How I Learned to Write Compelling Interactive Fiction

I just lately graduated from a recreation writing masterclass taught by Susan O’Connor (BioShock, Far Cry, Tomb Raider), and one of many assignments was to adapt a delusion right into a story with branching gameplay moments. I selected the Norse story of Loki’s youngsters. You may play the ultimate recreation right here, or come again to it after studying.

The next is my postmortem and the teachings realized.

The Task

Step one of this task was to create a flowchart of the gameplay branches. However who was my protagonist going to be? Whereas Jormungandr and Fenrir are maybe the extra well-known of Loki’s youngsters, the enigmatic Hel caught my eye. Tales surrounding her have been much more ambiguous owing to an encroaching Christian affect.

Whether or not she was truly one of many pagan gods or a later addition to strengthen the Christian idea of everlasting damnation stays a subject of a lot scholarly dialogue. She occupied a nebulous historical past, and that made her excellent as a personality that might be molded by the participant.

The primary iteration of the flowchart. Supply: Writer

It’s quite simple, nevertheless it captured an important branches that I felt made sense for the narrative. I needed to remain true to the parable, so the ending doesn’t change — nevertheless it’s in regards to the journey, not the vacation spot.

The subsequent step was to implement it in Twine to see the way it flowed with some correct textual content.

Intent

I had two objectives with my first draft.

The primary was for it to learn like a dream, capturing the essence of those archaic myths via poetic prose, the place you don’t absolutely perceive what’s occurring at first look, however every alternative phrase oozes with subtext.

The second was to make it really feel extra natural than your normal visible novel. I needed participant choices all through the sport to have an effect on descriptions, dialogue, and decisions additional down the road, not simply apparent department moments. Many of those are micro-decisionsdecisions that don’t create a brand new department however change a component of the story. These are extremely essential each for scope and to let gamers know they’re affecting the sport.

Easy examples of this embody including titles to characters, altering the way you describe their gait in the event that they’re injured, and so on. Relying on participant decisions, the primary draft was a ten–15 min learn.

My gracious writing group learn it and supplied invaluable suggestions.

Critique and Enhancements

Whereas I knew including a alternative early was essential, including too many decisions on a regular basis additionally meant a few of them didn’t have clear motivations or stakes connected to them.

Selections don’t really feel significant except they’re backed by context and consequence.

The results don’t need to be rapid however letting gamers know there’s weight to the selections they’re making is paramount. It is a tenet for all recreation design. Apparent in hindsight, however not whereas I used to be free-writing.

On this recreation, micro-decisions have a cascading impact that unlocks new branches in case you make the fitting mixture of decisions. The problem I encountered was in letting gamers know this was potential with out them replaying the sport in numerous methods. In my need to maintain the expertise extra natural, I needed to keep away from too many gamey parts like colour coding decisions — which additionally introduces a variety bias. Moreover, if there aren’t sufficient choices to buffer the hidden choices, it may well really feel like gamers are being funneled down a path — which was my greatest concern.

What I finally did was two-fold. When a “fallacious” choice is made, taste textual content seems that claims “in case you had this” or “if there was that, you might do that.” This acts as a story hook within the participant’s thoughts by introducing a “puzzle”. “In case you had a container, you might harvest the drop of eitr.”

Secondly, I present locked department decisions in grey once they seem. This lets the participant know their decisions have been decreased via their actions, NOT for an absence of decisions coded in.

When these two designs work in concord, it creates an “a-ha” second the place gamers suppose again on the “hook” and notice the place they might have made a distinct option to open the locked path. And if the sport is nice sufficient, they’ll be delighted to replay it and take a look at once more.

AI Generated Image: A raven sits on twisting tree branches.
Odin’s raven. Supply: Writer

My remaining draft concerned stripping away lots of the vestigial decisions that didn’t make sense the place they have been, and transferring them or constructing as much as them another way. I made the “why” you have been there clear within the very starting, although the “who” I needed to stay a thriller. Relationships have been extra explicitly acknowledged and built-in via narration and dialogue in order that moments of consequence would really feel extra highly effective — as a result of the actual stakes of this story are the relationships you’ve got along with your brothers.

Key Takeaways

  • Introducing decisions early creates rapid engagement and units up the precedent that the sport is listening. It’s higher to pay this off sooner quite than later, otherwise you betray that belief with the participant.
  • Be sure that there’s a context for decisions. With out context, there are not any stakes or emotional investments.
  • Be intelligent about the place you department a narrative and preserve it minimal. Don’t department early, as a result of you’ll have a monster in your fingers.
  • Use micro-decisions the place you’ll be able to to create a way of participant possession with out having to department. Micro-decisions don’t create new branches however DO create a brand new line of textual content.
  • 1 alternative is not any alternative in any respect, however is likely to be thematically applicable or essential to progress. 2 decisions can create dramatic pressure. 3 is the best median. 4 helps you to lock decisions off. 5+ is extreme however may be enjoyable and makes for good micro-decisions.
  • It’s higher for the participant to remember that their choices lock branches off than not realizing and assuming the sport is linear. This is the reason Telltale has prompts like “X remembered that.”
  • The inverse of that’s labeling/highlighting distinctive decisions based mostly on how gamers have performed or constructed their character. Eg. Baldur’s Gate: “[Bard] You got here from the identical college and acknowledge the tune.” This creates a variety bias — folks suppose it’s the higher alternative as a result of it’s “distinctive”.
  • Leverage cumulative participant micro-decisions to a climactic department for probably the most natural and memorable expertise. In case you do it effectively, gamers will probably be stunned that the sport took all their micro-decisions into consideration and paid it off in a dramatic manner.

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