Surprising conclusion: CYOA is not MCA!

Today I made a surprising conclusion after taking a look at recent CYOA games posted/linked by other authors on this website. I’m convinced now that CYOA (Choose Your Own Adventure) and MCA (Multiple-Choice Adventure) are two different types of games with different writing styles! I don’t think they are the same anymore.

I know it may sound stupid, but maybe it was incorrect to call my adventure games “CYOA” all these years. Because in other CYOA games by other authors I saw a lot of long text, more novel-like, as if you would read a book or something, and the choices look completely different too. They don’t look like commands to me. This confused me actually. I don’t know how to describe it properly, but it feels different to the kind of chosen-based games that I write and what I understand as “CYOA”.

And because I noticed that, I came to the conclusion that it’s not the other authors, but it’s maybe me that has confused something here from the beginning. As I said, it may sound very stupid, but I think my adventure games are MCA in reality and not CYOA! People can correct me if I’m wrong here, but I think this is a correct conclusion.

You know, my choice-based adventures are actually written in parser-based fashion. In my text I describe the environment in a few sentences and then give the player command-like options to interact with the environment, such as “examine room”, “go north”, “open door”, you name it.

But that’s not how other authors do it in their CYOA games. So I strongly suspect that my adventure games have nothing to do with the novel-like writing style of CYOA. My adventures are more like first person shooters on Interactive Fiction, or choice-based adventures which pretend to be parser-based. Yeah, I think this is more like it.

Now if you take a closer look at multiple-choice adventures (MCA) made by other authors then you notice that they do it exactly the same way. Text is mostly room/environment description and options/choices are navigation and interaction commands. Nothing more. But CYOA? It’s different. You write it like a book and then give the player some choices to turn to different pages. Yeah, sound exactly like Choose Your Own Adventure, or Choose Your Own Book Reading or something. That’s exactly how this company who invented this CYOA type years ago, designed it or meant it to be, correct?

So if this is the case, then I have obviously mislabeled my own adventure games. Because my adventures are not written like a book, novel or a theatre play. They are just like a parser-based Inform game or a Z-Code game, but just choice-based where I give the player the possible commands beforehand, so he/she doesn’t have to guess them. And that’s not what I have seen other CYOA authors doing in their games. So it’s clear I’m doing something else here and I just don’t realised it until now.

Well, I’m not sure anymore. Please take the poll, guys, and tell me what you think about CYOA and MCA…

Hmm, not sure about the terminology, but you’re right insofar as your ifcomp game was a game with a world-model much like traditional parser-based IF. It’s a weird sort of hybrid, and I think you reinvent the wheel a bit writing bespoke .exe games when you could write your kinds of games more efficiently using existing programs, but I dig the retro style you employ.

I see what you mean: I could write my MCA games in Inform or some other existing and popular language instead, since it supports choice-based gameplay too.

Normally I would agree, but I want to go in a completely different direction that other systems can’t provide for me right now. I intend to create a unique gametype which uses a choice-based interface. I like your description “hybrid”. It’s probably a good word for it. I’m also trying to reinvent the wheel by introducing new and advanced concepts into multiple-choice adventures, such as the node-based navigation system in Node-X. As a programmer/coder I can do all this and expand my .exe programs to whatever extent I desire. With existing systems from other programmers I don’t know if I were able to do the same. I would probably be limited to what the other existing programs can provide.

Given that you’re using a CYOA-style node system with a parser-style world-model, I can see why you’d want to go your own direction. A program like TADS or Inform would allow you to have a world-model with choices, but it might be comparatively fiddly to put in the nodal structure. Considering Dead Hotel, I thought that there were far too many save points given that the game takes less than ten minutes to complete- have you considered separating out-of-world actions (like saving and loading) from the choice-list structure and giving them their own separate menu?

Absolutely true. A nodal structure would be much harder to implement in TADS or Inform. That’s why I created a new system which specializes on that.

Yes, I used a separate savemenu in Node-X Generation 1 (see Trap Cave). When you use the S (save) and L (load) command keys during game then you can open this menu. I didn’t use it in Dead Hotel this time, because I wanted to experiment with this a bit. I thought what if I give the player save options in certain game situations only, instead of giving the player a general save feature to be used anywhere and anytime. This idea is actually borrowed from some existing First Person Shooter games, where the player can’t save during certain moments in the game, such as cutscenes, fights, etc.

But in Node-X Generation 2 the savemenu will be implemented again. So this was only an exception in Dead Hotel.

Er, except those that do, of course. Play a few hundred more gamebooks/CYOAs/Whatevers, and you’ll see.

You’re correct that the books published as Choose Your Own Adventure have a different format.

There are a number of distinctions to be made within the field of CYOA: state-tracking vs. stateless, granularity of action, reversibility of action. The Choose Your Own Adventure games are stateless, have a fairly large granularity (you don’t control things at the scale of individual physical actions, and often long sequences of events go by without the player getting a choice) and actions are almost always irreversible (that is, the game doesn’t let you pass through the same node twice, and if it did the story wouldn’t make sense.)

The most obvious category of CYOA that is not like this is the stuff that calls itself ‘gamebooks’: more successful in the UK than Choose Your Own Adventure was, their general aim was to replicate elements of an RPG experience rather than to create novel-like narratives. The most well-known series, Fighting Fantasy, was still largely irreversible-action, but had a moderate degree of state-tracking and a fine granularity of action. Other games along those lines, like the Duelmaster series, were state-tracking, middling-to-fine-grained and reversible. Some parts of some gamebooks feel as if they’re trying to crudely simulate IF: but in general, this is because both gamebooks and much old-school IF were trying to simulate RPGs.

ChoiceScript goes for moderate state-tracking, very large granularity, no repetition; Varytale tends towards moderate state, large granularity, and is agnostic about repetition. (And IF, by default, tracks state extremely heavily, works at a fine granularity, and allows a great deal of repetition and reversal.)

Personally, I think that the most important dividing line in CYOA is between state-tracking and stateless. But YMMV.

(One would nitpickily say “one state variable vs multivariate” – the original CYOA book model had the page number as the state variable. Is “stateless” too deeply embedded as a term to change at this point?)

Certainly not, but I think that’s because “state” doesn’t ring a bell for most people, even people who have read both ChooseCo CYOA and Fighting Fantasy. “State” is one of those words with so many meanings that it’s never very clear when used in an unusual context. (“You mean a statement? Or a government?”)

“Multivariate” would be more accurate, but it sounds really technical. You almost never hear the term except in the context of multivariate statistical analysis. It would be better in some ways to call it “multidimensional.” It still sounds technical, but at least it sounds like campy sci-fi.

My struggle is to find a way to convince conventional authors that just a few numeric stats (as few as possible) can actually reduce the complexity of their multiple-choice stories. More than a few of the writers we’ve been working with self-identify as arithmophobic. (“I’m a math atheist,” someone told me this week. That did not give me warm fuzzies.)

Bizarrely, managing a branching CYOA tree sounds fine to them, but as soon as you add in a few numbers, it suddenly sounds like school.

If a page number is like a URL, then a CYOA book would be a stateless server. :wink:

Well, all game-books are stateless in that sense – the book does not retain any state. It’s all held at the client end. You can change your mind about your stats at any time, and send a new “request” to the book from your new point of view; it will happily jump tracks.

(I suppose some of those FF-style books had a “character sheet” page that you were supposed to record notes on. We could derail this further by arguing about whether that counts as client data or server data. :slight_smile: