to know beforehand. Needing to mix in coding with writing a lot in a session slows me down. Just writing, or just coding, is easier than mixing them because the flow is choppier when combined.

Another thing is- I’m -still- learning, when it comes to what I can do to improve my writing. On the side of coding, or organization, or writing itself. Sometimes I make mistakes or experiment with things that end up not being the good ideas they seem. Other times, there are things I wish I could implement to change what I already have because it would help things going forward so much. Also, each story as I’ve said, is going to have a unique and distinct ‘feel’ when it comes to branching, and the style in writing it. Monsters is quite haphazard, in a certain sense. I’d set it up differently nowadays, if I could. Though I’m not quite sure how I’d adjust. Writing on any part of it, though, is a labor of love. Being in the moment with the story- that’s a good feeling.


#9

I write first in chapters completing everything a can before moving to the next but at the end of each chapter I go back through the whole story to check the flow to make sure things fit well.


#10

Tbh I always feel bad, because I always feel I should have more branches in the story. For me it’s a struggle between telling a story you want to tell and ensuring it’s a well-written narrative, and spending a great deal of time on branches just for the sake of making the game feel like it has more freedom of choice.
I always wish I had the time to make my story a little more branching, but in the end I know I don’t have an unlimited amount of time to write this. I try my very best just to tell something where the player feels engaged, and that the most important choices really do have an effect on the ending.
We do what we can, I guess


#11

This might sound strange, but I actually write my draft in Google docs o.o That way, I can edit the actual story from anywhere I am. With me currently working on my first game, I’ve decided on a “three rule”. There are five documents in total, three dedicated to the three paths, one dedicated to notes, and the last dedicated to the raw coding - mostly just to keep track of word count.

I organize the three paths using headings and navigate using document outline, which comes in handy. The beginning of each path is the same; they start of with the introductory narrative and three options; one option for each path. For example, let’s say the first three options are chocolate, vanilla, strawberry. First path will cover chocolate, second path will vanilla, third path will cover strawberry. While I don’t write with the mindset of a “main path” or the “right path”, it does help to focus on one path, normally Path 1. Path one will introduce three more options, the other two options explored in the other two path documents.

But let’s say each option extends to three more options. Spreading them across the path documents won’t be efficient because each path also had three extending options. This is where the headers come in. Heading 1 is reserved for “Chapters”, heading three is reserved for “pages” and heading four covers the three branches. Thus making jumping around a lot easier and more efficient than notepad in my opinion :slight_smile: The only draw back is having to use the find/replace tool in notepad on the quotation marks, apostrophes, and eclipses after copying and pasting each path over since otherwise Google doesn’t have a plain text option and fancies them up. Notepad doesn’t do well with fancied up punctuation and will only output black question mark symbols in their place.

Writing them like this, sometimes the path differ, sometimes they don’t, but it does make it easier to keep track of which path leads where and to what ending :3


#12

I think your story is good as is and you’ve the right balance of choice and storyline. If anything, it’s one of the WIP’s that come closest to being written in the style of an official Choice of game.


#13

Heh, someone just asked me about this subject.

I write everything on Word before copy/pasting anything. My original rule was “Don’t go past 4 pages of writing before adding a choice.”

That “rule” got overridden eventually when a few passages started going over that and I started to make exceptions. Then the exception became “the new rule” which is now “Absolutely don’t go past 6 pages of writing before adding a choice.”

That one I really do try to stick to, though even then there has been the rare 7 page passage. For the most part I tend to write passages that are still 4 or 5 pages in length. I rarely write passages less than 3 pages nowadays unless its an ending and even then some of those can get long.

There are also times where it wouldn’t necessarily make sense to have a choice and sometimes you just have to go with the “one page click.” I feel this is still okay to do as long as you don’t have say more than a couple of these types of pages in a row.

“Fake choices” are the ones I generally try to avoid altogether. Still, even fake choices are okay as long as one doesn’t overuse them.

I usually plan most of the story out in advance. This usually involves a timeline of “events” where all the major choices are going to take the story in a wildly different direction.

I try to make notes of all the important people and locations as well as possible map directions since that’s one of the major things I usually end up forgetting. (Terrible with directions)

While I try to think up all the important stuff before starting the notes still usually get added to as the story gets written since I’m coming up with new ideas or discarding ones that aren’t working. (Or unfortunately cutting some things for time constraints because if I didn’t, I’d never get anything finished)

I tend to keep all the really different story lines on separate documents so I’m not getting confused or forgetting stuff. I also tend to stick with one story path line until it is completely finished, then going back and doing others in a methodical manner.

The larger the story, the more stuff there is to keep track of, so I’m usually keeping another sheet of notes of choices that I haven’t worked on yet. I tend to put an asterisk by those as a reminder.

While old ideas can get discarded I still make it a point not to just throw stuff out! I might still use it for a different branch or even just part of it. So I tend to keep those on yet another document as the need arises. (Or even as an idea for a different story)

Basically I take the approach of making a story with several what if scenarios leading to “parallel worlds” that are usually very different than the original story.