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  • The Seven Deadly Sins Of Writing Interactive Fiction

    [12.10.19]
    - Lucas Zaper

  • 4 - Ventriloquism (The Greed of Owning All The Words)

    Similar to Puppeteering, this is when the main character does something without the player's input. In this case, it refers to instances where they speak on their own.

    Sometimes, it only diverges from an initial dialogue prompt, as the choice selected by the player ends up not reflecting what their character eventually says(this is the case in some big franchises, such as Mass Effect or The Witcher). Others, it happens even more gratuitously, as entire exchanges transpire without any of the dialogue coming out from the main character's mouth being something the player chose to speak.

    While the second is evidently more intrusive than the first, I find that, more often than not, both break immersion and undermine roleplaying. If you're not limited by art assets or voice actors, then perhaps you shouldn't be sparing dialogue options. Make that brilliant banter you came up with be spoken by secondary characters instead, or turn it into the consequence of a specific choice. The more content, the better.

    The players will feel like they have earned it, and the entertaining value will remain the same.

    5 - Indifference (Neglecting the Pride of Your Players)

    Don't neglect your players. I find that self-reference is the glue that keeps a good story together, and from time to time, you should make an effort to acknowledge what they have accomplished so far.

    Instead of just handing achievements, make it so that other characters comment on their actions, be it good or bad ones. Don't just hamfist commentaries of their deeds into the game either; look for the perfect opportunities to mention something, and try to take into consideration the possible repercussions as well.

    Be it a single dialogue line, or an extra paragraph, a new option, a different description, or even a unique scene... as long you present it, and do so efficiently, your players will know you have not forgotten about them, and the feeling will be mutual. They will not forget about your game either.

    6 - Time-Wasting (The Wrath of a Sudden Death)

    Don't waste your player's time. Avoid making deathtraps that are only there for shock value. Give subtle warnings beforehand; things that may not appear evident at first but will make a lot of sense in hindsight.

    And if your game is long and branchy - and unless it is against a fundamental principle of its design) - , try adding a save feature. Let players experiment and take risks without having to restart the game from the beginning. There should be enough varied content in your game to warrant multiple playthroughs without having to rely on cheap deaths.

    7 - Misremembering (A Gluttony of Consequences)

    If Indifference is not properly acknowledging a player's actions, then Misremembering is directly contradicting them. Logical failures and inconsistencies are well too common when developing nonlinear or branchy games, and having beta testers to help you find them is an invaluable asset in making sure that all consequences are appearing where they are supposed to be.

    Be it for strings, booleans, or numbers; every time you create a variable, you are also assuming a responsibility. You're making a promise that you, as an author, will keep the record straight for your players. That you will not disrupt their experience by giving them anything other than what they deserve, and that you will always be there, watching and keeping the record straight.

    • Those are the guidelines I followed when making my latest game. I'm not trying to enforce them as the only possible way to design a piece of interactive fiction(numerous excellent games do stuff I said to avoid), but they do reflect my personal preferences both when playing and designing games of this kind. .

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