Path structures

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ThisIsNoName
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Path structures

#1 Post by ThisIsNoName » Sat Aug 25, 2012 11:07 am

Well, I've been outlining the VN I've been trying to write for the last six frickin' months, but I keep hitting dead ends. The problem is that whenever I envision my story, I envision the paths as linear, alternate universes of each other. So, when I try to write choices to choose which path to take, my mind just crashes.

Anyways, I was googling for how to structure paths in a VN when I came upon these two flowcharts (click the images to see the blog post for more explanation):

Image

Image

I was going for the first one, which is what a lot of other VNs seem to use.
I really like the "Point of no Return" structure, but I was wondering: What other path structures do you know of, or would like to see more of? Are there any specific story types that benefit from specific choice structures, or vice versa?

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Re: Path structures

#2 Post by papillon » Sat Aug 25, 2012 12:37 pm

Other structures that I *know* of? I think I've heard of some games where the routes are technically separate from the very beginning, and pretty much the first thing you do is pick a character and go from there. There are games that don't really have routes at all, but only small variations (what the above calls threads) and go straight from that common plot-thread to endings. Or games written by mad people that don't have discrete routes, but insane explosions of branchiness, wherein every single choice can take you off in a new direction. :)

As for things I'd like to see more of - selfishly, I'd like to see more compromise routes, where you can pursue a close relationship with two characters instead of just one. Not necessarily dating / being in love with them both, but where it makes a meaningful difference that you were friends with both instead of dropping one completely for the other. I say this is selfish because I tend not to write that either, even though as one of the known poly people on the forums I probably ought to take that one on. The closest I've gotten is the Donald+Grabiner route in Magical Diary.

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Re: Path structures

#3 Post by ThisIsNoName » Sun Aug 26, 2012 4:02 pm

papillon wrote:As for things I'd like to see more of - selfishly, I'd like to see more compromise routes, where you can pursue a close relationship with two characters instead of just one. Not necessarily dating / being in love with them both, but where it makes a meaningful difference that you were friends with both instead of dropping one completely for the other.
Right now, the structure I'm thinking of implementing would kind of be like that. I want to write it so that instead of each path focusing on one character, each path would focus on an aspect of the story, dealing with a sub-set of the romancable characters (I should probably that the story is very plot driven).
aspects Paths.png
Here's an example of how it might look using a typical otome storyline (this is all from the top of my head, so it probably won't make a whole lot of sense right now):
aspects Paths example.png
Classic Otome
So for example, the "main" storyline would involve reconciling with your childhood friend after returning to your hometown. If you just follow the main storyline, he becomes the default love interest.
However, you can choose to explore some of the different aspects of the overall story, where the childhood friend will become more of a "wingman" (I feel so bad for saying that :( ).
In the computer club storyline, (which consists of the Goth, Class Clown, and Everyman), the main theme of the story might be exploring passions, and what happens when people's passions conflict. The goth has a passion for art, the class clown has a passion for people, and the everyman doesn't know what his passion is. You can choose to romance any one of them, but the story of the romance stays within that part of the overall story.
In the boxing club, the theme could be how people use the power they are given, and why they try to gain more of it. The nerd tries to gain power by learning boxing, instead of using the power of knowledge. The Jock uses his social power to make himself feel inferior, but is never satisfied. The lovable jerk uses his power of rebellion to run from other's power over him.

I think the main strength of this structure is that it allows the player to "explore" the different aspects of each character. They may like one character in one context, not not in another. It also allows you to tell the story from the inside out. While the player should be able to get a satisfactory ending after playing through it one, they have to get all the ending to see the "grand" story, and how everybody relates to everybody else.

Of course, on the flipside, it would require massive amounts of work to pull off, especially in the writing department. The writer would have to be able to write each character so that they don't contradict each other in the seperate "aspects" of the story, not to mention managing the mangled web of relationships each romancable character has to the others, not to mention the MC.

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Re: Path structures

#4 Post by papillon » Sun Aug 26, 2012 4:37 pm

Generically, another sort of path design might be described as surviving-the-gauntlet. There are games in which there are a LOT of bad ends along the way, either because you made an immediately wrong choice or because your score up until that point isn't high enough. This is how you get something like Aoi Shiro, where there are iirc OVER FIFTY ENDINGS, most of which are a variant on "you died again lol".

As an old-school Sierra-style gamer I am fine with games being downright cruel but some people object to this sort of thing :)

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Re: Path structures

#5 Post by OokamiKasumi » Wed Aug 29, 2012 3:41 am

ThisIsNoName wrote:...I really like the "Point of no Return" structure, but I was wondering: What other path structures do you know of, or would like to see more of? Are there any specific story types that benefit from specific choice structures, or vice versa?
When I was making Faery Tale, I had only created Kinetic novels; straightforward, linear stories with pictures and music. However, for this story I needed Multiple Paths. So, like you, I went looking for ideas.

However, I simply did not like the story structures I saw in the VNs everyone else seemed to like. So I created a plot structure that suited my story's needs.
PlotFocused.jpg
There are escape routes, but those tend to lead to Plot-Twists and Unexpected ends.
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Re: Path structures

#6 Post by Dim Sum » Wed Aug 29, 2012 5:21 am

Contradiction: Choice structure does not = path structure. (Only choice structure spotted in original image is dramatic change and too vague.)

Non-VN example of choice structure:

Image

Non-VN equivalent example of path structure:

http://www.pearltrees.com/#/N-fa=406952 ... =1_4069521

Suggestions from no VN poster:

-Imagine and replace aspect route as if QTE (Quick Timed Events) mixed with russian roulette (alt dimension dies once you make choice i.e. player's choice is at stake)

-Imagine and replace aspect route as if C&C (Choice and Consequences) mixed with Grandfather Paradox (alt dimension continues on but player has to grow old first. ex: you like former gf but ended up with other person as wife so choice theme is you as creator rping as if you are husband of girl you end up with and you saw other choice girl years down the line and then double rp or "act" as if husband you are rping is wondering if he made the right choice. Let said idea behind choice guide choice structure)

-Imagine and replace aspect route as if "zero" aspect routes (Otome image for example uses idea that life is like club. Oh I go there and I go here and I end up here. Common VN path structure but little help in choice structure. Real life many people choose choice structure different from path structure. Even if met dating sim requirements or have natural talent, guy can't just chase girl and have "stats". Girl is alive too. Girls are having their own aspect routes. If two ppl have their own aspect routes they cancel out. If you just see I move choice and they domino effect then parallel dimensions can be like separate like branches on root. If you see I move this then everyone else move this - much closer to butterfly effect. Much manageable for choices but you must still be writer. Basic example can be like cockroach appear in front of girl. If focus on path structure, you treat event as if timed event or if I pick this then I impress/does not impress girl. If put zero aspect route in path structure, even w/o choice structure, you would have to write idea where post-saving vs. post-non-saving girls are dealing with cockroach issue. Maybe some trying to forget. Maybe some already forget and just gossiping. Maybe some girl trying to beat phobia. Cause they all affected, protagonist can't just choose club. Protagonist must also "live" with route that he did something and therefore domino effect becomes first choice theme leads to second choice theme rather than branches but quality still in writer's hands.)

Suggested movie to watch: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0343135/

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Re: Path structures

#7 Post by CaseyLoufek » Wed Aug 29, 2012 5:43 pm

"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff. " Dr Who

I come from the old old school. I grew up on the goldbox D&D games and find many JRPGs linear to the point of screaming "Why didn't you make a movie?" at the creators. There's a myth in modern game design (though it may be fading) that a non-linear or highly multi-linear structure is infeasible. I saw in a game design book a diagram explaining this and showing a tree branching into dozens of final leaves and saying how this gets increasing hard to track.

The problem is that you shouldn't be tracking path if you want a story that isn't linear. At least not in such a strict branching way. If you do want a fairly linear structure, that's another matter. Your current diagram skirts the line so I'm going to continue but you can ignore me :)

If you want a truly multi-linear of non-linear game you need to stop following the flow of event to event and instead look at each event as a separate discrete occurance with certain requirements and results. The Dating Sim Engine provides very good examples of this. In fact the DSE is two sub-engines that are fairly easily seperated, the stat tracker and the event manager.

You need to track what's happened instead of just following a flow. This seems to be the stumbling block the writers of the book I read were caught on. You don't keep branching the tree... a lot of the sub-branches are going to be nearly identical. You can re-use branches if you know what to take in to account.

You'll probably want to track what club the player has joined for example. And probably a set of relationship stats between each character. Also booleans for certain lynchpin things having occurred. If you use something like the DSE you can actually check for a specific event already having occurred without needing to make up a variable on your own.

Using the DSE structure, you would have event periods for say class, club and evening. You have a path or two of events relating to each club that unfolds as you attend. Events in other periods won't directly tie in to those paths but you track relationship changes and certain other events may require things to have happened at a club. This could be very good for the many different facets thing you have going, you can see the same scenes play out in somewhat different ways based on what you've done.

Tracking all this is of course more complex than a linear or branching linear structure, it's just not nearly as complex as trying for a super-branching structure or half as complex as many in the field seem to think.

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Re: Path structures

#8 Post by Akjosch » Thu Aug 30, 2012 4:50 am

CaseyLoufek wrote:If you want a truly multi-linear of non-linear game you need to stop following the flow of event to event and instead look at each event as a separate discrete occurance with certain requirements and results.
+1

This is probably even more flexible than you think: You can easily simulate a linear narrative with this structure by "Next event: EXYZ" being the result of previous events or by "All the events 1 to x happened" being the requisite for event x+1, chaining them together this way. Then you can gradually break the structure apart by adding events as alternatives (same requirements, other results, but still ultimately leading to the same chain eventually), "random" flavour events (just a few requirements which are easy to miss, a chance to happen rather than 100%, no or relatively minor results), additional paths (multiple events becoming possible after one is done, which one becomes active depending on the sum of previous results) and whatever else overarching structure you like.

Going the other way, simulating such a free-form event pool with pre-prepared paths, leads to a tangled web of paths, since a lot of the "random" events you can easily insert lead to small loops in the path structure which can happen (and as such repeat) at a ton of places.

------------------------------------
EDIT: To add my usual structure for such events, it looks like this:

Name This should be obvious. It also should be short, easy to guess or remember the content of, and unique.

Type The usual types are "plot start", "plot relevant", "optional", "background", "side story start", "random encounter", "continuation" (of a previous event) or "story end"

Weight How important is this event. Can be dynamic.

Chance to happen Usually 100%, but less so for random events.

Conditions What conditions have to be fulfilled for this event to be valid. Valid events at any given moment are put in a list and sorted by weight, and the first one picked. If the event picked has a non-100% chance to happen, it'll only be picked at this probability, else the next one down the list is considered.

Triggers In a more free-roaming environment, arriving at a situation which matches the trigger (f.e. arriving at a specific spot at midnight) re-evaluates the whole event list and can even break an ongoing event if it is of a lower weight than the triggered event.

Blocking status Can this event be broken by another triggered event, and if so, what happens next (usually one of: event gets discarded, event continues as before after the triggered one if the conditions are still true else gets discarded, event has a special "broken event" sequence of actions, event continues as before after the triggered one if the conditions are still true else uses its special "broken event" sequence of actions)?

Situation What's the set-up at the beginning of the event, before anything happens? Where does the event take place? What's the prevailing mood?

Participants Who's in the event?

Purpose What should the event accomplish, in terms of "... to the story", "... to the characters" and ".. to the player"?

Action What happens during the event? What can be changed?

Variables Which part of the event are variable, and what do they change during it?

Following events Which events follow this one (and under which conditions)? There are three types of follow-up possible: "soft" one, where other events can happen inbetween, "hard" ones, where the next event happens immediately (and is thus of the continuation type), but can be broken up by an uneventful transition ("You take the last train home ..."), or "immediate", where no such transition happens.

State changes How does the world state change after the event, depending on what exactly happened in it? For a computer game, this also includes details like which conversation topics become available.

Notes Any random rambling not covered by the above


I usually group events by "chapters" (which are a kind of condition), with some of them being able to happen or get triggered in multiple chapters.

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Re: Path structures

#9 Post by athenastar17 » Tue Sep 11, 2012 6:45 pm

So...while I love the nonlinear nature of Dungeons and Dragons, with a digital game (as opposed to an analog game with a GM) I personally like control as a game programmer and I hate responsibility as a player. I like having the linear JRPG storyline where it's very clear what choices you must make and how that might effect the story. Is there a tool anywhere that could be used to visualize these branches in some kind of flowchart, as pictured above? I've tried using Microsoft Office built-in stuff, but their flowcharts are kind of inflexible and blow up easily....
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Re: Path structures

#10 Post by Akjosch » Tue Sep 11, 2012 6:57 pm

Chat Mapper, if you abuse it enough and use the basic blocks to describe scenes instead of lines of dialogue, might help you there.

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Re: Path structures

#11 Post by papillon » Tue Sep 11, 2012 9:03 pm

Don't know anything about it myself but someone was just talking about a branching tool called Inklewriter:
http://emshort.wordpress.com/2012/09/11 ... klewriter/

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Re: Path structures

#12 Post by TrickWithAKnife » Tue Sep 11, 2012 10:40 pm

I'll be the odd one out, and say that I have grown to dislike path structures. I've realised that I have no problems following a massive number of branches, letting things happen in different orders, have a massive number of changes to every part as the game progresses, and basically give the player freedom (to some degree) to do what they want.

However, I would find this very difficult to put into a flow-chat, and worry that instead of clarifying things, it would force me to limit the choices and variety.

That said, I can see how flow-charts would be useful for 99% of people. Heck, I'd even go so far as to say they are vital.

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Re: Path structures

#13 Post by OokamiKasumi » Tue Sep 11, 2012 11:25 pm

athenastar17 wrote:... Is there a tool anywhere that could be used to visualize these branches in some kind of flowchart, as pictured above? I've tried using Microsoft Office built-in stuff, but their flowcharts are kind of inflexible and blow up easily....
Yes!
-- When I'm writing a Visual Novel, I use a handy little freeware Mind-mapping program to outline all the major turning points and menu branches called:

Otome01.jpg
All the bubbles are collapsible and it allows Jumps to any other bubble (the green arrows). This way you can have multiple branches jump to one result without needing to repeat yourself.

Even better, with this little program you can test-drive paths, menu choices, and results simply by clicking a bubble open, or clicking a green arrow to another bubble. If you've missed or forgotten something it's quickly obvious.
Otome02.jpg
This program also has a spell-check, (you have to turn it on,) so you can write the entire thing out and copy-paste the text directly into Renpy. It also allows hyperlinking, file connection, and images so you can figure out exactly what your game will need before you even open Renpy.

I wouldn't have been able to make my game FaeryTale without it.
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Re: Path structures

#14 Post by junna » Tue Sep 11, 2012 11:36 pm

I dunno about if VN structure is any different but I've had experience with choose-your-own-adventure books and writing it for Neopets lol. I find writing one story from start to end would make it easier to go round finding checkpoints (what I call decisions) to branch out.
Somewhere in the beginning before the plot climax tell yourself to find 2/3 or more branching (and more tiny branches on the branch) before making sure they'll all return to the 'climax' branch. or getting to the dead end before the climax.
then do the same for the climax part because you could actually kill off (bad end) your heroine in the middle too. Or make the person take a looonger or shortcut to the resolution.
Again go back to the main - underlying I should say by this point - and give the character a good or bad end.
to make stuff even more interesting, set an important scene or two that is in the other branches as well but the MC or other characters react differently.
Sometimes if I'm lazy, I just used the same paragraph/scene with two or more events.

I suspect that this is different from VNs but it should help some if you like your story to stick to one plotline/underlying theme/story without veering off to different tangents and the storyline is lost.
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Re: Path structures

#15 Post by ThisIsNoName » Wed Sep 12, 2012 2:30 am

Thanks for all the replies.

@papillion: Thanks for the link to Inklewriter. It looks like it's exactly what I've been looking for to get my thoughts down. One thing in particular I like about it is that you can choose a set of choices and read/write it as a linear story, then change one of the choices to effectively write another linear story.

@TrickWithAKnife: Have you played Dragon Age: Origins? I think that type of free-flowing structure would be completely and utterly awesome as a Visual Novel, though I can't think of any that have done it that way. The type of story that I want to tell is a bit more linear, and the events are very chronologically-dependent on each other (This event has to take place before this event, That event has to take place after the other event, etc.)


Also, there was something I was wondering about. When you write a branching story, how much emphasis should you put on the individual storylines vs the over-arching storyline? Do you consider the "story" of the VN to be each individual path, or do you consider the story to be the sum of the paths put together. Right now I'm struggling with deciding whether each path should be set in their own alternate universe, or if each choice should only affect the protagonist and the people they directly affect.

For example, if the protagonist has to choose between going to the library or the gym at the beginning of the story, should the story assume that the characters you meet at the library would still be at the library even if you chose to go to the gym?

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