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  • The Seven Deadly Sins Of Writing Interactive Fiction

    [12.10.19]
    - Lucas Zaper
  • 1 - Railroading (The Sloth of Not Branching)


    The shortest distance between two points might be a straight line, but it rarely is the most fun. Even if you add curves or bends to the path, your players will feel like passengers being propelled in the same direction unless you present them with a fork in the road from time to time.

    Players want the power to choose where they are going, regardless of what that destination may end up being. They want to feel like their choices matter, and that a different decision somewhere along the road could have led them to a completely different path.

    Even if the ending they get is not the best possible one, they will want to play your game again and again, propelled by curiosity or a desire to make things right this time. As long as you manage to captivate them and give them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, they will be eager to make new ones.

    And it doesn't hurt to let them hop off the train and wander around the wilderness from time to time either.

    2 - Compulsive Choices (The Lust for the Perfect Option)

    It doesn't matter how many choices you present to your player at once; if one of those options is obviously better than all the others, then it is no choice at all.

    The best choices are those that present equally viable options, with different approaches to the same problem. Multiple alternatives should make sense in the context, even if they end up failing or giving unexpected results.

    This, of course, doesn't mean that all choices need to work for all characters. Some variables should rightfully impact the success rate of a course of action, and, understandably, a barbarian might not be able to sweet-talk their way out of a problem as well as a bard, for example.

    But you shouldn't stick to a single good option per character type all the time, or you will be limiting your player's choices. Put your imagination to good use here, and think hard about all the possible ways to solve a problem, and why they would or wouldn't work in each situation.

    Otherwise, you run the risk of coming off as lazy. And lazy authors inspire lazy players, and lazy players might not want to keep playing your game. Instead, give your players all you got, and they will owe up to the consequences of their decisions and keep coming back for more.

    3 - Puppeteering (Being Envious of Your Player)

    A player doesn't want to feel like a puppet on a string, dancing according to their master's movements. If anything, they want to be the puppeteer.

    Sometimes, when an author wants something specific to happen in a game, they will make it occur regardless of the player's actions. Even worse, they will make the main character do something to trigger those events without any previous input from the player.

    But if the initial trigger wasn't authentic, then it just feels like things are happening because the plot demanded it. And if the plot demanded it to a point where it had to seize control of the main character from the player's hands, maybe it shouldn't be happening at all.

    As an author of interactive fiction, you have to learn when to let it go. The main character is not yours anymore; the player owns it from the moment they start playing the game.

    Don't be the puppetmaster. Be the strings, the control pad, the person who made the marionette - not the one who's controlling it. Hide yourself from the audience and help create the illusion that the puppet is alive, instead of reminding the player that it isn't.

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