Making Good Choices

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Westeford
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Making Good Choices

#1 Post by Westeford » Thu Nov 02, 2017 4:46 pm

Choices are generally a big part in many VNs.
I like to categorize these choices into the following categories. Love Route Choices, Response Choices, and Plot Choices.

Love Route Choices: This choice involves choosing who to hang out with or who's story the player wants to see. I.E. choosing a waifu. Usually these choices are made obvious. For example, Billy goes to school and has class, class has ended and he has free time. He can call up and hang out with either Mandy, Erwin, etc...

Response Choices: Billy is talking with Mandy. Mandy says something (A question or statement.) Then a few buttons with possible responses pops up, the player picks one then Billy responds based on the choice. Usually these choices only affect the current scene or add or subtract friendship points. Usually the choice made in these scenes have no bearing on the plot. (Mandy will probably not mention the conversation they had later on.)

Plot Choices: These choices are the type I'm having the most difficulty writing. These choices affect the story in one way or another. For example: the Ace Attorney series is an example of a VN without plot choices. The story will always go down a set path, the only branch is when the player gets a game over. Conversely the Zero Escape series is an example of a VN with plot choices. In 999, the plot choices are made when the player chooses the doors he or she wants to go through. This affects the puzzles you find, the characters you interact with, and the ending.

I have a hard time visualizing plot choices and that is what I want to improve on. What I think makes a good plot choice is by balancing between the obvious and the obscure.
An obvious plot choice is when the player knows exactly what the choice will do now and the effects it will have in the future. I think most plot choices have obvious immediate results. Like in 999, choosing a door has the immediate effect of going through that door. I want to focus on the indirect effects. For example, in 999, Santa will offer the player a bookmark depicting a four-leaf clover. If the player accepts, can give the bookmark to Clover later on, cheering her up. The fact that someone hands you a bookmark depicting a clove is odd but since the player can choose to accept or refuse it means that it must be important.

An obscure plot choice is when the player has no idea why this choice matters, but the fact it's so obscure means it matters. A non-VN example being in King's Quest 5, you need to buy a pie near the beginning, then use it to defeat a yeti. (Essentially if the player says 'How was I supposed to know that?') Another example I just thought up, Billy goes to a store, he can buy a drink, a donut, or a magazine. Later on, if Billy has the donut, he saves another character's life. The player has no reason to suspect the donut has any bearing on the plot, but it does.

I mentioned that good plot choices involve balancing between the obvious and obscure. (Of course there are exceptions). Basically what I think I'm saying is this. If the player knows that a choice will cause a branch in the story and what that choice will do later on, then that is a bad plot choice.

Plot choices can overlap with the love route and response choices. Choosing who to hang out with could affect the main plot in small or big ways.
And sometimes the responses the player can choose in previous scenes may affect future events too. For example, Billy is hanging off a cliff and Mandy is there. He's begging her to help him. Whether or not she does is affected by how Billy treated Mandy earlier. If he treated her poorly she may not help him, but if he was nice to her she may help him.

So I've been rambling about choices and plot choices and writing like I know what I'm talking about. I am still a beginner in writing stories. (I majored in programming not writing.)
I would love to have your feedback. Did I waste your time? Did I provide good examples? Do you have better examples? What do you think makes good choices in a VN? And how do I write choices that make sense, but aren't super obvious. My biggest fear is that most people will meta-game. I want players to make choices based on what they think is best, not because it advances the plot.

My current project is a slice of life game, mixed with mystery. The plot is this: Boy goes to college, he makes friends, crimes happen (mostly murder), the boy is ultimately trying to stop the end of the world, no one can be trusted.

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Re: Making Good Choices

#2 Post by parttimestorier » Thu Nov 02, 2017 6:40 pm

Having your protagonist trying to solve a crime sounds like a great opportunity to come up with choices that majorly affect the plot. For example, maybe there are five different items he can examine at the crime scene but he actually only has time to examine three of them before he gets interrupted - maybe by the police who don't want some college kid messing around at the crime scene. So if you pick the wrong ones, he misses an important clue. I think in that case you'd want to try to make it pretty clear to the reader what went wrong - maybe by having some of the items you can examine be very obviously useless, or by having the protagonist wondering if he missed something later on. Another good one for later in the story could be that the protagonist has a few different suspects for who the murderer could be. He plans to stake out one of their houses or something, and if he chooses to do that for someone who's innocent, the murderer kills someone else while he's busy with that.

That being said, I don't think you necessarily need to pressure yourself to write a lot of major branching choices. If you just have one way you envision the story progressing, then it's okay to write a totally linear story, or one with minor branches that don't affect the main mystery very much. Plenty of popular VNs are like that, such as your example of the Phoenix Wright games, where it's possible to mess up but you just get an instant bad ending and have to try again, instead of continuing in a different branch of the story.
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Re: Making Good Choices

#3 Post by Westeford » Thu Nov 02, 2017 7:13 pm

I think I have a better idea of how I want to build my story now. I just needed to think of it at another angle. The protagonist could be solving different cases that are all connected by one main mystery. Or something like that. Thanks for the ideas.

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Re: Making Good Choices

#4 Post by Kherohi » Thu Nov 02, 2017 8:20 pm

I'll just mention a thought here.

I like it when you can choose how the protagonist feels about something. Following with the crime idea, instead of making choices directly relating to the crime, there can be a choice about how they view the crime. Is it a crime of passion? Or was it premeditated? And based on those answers, it might influence how they narrate the clues they find later on. Alternatively, when they hear about someone "they must be lonely" or "they must be planning something", which might change the internal narration. Maybe when a key piece of evidence comes to light, there could be a "I was totally off the mark" sort of thought.

For these kinds of choices, you can make it so that they don't affect the ending because it just introduces bias in the thoughts. Flavour text, if you will. I find that they really help immerse into the protagonist. Returning to Ace Attorney, there are occasionally choices where you need to explain something. When I choose the wrong response, Phoenix will present it full of confidence only to get knocked down. "But I was so sure about that!" or "Alright, I was totally guessing there." The moments where he mirrors my thoughts makes the penalty so worth it.

Like all choices, the scope can be vast. It might only change a single line or it might set you on a completely different route. It isn't choosing the protagonist's actions or words directly, so I find it an interesting kind of choice.
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Re: Making Good Choices

#5 Post by Scribbles » Fri Nov 03, 2017 7:24 am

for what it's worth King's Quest is more of an adventure/puzzle game so the player would know they needed to use -something- to defeat the yeti and Sierra was somewhat known for ridiculous things at times. Like tossing a bridle to a deadly snake lol (I adore the kings quest series)

as for branching storylines try to think more like a writer and less like a coder. For a mystery you can allow the player to investigate different areas, each with a benefit and/or consequence. You can allow the player to take control of what the protagonist does to solve the mystery, where they go who they talk to and what they conclude when it's all over. Get lots of feedback, so you can gauge who people -think- is the killer or whatever and try to mess with expectations with that information. I like to try to give the player as much freedom as possible, and accommodate that with story/code
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Re: Making Good Choices

#6 Post by Zelan » Tue Feb 06, 2018 2:34 pm

Regarding your bit on obvious/obscure choices, I would advise against having many - or any - choices like that. Say that I'm playing a game that uses your example of Billy going to the store and buying a drink, a donut, or a magazine. I buy the magazine and am unable to save the character who later gets murdered. This would be fine for my first playthrough, but the problem would be the following playthroughs. Maybe I really, really want to get an ending where that character survives, but I have absolutely no idea how to do so. I keep on trying different options elsewhere throughout the game - maybe talking to that character, maybe in dealing with the killer - but it doesn't cross my mind that buying the donut is all I need to do, because... why would it? This kind of situation would cause me to get frustrated with your game, and that's something you do not want. A way to fix this is to make the choice more obvious in hindsight, e.g. maybe the character is being attacked by birds and Billy's inner monologue is, "Darn, if only I had some food to distract them!"
Kherohi wrote:
Thu Nov 02, 2017 8:20 pm
I'll just mention a thought here.

I like it when you can choose how the protagonist feels about something. Following with the crime idea, instead of making choices directly relating to the crime, there can be a choice about how they view the crime. Is it a crime of passion? Or was it premeditated? And based on those answers, it might influence how they narrate the clues they find later on. Alternatively, when they hear about someone "they must be lonely" or "they must be planning something", which might change the internal narration. Maybe when a key piece of evidence comes to light, there could be a "I was totally off the mark" sort of thought.

For these kinds of choices, you can make it so that they don't affect the ending because it just introduces bias in the thoughts. Flavour text, if you will. I find that they really help immerse into the protagonist. Returning to Ace Attorney, there are occasionally choices where you need to explain something. When I choose the wrong response, Phoenix will present it full of confidence only to get knocked down. "But I was so sure about that!" or "Alright, I was totally guessing there." The moments where he mirrors my thoughts makes the penalty so worth it.

Like all choices, the scope can be vast. It might only change a single line or it might set you on a completely different route. It isn't choosing the protagonist's actions or words directly, so I find it an interesting kind of choice.
I like everything that Kherohi said here. Flavor text and differing personalities can add replayability to otherwise linear VNs.

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