Write your own CYOA competition (starts next week)

You mean November/December, right? Anyway, good to see this comp. These CYOAs are ones that don’t save statistics or other state information, right? All the information is in the page numbers, like the old Edward Packard/R.A. Montgomery books.

Oh man, you’re right. Thanks Matt, fixed.

Yeah. I enjoy the Lone Wolf and other number based games, but today we’re going for classic all plot, no calculator stuff.

‘Number based’ and ‘calculator stuff’ don’t seem to me to quite cover the potential plot advantages of being able to save at least some historical info. Classic style is definitely cool though and has its own charm. Good to see comps like this happening.


Could you post more details on what the system is without requiring a sign-up?

While it’s good to be inspired by NaNoWriMo, it’s going to be tough to do during the same month (working on both a novel and a CYOA game). Hopefully I’ll have time to crank something out.

Yeah, I think I’ll be adding some basic state eventually, but I want to keep it accessible to more people for now.

You can actually use the “Try it Out” button from Writer’s Corner to use the editor without signing up. I apologize that that’s unclear, will fix now.

How’s the competition going so far, Chris?

(I take it you’d be able to know how many are in the process of writing their adventure from the number of saved games that have been generated, or at least an idea from the number of new sign-ups.)

Hey Neo,

Yeah, I have some very basic stats. A number of people have signed up, but no one is really writing anything approaching full length.

I think that’s at least partly because the contest was on short notice (NaNoWriMo, for example, comes the same time every year), but I also see a lot of people try the tools and then leave.

If anyone here has tried the writing tools (or would like to: adventurecow.com/init/story/create_demo), I’d love to get some feedback. I’m still testing and refining.

I think the big thing for me was that there was no way to store meaningful data between states. CYOA isn’t a format I’m most drawn to in general, but it would have been nice to have some variables (ie hitting the rock wall with your bare hands reduces health). Also, I would have liked the option to change the navigation tags from page numbers to something else (ie Go to the Library).

Honestly, I’m trying not to start new projects now, but I think other people might appreciate those features.

Hey Chris,

I didn’t sign up, but I did try the tools out.

Gravel’s got a good point. I know a lot of people will want extra functionality, even just the ability to add a single variable stat, but I’m actually more than happy with the straight CYOA format. I also really like the idea of an editor that can help you put a story together.

For me, however, the big obstacles were:

You’ve developed a proprietary system. From what I can tell, the gamebooks can’t be played anywhere else and there’s hints that you want to turn it into a business model with paid access. That makes me nervous about what I create with your tool. (I had the same commercial reservations with Choice of Games’ ChoiceScript.) It also means that ultimate control over the story (and how long it stays ‘live’) begins and ends with you, not the author.

The editor is not portable. It’s online and as such can experience server and service crashes while you are writing your story. While I was playing around with the demo something went wrong and the page wouldn’t reload properly. Also, saved games seem to sit with you. (Again, that makes me nervous.) I think if I was to use the tool, I would probably write my story offline first in a text file, then just copy and paste into your editor.

On the plus side:

The system is very simple to understand. It only takes about 5-10 minutes to become familiar with it.

The collaboration and public story concepts are excellent.

I like the fact that you’re also developing it as an educational tool, something that can be used by school-age kids.

Hope that feedback helps.



Hey Neo+Gravel,

Thanks so much for the feedback. Let me explain where I’m headed with this, so you can nudge me in more of the right direction:

Links: Links are coming, but this will take time - I haven’t figured out a friendly syntax. See state.

State: This is a tough one.

I grew up on a mix of CYOA and computer western RPGs, so my experience with state varies between “none at all” to “far too complicated for a human to keep track of.” Ideally the script would be something simple to understand and powerful. Right now I’m leaning towards an in page script, where you could do something like:

[health -= 5]
[if health < 30]
You should see a doctor!
You decide to keep moving for now, instead of seeing a doctor.

I haven’t used much of Inform7 or ChoiceScript though, so I don’t have firsthand experience with what works and what doesn’t. If anyone has suggestions I’d love to hear them.

Proprietary vs. Portable (i.e. Your stories are yours):
What I’m hoping to do is give writers a venue to market their own works. This all started when I was watching Get Lamp and hearing about the days when people could make a living telling an interactive story. It was great to hear about Andrew Plotkin breaking out and doing something on Kickstarter, and I’d like that to happen more. Hopefully, someday, this will be something more than just my own project.

I want to be open and unproprietary. The stories you write should remain entirely yours, and you should be able to take them wherever and whenever you choose.

Along those lines I’d like to give people access to export their stories in text format. It will happen, but I haven’t had time for that yet - unfortunately I can’t afford to hire my own Data Liberation Front. :-/ (Import’s a little trickier, because there has to be an agreed standard, but I’d like to do that too.)


Health was an easy example; I think integers would give people a lot of flexibility in themselves - they can be used as placeholders, truth states, etc. I think what a lot of CYOA struggles with is that every path probably won’t be completely unique; in a work of size, it’s helpful to funnel people back to certain nodes.

If you have paths that never recross, you’re essentially writing a new storyline every time a choice opens up.
However, if you have too many points of intersection, the choices readers make feel meaningless.

Thus, it’s be helpful to be able to distinguish paths people have taken (which might signify things like what they know, or how much health they have, or whether Timmy is angry at Lassie). Numbers would, I think, be an easy way to implement this, but there’s a lot of other options (ie if page 3 has been read, do the following.) If you allow these states to trigger text substitutions, you can have nodes, but different playthroughs may have slightly different flavors depending on the protagonist’s knowledge and perception of events. (I have no idea if I’m making sense here or not.)

One other thing I was thinking of is that it would be worthwhile to have a couple examples up; I think the starting text you give is not a bad idea, but a few short but compelling stories might serve as a hook, especially to younger authors who perhaps are not as familiar with the traditional format. Any reading features could be seen there; I’m not sure whether there’s a “return to last unexplored option” button, but I know that’s how I read CYOA growing up. (Fingers wedged on decision pages for quick flips back - I was a completionist, even at 7, and made sure the choice tree was completely explored.)

Gravel, did you ever get to Ultima?

Chris, obviously you don’t want to just copy ChoiceScript, but it seems like they let you set flags and stats. There’s a ChoiceScript game in the current JayIsGames comp (I don’t think I can direct-link, but click “Zebulon”) that does kind of a nice job of using stats to keep track not just of characters’ skills but of their relationships – it was kind of buggy when I played it, I haven’t gone back. But those seem like nice functionalities. (I don’t know anything about the inner workings, though.)

. . . no? (Oops?)

Perhaps I should say, did you ever read Inside UFO 54-40? 'Cause if not, um, that part of my comment makes no sense and I fail. Spoiler below.

I don’t remember all the details, but throughout the book a lot of characters talk about a paradise planet called “Utlima.” One thing someone says about it is that you can’t reach it by making a choice. And in fact it turns out that there’s an ending where you reach Ultima… but there isn’t any other page leading to it. You just have to turn directly to the page to get there. So I was thinking, if read these books by lawnmowering the choice tree, you’d never get to Ultima, because it wasn’t on the choice tree.

Hey Chris,

It’s hard to comment without a certain amount of bias. I’m currently working on a free plug-and-play format for Inform 7 that will let authors write games that can be dropped into a template that will enable a z-code game (playable on any IF interpreter) to be created. To be honest, mine’s a little more about collaboration and blurring the boundaries between IF and CYOA.

I’d love to say what I’m working on is as simple as what you’ve got going (so kudos to you), but there’s a range of trade-offs. I think that’s what you’ll find as you attempt to add features. The more features you add (such as variables) the more you push what you’re doing closer to programming and the harder it becomes for the non-coding writer to produce a work.

I’m not sure if any of that helps, but, at the very least, I hope it works like a signpost for you.

Oh! No, I don’t remember that one. I don’t remember many science fiction CYOA, actually; most of the ones I read were Earth based. (I still can never remember which way to go when an avalanche is coming. No doubt that will be my downfall.)


This sounds really interesting. I can understand your reasons for dumping the video. I can’t imagine the ridiculous amount of video/production you’d need even to tackle a short CYOA style narrative, particularly if you were making something half decent.

That said, I have seen a couple of attempts make it onto the iStore as apps…

There are these, on Youtube. There’s very little branching though, as the majority of the energy goes into the video:


(There’s also one featuring zombies somewhere)