5 Rules for Writing Interesting Choices

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KimiYoriBaka
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Re: 5 Rules for Writing Interesting Choices

#31 Post by KimiYoriBaka » Mon Aug 08, 2011 8:49 pm

Looking through this article, I can't help but get an uneasy feeling about these guidelines. They don't really seem very useful for actually developing a branching story. Rather, I would expect these guidelines to inhibit the making of anything major in the vn genre.

As efreet mentioned, vns do have more of an interactive film feel as compared to the games that the article are talking about, but at the same time, most of the stories that I've heard about being actual successful as vns (tsukihime, kanon, etc.) focus more on setting up a story and then writing different routes that have only subtle differences in most of the choices and then only some of the choices really change the story. the main reason is in the term itself, visual novel. to make a story long enough to be considered a novel requires a lot more attention to the writing and overall story.

individually, here's the problems I see in these guidelines:
#1 - options should have real consequences

this doesn't cover at all the purpose of each choice which is what actual should decide how real the consequences are. sure, the example of having lots of choice that don't matter consecutively is a good example of what would probably be a poor game, but that's also probably not because of bad choices, but rather bad writing. There is the exception of games that use entirely stat affecting decisions with no actual branching (ex. stalemate) but that's another matter entirely.

in short, this rule is trying to cover something that isn't really caused by bad choice design, at least, not in vns.

#2 - the player needs a basis for each decision

rather than a basis, isn't it more important to simply have a well-developed context? here again, I think the difference between a vn and a simple choice-making game is important. what really should determine if the player has a basis for the decision is whether the mc has a basis for that decision. if anyone here's played kagetsu tohya, that's a perfect example of when a player definitely shouldn't have a basis for decision making.

also, this rule is dependent on rule 1 as well, which doesn't necessarily apply, even according to those guidelines

#3 - No one option should be obviously better than the others

honestly, my initial reaction to this is, "Of course they should!" but that's more just my personality.

my problem with this one is more in that the article contradicts itself. it says that the "wrong" choices should still be pretty fun, but in having "wrong" choices it still means that one is obviously better, until the player has actually chosen.

really, I think this entire concept should be ignored, as it gets too messy to consider what the player is going to think of as a "better" choice.

#4 - know your players

this part assumes that the players are looking at the game as an rpg, which is fine for the games in question. unfortunately, not only is that not necessarily true for vns, it's ignoring the simple fact that rpgs nowadays are generally looked at as games with clearly defined stats that the player can manipulate while making an individual character. this is completely different even from the choice-making games that the article is referring to, and is usually treated by players as such. even for a player who cares mostly about story, paying attention to what each skill stat means is very important.

#5 - break these rules

what? seriously? why would you actually put that as one of the rules? while it's true that knowing when to break rules can be important, to say that it's as important as your rules means that you need better guidelines.

Now, I've been thinking about this for a couple days, and I've come up with a few ideas for guidelines that would more apply to what I've seen in vns.

1- avoid putting choices in the exposition

that's really the only place where where a choice can be baseless in a story-driven game. The reader needs to have some idea of what kind of story they're reading before they can consider which choices will be most interesting.

2- try to strike a balance between meaningful and frivolous choices

this is the one I consider most relevant here. basically, if a story has choices then most players will expect them to come up on a regular basis. the problem here is that a story beyond a certain length can only have so many meaningful choices, even if you use stats. In addition, if there's to be any consistency in the story, you still need to have a certain amount of development that will be the same regardless of player choices. This means that a good percentage of the choices should be there as flavor, preferably in a way that results in the other characters getting to react in an interesting way.

a good example of why this matters is the game clannad, which had a maze of meaningful choices (aside from the many frivolous ones) that made it rather annoying after a while to get any specific route, especially the final good ending.

3- make sure your story itself is interesting throughout each route

this is pretty simple. if your choices aren't fun and interesting, it's probably because the story isn't fun and interesting.

that's it. anything else really depends on what sort of game or story you're trying to make.

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Re: 5 Rules for Writing Interesting Choices

#32 Post by bunny-gypsy » Mon Aug 08, 2011 10:44 pm

I think these "rules" are just meant to be guidelines. Especially if you are making a game with lots of choices or something
similar to "Choose Your Own Adventure"-style games. I think it's more for the more "open-ended" or less linear kind of games.

I noticed that some visual novels are more linear than others, but it depends on the visual novel. (I've only read Ren'py-made ones, and
some demos of other English-visual novels).

I personally really like these "guidelines". I think more games need more real, meaningful choices (at least,
the ones who DO have choices).

And I'm not saying that all choices should change the story entirely, but if there are choices/branches,
then they should do something, whether it's doing something to your stats,
how the world or other characters view you, or even just change how a couple of small parts of the story advances.

Regarding the choices, I think you cannot make it too obvious that one is "bad" choice and one is a "good" choice.
I always hated that sometimes because it's too obvious. I noticed this in a couple of the dating sims. For example, there would be
two choices, "Act nice/polite/kiss butt" or "Be mean/rude/jerk/angry/overreactive". Why would I act mean if I wanted that guy?
It's pretty obvious that "being mean/rude/jerk/etc" is the BAD choice (unless the guy actually likes you being mean, lol!).
I think the article meant more...variety of choices like I have seen in some visual novels/dating sims
that are beyond those obvious, black-and-white "be polite girl" or "be rude girl" choices. :D

(Or just common sense survival choices: There is a dark dangerous place with snakes and clear pathway. Which would
you choose?)

KimiYoriBaka, I don't think they mean for every decision to make a huge impact on the story. Have you tried some of
the Choice of Games mentioned in those articles? There were some decisions that did not really alter too much
or made some subtle changes to the story or world, but they still branch together to the main storyline.
They all still have a story in there somewhere--you still have a back-story, some background
about the setting and the world sprinkled in.

They kind of remind me of the various Dating/Raising Sim/some visual novels (with multiple love interests to choose from)
on the Ren'py website, with the results and branches depending on your choices and stats. :)

For example, one guy likes your girl because she's smart (because you spent a lot of time studying and picking choices that
make you sound thoughtful and intelligent), while another because she picks the same hobbies or ideas as him throughout the story.
In another game, I have seen how some small things like choosing where to go or what to say
makes a difference in how the story will advance and who you end up with in the end
(and who will live and die in the end, lol). :mrgreen:

I think these articles could be applied to the less linear games like the raising sims and dating sims that I see on Ren'py.
Visual novels are more trickier since they have a more linear storyline, but I think these rules can apply to them, too, if not
to the extent as they would apply to raising and dating sims. However, it really depends on the story you are telling. Some stories
can allow more open-ended choices and some stories are better linear. :)

(EDIT: Whoa! Sorry for the wall of text, folks! I ramble a lot....)
Last edited by bunny-gypsy on Tue Aug 09, 2011 9:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 5 Rules for Writing Interesting Choices

#33 Post by xelacroix » Tue Aug 09, 2011 8:15 am

nice explainations but no examples

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Re: 5 Rules for Writing Interesting Choices

#34 Post by bunny-gypsy » Tue Aug 09, 2011 9:18 am

Ooh, forgot to add. :D

This thread reminds me of an interesting book I've read a long while back called: "Interactive Storytelling for Video Games: A Player-Centered Approach to Creating Memorable Characters and Stories" by Josiah Lebowitz and Chris Klug.
http://www.amazon.com/Interactive-Story ... 785&sr=1-3

Basically, it talks about how games are on a storytelling spectrum, anywhere from linear (many games like RPG's and many other
narrative-driven games like adventure games or action adventure games, even some shooter games, etc) to extremely open-ended games with almost no real main plot (The Sims, SimCity).... or anywhere in between, like having multiple branches or multiple endings.

The book also includes case studies and provides examples for each type.

It also discusses the pros and cons of each spectrum. For example, a pro for games with linear storylines is that they allowed to be more deeper and allow the characters develop. However, a con for those types of games is that the player has less effect on the story.
However, you can still interact in some way, however, like how in RPG's, you can interact through battles, customization, chatting with NPC's, exploring areas and towns, etc.

A pro for open-ended games is that they allow the players to interact more. However, the con is that there is less story and more of a setting and goals than anything else. In SimCity, you build a city and keep it happy and healthy. In The Sims, you help the Sims
grow up and achieve their goals (or kill them in various ways, if you want, lol).

The book also mentions Visual Novels, which are closer to the linear side, but can include multiple-branches or multiple endings.
They are more like interactive fiction kinds of games compared to Choose Your Own Adventure stuff.

However, the authors believe that Kinetic Novels, though, are not "games" per se, just novels with audios and visuals, but not games. They included a very well-known visual novel, I can't remember the title. I think it may have been Higurashi When They Cry or something like that. Anyway, the authors said while it was an excellent story, they cannot recommend it as a "game".

Last thing (I promise! :oops:), I remember the authors mentioning something that always annoyed my sister and me in games with linear storylines that gave some brief choices. We didn't like how some choices didn't matter. My sister told me they did something like this once in
Ace Attorney, but she thinks they did it on purpose for humorous reasons.

For example, say a character told you: Would you like to go on a quest with me? And the choices are "Yes" or "No".
If you chose "No," the character would laugh at you and said that you must be joking, and asked the quest question again.
If you answer, "No", again, the character would do the same thing and ask the same question again...and again...and again...
until you said "Yes". My sister and I always ask what was the purpose of those "you have no choice but to say Yes in order to progress the game" kinds of questions then, lol! :lol: Not much of a real, meaningful choice, if you ask me, heh.

Anyway, just write the story you want, and if the story's good and/or has engaging characters, then it's all good. Also, I would
think there are always exceptions to any "rules" (which I see as guidelines/suggestions/recommendations, anyway). :)
Last edited by bunny-gypsy on Tue Aug 09, 2011 2:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 5 Rules for Writing Interesting Choices

#35 Post by papillon » Tue Aug 09, 2011 2:16 pm

Speaking of CYOA there's an interesting blog post here talking about some of the lesserknown 'romance-themed' ones:

http://maga-dogg.livejournal.com/450007.html

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Re: 5 Rules for Writing Interesting Choices

#36 Post by bunny-gypsy » Tue Aug 09, 2011 3:12 pm

papillon wrote:Speaking of CYOA there's an interesting blog post here talking about some of the lesserknown 'romance-themed' ones:

http://maga-dogg.livejournal.com/450007.html
Very interesting read, Papillon! :)

Huh, that first example regarding paths and changes got me thinking about how there is an "alternative world/universe"
with different people who have different personalities depending on the path you choose. (For example,
a character may be single and nice in one path, but unavailable and cruel if you choose another path instead.)

It also got me thinking about how the author would choose which choices (about how the character is "supposed" to act) are "supposed" to be "good" and lead to the "good" endings... It's kind of depressing how girls are supposed to be "good girls" in those books, heh. (Reminds me of the stuff I've learned in my college sociology courses...)
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Re: 5 Rules for Writing Interesting Choices

#37 Post by papillon » Tue Aug 09, 2011 3:47 pm

An awful lot of BxG visual novels will quickly lead to bad ends if you make 'bad' choices... it's just that in those settings a "bad" choice is something like "Rape the heroine" or "Insult your girlfriend" or "Let bad guys beat up a girl" instead of "fail to zealously guard your purity score at all times".

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Re: 5 Rules for Writing Interesting Choices

#38 Post by Glasskitten » Thu Aug 11, 2011 2:48 am

I would like to express gratitude for the creation of this thread. Much of the article (especially what constituted my first-ever introduction to RPG theory) has helped me more clearly understand the nature of my most persistent and pervasive design dilemmas.
Grand list of things not officially canceled:
Salt -- the heartwarming story of brain-eating space worms
Tangent -- an epic poem and/or novel about a borderline-autistic Martian imp and her relationship with God
Kittens of the Darned -- a grimdark soap opera about sexy catgirls (Indefinitely postponed until I learn to draw and color realistically)
The Other Mary -- the most perfect fic about the most perfect Mary Sue EVER
Rockheart -- a short story about a monster who kills everyone
Corrupted -- a completely different short story about a monster who kills everyone (late Worst Visual Novel Ever)
Checkpoint 36a -- the transcription of a short multi-ending dream about time travel and undead schoolgirls
In Which the Princess is Kidnapped -- an entry in the "ordinary girl ends up in an alien universe and tries to save it" genre
Pictogram Scramble: Magical Friendship Bunny Ivy -- a Flash game about a magical girl making friends (Indefinitely postponed until I learn how friendship works)

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Re: 5 Rules for Writing Interesting Choices

#39 Post by OokamiKasumi » Mon Aug 15, 2011 4:28 pm

Glasskitten wrote:I would like to express gratitude for the creation of this thread. Much of the article (especially what constituted my first-ever introduction to RPG theory) has helped me more clearly understand the nature of my most persistent and pervasive design dilemmas.
My pleasure. I'm glad I could provide a bit of insight. :)
Ookami Kasumi ~ Purveyor of fine Smut.
Most recent Games Completed: For ALL my completed games visit: DarkErotica Games

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Re: 5 Rules for Writing Interesting Choices

#40 Post by yvanc » Wed Aug 17, 2011 8:04 pm

Wow, thanks a lot for the info ^_^
ahehehe

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