A little help ?

Hi there, fellow authors,

I’m working right now with a small video game company, and we would like to build together a mobile game, some kind of Choose your own adventure game, somehow like the famous Lifeline.
I know it is not really an Interactive Fiction, but it’s not that far. And I need help, and I don’t know where to ask it, so here I come.

I’m writing a scenario for three weeks now, with a big idea in mind. That means, in most of these games, the choice is kind of an illusion, in my opinion. You can either fail, or go the way the scenario wants you to go. There may be one or two paths, but the steps leading to these ends are quite the same.

So I wanted a game where whatever you choose leads to a different story, not that the characters around you change the way they see you. I want the adventure to be different on each path. To be clear, I’m writing a scenario about nationalism and extremism, and I want the player to be able to choose between paths. But to make that kind of game interesting, I have to write a lot… A lot…

So I’m kind of lost right now, because I don’t know how to write the scenario (not the text you’ll see in game, the scenario, like a tree, with branches, etc.) without getting myself lost. Is there anything you know that could help me ? I cannot draw on a paper, it would be far too big in the blink of an eye. There’s no program I found that allows me to draw such a tree without getting to deep into details (that means, writing the game itself)…

If some of you has already encounter this kind of problem, I would love to share.

And if nobody can, but you are interested, I can keep you aware of where all of this is going.

Thanks for reading in any case, and have a nice day !

PlotEx can be indispensable for that, if you’re willing to use Python scripts.

Or you can just take any graph software like XMind and make a regular node map.

I tried a tool like that, the RealTimeBoard of Google.

It’s quite fun at the beginning, but once you’re getting a lot of information, it begins to be hard to read.

If there’s nothing clearer, then is there a method I could use to simplify all of this ?

How do you proceed, when you want to write a really complex scenario with lots of branches ?

Here is a picture of a part of what I have done on RealTimeBoard. You easily see it’s hard to understand where this is going - and it is not the half of the scenario I want to write…
Projet jeu - New frame.jpg

For me Twine is something you might want to look at.

Even if it might get tangled with a big history plot. Mmm.

I’d second cibersheep’s suggestion. Twine is fantastic for broad prototyping.

But it seems to me that Twine is really helpful as long as your story’s not going too far - but to organize a story that has 4 different paths, each of these having at least 3 alternate endings and so on, it got me lost very quickly.

I must admit I did not use it for longer than an afternoon, but I found it rather hard to read, to have a good overview and to find an information quickly inside… Have you already tried something that long ? I would love to hear some similar experiences to help… Writers of textual games are very quiet :neutral_face:

Well I’ve finally found this, maybe it could help someone else.

Still curious about your own experience…

The problem of managing a branching narrative is similar to the problem of managing a website with multiple nested levels of pages. I expect that there is an app to write/edit websites which allows you to find content in any node easily, and to visualise a complex graph of nodes or part of the whole.

With that kind of major branching, might ChoiceScript be a little easier with the code indenting and ability to split sections into individual documents? I don’t know, I’m just asking since many of the games that are published tend to be fundamentally linear but wide-laned with backstory customization and multiple endings.

I’m curious Hanon, what is for you a non-linear game, in terms of structure ? Do you have an example ?

I have read quite a lot now, and didn’t find anything that wasn’t linear. I’ve read a lot of theory too, and most of them tend to avoid linearity by using stats, and delayed branching. But is this not just a trick to make it look like it’s non linear ? When I play these games, I still have the feeling of linearity (which is no problem for me, because I’m a big fan of traditional literature).

I think there are better tools than RealTimeBoard. You should be able to move each node (page) independently and place pages anywhere to simplify links. The size of the board shouldn’t be limited. In a component (circuit board) style app, links stick to connectors so links remain connected when you move a node. You could have one connector for each choice.

It will be easier to place links if there is empty space around each node. But in the picture, all nodes at the same depth (1,2,3,4) are too close together in a column.

The lines link to internal columns of boxes in each node - the choices? Because the choices are always placed on the right of the node, graphical lines from a lower depth (coming from the left of the node) need to cross over the left side of the node to reach the node’s choices inside the node. If the boxes were duplicated on the left side of the node, the lines would not need to cross over. If there was more space between nodes, lines could curve around the node through the space to reach the right side of the node without overlapping the node.

Mindmapping software often starts with a circle in the centre of the page - it’s easier to spread links in all directions than in one dimension.

Short answer: most parser games. You explore a world created by the author and the story progression is either unlocking new locations to explore or event trigger based. The gunshots may ring out when you’re in the drawing room or the parlor because it occurs when you examine the incriminating photo.

When I say “linear” I mean that game events are on a timeline that is steadily moving forward and you don’t ever go backward or repeat. Events happen when they’re supposed to like in a book. That’s not to say that a linear game can’t still be exploratory. If you imagine a multi-track recording program, you can listen to the flutes or you can listen to the violins, but the song is going to keep playing no matter what you’re paying attention to, and you can’t copy a measure of violins and replay it while the song is going on.

It’s the difference between games like Grand Theft Auto 5 and Half Life. In both games you move around, possibly defeating enemies. In GTA you are on an open map and can do these things in any order. In Half-Life, you can explore your surroundings (and they’ve done a lot to make it seem exploratory) but the map sections only have one arrow through them and you follow it like you’re in a carnival ghost house. You can’t just decide to go check out the elevator in HL, you have to wait until your map path takes you past it.

That’s not to say linear IF nor open-ish world parser adventures are superior to the other. They are both different styles of narrative. One of the reasons people who like CoG games made in ChoiceScript is often because it reads like a novel, but they get decision points which can “move” them to the flute track, or something they decided the past prevents them from taking the “violin” track. You aren’t going to get a chance to necessarily make such fine-grained choices as picking up any object and examining it and trying to set it on fire and then throwing it or leaving it in a different room and then returning to discover it’s exactly where you left it, but that’s not what’s important to non-parser players.

While the overarching story of a parser game may require you to eventually do things in a somewhat “linear” order, you aren’t generally prodded by a time progression or the turning of pages to accomplish this. Visually, a linear game is a flowchart, while a non-linear game is like a subway map.

Specific examples of non-linear IF: Anchorhead, Trinity, Counterfeit Monkey. I’ll even suggest my own game, Transparent, as it was pointed out in reviews to be “almost open world” and also “undirected” (for better or worse) and there are four major end-game scenarios based on what the player decides to do and which plot threads to follow.

Warning: I will now make HanonO’s answer more complicated. It is the right answer for newcomers, but even they should be aware that the topic is messier than that.

I have a long-standing rant about how describing a game as linear or nonlinear, as if all games could be quantified on a single scale, is an oversimplification. Linearity is a useful simplification – but to discuss most real games you have to observe that the game is doing more than one thing at a time. Different elements of a game can be linear to different degrees.

(Rather like “game genre”. It’s useful to be able to talk about genres as unitary categories, like “platformers” and “survival games”. But if you find yourself arguing over whether the most recent Tomb Raider is a platformer or a survival game, as if it could only fit into one of those slots, then you have hamstrung your analysis.)

Anchorhead is a great example. One can talk about what chapter is next, or what puzzle will you solve next, or what object will you pick up next. Anchorhead is very linear on the chapter scale – the game always consists of the same chapters in the same order. It’s moderately nonlinear on the puzzle scale; you often have a choice of what to work on next, but that’s guided by a set of dependencies. (Only so many puzzles are reachable at a given time, and not all of those are immediately solvable.) It’s very nonlinear on the object-by-object, room-by-room scale.

Then you look at a Choice Of Games game. Those have only a few choices at any given time; you typically don’t have the ability to wander around and poke at objects in an arbitrary order. And the games are typically structured as a series of chapters. But the accumulation of character stats over time means that the chapter sequence branches quite a lot at the end, with very different outcome situations for the protagonist.

So you might say that a CoG game has high/moderate/low linearity, whereas Anchorhead is low/moderate/high.

Another thing I noticed in the Realtimeboard graphic: A plot for a 500-page novel isn’t 500 pages long. In the graphic each node is a whole page but if you make the nodes smaller by including just a line or a paragraph of interactive plot summary instead of a whole page, the game graph would be smaller and easier to deal with.

@Heartless zombie :

It’s because this is not the plot, this is the plot divided, extended and developed. The plot has been written elsewhere, I could show you if you’d like. Each line is a whole story starting from the same point. Each case of these lines is a chapter of this story. You can see there’s three parts in these cases : the one on the right is the resume of the chapter with all of the actions of each character. The one in the middle is the central action, the resume of the chapter in one phrase. The ones on the right are the chapter divided in sequences (narrative sequence, descriptive sequence, action, puzzle, …) - I use literature theory to cut through the game. So, yeah, I know, it’s quite big, I know, that’s why I’m investigating in different methods. My problem is, all of the games I’ve looked at so far have no more than 100’000, maybe 150’000 words. I’m aiming at the double, maybe more - and it’s hard not to get lost…

As for your previous post, I’m not sure I’m getting your point. This is a really zoomed out screenshot not of a mind map, but of 4 different scripts of a same story. RealTimeBoard allows you to move freely each node, to duplicate them, paste them anywhere, add new pages like you want and zoom really deeply (that’s why it’s really really small some places :slight_smile: )

Spreading in all dimensions does not seem like a good idea when you want stories to be crossed - it seems harder to me to link to nodes that are going in opposite directions rather than in one dimension… Or did I not understand something ?

@zarf :

I like the way you analyze the game in layers. Seems like a very smart and agile way to see things. Makes me question deeply my work and what is it I’m aiming at for each layer.


I liked Transparent a lot. Quite hard to figure out what to do and I got lost some times, but I felt like it was the whole point and I enjoyed it.

Thanks for all your answers, this is really helping !