How to Write Good Choices: A Guide

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YossarianIII
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How to Write Good Choices: A Guide

#1 Post by YossarianIII » Sat Jan 13, 2018 3:00 pm

I've been thinking a lot about what makes a choice in a video game interesting, so I decided to write an essay: https://yossarianiii.wordpress.com/2018 ... ideogames/

Basically, I think you can write effective choices by dividing choices into categories, and then looking at what each category of choice is attempting to accomplish. In the essay, I mention 7 common categories that make up most of the choices you'd have to write for a VN.

I wanted to share this guide here, partly in case anyone finds it helpful, but also to open up discussion and hear if anyone else has any special rules they follow or tricks they use to make sure the choices in their VN are satisfying. A lot of the good writing I see about choices in video games has kind of an academic slant to it, so I wanted to put something together that was a little more accessible.

So does anyone have any thoughts -- either on my guide or on what guidelines you follow in your own writing?


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Re: How to Write Good Choices: A Guide

#2 Post by Katy133 » Sat Jan 13, 2018 11:12 pm

This is a very thoughtful article! It's interesting to divide different choices into categories. It's a new way of looking at choices when developing a visual novel.

Thank you for writing it. :)
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Re: How to Write Good Choices: A Guide

#3 Post by Mammon » Sun Jan 14, 2018 11:08 am

A good summary of choices, and quite well-said right from the start that its not the choices rather than how they're used and if they're in a good story that work well.

With 1., that's what I used in my first game. Ironically the reason for that was me not knowing ren'py code and fearing the complicated magic behind 2. point based choices. Turns out that was actually very easy. But I didn't know that, so every choice gave us 2-3 completely different routes right away.
Ironically I wouldn't really call your Walking Dead example a Life or Death situation, rather than 1.5: Semi-significant changes. Yes, it meant one character would die forever, but both characters filled the same role and would therefore fill eachothers shoes when switched. Scene-wise and group-size wise it was just a different skin and voice actor holding the gun or getting bitten. Still a significant and appreciated choice, but not the life or death you describe. I believe that later in the game your actions can decide whether the little boy lives or dies from an infection based upon you giving him the water and food, which would be a life or death choice.

With 2. Points, I feel like you've already explained this half in con, but not completely. A point-based romance can easily give me an 'You've got to please the LI' vibe. By having to have a certain attitude and opinion that matches the LI's, required to get their perfect ending, I often feel less impressed by some VNs because it feels like the MC had to completely mold their character and personality towards being alike and attractive to the LI. This can easily happen when the writer gave you choices that go on your mentality or your opinion rather than you getting along well with them, no foul to a question that requires you to not redicule them when tell you their favorites.
An opposite of this is 'The Lady's choice' which has 3. Superficial choices to define your personality that are completely unrelated to the choices that decide whether you get their good ending. They'll like you with all 4 different personalities. Perhaps a more clear example would be 'cute demon crashers', who clearly say in the start of the game that you don't have to go all-out into their fetish to get the demon's good ending.

With 4. and 7. these can sometimes be the way of the MC speaking. If the MC rarely speaks or you're fine with a lot of making them speak through choices (F.e. Skyrim), this is just a good way to make it feel like you're the one saying it. This will probably work best if your dialogue is minimised in order to make sure you never say something not through choices. It can still work less if you get 3-4 choices that all feel unfit or if you choose something that turns out different from what you assumed the text would be (Something Telltale can sometimes do, choosing a compliment only to see the MC instead making it a backhanded comment for example.)
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Re: How to Write Good Choices: A Guide

#4 Post by YossarianIII » Sun Jan 14, 2018 12:33 pm

Katy133 wrote:
Sat Jan 13, 2018 11:12 pm
This is a very thoughtful article! It's interesting to divide different choices into categories. It's a new way of looking at choices when developing a visual novel.

Thank you for writing it.

Thanks, glad it's helpful!

Mammon wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 11:08 am
With 2. Points, I feel like you've already explained this half in con, but not completely. A point-based romance can easily give me an 'You've got to please the LI' vibe. By having to have a certain attitude and opinion that matches the LI's, required to get their perfect ending, I often feel less impressed by some VNs because it feels like the MC had to completely mold their character and personality towards being alike and attractive to the LI. This can easily happen when the writer gave you choices that go on your mentality or your opinion rather than you getting along well with them, no foul to a question that requires you to not redicule them when tell you their favorites.
An opposite of this is 'The Lady's choice' which has 3. Superficial choices to define your personality that are completely unrelated to the choices that decide whether you get their good ending. They'll like you with all 4 different personalities. Perhaps a more clear example would be 'cute demon crashers', who clearly say in the start of the game that you don't have to go all-out into their fetish to get the demon's good ending.
True. Especially in recent VNs the way points-based systems work has gotten pretty complicated, probably more complicated than I go into in that post. I'm also not a huge fan of the whole "mold your personality to fit with a certain character" trope that you see in some stories, so I'm glad to see some VNs have found more interesting ways to do points systems. Might be a good subject for a future essay...


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Re: How to Write Good Choices: A Guide

#5 Post by LateWhiteRabbit » Sun Jan 14, 2018 1:32 pm

YossarianIII wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 12:33 pm
True. Especially in recent VNs the way points-based systems work has gotten pretty complicated, probably more complicated than I go into in that post. I'm also not a huge fan of the whole "mold your personality to fit with a certain character" trope that you see in some stories, so I'm glad to see some VNs have found more interesting ways to do points systems. Might be a good subject for a future essay...
Great write-up.

In regards to the point system for Love Interests, and seemingly having to mold your personality to match theirs to date them, I've always kind of viewed that as your actions setting what personality you would have by default as a player. I don't typically replay VNs - I get one ending for the Love Interest I pursued and don't go back to chase other options.

Speaking from a real world perspective, I understand why 'accumulating points to score a date' is very problematic - but dating someone who shares your interests is also a very real world thing. It doesn't typically go well if the two parties aren't similar in tastes and hobbies. Opposites may attract, but they don't stay together. And if your MC is a nerd, they aren't likely to get a date with the biker girl unless they demonstrate some interest in motorbikes and rebellion. It isn't healthy if they don't HAVE any real interest in those subjects and are just doing it to hook up, but that isn't necessarily unrealistic either. I think it is pretty common in youth for people to get involved with some activity just to get closer to someone. Once we get older and mature, we do less of that and are more comfortable with our choices and being open about them.

I feigned interest in horses to hopefully get a date with a girl whose family raised them when I was younger, and that isn't much different from the player choosing an activity to get points towards a Love Interest. It is a mechanic with Unfortunate Implications™ but it is modeling a real life behavior.

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Re: How to Write Good Choices: A Guide

#6 Post by Fuseblower » Sun Jan 14, 2018 2:30 pm

That's a nice guide about choices.

There's one category of choice I didn't see though and which has given me a bit of thought lately : choices that add or remove choices in subsequent "choice nodes"/forks.

A simple example would be something that has to do with an inventory. If the player has chosen to pick up some item then later the option is present to use that item (the option wouldn't be shown if the item wasn't picked up).

Of course, that's a really simple example. A more elaborate one is when the player is "molding" a character by your category of "superficial choices". Counters for different personalities could be increased/decreased and in subsequent choice nodes choices are added that fit the personality of the character that emerges from the superficial choices the player makes while removing the ones that don't fit that personality.

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Re: How to Write Good Choices: A Guide

#7 Post by YossarianIII » Mon Jan 15, 2018 6:58 pm

LateWhiteRabbit wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 1:32 pm
Speaking from a real world perspective, I understand why 'accumulating points to score a date' is very problematic - but dating someone who shares your interests is also a very real world thing. It doesn't typically go well if the two parties aren't similar in tastes and hobbies. Opposites may attract, but they don't stay together. And if your MC is a nerd, they aren't likely to get a date with the biker girl unless they demonstrate some interest in motorbikes and rebellion. It isn't healthy if they don't HAVE any real interest in those subjects and are just doing it to hook up, but that isn't necessarily unrealistic either. I think it is pretty common in youth for people to get involved with some activity just to get closer to someone. Once we get older and mature, we do less of that and are more comfortable with our choices and being open about them.
Yeah, it's a tough needle to thread for sure, and it probably ultimately has a lot more to do with how well something is written as opposed to the underlying points system. As with a lot of writing tools, there are lots good ways to use a points system but also some less good ways.

Fuseblower wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 2:30 pm
Of course, that's a really simple example. A more elaborate one is when the player is "molding" a character by your category of "superficial choices". Counters for different personalities could be increased/decreased and in subsequent choice nodes choices are added that fit the personality of the character that emerges from the superficial choices the player makes while removing the ones that don't fit that personality.
Yeah, those are both interesting examples -- definitely a good way to add a little complexity to choices. I've seen some games where it lets you know which choices are "locked" if you don't have the prerequisites and others where it just doesn't show anything if you haven't got the stats/item you need -- and both can definitely work in the context of different games. This would probably be a mechanic I'd need to consider if I ever revise this article.


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Re: How to Write Good Choices: A Guide

#8 Post by IronForPistons » Fri Feb 02, 2018 7:44 pm

Interesting article!
Fuseblower wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 2:30 pm
choices that add or remove choices in subsequent "choice nodes"/forks.
Of note in this discussion, I think, is the Rin route from Katawa Shoujo. (Here's a flowchart if you haven't played it or need a refresher - spoilers!) There are several choices that alter later options, and they compound on themselves. I think I remember seeing somewhere that there are close to 600 ways to go through the route. This creates a large amount of variation and replayability in comparison to the actual amount of text written.
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