The strength of IF

I think IF’s strength lies in the fact that you can program it much quicker versus video games. And it has the ability to make a story really interesting by giving the player a choice. So my question is why do most IFs still go so linear. Why aen’t there many branching story lines when that is something that can easily be done?

I’d guess because writing a linear game is a lot easier than writing one with multiple paths through it. And as a lot of people will finish your game once then never replay it, one with multiple paths through it would be a lot of wasted time and effort.

The most obvious (to me) reason is that not everyone is that interested in branching stories. As a player, I don’t always mind nonlinearity, but it certainly isn’t a selling point of a game as far as I’m concerned.

I’m really not sure why people write very linear games. I’ve played some like “The P.K. Girl” where almost no matter what you type, you get a response like “You really should be doing X instead”. I think it’s often because the author had a specific story in mind that they wanted to tell, and they’re not going to let a little thing like player agency get in the way of that. In the case of the game “Rameses”, it’s because the author wanted to make a point about the powerless of his protagonist, but whatever the reason, I find it extremely irritating. IF should at least provide the player with the illusion that they are driving the story, otherwise they might as well just be reading a book.

I think, first of all, you’re underestimating the amount of work that it takes to write an IF game well, even a highly linear one.

Secondly, most IF games are written by individuals working in their spare time.

Thirdly, there’s this thing called combinatorial explosion. What it means is that every time you give the player a substantial two-way choice, you double the amount of work you’re going to have to do. More generally, the more variation is allowed, the more work the author has to put in, and this number increases faster the more variation there is. Give a player four branching choices and you now have sixteen times as much work. So, if you were working on a game that was going to take three months to write (a fairly fast, but reasonable schedule for a normal comp game), that game would now take four years, for a story of the same length as the linear three-month game. And four choices is not really very many, and binary choices are kind of lame: what if you want there to be three options with every choice? So, branching is not a trivial effort.

Now, that’s overstating it a bit, perhaps; a branching game might be able to re-use much of the content between branches. But that generally means more special behaviours to manage, and therefore more bugs to find. And many players won’t replay the game, or won’t replay it enough to see all the branches, so a lot of your effort will go into things that any given player may not see. Any way you do it, heavily branching narratives are expensive for the author. Even in CYOA, where narrative choices involve considerably less work than in IF, you see authors pulling all kinds of tricks to restrict branching.

I see this differently mostly because I am more familiar with visual novels than I am with IF.

Visual novels tend to have multiple endings. Players know this and often replay the game over and over again to get all the endings. A feature common in visual novels is a gallery that show the graphics that you have unlocked so that you can gauge your progress in achieving all the endings. Another feature is the ability to skip through already viewed scenes to get to the decision menus.

I think it is possible for IF to incorporate some of these features to give the player more incentive and make it easier to replay the game. (I said possible – not easy :confused: )

maga is correct that more branches = more complex to write. For the same amount of effort you could have really short game with 3 endings, or a longer better written game with one ending. Many visual novels are going in this direction to create a better story.

Mostly my point is:

  • I agree that IF is not “multiple ending” friendly for players
  • I agree that multiple endings require exponentially more work
  • I think that it is possible to do in IF

Order of effort required by me to create something of equal artistic value:
Visual Novel
RPG (2D)


I think this really is the key. If you reuse actions and events, but give them different effects depending on various world/character states, it’s possible to give players many meaningful choices without dealing with combinatorial explosion.

It just hasn’t been done very often because it requires substantially more design work and testing – and of a different sort – than a linear game does.

Well, you have my personal guarantee that none of my text adventure games will ever have a linear storyline. On the other hand, you have my personal guarantee that none of my text adventure games will ever have a set of branching storylines, either. So I guess that’s a wash :slight_smile:

Most great games I’ve played are fairly linear, even the ones that don’t look so. A skillful game designer is able to figure out that giving the illusion of choice is way easier than branching the narrative in multiple non-interesting branches.

Suppose you give the player a clear goal, but he’s not interested at all. He just wants to explore the surroundings, headshot passerbys, run over pedestrians and have his sandbox junior fun. Many players these days don’t seem to care about engaging in a plot, they seem to just have fun poking at the technical bounderies in games. Thus it happens that you can’t account for all of these guys actions. And you shouldn’t really, because they’re not here to enjoy, just to poke fun. “The king has made you his knight. > fuck you”

So, simply ignore senseless input and focus on telling an interesting story as an author and to engage the player. And interesting stories are linear. As Curses put it:

if the player is not enticed enough, just let him go down through the trapdoor…

I’m curious: Which end of that list is the high effort end?

I’m glad someone asked; I couldn’t bring myself to :slight_smile:

Since she’s coming from plenty of experience with visual novels, I’d assume she has the least trouble with those. I could see myself ranking them similarly – I find generating simple static images (especially if a lot of layer re-use is within genre conventions) about as difficult as writing equally evocative prose. Not that I’ve ever written a visual novel. Perhaps it is time to try!

Then why not give the semblace of choices, just allowthe player to make a choice that changes the story for a short while then it meets back with the main plot. And since it was already mentioned I want to ask why don’t you add more sub-quests things tha don’t affect the main course of the game but are fun to do anyway?

I am busy with a gameand I find adding a bunch of small sub-quests easy to do, and I think it would make games more fun.

You are correct. I am a very visual person and would much rather draw you a picture of a room than actually describe it. :slight_smile:

Visual Novel
RPG (2D)
(Not so Easy)

I started doing NaNoWriMo to get myself to write more. If left to my own devices, I would write in point form. (That’s why I like coding)My boss an I got into a discussion about putting friendly blurbs in when I was sending reports. i.e. “Please find attached a copy of the Weekly Report.” My point was that I send the report every week with the same subject line. They should know it’s the report. Why do I need to add extra words? (See my signature. :slight_smile: )

Decisions in Games

I recently stumbled on to this article through a link on Emily Short’s blog:

The Decision Gap … n-Gap.aspx

I liked the list the author gave for different types of decisions:

  • Causal - Do X the king dies, Do y the king survives
  • Bling - Attack the dog - nothing; run away from the dog - stumble onto +5 stealth collar
  • Reflective - read the article, it explains it better :slight_smile:

I think more use could be made of reflective decisions.

example: if you help the girl rescue her kitten, you get “the Kind” added to your name. No in game benefit, but players think it’s cool.


That’s essentially what we advocate doing at Choice of Games. We call it “Delayed Branching” and have written a few articles about it. … esnt-suck/ … eat-stats/ … ice-games/

I’d also like to emphasize that adding multiple endings to a game is relatively easy; branching the plot at the end of the game is certainly the easiest time to do it, because you can have a linear plot all the way up to the ending, at which point you can choose an ending.

Branching the plot earlier than that is much more work if the forks don’t merge back together. That’s why we advocate delayed branching all the way up to the end of the game, at which point you can introduce multiple endings based on the player’s final choices and the stats/world model.

Susan: very interesting link, and it just made me realise that I did play a game that was almost entirely “reflective”: “The X-Files”, the one that came out for PC and PS (

There’s lots of things you can do in the game, lots of ways to approach the story, that mean diddly-squat in terms of mechanic but to build - in the player’s head - a different picture every time you play and do things differently. It’s not just a couple of scenes, or a couple of decisions, it’s almost like there was a rough skeleton of a game (on which the gameplay mechanic is built) and everything else is just optional stuff that is only of benefit for the story the player is getting inside his/her head.

A couple examples:

[spoiler]You have a PDA, on which you automatically make notes. You can send those notes to anyone involved on the case you’re investigating - or not. If you do, you’ll get responses, interesting responses, and you’ll feel as though you’re really involved, and so are the people answering back. But in reality, game-wise, it makes absolutely no difference.

At one point there’s a car rushing away, and you barely have time for one action. If you’re quick on your feet, you can draw up your camera and take a photo of the car, then go back to FBI to trace it. It won’t lead you anywhere - the registration is classified. It matters zilch in actual gameplay. But in your head, it does mean something.[/spoiler]

Just brought it up because it seemed relevant - it’s almost an entire game built of reflective choices.

Part of the problem with side-treks, and other substantial optional content, is that most IF is not designed for heavy replay. Partly this is a self-fulfilling prophecy – players don’t replay because they don’t expect much variation, authors don’t put in much variation because players don’t replay. But part of it’s to do with the fact that IF is as much like a novel as it is like a game: you don’t generally finish a novel and then read it again five times. (It’s worth bearing in mind that the area of IF that has the biggest tendency for side-treks and optional content is AIF. AIF has, uh, a central function that’s distinct from those of mainline IF, and which makes heavy replay a lot more likely.)

/me raises hand…

I do.

Getting back on topic…
I also think you expend more energy playing an IF versus playing a Visual Novel. You are much more into the nitty-gritty of advancing the plot. More like a novel hooked up to a bicycle. If you don’t peddle, the plot doesn’t advance. I get “tired” thinking of having to go through all that effort again.

On the other hand, a CYOA or Visual Novel, there is less effort. You need only click the button to continue. (Or you can even set it to auto advance!) You are only called to do something at specific points in the story.

Sims have more replayability since you can use different tactics on different play throughs.

RPGs are more of a mixed bag. I am plot driven, to I usually only play through one to get the main plot. My husband tries to get everything, so he will replay an RPG to see what it is like for a warrior vs a mage. This makes final boss battles funny. I am usually underpowered and only manage to beat the boss by the skin of my teeth. My husband is uber super powered with every magic trinket in the game and the boss battle is over in seconds.

No point really, just thinking out loud.


What a curious belief, sir :slight_smile:

Yeah, that was poorly-considered of me, and vaguely articulated to boot.

I meant, I suppose, that people don’t generally read it again five times right away. Which may not be true of everybody, either. But you’re right; books are multi-purpose things, and different people have indefinitely many different functions for 'em. I don’t re-read books right away, and I think the reasons for this are similar to some of the reasons why IF tends to be low-replay, but a full unpacking of this would be horribly rambly and meandering.