Opinions on this story structure?

I’m not very good at plotting, but I think I’ve got the rough structure of my first piece of IF (as well as the characters and setting, but that’s not what this post is about). I was hoping to get some critiques. Anyone up for it? Also, if anyone is interested in collaborating on this piece, let me know.

Act One: Initial Exploration

At the start of play, the player has three interesting leads to explore. They can do so, discovering backstory along the way, or they can just wait. Regardless, after a certain number of turns, the act automatically ends when the player character and all NPCs are mysteriously turned into animals.

During this act, the player can find out about a deceased character that the player character of whom the player character has many good memories.

Act Two:Player as an Animal

The player is unable to communicate with the animal NPCs, who seem not to have retained their minds. The room descriptions change to accommodate the player’s new perspective. Objects that the player must actively search for as a human (for example, by looking under a bed) are now visible by default. Completing the main puzzle of this segment returns the player to human form.

Act Three: The Meat of the Puzzles

Each NPC can now be returned to human form by solving a specific puzzle. Once a certain number of these puzzles are solved, this next act begins.

During this act, the player can uncover less pleasant information about the remembered character.

Act Four: Red Herring

This act begins with a randomly selected rescued NPC telling the player character a secret which seems to point to the cause of recent events being related to one of the three leads from Act One. All of these leads are about events outside the area to which the player has until now been confined. The outside area now becomes accessible. There, the can investigate any one of the three original leads, not just the one mentioned by the random NPC. Once the player reaches a point at which it seems their avenue of inquiry has provided a definitive explanation and a solution for the current problem, the player character automatically returns to the original area of play.

Act Five: The Twist

The player character finds all but one of the NPCs dead, and the ghost of the remembered character preparing to kill the remaining NPC. A conversation between the player and the ghost determines whether the NPC lives or dies.


Depending on which character the ghost left for last and whether they lived or died, the epilogue has several variations.

What I personally noticed while reading was a slight focus on technical stuff - as if you had programming language mechanics in mind while writing that.

I’m not in the position to say this is wrong, but I myself wouldn’t do it. I just write down my plot and the puzzles and only later make up my mind how to realize it technically. In my opinion this results in a more interesting plot, but that’s just my opinion.

But the general idea looks promising to me.

I do actually have a story, but while I’ve written a few of those in my time, I’ve never written a game before. I’m more worried about the game-specific aspects of the writing process, at least for now.

I’d say that, to the level of detail you’ve given us, this sounds like a fine, if very ambitious, project. (Though the act structure may help you there, since you can perhaps focus on “just” Act I for a while and perhaps re-evaluate the ambitiousness of the rest of it as you go.)

The trick, of course, is going to be in the details. I suspect you’re on top of the characterization and setting, so let’s talk about puzzles a bit. One thing that jumped out at me was the bit where you mentioned some puzzles, and perhaps not having to solve all of them to move on in the story. That latter bit is good since, especially in your first game, puzzles can be kind of hit-or-miss in terms of player enjoyment, but I’d also suggest that you work out well in advance (at, say, this stage) what kinds of puzzles you’re looking at doing. The kinds of puzzles you include will have a big impact on the player experience, and, if done right, can reinforce your narrative themes. These days there’s a greater emphasis on procedural puzzles, in which you code up a system (say, a magic system or a machine that your characters encounter), and draw puzzles out of that. Em Short has a few words to say about that here, and her own Savoir-Faire is a wonderful example of a game that implements a full thematic system in its puzzles.

So in your case, presumably what you’d want to do is figure out what turns characters into animals and vice versa, and figure out logical ways to meter out their progress back towards humanity. So for example, instead of having some Towers of Hanoi stupidity to solve every time you want to transform someone (can you tell I’m still mad at Zork Zero?), maybe after the first human gets retransmogrified, the machine blows a fuse and you have to jam something suitably conductive into its place – but to be a fair and interesting puzzle, anything conductive ought to work here, not just the actual fuse that you have to rifle through every drawer in the room to find.

Of course, in the IF community, we also have various expectations about fairness and unfairness of puzzles and what sorts of things are “totally trite and done to death,” as any genre has. One way to get a grasp on this is to read a bunch of reviews of past games, preferably from within the last couple of years, such as last year’s Competition: ifwiki.org/index.php/16th_An … ompetition

Specific to your story, you may also find it useful to look into past games that used animals in the PC role, and read about the various successes and failures of those.

I don’t think you need to worry about not including IF-specific conventions in your outline. You’re writing IF, after all…

This is an ambitious structural outline and sounds like it could make for an interesting game. Here are a few comments to think about:

In the first act, please be sure to make those leads clear to the player as early as possible, and in a way that they know what to do to begin to investigate each of them. I usually give new games only a few turns to hook me, so make sure that as a player I can see what I need to do and have some idea that the stakes are worth it… Also, I would reconsider whether you really want to let the player simply wait or fumble through the first act–if you’re picking up on the leads in Act 4, it would presumably be better if the player has some familiarity with them from Act 1. Moreover, it might be good to give the player some sense of having accomplished something, of moving the story forward based on his/her own actions.

It looks like the twist is intended to cause us to undertake a major revision of our idea of the “remembered character”, with a little help from the tidbits we’ve picked up in Act 4. So the stakes there are both a random NPC’s life, and our reaction to the true nature of the remembered. Your description of Act 3 reads as if we don’t have to rescue all NPCs–is there any guarantee that we will have spent some time with the randomly chosen NPC to this point? I wonder whether there is a good reason for the introduction of the random element here? As an author, could you guarantee the player more emotional involvement in the death of the NPC if you removed the randomness and ensured that this was an NPC we had spent time with?

Finally, you might consider whether the presence of three leads, and the freedom to follow up on one (and only one) in each of Acts 1 & 4, might make for too diffuse a storyline. Will we have enough information to care about the remembered character, especially in the case where the player fails to successfully follow up on any one of the leads before the great transformation?


Im afraid that all I can help with is the puzzles. I am not very good at story development, but I can help wherever I am needed.

It sounds to me like one of the keys to making this work is to pick the right “trigger” for Act 5. It sounds like you have a pretty complicated backstory, which, if I understand correctly, is given to the player in bits and pieces, depending on what the player does. Furthermore, if I understand correctly, the trigger for Act 5 is not some specific action that the player does, but rather is based on his having obtained a certain aggregate mix of background information.

This implies that, as author, you have to make a judgment call about which combination (or combinations) of the bits and pieces of information the player will need to have discovered in order that he can reasonably be expected to have figured enough out. I think a lot of play-testing, by persons who otherwise do not know the story, is crucial here.

The idea of everybody turning into animals is an interesting “hook.” Good luck – I’d like to play the game when its done.

Robert Rothman

I’ve always wanted to make an IF (LMS The Video Game), but I don’t know a thing about programming.
Actually I don’t know much about computers in general let alone making a game.

I didn’t know anything about making games either until about a week ago. Inform 7 is really easy to learn. but what’s LMS?