New CYA: The Adventures of Phoebe McGee

Greetings all.

I just created a choose-your-own adventure type of story at called “The Adventures of Phoebe McGee.” Phoebe is a thirteen-year-old living in Maine in 1937. I also created a website to support the story at

I created a fairly complex CYA type story after struggling to learn Inform 7. I would focus on that tool extensively for a period, only to be pulled away to time-consuming professional projects. Then I would return to I7 only to have to relearn what I had studied before. I am more of a storyteller than a programmer. Then I found and was impressed with what they provide storytellers. “Phoebe” has about 250 pages, dozens of scripts (some of them fairly complicated) and a large number of variables.

I am sure that “true” IF types might scoff at their CYA counterparts. I would agree that a CYA format can be like playing Chutes and Ladders. If you want to see a CYA story with roots in IF, I hope you take a look at “The Adventures of Phoebe McGee.”

I suggest that you check out the website first. That has quite a bit of information about the story, resources, and three color maps as PDF files.

If you take a look, I hope you enjoy it.


Interesting. [spoiler]I can definitely see the IF roots, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, although often I just wanted to type “e” rather than click the link! I’m not sure the story takes advantage of one of the nice things about CYOA, though: the ability to push the story forward. I explored pretty thoroughly, but about turn 204, ran out of places to go; I think I should have been able to get kerosene for the lamp, but couldn’t figure it out. I went to the clearing to wait, but after twenty turns, nothing had changed much; since it was unclear when I’d be able to see more story, that was the point I quit. I’m sure I was missing something, but I found exploration more difficult than in typical IF, and revisiting places took quite a bit of time, as each room had to load separately, and there were a fair number of ambiance rooms.

What I saw of the story seems really interesting, but I wonder if there’s a way to tell it that’s less about being told (through journals/Maize). I was much more interested in figuring out what’s up with the crows than with Hitler. I think the bird imagery and escalating weather/intensity was leading up to something, and I wish I’d been able to get at it.

The text needs a some polishing - there’s a lot of missing commas and it’s/its errors. One out and out bug: I was able to tell Maize about the house before having visited it. I’m also amused that falling out of the tree kills you outright, but falling off a cliff only bruises you. Ha![/spoiler]

Thanks for the comments gravel. Much appreciated. Did you look at the maps available on the website? I really appreciate the time you invested in going through the story.

Trying to set up the right time frame was a challenge. Having darkness fall too soon can be frustrating. But having it take too long is no good as well. You may have missed some events. Did you fully explore the abandoned car? I think I understand what you mean by “pushing the story forward.” Reducing the time variable to make night appear more quickly would do that at the cost of cutting out some events (I may go ahead and do that now when I fix the bug you found (with the conversation with Maize). Also, I realize it’s conversation heavy. As the first in a projected series of episodes I wanted to give the background foundation. The next time around (if there is one) I will work on revealing things in other ways.


I checked that website out. It bugged the hell out of me that I couldn’t download games, so I forgot all about it.

[spoiler]I exhausted the car early on, and couldn’t get in later (after the brake-releasing), although it still appeared in the description, I think. The only place I don’t recall seeing is the cemetery.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a time issue as a “is there something I’m missing, and if so, what?” issue. (I’m assuming that something happens when you’ve triggered all the events; if not, then that’s a problem.) Maybe Maize could suggest avenues of searching; I think this is especially true early on, when Phoebe may have visited the lighthouse and found it empty. Considering that her grandfather is missing, the lighthouse is dark, and she’s getting creeped out, it feels a little incongruous to be playing around with a car to progress the story. If she advised going back to the ship, say, that would make it easier to swallow the journey back. Otherwise, it’s just like being stuck in IF - you’re stuck wandering around hoping you stumble across the missing piece.[/spoiler]

gravel, I went back and discovered a major error that interfered with progression. I think the mistake actually “broke” the story. That mistake should no longer cause the problem, though I’m going to go back and give it additional thorough testing. Making any changes right now worries me because I could introduce another error as part of any “fix.”

The mistake involved a failure in talking with Maize about the swan pendant dropped in the fight with Bonesnapper. This conversation opens up a pretty dramatic series of events just east of the burned house.

Peter, sorry the website bugged you. The CYA story of this kind is dependent on My website can be bypassed by going directly to this primary website. It is an online play only. My website supports the story I created there.

Depending on having to use the website in the development of the story has advantages but can be a huge challenge as well, especially when editing later.

Ah, that would do it. No worries; I am fully familiar with game-breaking bugs. Usually mine. Let me know when it’s fixed, and I’ll try again.

I hope I fixed it. But I need to go through it to find the simple punctuation problems you mentioned. Plus I have been unable to repeat the conversation error you described in your spoiler. I have enjoyed creating the story at but going back and fixing typos (and similar kinds of problems) is very time consuming.

Funny how a problem can appear, then be “fixed” then later to find that it has reappeared. Oh well. I appreciate your assistance on this but don’t expect you to invest more of your valuable time.

I’m having a pretty similar problem to gravel, I think:

It’s pretty heavily hinted that I need to find a key in the coffee cup, but I can’t find a coffee cup. I have sent the car into the stream and have, I think, done everything there is to do in the cave.

This system looks intriguing, though. I like the inventory system and the fact that there seem to be timers that can drain and trigger events at any time – I’m not sure if you can do that in, say, ChoiceScript.

UPDATE: Grumble.

Turned out that night was about to fall, Maize gave me a kerosene can that for some reason she had been unwilling to give up during any of our conversations about how I needed to light the lamp, I found matches in the desk that I may have failed to examine before, and… I got screwed by the time limit. I believe I would have to play through the entire story again to get another chance, and I still don’t know how to get the kerosene without pootering around waiting for nightfall.

I share Gravel’s sense that the navigation is particularly cumbersome here, especially when combined with a time limit, since I had to rush up and down looking for unexamined options. I may have messed up, but it seems like a “wait-and-hurry-up” style is enforced. Though you should know that I hate timed puzzles (especially if you can’t recover a saved game, which you can’t, am I right?)

Greetings all. I really appreciate your trying the game. Here are a few spoilers based on your comments.

Spoiler 1 Jake’s key

Caught in the spider web in the cave. Open his lock-box in his lighthouse room. He had put it with his note but then taken by the spiders after he was captured.

Spoiler 2 Cage key

In the kitchen sink in the burned house. Opens only after visiting the Swan Angel. Used to free the family in the basement of the house. Enter through the back yard.

Spoiler 3 Rescuing Lilly and her mother

Getting to the basement opens after the Swan Angel. Drop down through hole in hallway. Open cage. Push table to basement window. Off they go. Then go out yourself.

Spoiler 4 Kerosene can

Getting the can from Maize starts to countdown to the failed ending with the ship crashing on the rocks. Save here. See next spoiler for a more explicit solution if you want.

Spoiler 5 Getting the lamp lit

There is time to do this (though I might add time if you think it’s needed).
Get can from Maize (starts at the Night cycle)
Fill can behind lighthouse
Jake’s room in lighthouse-get matches
Up to service room. Fill tank with kerosene.
Up to lantern room, examine lens, light lens. Out to gallery to take in the sights.

The process of lighting the lamp is accurate for how lighthouses work in 1937. Of course it’s simplified, but the essentials are there. I could add more time to “Night” before the failed ending if you advise. Another example of a timed event during the day: did you bring Maize the injured bird? If you wait too long to do this, the bird dies.

Again, I am so thankful that you are trying it out and reporting problems. VERY helpful. I would be happy to hear of any other problems or suggestions. Oh yea, I found one “it’s” that should have been “its”. Corrected. :unamused:

Hey, thanks for the response. I think adding more time to light the lamp is a good idea – I’ll tell you what I did in the spoiler, but basically I think it’s pretty easy to get snarled up doing things in the wrong order and hit the time limit.

I filled the can, went up and filled the tank, I think investigated everything else upstairs at the time, went down to the kitchen and found the matches, and was on my way back up when the ship hit the reef. So I didn’t do things in the maximally efficient order. One issue was that I felt it was necessary to examine everything, because I wasn’t sure in what room a new plot trigger would appear – the matches were new in the kitchen, weren’t they? I’d been looking around there for a while before, mostly trying to find the coffee cup.

I think there’s a dramatic issue here:

For a while I’d been looking for a way to get kerosene – even if it wasn’t obvious from the presence of a lighthouse and a kerosene shed, I think both the angel and Maize had told me that I needed to get the lamp lit. In fact, when I released the brake on the car I was hoping it would wind up somewhere where I could use it to get kerosene somehow. But I never got a conversation option to ask Maize for the lamp. This felt like an artificial restriction; I would’ve liked to get started on the lamp early, and the reason I didn’t wasn’t necessarily anything to do with my character’s motivation, but because it would’ve deprived the plot of a suspenseful set piece. It was also a little annoying that the matches didn’t appear until just before they were needed; as I said, this meant I didn’t know where not to look.

I think there are a couple of ways to solve this:

One: Just have night fall as soon as you get the can from Maize, rather than the other way around. It retains the suspense and doesn’t block you off from lighting the lighthouse.
Two: Have Phoebe be forbidden from messing around with fire or flammable things until Maize realizes she has to light the lighthouse. That doesn’t seem so unrealistic – lighting lighthouses seems dangerous, and Maize might hope that Jake would come back and do it himself. (Actually I think this might require more plot surgery than I’m presenting here.) When night is about to fall, Maize realizes that she needs to give Phoebe the can – it’s Phoebe or nothing.

I didn’t mind the injured bird timer at all – I failed that because I had no idea where Maize was (I thought I could find someone inside the lighthouse), but that seemed completely natural.

Another thing about the website is it takes a lot of clicks to get to the story from the homepage. It looks like some of this is inevitable because of the way it’s split between k-state’s page and the chooseyourstory page, but it might be nice to have links to the individual episode(s) from the front page of the series. Also, it’d be nice to point out that you can save using that “options” box in the corner; I didn’t find it :frowning:


Quick response… many good suggestions for me to consider. I will definitely increase the time at night before endgame. The other suggestions have considerable merit. Over the next several days I’ll be thinking about implementing them.

I always worry about making any changes. In some cases, there’s a lot of tinkering in the code that would be required. I don’t want to introduce any new problems. Even so, your ideas can strengthen the story and that’s worth the effort. I certainly think I need to help readers a little more.



Thanks for the response, Chuck! I’m always anxious about saying this sort of thing – sometimes I feel like I’m saying, “You know what would improve your story? SPACE NINJA KITTENS. Rewrite it to be mostly about that.” Which is generally not helpful, even if true.

Good morning Matt.

Well, I made three important changes based on your insights.

Change 1
Increased the time for night by five turns.

Change 2
Changed the early daytime conversation with Maize to say:

[spoiler]Maize continues, “I’m hoping your grandpa gets back in time to light it. Messing around with flammable materials is not something for the young and inexperienced to do. When nighttime arrives and it’s still dark, then come to me and I’ll give you some things to do it on your own.”

“I can try Maize,” Phoebe replies seriously.[/spoiler]

Change 3 A better start at night

When night arrives Maize gives Phoebe the empty oil can and matches. Matches were removed from desk.

I think this strengthens the story considerably, and I have you to thank for that. I learned a few important things as well.


Glad I was able to help! I’ll PM you with my ideas for how to fit in the space ninja kittens.

(Not really.)

I do have another suggestion, though:

[spoiler]In change 2, it’d definitely good to have Maize point out that you’ll need to come back, but I don’t think she should say “when” – I’d say something more like “If he’s not back by nightfall, we can light the lamp.” This way it does sound like she’s saying “You will in fact need to do this, but not yet – wait till the timer starts counting down.”

In fact, what might be even better is to have her gradually get more and more unsure about Jake coming back over some conversations – like in the first conversation, you can ask her about the lighthouse and she’ll say “don’t play with matches and kerosene, Jake will do it,” and then you can do it again and she says “I hope he comes back,” and in the third she says “come back to me if he’s not back by nightfall,” and in the fourth she tells you about the space ninja kittens. Sorry, lost control for a moment there. Anyway, you see what I mean, but I think this would be a lot more work – one thing you’d have to do is make sure that the later conversation options unlock themselves as you get closer to nightfall even if the player hadn’t asked about the lighthouse yet, to make sure the player does get the clue about coming back at nightfall.[/spoiler]

Looking forward to more of this!

Greetings once again. Here’s the change I made:

Maize continues, “I’m hoping your grandpa gets back in time to light it. Messing around with flammable materials is not something for the young and inexperienced to do. When nighttime arrives and if Jake is still missing, then come to me and I’ll give you some items for you to use in the lighthouse on your own. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Your second suggestion would require more tinkering than I want to do at this point. I agree that increasing anxiety about Jake’s absence would be good.

With the exception of the conversational bit that opens up the path to the Swan Angel, a reader could go through most of the story without talking to Maize. A visit to her would then reveal quite a long list of conversational options that could be addressed in any order. That’s the kind of design I chose, for good or bad.

I really wanted to focus on developing a rich conversational system this time around. I think what I have learned from you and from becoming more knowledgeable about the design program will enable me to create a better story the next time. Some of the new goals:

  1. Create more efficient links with fewer clicks to get around. I don’t dare to go back now and retrofit what I did. Much to dangerous for stability.

  2. A shorter story. Statistics at the says that the number of pages in “Phoebe” is at the very high end of all stories there. That will require even more careful planning before starting.

  3. A winter setting. The previous story I published used SUDS (see the thread here) called Snow Night.

  4. A few more characters that appear in different locations.

I love what the designers did for Inform7. I spent many hours learning (or trying to learn) how to program in I7. I have concluded, though, that the general public doesn’t have the patience to struggle with a blinking cursor and the puzzle nature of most formal IF. I am going to look at other options before beginning again.

For a CYOA type of story, I don’t think there is a better system than what provides. I think I demonstrated with “Phoebe” that a CYOA type story can have some fluidity. But I don’t like being so dependent on their website. There is no simple way other than cutting and pasting to get a text file of the entire story. I’m doing that now with nearly 250 pages. There’s no way to conduct a “search and replace” type editing. So if a writer has confused someone’s name somewhere in the story, he or she has to hunt every single page separately to find the error.

Despite these disadvantages, I am amazed at the tool they provide. Take a look at the “Small story” linked from my website. I read it to my 4-year-old granddaughter who made the choices. Since that experience was so successful (months afterward she still talks about Lilly) I may go back to writing at least one more Lilly story for her (let me see, how can I introduce ninja kittens in those stories).

Again, you really helped with your comments. I look forward to our continued conversation.

The Adventures of Phoebe McGee

Hi Chuck,

I spent a bit of time playing Phoebe the other night. It took me a while to get into the story (the exploration at the very start seemed a bit laboured), but there’s some great writing there, and I’m very interested in your motivations and research.

Matt’s obviously given you some incredibly good advice, but I would also suggest that you consider dropping a thread in the beta-testing forum on this site and get some systematic testing done. When I played through I noticed a number of errors (what seemed to be a missing choice when fighting bonecrusher; “runaway” (someone who has absconded) instead of “run away” (an action) as one of the choices; a few spelling mistakes… apologies for not writing them down as I was playing).

I’m also intrigued by the level of menace (female jeapourdy scenarios and “horror” settings) within the story, especially given the target age group. What have the responses from children to this story been like? Have you found the length to be prohibitive? Have boys responded well to playing out the character of a young girl? Have readers been able to save the bird at the start?

Well done on what you’ve written and achieved. You’ve not only created a great story, but something meaningful.

By the way, should you be interested in CYOA style stories that have substance, I recommend you check out a new Australian series of books called Ranger in Danger ( The backstory to how the series came about is inspiring.

All the best!

Thanks Neo.

Your comments are valuable and deserve my follow-up. I will correct the errors you mentioned. After I do that, I will start a thread in the beta testing forum.

As far as menace… this concerns me as well. I would suggest that “Phoebe” is suitable only for fifth to sixth graders and older. On my website I advise parents and their children going through it together. Yes, there are some scary images. I have not promoted the site to elementary school teachers or parents, other than creating the website to make the story available.

For an interesting take on these kind of images, see Jane Yolen’s book Tough Magic. I think the images are no scarier than in typical fairy tales, though those can be scary for a young child. So the jury is out on the menace level. I think I need to return to my website to make this clear. Phoebe’s courage has to occur in the face of significant danger. My choice of a female protagonist was deliberate. Having two grandchildren who are girls may have something to do with that. Both are too young to view the story, though I was impressed with the four year old’s response to the “small story” on the website.

Visit my website at for commentary about fear, courage, and heroism.

Your reaction …

… really lifted my spirit. Great story… something meaningful… well done. So nice to hear that you thought what I did is worthwhile.

I have written nonfiction books, but “Phoebe” is really my first effort with fiction. Also my first try (other than the short story for very young children) with CYOA. Thanks for the tip on Ranger in Danger. I’ll check it out right away.

All the best to you as well. Thanks for taking the time to read the story and post your comments.


I changed runaway to run away. Misspelling and typos are difficult to track down because I would have to examine each of the more than 250 pages to find them. It would help if you note the page title if you go through the story again. I am now cutting and pasting all the pages into a Word document that will make it easier to find these things.

I could not duplicate the error you found when fighting Bonesnapper. All the links seem to be functioning as planned.

Sadly, the Ranger in Danger books are not available at Amazon. I looked at ordering them on the website, but there was no comment about shipping to US.

Thanks for your comments and suggestions.


Hey Chuck,

Hmmm, it seems the Ranger in Danger books are only available in Australia at this point. Some information about the background is available from their web site, but not much. I’ll see what I can do about getting you some more information. I just did a feature on the books for a kids magazine, including some short interviews with the creators.

With regards to Phoebe, as I said before, sorry for not writing down the errors at the time. I wasn’t playing with a beta testing hat on, just more out of interest. I’ll do something more comprehensive for you later in the week.

Also, if it’s really important that your stories are portable, you might consider Inform 7 again, using Ed Griffiths’ excellent extension, Adventure Book. Or, if you can wait a week or two, I should have my own extension completed, which builds on the Adventure Book extension and adds a few neat features (including accessibility options for blind/VI readers). If you have Lilly of the Forest available as a text file now, I’d happily convert it for you as an example file so you can see how it might work.

Don’t worry about the Lilly text file…

I re-created the game myself using what I could copy-and-paste from the web version, making an assumption or two about the variables you’d used to flag certain responses.

Here ( is Lilly of the Forest as a .z8 code IF game (which you can play on pretty much any IF interpreter) and the source code as a .txt file, so you can see how easy it would be to write. (In fact, the whole purpose of the extension is to allow someone who doesn’t know Inform 7 to write an IF-driven CYOA/gamebook.)

If you have an iPhone (or similar), I strongly suggest you download the app Frotz, which would then give you a fully mobile version of Lilly of the Forest without the need to access the internet. I should also mention that I’ve turned on the inventory system so that you can see the Kite appear in there. Simply type INV or I at any time to bring up the inventory.

A story such as Lilly is very basic and would easily be recreated using Ed Griffiths’ Adventure Book extension. I’ve used mine–IF Gamebook–which, when finished, should open up a slew of features, including three parser options, a psychological inventory and more. It should even be able to recreate Phoebe (though the timed sequences might be interesting).

I should mention that I haven’t fully tested this version of Lilly of the Forest, just the main flags and paths. It would be a cinch to make changes and updates, though, so if I have made errors or incorrect link assumptions, let me know.