What makes a good first project


One of the most common pieces of advice on this forum from published authors is to start small, since games made in Choice Script have a way of ballooning beyond their original scope.

Most of the games I admire are very large and epic in their scope, same with most of the books I read, so thinking in shorter form doesn’t come naturally to me.

I’m curious if/how you adapt your ideas to smaller scale, what sorts of stories do and don’t work well in smaller scale, and what sorts of things you look for in knowing which ideas are viable and which aren’t, especially around first projects.


So, disclaimer, I’m not a published author, so it’s very possible that everything I’m about to say is terrible advice. However, speaking as somebody currently in the middle of my first project that I currently anticipate being over 1,000,000 words (up from my original estimate of ~500,000), which I actually feel good about my ability to finish, I honestly think that starting small is not necessarily an imperative. What’s more important is understanding your limits.

What I think a lot of first-time authors run into is a combination of A. wanting to please everyone, and B. not having a strong vision of what they wanted to do in the first place (among other things). Their projects balloon out of control because they just keep piling features onto the game—one of the most common forms this takes is making every single popular character an RO, for instance—and eventually they burn themselves out, because they end up with way more work than they know what to do with.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t take and allow yourself to be guided by feedback, but I think the most important thing is figuring out what aspects of writing actually interest you and letting those be your guiding lights. Have a solid idea of where you’re going with your first project, so you don’t feel aimless, even if when it does balloon beyond your original scope.

For a lot of people, this means starting small, and that’s definitely a valid approach! For me, it meant outlining large portions of my game right from the start, and thinking a lot about what expansions would or wouldn’t service the experience (I’ve made it clear from the start that I won’t be adding any new ROs, just as an example). Based on what you’ve said, it sounds to me like you’re similarly drawn to larger projects; this is fine, I think, so long as you limit yourself in other ways. Figure out what ideas seem interesting to you—as a writer, not just as a reader—and which ones sound exhausting to implement; generally, you’ll want to avoid the latter, even if they sound cool or desirable.

This is a little vague, and I apologize if you were hoping for more specific advice, but I think only you can know for sure what will or won’t be viable for your writing style. If starting on a smaller scale doesn’t feel “right” to you, it might not be! But then you have to figure out what does feel right, and lean into that. Don’t make it big just for the sake of making it big—figure out what, specifically, you want to accomplish with the story and simply make it as big as it needs to be to service that vision.

PS: Just a heads up, I moved the topic into the Writing and Content category—ChoiceScript Help is more for questions about the coding language itself.


If I could go back and give younger me some advice before commencing work on what was originally called Silver Cross Inc (Now is called UnNatural). It would be to keep it simple for a first game.

I spent a lot of time and effort making grand plans that didn’t work out or had to be cut because they were too often causing errors or not working as expected or required. You can always improve on your coding skills with future games or updates.

edit: Thanks to the work put into the first game I now have more understanding of choicescript which makes the second game a lot easier to code.


Hi tangerine_skies –

My first completed project was for the contest CoG held a couple of years back and it was the first part of a three game series. The winner @Scribblesome is releasing her game soon.

This advice is not so much because the games are ballooning beyond their original scope, but more that to achieve the set-out goals a first-time author has, it will usually take two or three times the work they actually estimate it to take to complete.

There are design issues that do creep up (like feature creep) that balloon the scope, but these pitfalls are not the real issue.

As @Nocturnal_Stillness ninja’d me above … the more common resource hogs are inexperience working with the mediums you are working with to publish a Hosted Game.

As an example: figuring out what an error of “You may not use a smart curly quote here, please use a straight quote on line 158” takes time… even if you ask for help from the community. (it’s not what you think it is).

Some of us (myself included) need to improve our writing skills in order to successfully complete projects and others need to learn new developmental skills, such as including better hooks in your game…

What you can do, is plan a break up of the epic into a series of smaller games; it will be better that way in the long run for several reasons. I know several authors that set out to write their epic games but after 300,000+ words had to break the epics up into smaller episodic pieces.

Write what your heart tells you to write, but be adaptable in writing your true vision to share with everyone.

If you are willing and able to adapt, you should be able to make it through your game completion.


Could you go into more detail about what good first-time goals might look like?

Gonna jump back in here to address an angle of the issue that others have brought up, but I neglected to mention the first time around—if you want to include an idea in your game, you have to know how to implement it! I have the privilege of having come from a computer science background, so this hasn’t been a problem for me. But if you’re more of a writer than a coder, you will want to keep your ideas simple enough that you can figure out how to make them actually work in the context of the project—at least until you learn the ropes.

Again: knowing and understanding your limits is key.


Plan a successful game is the most basic first time goal to complete.

As @CorvusWitchcraft says above, many first time authors do not have a firm idea what they want to accomplish in their game.

  • what is the story you want to tell?

  • what mechanics will you use to compel your audience to keep with your game?

    • If you have romance in the game, what specific characters will you have as romanceable
  • Can you complete an outline of your story from beginning to end?

    • if you can do this, can you complete an elevator pitch for your game?
  • can you begin your game, get it up and running without fatal errors?

  • Do you know what the difference between actionale and non-actionable feedback is?

  • if you do not get responses right away, do you know how to draw people into a dialogue to get your needed feedback?


These are the first-time goals I would say you should be prepared to answer and accomplish.


Thanks for moving the post and apologies, I’d considered posting it in both and wasn’t quite sure which one to go with.

You have a lot of really excellent points and I’m glad to know a large game isn’t necessarily unrecommended.

Do you release the game as you’re writing it on the forums or will you wait until its done? One of my hesitations in a largescale game is that I’m very achievement oriented-- it really motivates me when something works as expected or people respond positively to it-- but the trade off of putting it on the forums too early are that things may change from the concept stage, and having too much about the game be already known might prevent people from buying it. Definitely one of the final motivators would certainly be monetization.

One of the most successful games here by @Havenstone is one that was shared with the forum community from beginning to end.

It did not prevent anyone from buying it and the author swears that this is the best way of completing a project. (search under his username, and I am sure you’ll find him saying so several times through the years.)

So, I wouldn’t worry about that – especially for a first project. Completion is the hardest and most immediate obstacle to overcome.


I went with a full public beta on the forums for my WIP, which I submitted yesterday. I obviously have no idea how that will ultimately impact sales, but I did see that a few people who have read the WIP have explicitly said that they’ll buy the full game, which is encouraging (of course I have no way of knowing how many people just read it for free and have no intention of purchasing!) But ultimately I suspect that the percentage of HG customers who come to the forums is actually pretty small, so most of your potential customers won’t see it at the WIP stage anyway, and for a first game your number one priority should be to make it as good as it can possibly be, and getting as much feedback as possible is conducive to that, so a full public beta is, I would suggest, a pretty good idea overall!


I’ve been releasing it piecemeal on the forums—I’m definitely the same way in terms of needing feedback to keep me motivated! The hardest part for me was actually writing the ~30,000 words for my initial post, because at that point I wasn’t sure if what I was writing would even be interesting to people. Now that it’s out there, my motivation to complete the project has definitely taken an upswing, so if hearing people’s responses to your work drives you forward, I definitely recommend this approach.

This is a possible concern, but generally, if you have to overhaul the entire concept or story structure, it’s because there was a fundamental problem with how things were set up before. In this case, I think it’s actually to your advantage to have the input of others, to help you figure out where you went wrong the first time and how you can progress in a way that will work for both you and your audience.

Again, not a published author here. But as others have pointed out, my experience as both a reader and an observer is that people will generally buy games even if they’ve already played through the entire thing as a WIP. If monetization is a concern, it’s worth noting also that there are options such as Ko-Fi and Patreon that will allow people to support you along the way, even before you publish—which wouldn’t be available to you if you kept the project to yourself right up to the point of release.


That game might be a good example for this topic. I think I started the project slightly after the contest announcement, giving under a year before the deadline, and as I am not a speedy writer I knew I had to be careful to avoid scope creep. Several aspects of the plot were created with an eye to keeping things lean, like keeping the story’s timeframe short (though that is also genre-appropriate). The game has a core plot thread that remains the same for all players - the MC’s assigned mission - while there is branching within this and in subplots, this core doesn’t change.

(I was also originally only going to have two ROs, but that one didn’t go so according to plan!)


There are definitely some people who become increasingly motivated as a direct result of response/encouragement from readers, but there are also some who (like me) post their WIP too early and become unmotivated to write anything more. They no longer find joy in their own work and writing becomes a chore to appease their readers. I’m not saying that’s going to happen, it highly depends on how you respond to feedback and your personality (I personally lost all motivation once I had posted the first chapter, even though I had written two more, I never released them because I became dissatisfied with my work). If you’re anything like me, I would recommend waiting until you have a solid WIP (say, the first 3-5 chapters, your stopping point for the public release until testing) that way you have already written everything you’re showing


A lot of good points have been covered here. Honestly, IMO most first time authors should be aiming at no more than 100k as a general rule if you want to get something finished that’s reasonably well produced, despite the feedback that longer games are always preferred. The reason why I recommend to start smaller is a few fold.

  1. You learn a lot from your first project.

Often there’s stuff that could be done a lot better with writing, coding or planning that doesn’t always come out until after it’s published. I wish my first game had been shorter. It’s horrible to put so much work put into something and then have it shredded by criticism and people not liking certain aspects of the game (whether that’s the format, stat usage, etc.)

A shorter game is lower risk. You can make it, learn from it, then use what you’ve learned to make something even better next time. Yes, if it’s shorter it probably won’t be a best seller, but that’s not the point. Crit on the stores is often much harsher and less helpful than what you’ll receive on the forums. It’s worth being prepared for that and learning what you can.

It’s also much easier to thoroughly bug test, stat check and grammar check a shorter game leading to a higher quality first attempt.

  1. Length and probablity of completion.

Lots of new CSG authors don’t realise how hard it is to finish long games. It’s not the same as writing a novel, the amount of work is NOT linear. It can get exponentially harder to write CSG’s the longer they get not just because of burn out, but because of the nature of accumulating stats and choices.

I’m guilty of this too. I’ve got a list of unfinished WIP’s that are all 70k+ words long that I’ve had to make a deal with myself to finish and not start any new ones, because they get harder to write and it becomes really tempting to start something fresh and new. Yes everyone wants to write a 500k+ game, but how many of those WIP’s actually get completed? (Hint- not many.)

In my experience usually the first 30k is easy, up to 70k is still fine, it gets slower towards 100k and the further you go beyond that, the harder it becomes. You get a build up of choices and stats you need to take into account and write for which increases your work load a lot. Which also brings me to…

  1. Scope creep.

It can be really hard to stick to a plan, especially if you don’t have a really clear idea of what you want the story to do. Even if you do that, as you go along you’ll get ideas or requests from readers that you’ll want to put in there. Most of my games are significantly longer than planned. My starting game Wizardry was meant to be a learning exercise and ended up being 100k (which doesn’t sound long now, but when I wrote a few years ago it that was considered reasonably long). As a few more examples, Oedipus was meant to be a side project of 50-60k words tops, and ended up being over 100k. Walking the lands of the dead was also a side project of about 60k which will probably end up over 100k. Abysm’s veil started out as a relatively short competition entry and is over 100k and no where near done.

It happens so easily. Either be very strict (which is harder than you think and may negatively impact the game in some ways by not including extras that it turns out would help it) or shoot for a shorter story to start with and then you’ve got some wiggle room with the overall word count down the track without it becoming huge. The forum is littered with unfinished games that have had a lot of work put into them which I think is often largely due to 2 and 3.

  1. Actually finishing a game.

This gives you a sense of achievement so you’re more likely to continue writing CSG’s. Nothing worse than being demoralised because you’ve got a few different unfinished games, none of which end up being completed despite the work you’ve put into them.

  1. Sticking to shorter word limits helps improve your writing. No really, it does.

Although a lot of people seem to regard shorter works as lazy and inferior, in my opinion they’re incredibly useful from a writing improvement standpoint. You need to prioritize what you want to say and include, and do it as efficiently as possible. Everything you put in, you have to ask yourself “Is this adding to the story? Could I do this in a way that it would be conveyed better to cut down on additional explanations?” It teaches you to be critical of what you are writing and edit to keep the story tighter.

It also helps you plan and stick to those plans (I’m not saying I’m a great editor by any stretches of the imagination, and I’m not great at sticking to plans, but since writing some short works (not published here as they’re under the word limit), I feel it’s helped me a lot with both of these.)

  1. Your first game will probably take you a long time to write. Much longer than you’d expect.

It takes a while learn how to code, and then use that code efficiently and in a way that you’re not causing errors everywhere that need fixing. Learning how to use the testers and deal with the sometimes mysterious bug messages they throw up. (Most are straightforward, but some can leave you scratching your head until you’ve seen them and worked it out/asked the forum and fixed them at least once.) Planning things out for the first time. Learning how to evaluate and apply feedback both good and bad can be something that takes time. It’ll take you longer than you think to get the first game you try to write finished.

There’s a few threads on this if you do a search. Short version is, in most cases having a beta that’s mostly public (or even entirely public) probably doesn’t impact your sales overly much, while the feedback you get is invaluable. If you’re a well known author with a fan base, you can move projects mostly to closed betas which do have some benefits (not just that your story is not pre-released) but they’re hard run well for most projects unless they have a large following.


There is a single first time goal that I am telling everyone:

Write one single chapter. That’s it. It might be on the story you really want to do, it might be something you feel would be cool to test now, but it’s not until you have written and coded that first chapter (doesn’t have to be pretty, doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to work) that you can truly start sitting down and figure out what kind of story/scope you’re comfortable with.

Until you have tried to manage everything that actually goes into making just one chapter in a book, all the advice we can give will mean very little, because you can’t apply it to your reality.

So don’t overthink. Just go for it. Sit down and write that first chapter of something, even if it’s just adapting a short story or something yoh have laying around.


@Eiwynn Do you mind if I use your questions in a game design document? I may end up making a public facing google doc template part of which would include your questions. YOu’d be mentioned in the credits, but wanted to make sure that you were comfortable with it.


I do not mind at all; thanks for asking :slight_smile:

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